We are all paying higher grocery bills to save a few minnows and bugs

California farms drying up as water is flushed to the sea to protect minnows.

Which is more endangered? The Delta Smelt, which is a three-inch minnow? Or the California Central Valley farmers and dairymen?

In one of those lengthy but fascinating weekend interview pieces, The Wall Street Journal talks to one of those dairymen, Mark Watte. (It is not behind the pay wall.)

Though the Central Valley produces much of the nation’s produce and dairy products, those farms and ranches are drying up as water is diverted to protect the aforementioned minnows.

Over the past few years the price of water in Central Valley has gone from $40 an acre-foot to $1,300. As a result, many farms lie fallow and the price of groceries climbs.

Over the past two years the government has flushed 400,000 acre-feet of water to test whether salmon, a species not seen in the area since the 1940s, could swim up what is normally a dry river bed. That’s $520 million dollars worth of water pissed into the sea.

After a recent deluge, officials dumped another 95,000 acre-feet to save those minnows. That’s $123 million worth.

Delta Smelt

That was right after Obama showed up in California to hand out some welfare checks and blame the drought on global warming, which Harry Reid says is mankind’s greatest threat.

If it’s not those minnows, it is bugs.

Watte tells how his water district had to pay an additional $20 million to raise the height of a dam. The $20 million was what it cost to assure that the project was completed prior to elderberry beetle mating season.

Elderberry beetle

Elderberry bushes “are not endangered, but the elderberry beetle that lives in the bushes are,” Watte said. “So we gave the contractor a significant bonus to be done by a certain date because it was the beginning of elderberry beetle breeding season,” and heaven forbid that construction disturb beetles feeling “amorous.”

The House has passed a bill that would suspend provision of the Endangered Species Act to help endangered farmers, but California’s own senators opposed it, so it is going nowhere fast in Harry’s Senate.

In a radio interview recently, Rep. Tom McClintock, a Republican represents part of the affected area, said, “It is a complete imbalance between the needs of endangered species like the Delta Smelt and economically endangered species like homo sapiens in California.”

McClintock is pushing that bill lessen the impact of the drought.

“I think the people are going to be awakened to the fact that the lunatic fringe of our society’s been in control of these policies really for the past 30 years now, and they’re absolutely out of their minds. And we’re now living with the result,” he added.

Meanwhile, all of us are paying higher grocery bills to protect minnow.

Harry Reid is pushing anti-coal ally to head up FERC

Harry “Coal Makes Us Sick” Reid is the driving force behind the nomination of an anti-coal ally to head up the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). According to Transmission Hub, the man Obama initially was planning to nominate was vetoed by Reid for being too pro-coal.

Ron Binz of Colorado

FERC Commissioner John Norris said Reid’s chief of staff told him Reid intervened with the White House to block his appointment to be the chairman of FERC, replacing Jon Wellinghoff, who was recommended by Reid for the job. Norris also confirmed Sen. Reid was the driving force behind the nomination of Ron Binz, the former head of Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission who pushed through legislation that is shutting down all the Denver-area coal-fired plants. That legislation was a blueprint for Nevada’s SB123, which requires all coal plants to be closed early and have the ratepayers pay every dime of the cost of doing so.

Norris was quoted as saying Reid is “entitled to his opinion as Senate majority leader. He exercised it, exercised his power, and I get that. It’s politics.”

But he also said, “After all this has transpired, the most troubling for me still is that Harry Reid would represent me to the White House as being pro-coal. I’ve asked for an apology but I have yet to hear a response.”

As it turns out, apparently Binz is not only anti-coal, but anti-natural gas as well.

According to an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal, Binz calls natural gas a “dead end.”

Binz has said “without carbon capture and storage, I think that’s a dead end, a relative dead end — it won’t dead end until 2035 or so. But that’s when we need to do better on carbon than even natural gas will allow us to do under current assumptions.” Even gas is too dirty for the likes of Binz, even though there has been no global warming in 17 years.

Binz knows best and isn’t about to let us power consumers opt for cheaper energy when he thinks the planet is in danger:

“This is not a situation where it’s okay to be with a clean utility and it’s okay to let other customers go their own way, because there’s a commonality here. I think we need to keep preaching that. We have a bias toward individualism in this country, which can work for great things, but it can also at times prevent us from doing societal things, and there’s really no substitute for doing that right now.”

Just what we need, another nanny.

Obama bemoans high college tuition cost: ‘Without a trace of irony …’

The lede editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal reveals the whiplash inducing 180-degree turn recently made by Obama in his ongoing college campus lecture tour.

For years Obama has been telling students how his trillion dollars higher education loans and grants was making college affordable for everyone. Then on Thursday, he said, “We’ve got a crisis in terms of college affordability and student debt … Our economy can’t afford the trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt, much of which may not get repaid because students don’t have the capacity to pay it.”

Pay no attention to the fact it was Obama who nationalized student loans in the first place and pushed through a plan to add $1 trillion in federally guaranteed student loans. As the WSJ noted, his recent remarks came “without a trace of irony.”

As the WSJ editorial noted further down, like in so many instances of government interference, the government creates the problem and then blames someone else. They force banks to make sub-prime home loans and then blame greedy bankers and Wall Street when the buyers default.

“Politicians subsidize the purchase of a good or service, prices inevitably rise in response to this pumped-up demand, and then the pols blame the provider of the good or service for responding to the incentives the politicians created. Think housing finance and medical care,” the editorial reasoned.

Richard Vedder (WSJ illustration)

Since 1965,  when Johnson’s Great Society began subsidizing college costs, tuitions have skyrocketed. This week the White House reported tuitions have increased 257 percent since 1983, while household incomes increased 16 percent.

To add to the analysis, the Saturday interview piece is with Ohio University’s Richard Vedder, who directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. 

At the time Nevada’s university regents were talking about double-digit tuition and fee hikes in each of the next two school years — this on top of recent increases in fees of 50 percent.

Vedder says the higher-ed bubble is bursting and this can be seen in the number of unemployed or underemployed college graduates with huge debts —$26,000 on average but many higher than $100,000.

Obama has proposed capping monthly student debt payments to 10 percent of discretionary income. The entire debt would be forgiven after 20 years, but those who go to work for government or nonprofits could eliminate their debt in 10 years.

Vedder said Obam’s plan “creates a moral hazard problem. What it signals to current and future loan borrowers is that I don’t have to take these repayment of loans very seriously. … I don’t have to worry too much about getting a high-paying job.” 

Vedder has been saying  the same thing for years. In fact in March 2011, shortly before I joined the ranks of the college educated without a job or prospects of one, I quoted from a piece Vedder wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education. He than reported that in 1992 fully 18 percent of college grads worked in jobs classified as “noncollege level jobs.” By 2008, that number was 35 percent.

“Some in higher education KNOW about all of this and are keeping quiet about it because of their own self-interest,” Vedder said then. “We are deceiving our young population to mindlessly pursue college degrees when very often that is advice that is increasingly questionable.”

Things have gotten worse instead of better since.

Newspaper column: Weaning from the power grid?

The one law the Nevada Legislature manages to pass every session is the Law of Unintended Consequences. Thus it is with its ongoing and pervasive attempts to micromanage the state’s electric power grid — acts that may unleash unanticipated disruptive forces — as reported in this week’s column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Since 1997 when the Legislature first approved a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) — which now mandates 25 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass by 2025 — lawmakers have been crafting various schemes to dictate just what the power grid will look like decades from now.

Not only are there mandates, subsidies, tax breaks, incentives and federal land giveaways for those mammoth solar and wind farms, but similar giveaways are being offered for what the industry calls distributed energy resources (DER). These are primarily solar panels on the rooftops of homes, businesses and government buildings, as well as a few windmills.

Backyard solar panels.

Backyard solar panels.

By law, these distributive energy resources are tied into the NV Energy grid and their power generation is accounted for by “net metering,” which how much power was generated by the DER, how much was uploaded to the grid and how much was downloaded from the grid.

Such installations qualify for various subsidies and rebates, many funded by NV Energy’s ratepayers, that can cover as much as half or more of the cost of the installation, most of which are also exempt from property and sales taxes in Nevada. In a perverse way, the non-DER-using ratepayers are paying to allow DER-using customers to reduce their power bills.

This legislative meddling might have consequences undreamed of by lawmakers and regulators.

When the courts in the mid-1980s broke up Ma Bell’s monopoly and created regional Baby Bells, little did anyone anticipate then that technology would have done the job. Technical breakthroughs changed the way Americans communicate — cellphones, fiber optics, the Internet. Landlines are nearing obsolescence.

A report prepared for the Edison Electric Institute, an association of American shareholder-owned electric utilities, warns those shareholders that renewable DERs, if combined with breakthroughs in technology and the government-dictated distortion of the market, could face a similar outcome.

“Due to the variable nature of renewable DER, there is a perception that customers will always need to remain on the grid,” the January white paper says, noting the obvious fact solar panels work only so long as the sun shines. “While we would expect customers to remain on the grid until a fully viable and economic distributed non-variable resource is available, one can imagine a day when battery storage technology or micro turbines could allow customers to be electric grid independent. To put this into perspective, who would have believed 10 years ago that traditional wire line telephone customers could economically ‘cut the cord?’”

The free market and technology could better plot the future of the electric power market, but the central planners in the Nevada Legislature think they are omniscient and omnipotent.

This home in Frederick, Md., is a net-zero energy house. (WSJ photo)

As if on cue, The Wall Street Journal is out today with a feature story on what it calls net-zero energy homes around the country and calls them a growing trend.

“Green” housing accounted for 20 percent of all new homes built this past year, the paper quotes McGraw Hill Construction as saying.

“So far, net-zero houses are only a fraction of the green residential movement, but other environmental features are becoming widespread. The government is fueling the trend with federal tax credits for things like insulation that reduces a home’s energy loss or geothermal heat pumps. Depending on where they live, homeowners can also claim rebates from their state, town or utility,” WSJ reports. (See above)

The paper said net-zero homes cost between 5 and 10 percent more to build, though one company reports it is building a five-bedroom, net-zero house that costs only 2 percent more.

The primary reason for the growing demand for net-zero houses, home builders told  WSJ, is a desire to cut utility bills, but also to counter future future energy costs and to become independent from the grid.

This is an animated rendering by a team of UNLV students called DesertSol. It is a net-zero energy vacation home and will compete in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon this year:

Read my full c0lumn at Ely or Elko.

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