Brexit’s energy lesson for California, et al

Commentary by Marita Noon

“California’s largest utility and environmental groups announced a deal Tuesday [June 21] to shutter the last nuclear power plant in the state.” This statement from the Associated Press reporting about the announced closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant should startle you. The news about shutting down California’s last operating nuclear power plant, especially after Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) had sought a 20-year extension of the operating licenses for the two reactors, is disappointing – not startling. What should pique your ire is that the “negotiated proposal,” as the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) called it, is between the utility company and environmental groups – with no mention of the regulators elected to insure that consumers have efficient, effective and economical electricity.

Who put the environmental groups in charge? Not the California voters. But unelected environmental groups – and their bureaucratic friends in various government agencies – have been dictating energy policy for the most of the past decade. Regarding the “negotiated proposal,” WSJ points out: “The agreement wades deeply into intricate energy procurement, environmental and rate-setting matters that are normally the exclusive jurisdiction of state agencies.”

California has a goal of generating half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and environmental groups are calling for the state officials to replace Diablo’s generating capacity with “renewable power sources.” Realize that this one nuclear power plant provides twice as much electricity as all of California’s solar panels combined.

Bloomberg Intelligence analysts’ research concluded that PG&E “would need 10,500 megawatts of new solar installations to replace all of Diablo Canyon’s output” and that, without including potential costs of new transmission lines or back-up resources for solar, will cost $15 billion – with totals, including decommissioning, estimated at $20 billion.

The Bloomberg report states: “PG&E will ask that customers make up any shortfall.”

Actual costs, Bloomberg says: “could be lower because the company expects to compensate for lower demand and replace only part of the production.” Why will there be lower demand? The WSJ explains: “the plan calls for new power sources to furnish only a portion of the electricity that Diablo Canyon generates, assuming that greater energy efficiency in the future will also curb some power demand.”

All of this is announced while California is experiencing, and expecting more, blackouts due to “a record demand for energy” and because “there just aren’t enough gas pipelines for what’s needed,” according to CNN Money. “Southern California,” reports WSJ, “is vulnerable to energy disruptions because it relies on a complex web of electric transmission lines, gas pipelines and gas storage facilities – all running like clockwork – to get enough electricity. If any piece is disabled, it can mean electricity shortages. Gas is the state’s chief fuel for power generation, not coal. But the pipelines can only bring in about 3 billion cubic feet of working gas a day into Southern California, below the daily demand, which gets as high as 5.7 billion cubic feet.”

California’s Independent System Operator, which runs the state’s power grid, therefore, has warned of “significant risk” that there may not be enough natural gas which could result in “outages for as many as 14 summer days.” CNN Money reports: “Natural gas has played a bigger role for California as the state has tried to phase out coal and nuclear power” – environmental groups oppose the use of all of these three power sources.

It is expected that Diablo Canyon’s generating capacity will, in part, be replaced with more natural gas – which is good news for fracking. Eric Schmitt, vice president of operations for the California Independent System Operator, said: “California needs more flexibility in how it generates power so it can balance fluctuating output from wind and solar projects. Gas plants can be turned off and on quickly.”

As coal-fueled electricity has been outlawed in California, and environmental groups have pushed to close nuclear power plants, and routinely block any new proposed natural gas pipelines, black outs will become frequent. California’s energy demand doesn’t match solar power’s production.

This dilemma makes “energy efficiency” a key component of the environmental groups’ decrees – which parallels the European Union’s (EU) policies that were a part of Britain’s “exit” decision (known as “Brexit”).

When the EU’s energy efficiency standards for small appliances were first proposed, then German EU energy commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, according to the Telegraph, said: “All EU countries agree energy efficiency is the most effective method to reduce energy consumption and dependence on imports and to improve the climate. Therefore there needs to be mandatory consumption limits for small electrical appliances.” In 2014, the EU, in the name of energy efficiency, sparked public outcry in Britain when it banned powerful vacuum cleaners with motors above 1600 watts. It then proposed to “ban high powered kettles and toasters” as part of the “Eco-design Directive” aimed at reducing the energy consumption of products.

The EU’s Eco-design Directive’s specific requirements are to be published as “Implementing Measures” – which, according to Conformance.co.uk, are made “as European Law Commission Regulations.” It explains that this process allows the directives to “enter into force in all the member states without requiring a transcription process in their National Law. Thus they can be issued much more quickly than the usual Directive Process.”

When the EU’s high-powered toaster/tea-kettle ban was announced, it became “a lightning rod for public anger at perceived meddling by Brussels” – which was seen as “intruding too much into citizens’ daily lives.” When the ban was announced, retailers reported a spike, as high as 95 percent, in toaster and electric tea-kettle sales. The European overreach became such ammunition in Britain’s Brexit referendum, that Brussels stalled the ban until after the election and engaged in a now-failed public relations exercise with “green campaigners” to speak out in favor of the toaster and tea-kettle regulations that were believed to have “considerable energy saving potential.”

The Brits didn’t buy it. It is reported that top of the list for “leave” voters were “EU Rules and Regulations.” Matthew Elliot, chief executive of the Vote Leave campaign said: “If we vote remain we will be powerless to prevent an avalanche of EU regulations that Brussels is delaying until after the referendum.”

Brussels’ toaster and tea-kettle ban, which were perceived as an assault on the British staples, has been called “bonkers” and “too barmy to be true.” Specifically addressing the ban, Elliot said: “The EU now interferes with so many aspects of our lives, from our breakfast to our borders.” David Coburn, a UK Independence party MEP from Scotland, who recently bought a new toaster and tea kettle grumbled: “I think I must have bought a euro-toaster, I have to put bread in it five times and it’s still pale and pasty. Perhaps it’s powered by windmills. And the kettle? Watching a kettle boil has never been so boring.”

While energy efficiency directives banning Keurig coffee makers would be more likely to draw similar ridicule from Californians, there is a lesson to be learned from the Brexit decision: too much regulation results in referendums to overturn them. It is widely believed that, with Brexit and new leadership, many of the EU’s environmental regulations, including the Paris Climate Agreement, will be adjusted or abandoned.

More and more Americans are reaching the same conclusion as our British cousins about the overreach of rules and regulations. As Coburn concluded: “What we want is to let the free market reign, not this diktat by bureaucrat.”

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy - which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

Splitting up or making a stronger whole

In the wake of the successful Brexit vote I knew someone would resurrect this old idea.

Certainly the idea of the state of Delmarva (or as I would call it, the state of Chesapeake) has been around for generations. It’s only natural given the geographic isolation both the Chesapeake and Delaware bays provide, but reality’s heavy thud divided this sandbar somewhat unevenly into one full state and parts of two others. The full state is one of the smallest in the country by both population and geography while the states split by Chesapeake Bay have practically all of their population across the Bay – less than 10% of Maryland residents and barely 1/2% of Virginia residents live on this side.

Yet if there were a referendum on the subject, we would have a plethora of possible choices, with perhaps the top three being: one new state for the entire peninsula with a brand new slate of laws, the merger of the Eastern Shore portions of Maryland and Virginia into a greater state of Delaware, or remaining as we are. Perhaps Wilmington and New Castle County of Delaware may feel better with a more urban state like New Jersey. But then what happens to institutions like the University of Delaware, which is in New Castle County?

Obviously the politician in me likes the idea of a greater Delaware that would become a “purple” state where Republicans have a good shot of taking control. Since New Castle County boasts a population of 556,779 (according to the latest estimate) out of a state that has 945,934 (based on that same data) it’s always going to run the state of Delaware. (If you think Maryland is bad, remember no jurisdiction has more than 15% of its population. New Castle County is over half of Delaware’s.) Adding the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia would basically negate the Democratic-leaning population of New Castle with a broad area nearly equal in population but definitely more conservative-leaning.

Yet even if we can’t be part of Delaware, there are a number of things that can be done to bring us closer. My favorite (and this has been tried before) is to eliminate the sales tax from Eastern Shore counties in Maryland. (The same could be done in Virginia, although being separated by about 40 miles of Maryland makes the “Del” and “Va” a less likely pair of rivals.) Creating a business zone based on Delaware laws as applicable for the Eastern Shore could be of assistance as well.

But while this idea has plenty of benefits, it probably won’t happen in my lifetime because political power is more important than the people, It’s still a shock to me that the people of Great Britain were allowed such a referendum in the first place – obviously the liberal EU assumed everyone loved them. I expected a result more like the bid to split California up into six states, which failed to qualify for this year’s ballot. The last state to be split up was when the Union-leaning western part of Virginia seceded from the Confederate state of Virginia in 1863 – Virginia was eventually readmitted but not reunited with its former territory, which is now West Virginia. To create a new state or expand Delaware it would take the approval of all parties involved and that’s not going to happen because they need our money – and when it comes to politics we know they follow the golden rule: he who has the gold, rules.

It is nice to dream, though.

Not standing alone

When all the ballots were counted, Donald Trump amassed about 44% of the total Republican vote in the 2016 primaries. Granted, that total surely includes some Democratic crossover votes in open primary states – so we can’t discount a successful Operation Chaos in reverse by the Democrats – but considering there were 6 to 10 contenders in play at the time many states voted that’s a fair amount of support.

But the guy who wrote about the art of the deal seems to be having a tough time closing the sale with the GOP. In a CNN/ORC International poll released today, there are 48% of Republicans who would like a do-over in this election cycle.  (Page 18 of the poll.) Granted, Democrats are not completely thrilled with Hillary Clinton because only 55% back her with 43% still wishing for Bernie Sanders. (There is no alternative to Trump given for the GOP.) If it’s not obvious by now, I’m one of those 48% who think we can do a lot better.

Obviously the path to that is one of allowing convention delegates to vote their conscience at the RNC convention next month. There are a number of renegades who will do just that, but the question is whether they would be enough to make a difference and whether they could even open up the balloting. The only alternative candidate who could be nominated as the rules stand now is Ted Cruz, who would need to restart his campaign that was mothballed in May after the Indiana primary. (But Cruz would have more cash on hand than Trump has now, and his mainly inactive campaign pulled in almost as much in May as Trump’s did.)

Yet the 48% of Republicans who don’t care much for Trump must be the ones not donating money to him, putting the GOP in a financial position it didn’t think was possible given the political climate and eight years of a stalled economy and spotty foreign policy. The trend over the last sixty years has been eight years of one party controlling of the White House before yielding to the other side, with the only deviation being the first term of Ronald Reagan giving the GOP an “extra” four years from 1981-85. (The second term of Reagan plus George H.W. Bush were the “natural” years in this cyclical pattern, which resumed with Bill Clinton.) So the Republicans would be in the position of thinking it was their turn on the merry-go-round.

A candidate that has been the “presumptive” nominee for several weeks running but only has the support of a small percentage that didn’t vote for him is perhaps a fatally flawed candidate. I’m sure many will blame the #NeverTrump movement for poisoning the well for The Donald as he tries to consolidate support, but it’s not up to us to earn the votes – that’s on the guy running. The other candidates on my ballot at least have some conservative credentials I can rely on as I give my support, but Trump is wrong on so many issues (or is right for about a day before backing off) that I think he will extinguish all the progress we’ve made since Ronald Reagan took office. Things eroded a lot during the Bush and Bush years but we would go the other way toward a more “yuge” and oppressive government regardless of who wins if we stay as Trump vs. Clinton. Whether it’s “our” authoritarian or not, the Executive Branch will gain power because we already know Congress isn’t doing much to stop the Obama agenda and it would be hamstrung by Trump’s excesses by his being a Republican. I didn’t sign up to be part of a dictatorship.

So I’m not standing alone in demanding a better alternative, and the movement grows daily.

Obama’s green energy plans kill jobs, hurt consumers, and cost taxpayers

Commentary by Marita Noon

Proponents of green energy like to point out how the costs have come down – and they have. Though renewable energy, such as wind and solar, are not expected to equal fossil fuel costs anytime in the near future and recent growth has been propped up by mandates and tax incentives. But there are other, more subtle aspects of the Obama Administration’s efforts that have had negative impacts that are not felt for years after the policies are implemented. By then, it will be too late to do much about them.

We know that the push toward renewables has hurt the coal industry. As Hillary Clinton gleefully exclaimed: “we’re going to put a whole lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” We are already seeing this happen all over the country. Dozens of coal mining companies have gone bankrupt since President Obama took office and those that are still functioning are doing so with far fewer workers.

One such mine is in the Four Corners region of New Mexico – the San Juan Mine – which is one of the largest underground coal mines in the world. It has been a “top employer” in the region. Westmoreland Coal Company purchased the mine from BHP Billiton, with the sale completed on February 1, 2016. At the time, the mine employed more than 400 people. Shortly thereafter, 11 salaried staff lost their jobs and on June 16, another 85 workers – both salaried and hourly – were laid off. Which, according to the Albuquerque Journal, were “necessary because the San Juan Generating Station, which uses all the mine’s coal, plans to retire two of its four units as part of a negotiated agreement among plant operator Public Service Company of New Mexico [PNM], the Environmental Protection Agency, the Navajo Nation, and the state of New Mexico.”

The “agreement” to shut down half the power plant – thereby cutting the immediate need for coal – is the result of the EPA’s 2011 Regional Haze Program that, according to a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “seeks to remedy visibility impairment at federal National Parks and Wilderness Areas.” This, the report states, “is an aesthetic regulation, and not a public health standard” – though the results will be undetectable to the human eye. For this, nearly a quarter of the mine’s workforce has been terminated.

The Albuquerque Journal cites Westmoreland’s executive vice president, Joe Micheletti, as being unwilling to “comment on whether he expected to see more layoffs in the coming months.” It also states that PNM has promised “not to lay off any employees at the stations as a result of the unit closures” – though through attrition employment is down 20 percent from two years ago.

The reality is, anti-fossil fuel groups like the Sierra Club, wanted the entire plant shut down. In 2018, PNM will have to plead their case before the Public Regulatory Commission to keep the San Juan Generating Station functioning past 2022. PNM is currently considering a plan for meeting its needs for electricity without it. If the plant closes, all jobs, approximately 800, at both the mine and the generating station will be gone – greatly impacting the local economy.

Obama’s far-reaching green energy policies are insidious – hurting consumers in ways we don’t even think of. On June 10, Stephen Yurek, president and CEO of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), gave testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Energy and Power. He addressed the nearly 40-year old Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) – which, he said, “has not been updated to reflect new technologies and economic realities” and “has been misapplied by the Department of Energy [DOE].” The Obama Administration has run amuck in its application of EPCA – issuing regulation after regulation. Yurek backs this up by pointing out the difference in the Clinton and Obama administrations: “While the Clinton Administration’s DOE issued just six major efficiency rules during his eight years in office, the Obama Administration’s DOE issued eight major efficiency rules in 2014 alone – a record according to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. And DOE’s Unified Agenda indicate that between 2015 and the end of the administration, 11 additional major efficiency rules can be expected to be issued.”

These rules, Yurek explained, “use unrealistic assumptions” to create “higher efficiency levels than are economically justified for consumers.” He encourages Congress to force the DOE to “consider the real-world cumulative impact of product efficiency standards among agencies, businesses, and consumers” and suggests that “as DOE promulgates rules according to an accelerated regulatory schedule, necessary constructive dialogue falls by the wayside.”

Yurek summarizes: “An endless cycle of efficiency rulemakings continues to have an adverse impact on our global competitiveness and the American jobs we create.” This practice hurts consumers as “When new products and equipment cost more than consumers can afford, they find alternatives, some of which compromise their comfort and safety, while saving less energy or none at all or in some cases using more energy.”

In the name of energy efficiency, on December 6, 2013, Obama issued a memorandum ordering federal buildings to triple renewable energy use. He declared: “Today I am establishing new goals for renewable energy as well as new energy-management practices.” Now, nearly three years later, we get a taste of what his federal building initiative is costing taxpayers.

On June 16, 2016, the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) Office of Inspector General released a report - precipitated by an anonymous hotline complaint - on the 53 percent cost escalation at Fannie Mae’s extravagant new downtown DC building. As a result of the financial crisis, mortgage giant Fannie Mae received a bailout of $116.1 billion in taxpayer funds and FHFA now serves as the conservator over Fannie Mae. The Inspector General found that no one in the FHFA Division of Conservatorship “was aware of the 53% increase in the estimated build-out costs for Fannie Mae’s new office space.”

“Because Fannie Mae is an entity in the conservatorship of the U.S. government,” the report states: “FHFA, as conservator, will need to assess the anticipated efficiencies of specific proposed features against estimated costs of those features and determine whether the efficiencies warrant the costs.” The watchdog report found the ballooning costs created “significant financial and reputational risks.”

Addressing the excessive cost, Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), chairman of the House subcommittee with oversight over Fannie Mae, said: “Like a child with a credit card in a toy store, the bureaucrats at Fannie Mae just couldn’t help themselves. After being forced to bail out the GSE’s [Government-Sponsored Enterprises] to the tune of nearly $200 billion [which includes Freddie Mac], American taxpayers now get the news that they are underwriting lavish spending at Fannie Mae’s new downtown Washington, D.C. headquarters. So while Americans around the country are living paycheck to paycheck, Washington insiders are blowing through budgets by designing glass enclosed bridges and rooftop decks.”

In response to the call for “immediate, sustained comprehensive oversight from FHFA,” Melvin L. Watt, FHFA director, defended himself. In the face of the Inspector General’s caustic criticism, he claimed that many of the upfront investments would save money over time. Watt’s memorandum only offers two such examples and one is more efficient lighting. He claims: “upfitting space with more expensive LED lighting instead of less expensive fluorescent lighting would result in significantly cheaper operating costs.” The other example he provided was window shades.

These are just three recent examples of Obama Administration policies that were put in place years before the resulting job losses and costs to consumers and taxpayers are felt. Gratefully, for now, the Supreme Court put a stay on one of his most intrusive and expensive programs – the Clean Power Plan. But there are plenty of little rulemakings, programs, and memorandums that will still be impacting jobs and increasing costs long after he is out of office.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy - which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

Willful ignorance?

According to multiple news reports on both the state and national level – apparently this was, to paraphrase Joe Biden, a “big f’ing deal” – Larry Hogan is now an official member of #NeverTrump. Welcome aboard.

Hogan said he doesn’t plan to vote for Trump, but was coy on his choice otherwise. “I guess when I get behind the curtain I’ll have to figure it out,” Hogan said. “Maybe write someone in, I’m not sure.” That sounds vaguely familiar, although even as moderate as Hogan can be I would imagine he’s not a Hillary supporter.

Certainly the governor would prefer to keep his questioning confined to affairs of state, but after being bugged about his choice for months once his endorsed candidate Chris Christie exited the race he obviously threw up his hands and gave the most honest answer he could. Of course, it wasn’t good enough for the Democrats who want Hogan to condemn Trump for his statements so they can beat up the downticket candidates this year, but the goal shouldn’t be to satisfy a party that’s nominating a candidate who, if she were not Bill Clinton’s wife, would likely be in prison for her actions as Secretary of State.

What’s interesting to me about this whole thing is that Hogan’s appeal cuts across many of the same lines as Donald Trump’s does. Both had crossover attraction in their election, as thousands of Democrats voted Hogan in 2014. Many of them switched parties two years later to cast a ballot for Donald Trump. At the end of last year the Maryland GOP had 971,806 voters but gained over 29,000 by the end of April to eclipse 1 million for the first time at 1,000,915. (As of the end of May they had 1,004,083.) Unfortunately, the Democrats are growing even faster as they gained 68,000 in the same December-May period. So there may be a little bit of a political calculation going there.

(Contrary to popular opinion, however, the Libertarian Party has not gained in Maryland despite Republican threats to leave if Trump was nominated. In the month after the primary they actually lost 87 voters.)

It’s worth noting that Donald Trump got 54.1% of the GOP primary vote, which translated to 248,343 votes. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton received 62.5% of the Democrat vote, which turned out to be 573,242 votes. Even Bernie Sanders outpolled Trump with 309,990 votes. GOP turnout was right about 45%, so Trump would have to get a whole lot of unaffiliated voters to have a shot. Having Hogan come out publicly against The Donald probably doesn’t assist that cause.

But the more important number to Hogan is 70 percent, which is roughly his approval rating right now. I don’t think Trump can touch that number in Maryland, and while there may be the most radical 10 percent of Trump supporters who won’t vote for Hogan in 2018 because Hogan is withholding his support, that’s only about 25,000 voters at risk – not even 1/4 of his victory margin in 2014. If 70 percent of the population likes you, it’s a pretty good bet you’ll be re-elected. (This is why the Democrats have tried to pin Trump to Hogan every chance they get.)

While I suspect that his reasoning may be a lot different than mine, I’m pleased to have Governor Hogan on my side on this one. The GOP still has an opportunity to correct course at the Cleveland convention, and I think they better take it.

Who wants wind turbines?

Commentary by Marita Noon

why would they do this

 

Last month’s wind-turbine fire near Palm Springs, CA, that dropped burning debris on the barren ground below, serves as a reminder of just one of the many reasons why people don’t want to live near the towering steel structures. In this case, no one was hurt as the motor fire was in a remote, unincorporated area of Palm Springs. But imagine if it was located just hundreds of feet from your back door – as they are in many locations – and the burning debris was raining down into your yard where your children were playing or onto your roof while you are sleeping.

Other reasons no one wants them nearby include the health impacts. Last month, Dave Langrud, of Alden, MN, sent a six-page, detailed complaint to the Minnesota Public Regulatory Commission. In it, he states: “Wisconsin Power and Light constructed the Bent Tree Wind Farm surrounding my home. There are 19 turbines within one mile and 5 within ½ mile. Both my wife and I have had difficulty sleeping in our home since the turbines started operating. If we leave the area, we don’t have this problem. The turbines have also caused severe headaches for my wife. She didn’t have this problem before the turbines, and this isn’t a problem for her when we spend time away from our home and away from the turbines. When we are home, the problems return.”

In response to another recent ongoing complaints at multiple Minnesota wind projects about the proximity of the turbines to residences, commissioners from the Minnesota Department of Health, Department of Commerce, and Pollution Control Agency acknowledged that regarding permitting and setbacks, “the noise standard was not promulgated with wind turbine-like noise in mind. It addresses audible noise, not infrasound. As such, it is not a perfect measure to use in determining noise-related set-backs between wind turbines and residences.” Yet, it is the “measure” that is used. The Commissioners also acknowledged: “At present there is no available funding to conduct such studies.”

Langrud’s letter addresses property values. He asks: “How do we get a fair price if we sell in order to save our health?” But recent studies prove that it isn’t just those forced to live in the shadows of the turbines whose property values are diminished. Waterfront properties that have offshore wind turbines in their viewshed would have a “big impact on coastal tourism,” according to a study from North Carolina State University. The April 2016 report in Science Daily states: “if turbines are built close to shore, most people said they would choose a different vacation location where they wouldn’t have to see turbines.” The economic impact to the coastal communities is estimated to be “$31 million dollars over 20 years.”

A similar study done in Henderson, NY, found a proposed wind project could have “a total loss in property value of up to about $40 million because of the view of turbines.” An interesting feature of the NY study, not addressed in the NC one is how the loss in property taxes, due to reduced values, will be made up. The Watertown Daily Times points out that most of the homes whose values “would fall sharply due to the view of turbines” are “assessed above $1 million.” It states: “homes in the $200,000 range without a view of turbines would probably see an increase in property taxes to make up for the overall drop in property values.” Robert E. Ashodian, a local resident is quoted as saying: “If property values go down and the town isn’t going to spend less money, the tax rate is going to go significantly up for all of the homeowners who aren’t impacted.” Henderson Supervisor John J. Calkin expressed concern over the “devastating impact” the wind project would have on the town and school district.

Offshore wind turbines were supposed to offer a visual benefit, but they, obviously, bring their own set of problems.

The Financial Times reports: “Building wind farms out at sea, rather than on land where critics say they are an eyesore, has made these power stations a less contentious form of clean energy … But it also makes them dearer than most other power stations and many EU governments face pressure to cut green subsidies that opponents say raise electricity prices and make some industries uncompetitive.” The higher cost argument is what has caused Denmark – known as the international poster child for green energy and the first to venture into offshore wind power – to abandon the policies that subsidized the turbines. Cancelling the coastal wind turbines is said to “save the country around 7 billion Krones ($1 billion).” According to Bloomberg: “The center-right government of [Prime Minister] Lars Loekke Rasmussen wants to scrap an electricity tax that has helped subsidize wind turbines since 1998.” The Danish People’s Party, the largest group in the ruling bloc, is part of the “policy about-face.” Party leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl says: “You have to remember this is a billion-figure cost that we’re passing on to the Danes.” She added: “We also have a responsibility to discuss the costs we impose on Danes over the next 10 years.”

Germany is facing similar problems with its green energy policies. Energy Digital magazine points out that Germany’s rapid expansion of green energy has “driven up electricity costs and placed a strain on the grid.” As a result, Germany has capped wind power expansion. In fact, subsidies – which drove the growth in renewable energy – are being cut throughout Europe. Bloomberg states: “Europe is falling out of love with renewables.”

Then, there are the U.S. utility companies who are forced to buy the more expensive wind-generated electricity due to an abused – but little known in the public – 1978 law that was intended to help the U.S. renewable energy industry get on its feet. The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) was designed to give smaller power players an entry into the market. If wind-turbine projects meet the guidelines, utilities must buy the electricity generated at “often above-market” costs. Instead, in many cases, big projects, owned by one company, get divided up into different parcels with unique project names, but are still owned by the major developer. Energy Biz magazine reports: “PacifiCorp, for one, estimates that such abuses will cost its customers up to $1.1 billion in the coming decade by locking the company into unneeded electricity contracts at rates up to 43-percent higher than market price.” It quotes John Rainbolt, federal affairs chief for Wisconsin-based Alliant Energy: “Our customers essentially pay for PURPA power at 20-percent higher-than-market-based wind prices.” Led by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) a move is underway in Congress to review the nearly 40-year old legislation.

So, residents who live near wind turbines don’t want wind turbines. Nor do residents and renters who have them in the viewshed, governments looking to cut costs, utility companies, or ratepayers. And we haven’t even mentioned those who want to protect birds and bats. Scientific American just addressed the concern that “Bat killings by wind energy turbines continue.” It claims: “wind turbines are, by far, the largest cause of bat mortality around the world” and this includes three species of bats listed – or being considered for listing – under the Endangered Species Act. Bats are important because they eat insects and, therefore, save farmers billions of dollars in pest control each year. Scientific American reports that in addition to dead hawks and eagles found under the wind turbines are thousands of bats.

Who does want wind turbines?

Wind turbine manufacturers, the American Wind Energy Association, and the crony capitalists who benefit from the tax breaks and subsidies – which Robert Bryce, author of Power Hungry and Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper, reports total more than $176 billion “given to the biggest players in U.S. wind industry.” He states that the growth in wind energy capacity has “not been fueled by consumer demand, but by billions of dollars’ worth of taxpayer money.” To address those who defend rent-seeking wind turbines and squawk about the favorable tax treatment the oil and gas sector gets, Bryce points out: “on an energy equivalent basis, wind energy’s subsidy is nearly three times the current market prices of natural gas.” Even billionaire Warren Buffett acknowledged that the only reason his companies are in the wind business is: “We get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms.”

If no one but the rent-seeking crony capitalists want wind turbines, why must people like Minnesota’s Langrud have to endure them? Because the wind energy lobby is powerful and “green energy” sounded good decades ago when the pro green-energy policies like PURPA were enacted. However, as the Bloomberg story on Demark points out: wind power is “a mature industry that no longer needs state aid.” Unfortunately, in December 2015, Congress extended the wind energy tax credits through 2021. But tweaks, such as reforming PURPA, can take place and a new president could totally change the energy emphasis – which would be good, because, it seems, no one really wants wind turbines.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energywhich expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

Freedom from sanity

In the wake of a senseless tragedy perpetrated by a radical Islamist in Orlando, the natural reaction to a group of radical Christians in Iowa is disappointing but not surprising. The crime of the Iowans? In the case of Governor Terry Branstad, it’s signing a proclamation for the Iowa 99 County Bible Reading Marathon, slated for June 30 to July 3 in front of every Iowa county courthouse. In response, he may be sued by the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. From the Daily Signal:

Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor told The Daily Signal that her organization, an atheist and agnostic nonprofit based in Madison, Wisconsin, is asking Branstad to rescind the proclamation.

“It’s totally beyond the purview of a governor or any public official to request that people read the Bible, much less that they engage in a Bible marathon or that they read any ‘holy book,’” Gaylor told The Daily Signal. She added: “Government is supposed to be neutral towards religion. It’s not supposed to play favorites.”

Gaylor says the proclamation is “unconstitutional” and “egregious” and that her organization is “hoping to sue.”

“We have a godless, secular Constitution,” Gaylor said. “There’s no Bible in it.”

I would argue that we have what’s pretty much become a Godless, secular nation thanks to people like Gaylor, but that’s not really the point.

Insofar as I know, no one is going to be rounded up and herded off to these county courthouses to be forced to listen to Bible verses and prayer. Obviously this is a volunteer, freewill effort that will be conducted on the public square and Governor Branstad is expressing his support, presumably as a fellow Christian. I wouldn’t mind seeing the same occur in Maryland and Delaware.

Granted, there’s a supposed separation of church and state, but to me it doesn’t mean the state can’t sponsor religious activities. A proper interpretation of that doctrine is to know there is no Church of America, such as there’s a Church of England. I attend a Baptist church, but that makes me no more or less an American than someone who goes to the Catholic cathedral, Jewish synagogue, Hindu temple, Islamic mosque, or any of the other sects who believe in a Creator. (Or those who don’t believe in one.)

I don’t know about you, but I can’t equate the perceived inconvenience of having to avoid a corner of the courthouse lawn to not hear a prayer service with someone of any denomination expressing his religious beliefs via a mass shooting, simply for the offense of being gay. (That assumes there were no straight people in the club, which there surely were.) Is it really that terrible that people want to pray?

Recently I had a medical scare that turned out to be minor, but one thing that surely kept it minor was being lifted up in prayer by members of my church, friends, and people who hardly knew me but were concerned. I was not concerned about the denomination of those who prayed for me, but appreciated the thoughts and prayers. There was no “right” prayer, just a good volume. Maybe in this time of strife we need a larger volume of prayer for our nation, you think?

I think the Iowa Prayer Caucus state director, Ginny Caligiuri, summed this up just right:

We are reading the Word of God on the grounds of our courthouses because we as a nation have turned from our biblical foundations and our nation is in big trouble.

Amen. No harm, no foul, so read away!

A familiar sight

I may never grace the pages of The Resurgent for my writing ability, but I at least can say I contributed in some small way to the success of Erick Erickson’s venture. In an article written by Steve Berman on Friday, I had to do a double-take. “That looks like the Salisbury Trump headquarters,” I said to myself, then realized the photo looks REALLY familiar. The person who did the photo for the article (perhaps Berman) cropped the car out of the left side of the photo.

I suspect I also used this photo for Facebook as well, so it’s pretty much public domain. But I had to have a little fun with it.

Berman was a good sport, though.

Yet there was a serious element to his search.

Of course all this played out prior to the Orlando terrorist attack last night, which may make the fundraising question less relevant for Trump*, but the case that’s been made by Berman and others who question the wisdom of nominating Trump is his heretofore weak effort at raising the sort of money needed. $2 billion in free media is great for the primary, but now the actual race between Trump and the candidate the media actually supports has begun. This doesn’t count Trump’s belief that he can put California, New York, New Jersey, and “maybe” Maryland in play.

Now I was told at our state convention that the RNC would immediately chip in $25 million upon his nomination, as Trump’s message about self-funding his campaign was only for the primary. Nor does Trump have the advantages of donors made fat by government largesse or coerced dues to bankroll his campaign. While it’s possible to overcome these disadvantages on a state scale as Larry Hogan did, the fact Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six national Presidential elections tells me the Democratic formula is hard to beat. It’s going to take all these newfound passionate Trump people contributing to the ground game to win over Hillary, and do so without taking resources needed to maintain the Senate and House.

Color me, along with Berman and Wolf, a little skeptical at this point.

__________________

* The BIG caveat: it seems to me that the more anti-Trump protests and terror attacks there are, the closer Trump inches to his goal. It will be interesting to see the polls toward the end of this coming week as more is learned about the Orlando attacker.

The seduction of good intentions

In yesterday’s Salisbury Independent, County Councilman Marc Kilmer discussed his concerns about a tuition assistance program proposed by community leaders and supported by County Executive Bob Culver. The aim of this Wor-Wic College proposal would be to assist Wicomico County high school students by supplementing their available financial aid, with an estimated cost once the program is underway of $665,000 annually.

One of the examples cited by the backers of the Wor-Wic Economic Impact Scholarship is that of Garrett County at the far western end of Maryland, which has a similar program. I’m sure those on County Council have seen this document, but the Garrett County Commissioners have produced a (somewhat dated) report on the Garrett County Scholarship Program, which they began way back in 2006 – so the 2014 report had several years’ worth of data to evaluate its success.

A couple things to bear in mind are that Garrett County is not one of the wealthier counties in Maryland, and in terms of its economic strength it would fit in well with the rural counties of the Eastern Shore. As the report authors note, the county is in a transition “from an economy traditionally based on agriculture, forest products, and mining to a more diversified economy based on tourism, commerce, light industry, and construction.” But it is also far smaller than Wicomico County in terms of population, with just over 30,000 people – imagine the city of Salisbury (but not the outskirts and densely populated nearby incorporated and unincorporated areas) spread out in a far larger geographic area, as Garrett is the second-largest county in the state when it comes to land area. It doesn’t have a large populated area, either, as the largest towns of Mountain Lake Park and Oakland (the county seat) hover around 2,000 residents apiece.

According to the commissioners’ report, between 1/3 and 2/5 of the eligible students in the county took advantage of the program, but in raw numbers the total was less impressive: from a fall 2008 peak of 138 recipients, the number declined over the next several years to a low of 79 in the fall of 2013 (the last year detailed by the report.) Yet the program comes with a significant cost due to some of its qualities: for FY2013 the price tag was $427,365 and for FY2017 the county has budgeted $500,000. However, the county also assists students who are dual-enrolled in one of its two high schools and Garrett College as well as a handful who are enrolled in non-degree certificate programs, as well as encouraging students to take more than the minimum 12 credit hours to maintain eligibility. They pick up that tab.

While the programs as envisioned here in Wicomico County and the Garrett County program have somewhat of an apples-to-oranges comparison to them, I think it’s fair to say that the local proposal is probably going to cost more than envisioned. Expanding the Garrett scholarship to non-degree certificate programs, while a sound idea, is an example of the mission creep that often occurs with the government getting involved. It’s also worth pointing out a spike in costs came when Garrett College tuition increased significantly in 2009.

Unfortunately, the one relevant piece of data we don’t have is whether these scholarship recipients remained to take (or create) jobs in the Garrett County region. According to state records, though, the workforce in Garrett has actually declined from 15,666 to 14,475 over the last decade (April 2006 – April 2016) for a drop of 7.6%. Conversely, Wicomico County declined from 49,566 to 47,504 in that same period, for a decrease of 4.2% – so by that measure the Garrett County program may not be very successful. (Yet the Garrett unemployment rate has only risen from 4.7% to 5.7% in comparison to a jump from 3.7% to 6% in Wicomico.)

One way of expressing the cost of this program is to equate it to property taxes. For each penny of property tax, Wicomico County collects about $570,000 (this is assuming I am reading the budget correctly, of course. But it sounds about right based on my experience.) So this would be a little over a penny out of the 95 cents or so the county collects out of every $100 of property valuation. The owner of a house assessed at $200,000 would pay about $20 a year toward this goal. If that seems worth it to give students a break, then support the scholarship program.

But if I may make a couple suggestions: I think the total expenditure should be capped and given out on a first come, first served basis. I understand not everyone makes snap decisions well, but in order to be fiscally responsible we can’t let this mushroom beyond its small percentage of the county budget. I would also reserve a number of slots for certificate programs Wor-Wic offers, similar to that element of Garrett’s program. Since a P-TECH school is not yet in the cards for Wicomico County, this can be the next best thing if done correctly.

It’s not likely any member of my family will take advantage of the program, but Kilmer is right to be a little skeptical of it at this stage. The county did set aside the money to begin the program once the questions are answered, though, so it’s possible an upcoming high school class will be the first to have this option.

Leadership on trade?

June 8, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics · Comments Off 

I have a sneaking hunch that my friend Rick Manning of Americans for Limited Government (ALG) and Donald Trump may not see eye to eye on what constitutes “limited” government should Trump be elected, but one thing ALG is encouraging Trump to pursue is a more America-centric policy on trade.

On Monday ALG released a letter they sent to Trump thanking him for “giving voice to the reality that the deals negotiated by our leaders are anything but free trade or good for America.”

Manning cited two examples of poor trade practice in his letter, with the first singling out the struggles one American shoe maker endures in competing with Nike:

The average Vietnamese worker makes $150 a month, virtual slave wages.  But the average Vietnamese textile worker who makes shoes earns even less, in fact, about 30 percent less down to $100 a month according to Vietnamonline.com. While this is good for Nike, which doesn’t actually make any of its hundred dollar plus tennis shoes here in America, it is bad for their competitor, New Balance, which employs 900 Americans in Massachusetts and Maine making footwear.

Let me step in for a minute (pun intended.) I happen to prefer New Balance shoes for a simple reason: it is far easier for me to find their shoes in the wide width I need because I wear 4E wide shoes for my duck feet. New Balance seems to have their finger on the pulse of the American market better than Nike, which outsources their production to the cheapest possible outposts. (It shows in their quality, too. I’ve been disappointed in the couple pairs of Nikes I’ve owned.) But Nike has a far bigger market share thanks to the power of marketing, if not necessarily the quality of their shoes.

Manning goes on to cite a second imbalance he’s hoping Trump may address:

Another egregious example of American policy being out of whack is the area of agricultural subsidies and trade.  A specific example is the much maligned U.S. sugar policy, which is in place to offset massive sugar subsidization by producers like Brazil, Thailand and India.  These countries’ subsidies and trade-distorting policies have wrecked the world sugar market and could drive the U.S. industry out of business.

Over the years Life Savers, Dum-Dums and other candy products have seen their production relocated to Canada or Mexico – not because of labor costs but the cost of sugar. Since the ingredient is the major proportion of the product, it only makes sense to find the cheapest alternative. Manning cites one proposal to address this:

However, there is a solution for someone with a hard-nosed desire to get the best deal for the American people and end agriculture subsidies.  U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) has introduced legislation that would end the U.S. sugar program when the U.S. gets other nations to do the same through the World Trade Organization.  Yoho’s approach, making the end of our sugar policy contingent upon our competitors eliminating their subsidies, too, gives the President a powerful tool to use as a cudgel over world-wide agricultural competitor’s heads, because Congress would have already done its work.

The ALG letter also goes on to talk about ending Chinese currency manipulation, which is a familiar complaint from manufacturing groups as well. But Manning is adamant about manufacturing’s place in the American economy. “Rebuilding a robust domestic manufacturing sector is important to restoring America’s economic leadership in the world, and in doing so, providing hope to our nation that tomorrow will once again be better than today,” concluded Manning. And he’s right.

But trade is only one part of the equation. We have to encourage more businesses to create jobs by not making it mandatory they give 35 cents of every dollar back in taxes. While Trump addressed this in his tax plan by cutting corporate rates to 15 percent, he has several provisos such as a “one-time deemed repatriation of corporate cash,” and ending deferral on corporate income earned abroad. Bear in mind as well Trump admitted that his tax plan as presented is his “optimal plan,” but subject to negotiation – so the rate may be higher, the “one-time” repatriation may become annual, and it may be tied to other non-productive policies such as a minimum wage hike. Regulations are another issue which Trump is vague about, telling CNBC he wanted to scrap “a slew” of them, but not being specific.

Trump, however, is also talking about our own currency manipulation, questioning the wisdom of a strong dollar. Having a weaker dollar would tend to be protectionist policy, making imports more expensive but allowing our products to be more competitive elsewhere. By the same token, it would encourage international visitors while making American trips abroad more expensive. But it also could enhance inflation.

If Trump wins the election, it’s truly anyone’s guess what effect he will have on the economy. He could be the boost we need to get back to 4-5% annual growth we haven’t seen since the Clinton-Gingrich tech boom era of the 1990s or he could make us long for actual growth instead of depression. It’s truly anyone’s guess, and one piece of the puzzle will be how the market reacts to Trump’s more protectionist policies.

Announcing: the 2016 monoblogue Accountability Project

For the tenth year in a row, I have graded all 188 legislators in the Maryland General Assembly based on their voting patterns on a number of key issues. Beginning with sine die back in April, I started looking into both floor and committee votes trying to find those which reflected conservative principles, with an eye on civil liberties as well. The final product, all 27 pages, can be found right here or in its usual sidebar location.

You’ll notice the look is a little different this year, as I decided to scrap the old two-column format and just give it more of a standard form that’s easier to read. I also changed the font to something a little more stylistic. On the charts themselves, I decided to eliminate the committee votes from the main chart and instead added two new pages for those votes so that all of the legislators on the committee can be more directly compared.

As for the votes themselves, the overriding theme to me was fiscal. Democrats don’t like not being in the governor’s chair to spend money, so they are trying to use their legislative majority to force Governor Hogan to spend more. To the majority, there are two advantages to this approach: not only can they give handouts to favored constituencies, but they can prevent Hogan from finding the savings he can use to cut taxes and fees. Their goal seems to be putting our governor in a position where he has to raise taxes, which is music to the ears of people like Mike Miller and Michael Busch.

So you’ll notice quite a few floor votes deal with these sort of mandates. There are also quite a few intended to strip power from the Executive Branch (which wasn’t an issue just two short years ago) and tie the hands of businesses because government needs something to justify its existence.

I note in the conclusion that there were far fewer correct votes this year, and a large part of that was the mix of bills I selected. Last year I had an average House score of 39.82 and Senate count of 41.15. This was because a lot of Democrats got scores in the 20s, and that was based on their support for marijuana and civil liberties legislation I favored. This year, not so much as the averages plummeted to 27.1 in the House and 23.26 in the Senate. Being a more hardline fiscal conservative this year (because they addressed the issues they were with me on last year) changed a lot of Democratic scores from 24 to a big fat zero. On the other hand, I had only seen two perfect scores in nine previous years but got two in one session this year for the first time.

I’ve been warned that the third year of the cycle is always the most ambitious for policy, although liberals are dangerous any year. There are a few things that were stopped this year that we will surely see in 2017, such as paid sick leave. I also expect a bid to extend the fracking moratorium as part of a broad environmental package – the wackos were strangely quiet this year but I think 2017 brings some interim deadlines and reports on Bay cleanup. Add in the trend to mandate more spending and 2017 will be an interesting time.

One final change comes in the sidebar. I’m leaving the 2015 report available as part of a long-term process to show trends for the 2015-18 term. As one example, I think the candidacies of Kathy Szeliga and David Vogt affected their voting patterns – you’ll be able to judge for yourself now.

Feel free to print yourself a copy for your use, just don’t forget where it came from.

Harris weighs in on transgender issue

In a letter to local school superintendents within his district, Congressman Andy Harris urged those officials to maintain the stance of respecting the privacy of those who use gender-specific facilities:

I realize the tenuous position the Departments of Education (DOE) and Justice have put you in through the “guidance” provided in their letter, dated 13th of May, to school districts. I urge you to continue to respect a student’s right to privacy – including girls that do not wish to undress in the presence of biological males or whose parents feel likewise. Please know the Obama Administration will not have the last word on this issue.

(snip)

(T)he Obama Administration sent the May 13th letter to school districts across the country containing “guidance” that would require all public schools to accommodate students using restrooms of their choice regardless of their biological gender. Violation of this “guidance” is, of course, under the implicit threat of withholding of federal funds and/or legal action by the DOJ. On this issue, I believe the Administration is misinterpreting federal civil rights law, and violating state’s rights. There is no statutory authority for this “guidance.” (Emphasis in original.)

Although he’s not a lawyer, Harris goes on to cite a pair of court cases that are already underway to reinforce his belief that school systems have nothing to worry about insofar as federal funding goes. And he may be correct on this point, as it will likely be months (if not years) until this winds its way through federal courts – in the meantime it’s a safe bet that most school districts will cave on this and further blur the lines between genders, all to cater to perhaps one or two students in a 1,000 student school who are truly suffering from gender dysphoria as opposed to the couple dozen who may be doing so as a rebellion against authority or to get their jollies. I thought we were supposed to celebrate differences, so what is wrong with the one or two in question having respect for their peers and using a unisex restroom as available? I suspect most kids in a school would know the situation of the student in question.

The next question, though, is when this will come down to the state level and, more importantly, when it will be impressed on Christian schools (such as the one Kim’s daughter attends) that these accommodations need to be made? It’s already becoming fair game for just anyone to use her restroom, such as at Target.

Of course, I have heard the argument that a truly transgendered person would be indistinguishable from their opposite sex in mannerisms and it’s likely they are already using the restroom of the gender they identify with. Fortunately, modern restroom design would either provide that a guy who identifies as a woman uses a stall (because a women’s room is all stalls) or that a girl that identifies as a guy uses the stalls available in the men’s room because they can’t use a standard urinal.

I think the issue is more in the realm of locker and changing rooms where it can become obvious that the biological equipment is different, and it presents an uncomfortable experience for both sides. So what is wrong with the right to privacy, particularly since the Left thinks it applies to a woman’s body in other situations?

The simple truth is no matter what surgery you subject yourself to or how many hormones you take, 99.99% of us are either male or female. (There is a very tiny group that is intersex or has a degree of those characteristics, perhaps 1 in every 2,000 births.) You simply can’t change the fact you are XX or XY at birth and it doesn’t matter whether you feel more feminine on some days – guys, stay out of the girls’ locker room. The policy in place for many, many years worked for a reason – because it was logical and respected obvious differences.

Hopefully Harris is correct about the federal government’s impotency, but that doesn’t mean school administrators will do the right thing as illustrated above.

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