Up On the Roof

SUBHEAD: Bill presented in Hawaii legislature to finance homeowner installation of efficient renewable energy devices. By Andy Parx on 19 april 2011 for Parx News Daily - (http://parxnewsdaily.blogspot.com/2011/04/up-on-roof.html) Image above: Solar PV on home in Hawaii. From (http://www.yoursolarlink.com/blog/hawaii-is-the-solar-hot-water-leader). They say that with age comes wisdom but the real trick may be in getting to be old enough so that others see that what appeared to be a good idea 10 or 15 years ago actually was. When solar hot water heaters were becoming ubiquitous- back before passage of the Gary Hooser legacy bill requiring new homes to be built with them- we had wondered why utilities shouldn't make it easy to help people finance not just rooftop solar hot water but solar electricity units with zero percent loans that are collected each month to be paid off with the savings the customer was realizing in the billing period. We assumed that it was opposition from the utilities that was blocking it because, despite lip service to conservation and alternative energy, each was stuck in "we sell electricity to you" paradigm where the more electricity they sold the bigger the profit. So we went to the State House Energy Committee Chair Mina Morita and asked what it would take would move the legislature off the dime and get them to pass enabling legislation despite the opposition from electric companies. We assumed that the handful of providers of solar systems would be a good place to start since they could provide the resources to begin the fight. But shockingly we found out that the main stumbling block was those self-same companies. Seems that there were only a couple of them at the time and they had all the business they could handle, thank you very much, and they worried that if the government provided for a massive program it would bring oodles of competition into the market, cutting their monopoly into a million little pieces. Cut to today and amazingly enough, there are plenty solar companies and so House Bill 1520 SD2 has reached a conference committee and appears to be poised for passage despite opposition from- you guessed it- the utility companies. The bill, introduced by Morita before she left to head the Public Utilities Commission,
Directs the public utilities commission to consider implementing an on-bill financing program for residential electric utility customers to finance purchases of energy efficient or renewable energy devices and systems through their regular electric utility bills.
According to a Sierra Club's Capitol Watch email "Blue Planet Foundation is holding a rally to promote House Bill 1520 SD2 today at the capitol from 12:30-1 p.m." Although testimony is no longer being taken at this point in the legislative session it couldn't hurt to drop an email of support to representatives (reps@capitol.hawaii.gov) and senators sens@capitol.hawaii.gov) urging their support for this long overdue measure that would start the ball rolling to decentralize carbon-free electricity distribution. .

The Tyrannosaurus in the Room

SUBHEAD: It’s up to We the People to get up off the couch, and to actively participate in our own destiny. By Fred Dente on 18 April 2011 in Island Breath - (http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2011/04/tyrannosaurus-in-room.html) Image above: "Walking with Dynosaurs - The Arena Spectacular". From (http://lifestyle.8flo.com/2010/10/entertainment/walking-with-dinosaurs-%E2%80%93-the-arena-spectacular). How many wars should America be fighting? How many nations are attacking America? How many foreign military bases does America need to be considered the most powerful and ambitious nation in human history? The answer to all those questions is Zero. The true strength of a nation lies within it’s borders. And, there is no doubt that America possesses more military power and weapons of mass destruction than all of the nations of human history, combined! America is armed to the teeth and it can defend itself from any enemy without having over 1000 military bases in foreign countries all over the world. The greatest threat to America lies within it’s own borders, in the nation’s capitol. The military/industrial complex is devouring most of the national budget, while it creates the targets it needs to satisfy it’s voracious appetite for destruction, greed, power and control of the planet and it’s resources. Since WWII, America pretty much created and nurtured terrorism in the world, with political assassinations, coups d’etat, support of brutal dictators, pre-emptive strikes on helpless countries, nuclear holocausts, genocidal embargos, chemical warfare, torture, wanton murder, massacres, rape and pillaging, etc… The arms manufacturers, dealers and their pimps in Washington now have just what they always wanted, a world-wide potential killing field, where the prospect of endless wars will keep them rolling in the riches and power they crave. And, they have a friend and willing participant in the White House. And, the profiteers and stockholders of those corporations walk among us. As the President and Congress decide which domestic programs to cut, in order to fuel their runaway train, the nation is reeling from huge numbers of unemployed, underemployed, underpaid and homeless workers. As America gets dangerously close to full-on economic meltdown, the mainstream media tells us that we only have two choices, the Republican plan for cutting domestic spending, or President Obama's plan for cutting domestic spending. The corporate media doesn’t say that the largest special interest in Congress (80 members) have put forward the only realistic budget on the table, the People's Budget, proposed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The proposal will cut military spending and end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and all the other countries we are currently drone bombing, infiltrating and destabilizing. It will create a budget surplus by 2021, protect the social safety net, and put America back to work. Here, you can check out the link for the People's Budget:(http://cpc.grijalva.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=70&sectiontree=5,70). This coming Friday, April 22, 2011, from 6:30-8:45pm at the Children of the Land Center, located next to Papaya’s Natural Foods in Kapa`a, The Kaua`i Alliance for Peace and Social Justice will be presenting a free showing of “Standing Army”, a great Italian made documentary film about the forceful domination of Planet Earth through the presence of worldwide U.S. military bases. Opening the program will be “Hawai`i Versus U.S. Imperialism”, a clever and thought provoking animated short film from the Pinky Show. Light pupu will be provided. Talk story after the films. Please come with an open mind. It’s up to We the People to get up off the couch, and to actively participate in our own destiny. Think of what we are leaving to our Children and future generations. We built it, we can fix it. If we don’t stop the insane military madmen and bring the war dollars home, Americans won’t have much of a nation to defend, or a future world to live in. .

KIUC & Touchstone Energy

SUBHEAD: Touchstone appears to be a branding franchise for those electric co-ops without the skill to come up with their own logos, motto or public relations.

By Juan Wilson on 19 April 2011 for Island Breath - 
(http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2011/04/kiuc-touchstone-energy.html)  
Image above: Logo of the National Rural Electrical Cooperative Association that KIUC uses as their own. Is this what we get for $3 mllion? From (http://www.sedgwickcountyelectric.coop).

Maybe you've noticed the above logo and motto on KIUC materials "Your Touchstone Energy Partner". It seems that what we thought was our own locally owned and run cooperative is actually in branding arrangement with a national mainland company, Touchstone Energy Corporation.

Whether it's sponsoring a Busch Nascar race at the Talladega Super Speedway, tossing door prizes to attendees at a North Dakota rodeo, giving hot air balloon rides in North Dakota, or handing out retail discount cards good at your pharmacy - Touchstone Energy corporation's 63,000 employees know how to orchestrate good public relations for the company and its 660 participating rural electric cooperatives.

What is Touchstone up to now? The Connect 11 Conference and Expo sponsored by the NRACA (National Rural Electrical Cooperative Association) "A Touchstone Energy Cooperative" from May 9th thru May 12th in Denver, Colorado. It will feature such crucial keynote addresses as:
Teambuilding: We > I + U = Synergy in Action Craig Zablocki, President, Craig Zablocki and Associates It is a proven fact that healthy humor increases productivity, motivation, and learning. Craig will leave you laughing while he teaches you how to use positive humor to strengthen morale and increase productivity and teamwork. Be ready for an action-packed workshop that is as fun as it is informative. A nationally known speaker and consultant, Craig’s unscripted style has been compared to a hybrid of Robin Williams and Dr. Wayne Dyer.
Own the Brand and Lead Big Kevin and Jackie Freiberg Sponsored by Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Hear about the seven timely and timeless choices for growing your own personal leadership brand, owning your collective brand and telling powerful stories to grow brand loyalty in the hearts and minds of your members. The Freibergs have been featured by CBS’s 60 Minutes, CNBC, the CBS Morning News, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
Who pays for the salaries of those 63,000 employees and all that wicked gear at those hot events... the members of the participating 8,500 KIUC households. Let's look at just the cost for those 63,000 employees. Let's say an average income of $30,000 (with benefits and medical insurance). For that alone the corporate nut might be almost $2 billion. That doesn't include any other corporate costs like building leases and office equipment.

Averaging across the 660 participating coops those salaries could be almost $3 million a year for KIUC to "belong" to the Touchstone family. That's only about a dollar a day per Kauai customer... (or about 25% of a $120 monthly electric bill. Not too bad... if you were paying protection to the mafia. Do I have the math right or does that seem a lot to pay to use the Touchstone name brand, motto and logo? Remember their motto - "Together We Save". Sounds soo Kauai!
 
Image above: "Together We Save" ad campaign review. From (http://www.ect.coop/industry/business-finance/a-home-run-for-together-we-save).

The videos below show some of the activities of Touchstone Energy Corporation we're missing out on. Where are our balloon rides, NASCAR races and rodeo prizes?

 2000 Touchstone Energy 300 at Talladega Super Speedway
From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uQhWs1K-vg)  

Toushstone prizes at end of Black Hills Ranch Rodeo

From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkVcRgbtS4Q)  

Touchstone Energy Balloon Rides in Bismark ND

From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOe6tHzJmsg)  

Touchstone Retail Discounts Cards for Elvis fans
From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CpsYSnItc0)

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KIUC FFP Waimea Meeting

SUBHEAD: It appears not KIUC, nor its membership, is in charge of hydroelectric development on Kauai. By Juan Wilson on 19 April 2011 for Island Breath - (http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2011/04/kiuc-ffp-waimea-meeting.html) Image above: KIUC CEO David Bissell publicity photo. From (http://thegardenisland.com/business/local/article_00ad568a-52a1-11e0-b9a0-001cc4c002e0.html). A few things have become clearer to me in recent days. On Thursday, April 14th I attended the Apollo Kauai meeting in Lihue. From what I heard is seems as if the road to a partnership between Free Flow Power and Kauai Island Utility Cooperative has been a marriage made in heaven. In late 2010 FFP and KIUC were in contact over development of hydro-electric development on Kauai. No agreement between the parties was reached. FFP, on their own initiative, applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision for permits to develop hydro at several sites on Kauai, including the Hanalei, Makaweli, and Wailua Rivers as well as the Kitano Reservoir and Kekaha Ditch systems. This forced KIUC's hand, and the co-op entered negotiations with FFP to share in the development of hydroelectric power. As presented this arrangement appears to put KIUC in the position of client/owner and FFP in the role of their consultant/expert. Apollo Kauai Meeting Adam Asquith, who has spearheaded an effort to have the members of KIUC have a vote on whether the FERC process should be used to accomplish this goal, raised several good points. He began with the hypothetical question: "Where can we develop hydroelectric resources on Kauai?" - his answer is that this is the wrong question. He observed that water is a complex issue in Hawaii and cannot be approached as a simple resource. There are local and cultural issues that FFP (and for that matter, KIUC) are blind to. Adam added that the FERC process will ultimately alienate jurisprudence. Once passed the permit state the FERC project can be licensed and then can override state and local considerations - even bringing eminent domain be the federal government to the issue. This is a guarantee to a potential developer that they will not be stopped once a certain point has been crossed. Adam is convinced that following FERC will lead to endless lawsuits in Hawaii courts. Adam is a supporter of hydroelectric, but thinks KIUC/FFP has jumped the gun and is spoiling the chances of Kauai getting the right process in place. Waimea KIUC - FFP Meeting It began at the door with some party give-aways - a free bag of rice, a tote bag, a four-pack of 60w compact fluorescent lighbulbs. Then there was some food laid out inside the Waimea Theatre loge area. KIUC was reaching out to the community. Last night Linda Pascatore and I attended the KIUC meeting at Waimea Theatre that was primarily an opportunity for Free Flow Energy to calm the frayed nerves of the public over the issue of hydro-electric power plans for the island of Kauai. After hearing the KIUC and FFP presentation there was time for questions and answers. I asked if KIUC would consider following a path of financing residential solar-PV for customers rather than embarking on projects that require financing out to 2023 to achieve alternative power independence? The reason - Oil prices are rising fast, the Middle East is in increasing turmoil, our economy has not recovered and entering a second dip of the Great Recession looms. We are at $110 per barrel oil today. It's likely, as it happened in 2008) when oil reaches a critical price all financing will disappear and we will likely not even reach the 2015 goals of KIUC. Linda Pascatore made the point that so often there are public meetings where people express opposition or doubt about development projects and are overwhelmingly ignored. She asked when the planning for these projects was in place whether KIUC would allow island residents an up or down vote on going ahead. The answer - No. One of the most pointed questions came from Linda Estes who asked:
What if KIUC decided that it wished to withdraw from the FERC permitting process at some point - what would happen to those permits?
KIUC President and CEO David Bissell's answer was that those permits would revert to Free Flow Power.
This says much about the relation of KIUC and FFP. Rather than KIUC being in charge and using FFP for their expertise in hydroelectric it appears that KIUC is a brand fronting FFP's efforts to develop hydro. This opinion was only reinforced by Bissell's statement that KIUC and FFP only developed a contractual agreement in the last two weeks - four months after the plans for hydro-development with the FERC process began. This from a KIUC press release on 3/31:
Kauai Island Utility Cooperative today announced that its board of directors has approved the signing of final agreements with Free Flow Power Corporation (FFP) to pursue the joint development of several small hydroelectric projects proposed for the island of Kauai. These agreements solidify a relationship first announced in January. Under the terms of these agreements, FFP has transferred ownership of six previously announced hydroelectric development projects to KIUC. KIUC will oversee the development process of these and potentially several more projects in order to ensure that the interests of the people of Kauai are protected. KIUC recognizes that the island‟s urgent need to reduce reliance on fossil fuel-based power must be balanced with agricultural, environmental, cultural, and recreational interests in order for a project to be successful. FFP will continue to serve as development advisor, providing KIUC and the people of Kauai with access to a team of nationally recognized experts in their respective fields.
Other KIUC plans were discussed as well. The westside is particularly concerned with air quality and health risks regarding the bio-energy plant proposal. All in all it was friendly crowd with serious questions. After the meeting I asked David Bissell the question I think is crucial to understanding the motivation of people with big energy plans.
Would you live on Kauai if it were not electrified? Dave's answer; No.
It is a trick question, but the answer tells me much about the responder's commitment to the island and flexibility in lifestyles. A press release indicates that prior to joining the cooperative, Mr. Bissell served as manager of financial forecasting and reporting for Cinergy Corp, which is now part of Duke Energy. He joined KIUC as chief financial officer in August 2006. He earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance from the University of New York at Brockport, and his MBA from Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. Dave Bissell lives on the North Shore of Kauai. Please attend one of the two remaining KIUC FFP metings. Lihue Peace & Freedom Convention Hall Tuesday, April 19th 6-8pm Kilauea School Cafeteria Wednesday, April 20th 6-8pm .

US AAA Rating Threatened

SUBHEAD: Standard & Poor’s put a “negative” outlook on the long-term AAA credit rating of the U.S government. By Shannon D. Harrington on 18 April 2011 for Bloomberg News - (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-04-18/standard-poor-s-puts-negative-outlook-on-u-s-aaa-rating.html) Image above: Uncle Sam on streets of New York seeking $trillions. From (http://newswires-americas.com/markettalk/2010/02/17/a-deficit-hawks-lament/).

Standard & Poor’s put a “negative” outlook on the long-term AAA credit rating of the U.S., citing a “material risk” the nation’s leaders will fail to deal with rising budget deficits and debt.

“We believe there is a material risk that U.S. policy makers might not reach an agreement on how to address medium-and long-term budgetary challenges by 2013,” New York-based S&P said today in a report. “If an agreement is not reached and meaningful implementation does not begin by then, this would in our view render the U.S. fiscal profile meaningfully weaker than that of peer ‘AAA’ sovereigns.”

The cost to protect against a default by the government and the nation’s banks jumped and stocks declined after the New York-based firm’s statement, which assigns a one-in-three chance that it will lower the U.S. rating in the next two years. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index Tumbled 1.6 percent to 1,298.67 at 12:34 p.m. in New York.

The move puts politicians on notice that the U.S. debt rating is at risk unless they reach an agreement to narrow budget deficits and reduce the national debt, which S&P forecasts will rise to 84 percent of gross domestic product by 2013. President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans have clashed repeatedly over when and how to lower the debt, as well as how to fund more immediate government needs.

‘Shot Across the Bow’

“It’s truly a shot across the bow and a message to Washington, which has been clowning around on this and playing politics when they should toss ideology aside and focus on achievement,” said David Ader, head of government bond strategy at CRT Capital Group LLC in Stamford, Connecticut. “The bond market is still trying to find out what to make of it. People don’t know what to do. If you sell Treasuries, what do you go in to? No one knows.”

The Treasury said S&P’s outlook “underestimates” U.S. leadership, while Republicans tied the outlook change to the current fight over when and how to raise the debt ceiling. The Treasury says the $14.29 trillion limit will be reached no later than May 16, at which point the department will turn to emergency measures that provide borrowing room through about July 8.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called the S&P warning “a wake-up call for those in Washington asking Congress to blindly increase the debt limit.”

‘Meaningful’ Reforms

S&P’s negative outlook “makes clear that the debt-limit increase proposed by the Obama administration must be accompanied by meaningful fiscal reforms that immediately reduce federal spending and stop our nation from digging itself further into debt,” the Virginia Republican said in a statement.

Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk said legislation to raise the government’s borrowing authority “offers the chance to save the dollar and our economy.”

“If we miss this chance or if Congress sends the president a blank check,” then S&P’s “negative outlook” on U.S. “is a stark warning for our future,” he said in a statement.

S&P didn’t mention the debt ceiling among the budgetary risks it sees that affect the U.S. outlook, and it noted that the U.S. has “unique external flexibility” because the dollar is the world’s most-used currency. The ratings company focused on the political calendar, saying that if current negotiations fail, it might not be possible to get an agreement until at least the 2014 budget cycle.

‘Fiscal Challenges’

“We believe S&P’s negative outlook underestimates the ability of America’s leaders to come together to address the difficult fiscal challenges facing the nation,” Treasury Assistant Secretary Mary Miller said in a statement.

She reiterated the administration’s view that budget reductions are “well within our capacity as a country” and said the U.S. economy is strengthening.

U.S. President Barack Obama has proposed cutting $4 trillion in cumulative deficits within 12 years through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. The administration is resisting Republican calls for swifter cuts, while also pushing for a set of rules to enforce spending reductions over time.

Under President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2012 budget, released in February, the total debt subject to the debt ceiling would be $20.8 trillion in 2016. The plan House Republicans approved April 15, written by Budget Committee ChairmanPaul Ryan, would need a debt ceiling of at least $19.5 trillion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Government.

The benchmark 10-year note yielded as much as 3.45 percent in New York before trading at 3.39 percent. The dollar dropped to its lowest level this month against the yen.

Credit-Default Swaps

Credit-default swaps on U.S. Treasuries climbed 7.9 basis points to 49.4 basis points as of 12:38 p.m. in New York, according to data provider CMA. That’s the highest level since Feb. 1 and means it would cost the equivalent of 49,400 euros a year to protect 10 million euros of debt against default for five years.

Last week, Moody’s Investors Service said Obama’s plan to cut $4 trillion in cumulative deficits within 12 years may be a “positive” for the nation’s credit quality and mark a reversal in the budget debate.

Financial Crisis

The U.S. is the only large AAA rated country that saw its debt rise during the crisis that until recently had no plan that would reverse the trend, Steven Hess, senior credit officer at Moody’s, said last week.

The negative outlook by S&P means that the firm views a one-in-three chance it will cut a borrower’s rating within a two-year horizon, David Beers, S&P’s global head of sovereign and international public finance ratings, said in a Bloomberg TV interview.

“This debate in the country really is just beginning and hard choices are going to have to be made,” Beers said. “We’re not saying that no agreement is possible. We’re just unsure as to the time frame and whether it’s going to be seen as credible not just by us but by the broader marketplace.”

Image above: Screen shot of live US debt count mounting at 8:44am 11/4/18. From (http://www.usdebtclock.org/index.html)

Gaming Our own Asses

SUBHEAD: It's not about growth and recovery. It's about managing contraction and becoming a different America. By James Kunstler on 18 April 2011 in Kunstler.com - (http://kunstler.com/blog/2011/04/gaming-our-own-asses.html) Image above: The Drapers in their suburban kitchen from "Madmen". From (http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2010/08/mad-men-enforced-intimacy-in-the-chrysanthemum-and-the-sword). A wicked vibe rattles the mental furniture in men's minds these days. Against the dreadful normality of American life - the morning traffic on I-495, the mayhem awaiting in some school cafeteria or motor vehicle office, the household awakenings to a new dawn of foreclosure here, there, and everywhere - all this ceremony of the familiar is like a stage backdrop that conceals the awful crush of history. Things are swaying and crashing outside the magic theater of the normal, where we act out our tragicomedy of "Waiting for Recovery."
I have never lived in a time when so many false narratives competed for supremacy of the collective mind-space. Omnipresent as it is, reality seems to elude us, and certainly its supposed interlocutors - figures such as presidents, his highest appointed officials, their voluble, strutting opponents in the other party, the glamorpusses behind the Cable TV news desks, poor dim Bill Keller at The New York Times, and, of course, the necromancers of economics on campuses from Cambridge to Palo Alto.
A more primitive radar would conclude that the planet Earth is angrier than usual this year. Japan is still in a radioactive daze from the seventeen inch shove it suffered and lots of people in Carolina are surely shaking their heads over this weekend's visitation of wrath. Is it possible that climate change and Jesus are one and the same? Let them figure that out in the little cinderblock roadside chapels next Sunday before they all trundle over to the Nascar track.
It was heartening at least to see a few signs of life "out there" in the karmic interstices. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan sent a memo to the Attorney General of the US - viz: something has been going on in Wall Street that merits your attention. As in most seemingly crucial turnings lately, echo answered. Can someone please check to see if Eric Holder over in the Department of Justice is leaking sawdust? He must be stuffed something. Styrofoam would just make him look lumpy. Could he be a computer graphic? Or is he just a simple slab of cardboard with a photo glued on. Perhaps Senator Levin's next memo might be in the form of a subpoena to Mr. Holder, requesting his testimony as to how many trillions of dollars were snookered, swindled, and Ponzied out of the US public for the benefit of about a thousand guys in and around lower Manhattan (with branch offices in suburban Connecticut and New Jersey). (Cue: sound of Timberwolves howling.)
Gretchen Morganson and Louise Story over at The New York Times put out a related query last week, asking how come nobody went to jail for misdeeds in the banking sector after several years of incidental revelation through things such as senate hearings, Web journalism, and a few vagrant strolls down the Maiden Lanes of the Federal Reserve's balance sheets. How did "the newspaper of record" come to wait so long to ask that question? Not even the Times's Op-Ed viziers have essayed to ask why Lloyd Blankfein is not parked in a court of law instead of a limo. Morganson and Story appeared to conclude that the web of turpitude in finance was too complex for anybody in a disciplinary role to understand, and that was that. Run up the white flag. We give up.
Last week, Eliot Spitzer called out the US attorney general, the alphabet agency regulators, and the secretary of the treasury on Anderson Cooper's nightly CNN slot. Spitzer, you will recall, the New York attorney general, then briefly governor, was discovered to have had relations with a prostitute. How unfortunate. But consider this: it was at least an honest commercial transaction. Of all the complaints lodged in the matter, none involved any failure to pay the required fees. Spitzer now has his own TV show - which is truly one of the miracles of our time (and I mean that it's a good thing). He was joined on Cooper's slot by Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, who has done the bravest and most truthful reporting by far on our national clusterfuck. Taibbi reported last week - one of a now-long string of pithy, revalatory articles going back a couple of years - that two bimbo wives of Morgan Stanley executives set up a hedge fund with $14 million in "walking around" money from their hubbies, and parlayed it (no doubt with help) into a $200 million-plus TALF bailout drop. Now that the story is out, will any regulators or prosecutors have a look? Nobody in the public arena has even suggested it.
Of course, I continue to marvel that the Hamptons have not been burned down by an angry mob of "99ers" marching down the Sunrise Highway. Perhaps that kind of action is yet-to-come during the summer when the Federal Reserve will have to decide to either destroy American currency, or watch the S & P sink to 200... when various sun struck nations around the Mediterranean move to stiff the banks of northern Europe... when the Tea Party ventures to prang the operations of the US government over the debt ceiling sometime in July. Meanwhile, consider how many people will get shot in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and other places around the center of the World's oil production capacity. Business may be down at Walt Disney World this coming vacation season.
To me, the outcome of all this was clear a while ago: a world made by hand. Incidentally, watch Japan lead the way, as they give up on the industrial meth trip and return to a traditional society. Readers think I'm kidding about this. We're heading there, too. The signs are unmistakable. It's not as bad you think, either. We'll become reacquainted with that fugitive experience, reality. Disillusion is not the worst thing that can happen to people. We can re-direct all the effort that we put into gaming our own asses and cast off the awful weight of pretending to be what we no longer are.
Barack Obama has waited a bit too long to change the national storyline using the authority of his high office. It's not about "growth" and "recovery." It's about managing contraction and becoming a different sort of American society. Observers of the scene have made a mistake about Obama. He's not "eloquent." He's merely respectable. Being able to speak in grammatical sentences is not the same as having anything to say. It will be a sorrowful day when he is replaced by a genuine idiot like Michele Bachman, but it will happen because he wasn't able to set the tone for his times with something like a straight story, or a memo to his chief law enforcement officer. .

Fracking is Carinogenic

SUBHEAD: Congressional report details carcinogens in fracking fluids, used to release natural gas, making their way to water wells.  

By AP Staff on 16 April 2011 in Huffington Post -
(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/17/fracking-report-carcinogens-water-wells_n_850159.html)

 
Image above: Overspray of drilling slurry at hydro-fracking drill site. This by-product from mining operations includes rock debris, drill bit lubricants and possibly residual radioactive material. The overspray at the top is a violation and a danger to any bodies of water downhill. Dimock, Pennsylvania. From (http://74.220.207.119/~landscd1/landscapesofextraction/index.php?/hf-chapter1front/).

Millions of gallons of potentially hazardous chemicals and known carcinogens were injected into wells by leading oil and gas service companies from 2005-2009, a report by three House Democrats said Saturday.

The report said 29 of the chemicals injected were known-or-suspected human carcinogens. They either were regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act as risks to human health or listed as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

Methanol was the most widely used chemical. The substance is a hazardous air pollutant and is on the candidate list for potential regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The report was issued by Reps. Henry Waxman of California, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Diana DeGette of Colorado.

The chemicals are injected during hydraulic fracturing, a process used in combination with horizontal drilling to allow access to natural gas reserves previously considered uneconomical.

The growing use of hydraulic fracturing has allowed natural gas production in the United States to reach levels not achieved since the early 1970s.

However, the process requires large quantities of water and fluids, injected underground at high volumes and pressure. The composition of these fluids ranges from a simple mixture of water and sand to more complex mixtures with chemical additives.

The report said that from 2005-2009, the following states had at least 100,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluids containing a carcinogen: Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Wyoming, North Dakota, New Mexico, Montana and Utah.

States with 100,000 gallons or more of fluids containing a regulated chemical under the Safe Drinking Water Act were: Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Mississippi and North Dakota.
The report said many chemical components were listed as "proprietary" or "trade secret."
"Hydraulic fracturing has opened access to vast domestic reserves of natural gas that could provide an important stepping stone to a clean energy future," the report said.

"Yet, questions about the safety of hydraulic fracturing persist, which are compounded by the secrecy surrounding the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids. This analysis is the most comprehensive national assessment to date of the types and volumes of chemical used in the hydraulic fracturing process."

The investigation of chemicals used in fracturing was started in the last Congress by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which then was controlled by Democrats. The committee asked the 14 leading oil and gas service companies to disclose the types and volumes of the hydraulic fracturing products they used between 2005 and 2009 and the chemical contents of those products.


Video above: "Gasland" ducumentary trailer (http://www.gaslandthemovie.com). From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZe1AeH0Qz8).
 
[IB Editor's note: Although I live on Kauai, this issue hits close to home. Iam connected to a 100 acre farm in western New York that was next to my great-grandfathers farm and became my grandmother's and then my mother's. The area has been in an economic slump sine the Great Depression. The dairy farms and truck gardens that fed Rust Belt cities are gone and the land has mostly gone back to woods. It's near Amish country and the Quaker State oil fields. There are still natural gas and oil wells still putting out some fossil fuels. An old gas well is about 1ooo feet from our old farmhouse. Now that area is the intended target of intense energy development using new more invasive technology. There are three water wells on our family property that are cold and crystal clear. We worry about fracking.]


.

Indo-China Water Wars

SUBHEAD: Power thirsty China is building dams on Himalayan rivers that threaten other nations that depend on their waters.  

By Denis D. Greg on 16 April 2011 for Huffington Post -  
(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/16/water-wars-china-political-weapon_n_850061.html)

 
Image above: Fish-eye lens view of water flowing through the Three Gorges Dam in China - largest in the world. From (http://www.chinasmack.com/2010/pictures/three-gorges-dam-chinese-news-headlines.html).

The wall of water raced through narrow Himalayan gorges in northeast India, gathering speed as it raked the banks of towering trees and boulders. When the torrent struck their island in the Brahmaputra river, the villagers remember, it took only moments to obliterate their houses, possessions and livestock.

No one knows exactly how the disaster happened, but everyone knows whom to blame: neighboring China.

"We don't trust the Chinese," says fisherman Akshay Sarkar at the resettlement site where he has lived since the 2000 flood. "They gave us no warning. They may do it again."

About 800 kilometers (500 miles) east, in northern Thailand, Chamlong Saengphet stands in the Mekong river, in water that comes only up to her shins. She is collecting edible river weeds from dwindling beds. A neighbor has hung up his fishing nets, his catches now too meager.

Using words bordering on curses, they point upstream, toward China.

The blame game, voiced in vulnerable river towns and Asian capitals from Pakistan to Vietnam, is rooted in fear that China's accelerating program of damming every major river flowing from the Tibetan plateau will trigger natural disasters, degrade fragile ecologies, divert vital water supplies.

A few analysts and environmental advocates even speak of water as a future trigger for war or diplomatic strong-arming, though others strongly doubt it will come to that. Still, the remapping of the water flow in the world's most heavily populated and thirstiest region is happening on a gigantic scale, with potentially strategic implications.

On the eight great Tibetan rivers alone, almost 20 dams have been built or are under construction while some 40 more are planned or proposed.

China is hardly alone in disrupting the region's water flows. Others are doing it with potentially even worse consequences. But China's vast thirst for power and water, its control over the sources of the rivers and its ever-growing political clout make it a singular target of criticism and suspicion.

"Whether China intends to use water as a political weapon or not, it is acquiring the capability to turn off the tap if it wants to – a leverage it can use to keep any riparian neighbors on good behavior," says Brahma Chellaney, an analyst at New Delhi's Center for Policy Research and author of the forthcoming "Water: Asia's New Battlefield."

Analyst Neil Padukone calls it "the biggest potential point of contention between the two Asian giants," China and India. But the stakes may be even higher since those eight Tibetan rivers serve a vast west-east arc of 1.8 billion people stretching from Pakistan to Vietnam's Mekong river delta.
Suspicions are heightened by Beijing's lack of transparency and refusal to share most hydrological and other data. Only China, along with Turkey, has refused to sign a key 1997 U.N. convention on transnational rivers.

Beijing gave no notice when it began building three dams on the Mekong – the first completed in 1993 – or the $1.2 billion Zangmu dam, the first on the mainstream of the 2,880-kilometer (1,790-mile) Brahmaputra which was started last November and hailed in official media as "a landmark priority project."

The 2000 flood that hit Sarkar's village, is widely believed to have been caused by the burst of an earthen dam wall on a Brahmaputra tributary. But China has kept silent.

"Until today, the Indian government has no clue about what happened," says Ravindranath, who heads the Rural Volunteer Center. He uses only one name.

Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has also warned of looming dangers stemming from the Tibetan plateau.

"It's something very, very essential. So, since millions of Indians use water coming from the Himalayan glaciers... I think you (India) should express more serious concern. This is nothing to do with politics, just everybody's interests, including Chinese people," he said in New Delhi last month.

Beijing normally counters such censure by pointing out that the bulk of water from the Tibetan rivers springs from downstream tributaries, with only 13-16 percent originating in China.
Officials also say that the dams can benefit their neighbors, easing droughts and floods by regulating flow, and that hydroelectric power reduces China's carbon footprint.

China "will fully consider impacts to downstream countries," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu recently told The Associated Press. "We have clarified several times that the dam being built on the Brahmaputra River has a small storage capacity. It will not have large impact on water flow or the ecological environment of downstream."

For some of China's neighbors, the problem is that they too are building controversial dams and may look hypocritical if they criticize China too loudly.

The four-nation Mekong River Commission has expressed concerns not just about the Chinese dams but about a host of others built or planned in downstream countries.

In northeast India, a broad-based movement is fighting central government plans to erect more than 160 dams in the region, and Laos and Cambodia have proposed plans for 11 Mekong dams, sparking environmental protest.

Indian and other governments play down any threats from the Asian colossus. "I was reassured that (the Zangmu dam) was not a project designed to divert water and affect the welfare and availability of water to countries in the lower reaches," India's Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said after talks with her Chinese counterpart late last year.

But at the grass roots, and among activists and even some government technocrats, criticism is expressed more readily.

"Everyone knows what China is doing, but won't talk about it. China has real power now. If it says something, everyone follows," says Somkiat Khuengchiangsa, a Thai environmental advocate.

Neither the Indian nor Chinese government responded to specific questions from the AP about the dams, but Beijing is signaling that it will relaunch mega-projects after a break of several years in efforts to meet skyrocketing demands for energy and water, reduce dependence on coal and lift some 300 million people out of poverty.
 
Official media recently said China was poised to put up dams on the still pristine Nu River, known as the Salween downstream. Seven years ago as many as 13 dams were set to go up until Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao ordered a moratorium.

That ban is regarded as the first and perhaps biggest victory of China's nascent green movement.
"An improper exploitation of water resources by countries on the upper reaches is going to bring about environmental, social and geological risks," Yu Xiaogang, director of the Yunnan Green Watershed, told The Associated Press.

"Countries along the rivers have already formed their own way of using water resources. Water shortages could easily ignite extreme nationalist sentiment and escalate into a regional war."

But there is little chance the activists will prevail.

"There is no alternative to dams in sight in China," says Ed Grumbine, an American author on Chinese dams. Grumbine, currently with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Yunnan province, notes that under its last five-year state plan, China failed to meet its hydroelectric targets and is now playing catch-up in its 2011-2015 plan as it strives to derive 15 percent of energy needs from non-fossil sources, mainly hydroelectric and nuclear.

The arithmetic pointing to more dam-building is clear: China would need 140 gigawatts of extra hydroelectric power to meet its goal. Even if all the dams on the Nu go up, they would provide only 21 gigawatts.

The demand for water region-wide will also escalate, sparking perhaps that greatest anxieties – that China will divert large quantities from the Tibetan plateau for domestic use.

Noting that Himalayan glaciers which feed the rivers are melting due to global warming, India's Strategic Foresight Group last year estimated that in the coming 20 years India, China, Nepal and Bangladesh will face a depletion of almost 275 billion cubic meters (360 billion cubic yards) of annual renewable water.

Padukone expects China will have to divert water from Tibet to its dry eastern provinces. One plan for rerouting the Brahmaputra was outlined in an officially sanctioned 2005 book by a Chinese former army officer, Li Ling. Its title: "Tibet's Waters Will Save China," Analyst Chellaney believes "the issue is not whether China will reroute the Brahmaputra, but when." He cites Chinese researchers and officials as saying that after 2014 work will begin on tapping rivers flowing from the Tibetan plateau to neighboring countries Such a move, he says, would be tantamount to a declaration of war on India.

Others are skeptical. Tashi Tsering, a Tibetan environmentalist at the University of British Columbia who is otherwise critical of China's policies, calls a Brahmaputra diversion "a pipe dream of some Chinese planners."

Grumbine shares the skepticism. "The situation would have to be very dire for China to turn off the taps because the consequences would be huge," he said. "China would alienate every one of its neighbors and historically the Chinese have been very sensitive about maintaining secure borders."
Whatever else may happen, riverside inhabitants along the Mekong and Brahmaputra say the future shock is now.

A fisherman from his youth, Boonrian Chinnarat says the Mekong giant catfish, the world's largest freshwater fish, has all but vanished from the vicinity of Thailand's Had Krai village, other once bountiful species have been depleted, and he and fellow fishermen have sold their nets. He blames the Chinese dams.

Phumee Boontom, headman of nearby Pak Ing village, warns that "If the Chinese keep the water and continue to build more dams, life along the Mekong will change forever." Already, he says, he has seen drastic variations in water levels following dam constructions, "like the tides of the ocean — low and high in one day."

Jeremy Bird, who heads the Mekong commission, an intergovernmental body of Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, sees a tendency to blame China for water-related troubles even when they are purely the result of nature. He says diplomacy is needed, and believes "engagement with China is improving."

Grumbine agrees. "Given the enormous demand for water in China, India and Southeast Asia, if you maintain the attitude of sovereign state, we are lost," he says. "Scarcity in a zero sum situation can lead to conflict but it can also goad countries into more cooperative behavior. It's a bleak picture, but I'm not without hope."

Climate Change Civil Disobedience

SUBHEAD: Tim DeChristopher call for more civil disobedience in climate change fight.  

By Brian Merchant on 17 April 2011 for TreeHugger -  
(http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/04/tim-dechristopher-calls-civil-disobedience-climate-fight-video.php)

 
Image above: Tim DeChristopher at a climate justice demonstration. From (http://woodgatesview.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/bidder-70-the-david-vs-goliath-ordeal-of-tim-dechristopher).



Tim DeChristopher committed one of the most famous acts of climate activism in the nation: by bidding on a parcel of land that oil and gas companies were keen to snap up during a midnight hour auction put on by the Bush administration (and of course, being entirely unable to pay for it), he inspired the fledgling, next generation green movement to fight back. DeChristopher gave the final keynote speech at Powershift, an event that draws 10,000 green activists from across the nation to Washington DC. In his speech, DeChristopher implored the attendees, mostly young students and organizers, to move beyond campus activism and to engage in more direct civil disobedience. Listen to a snippet of his speech above.

DeChristopher is absolutely right: we're going to need to see more direct action from young, engaged people if we hope to see serious progress in arenas like halting mountaintop removal mining, shuttering dirty old coal plants, and making significant inroads towards climate mitigation in general.

And his plan is certainly a bold one -- to send waves of activists to mountaintop removal mines, day after day, in order to shut down their operations and force the government's hand on the issue -- and it very well may appeal to an anxious group of students who are growing frustrated with the inert political climate in Washington. Hell, I'd go. Judging by the thunderous response from the revved up Powershift attendees, a few thousand others would, too.


Video above: Recorded on January 20, 2010 using a Flip Video camcorder. From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLzpHMa-kmo).

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: One Man's Bid 12/27/08
Ea O Ka Aina: Environmentalist going to prison 3/3/11

One shock from food crisis

SUBHEAD: World Bank President Robert Zoellick says the global economy is “one shock away” from a crisis in food supplies and prices. By Eric Martin on 16 April 2011 for Bloomberg News - (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-04-16/zoellick-says-world-economy-one-shock-away-from-food-crisis-1-.html) Image above: Struggle over bread. From (http://marionvalentine66.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/marion-valentine%E2%80%A6-right-again-world-risks-food-riots-as-grains-climb-economist-chalmin-says-2/). Zoellick estimated 44 million people have fallen into poverty due to rising food prices in the past year, and a 10 percent increase in the food price index would send 10 million more people into poverty. The United Nations FAO Food Price index jumped 25 percent last year, the second-steepest increase since at least 1991, and surged to a record in February. Food price inflation is “the biggest threat today to the world’s poor,” Zoellick said at a press conference following meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. “We are one shock away from a full-blown crisis.” “For most commodities, stocks are relatively low,” he said. “You have one other weather event in some of these areas and you really take a danger zone and start to push people over the edge.” Zoellick said he opposes export bans that nations use to depress local commodity prices for their citizens, lifting costs for consumers in other countries. Farmers in Russia, once the second-biggest wheat exporter, are planting the fewest acres in four years, in part because a government export ban kept prices low, a Bloomberg survey of producers, traders and analysts showed last month. India, the largest grower after China, is mulling lifting an export ban in place since 2007 as harvests may reach a record for a fourth straight year, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said this month. Economic growth “is leveling off after a post-crisis recovery,” Zoellick said. “The question now is whether it’s strong enough to reduce unemployment, particularly in developed countries. Inflation is up in developing countries, and this could lead to overheating or asset price bubbles.” .

Diablo Canyon Nuke Opposed

SUBHEAD: Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is the battleground for ending radioactive terror in America.  

By Jan Lundberg on 15 April 2011 for Culture Change -
(http://www.culturechange.org/cms/content/view/723/1)


 
Image above: Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant. Note the torrent of cooling water ejecting from the plant. From (http://www.californiacoastline.org/cgi-bin/image.cgi?image=200807581&mode=sequential&flags=0&year=2008).

The revived anti-nuclear movement has promise, for the people coming together to volunteer and take on tasks are experienced. Those who are not veterans of the 1980s protests are dedicated and energetic. They're all ready for a fight to the finish: victory over allowing more Fukushimas, Chernobyls and Three Mile Islands.

On April 14 in San Francisco, California, the electric-rate state agency that in effect allows nuclear power's operation got an earful from the public. Then we the people rallied outside in a respectable-sized crowd, demonstrating with huge puppets, speakers, musicians and news media. Go to this webpage for more photos: Diablo Canyon Protest at CPUC
 
Amazingly, the federal government is rushing to foist more nuclear power on its citizens and on the world, by licensing Diablo Canyon even before the plant owner (Pacific Gas & Electric) makes seismic studies:
State senator tells feds to pause license review for Diablo Canyon
A top regional official of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission told a legislative committee Thursday that the agency intends to proceed with its safety and environmental analysis for extending the license of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, despite a request from the plant's operator that the agency take no final action until after more thorough seismic studies are completed...
The senator, whose district includes the site of the nuclear plant, assailed the federal agency for what he called its decision to look at Diablo Canyon seismic issues "through rose-colored glasses" despite the damage to nuclear reactors in Japan resulting from last month's earthquake and tsunami.
"You're telling me you're going to proceed with business as usual? That's unacceptable," Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, told Pruett. (for the whole report see the website of the Ventura County Star.)
A major demonstration seems to be taking shape on Saturday, April 16 near San Luis Obispo which is near the seaside Diablo Canyon nuke. For details click here.

Three dozen anti-nuclear activists spoke passionately before the California Public Utilities Commission against the further operation of state nuke plants, on Thursday morning in San Francisco before the rally. Earthquake faults, lack of evacuation feasibility, and disregard for future generations were among the objections. No one at the public hearing spoke in favor of nuclear power, although several speakers overlapped with another contingent of activists: anti-Smart Meter consumers justifiably worried over wifi radiation, invasion of privacy, and unfair cost.

My own comments appear below. I wish I had notes on some others' comments so I could pass them on here. I chose to take the posture of a kind of ex-colleague of the commissioners (I used to provide alternative fuels data and analysis for their rate cases). I said:
I'm Jan Lundberg, formerly of Lundberg Survey, now with Culture Change. I served on San Francisco's Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force. In my prior service to Big Oil, government agencies, and then in the nonprofit sector, I found that the big assumption is that we need a vast overabundance of energy.
Where do we stand? Big energy in the form of the BP-Macondo disaster and Fukushima indicate a system out of control.
The industrial mindset says it's okay to mess with life on Earth - but it's not okay, and we're barely starting to pay the price.
Keeping the lid on the truth about nuclear power will be about as successful as it was keeping the lids on those nuclear reactors that exploded at Fukushima.
 
Image above: April 14, San Francisco, by George Franklin. Speaker Starhawk, behind banner with dark gray outfit. Jan Lundberg is at far right, foreground. From original article.

Following is a link for viewing good TV coverage of the hearing and the rally, by the ABC affiliate in San Francisco. It gives an overall picture of the main issues, along with more input from the public. You can see me in line to speak at the podium, the tall fellow wearing a dark blue suit. Watch now.

Further reading:
Anti nuclear movement gears up, by Carly Nairn, April 14, 2011 (Quoting Jan Lundberg and, more importantly, Mothers for Peace which is part of a coalition petitioning the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deny licensing.)

Where We Stand on the Cusp of Tremendous Change: Month Two of Fukushima by Jan Lundberg
The overall news on Fukushima is very bad. For the rating of the "accident" to equal Chernobyl (7 on a scale of 1-7), according to the Japanese government (which has downplayed the disaster to the maximum), you have an idea of the ongoing harm to the air, soil and ocean. For more information, visit websites such as beyondnuclear.org
 
About remediation of radioactive soils: Pour Evian on your radishes, by Albert Bates
The Problems With Smart Grids: Dumb and Dangerous by B. Blake Levitt and Chellis Glendinning

 .

Changing Education Paradigns

SUBHEAD: The waste in natural resources are more than matched by the waste of our human resources. Education has failed. By Staff on 27 December 2010 for the Guardian - (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/punctuated-equilibrium/2010/dec/27/1) Why don't we get the best out of people? Sir Ken Robinson argues that it's because we've been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies -- far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity -- are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences. "We are educating people out of their creativity," Robinson says.

This presentation did not impress me in the least. Basically, Sir Ken Robinson whinges about the educational system without presenting even one creative, usable solution to the problems that he reports -- problems that every one of us is acutely aware of. Anyone can criticise the system but few can (or will, apparently) fix it.

What solutions do you think would address the problems that Robinson describes? I have many thoughts on this matter, having taught at several public universities on opposite coasts of the United States, but my arm is trapped in a plaster cast right now, so typing is not exactly something I can do for very long at the moment. However, that said, one pedagogy I've found effective is learning from our mistakes, and those made by others. (I link to that video as a way to jump-start the discussion).

This animation was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA's Benjamin Franklin award. See Ken Robinson's website at (http://sirkenrobinson.com/skr/watch). Video above: "Changing Education Paradigns". From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zDZFcDGpL4U#at=130). Video above: "Do Schools Kill Creativity". From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY). [Editor's note: Thanks for the comment and the suggestion, John. However there is an error in your link. I think the above video is what you were aiming at.] .

Ocean Radioactivity in Fukushima

SUBHEAD: Radioactivity rise in sea off Japan nuclear plant could signal new leak, government says.

By Mari Yamaguchi on 16 April 2011 for Associated Press - (http://abcnews.go.com/m/story?id=13388468&sid=74)

Images above: Side by side photos of ocean entering Fikushima Daiichi Nuclear plant (left) and flooding the site (right) in the moment after the tsunami struck the shore. From (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/8444746/Japan-raises-nuclear-crisis-to-highest-level-the-same-as-Chernobyl.html).

Levels of radioactivity have risen sharply in seawater near a tsunami-crippled nuclear plant in northern Japan, signalling the possibility of new leaks at the facility, the government said Saturday.

The announcement came after a magnitude-5.9 earthquake jolted Japan on Saturday morning, hours after the country's nuclear safety agency ordered plant operators to beef up their quake preparedness systems to prevent a recurrence of the nuclear crisis.

There were no reports of damage from the earthquake, and there was no risk of a tsunami similar to the one that struck the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant March 11 after a magnitude-9.0 earthquake, causing Japan's worst-ever nuclear plant disaster.

Since the tsunami knocked out the plant's cooling systems, workers have been spraying massive amounts of water on the overheated reactors. Some of that water, contaminated with radiation, leaked into the Pacific. Plant officials said they plugged that leak on April 5 and radiation levels in the sea dropped.

But the government said Saturday that radioactivity in the seawater has risen again in recent days. The level of radioactive iodine-131 spiked to 6,500 times the legal limit, according to samples taken Friday, up from 1,100 times the limit in samples taken the day before. Levels of cesium-134 and cesium-137 rose nearly fourfold. The increased levels are still far below those recorded earlier this month before the initial leak was plugged.

The new rise in radioactivity could have been caused by the installation Friday of steel panels intended to contain radiation that may have temporarily stirred up stagnant waste in the area, Hidehiko Nishiyama of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency told reporters. However, the increase in iodine-131, which has a relatively short eight-day half life, could signal the possibility of a new leak, he said.

"We want to determine the origin and contain the leak, but I must admit that tracking it down is difficult," he said.

Authorities have insisted the radioactivity will dissipate and poses no immediate threat to sea creatures or people who might eat them. Most experts agree.

Regardless, plant workers on Saturday began dumping sandbags filled with zeolite, a mineral that absorbs radioactive cesium, into the sea to combat the radiation leaks.

Meanwhile, the newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported, without citing its sources, that a secret plan to dismantle Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the radiation-leaking Fukushima plant, was circulating within the government. The proposal calls for putting TEPCO, the world's largest private electricity company, under close government supervision before putting it into bankruptcy and thoroughly restructuring its assets. Most government offices were closed Saturday, and the report could not be immediately confirmed.

In the wake of the nuclear crisis, the government ordered 13 nuclear plant operators to check and improve outside power links to avoid earthquake-related outages that could cause safety systems to fail as they did at the Fukushima plant, Nishiyama told reporters late Friday. The operators, including TEPCO, are to report back by May 16.

Power outages during a strong aftershock on April 7 drove home the need to ensure that plants are able to continue to operate crucial cooling systems and other equipment despite earthquakes, tsunamis and other disasters, Nishiyama said.

Utility companies were ordered to reinforce the quake resistance of power lines connected to each reactor or to rebuild them. They also must store all electrical equipment in watertight structures. Earlier, the nuclear agency ordered plant operators to store at least two emergency backup generators per reactor and to install fire pumps and power supply vehicles as further precautions.

The massive 46-foot (14-meter) wave that swamped Fukushima Dai-ichi last month knocked out emergency generators meant to power cooling systems. Since then, explosions, fires and other malfunctions have compounded efforts by TEPCO to repair the plant and stem radiation leaks.

TEPCO said Saturday it had moved power sources for some of the reactors at the stricken plant to higher ground by Friday evening in order to avoid another disastrous failure in the event of a tsunami.

Goshi Hosono, an adviser to the prime minister and member of the nuclear crisis management task force, said the damaged reactors were much more stable than they had been earlier in the crisis and TEPCO was preparing to unveil a plan for restoring cooling capacity to the ailing reactors "soon."

"Problems are still piled up and we are far from the end of crisis," he told a TV news program, citing radioactive water as one of the biggest headaches. "I expect there will be more mountains that we have to climb over."

The crisis at the Fukushima plant has forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate the area, while radiation leaks have contaminated crops and left fishermen unable to sell their catches, adding to the suffering of communities already devastated by earthquake and tsunami damage.

Government officials fanned out across the affected areas to explain their decisions and calm nerves.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama apologized for the uncertainty and confusion to residents in Iitate village, parts of which the government recommended be evacuated because of the nuclear crisis.

"Everyone in the village must be extremely troubled, uncertain and worried," he said, promising to provide temporary housing and financial support for the residents, many of them farmers.

In the city of Inawashiro, Hiroshima University Professor Kenji Kamiya, who has been appointed a health risk adviser to Fukushima prefecture, met with about 250 education officials to explain that radiation levels in the area do not pose an immediate or significant threat to the public.

"I hope people understand that the levels we are seeing are fairly low. Even in the most impacted areas, we have screened more than 1,000 children for radiation abnormalities in their thyroids and have found none at all," he said.

Kamiya has been giving almost daily lectures in an effort to prevent people from overreacting to the possible danger.

"People fear things that they don't understand. We were even afraid before of the rain, because we just didn't know if it was safe," said Takaaki Kobayashi, a father of two grade school children. "I feel more comfortable now about sending kids to school. It helps to understand."

.

Big Wind Storm

SUBHEAD: Molokai and Lanai are targeted to supply Oahu electrical power from wind. Not everybody is happy with Big Wind.

By Laura Petersen 15 April 2011 for Greenwire in New York Times -
(http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2011/04/15/15greenwire-hawaii-doubles-down-on-big-wind-seeking-long-t-44326.html)


Image above: Photo of wind generators in article opposed to windfarms in Fenland, Cambridgeshire, England. "Blowing Up A Storm" (http://www.stevetierney.org/blog/?p=1577).
 
Hawaii's plan to generate 400 megawatts of wind power on the islands of Molokai and Lanai, and then transmit the electricity via undersea cable to bustling Oahu, goes by many names.

The official name given by the state government is the "Hawaii Interisland Renewable Energy Program -- Wind." The state's dominant utility, Hawaiian Electric Co. Inc. (HECO), prefers the more neutral "Interisland Wind." Some critics call it the "Oahu Industrial Wind Power Plant on Lanai." Still others know it simply as "Big Wind."

Regardless of its title, however, the $3 billion project -- spearheaded by the state, HECO, Los Angeles real estate developer Castle & Cooke Inc., and Boston-based First Wind Holdings LLC -- faces huge challenges if it is to come to fruition by 2020, as proponents hope it will.

More than just another ambitious renewable energy project, Big Wind is being touted as the central piece of Hawaii's efforts to wean itself off of imported oil and natural gas, and usher in a new era of "green power" in one of the world's most ecologically sensitive places. That goal is buttressed by one of the nation's toughest renewable portfolio standards, requiring that 40 percent of the state's electricity come from renewables by 2030.

"If we don't do this Interisland Wind project, the chances of making it to 40 percent by 2030 are very challenging," said Peter Rosegg, a HECO spokesman in Honolulu. Once built, proponents say Big Wind's up to 174 turbines could provide as much as 14 percent of Hawaii's electricity, helping to offset imported fossil fuels that account for 90 percent of the islands' current generation.

Proponents also argue the new wind power and transmission cable will help protect Hawaiians from rising oil prices by securing electricity costs at or below today's rates, which are currently the highest in the United States at 20.54 cents per kilowatt-hour (the national average is 9.83 cents per kilowatt-hour). Hawaii's high electricity costs are at least partly due to the fact that each of the state's islands has to generate its own electricity, creating huge economic inefficiencies.

At the same time, Hawaii's renewable energy resources are unmatched by any other state. The islands have enviable amounts of sun, wave, geothermal and biomass resources, but wind is considered the most economically viable right now. On Molokai and Lanai, in particular, the winds are considered world class.

"The wind on Molokai and Lanai is some of the best wind in the world," said Josh Strickler, project facilitator for the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, during a congressional briefing. "You can get a roughly 40 percent capacity factor out of that, which means we can get more wind energy out of the wind there than we can in other places across the country."

Fairness factor
But not everyone in Hawaii is enthusiastic about Big Wind. The project faces stiff opposition from Lanai and Molokai residents, who argue the large wind farms will destroy their islands' remote character, breathtaking vistas, hunting grounds and sacred native Hawaiian sites. Opponents also say the two islands should not have to shoulder the project's most significant impacts while the clean energy is enjoyed by cosmopolitan Oahu, home to nearly 1 million people and the capital city and deep-draft port, Honolulu.

Under Big Wind's original proposal, Lanai and Molokai would each host between 50 and 90 turbines capable of generating 200 megawatts of electricity. A different firm would develop each island's wind farm, with First Wind spearheading the Molokai generation and Castle & Cooke financing the turbines on Lanai. The wind farms' combined 400 megawatts would then be routed to a transmission line that the state plans to build under the ocean to Oahu at a cost of between $800 million and $1 billion.

Robin Kaye, leader of the nonprofit group Friends of Lanai, which opposes the proposal, said the actual generation of the wind farms is only a fraction of their stated capacity and not worth covering between 13,000 and 22,000 acres of the 89,000-acre island.

"We find taking a quarter of this island for 10 percent of Oahu's electric needs to be an unfair," Kaye said, "and what we call 'pono' -- a Hawaiian word meaning 'righteous' -- this is a very non-pono project."

Lanai is very rural and remains mostly undeveloped. Most of its 3,500 residents live in Lanai City, while the rest of island consists of a former pineapple plantation (once the world's largest) and two Four Seasons resorts owned by Castle & Cooke. The firm, which owns 98 percent of the island, is vested in a variety of activities, including aviation services, transportation equipment, oil and gas holdings, and construction materials manufacturing.

Officials with Castle & Cooke did not respond to interview requests for this story.

Transforming Lanai?
While some look at the Lanai wind farm site and see barren gulches and an "arid wasteland," others see a landscape rich with native Hawaiian traditions and a prime hunting ground that supports many people who live off the land. The turbines, converter stations and access roads would irrevocably transform the nature of the northwest end of the island, critics say.

Henry Curtis, executive director of the nonprofit group Life of the Land, which advocates for sustainable land use policies in Hawaii, said infrastructure upgrades that would accompany the Lanai wind farm could open the door to further development.

"If you massively upgrade the harbor and put in a major highway to get from the harbor, which is on one side of the island, to where the wind would be on the other side of the island, then that allows the entire island to be developed," Curtis said.

Recognizing the significant impacts a large wind farm would have on Lanai, Castle & Cooke has offered a hefty community benefits package, including a promise to donate 1 percent of the wind farm's gross revenues to a local community fund. It also pledged to contribute $250,000 annually for the life of the project to preserve the island's Lanai Hale watershed, provide hunting and fishing access to the wind farm site, and extend hunting rights to other landholdings to offset what would be lost to turbines. Lastly, the firm said it would hire local employees, remove the turbines when the wind farm is no longer operational, and protect archaeological and cultural sites.

HECO, the utility partner, has also tried to sweeten the deal for Lanai residents by promising to reduce the island's electricity rates by 40 percent, bringing rates roughly in line with what Oahu customers pay, and working to make Lanai 100 percent powered by renewable energy by 2030. The company also pledged $50,000 a year to a local community fund and to upgrade the grid to enable more rooftop solar systems and solar-powered hot water heaters for local residents.

"Our main concern is the communities not feel that they are being railroaded or roughshod or forced to do something that's completely against their interests," Rosegg said.

Molokai changes
Meanwhile, the Big Wind farm component on Molokai that appeared at risk of falling through only weeks ago has found new life.

Since 2007, First Wind has tried to secure a site for its 200-megawatt wind farm. First Wind, which already operates two smaller wind farms on Maui and Oahu (Land Letter, Feb. 24), made six offers to buy land from Molokai Ranch, a Hong Kong-based company that owns about a third of the island, but all were rejected. Instead, Molokai Ranch has identified another wind farm developer, San Francisco-based Pattern Energy Group, as its preferred development partner.

Without a site, First Wind missed a crucial March 18 deadline with the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission to submit information about how much HECO will pay for the electricity generated by its wind farm. First Wind has requested an eight-month extension while it seeks an alternative site for the project on Maui.

"First Wind believes that the state should seriously consider making Maui an equally viable candidate as Molokai and Lanai," the company said in a statement. "First Wind is hopeful that Hawaii's elected officials and the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism will be supportive of this approach."

Whether the PUC grants the extension remains to be seen, but HECO has advised against it and is charting a new course. According to an April 6 letter to the PUC, the utility is no longer considering First Wind's Molokai proposal, and has notified Castle & Cooke that it can proceed with up to 400 megawatts on Lanai.

Under state agreements establishing the Big Wind proposal, either of the two developers could absorb the other's share of the project if one of the islands' farms failed to be built. However, the terms sheet negotiated between HECO and Castle & Cooke allows a part of the project to be assigned to another developer on Molokai, subject to PUC approval, acceptable pricing and community benefits.
On April 8, Castle & Cooke announced a pending deal with Pattern Energy to construct part of a wind farm on Molokai if Pattern can obtain sufficient land from Molokai Ranch, a move that was welcomed by HECO.

"Diversifying the wind energy locations for this project has real benefits and is the right thing to do," said Robbie Alm, the utility's vice president in a statement. "We hope there is a way to meet the needs and concerns of the Molokai community so that this option makes sense to them as well."

Environmental, economic analyses
Though the Molokai wind farm is further behind in the process than Lanai, the setbacks do not affect the wind farms' environmental review process, which remains on a tight schedule. A programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) for Hawaii's wind energy prospects, funded by $2.9 million in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act money, must be completed by April 2012.

A first round of public comment on the PEIS ended March 1, drawing more than 170 comments. Many commenters, including U.S. EPA, questioned why the state considered only two alternatives -- a fully developed Big Wind project or no project at all. Some said the state should have evaluated other renewable energy resources to meet Oahu's demand, such as solar, wave or geothermal.

Allen Kam, the PEIS manager for the state's Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said the decision to limit the scope of the analysis was consistent with other PEIS documents for energy projects. But, he added, "we want to be responsive to the public. We're seriously considering a different approach."

Kam would not expound on what those alternatives might be, but some groups have asked that as many as 11 different proposals be considered including development of ocean thermal energy conversion. Others have suggested that development of wave energy technologies could allow each of Hawaii's islands to be more self-sufficient and negate the need for expensive subsea transmission cables linking the islands' grids.

One of those critics is state Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R), who serves Oahu's 50th Congressional District. "Those kinds of alternatives haven't been explored," Thielen said. "There's just been a mad dash to build this wind farm on Lanai and the undersea cable."

Oahu residents are also beginning to take notice of legislation working its way through the state Legislature that could saddle Oahu ratepayers with the cost of the undersea cable. Companion bills in the House and Senate would establish a regulatory framework to allow a cable developer to act like a utility company and charge transmission fees to recover the cost of installation.

Current estimates put the cost of transmission at about 8 cents per kilowatt-hour. Added on top of the 11 to 13 cents per kilowatt-hour HECO has agreed to pay for the electricity generated by Castle & Cooke's wind farm, the total cost of the wind energy rises to between 19 and 21 cents per kilowatt-hour, comparable with current rates.

Thielen has likened the legislative proposal to "giving an open checkbook to the Public Utilities Commission."

But Rosegg said the legislation is critical because neither the state nor HECO can add a $1 billion risk to their financial books right now. HECO will retain the right to purchase the cable, but will first focus its resources on $300 million to $600 million of infrastructure upgrades to its existing transmission system to accept the intermittent wind energy.

While convincing the public of the importance of such expensive projects is an uphill struggle, Rosegg said he hopes skeptical Hawaiians, especially on Lanai and Molokai, will eventually agree Big Wind will secure electricity resources and prices not just for Oahu, but also for all the islands.
"Even though the energy is not for them to consume on their island, the analogy given around here is, 'We're all in the same canoe, we all have to paddle in the same direction,'" he said.

See also:
E&E Publishing: Renewable Energy in Hawaii Part 1 2/24/11