Three More Renewable Energy Tidbits

In an effort to highlight continuing good news on the renewable energy front, here are three new stories. First, Google has now invested more than twice the nearest company or organization in renewable energy. Google can claim that they generate enough power through renewable energy to cover 100% of their global electricity needs in data centers and offices. Amazon does a lot as well, but they are in a distant second.

Second, Elon Musk’s Tesla Company is primarily a battery company parading as an electric car company. Last week, forty days ahead of schedule, Tesla switched on a 100 MW lithium ion superbattery storage facility in Southern Australia, which will help power 30,000 homes through renewable wind energy provided by French company Neoen. Musk said in the spring if they could not deliver on the promise in 100 days, the batteries and installation would be free.

Third, last week in Miami, the second annual conference on Companies vs. Climate Change was held. Companies like Ford, GM, Walmart, and Mars, e.g. were in attendance. While all regret the President announcing the US pull out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, they are not letting that stop their movement down the path of battling climate change.

It would be nice if the President supported global efforts, but he cannot stop the significant progress that is occurring. And, as one climate scientist has said, Trump did everyone a favor by the announced withdrawal, as it has heightened the urgency and brought even more attention to the problem.

Let’s keep up the momentum.

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A few financial retorts

In an effort to pass a Tax Bill in the US that heavily favors the wealthy and increases the US debt, I have heard several platitudes that are no truer today than when they were first uttered years ago. Here are just a few odds and ends to sink your teeth into.

When a politician tells you a tax cut will pay for itself, the follow-up question is  why don’t we do away with all taxes then? The current tax bill has been projected to fuel only 1/3 of the cost of the tax reduction, which is a little higher than average tax cuts yields.

Most CEOs have said they will use the tax break to buy back shares, pay higher dividends and retain key executives with better incentives. The answer we were promised by legislators is they would spend it on their business investments. These folks are sitting on cash already, so if they are not investing now, when?

By the way, when a company says it is going to buy back shares, more often than not, that is a sign of weakness. In essence, management cannot figure out how to grow the numerator (earnings), so they lessen the denominator (outstanding shares). This is a less risky way to prop up EPS growth and gain a greater incentive payment.

I have talked ad nauseum about the US debt which is being ignored. As we see it grow by more than $10 trillion over the next ten years, at some point there will be a huge day of reckoning and all previous politicians will and should be held accountable. We will see some deck chair moving on our Titanic, but we are well past ignoring this problem. If a Republican tells you they are a deficit hawk, tell them that does not appear to be true.

Finally, the last major Tax Reform was in the mid-1980s. It was a bipartisan effort that took about four years to do, led by some of the smartest tax folks in the Senate and House. These Tax Bills are not bipartisan, have been rushed through without hearings, are not popular and are not authored by folks of the same caliber as before. This speaks volumes.

But, no one is listening to the push back. Talk is cheap. We are about to pass an unpopular Tax Bill that largely benefits corporations and the wealthy and adds to our building debt problem. And, the folks who will bear the brunt of this are the people in poverty and middle class. Please speak with your Senators and Congresspeople. Ask them not to pass any Tax Bill that will increase the debt. And, remember it is easy to pass a tax cut; the opposite is where it gets hard.

 

 

Tell me why the CFPB is a disaster

In the current fued over who should lead the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, what should be focused on is why the President and Republicans are calling the CFPB a “joke” or a “disaster.” This agency has penalized banks, credit card companies, lenders, etc. almost $12 billion for aggressive marketing practices, selling products people did not ask for and outright fraud.

Over 90% of this money goes to the affected customers who have been cheated. A good example is Wells Fargo being fined $150 million for setting up accounts for people that did not authorize them, so employees could meet a bonus goal. Another is Bank of America being fined over $780 million for selling services customers did not ask for. Other brand name organizations have also been fined for bad practices.

The organization has also helped over 29 million people with issues and education on financial matters. Since, financial issues are complex and so many were harmed during the housing crisis, the CFPB seems to be a big help to everyday Americans.

The reason for the comments by the President and Republican legislators is the CFPB is working too well and banks don’t like this. It is far from a joke or a disaster, so reporters need to ask the speaker of such a comment as to why they say this? The pat answer is the CFPB has too much authority and too little oversight. Yet, it was set up to be removed from the political process for these reasons. Banks, et all don’t want to be fined for their business practices, so they fund politicians to diminish the CFPB’s clout.

My strong advice to banks is to stop screwing people over and maybe you won’t get fined. Stop selling people products they don’t understand such as variable or pick-a-payment mortgages. Stop selling them products and services they did not authorize. My sister is dealing with one of these banks right now on a credit card account she did not open.

So, Mr. President tell me again why the CFPB is a disaster? And, tell me how attacking this organization helps those voters who put you in office? To be brutally frank, when this President uses the word “disaster” it usually means he is being untruthful about something.

 

Need more to meet in the middle

The overarching theme of the book “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn is to accomplish lasting, impactful solutions (in this case with climate change and environmental concerns) we need to work with folks in the middle. In essence, the folks in the extremes are too strident and reluctant to compromise.

A good example comes from the Montana rancher as he combats climate change and environmental degradation caused by fracking for natural gas. He works with folks who will address the environmental issues, but permit him and his family to make a living ranching. He notes the fracking companies paint a picture that is far rosier than it is, while some extreme environmentalists want everything to stop and do nothing with the land. At personal risk, he built a coalition of ranchers, environmentalists and government officials who were willing to follow his lead to preserve the environment while permitting the ranchers to do their thing.

The Kansas farmer speaks to working in concert with the land and learning and sharing best practices with other area farmers and the agro-economics people at nearby Kansaa State University. Farmers want to maximize a sustainable yield on their crops, but climate change and water concerns increase the challenges to do so. He emphasizes growing what grows naturally in the area. There is a reason wheat and alfalfa are cash crops in Kansas. He notes the farm to table concept is not necessarily ideal – it would be a waste of water and land to try to grow everything there. As for climate change, they work with legislators to protect the water resources, but have to stop short of using that term with their representatives. They gain collaboration by speaking to what is happening, not identifying its lead cause.

The Louisiana based river man moves frieight up and down the Mississippi River. He understands the importance of experienced teams who know the river going both ways, with high, low or medium water levels. He has seen the significant dissipation of the wetlands in the Bayou which are causing huge problems to many, Engineers tried to outsmart the river and failed. In fairly dramatic fashion, the Gulf of Mexico is absorbing land due to rising sea levels and fewer buffers, So, they are working with scientists, businesses, and even the petroleum industry to slowly rebuild the Bayou.

It should be noted working in collaboration is how business and government work best. Yet, collaboration is hard work. For those who block the consideration of solutions, they need to be sidelined. In our toxic tribal political environment, we must remember each side does not own all the good ideas and both sides own some bad ones. Let’s follow the lead of these folks who get their hands dirty, understand what is happening and work together.

A few painful truths

We are overlooking some very painful truths primarily for short term gain. As I chatted with staff members for several US Senators, I found myself saying “you sound like a young person; you do realize we are leaving this problem for you?” I hope they start thinking more about what I said because of what we are ignoring.

The reason for my question is Congress has passed one Tax bill and is debating another that will increase our $20.5 trillion debt by at least $1.5 trillion. Yet, not only are we ignoring the $20.5 trillion debt, we are ignoring that the Congressional Budget Office projects that figure to grow by $10 trillion without the Tax bill impact. So, in 2027, the debt could be $32 trillion if the Tax bill is signed into law. This is beyond poor stewardship – it is malfeasance. We would be screwing those young staffers I spoke with.

Unfortunately, there is more. Our leadership has decided to make the US the only country in the world to not support the Paris Climate Change Accord. Not only are we denying hard truths and overwhelming scientific evidence, we are shooting ourselves and planet in the foot. Renewable energy is passed the tipping point and we risk getting left behind as other nations invest in Innovation for the new economy. Fortunately, cities, states and businesses are carrying the banner dropped by our leadership, who is being relegated to the kids table at Thanksgiving. At the next post-Paris event, the US may not be invited at all. If we don’t deal more decisively with climate change, we will be screwing those young staffers and their children.

A final issue to mention, but not the final problem we are ignoring, is the US is retrenching from our global leadership role to the delight of China and Russia and chagrin of our western allies. The President gave a speech in Vietnam this month similar to the one made in Davos earlier in the year. America will retrench to a nationalistic country seeking bilateral agreements. On each occasion, his speech was followed by Xi Jingping who gave the global leadership speech the US normally gives. What our President fails to understand is globalization lifts all boats and our economy benefits more than if we look to maximize only our share. This concept has been called the “Nash Equilibrium” in honor of the Nobel Economics prize winner who developed it, John Nash. If we retrench, we will be harming our future growth and screwing those young staffers.

As I mention, these are not the only things we are ignoring – poverty, job losses due to technology advances, healthcare costs, environmental degradation, infrastructure, better gun control, etc. Yet, should we not alter our path set by these leaders, this path will be defined in the future as the period when the US gave up its global leadership role. And, the world will be a lesser place because of it. Sadly, I have witnessed these words spoken by more than a few global financial and security experts.

 

 

A couple of climate clues

I am reading a great book called “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn. She focuses her attention on people in these professions (plus a few others) and how they work the earth and its waterways. They see what is happening with climate change and environmental degradation and have adapted over time what they do to continue their livelihood. The book has a subtitle of “Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland.”

A quote from a mentor to Justin Knopf, the farmer, is compelling. “Dr. Gary Pierzynski, head of the Kansas State University agronomy department describes…‘We have no doubt that climate change is happening. But we recognize that talking directly about it raises issues with some of our elected officials, who remain unconvinced and don’t support investing state resources to study it. So we emphasize our focus on challenges like extending the life of the Ogallala aquifer; we don’t disguise it but take away the climate change message.'”

It should not be lost on anyone that this man is about as far away from the coast as possible, but speaks of the impact on climate change on the agro economy and water sources. As an example, Knopf has used his experience to realize that using “no-till” farming is ideally suited for growing wheat and other products in his neck of the woods. When tilled, more of the topsoil is washed and blown away. When untilled, the ground keeps more of the creatures that naturally fertilize and break down the soil. It also aborbs more carbon.

He notes farmers continually experiment and share ideas, so what works there may be less suited elsewhere. I will write more on the book later, but what is fascinating is how these folks see what is happening first hand and adapt over time. Sometimes what they try fails and often it takes a few seasons for changes to fully be realized.Their livelihoods depend on it, so it is done with seriousness of purpose and observation.

On a different note, I saw a news report about Kodiak Island in Alaska. They are close to 100% renewable energy powered, using hydro and wind energy with battery storage. They switched when the diesel fuel got too expensive to shore up the hydro power when the demands increased. Also, a creative solution was used in the ship docks where they send and receive freight. Using a fly wheel concept, as one of the freight containers is lowered by the crane, it creates energy that is stored and used to lift the next container. The process continues as the containers are loaded and unloaded.

It should be noted the fly wheel concept is getting a lot of attention due to its elegance. In computer vernacular, elegance means the simplest and most effective solution. It also should be noted the cost of energy for the Island is more predictable and is lower than it was ten years ago. I highlight this cost statement as this is the new norm for renewable energy versus fossil fuel energy. The city of Georgetown, Texas came to the same conclusion when they signed a twenty-five contract for wind and solar energy rather than a shorter fossil fuel contract.

On the ground, local leaders, farmers, ranchers and fisherman are seeing what is happening first hand. They are making informed decisions that impact their future. It would be nice if our President, EPA director, Energy director and Congressional Republican leadership would make informed decisions. We could use their help and not their obstinance. The world is passing them by and they are not allowed to notice it.

Two Roads Diverge

Two news stories from yesterday paint pictures of which road can be taken with respect to battling climate change. The first road leads us to Copenhagen, where it is reported the goal of leadership is to be net carbon zero in the city’s mpact on the planet.

The city has new building codes which require eco-friendly approaches. There are schools with solar panels on the walls, buildings with greenery on top that utilize rainwater effectively, e.g. They also have numerous bicycle and walking paths, which support the 62% of the commuters who pedal to work.

The second road leads us to Washington, where the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is going to repeal the Obama Clean Power Plan. This plan gave the flexibility to states on crafting individual plans to bring down carbon emissions beneath 2005 levels.

Pruitt said the “War on coal is over” as he announced the change in Kentucky. What he fails to realize, it is over. Coal has been dying off and being replaced by cheaper and cleaner options. Natural gas drove the first dagger into coal and continues to do so. Trump’s own plan will drive it deeper.

But, we should not ignore that wind and solar are growing by double digit rares over the last five years and will continue to do so. In fact, in Pruitt’s home state of Oklahoma, they are one of the top wind energy states in the country.

Fortinately, cities around the world are leading the way on battling climate change, as they are the biggest polluters. And, they are learning from each other. States are also leading the way – several states will enable the US to meet the Clean Power Plan requirements by themselves.

Let me conclude with a quote from the CEO of a solar energy company at a conference in NC, the second largest solar energy state. He told legislators to “Just stay out of the way and we will blow past the Clean Power Plan requirement.” That is the question – we need Trump and Pruitt to just stay out of the way.