Existing dams could supply electricity for 35 million homes — that’s right, no new dams!


Click to enlargeDanita Delimont/Getty

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the nation could increase its hydroelectric capacity 50 percent by 2050 without building new dams.

Rather, the new capacity would come from upgrading existing hydropower facilities with more efficient technology and by constructing hydropower storage facilities that pump water uphill into reservoirs during off-peak hours, when electricity is cheap. When demand and power prices spike, the water is released downhill through turbines to generate electricity.

Such a strategy could grow hydropower capacity from 101,000 megawatts to 150,000 megawatts by 2050, according to the report.

❝ “If this level of growth is achieved, benefits such as savings of $209 billion from avoided greenhouse gas emissions could be realized, of which $185 billion would be attributable to operation of the existing hydropower fleet,” said a Department of Energy spokesperson. “With this deployment level, more than 35 million average U.S. homes could be powered by hydropower in 2050.”…

…About 2,000 of the country’s dams produce power, supplying 6 percent of electricity demand…But hydropower’s growth has stalled because of aging infrastructure, concerns over environmental impacts on rivers and wildlife, and a rise in alternative renewable sources…

Jim Bradley, vice president of policy and government relations at conservation group American Rivers, said increasing hydropower could be a good thing environmentally.

“Typically, to get approval to upgrade existing dams with more efficient technology means they will have to consider the environmental performance at that site as well,” Bradley said. “So if they’re going to be improving them, they’ll be improving the environmental issues as well.”…

Still, hydropower could be key to ensuring that the power grid operates smoothly as more renewable but intermittent sources of energy come online.

Solar and wind power only produce energy when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. To keep the lights on when solar and wind farms aren’t generating electricity, grid operators rely on carbon-spewing fossil fuel power plants. That’s where pumped storage comes into play: Reservoirs can act as giant batteries, storing energy generated by solar power plants and wind farms.

Nothing new, of course, about hydropower or pumped storage. The engineering has been a lock for centuries. The significant upgrades are in the actual power generation and digital control of both local and interconnected regional systems. None of this is beyond the understanding of builders or consumers.

Only politicians, especially those paid to pimp for fossil fuel, stand in the way.

Uninsured rate for Americans below 12%


Connecticut opened the first health insurance storefront in the nation

The uninsured rate among U.S. adults declined to 11.9% for the first quarter of 2015 — down one percentage point from the previous quarter and 5.2 points since the end of 2013, just before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. The uninsured rate is the lowest since Gallup and Healthways began tracking it in 2008.

…The uninsured rate has dropped sharply since the most significant change to the U.S. healthcare system in the Affordable Care Act — the provision requiring most Americans to carry health insurance — took effect at the beginning of 2014. An improving economy and a falling unemployment rate may also have accelerated the steep drop in the percentage of uninsured over the past year. However, the uninsured rate is significantly lower than it was in early 2008, before the depths of the economic recession, suggesting that the recent decline is due to more than just an improving economy.

While the uninsured rate has declined across all key demographic groups since the healthcare law fully took effect in January 2014, it has dropped most among lower-income Americans and Hispanics — the groups most likely to lack insurance. The uninsured rate among Americans earning less than $36,000 in annual household income dropped 8.7 points since the end of 2013, while the rate among Hispanics fell 8.3 points. The significant drop in uninsured Hispanics is a key accomplishment for the Obama administration, which led targeted efforts to insure this group as they had the highest uninsured population of all key subgroups. However, despite the gains in insurance coverage among Hispanics and lower-income Americans, these groups still have higher uninsured rates than other key subgroups.

Americans aged 26 to 34 have also seen gains in coverage since the healthcare law went into effect — the uninsured rate among this group is down 7.4 points since the end of 2013, the largest drop among any age group. Blacks have also seen a substantial drop in their uninsured rate since the fourth quarter of 2013 — 7.3 points.

RTFA for lots of stats, predictably conservative analysis.

The most important thing we will all be forced to recognize about this successful start-up is that Republicans hate it. Today’s conservatives, their bigot allies, economics failures whose knowledge made it only a half century beyond Henry Clay – will dissect every step of growth in coverage, savings for working people and the working poor, Americans in general – to try to find the socialist plot behind the whole endeavor. Socialist ethics really frustrates folks who consider protecting greed the 11th Commandment.

I’ll tell you the socialist plot, right now. Folks who care – want a true single-payer system with the right to negotiate fixed prices on procedures and meds. Just like the the freaking military. Just like every other sensible, frugal, industrial democracy. It works and has been working for over a half-century in some cases.

I realize that’s still too modern for some folks; but, try an honest debate grounded in real numbers and real needs sometime. Walk away from the sleaze and deceit today’s Republicans have to rely upon to justify their existence on this planet – and their opposition to true socialized healthcare.

More physical activity improved school performance

The scientists…at the Centre for Brain Repair and Rehabilitation at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, have tested the hypothesis that increased physical activity stimulates learning and improves school performance.

In the study, published in the scientific periodical “Journal of School Health,” 408 twelve-year-olds in the Gothenburg region were given two hours of extra play and motion activities per week, in collaboration with a local sports club. This was approximately twice the normal amount of curricular physical activity.

The effect of the intervention was evaluated by comparing the achievement of national learning goals by the children four years before and five years after its implementation. The results were compared to control groups in three schools that did not receive extra physical activity.

The results are clear, according to the scientists: A larger proportion on students in the intervention school did achieve the national learning goals in all subjects examined — Swedish, English and mathematics compared to the control groups.

“You can express it that two hours of extra physical education each week doubled the odds that a pupil achieves the national learning goals. We did not see a corresponding improvement in the control schools, where the pupils did not receive extra physical activity — rather the contrary, a deterioration,” says scientist and neurologist Thomas Linden at the Sahlgrenska Academy.

“Our hope is that planners and policy-makers will take our results into consideration,” says Lina Bunketorp Käll the researcher and project leader of the study.

Guess what? In Sweden that might actually happen.

In a parallel effort, a planned 5-story elementary school was changed to a 4-story school as built. Instead the building was constructed around an atrium for exercise and dance with running tracks on the rooftop. In China.

Year-end audit finds TARP program effective and improving


Timothy Geithner and Elizabeth Warren
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

The independent panel that oversees the government’s financial bailout program concluded in a year-end review that, despite flaws and lingering problems, the program “can be credited with stopping an economic panic.”

The Congressional Oversight Panel, which issued the report, was created in October 2008 by the same law that established the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. The panel has often been critical of the Treasury Department’s management of the bailout operation, especially at its start in the Bush administration but also under the Obama administration.

In the latest monthly report released on Wednesday, the panel again criticized the Treasury Department under Secretary Timothy F. Geithner for “failure to articulate clear goals or to provide specific measures of success for the program” as it has morphed over time from rescuing financial institutions to propping up securitization markets, auto manufacturers and home mortgages in danger of default. The panel also described the program’s foreclosure mitigation efforts as inadequate.

Mr. Geithner announced Wednesday that the administration would extend the bailout program until Oct. 3, 2010. In a letter, Mr. Geithner told lawmakers that the extension was needed to assist families and stabilize financial markets.

Which is – after all – what the economic critics were asking for.

The assessment by the oversight panel coincides with the Obama administration’s expansion of TARP yet again, to extend credit to small businesses that cannot get loans from still-skittish banks. President Obama highlighted the new mandate in his economic speech, saying that the bailout program should now work for Main Street as well as Wall Street…

“Even so,” the panel concluded, “there is broad consensus that the TARP was an important part of a broader government strategy that stabilized the U.S. financial system by renewing the flow of credit and averting a more acute crisis.”

It added, “Although the government’s response to the crisis was at first haphazard and uncertain, it eventually proved decisive enough to stop the panic and restore market confidence.”

I would presume that after another couple decades of progress – if we provide the oversight erased by eight years of voodoo economics – we may have up to a dozen or so folks in Congress who have studied economics, Keynes, Leontiev, and make an effort to understand a taste of managing a market economy.

No doubt that will include no Republicans. The only part they “get” is subsidizing non-consumable goods, e.g., their pet military-industrial corporations.