Just when you thought that monopoly electric utilities couldn’t stoop any lower to protect their outdated business model from the rise of distributed solar power, they come up with something really evil.
This time, utilities want to change the English language itself.
And they want to do it in a way that makes utilities look like trusted advisors with the public’s best interest at heart while making rooftop solar companies and customers look greedy, self-centered and shady.
If utilities succeed in injecting their propaganda into the way ordinary people and experts alike talk about energy, it could put rooftop solar installers on the defensive and place utilities back in the driver’s seat.
And it could put many rooftop solar companies out of business.
You’ll remember that in George Orwell’s dystopian novel of a totalitarian future, Nineteen Eighty-Four, the government took control of the language that ordinary people spoke in order to control the way people think. That kind of brainwashing made it easier for the repressive government of Big Brother to control how people behaved.
Really, by getting inside people’s minds, Big Brother got people to become their own oppressors.
So, in the name of simplifying things — for example, replacing the word “better” with the phrase “plusgood” or putting words together like “Newspeak” (new + speak) — Big Brother’s regime changed the meaning of words to suit its needs. For example:
- “Free thinking” became “crimethink,” meaning that thinking for yourself was now illegal.
- Likewise, “brainwashed” became “goodthink,” meaning that if you accepted the government’s point of view on all things without question, you were a good citizen.
Finally, remember that Big Brother’s rule also relied on double-think, which is basically the ability to believe lies, even if they’re obvious, as long as they come from Big Brother. Examples are the three slogan’s of Big Brother’s political party, War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength.
Utility Propaganda Energyspeak
As a way to help kill rooftop solar, the lobby for monopoly utilities, the Edison Electric Institute, aka, the Death Star, is now pushing a version of Orwell’s Newspeak applied to the energy industry.
The EEI represents investor-owned utilities around the U.S., including companies in the Southeast such as Dominion, Duke, Appalachian Power, the Southern Company and Florida Public Utilities. That’s important because activists have identified the region as the sunniest part of the county with the least amount of solar — largely due to opposition from local utilities with help, no doubt, from the EEI.
In 2014, the EEI began the Lexicon Project to change the way that the English language talks about energy.
Just like Big Brother, utilities want to simplify communication. In this case, they want to simplify the subject of energy…while brainwashing the public, especially about solar.
“We’re trying to communicate more simply, in a more understandable language, but in a way that also reflects this fundamental change in how we want the industry to be viewed going forward,” explained Dale Heydlauff, vice president for corporate communications at American Electric Power Co.
Just check out a few of the words about solar that utilities want to replace:
|Current Usage||Utility Newspeak|
|Utility-scale solar||Universal solar|
|Rooftop solar||Private solar|
|Solar installation||Solar power plant|
|Distributed generation||Private generation (where appropriate)|
|Net metering||Private solar credits|
|Wholesale rate||Competitive rate|
|Baseload generation||24/7 power sources|
My favorite here is changing “rooftop solar” into “private solar.”
That makes it sound selfish to put solar panels on your roof instead of just buying “green power” from your local utility’s 20 MW array.
Take another example of dangerous utility propaganda. If policymakers start thinking of net metering as “private solar credits,” then homeowners getting paid for the clean energy that PV panels on their roof produce starts to sound like just another government handout to special interests.
Also, the Lexicon Project advises utilities to use the word “smart” more often, as it polled well with the public in their research. More on that below.
How They’re Rolling It Out
Having compiled its evil word list, the utility lobby is not just sitting back and waiting for people to discover it. No, they’re actively encouraging everybody they can to start adopting their new language, as EE News explains:
Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co. already is incorporating the lexicon into its communications, said Julie White, vice president for corporate communications at the holding company. The transition to a new way of talking about its business has been “fairly smooth,” she said, underscoring the importance of explaining the research behind the language to executives.
EEI has a program underway to educate the employees of its member companies, using webinars and other internet-based tools. And there has already been a meeting to discuss the next changes to the industry’s lexicon. “This is not a one-and-done thing,” Gould said.
Also, EEI is reaching out to the trade associations for electric cooperatives and municipal utilities, sharing the research in the hopes that the lexicon can be adopted industrywide.
If utilities can get people outside of their own employees to start using their Newspeak, imagine how easy it will be for the utility lobby to push back solar-friendly policies like net metering in any state.
Welcome to Nevada, everybody.
Where “Smart” Means “Dumb”
Or, welcome to Florida.
That’s where utilities including Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida, Gulf Power and Tampa Electricare now pushing the deceptively named “Smart Solar” initiative on the November ballot.
Using completely Orwellian language, the group claims the initiative would promote “solar choice” by adding an amendment to the state’s constitution claiming to give Floridians the “right” to get solar but also opening the door for more regulation of the industry.
According to Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente, Sunshine State residents already have the right to get solar. But if the amendment is passed, utility companies could use it to block competition from solar installers by claiming they are insufficiently regulated or that rooftop solar somehow imposes a subsidy. As Pariente has written:
Let the pro-solar energy consumers beware. Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida’s major investor-owned electric utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo. The ballot title is affirmatively misleading by its focus on “Solar Energy Choice,” when no real choice exists for those who favor expansion of solar energy.
When you use the word “choice” to mean “less choice,” the implications of Orwellian language for public policy are clear.
Freedom = Slavery, anyone?
And just as the Lexicon Project’s Orwellian Newspeak helps confuse voters and policymakers, so its devil’s dictionary could also help utilities crush competition for solar among consumers.
If things go well for utilities, pretty soon solar companies can expect their potential customers to start asking about whether “private solar” (ie, a rooftop array) is really right for them, or if they should just wait for “universal solar” from their utility.
After all, if solar is about doing the right thing, then who wants to be selfish and hog all the solar for themselves?
Solar Must Fight Back with Its Own Language
It should be clear to anyone in the solar industry that if your potential customers started talking and thinking the ways that utilities want them to, that they’d start to think they should be getting all their solar from utilities and not from solar companies.
And if homeowners and commercial property owners internalize utility propaganda, it could be disastrous for rooftop solar.
Nick Stumo-Langer of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, an activist group that supports rooftop solar and other local renewables, suggests that the solar industry should offer its own list of word changes to put utilities in their place. He’s got a handy and entertaining list:
|Fixed charge||Monopoly protection fee|
|Baseload generation||Inflexible generation|
I think it would be not just fun, but more accurate, for solar companies to adopt Stumo-Langer’s list when they talk to customers and policymakers alike.
But more importantly, solar companies should not be intimidated by the utility lobby’s campaign to pervert the English language.
The solar industry needs to stand up for the integrity of words used to talk about energy. And maybe solar needs to go further, and start its own offensive to help the public talk more accurately about the new energy environment.
SEIA, are you listening?
After all, in an economy where energy storage is becoming more and more affordable, the smart grid system of the future may not need to be dependent on always-on generation like a coal, gas or nuclear plant. Instead, always-available juice from storage may be all that’s needed to keep the lights on even when the sun’s not shining and the wind’s not blowing.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group