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

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/

Wednesday wanderings early in July, 2021

Crosby, Stills and Nash sang:

Just a song before I go
To whom it may concern
Traveling twice the speed of sound
It’s easy to get burned”

Simon and Grafunkel added:

“Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobble stones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy”

In our 24 x 7 world of social media and pseudo and real news sources that tell us what to think, everything seems like a problem of urgency. Isn’t this horrible and we must act? Part of this is very real, as in this big world, something bad is happening somewhere. Since “if it bleeds, it leads” or is there is conflict between sparring legislators, it makes the news.

Good news stories do get reported, but in inverse proportion to their occurrence. The good news stories are far more common and everyday, but are not deemed newsworthy. I recall a silly example on a music show called “Where are they now?” which usually highlights a band that had success, then fell apart. They filmed one on the group Kansas, but it never aired. Why? The band members were all living normal lives, so it was not titillating.

Yet, the other part of these pervasive bad news stories, which can be tragic and dispiriting, is the news that needs to be talked about, but does not get much coverage. Here are a few.

  • We have a global fresh water problem that is only being made worse by climate change.
  • That climate change problem is no longer a future event – it is brandishing its fangs now with more wildfires, droughts and stalled weather patterns, along with more intense hurricanes and tornados.
  • On the good news side, renewable energy is growing at a rapid rate now that cost of production is economical and fossil fuel companies are being held more to account by shareholders and judges..
  • There is a poverty and hunger problem in the US and abroad. Too many Americans go to bed hungry. Too many Americans live beneath or at paycheck to paycheck.
  • The US has a huge debt and deficit burden that was already bad before the pandemic relief and tax cuts – now it is far worse, with interest cost becoming an increasing part of the budget.

These issues don’t get talked about enough. Even on the better news stations, the focus is way too much on which political party benefits from an issue. The issue itself gets less reporting than who benefits. In fact, wedge issues are seized to beat the other party over the head with, even if the problem has been around for years. I have long grown weary of problems not being addressed, because of optics. Do something.

But, back to CS&N and Simon and Garfunkel, let’s also balance all of this with the good stuff that is going on every day. I recognize there are too many folks that are wound way too tight. They seem looking for a fight if some thing or some person makes them do something. Get over it. The world does not revolve around you. If you have to wear a mask to get in some place, then you know what you need to do.

Yet, we should endeavor to leave all of our encounters on a better footing. Somewhere in some book I read, some guy called this rule golden. Something like treat others like you want to be treated. Now, that is something to evangelize.

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.

Mid-week miscellany

Another mid-week has arrived. I thought I would use the hump day milestone to offer some miscellaneous comments. In no particular order:

-have you ever noticed the hamburger or chicken sandwich you pull out of the fast food wrapper looks very little like the one advertised on TV, online or in flyers?

-have you noticed with the success of Popeye’s chicken sandwich, more fast food place seem to now have a chicken sandwich, with a piece of chicken that has to be on steroids?

-speaking of food larger than it should be, one of the jobs my brother-in-law used to have was measuring the enlarged size of fruits and vegetables that grew near a nuclear energy site.

-speaking of energy, setting aside the climate change need to move to renewables, don’t you think we should pursue energy that won’t harm us when it spills? When a wind mill crashes in the sea, the only thing you hear is a splash. One of the big cost savers from renewables is not having to spend money to clean up messes or pay litigation costs when people are harmed.

-it is exciting to see the new electric powered Ford 150 pick-up truck following on the electric Mustang fleet; American car makers need to move forward with these investments to compete with foreign automakers.

-speaking of cars, one way to save money and improve your health is walk to places close to home taking a cloth bag for shopping. Also, a high percentage of car accidents happen close to home, so that risk is lessened, especially in today’s cell phone age.

The less we drive, the better it is for our planet. We benefit here as I have a shopping center within a mile and a half of my house in one direction, a small grocer within a half-mile and another smaller mall within two miles. My favorite use is to drop my car at the service place and walk home to wait and back when it is ready

That is all for now. Happy rest of your week.

Greta Thunberg accuses leaders of creative public relations – reprise from 2019

My wife and I just watched the first part of a PBS documentary series on Greta Thunberg and her climate change response advocacy. Below is a post I wrote two years ago following her UN speech in Madrid. I had the good fortune of seeing her on her US trip before she traveled back for this speech. One of the highlights is how much a student of the issues she is, unlike many of her loud critics who offer personal attacks and even death threats in rebuttal. Plus, I should add the US has reentered the Paris Climate Change Accord and has seriousness of purpose to help lead the efforts.

In an Associated Press article called “Teen activist accuses leaders of ‘creative PR’ at UN climate talks” by Aritz Parra and Frank Jordans, Greta Thunberg did not shy away from calling leaders on the carpet. The activist who was recently awarded the Time Magazine Person of the Year for 2019, “accused governments and businesses of misleading the public by holding climate talks that are not achieving real action against the world’s ‘climate emergency.’”

Using a multitude of scientific facts, Thunberg “told negotiators at the UN’s climate talks in Madrid they have to stop looking for loopholes and face up to the ambition that is needed to protect the world from a global warming disaster.” It should be noted, the US is present, but its attendance is on the shoulders of lower level folks who cannot make decisions. Unfortunately, sans the US leadership as one of the two biggest polluters, other countries did not send decision makers either.

“‘The real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening, when in fact almost nothing is being done, apart from clever accounting and creative PR.’ said Thunberg.” Even at age 16, she is savvy to an age old practice by leaders to look like they are doing something when it is all a part of a subterfuge.

There was a positive action last week, “where the European Union announced a $130 billion plan to help wean EU nations off fossil fuels. German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said she hoped the “European Green Deal’ would ‘give the discussions here (in Madrid) a boost.’”

“Some experts echoed the activist’s concerns about lack of progress. ‘In my almost 30 years in this process, never have I seen the almost total disconnect that we’re seeing in Madrid, between what the science requires and the people of the world are demanding on the one hand and what climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful actions,’ said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US based non-profit group.”

The lack of leadership on climate change is appalling and was a major concern of mine if the current (now former) US president won the election. Good things are happening in the US in spite of his naysaying efforts, but the world needs its leaders of the bigger polluters to be part of the solution. Thunberg is well deserving of her honor and continues to speak truth to people in power. It is sad that she knows far more about this topic than many adults who could make a difference. That would include the (now former) US president who is more concerned with perception and awards than helping the planet address this pandemic-like issue.

The virtuous cycle – a repeat

The following post was written about six years ago. Since that time the production cost of renewable energy has fallen to be competitive and, in some cases, lower than fossil fuel energy costs. And, that is without the residual costs of fossil fuel acquisition, transport, litigation, and maintenance.

The virtuous cycle is a nice term, but what in the heck does it mean? In the context under which I most recently saw it used is with one of two ultimate rationales why the move to renewable energy will begin to accelerate and replace fossil fuel energy sources.

Of course, renewable energy has many benefits and as the cost of production continues to fall, it will be on par with current fossil fuel energy production costs. This does not even consider the other costs that can be avoided which are inherent in the fossil fuel process. And, a key rationale for the migration will be the avoidance of the significant water loss that occurs in the fossil fuel and nuclear power production process through dissipated steam and loss of water to retrieve natural gas and oil through fracking.

But, the virtuous cycle will be one that will join water as the key reason for the accelerated migration to renewable energy. In essence, in fossil fuel energy production, energy has to be used to create energy. For example, to create electricity with fossil fuel, we have to burn coal or natural gas to boil water into steam to turn the turbines which turn the electromagnet generators. We have to exhaust energy to make more energy.

With renewable energy, we need not exhaust energy to make energy. The sun will shine and the wind will blow. They are doing this already, so we are merely harnessing that energy to produce electricity thereby creating a virtuous cycle. Using monetary terms, we do not need to spend money to make money, once the solar panels or windmills are created. Yes, we need to maintain them, but we do not have to spend energy to create new energy.

This matters now as energy companies look to build new energy production facilities. As a company considers the building over years of a natural gas-fired plant, the virtuous cycle of renewable energy may render that natural gas investment obsolete before a return on investment can be achieved. Companies will migrate to cost-effective and environmentally friendly energy sources. The fossil fuel industry is big on focusing on the cost and jobs as reasons to do more of the status quo, yet the production cost will flip the other way and will become more favorable for renewables. The jobs are already there and growing rapidly with double-digit increases.

So, when  people say we cannot afford to move to renewable energy, that is actually a very short-sighted argument. When you factor all of the added costs on environment and health of fossil fuel acquisition, use, and future maintenance, the costs are already in the favor of renewables. The virtuous cycle will accelerate the move even more.

The Frackers – the Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters (a reprise from 2014)

The following piece is a reprise from a post in 2014. It is important to read the concerns of six years ago about this industry. Fortunately, the renewable energy industry continues to make huge strides.

I recently completed a very interesting book written by Gregory Zuckerman, a Wall Street Journal reporter called “The Frackers – the Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters,” published by Portfolio/ Penguin Press in 2013. Zuckerman is also author of “The Greatest Trade Ever.” I highly recommend this book as it is as entertaining as it is informative, in multiple ways. It gives you a clearer picture of the risks and rewards of fracking, but also shows how hard it is to both glean the fossil fuel you are seeking and to be so highly leveraged in debt as you do.

The successful fracking companies, usually bucked the odds and the more measured risk takers in the larger companies who had much more capital to withstand some of the risk. As a result, even the ones who had success, usually failed before, after and sometimes during their success, due to the need to be land rich which came at a highly collaterized cost of debt. When some went public, they also had to contend with impatient shareholders. These wildcat developers made and lost huge sums of money, oftentimes with their egos getting in the way of knowing when to stop.

Zuckerman does an excellent job of telling the story of people like George Mitchell, who has been called the “father of shale fracking,” Aubrey McClendon, Tom Ward, Harold Hamm, Charif Souki, Robert Hauptfurher and Mark Papa, among countless others who were key to the success of gleaning natural gas and oil from places that were perceived too difficult to crack. He also defines why methods and strategies are so secretive, as companies will follow suit to leverage off your success. These men and their companies, Mitchell Energy, Oryx Energy, Chesapeake Energy, Continental Resources, Chenier Energy and EOG Resources, were truly the path finders in this process called fracking. They led the US to become more energy independent, yet in so doing, understated or overlooked the risks that came with those rewards.

As I read this entertaining book, I found myself convinced of a preconceived notion, that the main mission of these guys was to make a lot of money, as well as proving others wrong. Some even took delight that their hypothesis was true, even if they had not benefitted as greatly as the company that bought out their rights. Yet, what I also found this lust for money also was an Achilles Heel, and there seemed to be less consideration of what fracking was doing to the environment. They were more content to let the problems be handled by someone else and often belittled the complaints and complainers.

Zuckerman addresses these concerns from the frackers viewpoint earlier in the book, yet does devote an Afterword to the environmental risks that are real. But, before doing so, he notes that George Mitchell, late in life continued to buck convention. Per Zuckerman, Mitchell “gave millions to research clean energy even as he, along with his son and Joe Greenberg, invested in a new shale formation in Canada.” But the quote that interests me most, is by Mitchell who responds to those who contend how safe fracking is:

“Fracking can be handled if they watch and patrol the wildcat guys. They don’t give a damn about anything; the industry has to band together to stop isolated incidents.”

This dovetails nicely with a well-worn phrase I gleaned early on. Even if fracking were safe, it is only as safe as its worst operator. Mitchell, the father of fracking is more than acknowledging the bad operators. His son Todd, who was also in business with his father, said “his father’s work will have had a negative impact on the world if it forestalls progress on renewable energy, instead of giving innovators time to improve wind, solar and other cleaner energy sources.”

Let me close with an even-handed quote from Zuckerman, which frames the issue, yet also notes a caution. He answers the question “Is fracking as bad as activists say, and what will its impact be as drillers continue to pursue energy from shale and other rock formations?” His conclusion is as follows:

“The short answer: Fracking has created less harm than the most vociferous critics claim, but more damage than the energy industry contends. And, it may be years before the full consequences of the drilling and fracking are clear.”

With my reading I would agree with both of these sentences, yet not place the fulcrum in the middle of the scale. I would be more on the side of vociferous critics as the evidence continues to mount and as non-industry scientists are revealing issues. The massive water usage, the seepage of the poisonous slickwater fracking fluid into the environment, the particles that are blasted into the atmosphere which are causing breathing difficulty, and the degradation to the surrounding environment just to get vehicles and equipment into frack are compelling arguments by themselves.

But, the great caution in his last sentence is where we need to focus. “And, it may be years before the full consequences of the drilling and fracking are clear.”This is the bane of any environmental group fighting for people and the environment. Oftentimes, it takes years for the true damage to be seen and felt. Some show up in shorter order, yet when the companies making the money do not want to stop a mission, they can afford to fight people who cannot clearly make a connection. The developers want to settle with each complaint at minimal outlay and move on. Unfortunately, the people exposed to the problem, remain in harm’s way.

Coal energy risk is very human as well as planetary

The following paragraphs come from an article today called “Coal mine accident in China’s Chongqing kills 23” by Reuters.

“Twenty-three people died after being trapped in a mine in China’s southwestern city of Chongqing, the official Xinhua news agency said on Saturday, the region’s second such accident in just over two months.

The dead were among 24 people trapped underground by excessive levels of carbon monoxide gas at the Diaoshuidong coal mine, the agency said, adding that one survivor had been rescued, after more than 30 hours of search and rescue efforts.

Friday’s incident, which occurred at about 5 p.m. (0900 GMT) in a mine shut for more than two months as the company dismantled underground equipment, is being investigated, it added.”

Coal-mining accidents are not new, even though they have lessened over the years with greater precautions and fewer coal miners. Most of the coal stories are around the used up coal ash leaking into water reservoirs or the diminishing role coal plays in energy in the US.

I highlight this story as coal-mining remains a dangerous job and one that is not life lengthening due to the exposure to inhaled dust. When a wind mill system or a solar farm fail, people do not tend to lose their lives. Not only are these sources of energy helpful to our planet, they are less risky to the workers.

As the cost of renewable energy has fallen, the use of coal has declined further. Natural gas development put the first nail in the coffin of coal and renewable energy sources like wind, solar, tidal, hydro, geothermal, etc. are adding the other nails. In Texas, coal is being surpassed this year by renewables as the second largest source of electricity behind natural gas.

As oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens noted early last decade, natural gas will buy us time until wind energy takes over in the plains states. That time is now, with Iowa, Oklahoma and Kansas getting 1/3 of their combined electricity from wind energy and Texas getting over 1/6 of its electricity from wind, as the largest producing state.

I am saddened by the loss of life. Maybe, these lives won’t be lost in vain and efforts to migrate to renewable energy will hasten.

Coal mine accident in China’s Chongqing kills 23 (msn.com)