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Behind the Driving Increase

Somewhat Reasonable - March 19, 2015, 10:10 AM

The Federal Highway Administration reported that driving increased 1.7 percent between 2013 and 2014 in the United States. This compares to virtually no increase over the period from 2004 to 2013. The 2014 increase will come as a disappointment to those who have perceived that the flat driving volumes of recent years signaled a shift in preferences away from driving. It had even been suggested that America had reached “peak car.”

Despite the congruity of such sentiments with urban planning orthodoxy, it’s somewhat risky to divine future economic trends from the perspective of a weak economy. It is rather like predicting future employment trends from realities of the late 1930s, when the world had still not climbed out of the Great Depression

The problem for those who seek to replace the car is that the current form of cities, from Phoenix to Paris, requires cars to support the millions with middle-class standard of living. Of course, with a sufficient decline in the standard of living, cars could become less essential. After all, you don’t need a car to not go to work when you are unemployed.

Nor is “peak oil” coming to rescue; we now live in something more like an oil glut. Even when prices were soaring, the amount of driving barely changed. People may have shifted to more efficient cars, they didn’t give up their cars, they just drove a little bit less.  

The latest driving data may indicate that even the somewhat tepid recovery is speeding up in the United States. This combined with falling gasoline prices is likely to be why driving is increasing again.

Employment Exceeds 2008 Level

Employment is probably the most important factor in the recent recovery of car use

According to data at the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank “FRED” website, national employment peaked at 138.3 million in January 2008. By early 2010, employment had dropped to under 130 million. It took until April 2014 to restore the employment level that had been previously achieved more than six years earlier. This was the longest employment trough since before World War I, except for the period of 1929 to 1936, during the Great Depression.

As more people return to employment and incomes rise, driving can be expected to increase. During 2014, the nation’s nonfarm employment rose to the highest level in history. As the year progressed and employment increased, so did driving (Figure 1).

But there is still a long way to go for the economy. The civilian labor force participation rate continues depressed. If early 2008 levels of labor participation were restored, there would be at least 10 million additional jobs.

Falling Gasoline Prices

US Department of Energy data indicates that the average price per gallon of gasoline rose by more than one half between 2005 and 2011. Until the middle for 2014, gasoline prices fluctuated around this level until early summer of 2014. Then the gas price reductions began. By the end of 2014, gasoline prices had dropped to near 2005 levels, which they actually reached in early 2015. Much of the 2014 increase in driving was concentrated since the decline in gasoline prices started in the last half of the year (Figure 2).

Driving and Transit

Ridership and road travel data also shows that there has been little relationship between the annual changes in driving and transit use over the period of the gas price increases and the subsequent decrease. Advocates of greater transit funding have claimed for decades that transit can be effective in attracting drivers from their cars. This was transit’s time.

However, the highly publicized transit ridership increases have been small in context and have shown virtually no relationship to the changes in automobile use in urban areas. This is illustrated in Figure 3. Driving volumes have risen and fallen, with little response in transit ridership. If there were a significant relationship between transit ridership and travel by car, the two lines on the chart would nearly follow one another. However, the lines show virtually no relationship. In relation to the actual changes in travel by car and light vehicle, the changes in transit are imperceivable. Transit ridership remains relatively small, at approximately two percent of all trips and five percent of work trips. An American Public Transportation Association (APTA) press release confirms the weak nexus between driving trends and transit for the most recent period. APTA notes that transit ridership late in the year increased despite the significant reduction in gasoline prices.

Transit does not provide rapid mobility for most urban trips, which is why it has so little potential to attract people from cars. As higher prices force people to cut back on driving, they simply travel less, rather than getting on transit that cannot take them where they need to go in a reasonable time. That would be different if transit provided mobility competitive throughout the metropolitan area. Indeed, transit’s percentage of urban travel would be far above its current two percent. But to build out a system that reaches most jobs, of course, that would be financially prohibitive.

Transit’s strength is downtown (the central business district, or CBD). The largest CBDs have employment densities are 100 times the urban average, and are well served by rapid, radial transit routes. In four of the nation’s largest CBDs — New York, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco — transit carries more than half of workers to their job, 77 percent in Manhattan alone. Americans use transit where it is competitive or superior to travel by car, which should dispel any notion that there is a national aversion to transit.

But the city is much more than downtown. According to research by Lee and Gordon only eight percent of employment in the 48 largest metropolitan areas was in CBDs. This is despite the presence of impressive office towers that convey a sense of CBD dominance.

Lee and Gordon also show that about 13 percent of jobs are in employment centers centers outside the CBDs, which are often called “edge cities.” Because these centers do not have the radial networks of direct transit, even their high densities produce little in transit ridership.  My analysis of more than 80 post-World War II form suburban employment centers (mainly edge cities) indicated a transit work trip percentage of only 4.9 percent, which is approximately the national average for all areas. Transit’s share to the remaining nearly 80 percent of jobs dispersed throughout the metropolitan areas is just 4.6 percent.

The basic problem is access. Outside of downtowns, few jobs can be conveniently reached by transit. This means transit takes about twice as long as driving alone and often is either not within walking distance of home or does not drop the passenger off within walking distance of work. This is illustrated by research at the University of Minnesota Accessibility Laboratory, which has shown that in 45 large metropolitan areas, only 10 percent of jobs can be reached by the average employee in 60 minutes by transit. By comparison, American Community Survey data indicates that nearly 65 percent of employees who drive alone in the same metropolitan areas actually reach work — and in half the time (30 minutes).

Even low income workers, whose constrained budgets should make transit more attractive largely use cars to get to work.

Driving and a Middle-Income Lifestyles

I have referred before to the research that equates better economic performance with better mobility for people throughout the labor market (metropolitan area).

Driving is not based on the shallow, arbitrary preference expressed in the threadbare cliché of a “love affair with the automobile.” Cars are essential to realizing the aspirations of a majority of people, not only in the United States but in Europe and beyond.

Categories: On the Blog

Letter to Minnesota House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee

Out of the Storm News - March 19, 2015, 9:28 AM

Rep. Joe Hoppe, Chair
Rep. Tim O’Driscoll, Vice Chair
Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL Lead
Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee
Minnesota House of Representatives
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Saint Paul, MN 55155

RE: H.F. 1783 – Auto insurance requirements for transportation network companies

Dear Members of the Committee,

My name is R.J. Lehmann and I am co-founder, editor-in-chief and senior fellow of the R Street Institute. R Street is a D.C.-headquartered free-market think tank devoted to developing pragmatic solutions to public-policy challenges. Since our founding, we have been recognized as perhaps the leading independent source of policy research concerning property/casualty insurance. More recently, we also have distinguished ourselves with some of the first in-depth reports looking at challenges facing the burgeoning market for transportation network companies.

I write you regarding H.F. 1783, legislation dealing with the financial responsibilities and auto insurance requirements of TNCs like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. We have grave concerns that this bill would have significant negative consequences both for the development of TNC services and for the insurance market that is developing to serve this emerging sector.

Minnesota traditionally performs well in our surveys of efficient, effective regulation at the state and local level. The state earned an “A” or “B” grade in each of the three years that we have published our Insurance Regulation Report Card. More directly relevant, the City of Minneapolis ranked second only to Washington, D.C. in our inaugural survey of vehicle-for-hire regulations in the 50 largest U.S. cities, published in November 2014. Passage of H.F. 1783 likely would have negative consequences for both of those scores in next year’s reports.

Among the most significant concerns with this piece of legislation are:

  1. The bill would require TNCs to provide primary commercial insurance during the so-called “Period 1,” when a driver is logged in to the TNC application but has not matched with a potential rider. In addition to the reasonable debate that exists over whether this period should truly be considered “commercial” in nature, the requirement creates an obvious opportunity for fraud, by providing incentive for a driver to remain logged in even when he or she has no intention to accept a fare. Moreover, this requirement would preempt existing rules already in place in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota’s largest ride-sharing markets. Finally, and most crucially from a free-market perspective, it would effectively crowd out the new, innovative personal auto insurance products designed and priced to cover drivers who provide TNC services that already have been brought to market in several states by such major insurers as GEICO, Progressive, Farmers and USAA.
  2. The bill requires comprehensive and collision coverage during all three phases of the ride-sharing process. Comp and collision ordinarily are optional coverages that are not required of either personal or commercial drivers in any state. That includes taxis and limousines, which are not required to carry comp and collision in Minnesota or anywhere else. There is no possible public policy rationale for this requirement.
  3. The requirement that TNCs provide $1.5 million of uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage during all three periods is excessive and significantly exceeds the requirements set in leading jurisdictions like California, Colorado, the District of Columbia and nearby Illinois. This requirement is particularly problematic in Period 1, when one considers that Minnesota’s state minimums for UM and UIM are ordinarily $25,000 and $50,000, respectively.
  4. The bill makes no provision for coverage sold by surplus lines carriers to be eligible as qualifying insurance. The surplus lines market exists to provide coverage for unusual or difficult-to-insure risks. As a new market that has not yet produced troves of data, transportation network companies offer a textbook example of the kind of risk that surplus lines is intended to cover. Indeed, all of the current major TNCs have commercial liability coverage procured in the surplus lines market. It is imperative that the bill be amended to clarify that surplus lines carriers are eligible to provide qualifying coverage.

We commend the committee for exploring ways to provide a baseline framework that will allow TNCs to operate safely and effectively. However, as currently drafted, H.F. 1783 could crush the market by imposing draconian requirements far beyond those currently required of taxis and limousines. This would not serve the interests of either consumers or the market at large.

Sincerely,

R.J. Lehmann
R Street Institute

States Should Defy Unlawful EPA Carbon Dioxide Rules

Somewhat Reasonable - March 19, 2015, 9:10 AM

Last June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed its Clean Power Plan as a nationwide regulation to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from electrical power plants. Comments to the EPA have now been submitted, and it’s not a surprise that a majority of state governments oppose the plan. In the best interests of US citizens, states should refuse to comply with the proposed EPA Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan (CPP), more formally named the §111(d) rule, Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources, calls for a 30 percent reduction in power plant emissions by the year 2030. The CPP sets specific CO2 reduction targets for each state, based on four building blocks: 1) improved efficiency of coal-fired power plants, 2) increased use of combined cycle natural gas power plants, 3) increased use of renewable and nuclear energy, and 4) increased energy efficiency by consumers and businesses. But the main thrust of the proposal is the shut-down and replacement of coal-fired power plants, which now provide about 40 percent of US electricity.

There are three major strikes against the Clean Power Plan. First, the authority assumed by the CPP is not granted to the EPA by the laws of the United States. Second, efforts to try to implement the CPP will degrade the finest electrical system in the world, hurting consumers and businesses. Third, if implemented, the CPP will not have a measurable effect on global warming.

The Clean Air Act of 1970 authorized the establishment of state and federal regulations to control air pollution, and established the EPA to implement requirements of the act. The Clean Air Act and its amendments of 1977 and 1990 authorize the EPA to establish national ambient pollution standards and to control pollution levels from individual facilities, but not to regulate state electricity markets. A September 2014 letter from 15 state governors stated that the EPA’s Clean Power Plan proposal, “not only exceeds the scope of federal law, but also, in some cases, directly conflicts with established state law.”

State electrical public service commissioners are tasked with providing reliable, low-cost electricity for the citizens of their state, while meeting environmental standards. Commissioners trade off the costs and benefits of hydrocarbon, nuclear, and renewable power sources, and they plan new power plants, electrical transmission lines, natural gas pipelines, and other facilities. CPP restrictions threaten to inflate the price and seriously degrade the reliability of US electricity for negligible environmental benefits.

The State of Indiana requested that EPA withdraw the CPP proposal, predicting an electricity price increase of more than 60 percent due to EPA regulations. The State of Arizona commented that the CPP is “not technically feasible” and will “seriously undermine the reliability of electric service.” The Public Utility Commission of Texas also urged the EPA to withdraw the rule, estimating compliance costs at over $20 billion and that Texas electricity prices would rise by more than 20 percent by 2020. NERA Economic Consulting estimated a consumer cost of up to $479 billion by 2031, or about $1,500 for each man, woman, and child in the US.

Some states have shown support for the Clean Power Plan, led by California and New York. Both states appear to be in a race to achieve the highest residential electricity rates in the lower 48 states. In 2013, California citizens paid 16.19 cents per kilowatt-hour, but New York was number one at a whopping 18.79 cents per kW-hr, well over the US average of 12.12 cents per kW-hr. Paradoxically, New York recently banned hydraulic fracturing of natural gas, a fuel that the CPP heavily promotes.

However, the Clean Power Plan, if implemented, will provide negligible environmental benefits. Evidence is growing that natural cycles of Earth, such as ocean currents driven by the sun, dominate global temperatures and that human influences are small. Today’s storms, droughts, floods, and surface temperatures are neither extreme nor abnormal by historical standards.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has admitted in Congressional testimony that the effects of the CPP and other EPA regulations will not be visible in the more than 25 indicators of climate change on the EPA website. Yet the EPA continues to push regulations based on the ideology of human-caused global warming. Hundreds of billions in consumer cost and degraded electrical reliability appear to be only a small price to pay for an unmeasurable change in global temperatures.

In the best interest of citizens, states should defy the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan.

[Originally published at Communities Digital News]

Categories: On the Blog

The EPA wants to watch you shower

Out of the Storm News - March 19, 2015, 9:00 AM

If you’re like me, a night away at a hotel means one thing: a long, hot shower. It’s not that I want to deliberately drain a Holiday Inn’s water heater of its supply. It’s just that it’s rare, when you live in an urban area and pay out the nose for your own water, to want to spend time cleaning yourself in it. And there’s the added benefit, at hotels, of not being stared at awkwardly by a group of cats who don’t understand the concept of bathroom doors, or why you would willingly subject yourself to water.

But the luxury of the long, hot hotel shower may be yet another thing lost to the prying eye of Uncle Sam. Thanks to a new proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency, a couple of fascinated felines may be the least of your worries. In an effort to get Americans to adjust their shower behavior, the government wants to cut you off and, in service of that goal, they’ll be watching you shower.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants hotels to monitor how much time its guests spend in the shower.

The agency is spending $15,000 to create a wireless system that will track how much water a hotel guest uses to get them to “modify their behavior.”

“Hotels consume a significant amount of water in the U.S. and around the world,” an EPA grant to the University of Tulsa reads. “Most hotels do not monitor individual guest water usage and as a result, millions of gallons of potable water are wasted every year by hotel guests.”

“The proposed work aims to develop a novel low cost wireless device for monitoring water use from hotel guest room showers,” it said. “This device will be designed to fit most new and existing hotel shower fixtures and will wirelessly transmit hotel guest water usage data to a central hotel accounting system.”

The key phrase here is “EPA grant to the University of Tulsa,” which, of course, means that you, the person who just wants to take a hot shower in peace, will be paying for someone to come up with a way to put an end to your ability to take a hot shower in peace. Congratulations! Thankfully, it’s only a $15,000 grant. If a project like this had been spearheaded by the NIH, for example, like the famous “Origami Condom” concept, it could cost in the millions (though even origami condoms were too absurd for the NIH). As it stands, you’re only paying five figures for the government to modify your shower behavior, though I suspect you’ll make that up in the “room fee” you’ll now pay when you overuse.

There are, of course, ways to address the topic of water conservation that don’t immediately involve “behavior modification” but I suppose that’s not the point, is it?

Netflix Is the Culprit

Tech Suite - In The News - March 19, 2015, 8:48 AM
About that Netflix flip-flop, it’s worse than you think. On Jan. 14, 2014, the D.C. circuit court threw out an existing net-neutrality rule put in place by the…

Netflix Is the Culprit

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - March 19, 2015, 8:48 AM
About that Netflix flip-flop, it’s worse than you think. On Jan. 14, 2014, the D.C. circuit court threw out an existing net-neutrality rule put in place by the…

Al Gore's tangled web of un-green corporate investments - Climate Change Dispatch

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - March 19, 2015, 8:42 AM
Written by Thomas Richard, Examiner.com on 17 March 2015. An article today in Tech Times reveals that former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said we should “punish…

- Bishop Hill blog - Waiting for a Guardian outcry

Environment Suite - In The News - March 19, 2015, 8:38 AM
So, in the wake of Pielke Jr’s comment yesterday, we know that Kerry Emanuel has been citing a paper without disclosing that he had been involved in its…

Government and Business Waste Tax Dollars on Solar Projects

Somewhat Reasonable - March 19, 2015, 8:37 AM

The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) published a report February 12, 2015 “Filling the Solar Sinkhole Billions of Bucks Have Delivered Too Little Bang”.  The report summarized,

“In spite of government’s best efforts to encourage innovation by solar energy companies and encourage Americans to rely more heavily on solar electricity, solar power continues to be a losing proposition.  American taxpayers spent an average of $39 billion a year over the past 5 years financing grants, subsidizing tax credits, guaranteeing loans, bailing out failed solar energy boondoggles and otherwise underwriting every idea under the sun to make solar energy cheaper and more popular.  But none of it has worked.  Solar energy remains prohibitively expensive – often three times more than electricity produced from natural gas or other sources.  As a result, less than 1 percent of the electricity consumers by Americans comes from solar energy sources.”

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT PROMOTING SOLAR ENERGY

On February 10, 2015, the Department of Agriculture issued a press release “USDA Announces Funding for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Projects” which described the availability of $280 million from the 2014 Farm Bill for their Rural Energy for Americans Program (REAP).  These programs “support clean energy and reduce carbon pollution”.  In the report was the following paragraph:

“Since 2009, USDA has awarded $545 million for more than 8,800 REAP projects nationwide. This includes $361 million in REAP grants and loans for more than 2,900 renewable energy systems. When fully operational, these systems are expected to generate more than 6 billion kilowatt hours annually – enough to power more than 5.5 million homes for a year.”

This paragraph startled me for stating rural homes use 1100 kilowatt-hours per year which is utter nonsense because the average home in the U. S. uses 10,000 kilowatt-hours per year.  In addition it would require 4 million kilowatts of solar panels to generate 6 billion kilowatt-hours annually that would cost possibly 12 billion dollars.   At the end of their news release USDA mentioned if you had any questions visit their Ask the Expert page.  On February 10, I sent in questions for clarifying the REAP annual energy output and received a response I would have an answer in 3 to 5 business days.  With no response by February 19, I repeated the questions to Ask the Expert and received a response of an answer in 3 to 5 business days.  Still no response and I called the contact person for the news release and he said he would direct my question to the proper individuals.  As of March 17, I have received no response.  This is one example of tax dollars being spent to promote solar energy and bogus numbers given by the federal government for performance.

Taxpayer-funded solar projects are announced with great fanfare and then sink into obscurity as they are no longer subject to media scrutiny.  This paper provides costs and performance data for four recent taxpayer-funded solar projects in the Southeast—Hillsborough County Courthouse in Tampa, FL; Laredo Bus Maintenance Facility in Decatur, GA; Dublin School Board Facility in Dublin, GA: and University of Georgia Solar Demonstration Project in Athens, GA.

Solar energy prospects are not the same across the United States.  The U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) publishes solar energy potentialswhich give maximum output for a one square foot solar panel in watt-hours/square-foot/year.  For desert areas in CA, AZ, and NV, the potential is 610; while in FL and GA the potential is 460.  This means solar panels in FL or GA would have three -quarters the number of annual kilowatt-hours as in western deserts.

On January 30, 2015, Tampa Bay Times reporter Ivan Penn wrote “Florida utilities say solar doesn’t work in the Sunshine State, but it sure does in Georgia”.  Mr. Penn wrote, “While Florida energy policy impedes solar power development, Georgia promotes it: The Peach State, with a population half that of its neighbor to the south, expects to reach 900 megawatts of solar power generation by the end of 2016, almost twice Florida’s projected total by that time.  ‘Georgia is going to wind up being a state that everyone looks toward,’ said Ken Johnson, a vice president and spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, D.C.  He said the reason why Georgia is emerging as a solar-power leader is that regulators and utilities have embraced solar as part of the solution for energy demand rather than rejecting it as not cost-effective.  Johnson said Georgia regulators are ‘proactive in trying to bring more solar without any upward pressure on rates.’”

The November 25, 2014 e-mail by the Georgia Chapter Sierra Club reported “Georgia Named #1 Solar Market in the Nation”.  “Solar power is the fastest-growing clean energy technology in Georgia and is projected to increase by 535 percent over the next decade. It is also now more affordable than ever before, out-competing fossil fuel energy across the country. Last month, Georgia Power reported that 56 companies filed bids for over 5,000 megawatts worth of potential new projects, averaging less than 6.5 cents per kilowatt.”

As shown by the following stories, Georgia is becoming more susceptible to expensive solar projects than Florida.

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY COURTHOUSE SOLAR PLANT

Performance of the Hillsborough County Courthouse is described in the July 30, 2014 paper by The Heartland Institute’s James Taylor “Solar Panels on Tampa Courthouse Fail to Meet Promises”.  The facility was built with America Recovery and Reinvestment (ARRA) funds and cost $1.2 million.  The facility is 196 kilowatts and was projected to save $60,000 per year.  In reality the savings are only $27,000 of electricity annually and with an expected lifetime of no more than 20-25 years, the savings are far short of facility cost.  The article provides a link to real-time operating data for the system which is a great education tool.  Real-time operating data should be required on the Internet for all large solar facilities funded with tax dollars.

Mr. Taylor writes, In 2010, local politicians eagerly lined up for the news cameras to take credit for purportedly saving taxpayers money through the solar panels.  ‘I’d like to welcome and thank everybody who has come out this morning to help us celebrate Hillsborough County’s government going solar,’ said Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner at an October 2010 press conference.  ‘It is so wonderful to see the Recovery Act at work in our community, creating jobs and saving money’ said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa).  ‘This is a nice initiative that will allow the county to put a little money back into the pockets of taxpayers at a time that they need it most, and to create jobs,’ said Castor.  ‘Hillsborough County is a great example of how the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program is being utilized across the country,’ said U.S. Department of Energy grant project office Jennifer Holman.  ‘The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program is one of the signature programs of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,’ said Holman.

The solar panels were installed horizontally on the building roof.  For stationary panels, the optimum position to achieve maximum power output is for panels to face south and be tilted at an angle off horizontal equal to the latitude.  Tampa, FL is located 27 degrees north; thus the best positioning of the solar panels would have been facing south tilted off horizontal 27 degrees.  This positioning would have increased output approximately 15 percent.  Naturally installation costs would have been higher.  The return on investment (ROI) for this solar plant is zero.

LAREDO BUS FACILITY SOLAR PLANT

For a similar project in Georgia, we have 1.2 Megawatts of solar panels installed at the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority’s (MARTA) Laredo Bus Facility in Decatur, GA.  This facility has 1.2 Megawatts of solar panels installed on bus canopies covering 190,000 square feet.

The cost of the project was $10.8 million and it was supposed to supply 1.2 million kilowatt-hours per year.  This project was also paid for with ARRA funds.  The solar panels were also installed horizontally instead of 33 degrees (the latitude of Decatur, GA) from horizontal facing south.  This means a loss of more than 15 percent of generating capability.

Operating data and maintenance problems are described in MARTA’s November 20, 2014 report “MARTA Sustainability Analysis”.  Excess electricity produced is sold back to Georgia Power Company.  For the period from August 1, 2013 to July 31, 2014, the report had a chart of monthly totals of electricity produced and paybacks to Georgia Power Company.  The annual results were the solar plant produced 1,438395 kilowatt-hours electricity and received $48,157.99 in paybacks from Georgia Power Company.  The report stated, “This chart does not show the savings of the electricity that the facility uses as a result of the canopy. The amount of electricity that exceeds the demand is sold back into the grid. It is estimated that the total monthly savings is $20-$25K per month. So the estimated annual savings can be estimated at $300K annually.”

The report further stated, “One of the challenges of sustainability is the commitment to a sustainable project that has an extended return on investment (ROI). The solar canopy, although funded by a Federal grant, generates roughly $300K per year for MARTA. The estimated ROI is 30 years. The Solar Canopy project has brought tremendous awareness about these types of efforts but some of the dangers are as follows. Suniva, the company that installed the Solar Canopy is now out of business drastically increasing the cost of support services and maintenance to keep the canopy working at top efficiency. The inverters, which are necessary to convert the solar energy into usable electricity, are failing 4 years into the life of the canopies. The cost of replacement is $100,000 per inverter, the total cost of replacement estimates to about a million dollars. At this time, MARTA has no funding or plan that can cover the premature failure of these items. Although this provided a clean source of energy and actually produced in dollar terms, the technology is still new and needs time to develop further.”

When operating, the Laredo solar plant’s output exceeded initial estimates of 1.2 million kilowatt-hours per year with a value of 1,438,395 kilowatt-hours for 2014.  This still does not have an annual value of $300,000 stated in MARTA’s report.  For Georgia,  USEIA rates for electricity in 2014 year-to-date  kilowatt-hours are 11.57 cents residential, 10.28 cents commercial, and 6.52 cents industrial.  Thus the value of electricity is approximately $150,000 which gives a return on investment (ROI) of zero.

DUBLIN SCHOOL DISTRICT SOLAR PLANT

Another area of investigation is the Dublin School District solar plant in Dublin, GA.  A 1.08 Megawatt solar facility was built on the grounds of the local high school.  The school board signed a 25-year contract to pay the solar company that built the solar facility $300,000 per year for 25 years. The solar plant is financed by $3.6 million bond issue from the City of Dublin which loaned the funds to Greenavations Power, LLC for construction of the solar plant.  Greenavations Power, LLC leases the facility to the Laurens County Public Facilities Authority which in turn subleases the facility to City of Dublin School District.  The solar company has access to the federal 30 percent tax credit for solar facilities, five-year accelerated depreciation, and the $7.5 million in payments over the 25-year period.  The school district is responsible for all taxes, insurance, and repairs on the solar facility.

A remarkable description of the history of solar energy in Dublin, GA is written by Benita Dodd, Vice-president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation (GPPF), published March 17, 2015 titled “Cronyism vs. Kids:  High School Solar in Georgia ($7.5 million for $3.5 million)” which covers the period from 2010 to present.  A German renewable energy company located its American subsidiary Mage Solar USA in Dublin, GA after entreaties by Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue who is shown wearing a green jacket in the official ribbon-cutting ceremony September 22, 2010.  GPPF reported,“Mage was persuaded with a $1.25 million OneGeorgia EDGE grant in December 2010, and “committed to create 350 jobs and to spur the investment of capital in the amount of $25 million within 60 months.” The total potential value of state incentives (including job tax credits, port tax credits, sales and use tax exemptions, QuickStart training and the EDGE grant) was estimated at $12,444,500, according to the Department of Economic Development”.  Mage Solar was contracted by Greenavations Power, LLC for construction of the Dublin School District solar plant.  GPPF investigations showed, “At the same time, Greenavations, which was paid by the county, has yet to pay Mage for the panels installed at the school. Mage is suing Greenavations and Robert Green in Laurens Superior Court for nearly $1.4 million.”  “Today – less than five years later – Mage’s Dublin facility is shuttered. Its parking lot is deserted, a promised solar academy shut down, too.”

Numerous times the Dublin School System was contacted for operating data, maintenance problems, and insurance costs starting January 29, 2015.  My e-mail address was provided and no reply given to these requests.  However, on June 12, 2014 the Macon NBC affiliate 41 WMGT interviewed Michelle Thubin with Dublin City Schools.  The interview contained this information, “We’re already seeing some changes on our checks for sure,” Michelle Thublin with Dublin City Schools said.  Dublin City Schools turned on the power to the 4,000 solar panels at Dublin High School six months ago. Thublin said in that amount of time, they are already seeing savings.  “We got our power bill back from this May and then we compared it to last May,” she said. “Last May it was about $18,000 and then this year, our power bill has dropped to $3,600.”

The apparent savings on the power bill is $18,000 – $3,600 = $14,400.  However, the school system paid $25,000 for that month’s electricity; thus their power bill for May 2014 was $28,600.  The GPPF article reported, “No numbers have been published yet for the total 2014 energy bill, but the superintendent of Dublin City Schools, Dr. Chuck Ledbetter, told the Georgia Public Policy Foundation the high school saved $87,000 on its 2014 energy bill.”  We’re pleased with what it’s doing,” Ledbetter said. “It’s right about where we thought it would be.”  This result explains the Dublin School Board’s failure to provide operating data.  One could speculate what type of mathematical analysis could show a profit from this 25-year lease agreement.  Perhaps Dublin students are being shortchanged in their education.

Showing the solar industries reward for those promoting dubious solar projects, Dublin City Schools Superintendent Dr. Chuck Ledbetter accepted The Solar Foundation’s K-12 Schools Award for his outstanding dedication to install more than a megawatt of solar energy at Dublin High School.  Specifically, the DHS solar panels were chosen for saving the entire school district significant costs over the life of the project.  No saving will take place and the school system will be stuck with a broken down solar plant after 25 years.  Again the return on investment is zero.

UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA SOLAR DEMONSTATION PROJECT

Giving into demands by students, facility, and staff, the University of Georgia in Athens, GA agreed to place a Solar Demonstration Projecton one of their campus building.  The unit was estimated to have an annual output of 30,000 kilowatt-hours and an approximate construction cost of $60,000.  Mage Solar was contracted in 2012 to supply solar panels which were placed on the Jackson Street Building of the new College of Environment and Design with a maximum power output of 19 kilowatts.  Private communications with the University of Georgia said the materials cost for the solar panels was $46,000; thus a $60,000 cost for the system seems reasonable.

Operating data for the year 2014 showed a total energy output of 11,732 kilowatt-hours—about one-third the projected value.  This was to be expected because the original estimated output is too optimistic for solar plants located in Georgia.  In addition, observing the placement of the solar panels on the Jackson Street Building shows they are at too steep an angle for locations at the latitude of 33 degrees for Athens, GA.  This degrades system performance in the summer when solar output is at its peak.  The USEIA 2014 year-to-date commercial rate for Georgia is 10.28 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity.  Thus the annual value of electricity for the Georgia Solar Demonstration Project is less than $1250 which means this facility will not pay for itself before it is no longer functional in 25 years.  Once again the return on investment is zero.

All solar power plants examined in this study show electricity costs two or more times conventional sources of “reliable” electricity provided by coal, natural gas, or nuclear power.  Overly enthusiastic promotions of solar energy by government officials, environmental groups, and those selling solar energy has led to grievous losses to taxpayers in the Southeast.

Categories: On the Blog

Are casinos the solution to TWIA’s woes?

Out of the Storm News - March 18, 2015, 1:44 PM

When it comes to hurricane insurance, Texas is in trouble. The state-run Texas Windstorm Insurance Association has more than $77 billion in potential liabilities, but only a few hundred million in its catastrophe relief fund. The last time a big storm hit, the agency was driven to the brink of bankruptcy, and even with Texas’ recent hurricane dry spell, TWIA remains one big storm away from ruin.

There have been a number of solutions proposed to fix TWIA’s fiscal woes, but perhaps none are more inventive than legislation recently filed by state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur:

The plan is fairly simple. Full Las Vegas-style casinos will be permitted within a first-tier coastal county or second-tier county or in a county where its county seat is within 100 miles from a first- or second-tier county.

Jefferson County is a first-tier, or coastal, county. Hardin County is a second tier county. Huntsville, for example, in Walker County, could be within 100 miles of Jefferson County.

Resulting net tax revenues would be earmarked for the Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund in TWIA to keep it out of deficit. Funds in excess of the amount needed to erase the deficit would go to general revenue.

While this approach is certainly creative, it’s worth noting that Texas’ current plan for dealing with TWIA also involves gambling. The state is betting that it won’t face a serious storm in the near future, so that TWIA’s underfunding won’t matter. The main difference is that, with the current approach, it’s ratepayers and taxpayers throughout the state who may end up footing the bill.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

GOP: The Grade School Boy Trying Too Hard to Get the Silicon Valley Girl

Somewhat Reasonable - March 18, 2015, 1:11 PM

The GOP wants the Silicon Valley’s love. And by love we mean the millions of donation dollars that currently go mostly to Democrats. And sadly, it appears some Republicans will go to nearly any length to curry some of that coin.

Including giving up core conservative principles. Currently on the Win Your Love sacrificial altar – private property rights.

Behold Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)’s latest love missive to their Valley Girl. Published in the Valley’s Tiger Beat – Wired.

It’s Time to Kill Patent Trolls for Good

Since 2011, Overstock.com, from my home state of Utah, has been targeted by 28 so-called patent“trolls, seeking to enforce vague patents.

Patents are private property – and deserve all the protections a personal parcel of land does.

If a patent is vague, that is the fault of the U.S. government – the Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) – for approving it. Once the USPTO approves, though, that patent is private property – with all the ownership rights pertaining thereto.

If Overstock doesn’t like it – work with Congress to tighten up the USPTO’s approval process. Don’t get government to undermine a fundamental component of our intellectual property system.

Behold the fundamental issue in this whole “patent troll” discussion. We don’t need “patent troll” reform – we need Patent Office reform.

Often these trolling lawsuits come from shell corporations that don’t make or sell anything.

“Shell companies” – otherwise known as property owners. These companies in many cases purchased the patents from those who invented the patent-able product – the people from whom sprung forth the miracle that is creation.

Inventors often have zero desire to actually implement their ideas. Their joy is in the inventing. They are often more than happy to sell an idea (to a “shell company”) – to fund their work on their next idea.

This is an amazing, virtuous cycle of innovation. Why would we want to fundamentally undermine it?

(P)atent trolls are crippling growth across all sectors of our innovation economy – from small businesses to America’s largest companies.

There’s a very easy way to avoid this litigation, Ladies and Gentlemen – pay the people whose property you are using. Or don’t use it.

If I were squatting in your office building and renting the space out – would you be pleased if I got Congress to outlaw your ability to collect rent or evict me? You absolutely would not. Congratulations – you’re an “office troll.”

This is the Silicon Valley looking to “rent seek” – which means getting government to pass laws that tilt the playing field in their favor. And, of course, getting favors from government costs money – otherwise known as political donations.

Of course Democrats are – as always – for Crony Socialist sale. It’s disheartening when the allegedly free market, private-property-protecting Republicans are too.

Hey GOP – sometimes the girl ain’t worth it.

[Originally published at Red State]

 

Categories: On the Blog

Repeal law that forces expensive burdens on retailers selling adult beverages

Out of the Storm News - March 18, 2015, 12:58 PM

In Florida, you can buy beer and wine at your local supermarket. Some even sell it straight out of the tap and allow you to taste it before you buy it. But if you want to take home any other type of alcoholic beverage, you’ll have to visit a different store.

Florida is one of only 16 states that require just about every type of alcohol other than beer and wine to be sold in a separate, dedicated location. Grocery stores and other retailers that wish to sell such beverages are forced to either erect a wall within their stores with a dedicated entrance, or establish a completely separate store altogether to comply with Florida law.

However, lawmakers in Tallahassee are considering a repeal of the 1935 statute requiring this separation. Senate Bill 468 and House Bill 107 would allow supermarkets, big-box stores and other retailers that already sell beer and wine to also sell distilled beverages.

A repeal of this law, passed just after the end of the Prohibition Era, makes sense. Rather than suppress business activity, government should explore ways to reduce barriers to competition and make it easier for willing consumers to transact business safely and legally.

Opponents of the proposal cite public safety concerns, claiming it would increase underage drinking. The facts do not support this claim.

The protocols already employed by stores that sell beer and wine are essentially the same as those that sell other kinds of liquor. Their policies and procedures ensure they do not sell to minors, while there are also loss-prevention safeguards to impede shoplifting.

In fact, research shows that convenience stores, supermarkets and other retailers that sell alcohol are marginally better than liquor stores at preventing sales to minors. This is especially true among large retailers, which devote millions to their loss-prevention programs and have a lot more at stake if they are caught breaking the law. If you’re a minor, it’s not any easier to buy beer at a supermarket than it is to buy liquor at a liquor store.

Others claim the proposal would put liquor stores out of business. On the contrary, it would encourage that industry to innovate by allowing them to sell other goods and products the law bans. Consumers likewise would benefit, because they would have more options and reap the benefit of lower prices brought on by competition.

Industry protectionism is not the proper role of government. The state has a duty to ensure public safety, and that includes preserving safeguards that prevent minors from accessing alcohol. Businesses that sell alcoholic beverages and already abide these safeguards should not be required to incur needless major expenses just to sell other kinds of alcoholic beverages.

Heartland Daily Podcast – E. Calvin Beisner: The Environment From a Biblical Perspective

Somewhat Reasonable - March 18, 2015, 12:43 PM

In today’s edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, managing editor of Environment and Climate News, H. Sterling Burnett talks with E. Calvin Beisner. Beisner is the founder and national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance, a volunteer network of about 60 Christian theologians, scientists, economists, and other scholars who teach or do research at various universities and colleges around North America. The Cornwall Alliance focuses on the biblical perspective on environmental and natural resource use issues. Beisner was the recipient of the 2014 Outstanding Spokesperson of Faith, Science, and Stewardship Award at The Heartland Institute’s Ninth International Conference on Climate Change, July 8th in Las Vegas.

In this podcast, Beisner and Burnett discuss environmental issues and policy from a biblical perspective, particularly stressing the need to allow use of fossil fuels and the market economy to raise people around the world out of poverty. Beisner’s work with economists and scientists show that the projections of cataclysmic harm from global warming are completely wrong or at the very least, wildly overstated. He suggests the solutions proposed to fight climate change will do far more harm to the poor than the harm from global warming. Leaving present generations in poverty and in danger of premature death is morally unconscionable, and only the market economy and fossil fuel use can raise them out of poverty.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Categories: On the Blog

Is Government Shower Regulation in the Offing?

Somewhat Reasonable - March 18, 2015, 11:40 AM

 

[The Government that gave us multi-flush, easily stopped up toilets; dim, annoying, expensive compact fluorescent light bulbs; and that just last year pushed to ban inexpensive Christmas lights, preventing the poor from lighting up their Christmas trees and homes for the holidays, now want to tell weary travelers how much time they can spend in the shower in their hotel rooms.

That’s right the same government that can’t balance its checkbook, keep illegal immigrants from pouring over the border, enforce rules for its own top employees to use a public email system and save their emails, and that can’t suppress or defeat a rag-tag bunch of, relative to our own troops, poorly armed and trained, terrorists despite the fact that the previously ruling tyrants in Libya, Iraq and Syria had successfully suppressed these tin-pot zealot armies for decades, now wants to tell us how long our showers can be because it has determined that there is a magical length of time for showering and if you take showers longer than that, you are wasting water.

According to the Washington Free Beacon EPA wants hotels to monitor their guests shower activity and scold them into taking shorter showers.

Per the Beacon:

[The EPA]  is spending $15,000 to create a wireless system that will track how much water a hotel guest uses to get them to “modify their behavior.”

“Hotels consume a significant amount of water in the U.S. and around the world,” an EPA grant to the University of Tulsa reads. “Most hotels do not monitor individual guest water usage and as a result, millions of gallons of potable water are wasted every year by hotel guests.”

“The proposed work aims to develop a novel low cost wireless device for monitoring water use from hotel guest room showers,” it said. “This device will be designed to fit most new and existing hotel shower fixtures and will wirelessly transmit hotel guest water usage data to a central hotel accounting system.”

The hotel pays for the water and guests pay for the hotel room. The hotel incorporates the cost of water and electricity use into the guests room charge. It’s none of the governments business how long anyone takes in the shower. Water is not being wasted in the shower as long as the guest is enjoying its use.

It never ceases to amaze me how intrusive and Orwellian the government is truly becoming. Behavior modification is “newspeak” for government direction of peoples’ day to day, evidently if you are in the shower, minute by minute, activities. The government that want’s to tap your phone and wireless devices, control your speech, online activities and food consumption (see my piece on government food guidelines) now wants to monitor your bathing activities.

And some people still fail to recognize or are willing to admit that the Federal government has gone well beyond the authority and power it was given in the Constitution! They are either willfully ignorant or are in-bed with (or hope to be in-bed with) the tyrants.

Categories: On the Blog

Merchants of Smear, by Rachelle Peterson, National Review

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - March 18, 2015, 11:05 AM
Why don’t more Americans favor environmental regulations? Why don’t more politicians take action to stop global warming? Merchants of Doubt, a new documentary…

Bankruptcy of the ‘merchants of doubt’ meme - Climate Change Dispatch

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - March 18, 2015, 10:59 AM
Written by Dr. Judith Curry, Climate Etc. on 17 March 2015. It’s a MOD, MOD, MOD, MOD WorldNaomi Oreskes’ new movie Merchants of Doubt has recently been…

Hydrazine speculation can end: It’s not in snus, snuff or chewing tobacco

Out of the Storm News - March 18, 2015, 9:24 AM

From Science 2.0:

Because anything could be connected to tobacco without question, it has been unchallenged since 1974 but a new study actually decided to find out. Professor Brad Rodu of the University of Louisville and colleagues from British American Tobacco did a comprehensive survey of toxicants in smokeless tobacco products developed a method for determining levels of hydrazine in them.

R Street applauds introduction of Preserving American Privacy Act

Out of the Storm News - March 17, 2015, 4:05 PM

WASHINGTON (March 17, 2015) – The R Street Institute praised Reps. Ted Poe, R‐Tex., and Zoe Lofgren, D-CA,  for reintroducing the Preserving American Privacy Act today.
This important legislation will bring constitutional privacy protections into the 21st century by addressing new and emerging technologies – specifically unmanned aircraft systems ‐ and their effects on privacy. Among other regulations, the bill clarifies that law enforcement must get a warrant to use a drone for targeted surveillance of an individual’s person or property.

“Laws that focus on drones must strike the right balances between promoting technological advance and maintaining our legal and Constitutional protections,” said Mike Godwin, general counsel and director of innovation policy at R Street. “The Preserving American Privacy Act doesn’t just aim right for that balance – it also answers the questions that need to be asked whenever our government embraces any new technology that can impact citizens’ privacy, lives and liberty.”

The bill is an important step towards ensuring that Americans are subject to the civil liberties enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

“We believe that protection from warrantless drone surveillance should already be understood to exist in our law,” said Godwin. “Regrettably, our courts have not always drawn those lines.”

“Reps. Poe and Lofgren have made this bill an excellent example of thoughtfulness and farsightedness when it comes to regulating drone technology and protecting Americans,” he said.

 

The myth of ‘settled science’ - Climate Change Dispatch

Environment Suite - In The News - March 17, 2015, 3:53 PM
Written by Stephen Moore, Washington Times on 16 March 2015. National Geographic’s latest cover story has generated lots of attention because it sneers at those…

The myth of ‘settled science’ - Climate Change Dispatch

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - March 17, 2015, 3:53 PM
Written by Stephen Moore, Washington Times on 16 March 2015. National Geographic’s latest cover story has generated lots of attention because it sneers at those…
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