Category Archives: Energy

Catching up on Energy

I was exhausted last Wednesday after the Primary election when we rescheduled our Business meeting. I began hallucinating when we got to a turgid conversation about energy savings. I saw Loren Martell in the back of the room leave the meeting and I decided to leave the meeting and thank him for running despite his disappointing fifth place.

But then I decided I really didn’t have it in me to go back to the meeting. I could catch it later on youtube after all.

I didn’t even follow up the next day in reading Jana Hollingsworth’s story in the Trib. Its under a stack of partially digested Tribs in the corner of my office. I did hear from Art later that it was a good story. That’s quite a tribute from Art. Well I just read it and it is a good story about our District’s energy use. I recommend it.

I just finished listening to the hour I missed of the meeting. It was a very thorough discussion which is easier to consume in Jana’s story.

One point I’d like to harp on like the cranky guy I am – We were sold a bill of goods by Johnston Controls. Our energy savings are one-tenth what they predicted. The problem with this is that to make up for this we have had to cut staff which was our other means of making ends meet on JCI’s unfulfilled promises.

That’s not to say that JCI doesn’t know the energy business:

This is one of the photos I took of the Shanghai skyline. That soaring building on the far right is one that was equipped with JCI technology. Its impressive. I saw a PBS NOVA program about JCI’s role in building and equipping the air units. I guess its easier to fiddle with tiny little Duluth than the People’s Republic of China.

Taking a break from JB Marvin

Petroleum’s conception goes back about 1.6 billion years when a cyanobacterium (now confined to volcanic pools and the ocean deeps) was engulfed by an oxygen respiring bacterium becoming a chloroplast that allowed vegetation to lead a revolution of life on the Earth’s surface. At the surface dead plants with that stored solar energy drifted down to the ocean bottoms or piled up in swamps and wetlands and was covered by the sediment from eons of erosion. The ignition of it every drop of it or chunk of it (in the case of coal) releases both that energy and the carbon atoms that locked it up.

Humans, now seven billion strong (only 2,555,982,611 billion at my birth in 1950) have exploited this resource until the liquid portion, petroleum, has become scarce.

Although today’s GOP fundamentalists are committed to teaching that the world is only a few thousand years old even when I was a kid the popular imagination lit up at the prospect of dinosaurs and their ancient lives. So much so that kids like me were led to the belief that our Dad’s were filling up their cars gas tanks with the remains of ancient reptiles.

The one celled precursors to animals, like plants, also engulfed energy producing organisms. They are called mitochondria and they are found in virtually every animal cell. The million things cells do to keep multi-celled animals functioning don’t fit into the accounting of Earth’s seven day creation.

Perhaps it is the GOP’s religious convictions that promote Sarah Palin’s “Drill Baby Drill” politics. But those convictions run up against the limited easily available solar energy locked up in the Earth.

For most of the last century, cheap oil powered global economic growth. But in the last decade, the price of oil has quadrupled, and that shift will permanently shackle the growth potential of the world’s economies.

The countries guzzling the most oil are taking the biggest hits to potential economic growth. That’s sobering news for the U.S., which consumes almost a fifth of the oil used in the world every day. Not long ago, when oil was $20 a barrel, the U.S. was the locomotive of global economic growth; the federal government was running budget surpluses; the jobless rate at the beginning of the last decade was at a 40-year low. Now, growth is stalled, the deficit is more than $1 trillion and almost 13 million Americans are unemployed.

With seven billion humans using more and bigger finely tuned machines to tap the energy from the Earth’s stored carbon reserves and discarding the carbon as CO2 by the billions of tons Earth’s atmosphere and oceans are able to store more solar infrared energy (heat energy) rather than reflecting quite so much back out into space.

The GOP fundamentalists tell us that trumpeting this theory is nothing more than a plot by energy scientists to secure more government grants for their research. The scientists are belatedly doubling down on the theory and gradually converting more of the rare scientific skeptics to their cause.

The same mercenary interests might be imputed to elected GOP fundementalists who rake in lots of political funds from
energy companies.

Money talks and so do GOP converts to global warming skepticism like Mitt Romney.

Maybe today’s Republicans believe that our gas and oil come from dinosaurs like the colt-osaurus that Jesus rode into Jerusalem at Passover. No wonder the children laid palm leaves at his feet as he passed along.

I bet today’s Republicans would like to see Jesus return and transform our rivers into oil. Of course we humans were doing that ourselves until the do-gooder liberals and environmentalists stuck their nose in our business and cleaned up our rivers for fish not humans.

War on Clean Air

RE the previous post:

Mitt was trying to hurt Obama in West Virginia where the big coal companies imperil miners with shoddy safety practices, communities with waste heaps, while enhancing the environment by shaving the tops off mountains to provide coal which releases vast quantities of sulfuric and nitric acid into the atmosphere which a few decades ago almost totally denuded Shenendoah National Park.

But the businessman “I built that” Romney fails to understand that it is Natural gas production that is killing coal in West Virginia. From today’s DNT. (Darn it, they don’t seem to have put the story on their website ) Here it is from the Associated Press.

This could lead to a whole new argument about “fracking” and its perils but one indisputable consequence of fracking has been cleaner air a vast improvement over the kind of choking Chinese smog that Romney seems to favor – you know – with none of that business killing government regulation.

I have a new found personal interest in this. Among my Mother’s assets is a small ownership interest in Texas gas and oil property. She owns a little over three-one-thousandths percent interest in about six oil wells. For several years a number of companies have offered to buy her interest in the wells. Although the wells have produced a lot smaller revenue lately I suspect fracking may improve production at some point in the near future.
Some day One-and-a-half one-thousandths of those oil and gas wells will be mine. As with this blog I’ll be pleased to do my part in clearing the air.

Excelsior squirts back

This is my interpretation of Excelsior’s pushback in Today’s Trib:

The Trib did a lousy job describing why $40 million has been spent on our company with little to show for it.

Excelsior has given all its spending info to its funding sources – the government, but not the public. Translation. Tom Bakk knows how we spent our money. You don’t need to know. (left unsaid: Thank goodness someone – not Tom Bakk – made sure we get to keep our secrets by law)

The IRRRB loaned us $9.5 million. That stopped 4 years ago so no more good money from them after bad.

Starting a new energy company is hard work. We’ve been given the permits to move our energy just not the right to move it on other people’s wires or any demand for our energy.

Our coal will be cleaned up. (left unsaid: whether it will ever be a truly clean source of energy or not we’re not saying – never mind all those alarmist environmentalists)

We’re entrepreneurs (left unsaid – using taxes to fund our work but not private capital except for our little drop in the bucket)

Everyone is having a tough time in this recession (left unsaid – our project is so ill conceived it would have had just as much trouble in good times)

Other alternative energy sources might not work out (left unsaid – even though they are moving along a lot faster than our project)

We’d like to thank the elected officials who gambled on us (left usaid: and voted to give us lots of money when owners of private capital were too skeptical to offer there money)

The grandkids left…

..a couple hours ago. I’ve had a chance to read more in the DNT. First paper in a long time with so much read meat.

On the boondoggle up north…

Earlier I blamed all of this on Republican big wigs but there is one DFLer completely up to his neck in it. Senator Tom Bakk. As the Chair of the Tax committee in the Senate everyone defers to him especially the IRRRB which pumped in $9.5 million in their little pot-o-gold.

Bakk has earned my ire for making sure the Red Plan would go through without a vote. He’s the figure you can be sure made sure that the St. Louis County Schools would build their own Red Plan and cause a second civil war. Its jobs, jobs, jobs for Tommy. Sadly on his Excelsior shenanigans there are no jobs to speak of just lots of bills. including apparently an unpaid salary of $2,49,000 (as of 2006) for the Micheletti duo who brought excelsior to life with a $60,000 personal investment. Don’t grieve for the Michs…As of that same date they apparently had been paid $535,000. which is a handsome profit on the original investment.

2006 (when I first posted my complaints about their project on this blog) was a long time ago. The Trib says that there are no financial reports since then to spell out where money went or what the President and CEO were paid. For the hell of it I’ll assume that they kept their salary at $600,000 annually since then which would put their total earnings up to the end of this year at $6,025,000. If we also assume that they have for the sake of the project continued to defer their salary at the same rate as from 2001 t0 2006 then they would have only been paid $1,070,000 for the decade. Peanuts. However, they would still be owed $4,955,000 which I gather from the story they expect to be paid. I presume they have a contract.

The difficulty for the Trib and the public is that no one knows what the public money spent on the project has been used for since 2006 and the Micheletti’s aren’t talking. It seems that a law was passed last year just for them excluding them from having to report what they spent public money on. Tom Bakk says he had nothing to do with it. The IRRRB is covering for the Senator saying that they did it (to hell with the Tax Chair) Bakk is covering them by saying its a dang good law even though he had no idea is was passed.

I have my doubts about the legality of this law. It may be superceded by the state statute which requires companies spending public money to make their records of its spending public. Unless someone challenges this law we shall ever remain clueless how the money was spent. I doubt, however, that this law would apply to federal dollars which constitute half the spending.

By the way, the whole project proceeded with the plan of sticking Xcel Energy customers with the cost of the project should it fail. Xcel and its customers selfishly fought being the goat and so the taxpayers will end up losing the money. If there is any justice the dreamers (or schemers) who gave us this boondoggle will not get paid any more.

Oh, and a side note: At the Sam Solon funeral Tom Micheletti, who’s main skill after hockey has always been lobbying, was seen vigorously schmoozing with all the legislators in attendance.

Reflections on Today’s Sunday Trib

As I begin writing this post I have but thirty minutes before I leave to pick up Steven to take him to our church service. I had woken up just before 6AM thinking I had time to read most of the Trib before my grandsons woke up. However, just as I finished my shower I was greeted with the squeals of Jakey-Jake. He woke up before schedule. I managed to read the editorialized story about the wonderful new Denfeld by Chuck Frederick (although the five minutes of reading stretched out over thirty minutes of getting Jakie his morning breakfast. I only had time to read snippets of the other big story about $40 million spent on an illusion – the Excelsior Energy plant that will likely never see use.

Its nice to see that the Trib has finally caught up with my blog although about five years late or perhaps 40 million dollars too late!

I’m at a bit of a loss complimenting the DNT for noticing this gross waste of public money while it still fawns over the School District’s Boondoggle Red Plan. The other story lauds the nifty features to be found in the new Denfeld…

Phooey. Little children got busy again and I’ll have to finish this later.

OK. Its almost four hours later. I heard a few phrases of my daughter’s solo in Church before my Jakey shouted, “Mama, Mama” a little too vigorously for me to let him stay in the church service. I’m waiting for him to start a nap and I’ll try to get a few more words in edgewise.

I was busy looking for Frederick’s article on the DNT’s website when I had to call it quits earlier. I’ve found it now. “It’s absolutely gorgeous” is the banner headline above it. Its vintage Frederick. He’s a very good writer and this suits his forte, human interest.

He begins with a young woman who is from Central High and regards going to Denfeld in her senior year with significant reservations. She and two other students, both Denfeld students, get the tour and by the end their eyes are opened and all of them, including the dubious Central student are sold. The banner headline says it all.

I mentioned a few days ago in Thugs 3 that I was pleased Chuck Frederick let his better angles rule rather than write a big story about my wishing harm to innocent children. Today I could almost overlook the back patting nature of this news story because of the this paragraph.

Plenty of bitterness remains. In the community because the high school consolidation was part of a bigger, $311 million, long-range facilities plan that was allowed to proceed without a public vote to accompany the spending of so much public money. And among students, whose traditions and habits were sometimes trampled or overlooked as the kids were shuffled from school to school the past two years to accommodate construction.

I’m glad that Chuck has acknowledged the community’s wrath in terms that fully justify it.

There is no question that the community needs to embrace these new schools much as a raped mother ought to come to love the child she has been forced to bear. The children in the schools are as innocent as the rape victim’s unplanned progeny. This sounds harsh and I mean it to. I’ve already acknowledged in a letter to the editor last year that some of these schools will be excellent new schools. Whether they are justified by the expenditure in trust and taxes has yet to be seen.

For the three students they should look forward to their new school. From many accounts, even those in the DNT, it was a tough year for all students at Central and many of the Denfeld students felt particularly unwelcome at Central while the construction was under way. In my experience kids are resilient and far less territorial, when push comes to shove, than their parents about stuff like school legacies. That the Atrium and commons are beautiful is good to hear. I suspect that the new year will be such a relief that all involved will find it a great improvement over last year.

I’m still awaiting the opening of East High which was appended to a rather utilitarian junior high. Its parking will likely be a nightmare and it’s nothing to look at as your drive down Superior Street mostly hidden from view. It would be ironic if the new western high school is loved by the western part of the city which most resented its imposition while the eastern end of town that was most enthusiastic about their new high school ends up being disappointed. Perhaps that would be poetic justice.

I’ve published almost every criticism of the new schools that has come across my desk. I’ve only criticized two of the buildings themselves. (that I can recall) One has been East high, for a host of reasons, and Piedmont Elementary for the cramped space it occupies. I’ll hold my judgement of the buildings themselves for the time being. I will say that for all the heated objections to the new western middle school I rather enjoyed seeing its shell the other day as I drove along the constricted and constructed I-35. Its certainly going to be eye catching.

The Trib and I share one trait. We have both been holding our breaths to see what unfolds. For me its been the possibility that the community will soon fall in love with their schools and forget all about the method in which they were imposed. Should that happen I expect to be vilified as a wet blanket. For the Trib’s editors they have been holding their breaths in hopes that their reluctance to lift the rock to see what was hidden under it will be forgiven. If the schools turn out to have been compromised the DNT’s reputation will suffer for giving the Red Plan a lukewarm endorsement.

In some ways the Trib can be excused. The Red Plan came about when it was undergoing a vicious down sizing and in the full-throated thrill of Dr. Dixon’s groupies for an overhaul of our schools. They hedged their bets that the Chamber of Commerce crowd would be vindicated. I hedged my bets that no matter what the result of the Red Plan most people would never find fault with my cry of “let the people vote!”

To give Chuck his due the Trib owes it to the Duluth public to put the best face on the Red Plan. We will need to fall in love with our schools again even if that means enduring the Trib’s crowing “We were right to support it.” That’s not litterally what the Trib’s Denfeld story says…..but yes, it really is. Let’s hope the Trib’s editors are right. The Duluth public paid a very high price for Red Plan schools.

Oh, and about the other $40 million boondoggle up on the Range. I’d like the Cravaack defending Trib to acknowledge that the boondoggle could never have happened without the support of Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty and Republican Senator Nick Coleman.

Fly or Drive?

Here’s a cool website. It allows you to compare the cost, time and carbon burning results of a trip between any two destinations.

I compared the difference between each mode of transportation if I were to travel from Duluth to St. Louis, MO. It turned out I would save both money and carbon by traveling by vehicle even with my Chevy Traverse (although I would more likely to make the trip with a Toyota Camray Hybrid.) It would be a whole lot quicker to fly though.

Door-to-Door, each way

Fly…………………………………………..Drive

4 hours, 46 minutes………………………1 day, 3 hours, 47 minutes

Total Cost
$830.00…………………………………….$447.88

CO2 Impact:

1,978 lbs……………………………………1,383 lbs.

In the light of night

When the street light went out across the street a couple weeks ago I woke up to find my second Grafitti paint job of the past couple years scrawled on the retaining wall next to my house. I spent an hour trying to wire brush it off. If we could light up our trees like this it might keep the taggers at bay and save us some electricity, at least until the leaves fell in October.

Taking the LEED

JCI and ISD 709 seem to have turned their back on a tremendous opportunity to save energy at the Ordean site. To the horror of a couple of landscape architects they designed a site that had to be excavated to an extraordinary depth. This massive, expensive, excavation could have been paired with geothermal heating and cooling to give the new Ordean a passive energy saving plan. Trap the Earth’s heat in the Winter with underground piping to warm the building and pump heat out of the building in the Summer.

But JCI is an air conditioner company. They made AC for autos and for big buildings. Never mind that when the new, soon to be abandoned Central High was designed by a bunch of California architects in the 1970’s thier AC broke down a year or two after the building’s completion. It was never really needed anyway in Duluth the ,”Air Conditioned City.” Each of the JCI air conditioning units are about a million dollars, require lots of energy to run and expensive, annual, contracts with JCI to keep the energy units running.

But just as JCI scammed Duluth with its unfulfilled promises to keep energy costs low on the City’s Steam Plan they promised the School Board massive energy savings. They hype the “LEED” designation but mostly for salesmanship purposes. And what of LEED? Here’s a little three minute video from Net Green that demonstrates that it can be smoke and mirrors.

But, on a happier note, at least East Junior High will have a new swimming pool. I hope JCI avoids the problems we had at Morgan Park when it was discovered that the MP pool was so poorly vented that mold spread throughout the building.

Mercury abatement – Mercury

In a previous post an in the previous clip from the forum I made a mistake. Moments after I said Minnesota Power had spend a quarter of a billion dollars to deal with carbon I had the nagging feeling I should have said that the money was spent for mercury abatement.

Claudia confirmed this when I asked her about it after I watched this clip and remembered that nagging feeling.

Having caught and eaten half of a 24 inch walleye earlier in the week this should have been on my mind. Big fish concentrate all the mercury that was eaten in the smaller fish they’ve consumed and the even smaller critters eaten by their meals.

Still, a quarter billion dollars has to be paid by somebody. The State decided MP couldn’t pass it all on to the rate payers. Instead they are having to stiff all the senior citizens who have bought stock in the company. Even before this investment MP was hardly the worst mercury emitter. I’m not in a position to know whether this required investment was beyond the law of diminishing returns or not but it may very well have been.

Shill baby, Shill

Among the most muddled Republican voices on the Gulf oil spill is…… TA DA, none other than Sarah Palin.

From her appearance on Oh Really! the other night:

“… as governor of Alaska, what I did in dealing with the oil companies and I’ll betcha 75% of my time was being taken up by energy issues here in this state. I had to set up our Petroleum Systems Integrity Office so that we could be there on the front lines making sure what the oil companies were telling us was legit when they were dealing with their corroded pipes that we find out and other lax maintenance issues. It took us putting that as the highest priority to to protect our resources to protect our environment including not just the physical environment but the human environment here.”

So, she’s for serious regulation? What kind of Republican is she?

As another blogger noted Oh Really brown nosed her by telling her that she had had more oil experience than any other US Governor. That for two years as Alaska’s Governor. What about Rick Perry Governor of Texas with a dozen oil company HQ’s in his state and hundreds of off shore oil wells. He’s been the Gov for ten years.