HIGHTOWER: Find the Future in Fargo

In an era that fawns on the high-flying, high-techers of California's Silicon Valley, it's worth a trip to one of America's rural outbacks -- North Dakota -- to visit some folks who're busy bringing high-tech down to earth -- and back to the grassroots.

The issue is energy -- an area that Californians have had a bit of trouble with recently, as they find themselves held hostage by a monopolistic, antiquated, inefficient, fossil fuel-based electric power system controlled by a couple of greedheaded and inept energy conglomerates. Meanwhile, if you want to see a brighter energy future, travel to the Holiday Inn in Fargo, North Dakota.

There in a small workroom, you'll find a 30-kilowatt Capstone MicroTurbine, no bigger than a refrigerator, humming quietly. This stand-alone power unit, unconnected to any utility's power grid, creates all the electricity to heat 200 rooms in the motel, keeping customers cozy even on the state's coldest sub-zero days. Not even the turbine's exhaust heat goes untapped -- it's used to provide hot water for the motel's kitchen, laundry, and public bathrooms.

This microturbine represents a fundamental shift in America's energy thinking, shifting away from today's massive, belching, centralized power plants that produce a billion-and-a-half watts of electricity each, which then has to be sent out along hundreds of miles of high-voltage wires. Instead, the micropower movement is based on Thomas Edison's original model of small, localized generators controlled by the users of electricity, with businesses and neighborhoods generating their own power.

Using new materials and technologies, inventors and entrepreneurs have updated Edison's vision with ultra-high speed turbines that are affordable, super-efficient, non-polluting, virtually maintenance free, and safe.

This is Jim Hightower saying -- Instead of continuing to subsidize failure, let's focus on the future in Fargo.


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