Tag Archives: energy

News Day: Fishing season and veto season open / Franken v. Coleman / Someting rotten / Aung San Suu Kyi ill / War news / more

GOOD NEWS And that’s worth going to the top of the report – Roxana Saberi is due to be freed and flown home today, after an Iranian court suspended the eight-year sentence previously imposed on the North Dakota journalist.

Fishing season and veto season From cocoa bean mulch canine health warnings to the billion dollar tax plan, T-Paw wielded the veto pen before heading off to the fishing opener Saturday morning. As the PiPress succinctly notes:

Pawlenty and the Legislature have eight days to balance the budget by the May 18 constitutional deadline. If they fail to get done on time, he could call them back into special session. And if they don’t finish by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, the nonessential parts of state government will shut down.

According to Steve Perry in PIM, DFLers are “within dreaming distance of an override majority.” But definitely not there yet.

Franken v. Coleman With Franken’s reply brief due in the MN Supreme Court today, Minnesota moves one step closer to having a second senator. In MinnPost, Eric Black continues his series of analytic reports, this time focusing on Coleman’s Equal Protection argument.

Fong Lee case A settlement conference in the Fong Lee case is set for today, and supporters promise a demonstration on the courthouse steps. A Minneapolis police officer shot and killed Lee in 2006. The family has sued the police officer and the city, amid ongoing revelations of problems with police reports about gun identification and mishandling of squad car videos.

Something rotten in Minneapolis The Strib asks: “Did a Minneapolis police officer spin lies?” Well, that’s one possible conclusion – but the story describes another possible scenario in which the FBI and ATF use dubious information from a plea-bargaining drug dealer to target black Minneapolis cops — and the Minneapolis police officer in the headline (Lt. Michael Keefe) blows the whistle on them. The single officer finally charged as a result of the massive, months-long federal/state investigation goes on trial Monday, charged with taking $200 from gang member Taylor Trump in exchange for non-public information. Read the Strib’s investigative series about the Taylor Trump/FBI/ATF/Violent Crimes Task Force investigation at Part I: The Informant, Part II: Putting cops to the test, and Part III: Police versus the police.

Another bad budget cut Cutting funding for Personal Care Attendants hurts vulnerable children and adults — and will cost more money in the long run, explains Gail Rosenblum in the Strib. She talks to members of the “invisible work force,” including one woman who “has worked as a PCA for 12 years, earning an average of $10 an hour to help Minnesotans with a range of disabilities — from spinal cord injuries to fetal alcohol syndrome — in bathing, using the toilet, getting into a wheelchair, eating without choking, experiencing fresh air.”

Green and affordable On the West Side of St. Paul, reports MPR, NeDA has built a few low-cost green homes. Most green homes are bigger, glossier enterprises, but these have no “granite countertops and no bamboo floors,” instead focusing “on energy efficiency because energy bills are one of the biggest obstacles to lasting home ownership for low-income families.”

War reports

Chad BBC: More than 250 people have been killed in fighting between rebels and government forces in eastern Chad, near the border with Darfur. Chad’s government claimed victory and blamed Sudan for arming the rebels.

Afghanistan BBC: In Washington, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on the U.S. to stop air strike in Afghanistan. Afghan officials said more than 100 civilians died in U.S. bombing in the western Farah province, while U.S. military said the number was not that high.

Somalia BBC: Radical Islamists fighting against government forces were blamed for an attack on a mosque in Mogadishu that killed 14 people. According to BBC, “At least 50 people are thought to have died in gun battles between the rival factions since Thursday, when clashes erupted in a northern area of the city.”

Pakistan Washington Post: More than 200,000 refugees are already in camps, with another 600,000 expected to arrive, as Pakistan steps up attacks on Taliban militants in the Swat valley. AP says the number of refugees is already over 360,000, on top of 500,000 earlier displaced persons. The military claims to have killed 700 Taliban fighters, but is restricting journalists’ access, so no outside reports are available.

Sri Lanka BBC: The UN is calling government actions “a bloodbath,” citing the killing of hundreds of civilians, including more than a hundred children, as government troops try to wipe out the Tamil Tiger rebels. The UN “estimates that about 50,000 civilians are trapped by the conflict in a three-km-sq strip of land.”

National/World headlines

Aung San Suu Kyi ill Burmese Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest since her party won elections in 1990, is reportedly very weak, suffering from low blood pressure and dehydration. In a bizarre series of incidents, an American swam across a lake and entered her compound last week, then was arrested as he swam back across the lake last Tuesday. About 20 police entered Ms. Suu Kyi’s compound on Thursday. Her doctor, Tin Myo Win, was also arrested Thursday. The latest period of house arrest is due to end this month, but may be extended. The military junta still rulilng Burma has not allowed the National League for Democracy (NLD) to take office.

BBC: Four candidates are registered to run in Iran’s June 12 presidential election: current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former Revolutionary Guards chief, Mohsen Rezai (both conservative), and the somewhat less conservative gormer PM Mir-Hossein Mousavi, backed by former President Mohammad Khatami, and former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karroubi.

NYT: In Afghanistan, 44 candidates have filed to run for president. Elections are scheduled for August 20. According to NPR, “even before the campaign officially kicks off, allegations of fraud and intimidation by incumbent President Hamid Karzai and his ticket are shaping the race.”

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News Day: Fong Lee update / Mpls school surprise / Housing renewal by bulldozer / more

Judge: Yes, no and maybe on Fong Lee case A federal judge dropped some counts of the Fong Lee family lawsuit, allowed others to continue, and a federal magistrate directed attorneys to apply first in state court for grand jury records, before making the request in federal court. The PiPress reports that Judge Paul Magnuson ruled that “while the allegations leveled against the Minneapolis Police Department in the 2006 shooting death of Fong Lee were serious, there was no evidence the death was the result of department policies or customs.” The judge made a partial summary judgment in favor of the City of Minneapolis and also a summary judgment in favor of police officer Mark Anderson on the claim that his actions caused “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” The city is not off the hook — it still has to defend Anderson and is liable for his actions, and for any cover-up.

Under a legal precedent established in a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case, the plaintiffs had to show that the city’s official policies and procedures — as well as unofficial customs — were unconstitutional and caused the death of Fong Lee….

Magnuson wrote that the evidence produced by both sides didn’t support the contention that the city was liable under the precedent. He said the plaintiffs had to show “not only that the city acted deliberately and improperly through an official policy or custom, but also that the city’s policy or custom caused Andersen to shoot Lee.”

The case is set for trial on May 18, and a settlement conference is scheduled for May 11.

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Smart grids and dumb power lines

Back in the 1970s, a young college professor named Paul Wellstone joined the battle against a high voltage power line in rural Minnesota. He and fellow professor and activist Barry M. Casper later wrote Powerline: The First Battle of America’s Energy War. That war, and the battles over power lines continue, with the latest MN Public Utilities Commission (PUC) ruling last week allowing yet another power line to march across Minnesota.

The Emperor’s Old Clothes

Today’s battle in Minnesota centers on two giant power line proposals, ITC’s “Green Power Express” and Xcel’s CapX 2020. They both claim the cloak of green energy, but it’s long past time for public officials to recognize that these particular emperors are not wearing any clothes. Here’s why:

First, the power companies boast that the new, giant power lines will carry renewable, green energy. The catch: they are not required to do so. Most electricity in this country is generated by burning coal, so that’s what is most likely to move over the new “dumb” power lines.

Second, they claim that new transmission lines are needed because the nation needs more electricity. That’s not true either. According to NPR, which has just completed a 10-part series on “Electricity in America:”

Power companies are planning to beef up the nation’s electricity transmission grid. At the same time, conservationists are trying to reduce the vast amount of power wasted in Americans’ homes and offices. That raises a question: If we simply used energy more efficiently, would we need to spend billions of dollars on a new grid?

NPR quotes Revis James, who works for the industry-funded Electric Power Research Institute, who assures us that demand for electricity inevitably will keep on growing. It fails to mention that U.S. Department of Energy figures show that national electricity use is already falling — by more than two percent in January 2009 compared to January 2008, marking the sixth consecutive month of falling electricity use. Instead,

Xcel and ITC claim that CapX 2020 in southern MN and the “Green Power Express” across the northern part of the state will transport green energy from Midwestern states to the supposedly power-starved states east of here, which lack any wind, solar or geothermal resources. Never mind that Chicago — one of the supposed beneficiaries — is well-known as “the Windy City.” Never mind that a recent study shows that “at least half of the fifty states could meet all their internal energy needs from renewable energy generated inside their borders, and the vast majority could meet a significant percentage.” In fact, says the study:

However, while significant variations in renewable energy among states exist; in most cases, when transmission or transportation costs are taken into account, the net cost variations are quite modest. Homegrown energy is almost always cheaper than imports, especially when you factor in social, environmental and economic benefits.

Smart Grids and Smart Meters

There are other, better ways to power the nation. The two best directions — increasing energy conservation and encouraging local ownership of local renewable energy projects — do not generate large profits for utility companies.

Smart grids and smart electric meters give consumers more information as a means reducing peak demand and overall energy use. The Washington Post reports:

Smart grid refers to an array of switches, sensors and computer chips that will be installed at various stages in the energy-delivery process — in power stations, in electricity meters, in clothes dryers — in the next two decades, if the vision holds and the technology works.

To flatten spikes in demand, smart meters will tell users when power is cheaper, in case they want to run dishwashers and dryers when it costs less. For customers who agree ahead of time, the meters can do the calculations and start the appliances automatically.

NPR’s series reports on both business and individual consumers dramatically cutting their electricity consumption through the use of smart technology. A business example comes from the home of the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington, which “should use about half the electricity of a conventional office.”

For a personal consumer’s point of view, NPR turns to Tammy Yeakel in Pennsylvania:

When PPL installed a smart meter on Tammy Yeakel’s Pennsylvania home, she cut her electric bills by 20% reported NPR.

“This is one of my favorite things,” Yeakel says, reading from the computer screen. “How does my home compare to similar homes in my area? And I’m always about $120 less than everybody. So that’s kind of neat. That’s like vacation.”

Tom Stathos from PPL explains that the meters go hand-in-hand with the company’s website, which explains how to cut electricity consumption:

“It’s not a matter of doing without — it’s just a matter of making smart choices,” he says. “The meter is the absolute direct connection with the customer. So this is definitely the start of a smart grid,” Stathos says. With information from the smart meters, PPL is launching a new pricing program. It’s offering two rates — one during times of peak energy use, and a cheaper, off-peak price. The company hopes this encourages customers to use less power when electricity is priciest. And Stathos says that’s just a beginning.

The Obama administration wants to use stimulus money to help install smart meters and promote a smart grid.

Keeping Energy Local

According to George Crocker, Executive Director of the North American Water Office (NAWO), a non-profit organization that has worked on energy issues for more than 25 years:

The old way of doing business was to hook up a few very large central station power plants, mostly coal and nuclear, to high voltage powerlines to serve energy consumers in distant cities. The new way, as this study documents, is to serve those same energy consumers by strategically locating smaller locally owned dispersed renewable energy facilities.

One way to encourage local development of renewable energy projects is through a feed-in tariff, “a price for renewable energy high enough to attract investors without being so high it generates windfall profits.”

According to the “Institute for Local Self Reliance:

Denmark and Germany both used a feed-in tariff to drive renewable electricity generators to more than 15 percent market share. This policy also resulted in large-scale local ownership, with near half of German wind turbines and over 80 percent of Danish ones owned by the residents of the region.

Power Companies and Power Lines

Meanwhile, power companies keep pushing forward with plans to spend billions of dollars on hundreds of miles of power lines. Public utility commissions, including the Minnesota PUC, are still giving them almost everything they ask for.

We are on the hook for this boondoggle. The people who live under or near the power lines pay the highest price, as their land is taken and their e As consumers of electricity, we pay for the new power lines through higher rates. As taxpayers, we pay directly for subsidies for construction.

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Obama speech hits another home run

“What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.” With that declaration, President Barack Obama delivered another ringing call to action, devoting nearly all of his February 24 address to a joint session of Congress to what the country needs to do to rebuild and recover. The 52-minute speech was interrupted 50 times by applause.

The full text of the 52-minute speech includes international policy, tax cuts and promises to cut the deficit. En Español

Declaring that the country’s agenda “begins with jobs,” Obama thanked Congress for passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which he said will save or create 3.5 million jobs, more than 90 percent in the private sector, and will give tax cuts to 95 percent of working households. He insisted on the importance of re-starting lending and promised more stringent oversight of bailouts to banks.

Turning from plans for recovery to a vision for the future, Obama said the nation has three priorities:

Energy: “[T]o truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy.” that means transformation of the auto industry, as well as doubling the nation’s supply of renewable energy, and increasing energy efficiency.

Health Care: “[T]he cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.”

Education: Obama called the mismatch between fast-growing occupation sectors that require education and “the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation,” a “prescription for economic decline, because we know that countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow.” He called for both increased funding and reform, gave a ringing endorsement to the charter school movement, and warned that “dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American.”

President Obama held up a banker, a student, and a town as examples of hope:

• “Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. ”

• “Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community.”

• Ty’Sheoma Bethea, a student from a South Carolina school “where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom.” She sent a letter to Congress asking for help, writing: “We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters.”

Echoing her words, Obama said that Americans are not quitters, that “even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.”

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