Bipartisan compromise works in North Carolina on energy bill

In an article written by Lucille Sherman and Adam Wagner in The Charlotte Observer called “NC’s governor signs major energy bill, laying the groundwork for a budget compromise,” much needed bipartisan compromise is highlighted. It should be as this is the way things need to happen for lasting changes. Both sides must buy into the agreement.

Here are a few key paragraphs, but the entire article can be linked to below.

“With North Carolina’s top Republican lawmakers standing beside him, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed Wednesday a piece of energy legislation that was years in the making. The long-awaited proposal, House Bill 951, solidifies Cooper’s goal of carbon neutrality in the state by 2050 and gives Duke Energy, the state’s dominant utility, a win it has long sought on multi-year rate-making.

Though some of North Carolina’s businesses and renewable-energy advocates objected to the bill’s passage, the compromise is a win for both the Republican-majority legislature and the governor, and it comes as both parties negotiate a spending plan for the state….

When you’ve had a successful experience in negotiating a deal, it makes the next deal between the same people much easier because you understand each other better and you understand that you can’t get all you want,’ said Senate minority leader Dan Blue, a Democrat serving Wake County.

The energy bill is not the first compromise between the two branches this year. Cooper signed a criminal justice reform bill with bipartisan support and worked with the legislature to create a plan to reopen schools amid the pandemic. But the energy proposal is one of the most complicated compromises between the two branches yet, and lays the groundwork for an even bigger trade-off in budget negotiations.

‘It creates momentum,’ Sen. Paul Newton, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, said after a committee meeting last week. ‘Having a bipartisan solution here on energy does help lead to a bipartisan solution on the budget.'”

As with any compromise, there is give and take. But, the key is something tangible and largely helpful got done. This is the way it should be. Getting helpful things done is what we are owed by their efforts. Kudos for making it happen to all involved. Please keep doing it.

https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/politics-government/article254959687.html

Walmart and Mars – a reprise on two environmentally conscious companies

This title is not an old Paul McCartney and Wings’ song, that would be “Venus and Mars.” This is a reprise of a post written three years ago. We need more companies like these two to make a difference. Fortunately, there are.

What does this title mean, you ask? Walmart and Mars are two global companies moving the ball forward to combat climate change. Mind you, it is not just altruism driving these efforts, it is creating a sustainable, more predictable and better cost model. And, companies care about cost.

On PBS Newshour yesterday, an update on an earlier story was provided.  Walmart has a goal of being 100% renewable energy powered which they established a decade ago under CEO Scott Lee. They started simply, retraining their truck drivers on better ways to shift gears and drive to save fuel costs and actually measure fuel efficiency in truck driver performance.

Walmart also is converting their 12,000 stores to renewable energy. The PBS Newhour update noted that almost 500 stores in the US have been converted to solar power. Now, 28% of their US energy needs comes from solar energy. Retail stores have a lot of roof space, so companies like Walmart and IKEA have growing numbers of solar powered stores. They are also asking their suppliers to be better environmental stewards.

Mars is known for its candy, the biggest seller being M&Ms. Their goal is to make decisions that are “good for the environment and good for Mars,” They are using combinations of solar and wind energy to power their manufacturing plants. They just rolled out a new wind farm in Texas, a state that produces more wind energy than any other. Mars has noted their costs are lower with the renewable energy.

Fortunately, Walmart and Mars are not alone. Google, Facebook and Amazon are driving forces behind renewable energy given their significant data and distribution center power needs. Their centers in North Carolina are a reason NC ranks so highly on solar energy lists.

Yet, we should not lose sight that the cost of renewable energy has decreased so greatly, the decision is not just environmental, it is economic. Paula Diparno of CDP said on PBS Newshour that addressing climate change is “no longer a punishment, it is an opportunity.”

That is a huge shift in mindset. She added that there are three stakeholders for companies – customers, shareholders and management. Customers are noticing, shareholders are becoming more insistent and management better be paying attention. To this end, Blackrock, a major institutional investor, is requiring its companies to define what they are doing about renewable energy and climate change.

To this end, because of Blackrock’s efforts, Exxon Mobil’s shareholders voted last year to require management to do more and report back on addressing climate change. Ironically, this vote was the day before the current US President announced that he was withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Accord. That contrast speaks volumes.

Letter from my Republican Senator who voted for the Infrastructure Bill

The following response from Senator Richard Burr was after I thanked him for his vote and encouraged him to see this thing over the finish line with his advocacy.

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684). I appreciate hearing from you. 

Please know that I understand your thoughts on the historic infrastructure package that recently passed in the Senate. As one of the 22 Senators who helped negotiate the framework of the bipartisan bill, I believe it is a major investment in America’s economic future. It provides the largest core infrastructure investment in our nation’s history and it does so responsibly – without raising taxes. While no compromise bill is ever perfect, I’m proud to have worked with my Senate colleagues to find common ground on an issue that affects all Americans. 

This bill is particularly important for growing states like North Carolina. As more families and businesses call North Carolina home, we have to have the right infrastructure in place to meet the needs of a growing population. Poor roads and high traffic areas cost commuters and businesses a not insignificant amount of money each year. This legislation will provide $9 billion to update, expand, and repair North Carolina’s roads and highways. It also invests heavily in airports, bridges, rural broadband access, and our clean water supply. 

America’s aging infrastructure poses a risk to our economic growth and our ability to compete globally in the 21st century. Modernizing our roads, bridges, railways, ports, waterways, broadband capabilities, cybersecurity, and more will help lower the costs of doing business, create more jobs, and spur innovation. 

For these reasons, I voted for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on August 10, 2021. It is my hope that the House of Representatives will quickly pass this historic investment in our nation and that President Biden will stick to his commitment to sign H.R. 3684 into law. 

Again, thank you for contacting me. Should you have additional questions or comments, please do not hesitate to let me know or visit my website at http://burr.senate.gov. 

Sincerely, 

Richard Burr

United States Senator

There she blows…in Texas

The following is a modified comment I made on a recent blog on the need for climate change action. The forward thinking author of the blog and post lives in oil rich Texas, which has a secret that more folks need to hear about.

What is amazing to me is how few people in Texas (and elsewhere) know the state is the fifth largest producer of wind energy in the world and that the industry employs over 25,000 people in the state. This year renewables will surpass coal as the second largest producer of electricity in Texas (see link below).

Two key reasons are the wind blows madly across the state and the state legislature actually passed funding to build power lines to the wind turbines to harness the electricity. Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens said about eight years ago in a “60 Minutes” piece, natural gas is buying us time, but the future of energy in the US is wind energy.

And, yet this is all a secret. We need to shout this from the rooftops and do more of it to drown out the naysayers and make a difference.

*Note: The author of the blog is from Iowa, which now gets about 40% of its electricity from wind energy. This transition is happening and just needs to happen faster. By the way, if California were a country, it is the fourth largest producer of solar energy in the world.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/texas-us-wind-power-renewable-energy/

Water problems have been around for ages – a revisit

The following post was written five years ago, but still is relevant. Since that time, the city of Cape Town, South Africa came perilously close to running out of water, being saved by severe rationing. And, climate change continues to make the water crisis is even worse.*

The water issues that have been plaguing Flint, Michigan residents are not new. Our planet has had water (and sewage) issues dating back to when people gathered together in villages. In Steven Solomon’s book called “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” he describes how the mastery over water resources kept leaders of civilizations in power. The needed mastery revolved around water to drink and bathe in, water to carry sewage away, water for transportation and trade and water for naval control.

Here are a few examples to illustrate this point.

  • Every major city has had water/ sewage issues. In London in the 1850s, a  major problem came to a head which was called the Big Stink. The planners had sewage lines dropping waste into the Thames. When cholera and dysentery epidemics broke out, initially, the planners thought these were air borne diseases. But, when they realized a brewery, where employees drank free beer, had only minimal breakout, they realized the diseases were water borne. It turned out the sewage line was perilously close to the line that pulled water from the Thames to drink. Once that was remedied, the breakouts subsided.
  • In Edinburgh, the Scots had an unusual way have handling sewage. It turns out, the city dwellers would throw sewage out of their homes around 10 pm, which is the reason people smoked after meals to mitigate the smell. This made foot traffic very perilous and less than sanitary.
  • In Chicago, when the city got so crowded and filthy, city leaders realized they needed to carry sewage away, but they could not figure out how to do it. An engineer had an idea that they should lift the buildings using railroad car heavy duty jacks and build the sewage and water lines beneath the buildings.This actually worked too well, as Lake Michigan began to get filthy and fish would be coming up through the water lines into bath tubs. So, they had to remedy where the sewage was dumped.
  • It is thought that the greatest Chinese achievement is the Great Wall. Yet, a more monumental achievement per Solomon was to build a canal between the two major rivers in the country – the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. This was a massive undertaking, but led to transportation and trade across the country.
  • Solomon also advocates the two greatest achievements in US History that made us a world power is the building of the Erie and Panama Canals. The former linked the east coast with trade of goods with the Midwest, making Chicago a very important port. The latter gave us access to two oceans and helped with global trade and naval might. He also credits the two Roosevelts as our greatest water presidents, with Teddy building the Panama Canal and buying watershed rights in the west. FDR built many dams to create hydro-power.

I mention this now, as Solomon has been a staunch advocate for addressing our water problems before it is too late. Flint-like problems exist in several cities right now. Yet, this goes beyond Flint, as our planet is drying up our water resources and it is noticeable by satellite pictures. It is also being made worse by climate change, which the Department of Defense says is one of the greatest threats to our planet. And, The World Economic Forum echoes these concerns with the global water crisis being the number one risk in their 2015 Global Risks report followed by climate change inaction. Solomon is adamantly against fracking as the amount of water wasted is huge per frack. He also notes that not only climate change will make the water crisis worse, but so will over-population.

Finally, the man who predicted the housing crisis two years before it happened, who is featured in the movie “The Big Short,” has only one investment right now. He is buying up water rights. Yet, outside of the Flint issue which is being spoken to by Clinton and Sanders, no candidate is addressing our water concerns and only one Republican candidate admits that climate change is a problem, John Kasich, with both Democrats being vocal about it. These might be questions we want to ask our candidates about, especially with Department of Defense and World Economic Forum noting their concerns.

*In Duke Energy’s own reports, it noted that climate change would worsen expected levels of water evaporation from their reservoirs by 11%. One of the drawbacks of less water not often thought of is the power companies need adequate water to convert into steam to turn turbines to power the generators for electricity. It mattes not whether the steam is being heated by nuclear, coal, or natural gas, the process needs water.

Focus on the issue not the blame

News and opinion shows spend far too much time on who is to blame and much less on the issue at hand. The issues are what matters, not who did or failed to do something. Just to throw a few things for your consumption.

In the US, both political parties have screwed up in Afghanistan dating back at least to the 1980s. By my count that includes four Republican presidents and three Democrat presidents. Because of our lack of homework and understanding, the US diminishing its involvement has led to the Taliban gaining a foothold in the 1990s and returning to power in 2021. The only time it was more stable was when we were there even in small numbers. I fully understand the desire to leave, but leaving totally will not help with stability in that country.

The issue with COVID and the Delta variant are hospitals are being overrun by patients. Too many are not vaccinated or taking sufficient precautions. For some governors and state legislatures to go out of their way to deny public health measures is beyond poor stewardship. These incumbents in leadership positions are trying to win political points by gambling with people’s lives. I find this abhorrent. And, it continues. If you know someone who is not vaccinated, the best advice you can give them is please speak with your doctor. Two outspoken COVID naysayers died in the last two weeks, one a legislator and one a conservative radio host. And, yesterday, a woman released from the hospital for COVID treatment went home to find her husband dead from COVID.

It was good to see nine attorneys representing the former president get sanctioned in a Michigan court for the frivolous lawsuit on election fraud in that state. The attorneys have been ordered to pay court costs for the two separate lawsuits and their actions have been referred to the state Bar Association. The law license of Rudy Giuliani has been suspended in New York state and Washington, DC as he faces two court cases, one for defamation against Dominion Voting Systems. And, we should not forget the US Attorney General for the past president was fired for telling his boss in front of others the election fraud claims were BS, using the actual word. Believing the former president is truly a fool’s errand.

In 2021, we have seen more of what climate change scientists have been warning us about. About ten years ago, I read a report conducted with Mercer Investment Consulting, the largest pension trust managers in the world, the World Economic Forum and various universities and think tanks. These trustees were worried about climate change costing multiple tens of trillions in US dollars due to larger and more wildfires, longer droughts, stalled weather systems on top of the rising sea levels causing coastal degradation and more intense hurricanes. Since then, our fresh water is also a worsening concern. This week, I saw piece on the risks due to climate change published in an insurance industry report regarding company and people’s assets in harm’s way. These are financial people who are concerned about financial risk. If that does not wake up well-funded naysayers, then maybe nothing will. By the way, I feel the numbers bandied around ten years ago are on the low side.

That is enough for today. Let me know your thoughts.

Infrastructure bill – letter to the editor

I am very pleased the US Senate passed an infrastructure bill. Here is a letter I sent into my newspaper this weekend. Let’s see if they publish it, but I at least wanted to let others see it, in case they do not.

I applaud the sixty-nine US Senators who approved the much needed Infrastructure bill, including the 19 Republicans (Burr, Tillis as well) who voted for it. The bipartisan push for this bill is very encouraging for this independent voter and shows we can remember how to work together.

This bill is about ten years overdue as our infrastructure is of great concern. Many may not realize we did not get the Chicago Olympics because our airport, train, communication and highway infrastructure was severely outdated. And, that decision was made several years ago. Let’s encourage our legislators to do more of this and cease the tribal politicking that will be our demise.

Green to Go Initiative in Durham (a reprise)

Our friend Jill has posted an excellent post on the need to severely reduce plastic use to combat the overflow of plastic in the oceans and landfills. A link is provided below. Here is a neat local initiative in Durham, NC that I came across and wrote about three years ago. These are the kinds of initiatives that need expansion to other places.

Many sports fans know that Durham is the proud home to Duke University or the site of the cult sports and life lesson movie “Bull Durham” with Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon. Some may know that Durham is one of the three cities that surround the Research Triangle Park which houses many global firms’ headquarters, marketing or research departments. But, it is now getting some good press for a grassroots initiative called “Green to Go.”

What is “Green to Go?” In short, it is a building partnership with 25 local restaurants to replace Styrofoam or plastic to-go or leftover containers with a reusable and durable plastic one. The idea is instead of throwing away a one-time product, it can be replaced by one that can be used for a 1,000 times. With islands of plastic in the ocean and spilling out of landfills, this is a much needed innovation.

How does it work? It requires a $25 membership, but let’s you check out a spill-proof container with your first order from one of the 25 participating restaurants. You simply return the cleaned container on your next order to any of the 25 participants and get a newly sanitized one. This is how the food inspectors are kept happy.

On the website link provided below, they have 507 subscribers and 1,522 measured uses of the containers. But, this is a replicable idea that will likely catch on with more notoriety. The website includes the PBS Newshour piece that I first became aware of their efforts. Please let others know about this and check it our for yourself.

STOP! | Filosofa’s Word (jilldennison.com)

AARP – Climate Change and you (a good synopsis targeting older Americans)

It is not unusual for AARP to have a good article in its monthly news bulletin. Its June, 2021 edition has a piece called: “Climate Change and You – Extreme Weather Is Affecting Older Americans’ Wealth, Health and Daily Life. How to Prepare This Summer and Beyond.” The article is written by David Hochman, Sari Harrar, Laura Petrecca and Brian Barth, but let me emphasize the beauty of the piece is it is geared to inform an audience that this problem is here now and is not just a future thing.

One of the key takeaways is a map that indicates “What’s the climate risk where you live?” The risk varies, so some areas are more prone to wildfire risk or water stress risk. Others are more subject to increased hurricane risk or sea level rise risk. While still others have more extreme rainfall or extreme heat risk. Or, some will have multiple sets of these risks. I mention this as too often naysayers will focus on sea level rise as its only risk.

The article is organized into Risk and Opportunity subsections beneath larger categories, so let me follow their lead noting the risk and impact, leaving you to read the supporting information. They also note a few things we can do to help on the remedial road, but acknowledge we need to do much more on a larger scale, which is beyond the scope of this article.

Your Finances

Risk: Greater storm risk Impact: Rising home insurance rates

Risk: Chaotic farming conditions Impact: More expensive groceries

Opportunity: Climate mitigation Impact: More green investment

Your Home

Risk: Hotter temperatures Impact: A shifting retirement map

Risk: Chronic weather catastrophes Impact: Falling home values

Risk: More extreme weather Impact: More fortified houses

Your Health

Risk: Seasonal changes Impact: More allergies and bug bites

Risk: Hotter climate Impact: Heat- related ailments

Risk: Rising ozone levels Impact: Increased lung disease

Your Lifestyle

Risk: Changing seasonal climates Impact: Tougher gardening conditions

Risk: Hotter weather and rising sea levels Impact: Lost travel opportunities

Risk: Heat and your air quality Impact: Becoming housebound

Risk: Shifting seasonal climates Impact: Birding flies away

What can you do to help?

Park the car (walk more)

Unplug electricity vampires (chargers, appliances, dormant wi-fi cords, etc.)

Eat less meat

Protect your home for less energy use

Discourage ticks and mosquitoes

Take heat and ozone warnings seriously

This piece is not intended to address systemic things needed like increased use of renewable energy, restoration of carbon eating fauna such as mangroves, sequoias and kelp or carbon removal or absorption technologies, etc. But, it does introduce this important topic in a different way to a group of people that needs to be more aware of climate change. Climate change does not limit its risk to our children and grandchildren – it impacts us older earthlings today.

My remarks to the NC DOE on the Clean Power Plan (in 2016)

In 2016, the Republican led North Carolina Department of Energy permitted citizens to speak at a conference as they were suing the Obama administration to not develop a Clean Power Plan in response to the Paris Climate Change Accord. Some of this is dated, but is still appropriate as we have moved further down the path of renewables the production cost has become even more favorable and we have passed a tipping point.

Last month, I was given the opportunity to speak to representatives of the North Carolina’s Department of Energy and Natural Resources at a public hearing. Our state is included in law suit against the EPA having the authority to require the states to develop a Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions. In companion to this suit, our state leaders developed a poor attempt, in my view, at addressing the required plan.

Here are my remarks which had to be limited to three minutes.

My name is Keith Wilson. I am an Independent voter and NC taxpayer.

I am speaking to you as both a tree hugger and business person.

I am disappointed in our state’s position on the Clean Power Plan and advocate moving the ball further down the path of renewable energy than the plan is required to do.

I say this as per the 2015 Global Risks Report prepared by the World Economic Forum, the two greatest risks noted by member organizations over the next 10 years are:

(1) Global Water Crisis and

(2) Failure to act on climate change

The need to move to renewable energy is more than a climate change issue, it is a water issue. As noted by the excellent Charlotte Observer series last month, we have global, national and regional water crisis, which will only be made worse by climate change.

Water is the new oil.

In the Observer series, it noted that Duke Energy loses about 1%- 2% of water on a daily basis when creating power from the Catawba River using fossil fuel and nuclear energy. The water is lost through dissipated steam.

At a conference called “Our Water: An Uncertain Future” last month, the director of Duke’s Water Strategy noted that Duke Energy includes climate change impact in their water projection models. He noted that they expect to lose an additional 11% of reservoir water due to more evaporation from climate change.

Per Duke’s projections, the Catawba River cannot support the growth in the Metro Charlotte area without change.

The move from water intensive fossil fuel and nuclear energy to renewable energy is key, as solar and wind energy need not be water reliant to create power.

Man-influenced climate change will only make our water problem worse.

From a business standpoint, there are several reasons why the move to renewable energy is key.

The fossil fuel industry likes to tout jobs and impact on people in poverty as drawbacks to the move. These are shortsighted reasons, as solar and wind energy jobs are growing like gangbusters with double digit growth.  On the cost of energy being higher, that is also shortsighted as well and is using the wrong equation.

The cost of production of renewables continues to fall and wind energy is the most cost effective source in the UK and Germany, right now. But, that is not the right equation.

A total cost equation will look at the present value cost of production,

  • plus healthcare,
  • plus environmental degradation,
  • plus water loss,
  • plus litigation,
  • plus maintenance of coal ash sites.

When these total costs are compared, my guess is the result will easily favor renewable energy.

Further, companies like Apple, Facebook and Google are relocating power intensive data centers to NC due to our solar energy success and incentives. These companies are attracted to innovation.

*************************************************************************************************

So, the tree hugger in me says you better be concerned about our water and what climate change will do to it.

The business person in me says, the better bet is on renewables.

Let me close that this is not just a progressive issue. Per a ClearPath survey of conservative voters, 75% favor a move down the path of renewable energy.

It is time our state and national leaders caught on to this desire. My strong recommendation is to approve the Clean Power Plan and stop wasting taxpayer money on the shortsighted EPA lawsuit.