Electricity: Cooperation and Competition Are Better Than Government Monopolies

In June, Florida’s legislature passed (and governor Ron DeSantis signed) a bill transferring control of Gainesville Regional Utilities from the city’s government to the  state’s. In late September, a judge rejected the city’s lawsuit to prevent the takeover.

While that sounds like a localized controversy, it offers national implications and important lessons. We’ve seen similar situations play out in other locales.

When my family moved to the Gainesville area a decade ago, friends who already lived here warned us: “Don’t rent in town, and even  outside of town make sure you’re not in GRU’s coverage area.”

Households in that coverage area fork over a great deal more every month to keep their lights on than households in other Florida cities — and WAY more than households in areas served by rural electric cooperatives.

Anecdotally, a couple of years ago I compared electric bills with an acquaintance. That acquaintance was paying GRU about twice as much to electrify a small single-person household as I was paying Clay Electric (an REC) to light up a medium five-person household.

Over the years I’ve kept an eye on GRU’s arguments for its ever-increasing prices. Here’s their two-step:

First: We can stop raising rates if we just annex more customers! Economies of scale will fix the problem!  The more kilowatt-hours we’re selling, the cheaper each kilowatt-hour becomes!

Then: We must raise rates again! We just annexed a bunch of new customers! New lines and new power generation facilities cost money!

Rinse, repeat.

Why can’t GRU deliver electricity at least as cheaply and efficiently to a compact urban area as Clay does to a much larger rural area where distances between customers are often measured in miles rather than meters?

Well, Clay is owned by its members/customers, while GRU is “owned” by politicians who use it as three things: A cash cow for the city, a kid’s chemistry set for experimenting with novel power generation methods (including a $1.2 billion “biomass” experiment), and an excuse to bring surrounding areas under their control.

While it’s true that rural electric cooperatives were, like municipal utilities, created by governments, not all “non-profits” are created equal. RECs answer directly to their customers. Municipal utilities answer to politicians who use them as … well, tax collectors.

But the answer to the bigger problem, I think, isn’t so much a matter of RECs versus municipal utilities versus “private” utilities, but in competition on both price and service.

Even if we concede (I don’t) that power LINES are “natural monopolies,” these days all those lines are tied together in sprawling “grids.” There’s no good reason why we shouldn’t each be able to choose our electricity provider, with providers serving particular areas splitting line maintenance costs. That’s been done in, for example, Texas.

I’d love to see us get away from “grids” and to far more localized (ideally, single-household via e.g. rooftop solar) power generation and delivery. But until we can do that, freeing hostages from utility monopolies should rank near the top of our energy priorities.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Nikki Haley: Far Too Unhinged For The Presidency

I’m neither a fan nor a supporter of Vivek Ramaswamy, one of the also-rans who’s made it to the “debate” phase of auditions for the vice-presidency or a cabinet slot in a notional second Donald Trump administration. For the most part, neither his ideas nor his presentation impress me. But his demeanor has a way of usefully baiting the other candidates into showing us who they really are.

The big reveal at the second “debate” — scare quotes because these events aren’t really debates, they’re just illegally large advertising donations that the Federal Election Commission turns a blind eye to — came from former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who’s been having a moment as just maybe, possibly, an eensy teensy bit, more likely than Florida governor Ron DeSantis to notch a distant second place to Trump in the GOP presidential primaries.

“TikTok,” Haley informed America by way of scolding Ramaswamy for setting up a campaign account on it, “is one of the most dangerous social media apps that we could have. … 150 million people are on TikTok. That means they can get your contacts, they can get your financial information, they can get your emails, they can get text messages, they can get all of these things. … You are now wanting kids to go and get on this social media that’s dangerous for all of us.”

In the middle of all this, Haley let loose with what was, I suppose, intended as the zinger: “Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber.”

Every time Haley speaks, she sounds a little bit dumber, but I doubt that’s Ramaswamy’s fault.

Nor is it Ramaswamy’s fault that she comes off as unhinged on the level of Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, the fictional character who engineers a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union for “corrupting” his “precious bodily fluids” in the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove.

Is it possible that the Chinese regime gains access to American users’ data via TikTok? Of course it is. We already know that the US regime gains access to the data of Americans, and foreigners, via their use of apps and platforms domiciled in the US. We know this because American hero Edward Snowden told us all about it nearly a decade ago.

Interestingly, Vivek Ramaswamy has pledged to “pardon” Snowden — currently exiled to Russia — for his non-crimes, one of his few truly attractive promises. Haley hasn’t.

It’s possible that Haley’s shrill and bellicose presentation is for real. Or maybe it’s just an act, a woman going over the top to prove that she’d be just as cluelessly belligerent in the Oval Office as any man.

Either way, voters shouldn’t allow her within 100 miles of the nuclear “football.”

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Russell Brand: Shoulds, Mays, Shouldn’ts, and Must Nots

Russell Brand. Photo by Raph_PH. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Russell Brand. Photo by Raph_PH. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

A disclaimer, just to clarify things up front: I have no opinion on the truth or falsehood of allegations — made anonymously by multiple women and reported by multiple UK media outlets — that comedian/podcaster Russell Brand is a serial rapist.

I happen to have disliked Brand during his earlier comedy career (just a matter of personal taste), and to enjoy his current podcast, “Stay Free With Russell Brand.” That is, or at least should be, irrelevant. While I’m subject to the same “where there’s lots of smoke, there’s usually fire” predisposition as most people,  I personally try to resist that tendency. I don’t know if he’s guilty. I don’t know if he’s innocent. I’m not going to PRETEND to know.

I do, however, know (or at least believe) a few things about how matters like this should, may, shouldn’t, and must not be handled by various people and organizations.

You and I are, of course, entitled to our own opinions. “Presumption of innocence” is a legal concept applicable to court proceedings, not a prior restraint on our right (assuming we’re not jurors) to believe whatever we want to believe. We should (if we’re interested) pay attention while reaching our conclusions. We may (if we’re lazy), but shouldn’t, decide not to do so and just go with whatever our feelz say. We must not take it upon ourselves to, for example, assault Brand in the street.

Media covering the matter should (but often don’t) do so with care and attention to the facts. They may, but shouldn’t, ignore inconvenient facts to get a more salacious story out of other facts. They must not (at least within the existing legal framework as it relates to libel/defamation) lie about Brand, knowingly or from reckless disregard for the truth.

Media platforms which characterize themselves as “open to the public” should be “open” to Brand. They may, but shouldn’t, choose to ban or “demonetize” members of that public, especially on the basis of as yet unproven allegations, as YouTube has done with Brand. They should, as the Rumble platform has done, respond to government demands that they “deplatform” members of the public with a firm “no, we will not act as censors on your behalf.”

Governments (if we allow them to exist — we shouldn’t, but that’s a different subject) should carefully, and with respect for all the rights of the accused, investigate and adjudicate accusations like those made against Brand. They must not lean on media to slant its coverage of such matters, or on media platforms to ban or “demonetize” those accused of crimes.

That last one is the most important. I’m of the opinion that  government agents or agencies which engage in such behavior should be banned and demonetized. People should be fired. Agencies should lose their funding. Governments should be (as peacefully as possible) overthrown.

If Brand is a rapist, he should pay — AFTER that is proven, not before. Either way, he’s not nearly as dangerous as the machine that’s going after him.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.