In the early seventies someone said we wouldn’t have solar power until the oil companies got a monopoly on the sun. Now it appears that this is happening.
Within the last five years, a powerful elite of multinational oil companies, aerospace firms, utilities and other large corporations has been quietly buying into the solar industry. The group’s aim appears to be to squeeze out smaller competitors and control development so that alternative energy sources will never threaten its massive investments in fossil fuels and nuclear power.
Most of these are the same corporations that for years have been viewed by alternative energy activists as solar’s worst enemies. In countless advertisements, political campaigns and conferences during the last ten years, they have branded solar technology as impractical and expensive … a source of power that at best will someday provide one percent of our national energy needs.
Now, however, solar technology appears interesting to companies like Shell Oil, Atlantic-Richfield, Northrup, Amoco, Exxon, and Mobil — all corporate giants that have taken control of solar power firms in the last several years.
Further, the federal government is even helping them in their efforts toward monopolization, More than 90 percent of the federal solar energy budget for research and development has ended up in the coffers of the largest corporations in the United States. The Department of Energy has given nearly $2 billion to these companies since 1971 — tax dollars that have gone into centralized, inefficient solar-projects designed for control by giant utilities and oil companies.
Excluded from the funding process have been hundreds of small companies and community groups, people who consistently seem to have had the most cost-effective, immediately practical solutions to the energy crisis. Their proposals for low-cost solar heating systems, wind-power projects, and community conservation programs have come back from Washington — unsupported, unfunded, and sometimes apparently unread.
Milton D. Stewart, chief counsel for advocacy of the Small Business Administration, provided one example of the effectiveness of corporate granstmanship.
Solarex, while an independent firm, applied for Department of Energy assistance but didn’t receive it. After Amoco bought a 20 percent block of Solarex stock, DOE announced the company would receive a $7 million research grant.
The failure of the media to alert the public as to how big business is monopolizing yet another source of energy — the sun — qualifies this story for nomination as one of the “best censored” of 1980.
New West, August 11, 1980; Mother Jones, September-October, 1980; San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 15, 1980, p 5.