The following is my transcript of a very interesting part of Ben McLeish's 2013-03-27 podcast on TZM Global Radio via BlogTalkRadio, from 31m14s to 40m43s. Most padding phrases are still in there as I tried to make this as complete and true to Ben's character as possible, but feel free to cut and quote this with ellipses as appropriate.
"I took about a week after Zeitgeist Day and travelled California properly, having never been out of LA, having been there three times, I'd never seen California itself. I went up to Redding, Northern California, and in Northern California there is a dam which should actually be more famous than the Hoover Dam. It's called the Shasta Dam (it's very near Redding), and is the product of work began, I think, in the late 1930s, certainly in the middle of the 1940s, so really it was 1941 that they were building this dam, which of course was right when America entered the Second World War.
This dam was created for a couple of different reasons... I should point out, by the way, it should be more famous than the Hoover Dam because it's much bigger than the Hoover Dam. It's in fact the second biggest dam in the United States, forgive me I do forget now which is the biggest one, but this dam functions in multiple different ways.
Partly it's for irrigation; I don't know if the audience knows (I certainly didn't until I was told), California is essentially the bread-basket for the entire United States; two out of every three meals are grown there. It's funny because many states define themselves on manufacturing a certain kind of food; peaches come from Georgia; Idaho seems to be where potatoes come from; oranges come from Florida, and so on ...and tax breaks, of course, come from Delaware.
Well, California is the bread-basket, it's where most things grow, and in fact if you drive up and down the I5 you'll see most of it in the great San Fernando Valley; not only all the wine, but every now and again you'll see a staggering view, which extends halfway to the horizon, which is just cows, in pens, standing there, like in the movie Earthlings.
But anyway, this dam has essentially acted as the irrigation for that entire Southern Californian valley area; all the way down Central, all the way down to Southern California, all the way down to Ventura, and is therefore very important for that.
Of course, it's also a flood barrier for those areas. They have seen a 33-foot rise in the water that comes down from the mountains, overnight, at least once in their recent past, if not more, and you can even see the flood levels where it actually happens.
A third, and at least a third, use of this dam of course, as you may have guessed, is hydro-electric. There are five 'giant tubes', if you like, that come out of the base of the dam, at Shasta, which are so large you could drive a double-decker bus (a London Routemaster bus) through the middle of each one. They don't look like that when you're standing up on the ridge of the mountain looking down, they look of course like a normal air conditioning duct would look. These are huge elements that pour water through to five huge generators; the generators themselves are six storeys high. These are vast machines that can produce incredible amounts of energy, and as we were being taken through, I noticed that only one of these generators is on.
The gentleman guide, who unfortunately I couldn't record because it's a 'Homeland Security issue', explained that each of these six-storey generators (that work on induction based on copper-wire centres and all the rest of it) can produce in 24 hours, each, the electrical requirements that a city the size of Dayton, Ohio, needs in a month.
In other words, one day produces a month's-worth of electricity for a population of some 140,000 people. It's hard to tell; the greater metropolitan area of Dayton is in fact about 800,000 people, but let's just take the lower number for a second.
So that would mean that we could in fact have five of these turbines running, producing, every single day, six times the requirements of a month-long energy needs of Dayton Ohio, and that includes, by the way, all of the billboards and all of the pointless electricity that's wasted in our very wasteful way, solely from water, from hydro-electric, from a clean source. I know it's not completely certified because it has a very big effect on the environment; the Three Gorges Dam in China, for example, is of course not a 'green technology' in the way it's been implemented, however, we're not burning fossil fuels to make this energy.
A gentleman who was on the tour, and whom I unfortunately didn't get to speak to afterwards, but I should have done, said that he'd come from a different state and he'd heard about the brownouts and blackouts that happen in California; these were very famous in the 1990s. There were various power companies that got famous for turning off the electricity; it turned out they were turning off the electricity in California to up the price of it.
The peak usage, of course, is in the afternoon, so consequently the price for electricity in California shoots up in the afternoon (I think it's after 11am it goes into its second tariff), and so the guy was advising us to do all of our washing and all the rest of it in the mornings. This gentleman said he was new to the state and didn't understand why, given the fact that this dam could create such an incredible abundance of energy, why it wasn't being used. I bit my lip as hard as I could as the guy then said 'well, you have to understand, electricity is a commodity, it is sold as a commodity, and it needs to be restricted so that it is worth something to be sold'. He then also pointed out without a hint of irony that there are something like 100,000 dams in the United States, and at the moment the US only operates on something like 17% hydro-electric power.
If you take the facts that I just told you, that there are, just in the Shasta Dam, enough generators to power Dayton Ohio, for a month, five times over, in 24 hours, and that that load-balancing could be spread out towards all of California, you're looking at a massive increase in green energy overnight.
One big criticism that we always get in the movement, is that we're advocating things that are too expensive to build; that it's too expensive; that it's actually a bad use of finances to build what they consider to be boondoggles: pointless large exercises in faux-greenwashing sort of stuff; large solar panel harvesting farms that would probably use more carbon in the expenditure of creating the farm than what they actually harvest, and all the rest of it.
Well... use the Shasta Dam as an example, and all we have to do there is switch the bloody thing on and we'd be ready.
So it was a very interesting point. At the moment we operate on a model that requires inefficiency; that requires that we don't even use the clean, functional sources of hydroelectric power, or indeed any of the other clean sources of fuel that might actually already exist, literally are plugged into the grid already, and are just simply not being used, because to up the output to an abundance, where it starts to have a real effect on dropping the price of your electricity and dropping the environmental cost of it, which is of course way more important than what it costs to actually pay for it, is something that is selected against in our model of restriction and ownership, and old folk-ways and traditions that we've been bathed in and that we've just been born with, and which seem to be inextricably bound up with our character until we actually look at them and say 'hang on, we could do this a lot better.' We could do this in a way that's way more clean, way more sound, would be life-environmentally-financially sound, in that sense.
So I thought it was a hilarious sort of example, working in practice, of the exact problem we talk about, but in such a flagrant way, in which the answer to all of California's energy problems sits in a tiny secluded valley somewhere, and the switch to use it is simply on 'OFF' at the moment.
If you're ever there, the tour is free (the Hoover Dam is not free) and it's an amazing thing to see. Only as a work of engineering, is it already incredible; that they were building this in the 1940s; that they diverted the river through what became a railway tunnel, so that they could build this, and it was built really quickly as well. They build it ahead of schedule, under budget, as if those things mean anything, but it shows you that it really can be created. It'll actually be finished, as in fully dried out, in something like 2040, which means it'll have taken 100 years to actually complete it in that sense. It's three quarters of a mile thick, and the guide was only too happy to reel off all these amazing facts about how much energy it could produce, how much irrigation it provides, and ironically he was producing the facts on its non-use as much as the facts on its use."
Ben, you said that you would look into it further after the show. I'd really appreciate it if you could round up your thoughts about this tale into a narrative post on TZM Blog.