Newspaper column: Being ‘green’ is easy, ignore facts

If you thought the “green movement” was more about self-righteous politics than clear-headed science, here are two tales that prove the point.

In Arizona a petition is being circulated in an effort to get on the ballot an initiative called the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Amendment. This would require 50 percent of the electricity generated in the state to come from renewable sources by 2030.

The petition states: “The Amendment defines renewable energy sources to include solar, wind, small-scale hydropower, and other sources that are replaced rapidly by a natural, ongoing process (excluding nuclear or fossil fuel). Distributed renewable energy sources, like rooftop solar, must comprise at least 10% of utilities’ annual retail sales of electricity by 2030.”

To get on the November ballot petitioners must gather nearly 226,000 signatures by July 5.

If the measure passes it would necessitate the closure of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix, which currently provides about 35 percent of the state’s electricity, even though it produces no carbon emissions.

If the state were to achieve the goal of 50 percent of its power coming from mostly solar and wind, both of which are intermittent, there would be no room on the grid for Palo Verde’s power, because reactors can’t be quickly turned off and on — it takes weeks of preparation.

“We would have to shut Palo Verde down during the day every day,” one plant official was quoted as saying by Cronkite News. “But that’s not how nuclear plants really work. Nuclear plants can’t just be shut down and then started up again.”

The most likely source of rapid start-up generation would be natural gas, which produces carbon emissions, especially when frequently idling.

Adding wind and solar to the power grid could increase the carbon dioxide output.

Retired electrical engineer Kent Hawkins wrote in February 2010 that “the introduction of wind power into an electricity system increases the fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions beyond levels that would have occurred using efficient gas plants alone as the providers of electricity equivalent” to the wind generated power.

This is because every kilowatt-hour of intermittent electricity introduced into the grid must be backed up by a reliable fossil-fuel generator. When the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, the demand for electricity remains.

Starting and stopping natural gas-fired generators is inefficient, comparable to operating a car in stop and go traffic instead of steady and efficient on the open highway. Just like the car, the fuel consumption can double, along with the carbon emissions, negating any presumed carbon savings by using solar or wind.

Opponents of the measure say it will drive up power bills in the state. Proponents argue long-term benefits of solar power and reducing nuclear waste offset any immediate cost spike.

Meanwhile, in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced plans to build $6 billion worth of offshore wind turbines while shutting down the nuclear-powered, emission-free Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, N.Y.

Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, explained in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that the wind turbines will produce only 60 percent as much power as the nuclear plant being closed.

How will this gap be covered? You guessed it, natural gas.

“The irony here is colossal. Mr. Cuomo, who banned hydraulic fracturing despite the economic boon it has created in neighboring Pennsylvania, and who has repeatedly blocked construction of pipelines, is making New York even more dependent on natural gas, which will increase its carbon emissions,” Bryce writes. “At the same time, he has mandated offshore wind projects that will force New Yorkers to pay more for their electricity, even though the state already has some of the nation’s highest electricity prices.”

This past week NV Energy announced plans to contract to build six new solar power projects at a cost of $2 billion and double the state’s renewable energy capacity, but only if voters reject the Energy Choice Initiative on the November ballot that would end the company’s monopoly in most of the state and allow competition. No mention was made of how this might impact power bills.

In all three states emissions would likely increase, as well as power bills.

Being green is a state of mind. Just never let the facts get in the way.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Palo Vere nuclear plant

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Remembering those who could see the future

Now for something completely different.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up on the big three — Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke.

I devoured Robert A. Heinlein from “Rocket Ship Galileo” through “Stranger in a Strange Land” and beyond. I perused Isaac Asimov from this robot books throughout the “Foundation” trilogy and beyond. I read Arthur C. Clarke’s books about entering the space age and, of course, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

All of them anticipated events and technology decades before they became reality. Prophets are only truly appreciated in hindsight.

The other day I picked up  Clarke’s “3001: The Final Odyssey,” which had inexplicably been gathering dust on a shelf. “2001,” the book and the movie, took off in 1968 with the assist of Stanley Kubrik, while the millennium-later sequel splashed down in 1997.

It might be helpful to rewatch the movie or scan a synopsis of the book before tackling “3001.”

Without giving away too much of the plot, suffice it to say three of the characters from “2001” put in an “appearance.” But the ending is one that I doubt many truly appreciated back in 1997, but actual events have made it startlingly plausible — the ancient in modern form, a Trojan Horse.

After putting the book down, I headed to the book store and grabbed Clarke’s “Childhood’s End” from 1953. Back to the future. See you there.

 

 

 

Remembering those who could see into the future

Now for something completely different.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up on the big three — Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke.

I devoured Robert A. Heinlein from “Rocket Ship Galileo” through “Stranger in a Strange Land” and beyond. I perused Isaac Asimov from this robot books throughout the “Foundation” trilogy and beyond. I read Arthur C. Clarke’s books about entering the space age and, of course, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

All of them anticipated events and technology decades before they became reality. Prophets are only truly appreciated in hindsight.

The other day I picked up  Clarke’s “3001: The Final Odyssey,” which had inexplicably been gathering dust on a shelf. “2001,” the book and the movie, took off in 1968 with the assist of Stanley Kubrik, while the millennium-later sequel splashed down in 1997.

It might be helpful to rewatch the movie or scan a synopsis of the book before tackling “3001.”

Without giving away too much of the plot, suffice it to say three of the characters from “2001” put in an “appearance.” But the ending is one that I doubt many truly appreciated back in 1997, but actual events have made it startlingly plausible — the ancient in modern form, a Trojan Horse.

After putting the book down, I headed to the book store and grabbed Clarke’s “Childhood’s End” from 1953. Back to the future. See you there.

 

 

 

Editorial: Free market is better for the Internet

The debate continues over whether the Federal Communications Commission’s December repeal of the Obama administration’s “net neutrality” rule will help or hurt rural communities’ bid for greater access to high-speed Internet service, and now it has become an issue in this year’s race for a Nevada U.S. Senate seat.

Recently there was a vote in the Senate using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) in an attempt to restore net neutrality rules. The vote was 52-47 with every Democrat and three Republicans voting in favor. Nevada’s senior Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, voted against it.

Its chances of clearing the House are slim and President Trump would likely veto it anyway.

Las Vegas Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen, who is running for Heller’s seat and is likely to advance to November after the June 12 primary, proudly announced in a press release that she signed a discharge petition to force a vote in the House on the Senate-approved CRA to restore net neutrality protections.

In a recent interview, Sen. Heller said, “We had a vote last week and I voted against the CRA that would take us back to Title II, which frankly is 1930s-type regulation. If you go back to Ma Bell, for those of you who remember Ma Bell, frankly that’s how  they want to regulate the Internet, and that was reversed.”

Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 concerns “common carriers,” such as phone and power lines. The FCC’s 2015 net neutrality order put the Internet under Title II, rather than under Title I, which covers information providers. Title II prohibits “any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services.” With the repeal of net neutrality by the FCC, the Federal Trade Commission still has authority to police predatory and monopolistic practices.

“Nevada’s hardworking families, small businesses, and students have voiced strong opposition to the Administration’s repeal of net neutrality protections,” Rosen’s press release quoted her as saying. “As Republicans in Washington roll back rules protecting a free and fair internet, I will continue to stand with Nevadans in the fight to keep corporate interests from stacking the deck against regular Nevadans who want a level playing field. I urge my House colleagues to join me in signing this discharge petition.”

How did the Internet survive before 2015?

But Heller, who is a lock to win the GOP primary, insists, “I do not want the federal government to determine content. … I also don’t want the federal government to tax the Internet. I believe the Internet is the last bastion of freedom in America, frankly both good and bad, but it’s freedom. You put this thing back under Title II and eventually this government will determine content and this government will tax it, and that’s what I am trying to avoid.”

Before the FCC canned net neutrality, Rosen had argued, “Undoing net neutrality will hurt our economy and will make it harder for startups and Americans to conduct their business, stifling innovation and growth. Access to free and open internet service providers is especially important for Nevadans living in rural communities.”

Heller counters by saying, “We are going to provide — I think it is a free market stance — in that we want there to be more competition out there. Under Title II you lose the kind of competition that is necessary for technology to advance.”

Heller said he is working on legislation that would encourage expansion of rural broadband service, but also, “I do believe that if you put too many restrictions on access to the Internet all you are going to do is deprive it of the ability to grow and the technology to advance, and that would include the ability to get out to rural areas.”

A Wall Street Journal editorial at the time of the FCC repeal of net neutrality noted that the rule had throttled investment. But, anticipating repeal, Verizon Wireless had said it will start delivering high-speed broadband to homes over its wireless network late this year, and Google and AT&T were experimenting with similar services that would be cheaper than laying cable underground. “This could be a boon for rural America,” the paper said.

Free markets will find the way, not the heavy hand of government regulators.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Newspaper column: How will energy choice affect rural Nevada? — part 2

If the Energy Choice Initiative (ECI) amending the state Constitution to create a competitive market for electricity passes again in the fall its impact on power bills in rural Nevada will depend on how the Legislature writes the rules to make it happen.

David Luttrell — general manager of the Lincoln County Power District No. 1, president of the Nevada Rural Electric Association and a member of the Governor’s Committee on Energy Choice — notes that proponents of the ballot measure insist existing utilities should divest themselves of their power generating assets and current contracts to purchase power.

Luttrell says there is uncertainty about what energy choice would look like in the coming years, saying, “The vast majority of it will be written by the next couple of sessions of the state Legislature. The only thing that really you can point to in that document and that amendment language is that a single person in the state of Nevada will have choice of some sort.”

One of the problems faced by the rural cooperatives Luttrell points out is fixed cost. While NV Energy has 40 to 50 customers per mile of power lines, rural cooperatives statewide only have five customers per mile, while in Lincoln County there are only two per mile.

The way the cooperatives keep rates competitive is that many get as much as 80 percent of their power from very low cost hydroelectric generation, such as that from Hoover Dam. That hydropower is limited to public, not-for-profit organizations such as rural electric utilities.

“If we are precluded in any way from doing that there’s going to be a negative impact. Does ECI mandate that, that we have to get rid of your Hoover power? No it doesn’t, as it is currently written in that one paragraph constitutional amendment,” the power district manager says. “But what it does is it puts that uncertainty to a future Legislature to make that decision. We know the proponents of the ECI are saying is all utilities need to get rid of their power sources, otherwise they have an unfair competitive advantage.”

Jon Wellinghoff, a consultant to the ballot question and former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman, has said in an interview with the news website The Nevada Independent that lawmakers could designate existing rural nonprofit power companies as the provider of last resort and allow them to keep their existing power contracts.

“It’s virtually a non-issue if we structure the legislation correctly,” he said.

And that’s Luttrell’s fear. Will the lawmakers structure the legislation correctly?

If his cooperative is required to divest its power contract for inexpensive hydropower in order to allow competitors to come in, Luttrell warns the rates in rural Nevada are going to go up dramatically.

“It leaves it all up to the Legislature to decide, but again proponents are saying you’ve got to make these utilities divest their generation, whether they be assets or power supply contracts in order to allow fair competition in all areas of the state,” he says.

“The real message I am trying to get out right now is that rural Nevada is a kind of unintended consequence,” he continues. “Energy choice was the brainchild of the casinos and Switch (a data processing firm that using huge amounts of electricity). They’re the ones who put this thing together. They’re the ones who largely funded it.”

Luttrell says industrial and commercial customers already have retail choice. Any customer with electrical needs greater than 1 megawatt, such as casinos, mines and industrial operations, already have the right to buy their own energy. “The problem, and this is why Switch and Sands and MGM and others don’t like it, is in order to exercise that right they have to pay an exit fee from the grid, from the NV Energy system and they don’t like paying that exit fee,” he says.

He notes that the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada demands exit fees to protect other customers, such as residential customers, who would have to bear the burden of paying for more generation capacity than is needed when large customers leave.

“Should a person in Wells, or a person in Ely or a person in Pioche, Nevada, pay part of those stranded costs? … We weren’t part of the planning that went into creating those assets, but we’re certainly part of the discussion of where they’re going to get spread. We don’t like that.”

Voters will decide. If approved, lawmakers must make fair rules.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

What is the bottom line when students switch to charter schools?

Recently the morning newspaper reported that the Clark County School District plans to create a job — costing $117,000 — whose purpose will be to slow the number of students bailing out of the district and opting to attend charter schools.

“When a child leaves the school district for a charter school, the state per-pupil funding and some local revenues that would have gone to Clark County departs as well,” the story explains.

Some local revenues, but not all. If the district unloads the entire expense of educating the departing student but retains some of the local revenue, how is that a drain?

Back in December the newspaper reported that the district issued a statement saying 1,400 more students enrolled in a charter school than projected, and this higher-than-expected charter school enrollment would cost the district $9 million in lost revenue.

According to CCSD, the district’s 2016-17 budget had per-pupil expenditures at $8,512, meaning the exit of 1,400 students would reduce spending by $11.9 million. Lose $9 million in revenue but cut spending by $11.9 million, sounds like a savings of $2.9 million.

Spending $117,000 to avoid saving $2.9 million? Where’s the logic in that?

“This is a position that is expected to raise money for the district by bringing children back in. It will pay for itself,” School Board member Carolyn Edwards was quoted as saying. “In essence, it’s not a cut, it’s actually an increase to the budget.”

Besides, what would the job entail? Cajoling? Badgering?