Blow Your Own Green Bubble

Sep 28, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

Not long ago, there was talk that a green bubble was about to form, and
this made infinite sense to me. Being a renewable technology buff, I knew
we could start using new technologies immediately, bringing clean energy
production, security, and a solid range of jobs to our country. I imagined
the mainstreaming of super-efficient solar panels and the replacement of
controversial hydro-power infrastructure with fish-friendly turbines shaped
like mixing paddles. I saw small, clean factories making small, quiet wind
turbines resembling hourglasses and window fans.

Early on, though, I sensed a lack of momentum -- some preemptive cynicism
waiting around each corner with a skewer or a pin. Something wasn't
getting bigger. When I Binged "green bubble," there it was. All those words
like "burst" and "deflated."

One argument was that we are sick of bubbles. Oh please. Since when have
we stopped ourselves from enjoying (and profiting from) a big puffing up of
egos and expectations?

Another writer pointed out that renewable energy stocks started
going down in 2008. Wait a minute ... EVERY STOCK DID!

We should DO this green bubble, I thought. It would be clean and it would
have no magic bullet, only a magic spray of grapeshot (Al Gore called
it buckshot) spread across all regions. Using domestic materials and the
resources at hand, we'd have a completely decentralized success story.
Every state could harness a different energy source depending on what it had
in excess: sun, wind, tides or garbage.

But that was the problem, wasn't it? The fact that it wasn't centralized.
That's what sucked the life out of the bubble. No centralized political
lobbies, publicity departments. No can-can dancers, no well-financed yea-sayers to counter the nay-sayers.

Oh great, I realized. This will be just like those other things I was involved
with that were mocked, dismissed, and pre-injected with disinformation, like
feminism and recycling. But why?

Because you probably won't make billions in sustainability, and you don't
need to invest billions up front. You don't have to be Daddy Warbucks
to get in the game. You could be his despised nerdy brother who went to
Hampshire or his sister who lives in Vermont.

The energy ultra-rich are afraid of the very rich, and I can't blame them. The
energy ultra-rich own private islands. If we go from oil platforms ("Let the
big boys do this, kids") to solar panels ("Hey kids, let's put on a show"),
perhaps only British rockers will be able to afford private islands. The
ultra-rich of energy will go a long way to assure us they should hold the
monopoly, and the hegemony.

They will go ahead and argue (with a respectful nod to the middle class) that
extraction-based energy companies hire thousands of people and give us
reliable blue chip stocks. They'll point out that the sun goes behind a cloud.
I would point out that extracting oil from sand sounds pretty desperate. Also,
renewable energy companies will hire more people, provide equally reliable
stock opportunities, and not jeopardize the savings -- stock and otherwise -- of
an entire coastal fishing industry (for instance).

Let's say ten companies make $30 billion a year in the petro-nuclear (extraction) industries. What if, instead of one of them,
there were 3,000 companies making $10 million dollars annually?

These companies exist. I called Henry Dotson at Tri-State Biodiesel, a New
York company that collects vegetable oil from restaurants and converts it to
bio-diesel. Tri-State, a privately held company, doesn't disclose its profits,
but Henry tells me that his company services 3,000 restaurants in the New
York metro region, employs 30 people full time and is about to expand into
Westchester County and New Jersey.

John Wright at Hudson Valley Clean Energy, which installs and services
solar panels in the Hudson Valley in New York, says this family business
has grown 20% a year over the last eight years, employs 38 people and has
about eight field crews going out at a time. It's serious business, and should be
growing for a long time. They have a sterling reputation. Our solar panels
are working at 110% of their estimated output.

Instead of a green bubble, I'm realizing this sustainability thing could be
more like a long sheet of bubble wrap, bolstering the economic health of
a thousand small cities, like yours, letting out very little air after the initial
hype and leaving behind reliable industries.

It will be big bucks with no cheerleaders, but this decentralized success
story could be yours. Roll out your wind maps. Imagine the possibilities of
your local abandoned warehouse. Find out how to convert Ho Yen's fryer
oil to truck fuel. This is truly the time to puff yourself up with hope and
anticipation and blow, baby, blow.