Wind waltzes across Texas

Relatively unknown to many Anericans is the rapidly growing success of renewable energy in America. California is the significant leader in solar energy and Texas is the predominant wind energy state.

As reported on CBS Morning News this week, there are 24,000 renewable energy jobs in Texas mostly in the wind sector. That is more than 1/3 of coal jobs in the whole country. Further, over 16% of the electricity produced in Texas comes from wind energy at the end of 2017.

What may be surprising is former Republican Governor Rick Perry deserves credit for pushing a bill to expand the electric grid to draw power from the wind turbines. This action is vital as to power cities, the electricity has to be transferred from the plains areas where wind blows so strongly.

This makes Perry’s relative silence on the subject frustrating in his role as the director of the Department of Energy. He is doing the heavy lifting for the President as he pushes for more coal use. With the renewable energy jobs growing at double-digit per annum clip, one would think Perry might want to talk about expanding the nationwide grid.

Let me close with a reminder of the town of Georgetown, TX that is 100% powered by renewable energy. Republican Mayor Dale Ross noted in the CBS news interview that he is a Reagan Republucan, but breaks with his party on climate change. Ross, a CPA, wants to meet with the President as his Town Council voted to select the lesser and more predictable cost model for energy which is renewable energy.

Too many people debate renewable energy as a jobs vs. environment issue. This is an old argument and is no longer true. The market forces and development have made renewable energy more affordable. As a result, the jobs are growing. Just think of the wind waltzing across Texas.

Advertisements

US is going alone again

Unless we alter our course, this period of time will be remembered as when the US ceded its global leadership role. We are following a path of nativism and retrenchment. And, there is one thing for certain – we cannot shrink to greatness.

First, we drop out of an Asia/ Pacific trade partnership early in the Trump presidency. The remaining countries proceeded without the US and inked a deal at the end of last year. Why is this important? When approached to do a bilateral agreement, Japan told Trump to reenter the Asia/ Pacific agreement.

Second, last June we decided to leave the Paris Climate Change Accord, leaving an agreement with pretty much the rest of the world. Even ExxonMobil told us to stay in the accord. Fortunately, businesses, cities and states are picking up the dropped baton, but more is needed from our DC leaders.

Third, we do our darnedest to restrict immigration into our country from several countries and are actively seeking to expel both undocumented immigrants and children who came forward under DACA. What we fail to understand is immigration is accretive to our economy and this is a key part of our ideals.

Fourth, we have introduced tariffs on our allies and trading partners. Not only are we acting like a bully, we are acting unwisely, so say 1,140 economists including Nobel laureates and Presidential advisors. We could be precipitating a retrenchment of the global economy, of which we are a key part. The economists say this is how recessions start.

Fifth, by pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement, we are heightening global risk. But, we also have turned our back on our allies who asked us to work with them to stay in the agreement. With the reimposed sanctions any EU countries doing business with Iran will also be sanctioned. This will invite sanctions by the EU on the United States’ companies doing business there.

The President views the world in a transactional way which is why he prefers bilateral agreements. He must win the transaction. In multilateral agreements, everyone wins some and loses some. He also does not value diplomacy as we have retrenched in those capabilities. The hard work is done by these folks and China is lapping us in their diplomatic efforts.

We cannot go this alone. We should pay attention to the words of French President Emmanuel Macron when he spoke to the US Congress. He beseeched us to remain involved working with others.

 

Draining the swamp is hard with so many Yertle the Turtles

One of Dr. Seuss’ popular children books has a lesson for us all and a few have called it an important business book. Briefly, “Yertle the Turtle” is about a leader named Yertle who stands on the backs of his servant turtles to see his realm. Yet, as the stack grows, he continues to ignore the complaints of Mack the turtle on the very bottom. Of course, the stack falls and Yertle comes tumbling down. The moral to the story is not hard to decipher.

I mention this swamp example because the President was elected, in part, because he was going to drain the swamp. Setting aside why people believed an imperial man would deign to do basic things for the masses, what he has done is appoint people to be his Department secretaries whom are also used to nice things. He hired a bunch of Yertles making it hard to drain the swamp standing on the backs of others.

At least five of his cabinet members have come under fire for lavish expenditures on the taxpayers’ dime. HHS Secretary Tom Price resigned over his frequent desire to travel with charter flights. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is still on the job, but took seven military flights costing $800,000, one of which was coincidental to a city in the path of the recent solar eclipse (a certain Carly Simon song lyric comes to mind in “You’re so vain.”)

HUD Secretary Ben Carson has been the quietest of appointees until it was learned he was installing palatial furniture totalling $165,000 in his office. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is also traveling well being $200,000 over budget robbing from emergency funds to pay for it.

Not to be outdone, EPA Director Scott Pruiit also likes to travel well and goes with  an entourage. Part of that is due to security reasons as he does not care for people reminding him his role is to protect the environment, not business. But, he is getting flak for his devious way to provide lucrative raises to two key staffers (and then deny it) and renting a luxury condo from a fossil fuel lobbyist at a very favorable rate. It should be noted that several Mack the turtles were reassigned when they complained of ethical concerns in the EPA.

These Yertles have always liked nice things, but so does their boss. His predecessor took a huge amount of grief for his travels and golfing. Yet, that has been dwarfed by the biggest Yertle in the White House who does not spend much time there as it is actually a step down in luxury to him. That speaks volumes.

It is hard to drain the swamp when you have so many Yertles doing the draining. And, this is without even considering the measures taking by these men to grease the skids for business reducing regulations, selling off rights to public lands and providing a huge tax cut. The friends of the Yertles are Yertles as well. Unfortunately, the Macks of the world only matter as props in this value enhancement for the Yertles. Not much is trickling down, just the opportunity for the Macks to stick their nose in the mud.

 

 

 

While Trump distracts, Pruitt pees in our swimming pool

One of my greatest fears of this President going in has been a retrenchment on dealing with climate change and environmental protections. While other concerns have surfaced on his watch, my initial fears are warranted. Selecting Scott Pruitt, a state attorney general who has sued the EPA multiple times, is not conducive to protecting the environment.

Announcing the future pull out of the Paris Climate Change Accord was an ominous step. Taking climate change science information off the EPA website is another. Reshuffling climate change scientists to less productive positions is another.

Yet there is more. Allowing coal companies  to dump pollutants in our waterways is a metaphor for the new EPA. Pruitt is letting people pee in our pool. And, just this week, there are two announcements worth noting.

First, The Huffington Post has reported an internal memo from a direct report to Pruitt  that tells EPA people to play down the science behind the climate change conclusions. This is not dissimilar to the governors of Wisconsin and Florida telling their staffs they could not use the terms climate change and global warming in dealing with the public. And, it is not dissimilar to George W. Bush’s Council on the Environment altering reports that used the words global warming or climate change.

Second, it is reported that the miles per gallon requirements placed on new cars introduced by President Obama will be rolled back. US car companies celebrate the announcement, but the environment and people will suffer. And, what is not discussed, our auto industry will fall behind as foreign car companies will move ahead with better mpg requirements. It should be noted, twelve states are prepared to sue the EPA on this change should it go through, one being California.

Pruitt is supposed to be the leader of the EPA. His people have to be one demoralized group to see a man who obviously cares less about the environment, let industry pollute more. Yet,  on a bright note, cities, states and businesses are moving climate change and environmental issues forward, more than picking up the slack caused by this anemic administration.

 

 

Water – the real crisis facing us

While Americans are distracted and consumed by the routine chaos out of the White House, we are letting huge problems go unaddressed. One of the major problems is the current and growing global water crisis. For several years, the World Economic Forum has voted the global water crisis as the greatest risk facing our planet over the longer term, defined as ten years. But, this is not just a future problem, the city of Cape Town in South Africa is in severe water crisis and continues to ration pushing forward their Day Zero as long as they can

Per The Guardian in an article this week, the United Nations warns that water shortages “could affect 5 billion people by 2050 due to climate change, increased demand and polluted supplies, according to a UN report on the state of the world’s water. The comprehensive annual study warns of conflict and civilisational threats unless actions are taken to reduce the stress on rivers, lakes, aquifers, wetlands and reservoirs.

The World Water Development Report – released in drought-hit Brasília – says positive change is possible, particularly in the key agricultural sector, but only if there is a move towards nature-based solutions that rely more on soil and trees than steel and concrete.

‘For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or ‘grey’, infrastructure to improve water management. In doing so, it has often brushed aside traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches,’ says Gilbert Houngbo, the chair of UN Water, in the preface of the 100-page assessment. ‘In the face of accelerated consumption, increasing environmental degradation and the multi-faceted impacts of climate change, we clearly need new ways of manage competing demands on our freshwater resources.’

Humans use about 4,600 cubic km of water every year, of which 70% goes to agriculture, 20% to industry and 10% to households, says the report, which was launched at the start of the triennial World Water Forum. Global demand has increased sixfold over the past 100 years and continues to grow at the rate of 1% each year.

This is already creating strains that will grow by 2050, when the world population is forecast to reach between 9.4 billion and 10.2 billion (up from 7.7 billion today), with two in every three people living in cities.

Demand for water is projected to rise fastest in developing countries. Meanwhile, climate change will put an added stress on supplies because it will make wet regions wetter and dry regions drier.

Drought and soil degradation are already the biggest risk of natural disaster, say the authors, and this trend is likely to worsen. ‘Droughts are arguably the greatest single threat from climate change,’ it notes. The challenge has been most apparent this year in Cape Town, where residents face severe restrictions as the result of a once-in-384-year drought. In Brasília, the host of the forum, close to 2m people have their taps turned off once in every five days due to a unusually protracted dry period.”

Here in the states, we exacerbate our drought and other water problems with bad piping and fracking, which waste or use huge amounts of water. But, with our vast agriculture, we need water to produce our and much of the world’s crops. We must manage it better. Two books are very illuminating. “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” by Steven Solomon is a terrific look back and ahead. He is the coiner of the phrase “water is the new oil.” The other book is called “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn that details the struggles of these professions and two others with climate change and its impact on water and other things they do.

Folks, this is a major problem. We must address it now before we all have our own Day Zeroes. If this is not enough to raise concern, one of the financial experts who forewarned us of the pending financial crisis, has a new concern – water.

 

Headwinds and Tailwinds to the Economy

Presidents get too much credit and blame for the economy. They can provide headwinds and tailwinds, but global market forces tend to control what happens. By headwinds, I mean the wind is against the economic growth, with tailwinds aiding economic growth.

In the US, we are under the third longest economic growth period in our measured history with 103 consecutive months of growth. We have also had seven consecutive years of 2 million plus jobs created. And, the stock market more than doubled under Obama and continues its rise under Trump. These are great numbers. But, before we pat ourselves on the back too much, not everyone has benefitted and wealth disparity among economic classes has been widening for the past thirty-five years.

Economists I have watched project the good news to continue for the year, but several have cautioned about the future and if we don’t address the inequity, we will have major problems on top of other concerns.

On the tailwinds ledger, the global economy continues to grow and the World Economic Forum projects a 3.9% increase for the year. In the US, the cut back on regulations, plus the reduction in new ones over the rates of the past, have given more confidence to businesses (more on this later). Plus, the reduction in corporate tax rates will help fuel some growth, provided these companies who are sitting on cash, choose to invest it in their people and business. And, with more money in many people’s pockets, this will add some fuel.

On the headwinds ledger, several economists have noted we are robbing Peter to pay Paul, leveraging our future with even more debt. Not only did we not address the expected increase in debt taking it from $20 trillion to $30 trillion in 2027, the tax law will increase it by $1.5 trillion. The interest cost thereon will take a greater bite out of our budget. But, other headwinds are of concern. Retrenching from global markets and trade agreements replacing them with binary ones, will be dilutive to growth. Not investing as much in science and innovation is a major concern to Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics.

This will be heightened if we restrict immigration. What seems to get lost in the argument where some have become too cold-hearted in my view, is immigration is accretive to the US economy. Plus, the people immigrating tend to be more entrepreneurial and better educated, in many cases. These sh**hole countries that someone demeaned are sending us more educated people than reside here in the states, on average.

We should not fail to remember that “innovation is portable” so says David Smick, an economic advisor to Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Jack Kemp, one of the smartest Congresspersons who considered a run for President. If we do not provide an inviting place, innovation may be hindered. I should note that Steve Jobs was born to Syrian immigrants to the US. What if they had been denied entry? Apple might not have ever come to fruition.

Finally, not all regulations are bad, so restricting regulations may cause headwinds down the road especially with more freedoms given to pollute the environment and take advantage of customers. This is a developers mindset. Remove obstacles to build, but leave the clean up for others. Unfortunately, we taxpayers are the others. We citizens, that must drink and breathe more polluted waters and air and realize the impact of climate change, are the others. As coal ash deposits have taught us, there is a cost to environmental degradation.

So, we need to be mindful of what we are facing. I have communicated with numerous Congresspersons, Senators and the President, that we are avoiding some elephants in the room – debt, climate change, water crisis and income inequity. In my view as an Independent voter, passing a tax law that increases the debt was extremely poor stewardship, as we cannot cut our way out of this problem. The math won’t work.

 

Good energy news on this cold, snowy day

Global citizens are rightfully concerned the US President is pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, but progress continues as “we are passed the tipping point on renewable energy.” Even the US pullout cannot stop the train, as states, cities, businesses and other countries continue the push. It just means the President and his team will not be at the adult table on this issue and may not be invited at all.

Here are a few miscellaneous energy tidbits that should offer encouragement.

Per the UK Based organization Carbon Tracker, here are a few highlights from the past year:

  • more than 1/2 of the US coal plants in existence in 2010 have been closed;
  • more than 1/2 of the remaining coal plants in Europe are losing money;
  • the UK has slashed electricity from coal usage from 40% to 2% in the last five years; and
  • there have been big strides in China and Australia on reducing coal usage.

Per the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the five member, Republican dominated agency denied the request by Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry to fund the building of more coal-fired and nuclear plants. This was a surprise move given the make-up of the committee. I would call this decision as not wanting to throw good money after bad.

It should be noted, it is not just coal that is giving the FERC commissioners pause. The US division of Westinghouse Electric Company had to declare bankruptcy for cost overruns on a new nuclear power plant for SCANA, the South Carolina utility. As a result, the new plant is being shuttered and SCANA is being sold to Dominion Resources, so as not to overburden SC citizens with the cost of the lost investment.

The International Energy Agency in their 2017 Energy Outlook notes the cost of new solar photovoltaic electricity has declined by 70% and wind energy has fallen 25% since 2010. It should be noted the IEA has tended to favor fossil fuel energy in past releases. China, the new country leader in the climate change fight, will be investing US$360 billion more in renewable energy by 2020. Plus, the price of solar has fallen so much in places like Zambia, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, it has won bidding contests against fossil fuel energy sources for projects.

Finally, any discussion on future energy cannot exclude the declining cost and increasing capacity in battery storage. Per Bloomberg New Energy Financials, energy storage will double six times between 2016 and 2030. Elon Musk just helped southern Australia go live with a major battery installation and 21 states in the US have planned projects on energy storage.

All of the above stories are important because it has always been a financial argument to combat the environmental concerns, whose long term costs have been undervalued. Now, the financials are favoring the renewable energy engine, so market forces will continue to force the ultimate demise of coal-fired energy, which started with the lower cost of natural gas. If a company can find a clean energy source which is cheaper and more predictable long term, that is easily the better path forward. If you don’t believe me, just ask companies like Google, Facebook, Walmart and IKEA to name only a few.