The future of solar energy is here

It is not uncommon in this age of truthiness, where news sources either under report or bias their reports of the news, for real news stories to get lost. In fact, with the heavy funding and control of the fossil fuel industry of politics, advertising and news, some purposeful misinformation and disinformation gets in the way of good news renewable energy stories. The following is a small news story as reported by Time Warner Cable News, but a real one, which shows how the solar energy industry is truly an existing and growing confederation of small, medium and large-scale projects.

“ROWAN COUNTY – A new solar farm in Rowan County (North Carolina) is bringing new jobs with it. With each piece workers are adding thousands of solar panels to a farm in Rowan County. o2 energies has hired more than 100 local workers. The project will generate $20,000 a year in property tax revenue. Sheep will also be on the land to eat the grass which will help with solar energy levels.

‘You don’t hear it, you don’t smell it. You really don’t see it. There’s no trucks bringing fuel in and out and there’s no waste to get rid of when it’s done,’ said Joel Olsen, president of o2 Energies. The solar farm should be completed by Dec. 18. The power generated will be sold to Duke Energy and should be enough to power approximately 540 homes. The price tag is $10 million.”

The larger truth is North Carolina is the 4th most prolific solar energy state in new development in the country. North Carolina is also attracting a series of east coast data centers to add to the likes of Apple, AT&T, Bed Bath and Beyond, Facebook, Google, Walt Disney and others. Apple is showing the path forward with its solar powered center, which has surplus power it sells back to Duke Energy. These data centers are power-hungry to operate, so controlling your own destiny with solar energy is key. It is not off subject, but Google has bought a wind energy farm in the Netherlands to power its European center, so it is not just solar energy that is used. And, it should be noted that over 90% of IKEA stores in the US are solar-powered.

Right now in the United States, there are more solar energy jobs than there are coal energy jobs. This trend should not be a surprise and I fault leaders in coal industry regions for not seeing the future and planning ahead. By clinging to the past, they have actually done a disservice to their constituents, as the needed decrease of coal use is not news. It is not too late, though. We should move even more quickly from some of these dirty energy sources to more renewable energy sources. It is not a stretch, as the jobs will be there. And, that is without talking about the huge success of wind energy in places like Texas and 36 other states.

Yet, it may be worthwhile to re-read the quote in bold above from the President of o2 Energies. That should be ample evidence to show what the future should look like, especially since it is already here.

Voting rights have greatly evolved from when we started, yet are under attack

When our Constitution and Bill of Rights were drafted and approved about 225 years ago, only 5% of our people could vote. Women were not permitted to vote. Slaves were not permitted to vote, but were considered 3/5 a person to give more weight to predominant slave-owning states in Congressional representation. So, pretty much you had to be a property owner to vote.

Our history of voting rights has been an effort to increase the 5%. Slaves were given the right to vote when the Civil War ended, but when they had too much clout, Jim Crow slapped them down. Women were given the right to vote less than 100 years ago, which is still amazing it took that long when you look backwards from today. The Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act passed fifty years ago remedied Jim Crow’s suppression of African-American votes. And, it has taking an ongoing effort to make sure maltreatment of minority voters is not occurring.

Yet, we seem to have a hard time remembering what we are all about. I have written several times about the cookie cutter Voter ID Laws which have other features designed to suppress the vote of young college students, African-Americans and the elderly. Several of these laws have been ruled unconstitutional and are in various stages of appeal. In my own state of North Carolina, the most restrictive Voter ID Law will be on trial next year and should be overturned for unconstitutionally. The question is will it.

Also, in the last two years, our Supreme Court struck down some of the policing and auditing under the Voting Rights Act, saying it was no longer needed. To this day, I am wondering what country our Supreme Court justices reside in, as the country I live in still has some suppressive tendencies, as noted above. When people want less turnout to win an election, then something is wrong.

When you couple the above items with gerrymandering districts, we no longer have competitive elections in many places. The competition is in the primaries for each party and what we end up with, more often than not, are lesser candidates and officials. With so much strident extremism in our major political parties, a moderate candidate does not stand a chance. So, we citizens are malserved as we need more moderate candidates who can govern and understand their party does not have all of the answers. Some are not even permitted to understand the questions and problems per below and are not allowed to think for themselves.

I will be writing in the future about the recent rulings in the Supreme Court which made an age-old problem worse, by making it easier for a wealthy few to control elections. Money is now equated with free speech. Corporations are now people. Together, these rulings allow those with the most money to more easily write the rules. And, our country’s leaders are not listening as much to its citizens, paying more attention to its donors who helped them get elected.

This has got to change, as our problems are too apparent and opportunity is not equal in our country. And, those with the most money want to keep it that way. There is a movement to amend the constitution to restore order by overturning these Supreme Court decisions. In Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Florida, citizens voted overwhelmingly for their legislators to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling and declare that only human beings – not corporations – are entitled to constitutional rights and that money is not speech and campaign spending can be regulated.

Please look into the movement called Move to Amend and learn more about what it entails. But, also get more informed over the issues of the day and pay less attention to the spin-doctored misinformation offered by pseudo-news sources. We have to hold our leaders accountable, as it is a huge uphill climb.

A few difficult movies to watch, but you must

My wife and I watched “Twelve Years a Slave” a few days ago. We had put it off, but finally decided we needed to embark down the path, purposefully choosing an afternoon showing, rather than viewing it just before bed. It was a very tough movie to watch, but it is probably one of the most impactful movies I have seen recently. It makes you watch hard truths and learn that this is how not to act or treat people.

It made me think of some other movies that were equally hard to watch. I will avoid the plots where possible, as some readers may have not seen the movies and I do not want to spoil the endings. But, do watch these movies, as they are needing to be seen more than ever, with some extremists ramping up their dialogue to treat people differently.

“Sophie’s Choice” is probably the hardest movie I have ever had to watch. It also is an exemplar of one of the finest acting performances you will ever see with Meryl Streep playing the title character Sophie at various times in her life. The movie focuses on the atrocities of the Nazis and I will leave it at that.

Along these same lines are three movies – “Schindler’s List,” “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” and “Life is Beautiful.” All three focus on the maltreatment of Jews during the Nazi regime, but the latter is around the imprisonment of an Italian Jewish family. “Schindler’s List” is the more infamous movie, but the others are indeed worth watching.

Three more movies regarding the stomping on US civil rights of African-Americans which are difficult to watch include “42,” “The Help” and “The Butler.” Even though each are entertaining, the violation of civil rights shows through and serves as a backdrop that leaves you uneasy. And, it should. The fact they are entertaining will get more people to see them and experience the unease.

A movie that may not get as much notoriety, but is worth the watch is “Missing” with Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemmon. The movie is about two at odds people, in a wife and her father-in-law, looking for their missing husband and son in Central America after it becomes apparent, the US aided a military coup. This movie is so well acted and laid out, you are taken along on their quest.

I recognize fully I have left off a number of movies. I also recognize I have left off movies that I have not seen, which are equally atrocious. So, I would love to hear your thoughts on some needed, but difficult movies to watch. And, we do need to watch.

Moving forward on dealing with climate change

Many around the world have reacted favorably to the deal announced between the United States and China on addressing climate change. The details have created some discussion, but the overarching announcement is huge and could be a game changer if others follow suit. We are the biggest economies and polluters on the planet, so by making this demonstrative statement together, it is major step in the direction we need to go.

Attached is a link to an excellent summary on the “10 things you need to know from the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” report from the United Nations. This report clearly identifies the need to act more aggressively and we are well beyond the time move forward.

The naysayers have already begun their updated drone of a response. It will mean higher energy prices and cost jobs are the mantra. Two quick comments. First, the cost of renewable energy has dramatically declined and will continue to decline. So, the cost alarmists are overstating the impact. And, when the cost of doing nothing to address the issue is factored in, it will be cheaper to be proactive than reactive.

Second, this is not an either/ or jobs issue. There are jobs being created in renewable energy. In fact, there are more solar energy jobs in the United States than coal industry jobs as confirmed by Politifacts. Per Dawn Wallace of The Triangle Business Journal, in the third quarter of 2014:

“Across the nation, more than 18,000 clean-energy and clean-transportation jobs were announced in more than 20 states during the quarter, up from 12,000 announced in the second quarter. During last year’s third quarter, 15,000 jobs were announced, as calculated by national nonpartisan environmental policy group Environmental Entrepreneurs, or E2.”

Here are the top 5 states, with jobs created in the third quarter:

1. Nevada: 6,556

2. New York: 3,822

3. California: 2,070

4. Colorado: 1,333

5. North Carolina: 876

Rather than complain about the jobs that may be lost in the coal industry, the states where the industry is significant should have been reading the tea leaves starting ten years ago and planned ahead with a phase in to new clean energy jobs. This would have eased the transition. There is a lot of wind in the mountains where coal is mined, so wind energy as well as solar energy are there for the taking and it is not too late for coal energy states to move forward.

Of course, I am not a scientist, as the popular retort notes, but I am excited by this development of the US and China making a joint announcement to move forward.

What would Atticus Finch be thankful for?

One of my favorite and most admirable characters in a fiction novel is Atticus Finch, the father and attorney in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” As we approach my favorite holiday of Thanksgiving, I was wondering what the reserved Atticus would be thankful for? Here is a man who was rolling a boulder uphill against the downhill racism that would eventually convict and kill an African-American client, Tom Robinson, during the Jim Crow era of the south.

- Atticus would be thankful for Boo Radley who saved his children’s lives from a hateful racist Bob Ewell whose actions led to the conviction of Robinson. Ewell, in a drunken stupor, attacked Scout and Jem in the woods, to pay back Finch for defending a black man against the Ewell version of the truth.

- He would be thankful for Calpurnia who was the housekeeper, cook and surrogate mother to his children. Like many in the south, Calpurnia represents the many African-American women who greatly helped southern households. Atticus would have been lost without her.

- He would be thankful for Scout’s passion. She would likely be getting into mischief the rest of her youth, but she would make errors of commission not omission. It would never be dull with Scout around.

- He would be thankful for Jem’s determination. Jem would not let his father go by himself to see the Robinson’s, nor would he and Scout let Atticus stand down the lynch mob at the jail by himself, knowing they were his protection.

- He would be thankful to his outspoken friend and kindred soul, Maude Atkinson who explained so well that Atticus was one of the people put on this world to do our unpleasant tasks. She was the spoken conscience to Atticus’ unspoken one.

- He would be thankful for Sheriff Heck Tate, who saw injustice at the hands of racism, but went quietly about doing his best to find what little justice he could for the disenfranchised.

- He would be thankful for the integrity of Tom Robinson, who in the face of lies and deceit, stood as tall as he could, until he could no longer. Robinson is the tragic figure in the story and represents a long line of African-American men who have been maltreated.

- He would be thankful for Reverend Sykes and others who found value in what Atticus did for those in need and who were stepped on because they were black. The line that makes me tear up more than any other line in a novel is when Atticus leaves the court room after fighting so hard for Robinson and Reverend Sykes tells Miss Jean Louise (Scout) to stand up with them as “your father is passing.”

True heroes do not have to carry weapons. In fact, the greater heroes are those who do not. They fight for what’s right, usually against difficult odds. I am thankful to have read and watched the movie version of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I have seen how a real hero acts.



Affordable Care Act Enrollment Help for 2015

With the Affordable Care Act showing success under multiple measures (reduction in number of uninsureds per Gallup, median premium increase of only 4% per McKinsey Center for US Healthcare Reform, dampening of medical cost increases per the Congressional Budget Office and improving US Treasury Bond outlook, as a result, per Invesco, Credit Suisse and Charles Schwab), the second year of enrollment will be kicking off November 15 lasting through February 15. More insurance companies, like United Healthcare, will be entering a greater number of markets which will increase competition and benefit consumers.

The actuary in me is pleased with greater competition, but I want to remind folks to consider coverage, if they have not done so already. To avoid a future train wreck for you and your family, I would encourage folks to sign up for care, select a physician (or confirm which plans include yours, if you have one) and use the preventive services under the program. The Corporate Benefits Manager in me notes that a weakness of the ACA is its complexity making it difficult to communicate. Like employer plans, some of the offerings are high deductible plans to save money on premiums. Yet, the consumer needs to measure in her/ his plan selection what she/ he may pay if a non-preventive service is needed. If you are not comfortable with exploring your options, please work with an ACA navigator in your community who can help.

Finally, as a Board member of an organization that helps working homeless families, the absence of (or poor) healthcare insurance is the leading cause in the US for personal bankruptcy per The American Journal of Medicine, NerdWallet Health and Harvard University in three separate studies. The ACA offers an opportunity to gain coverage at a subsidized rate if your income is from 1 x to 4 x the poverty rate. Note, for a family of four, this means your family income could be as high as $94,000 and some level of subsidy could still be provided. The navigators can help you plan what the subsidy might be, if you need help. Or, you can go to to do your own investigation and make your own selections.

I ask for your help in communicating the enrollment, as so many are still unaware of what the Affordable Care Act is and does per the Kaiser Family Foundation survey. Especially those in rural areas, where so many forego coverage and go to the Emergency Room after a healthcare crisis occurs, strong consideration of coverage is needed by more than a few. My family of five has been covered under an ACA plan and it has worked very well for us, even with services for my middle child who is at college in another state. Plus, there is so much campaign rhetoric that accentuates the negative and does little to speak to the many positives of the ACA. When you dig deeper in the survey data, Americans like the many features of the ACA, but their opinion sours when you use its nickname, which is wielded like a weapon.

Truth be told, people would benefit from the ACA and many do not understand it or have discounted it because of political machinations. And, that is unfortunate. Please help spread the word about the opportunity and let people make informed judgments and not rely on political chess maneuvers. Like in chess, it is the pawns that are sacrificed. Kaiser noted in a survey this summer, that of the people who did not like the ACA because it was too expensive, almost two-thirds of those folks were unaware they had a subsidy to reduce the cost.

Significant support passed laws for minimum wage increases in four states

On Tuesday, a few successful ballot initiatives were drowned out by the reporting of the Republican victories. Yet, some of the initiatives that passed are noteworthy due to their bipartisan support and magnitude of victory. In particular, four more states and one major municipality passed significant minimum wage increases beyond the federal requirement of $7.25 per hour.

- In Alaska, voters approved an increase in the minimum wage to $8.75 in 2015 with over 68% of voters favoring the increase.

- In Arkansas, 65% of voters passed an increase which will phase up to $8.50 in 2017.

- In Nebraska, 59% of voters passed an increase that will phase up to $9.00 in 2017.

- In South Dakota, 55% of voters passed an increase which will increase the minimum wage to $8.50 in January and index it with inflation.

- In San Francisco, the minimum wage will phase up to $15.00 per hour in 2018, becoming the second US city to pass a phased-in increase of that magnitude.

There are now fourteen states with increases decided in 2014 that will take the minimum wage beyond the federal minimum. I should add that Illinois received approval from voters to come back with a ballot initiative on a minimum wage increase. According to the Business Journal, 29 states have minimum wage rates higher than the federal level. These majority of states have done this due to the gridlock in Congress that has prevented them from acting on a recommendation by the President. There are two links to articles below, the first on the votes noted above, and the second which summarizes the fourteen states who passed such laws in 2014.

I have been personally advocating for an increase in the minimum wage for several years. The national living wage for one adult varies by location per an ongoing study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but nationally is just over $10 per hour. This is the reason for the use of the number $10.10 per hour in several states and is consistent with what the President proposed for the new federal requirement and what he put in place for federal employees.

In my work with working homeless families, we observed that the median salary for our families was $9.00 per hour. We had several with an hourly wage over $11.00, but with a family, that cannot cover what is needed. For an adult with one child, the living wage is in the $19.00 per hour range. It should be noted that a single working mother family is the fastest growing homeless group. Many of our homeless working mothers are victims of domestic violence, divorce or having children out-of-wedlock.

The current minimum wage cannot support an adult, much less a parent. This issue has bipartisan support and several retailers have grasped the need to increase wages. I applaud these states and their voters. Now, we need Congress to take up this issue. It is not just a Democrat issue; it is an American issue.