July 25, 2016
Gore Vidal Sounds Off on Solar Power Caper
Posted on Jul 6, 2007
Note to public utility companies: Do not cross Gore Vidal. A week after representatives from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power came to his Hollywood Hills home to inspect (and then shut down) his newly installed solar power system, Vidal is still “on the grid,” unable to use solar until the system is fully re-inspected. As his fans would expect, the puissant author and tough customer has let fly with some strong words about the utility company, the state of California and the state of the country at large.
Although the DWP insists that the shutdown was a safety-related standard procedure according to their protocol, and that there were some issues with the way in which his solar system was set up and activated, Vidal questions the use of said protocol and the motives behind it. Simply put, he tells Truthdig’s Associate Editor Kasia Anderson, “[utility companies] have no intention for anyone to use solar power so long as there’s a drop of oil anywhere in the world.”
Kasia Anderson: Let’s just catch up here in terms of where things stand at this point in the saga. ...
Gore Vidal: Well, in the saga of light and day and the dark of the moon ... exactly a year ago, there was a total blackout. I live in the Hollywood Hills, and the area around [my street] and other streets that go up from down below from the flats to the high mountaintop to help people cross over to the Valley—this is a street that people like to take to get from Hollywood, let’s say to San Fernando Valley, Burbank, and so on. That said, to my astonishment, I was, like everybody else, on the grid; I never questioned it, never thought about it. Next thing I know, for eight days we are without any power of any kind in the house, and some genius somewhere in the municipal divisions had managed to turn my telephone off. So, I had no telephone, no light, no nothing, and was forced, at enormous expense, to move with my godson, who is an expert—he’s part of the Green Party in France, where he lives, and he is not an American—I hope there was no resentment over that, but he was very helpful in just setting this thing up.
A lot of people fled. I was one of them. For one thing, I was not about to have a stroke; there was no air conditioning or anything else. So, I went to a hotel and stayed there at a huge expense for 10 days, maybe longer. And every day they’d say, “Oh yes, we’re getting closer,” and, “Well, your buildings are too old!” Well, this house was built in the ‘20s; that’s quite true. But why not tell me, the buyer of the house, when I bought it? Did anybody from Power and Water come by to say, “Well, you’d better check on such and such?” No, they didn’t. We did check on everything to make sure everything was OK. And so many people who had rented this house over many years had cheated everybody. We had one couple—he declared bankruptcy, she wisely did not, and she ended by owing us $45,000 in rent—doing nothing about light, anything else. I dare give no more examples of her bad citizenship, because the [Los Angeles Department of Water and Power] would immediately say, “She did it! She did it!” You know, they’re looking to blame somebody for the mess they made over here. The least they could do is transfer the fault elsewhere—well, they can’t. This was arbitrarily their own mess.
Square, Site wide
So in due course, my godson the Green Party man had worked out how simple it would be, and he got hold of some very nice solar people out here, so we did everything by the book to install, just to transfer over from the grid, which uses up what’s left of the oil in the world, and simultaneously we went to work to collect as much sunlight as we could. We didn’t think there was a war against it. I should have known better—this is America!—that anybody could have grabbed this, whether it be a municipal department who could claim it was under them, and you must clear everything with them ... well, that’s power! That’s real power. And it’s not power in the sense we like to think of it, which is power for the people who pay for ... power! And should get it in return and not have it taken away from them on some spurious thing: “Well, you didn’t clear; we have eight members of the board, and you have to clear it with all eight and you didn’t.”
And so we tried to, because we were told, after the initial installation had been made, that we must apply for inspection from the [DWP], which has invented a lot of rules which don’t exist anywhere in the Constitution, in the state of California’s laws, in any rulings by the state Assembly. The whole government has been thrown out by this one little bureau, sitting—cowering—over there in this great big building, and legislating our water, our power. “We have our rulings,” they say. Well, I’m sure you have; I’m sure you make 20 a day! And not necessarily the rulings of the citizens of the state of California. We’re not held by your rulings. We can be advised by them. We can be protected by them, and we know that’s what you care the most about: the well-being of the citizens of the state. You’re famous all over the world! California cares. The municipality of California cares!
Actually, nobody cares about anything except keeping total control and making sure that people, outsiders (even though I’ve been an insider in this state since 1929), are not going to get away with anything. They’re not going to be independent of the grid. The grid is holy. It drinks water desperately, like somebody starving in Death Valley. And, I shouldn’t think we were to be taken seriously on an important matter like this, which involves everybody! Who owns the sun? Well, I don’t think a little department strung up in this vast bureaucratic maze of so many little departments (and big departments) has any particular rights.
Anderson: So, just so that I understand the process, ... the contractor and your godson were aware of the procedures from the beginning and knew the DWP’s rules and [were] doing all the paperwork. As far as you knew, at the point of installation, you were good to go.
Vidal: Oh yes. More than good to go; people had been walked through it to see whether everything was correct and so on. No complaints. I don’t have affidavits, but I probably could collect them.
Anderson: And their initial complaint happened after they were finally made aware, last week, that it was installed and there hadn’t been an inspection. And their claim at that point was that it had been incorrectly and without permit ... [installed]?
Vidal: My first prediction—I like to think of myself as an authority on bureaucracy—would be that it was improperly installed. They didn’t know one wire from the other, the inspectors who came, and that’s why they made such a mess. They tore out my elevator, which gets me up from the downstairs part—I’m a gimp—and that was an unpleasant thing to do, because I woke up the next morning ready to go downstairs, and the machine wasn’t working; they had somehow ripped out the insides of it. I have some electrical stuff in the bathroom, which I need, and they had torn that out! This is a clean sweep! And they were not going to admit it. So, I started to call up the solar people, and they said, well, this isn’t solar that you’re going on, and I said, well, it basically is. They’ve torn everything up, and it’s because it’s “incorrectly done.” None of the people they sent over to examine it knew how it worked. So, they just went merrily around ripping wires out of the ground and pulling them out of the walls, without being invited in. It was also invasion of privacy.
And it was very daring, I thought. If we lived in a country of law, I’d have known exactly what to do: I’d bring charges. But we don’t. This is a country of cronies! “Heck of a job, Brownie!” I should have screamed from the housetops. “Heck of a job!”
The worse the work is, the more highly it’s celebrated, and there’s a bit of skimming going on all the time, too. Otherwise, why are there so many of these little departments, you know? Making rules by which the public must live—but they don’t have to! That is really strange.
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