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The Final Word by Chuck Swann
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In a previous offering, I noted Marshall McLuhan's thesis about looking into the media and into social and industrial happenings for "distant early warnings" about what the future might hold for us. McLuhan took the notion of distant early warnings from the "DEW line," the string of radar installations the US built across Northern Canada. The DEW line was supposed to warn of missiles that might come crashing down on North America from across the North Pole. Well that frightful scenario cooled off, but McLuhan's thesis about portents still stands.

A distant early warning for the pulp and paper industry might lie in the action of Lincoln Electric System, a Nebraska utility company. Lincoln is encouraging its customers to install solar panels as a hedge against what looming environmental regulations might bring to the power industry.

Nebraska is one of 24 states suing the federal government to stop the Clean Power Plan, which is aimed at reducing carbon emissions in the USA from burning coal to produce electricity. The global environmental drive for clean air resulted in the international conference in Paris that hammered out a pact to clean the air worldwide. In the light of uncertain success of the suit against the US government and the certain impact of international actions, Lincoln Electric (and other utilities) are hedging their bets through plans and actions aimed at coping with a changed future.

Nebraska utilities are required to let customers offset their purchases of electricity with power from such home-grown sources as solar panels. But the rates at which Lincoln Electric will pay for consumer-generated power have been called remarkable. Through generous payments, the company is actively encouraging consumers to generate more of their own power. Said Randy Schantell, owner of a company that builds solar systems, "Lincoln Electric System's efforts may help them when sweeping changes are made to address climate change. Most utilities will be blindsided by things to come. LES will be prepared."

How many pulp and paper mills will be prepared for sweeping changes?

Chuck Swann is the senior editor of Paperitalo Publications. He can be reached by email at chuck.swann@taii.com.


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