America’s neglected infrastructure, ready to fall apart

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Busiest train bridge in Western Hemisphere = 104 years old, carries up to 500 trains/day!

There are a lot of people in the United States right now who think the country is falling apart, and at least in one respect they’re correct. Our roads and bridges are crumbling, our airports are out of date and the vast majority of our seaports are in danger of becoming obsolete. All the result of decades of neglect. None of this is really in dispute. Business leaders, labor unions, governors, mayors, congressmen and presidents have complained about a lack of funding for years, but aside from a one time cash infusion from the stimulus program, nothing much has changed. There is still no consensus on how to solve the problem or where to get the massive amounts of money needed to fix it, just another example of political paralysis in Washington.

Tens of millions of American cross over bridges every day without giving it much thought, unless they hit a pothole. But the infrastructure problem goes much deeper than pavement. It goes to crumbling concrete and corroded steel and the fact that nearly 70,000 bridges in America — one out of every nine — is now considered to be structurally deficient…

Pennsylvania is one of the worst states in country when it comes to the condition of its infrastructure, and Philadelphia isn’t any better off than Pittsburgh. Nine million people a day travel over 900 bridges classified as structurally deficient, some of them on a heavily traveled section of I-95…

Ed Rendell, former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania…says it’s a nation’s number one highway. Twenty-two miles of it goes through the city of Philadelphia. There are 15 structurally deficient bridges in that 22-mile stretch. And to fix them would cost seven billion dollars — to fix all the roads and the structurally deficient bridges in that 22-mile stretch…

It’s less a case of wanting to get something done, than coming up with the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to do it. There is no shortage of ideas from Democrats or Republicans who’ve suggested everything from raising the gas tax to funding infrastructure through corporate tax reform. But there is no consensus and not much political support for any of the alternatives as Andy Herrmann, past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, told us last summer…

He said, you’re sitting there at these committee meetings; they seem to agree with you. Yes, we have to make investments in infrastructure. Yes, we have to do these things. But then they come around and say, “Well, where are we going to get the money?” And you sort of sit to yourself and say to yourself, “Well, we elected you to figure that out.”

RTFA for enough examples of crumbling infrastructure to scare a sensible human being into action. Now, we just need to figure out how to get our elected officials to exhibit as much sense. Sitting around worrying about how to raise the funds for repairs without offending any of their big money contributors ain’t going to get it done.

Thanks, Mike

Solar and wind energy start to win on price


Click to enlarge — US Army base solar farm in White Sands, New Mexico

For the solar and wind industries in the United States, it has been a long-held dream: to produce energy at a cost equal to conventional sources like coal and natural gas.

That day appears to be dawning.

The cost of providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas.

Utility executives say the trend has accelerated this year, with several companies signing contracts, known as power purchase agreements, for solar or wind at prices below that of natural gas, especially in the Great Plains and Southwest, where wind and sunlight are abundant.

Those prices were made possible by generous subsidies that could soon diminish or expire, but recent analyses show that even without those subsidies, alternative energies can often compete with traditional sources…

And there have never been conventional power plant build-outs that got off the ground without state or federal assistance of some kind.

…In Oklahoma, American Electric Power ended up tripling the amount of wind power it had originally sought after seeing how low the bids came in last year.

“Wind was on sale — it was a Blue Light Special,” said Jay Godfrey, managing director of renewable energy for the company. He noted that Oklahoma, unlike many states, did not require utilities to buy power from renewable sources.

“We were doing it because it made sense for our ratepayers,” he said.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the main trade group, the price of electricity sold to utilities under long-term contracts from large-scale solar projects has fallen by more than 70 percent since 2008, especially in the Southwest.,,

The price drop extends to homeowners and small businesses as well; last year, the prices for residential and commercial projects fell by roughly 12 to 15 percent from the year before.

The wind industry largely tells the same story, with prices dropping by more than half in recent years. Emily Williams, manager of industry data and analytics at the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, said that in 2013 utilities signed “a record number of power purchase agreements and what ended up being historically low prices…”

“We’re finding that in certain regions with certain wind projects that these are competing or coming in below the cost of even existing generation sources,” she said.

…Solar executives are looking to extend a 30 percent federal tax credit that is set to fall to 10 percent at the end of 2016. Wind professionals are seeking renewal of a production tax credit that Congress has allowed to lapse and then reinstated several times over the last few decades…

Where that effort will go now is anybody’s guess, though, with Republicans in control of both houses starting in January.

Mail me a penny postcard when you find some Congressional Republicans interested in saving money, aiding the environment, contributing to sound ecological principles that make a better life for workingclass folks.

RTFA for details. There are answers for a few of the non-political questions.

U.S. foreign policy ≠ China foreign policy

The biggest economic news of the year came almost without notice: China has overtaken the United States as the world’s largest economy, according to the scorekeepers at the International Monetary Fund. And, while China’s geopolitical status is rising rapidly, alongside its economic might, the US continues to squander its global leadership, owing to the unchecked greed of its political and economic elites and the self-made trap of perpetual war in the Middle East…

With rising economic power has come growing geopolitical clout. Chinese leaders are feted around the world. Many European countries are looking to China as the key to stronger domestic growth. African leaders view China as their countries’ new indispensable growth partner, particularly in infrastructure and business development.

Similarly, economic strategists and business leaders in Latin America now look to China at least as much as they look to the US. China and Japan seem to be taking steps toward better relations, after a period of high tensions. Even Russia has recently “tilted” toward China, establishing stronger connections on many fronts, including energy and transport.

Like the US after World War II, China is putting real money on the table – a lot of it – to build strong economic and infrastructure links with countries around the world. This will enable other countries to boost their own growth, while cementing China’s global economic and geopolitical leadership.

Like the US after WW2, China has suffered no injury to productive capacity, as well.

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Pic of the week


Click to enlargeREUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

Flowers are placed on a monument inside the Athens’ Polytechnic school, on the eve of the 41st anniversary of a 1973 student uprising against the then military ruling junta in Athens. Yes, the junta was supported by the United States government.