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.

 

 

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Moral Courage is Lacking

The following is a letter to the editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. It is not too dissimilar to a letter I posted on the websites of Senators David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas after they could not recall the President making insulting and profane comments about immigrants from certain countries.

Perdue went on to say Sunday to George Stephanoplous that Trump did not say that term. It should be noted Senator Lindsay Graham confided in two Republican Senators that the President did say it and confirmed that he pushed back on the President per Senator Dick Durbin. Note, I used to live in Georgia which I reference in my letter.

“As a former Republican, I am disappointed in the lack of moral courage of Senator David Perdue. When he had an opportunity to condemn the President for highly offensive remarks, he not only punted, he followed the lead of our largely untruthful leader. Is this the kind of man on whom the Senator wants to spend his dear reputation? I encourage him to honor my former state and his position and show moral courage.”

Quite simply, we must have leadership and moral courage from our Republican legislators. We are not getting either except from a very small handful. When this President defiles the office, he must be held accountable, a word like truth and civility, that he has a hard time executing.

A few straightforward suggestions to fight poverty

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

The above quote comes from the Pulitzer Prize winning book “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond. Its subtitle is also telling – “Poverty and Profit in the American City.” The dilemma is we have a poverty problem that stretches from urban to rural America. Yet, it manifests itself daily in the eviction courts of American cities and towns, whether it is from apartments, houses or mobile homes.

The book speaks of how fragile the rental community is regardless of race, yet the black community tends to have a higher rate of exposure to evictions in urban areas. Unexpected expenses, transportation problems, and tragedies can push people paying a very high portion of their rent over the edge and out the door. Ideally, 30% of family income should be toward housing and utilities. Too many of these folks are paying well above that percentage.

It should be noted that there are other drivers of fragility. Some have opioid and other dependencies. Some are fragile due to too many children that stretch the budgets of even the best planners. Some are in downward spirals with unsupportive landlords. And, many of those unexpected expenses that arise are healthcare related.

What are some suggestions to remedy these issues? Based on my experience as a volunteer Board member helping working homeless families and my reading, I would like to throw out some ideas for consideration.

First, we need to talk more about it. America has a huge disparity in distribution of wealth which is not talked about enough by leaders. Where and to whom one is born are greater predictors of success as the American Dream  has waned for too many.

Second, we need to fund more family planning efforts not less. There is a high correlation between poverty and large families. When family planning is funded and birth control access and education are increased, poverty declines, system health care costs decline and abortions decline.

Third, more mechanisms to reduce evictions need to be in place and funded. Crisis assistance funds show success in helping keeping the electricity on and, when funded, reducing the number of evictions. Stopping homelessness (or fragility) before it starts can make a huge difference and will have a positive echo effect.

Fourth, we must invest in impoverished  areas making them more suitable for families both with opportunity and resources. In their absence, crime and other poor influences fill the void.

Fifth, while I have concerns about the new Tax law with its impact on debt and heavy emphasis on the wealthy and corporations, a huge opportunity was missed when we could have added an increase in the minimum wage tying it to automatic increases due to wage inflation. I worry that less money than expected by the law’s drafters will end up in the hands of workers.

Sixth, we must address our opioid crisis in America. To be frank, cutting access to healthcare and mental care insurance benefits are not the answer. We must stabilize access and cost of healthcare, yet opposite measures have been taken in the past few years under the guise of political gain.

There are many more ideas, but these will help. On the investing front, many locations have seen success with using historical tax credits leveraging private money. There is a concept called ABCD (Asser Based Community Development) which shores up or repurposes an deteriorated asset creating jobs.

But, first we need to talk about this real and pervasive problem.

 

 

 

Letter Number 39

I have tried my hardest to reach out to various Senators, Congresspeople and even the President to share my concerns and thank them for certain efforts. Yet, what I have noticed is the use of a standard response letter created by subject. Sometimes, I have received the same letter more than once.

Over the weekend, I was speaking with a neighbor who is an attorney. Since I know he is of a similar mindset, our conversations usually turn to our political frustrations and concerns.

I shared my effort to contact legislators and he said that is nice, but usually is unsuccessful. He told me he used to work with a Congressman and would write those letters. He laughed that he once created “Letter Number 39,” which they would use to respond to a constituent.

We still have to try and contact these legislators. I usually don’t ask for a response anymore, because of the form letter responses. But, I do call and leave voicemails and occasionally speak with staffers. And, I continue with emails.

My friend’s comment is a little disheartening, but we cannot let it stop the reach out. I encourage you to write letters to the editor and share factual information with folks. It is a way to combat the fake news purveyed in large part by the US President and his sycophants.

A few hard truths

In the land where entertainment and sports news get much more attention, a few hard truths need to be communicated. On the first Saturday of the new year, here are a few of those truths.

Our capable intelligence community is convinced with a high degree of certainty that Russian elements influenced the 2016 Presidential election and continue to sow seeds of discord to disrupt the US. This is a continuing attack on the US by a foreign entity that our President and this Congress have largely chosen to ignore. My suggestion is to ask your Congressperson, Senators and President what they plan on doing about it?

The US Tax Plan was passed to a lot of fanfare and chest beating under the guise of stimulating the economy, but it still needs a larger sales job on disbelieving Americans. Giving a lot of money to rich people and corporations is supposed to trickle down, yet do we need to add $1.5 trillion more to an increasing debt? Do we need to further stimulate an economy that has had 103 consecutive months of economic growth dating back to June, 2009? Do we need to stimulate an economy that just posted 2 million added jobs for the seventh year in a row, with a continuing run up of the US stock market? Nonpartisan economist groups have posed the same questions.

Let me get this straight, is the Republican Party for states rights or for federal rights? It seems to differ based on where the power lies. The White House has announced that 95% of coastal areas will be subject to offshore drilling to the dismay of governors who want to foster their tourism and fishing industries. Further, the Attorney General wants to crack down on states who are now selling regulated medical and retail marijuana changing an earlier Obama order to allow states to do this. Both of these decisions are getting heavy nonpartisan pushback from state leaders and it is my understanding the White House was asked not to do this.

Finally, the US continues to declare the cut in funding to countries that do not cooperate with us. This is not necessarily new, but we seem to be bullying others more and to what end? We are not the biggest funders to these places and China, India and Russia are easily picking up more influence as we decrease ours. The Pakistan PM basically said it is not a big deal if they lose US funding. The question to ask as we beat on our chest, is who are we trying to convince, the other country or a base of uninformed voters?

That is all I have for today. Unfortunately , the answers to these points can be summed up in one ugly word, “politics.” Have a great weekend and 2018. One thing is for certain is it will be interesting one.

That big undo button the President has in his mind

Since there is such a fuss over “button, button, who has the largest button,” let me build on this theme with another button that comes to mind. For some reason, the President believes he has an “undo” button that can make people forget what has happened.

The most recent example is in response to the comments made by Steve Bannon, Trump’s former Chief Strategist, that are derogatory to the President and his family. In trying to diminish Bannon, Trump said Bannon was just a staff member who did not greatly help Trump’s election and never got one-on-one meetings with the President. Call me crazy, but Chief Strategist sounds kind of important and we should not forget that Bannon was given an unheard of security clearance usually reserved for Generals. As for the one-on-one meetings, there are pictures of the two of them meeting, which look like no one else is in the room.

Of course, he changes his stories so often, he presumes reporters don’t remember he said things. The infamous meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort and several Russians is now being referenced as treasonous and unpatriotic by Bannon. Yet, we should not forget that the President has changed his story twice on his knowledge of this meeting. First, he said he had heard about it shortly before the news broke. Then he changed the story to knowledge the month before the news broke as he funded $50,000 into Junior’s defense fund. Then, he changed it again and said he was aware of the meeting before it happened, but did not attend. Now, Bannon implies more to the story, asking the question why was the meeting held in Trump Tower?

The above story will likely haunt his son and son-in-law more than it will him, but his story changing as to why he fired James Comey, may come back to haunt him for obstruction of justice. Firing Comey was not the wisest move on Trump’s part, but he added fuel to the fire by doing the following: firing Comey without the courtesy of telling him or his communication people who had to plan on the fly in the White House shrubbery, deviating from the story as to why Comey was fired two days later in an interview with Lester Holt saying it was due to the Russia thing, and then providing altering versions of the story in future tweets.

For me, I am not going to let him off with an “undo” button. He has pushed that button so many times, it has worn out. My thesis is simple. If he is not guilty of anything, then why does he act so guilty with his story changing? And, for those who want him to testify to remedy all questions, there is an interesting story about a deposition he once did, when the opposing attorney made him recant under oath 30 lies he had told. When you change your story so much, it is hard to remember the truth.

The biggest global risk to the west

Ian Bremmer, the President of the Eurasia Group and a CBS News Correspondent cited his group’s report on CBS This Morning regarding the greatest global risk. In essence, he said the number one risk is an emergent China filling the void being left by a retrenching US from the global leadership stage. Here is what Bremmer said in the interview about China.

“They  have the strongest leader in Xi Jinping they’ve had at least since Mao [Zedong]. And because the United States is America first, it’s transactional. It’s unilateral. It’s undermining a lot of alliances. You put those things together and suddenly you actually have a China that is willing to engage in what is increasingly a geopolitical vacuum,” Bremmer told “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday.

“In other words, this is the first time we’ve ever seen as U.S. leadership erodes, no one else has been standing up. Now the leader of China is saying we’re prepared to stand up whether it’s on climate or the global economy, you know, regional security, you name it, that’s a big change for the world.”

Bremmer cited an easy example. The US President said he is going to cut funding to Pakistan as they are not doing enough to combat terrorism. The sad truth is it really does not matter that much, as China supports Pakistan more than we do and will step up. I mentioned in a recent post that twice now, Xi Jingping followed the US President at two world events in Davos and Vietnam. The Chinese leader gave the speech the US President usually gives regarding working together globally. Trump spoke of maximizing only American interests.

Not only is this counterproductive, it will actually hurt our share of the global pie making us less relevant.There are two things to note. First, the position that Xi is advocating used to be a foundation of the US Republican Party. The party sold its soul to support the short-sighted and bullying President who gives the illusion of being a populist.

Second, the US cannot shrink to greatness. We are actually doing pretty well as a country and were so when Trump took office. It is the distribution of wealth that is the problem and this President has done very little to resolve that problem. Lessening our global position not only will hurt our economy, it will make us less safe.

If Trump continues in office through one term, this period will be viewed by historians when the US made an unforced error and ceded its global leadership position. This is the exact opposite of what the President should be doing.