Category: Economics

Homes leaving the power grid is a sign of bad public utility policies

SolarCity Corp. Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive doesn’t want his customers defecting from the power grid — unless they live in Hawaii.

The biggest U.S. residential solar installer expects to offer by next year a package that combines solar panels, batteries and a back-up generator, and will supply all the power needed by residential customers.

In Hawaii, home to the highest U.S. electricity rates, using the setup to disconnect from the power grid may save people as much as 15 percent compared to their local utility bills, Rive said in an interview on Bloomberg Television.

In other states, utilities would benefit from millions of homes with batteries and solar panels, by tapping the stored electricity during periods of peak demand when the local grid needs extra capacity. Having people disconnect from power grids is a symptom of poorly designed regulations.

“It’s bad policy that got us there,” Rive, 38, said in the interview in San Francisco.

Utilities in states from Arizona to Wisconsin are seeking changes to rates and adding fees for residential customers with solar power, to offset lost revenue from the growth of companies like SolarCity.

Most public utilities are as incompetent as elected officials from the two weasel parties we’re allowed. Instead of working to combine alternative power sources and systems, they’re like craft unions or guilds in the 19th Century trying to protect their fiefdom instead of moving to the collective benefits of modern tech.

Our family is convinced of the benefits of solar technology for all the good reasons – from health and sane energy production to long-range reduced cost. Our public utility here in New Mexico is as backwards as any. Perfectly willing to lie and cheat to maintain their guaranteed profits regardless of environmental and cost negatives. They misstated their cost of maintaining coal-burning plants by a billion dollar$, they’re already trying to push pandering state politicians into a regressive tax on homeowners who convert to solar power – even grid-tied systems.

Useless enemies of progress. It will be their policies that determine whether we go grid-tied or off the grid when we convert our little compound to solar.

Oh yeah. Before going to bed, last night, I caught the end of Rive’s interview with Emily Chang on BLOOMBERG WEST. He obviously has little confidence in either public utilities corporations or state regulators doing anything sensible. He figures Solar City will end up bringing the Hawaiian model as an option to all the mainland states.

Bacon, bacon, bacon Is back!


Fatburger’s Hypocrite Burger

Andy Wiederhorn wants to sell bacon to vegetarians.

That’s the idea, anyway, behind the Hypocrite Burger — a veggie patty topped by two strips of bacon. Wiederhorn, chief executive officer of Beverly Hills, California-based Fatburger Corp., is pushing sales of the sandwich in his 200 fast-food restaurants to take advantage of wholesale prices that dropped about two-thirds from a year ago.

“We want to add bacon to everything we sell,” he said. “People like it.”

Do they ever. At the risk of sounding like Forrest Gump’s shrimp-obsessed buddy Bubba, eateries are offering bacon milkshakes, bacon sauerkraut, bacon kale salad, bacon martinis and bacon peanut brittle. Last year, 68 percent of U.S. restaurants had bacon on the menu, up from 62 percent in 2005, according to market researcher Datassential. And that was when prices were a lot higher than they are today.

Bacon is having its moment. It’s always been popular, but now, driven by reduced cost, innovative concoctions, the protein-rich Paleo Diet and a worldly younger generation willing to try anything once, twice if they like it, that popularity has exploded. Last year, a piglet-killing virus shrank U.S. hog herds, sending futures prices to all-time highs, and farmers scrambled to capture those profits. Record U.S. pork production will surpass beef output for the first time as overseas demand slows, creating today’s glut and sending both retail and wholesale prices to deliciously low levels.

Even though retail prices are down, consumers paid more than seven times the wholesale price for bacon last month, a record spread. Milwaukee-based supermarket chain Roundy’s Inc. expects prices to continue to tumble throughout 2015 as costs such as feed decline…

Part of the reason for the retail-wholesale mismatch is some higher-priced pork bellies from last year’s slaughter were frozen, and those inventories take time to work through…By now, cheaper bellies have worked their way to slicers, yet the higher store prices persist.

“It’s highway robbery,” said Dennis Smith, senior account executive at Archer Financial Services in Chicago. “Talk about a huge markup. They don’t lower prices because bacon demand is just that good…”

As beef costs reach all-time highs, restaurants are adding bacon to more dishes because it raises the flavor profile of an otherwise cheaper piece of meat….

Yes, we’ve reached the point where you should switch on your brain. Economics should be a determinant in your cuisine unless you have an excess of disposable income and little concern for nutrition. After all, bacon offers two of America’s most popular food groups: fat and salt.

In our household, we eat beef about a dozen times a year, tops – almost exclusively during our extended outdoors grilling season. That’s it. Even living in a beef-producing state, even though I have easy access to essentially organic critters without the overhead of certification, etc., pork and chicken are our primary sources of air-breathing protein.

Warren 1 — 0 Republicans + Obama

Senate Democrats have dealt President Barack Obama a stinging setback on trade by blocking efforts to begin full-blown debate on his initiatives.

All but one Senate Democrat defied the president Tuesday by voting to prevent consideration of his request for “fast track” trade authority. Such authority would let Obama present trade agreements that Congress could ratify or reject, but not amend.

Proponents needed 60 votes to thwart a Democratic filibuster, but managed only 52 in the 100-member Senate.

Obama’s supporters say they will try again, possibly starting in the House. But Tuesday’s vote highlighted the deep divide between Obama and the many congressional Democrats who say trade deals hurt U.S. jobs.

Keep on rocking in the Free World.

Just as NAFTA was passed under Clinton, essentially a Republican bill was offered with hopes for sufficient Blue Dog Democrats climbing on board to get it through.

Regardless of the rationales offered by President Obama, the only reason for passing fast track legislation is to inhibit an up-or-down vote in Congress. Especially in the case where a bill is anti-democratic, against the will and needs of workingclass families.

This may not be up to the stage of crystal ball forecasting; but, it surely is nice to see Democrats try to act like they haven’t forgotten their workingclass base, entirely.

Is this the end of the tale? Hardly. It won’t take dramatic progressive change in White House trade policies to get the average Dem to cave. And I expect cave they will. They owe as much to corporate lobbyists as do Republicans. Their accountability is still the kind defined by accountants – not workingclass heros.

Germany adds to its wind energy portfolio — Nordsee Ost comes online


Click to enlargeLuftfoto/Scheer

Wind energy is a vital part of a German move to a low-carbon economy, the German economic minister said during the inauguration of RWE’s Nordsee Ost wind farm.

German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel hosted ministers from the Group of seven industrialized economies, along with representatives from RWE, for the inauguration of the 48-turbine wind farm off the northern German coast.

“Offshore wind energy is a strategically important element of Germany’s energy and climate policy and is key to the success of the energy transition,” Gabriel said…

Germany is one of the world leaders in renewable energy, a trend established after its decision to move away from nuclear power, in the wake of the nuclear tragedy in Japan in 2011. The United Kingdom is close behind and, combined, the European Union has more than 100 gigawatts of wind power online.

Nordsee Ost has an installed capacity of 295 megawatts, enough power to meet the annual energy needs of about 320,000 households.

RWE’s project is among the largest of its kind in the world and, by year’s end, more than 40 percent of its power capacity will be generated from wind energy.

The expansion of renewable energy is one of our main growth areas and offshore wind energy will play a vital role,” Chief Executive Officer Peter Terium said. “RWE will become the third largest player in the European offshore market this year.”

Strange as it may seem to Americans, European conservatives haven’t dedicated their political careers to standing in the way of switching to renewable energy sources and walking away from unhealthy fossil fuels, uneconomic nuclear power generation.

Inequality, Immigration, and Hypocrisy

Europe’s migration crisis exposes a fundamental flaw, if not towering hypocrisy, in the ongoing debate about economic inequality. Wouldn’t a true progressive support equal opportunity for all people on the planet, rather than just for those of us lucky enough to have been born and raised in rich countries?

Many thought leaders in advanced economies advocate an entitlement mentality. But the entitlement stops at the border: though they regard greater redistribution within individual countries as an absolute imperative, people who live in emerging markets or developing countries are left out.

If current concerns about inequality were cast entirely in political terms, this inward-looking focus would be understandable; after all, citizens of poor countries cannot vote in rich ones. But the rhetoric of the inequality debate in rich countries betrays a moral certitude that conveniently ignores the billions of people elsewhere who are far worse off

By many measures, global inequality has been reduced significantly over the past three decades, implying that capitalism has succeeded spectacularly. Capitalism has perhaps eroded rents that workers in advanced countries enjoy by virtue of where they were born. But it has done even more to help the world’s true middle-income workers in Asia and emerging markets. Even though that had nothing to do with intent.

Allowing freer flows of people across borders would equalize opportunities even faster than trade, but resistance is fierce. Anti-immigration political parties have made large inroads in countries like France and the United Kingdom, and are a major force in many other countries as well.

You seem in such a hurry to live this kind of life
And you’ve caused so many pain and misery

But look around you, take a good look
Just between you and me
Are you sure that this is where you want to be

Please don’t let my tears persuade you, I had hoped I wouldn’t cry
But lately, teardrops seem a part of me

Oh, look around you, take a good look
At all the local used-to-be’s
Are you sure that this is where you want to be

Willie Nelson

Stephen Colbert and friends fund projects for teachers across South Carolina


Click to visit donorschoose.org

Teachers across Spartanburg County were shocked to learn their online education grants had been funded Thursday morning by a partnership including South Carolina native Stephen Colbert.

Colbert, a comedian and television personality, announced that he partnered with the nonprofit group Share Fair Nation, and Greenville-based ScanSource to fund every classroom project in the state on DonorsChoose.org, a website that lets teachers crowd fund classroom projects by requesting the necessary materials from donors.

Together, the three contributions will give $800,000 to fund nearly 1,000 projects for more than 800 teachers at 375 schools across the state…

Turner Fortner, a kindergarten teacher at Oakland Elementary School, said her request asked for school supplies for the students who will be in her class next year. She was surprised her request was funded, but was especially shocked by the source of the money. “I was like, are my eyes playing tricks on me,” she said. “I’m so thankful for what he (Colbert) did for teachers across South Carolina. More than anything, I’m thankful for what he did for my students for next year.”

And that, my friends, is how the best of teachers always think. What can we do to make education better, make it work for these kids?

Hat tip to Stephen Colbert.

Increase in quakes from fossil fuel boom prompts new USGS hazard maps


Drilling in Weld County, Colorado

Earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater are 100 times more likely now than in 2008 in regions of Colorado and seven states that are hotbeds for oil and gas drilling, federal geologists said Wednesday.

This has prompted the government to prepare new seismic-risk maps for construction, insurance and public safety.

The question of who bears the costs of possible damage and quake-resistant construction has yet to be decided. But a U.S. Geological Survey team, based in Colorado, also has started a series of meetings with engineers and designers…

“If you live in one of these areas of induced seismicity, you should educate yourself and those around you for protective actions you can take,” Mark Petersen, chief of the agency’s National Seismic Hazard Modeling Project said…

While most industry-induced quakes result from disposal of wastewater, the scientists said they’ve documented quakes caused by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the process used to stimulate release of oil and gas from deep shale rock formations.

USGS scientist Bill Ellsworth said quakes linked to fracking are short-lived…

USGS researchers are investigating whether industry-triggered quakes could spur bigger earthquakes along natural geological fault lines.

There’s no evidence that industry could cause quakes up to magnitude 7, the level associated with catastrophic natural quakes. “But we cannot rule that out,” USGS scientist Justin Rubinstein said…

Insurance companies see quakes in Colorado as an emerging risk. There’s no claims history, said Carole Walker, director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Industry Association.

“We hope people will purchase insurance if there’s an increased risk. If insurance isn’t purchased, you don’t have the coverage for it and it can become a litigation issue,” Walker said. “A business or homeowner could sue for damages, and they would have to prove the causation of the risk.”

While the insurance industry statement sounds like a copout turned into a sales pitch, they have the bucks to carry forward a lawsuit against oil and gas drillers. Even if they charge penurious rates – and I have no idea what earthquake insurance in the Rocky Mountains would cost – they will be likely to attempt to recoup their expenses by suing whoever is handy.

And that establishes the baseline for future suits.

China expands ban on coal to suburbs


Click to enlarge12,000 died in the London smog of winter, 1952

China will expand its bans on coal burning to include suburban areas as well as city centers in efforts to tackle air pollution…

Detailing its clean coal action plan 2015-2020, the National Energy Administration (NEA) said it would promote centralized heating and power supply by natural gas and renewables, replacing scattered heat and power engines fueled by low quality coal.

The world’s biggest coal consumer will ban sale and burning of high-ash and high-sulphur coal in the worst affected regions including city clusters surrounding Beijing.

If you’ve been around as long as I have – and your memory still works – you recall the two-pronged solution to air pollution and smog has been this simple for decades.

After World War 2 the worst smog in the world belonged to London. Just like Beijing, the problem not only was coal-fired electricity generation; but, coal-fired home heating and cooking. It took a couple of decades; but, the last mile solution of getting natural gas to homes took care of the worst of it.

In Beijing and other polluted Chinese cities renewable energy sources are phasing out the portion of pollution coming from soft coal-fired electricity and, now, the government has dropped the other shoe and will end reliance on coal for home fires.

Under the action plan, coal-fired industrial boilers will all shift to burn natural gas or clean coal by 2020 in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei city clusters, Pearl River delta and Yangtze River delta area…

The government will offer subsidies for clean fuels

Natural gas will serve as the first level of carbon reduction as wind power and solar power continue the most dramatic expansion in the world.

Mexican miners and farmers unite over toxic spill

The pipes have gone silent. Gone is the hum of water flowing through them to the world’s second-largest copper mine, just south of the U.S. border. Instead, in the normally empty desert here, tents and buses line the highway. Dust and smoke from cooking fires fill the air while hundreds of people listen to speeches and discuss the day’s events.

This plantón, or occupation, which began on March 18, has shut down most operations at the Cananea mine, which consumes huge quantities of water pumped from 49 wells across the desert in order to extract copper concentrate from crushed ore.

Many of the people involved in the plantón are miners who have been on strike since 2008, when they walked out because of dangerous working conditions. Two years later, the government brought in 3,000 federal police, drove miners from the gates and occupied the town. Since then Cananea has been operated by contracted laborers recruited from distant parts of the country. But the strike has continued, as miners struggle to survive in this small mountain town where the mine is virtually the only source of work.

Now, for the first time in five years, the mine is again paralyzed. This time, strikers didn’t stop its operation by themselves. Half the people with them are farmers — residents of the Rio Sonora Valley, angry over a toxic spill that upended their lives last August, causing health problems and economic devastation.

People in the towns along the river used to have little involvement with the miners, but the spill gave them common ground. This alliance between miners and angry farmers also includes a U.S. union, the United Steel Workers. Together they are challenging the Mexican government’s fundamental rule for economic growth — that workers’ rights and environmental protections must be subordinate to the needs of corporate investors.

RTFA. In the classic journalist genre of “from our reporter in the field” – AJAM has done a thorough job of reporting on the multi-layered conflict at the second-largest copper mine in the world.

The Death Tax deception – and other lies

It’s an estate tax and almost no one pays it.

In 2013, 2,596,993 Americans died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 5,000 of them paid a tax after that mortal event. To be more accurate, their estates paid whatever tax was owed. That means 2,591,993 Americans died that year without paying any tax.

In other words, just 0.19 percent of all deaths in 2013 resulted in a tax. When 99.81 percent of all deaths don’t create a taxable event, calling it a death tax is mathematically nonsensical…

Why would someone use the phrase “death tax” when more than 99 percent of deaths don’t result in a tax? Because he is either a) innumerate, b) ignorant or c) trying to deceive you. There are no other possibilities.

Then, Barry trudges through a range of definitions for other taxes – and jogs into conversation-mode for an explanation of why he’s an ex-Republican:

Because the modern GOP has tacked so hard and far to the right, and it has gotten into bed with religious zealots who have no use for science. I simply have no reason to want to be associated with that sort of ideology. Even though I am socially progressive, I am still fiscally conservative.

When I lived in Nassau County on Long Island, then controlled by a Republican political machine, I was a registered Republican. When I lived in New York City under a Democratic machine, I was a registered Democrat. In both instances, the primary functioned as the general election. Today, I am a registered independent. I voted Libertarian last election.

And I still want my roads paved.

RTFA to thoroughly understand that last sentence.

Thanks to my favorite Recovering Republican