Texas Deep Freeze disaster had a backup plan. It failed, as well.


Thomas Ryan Allison/Bloomberg

Texas’ days-long power outages during last February’s deep freeze almost stretched into weeks or even months thanks to a string of failures at “black start” generators.

More than half of the state’s 28 black start generators, which are crucial for bringing a collapsed grid back to life, experienced outages themselves, according to a new report by The Wall Street Journal. Of the 13 primary generators, nine encountered trouble, as did six of 15 secondary generators acting as backups in case the primary backups failed. Some had trouble getting enough fuel to run, while others were damaged by the cold weather.

Every North American grid has black start generators, but there’s no nationwide standard regulating them. Each state or grid operator decides how to operate the generators. Some use a mix of fossil fuel generators and hydroelectric dams…

But Texas no longer has any hydroelectric black start facilities. All of its black start generators use natural gas as a primary fuel, and only 13 generators at six sites can use fuel oil as a backup. When natural gas supplies run short, generators without an alternate fuel source are unable to provide vital services to the grid. Plant operators are required to maintain a reserve supply of fuel, but it wasn’t clear during the February freeze that they were all fulfilling this obligation. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which manages most of the state’s electrical grid, is reportedly in the process of trying to recover some of the payments made to black start facilities that failed during the outage.

The Black Start facilities were getting regular payments to provide an emergency service. When this disaster struck, they were unable to provide that service. IMHO, they not only do not deserve payment for that immediate incident, they must be able to provide proof of previous readiness or refund payment for some or all of that previous period.

Trumpublicans have failed Americans dying in this pandemic

Covid-19 has created a crisis throughout the world. This crisis has produced a test of leadership. With no good options to combat a novel pathogen, countries were forced to make hard choices about how to respond. Here in the United States, our leaders have failed that test. They have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy.

The magnitude of this failure is astonishing. According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering,1 the United States leads the world in Covid-19 cases and in deaths due to the disease, far exceeding the numbers in much larger countries, such as China. The death rate in this country is more than double that of Canada, exceeds that of Japan, a country with a vulnerable and elderly population, by a factor of almost 50, and even dwarfs the rates in lower-middle-income countries, such as Vietnam, by a factor of almost 2000. Covid-19 is an overwhelming challenge, and many factors contribute to its severity. But the one we can control is how we behave. And in the United States we have consistently behaved poorly.

Read it and weep, people. As great is the capacity of Americans to care for their neighbors, our government has been an absolute failure at providing protection against this plague. The responsibility for that lies with Trump and his obedient flunkies in the Republican Party. They shouldn’t even be elected as school crossing guards.

Missouri River will keep flooding as we continue shortsighted projects, management


Click to enlargeScott Olson/Getty

❝ The Missouri River used to be out of control. “It cuts corners, runs around at nights, fills itself with snags and traveling sandbars, lunches on levees, and swallows islands and small villages for dessert,” is how the humorist George Fitch (pretty accurately) described it in 1907.

It was also hugely variable in size and shape. Below Yankton, South Dakota, where a narrow valley gave way to a flat expanse five to 18 miles wide, the Missouri and its various secondary channels, sandbars and the like “had a width of 1,000 to 10,000 feet during normal flow periods,” historian Robert Kelley Schneiders wrote in 1999. During a flood, which usually came in April when snow melted in the Great Plains, or in June when it melted in the Rocky Mountains, the river could become a “foaming, misdirected monster” that covered the entire valley, sometimes with ice as well as water.

Afterward, the Missouri would often resettle along an entirely new course…

❝ When Fitch wrote that in 1907, local officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had already been trying and mostly failing for several decades to persuade the Missouri to behave more like they thought a river should, flowing in a single channel navigable by barges and staying off neighboring cornfields and out of houses…

This year, even though it isn’t expected to set any overall runoff records, is looking even worse. Floodwaters breached levees in more than 40 places along the Missouri in mid-March, and more than a month later much of the river valley from Omaha and Council Bluffs southward to Missouri — most of which, because the river channel hugs the hills on the Nebraska side, is in Iowa — is still soaked. Interstate 29, which connects the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area to points south, is closed to just past the Missouri state line and not expected to reopen until June.

RTFA. Interesting, confirms most folks’ cynicism about plans and programs succeeding governments have implemented to greater or lesser degrees of success. For a while. When it works – for a while – everyone figures all the problems are solved. For a while.

“Clean Coal” Plant Billion$ Over Budget Should Just Give Up And Burn Natural Gas


Click to enlargeWilliam Widmer/Politico

Round and round the money goes and where it comes out nobody knows

❝ A coal gasification plant in development in Mississippi is more than $4 billion over budget and years past deadline — and now it may have to rethink plans to burn gasified coal in favor of cheaper natural gas after a recommendation from state regulators.

The recommendation was made to prevent potential rate increases as the Kemper County plant continues to face cost overruns. Kemper was supposed to be up and running by 2014, for less than $3 billion. But the plant has now run up a $7.5 billion tab and may need redesigns on a critical part, a process that could take up to two years to complete, according to E&E News. No official decision has been made yet, but the Mississippi Public Service Commission made it clear last week that burning cheaper natural gas instead of gasified coal may be a long-term solution for the facility…

❝ According to a carbon capture and storage project database maintained by MIT, plans for Kemper started in 2004 but “costs began increasing almost immediately, especially once construction began in 2010 and the company discovered that many of the original designs needed major changes.” Specifically, pipe thickness and metallurgy appeared to have been miscalculated, and, after those changes were made, the support structures for the pipes had to be changed…

Fossil fuel pimps rant and rave against subsidizing any projects for alternative energy. At the same time, it’s business as usual for coal-based plants getting billion$ in subsidies and forgivable loans to keep on cranking out projects that don’t do a damned thing other than suck up taxpayer money and spew out pollution.

The Great Kansas Reaganomics Experiment Ends In Disaster


Yes, I’m responsible for that smell…Saul Loeb/AFP

❝ When a governor announces an economic theory as a solution to a state’s fiscal problems, while challenging all comers to observe the results, that’s something I want to pay attention to. And so for the past five years, I have been watching the public-policy experiment in Kansas with great fascination.

❝ With the state legislature now rejecting the governor’s experiment, we can move onto to the next phase: Not recrimination and blame, though there is lots of that going around. Instead, I want to look at how the experiment played out, and what lessons there are to be learned from it.

❝ A quick refresher: Kansas’s Republican Governor Sam Brownback pushed through a substantial change in the state tax code, centered around lowering rates. He promised it would lead to more growth, tax revenue and jobs. Instead, there have been persistent tax revenue shortfalls, huge spending cuts and disappointing job creation. As my Bloomberg View colleague Justin Fox wrote, Kansas is badly lagging its neighbors, all of which have similar economies. Even worse, people (especially young people) are fleeing the state. Kansas was one of the highest outbound migration states in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The vast majority of people who have moved out were either transferring when their companies left or were seeking employment elsewhere.

Before Brownback, this wasn’t the case. As recently as 2012 and 2011, Kansas didn’t make the lists of states with high migratory outflows.

❝ Incentives matter: There was a large behavioral incentive, but it was for financial engineering. Brownback eliminated taxes on limited liability companies and sole proprietorships. It isn’t surprising that lots of companies and individuals made these legal structural changes. But this was merely an alteration in form with no beneficial economic incentives.

Set reasonable benchmarks for success or failure: Brownback, despite making large promises, wasn’t specific in how success or failure should be measured…

❝ Have an exit strategy: Because Kansas didn’t focus on specific and measurable benchmarks, it had no way to know when to pull the plug. This is important, as the legislature was forced to wait until things were unequivocally bad and getting worse before taking steps to end the experiment. An exit strategy based on specific goals would have saved a lot of unnecessary austerity-induced pain for the people of Kansas.

❝ Share information freely: We knew the Kansas experiment was going badly when the executive branch decided to stop reporting economic news about it…

Win or lose, take responsibility: Broad proof of the failure of Brownback’s tax cuts led the legislature to begin unraveling them. Rather than admitting defeat, Brownback vetoed its actions. His refusal to accept a verdict reflects a failure to recognize and take responsibility for his own policies.

❝ By just about every measure, Kansas’ economic laboratory experiment is now over, and the results are in. Supply-side tax cuts as executed in Kansas don’t generate more economic growth or create more jobs. They reduce tax revenue and forced the government to cut spending on essential goods and services like roads and schools.

RTFA for more detail. Unless you’re a Republican True Believer the cause-and-effect relationships are clear. Evidence is a bear. That the mass of Kansas voters went along with Brownback’s incompetence for so long speaks only to their obedience, lack of independence, loyalty to ideology in the face of daily evidence of failure.

Barry Ritholtz is one of my favorite writers on matters financial in the United States. That he has a fey sense of humor, refers to himself as a Recovering Republican, allegiance to evidence and facts over ideology is icing on the fiscal cake.

Kansas Republicans end their disastrous Reaganomics experiment


Horse-and-buggy ideology doesn’t turn this into wind power

❝ Republican lawmakers in Kansas put an end to the state’s failed tax reform experiment on Tuesday, overriding the governor’s veto after three attempts to pass a tax-hiking bill this year.

The new law raises income and business taxes closer to pre-reform levels — a move Republicans had been resisting for years. But pressure had been mounting to do something. The drastic tax cuts enacted five years ago left the state in a fiscal mess, unable to balance its budget and properly fund its public schools.

❝ Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature tax reform closely mirrors the tax plan that President Donald Trump is trying to get through Congress. In fact, they were designed by the same supply-side economists.

❝ The fate of Kansas’s tax experiment provides many clues about what could happen if Congress goes along with Trump’s vision for tax reform.

❝ Economic growth predictions were wrong…

Instead, the Kansas economy tanked. For two years in a row, the state’s credit rating has been downgraded because of its budget problems. Job creation and economic growth is far below the national average. The state is facing a budget shortfall of about $889 million in the next two years…

❝ Moderate Republican lawmakers in Kansas are now in open rebellion, scrambling to find ways to roll back the tax cuts as the state looks for ways to balance its budget.

Republicans have been offering the same golden lies about trickle-down economics since the days of President Herbert Hoover. Failure has resulted every time voters and Congress hand over a chance to put theory into practice. Reagan came closest to succeeding for a year or two – only because he didn’t try to support the theories with the massive level of lying estimates of successful growth – and tax cuts – demanded by Brownback and Trump Republicans.

The inevitable still resulted. Recession, downgraded credit ratings, working families and their children get the bill – and screwed, as usual.

Ultimate Republican solution to bad economic news — Don’t report it!


Doonesbury by GB Trudeau

❝ “What’s measured, improves.”

So said management legend and author Peter F. Drucker about the value of using metrics to define specific objectives within an organization.

Drucker is no longer with us; if he were, he might want to have a few words with Republican Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas. Brownback, despite promising to measure the results of a “real life experiment” in cutting taxes, has decided to cancel a quarterly report on the status of the state’s economy.

❝ Although Brownback’s spokeswoman said “a lot of people were confused by the report,” no one has been fooled. The problem was that the reports didn’t match the governor’s predictions for the state’s soon-to-be-booming economy. Local news media, including the Topeka Capital-Journal and the Kansas City Star, flagged the abandonment of the reports as evidence not only of policy failure, but as an attempt to hide that fact from the public…

❝ Since the Brownback tax cuts were passed, almost nothing has gone as promised in Kansas. Revenue plunged and the state resorted to pulling money out of its rainy-day fund to plug the holes. A number of critical services, including for road maintenance and schools, were cut. The business climate has been poor, and the economy has lagged behind neighboring states as well as the rest of the country.

Why hasn’t this worked out? As we have discussed before, the failure of the Kansas tax cuts to do what was promised is a simple combination of state budget math and human psychology.

❝ The math is simple: Tax cuts tend to reduce revenue, in Kansas’ case much more than expected. To change people’s behavior requires more substantial incentives than changing things by a few percentage points. The reduced revenue led to spending cuts that lowered quality of life. In response, rising numbers of people and companies have left the state…

❝ Kansas’ gross state product fell behind the six-state region and the nation for the third straight year…

Private industry wages in Kansas grew at a slower pace last year than they did in the region and the U.S. — as they did during the past five years…

By just about every measure, Kansas’ tax experiment has failed to meet the promised performance objectives. Killing the quarterly report won’t change this…

❝ Brownback is now said to be considering tax hikes. He has paid the deserved price for his errors, with a 26 percent approval rating, the lowest of any governor in the U.S. The people of Kansas have paid a bigger price.

Dribble-down economics fail for the umpteenth time in a Century. No, that won’t stop Republicans from advocacy. They have nothing else to offer. Modern economic analysis, 21st Century solutions for leftover Republican economic disasters are still a work in progress. The kinds of jobs that give us something that looks like full employment prove that.

And we still have a gerrymandered Congress that keeps useless turd-brain roadblocks in office for at least another 4-6 years. So, don’t get too cheerful, yet, over the possibility of ordinary American voters reforming the system. After all, ignorant Kansas voters elected and re-elected Brownback.

The company behind California’s methane disaster knew the well leaked 24 years ago

Last fall, a 7-inch injection well pipe ruptured 500 feet below the surface of Los Angeles, after ferrying natural gas for six decades. The resulting methane leak is now being called one of the largest environmental disasters since the BP oil spill, has pushed thousands of people out of their homes, and has quickly become the single biggest contributor to climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions in California. But it’s not the first time this well sprang a leak—and Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas), which owns and operates the well, knew it…

So who’s to blame for a leak that cannot be stopped? Aging natural gas equipment may have contributed. According to documents filed with the California Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources, this particular well, referred to as Standard Sesnon 25, was originally drilled in 1953, and showed signs of leakage 24 years ago, in 1992. Inspectors reported that they could hear the leak through borehole microphones.

Gene Nelson, a professor of physical science at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, California who has seen the document, said that he found it “appalling that SoCalGas did not identify this as a well to shut off,” after receiving this feedback.

There have been other problems documented at this facility before. And in 2014, inspectors at the wells documented corrosion and negative integrity trends…

Other safety issues have been pointed out recently, too. Earlier this month, The LA Times reported that attorneys representing some of the 1,000 residents suing SoCalGas over the leak claim the company failed to replace an important safety valve that was removed in 1979 — a valve that could have stopped the current leak in its tracks. The plaintiffs also allege that the company again identified leaks at the site five years ago, but never implemented plans to fix them…

So far, some 2,300 homes have voluntarily evacuated and several schools have been closed, with many residents complaining of headaches and nosebleeds from the foul-smelling chemical additives. These include radon, hydrogen sulfide, and an odorant called mercaptan, which is added to the gas both before and after it leaves the storage field.

The well, which funnels natural gas to 22 million customers in the Los Angeles Basin, is expected to take another three months to plug. O’Connor says that the disaster is a telling sign about the viability of natural gas in a country of aging infrastructure.

The methane released into the air will take about 10 years to convert to slightly less of a danger to the climate. Just one more example of crap infrastructure – private and public – crippling the economic and environmental life of our nation. Infrastructure our elected officials refuse to regulate or repair.

Bloomington, Minnesota addresses 3rd-grade literacy before kids get there

I volunteer at a local elementary school on Monday mornings, tutoring children who are behind in reading. This week, I worked with Carla [name changed], a third-grade dual language learner who is reading at a first-grade level. She knows that she is behind and her confidence is low. She told me how much she disliked reading and insisted that she would never catch up to her peers. I could see Carla’s frustration mounting during our hour together. She’s feeling pressure from the invested adults in her life–teachers, school leaders, parents, and tutors–to get up to speed quickly.

That pressure isn’t without reason: Third-grade reading proficiency is predictive of future success, both inside and outside of the classroom. It has become one of the most commonly cited indicators of student achievement. To use one example: students who aren’t proficient readers by the end of third grade are less likely to graduate high school. Readers who are not yet proficient by the end of third grade are ill-prepared for fourth, a transitional year in which content and texts become much more complex. Children who are not up to speed by then continue to fall further and further behind.

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