Sunday, June 5, 2011

VC Monday: Power and possibilities.

<-- Photo courtesy of jafagirls!

Dear people: Blog readers: I apologize. I don't know why I fail to take the simple step of posting these emails to my blog--I assure you it is more from rushing and getting out of the habit than any nefarious agenda on my part. I am, once again, committed to doing better. Do feel free to email me any thoughts or questions.

The agenda for Monday is heavy, and I'd really appreciate some feedback on several items which I have highlighted in yellow. Please consider downloading the whole packet from the village Council website
so you can be fully informed.

Dinsmore Report for Week of 5/23 : I don't know who this group is; they are lawyers and lobbyists who sometimes work for municipalities. We just started getting these weekly summaries/reports. I've looked at their website so I get the basics but am still not clear about what they are really like. This is a sort of newsletter/overview of the Statehouse legislation for the week. Seems designed to drum up business...I detect a slight right-leaning bias. If anyone knows more about the firm, feel free to share.
GCCHD Press Release re: Motorcycle Safety Month and Traffic Fatality Report
GCCHD re: Tractor Pull Benefitting Health Foundation
Lori Askeland re: Testimony Before Senate Finance Committee:
This is what I presented to the Ohio Senate Finance committee on May 19th. But I was more blunt in my testimony: I said they should raise taxes and revenues from wealthy people as part of the plan to deal with the budget deficit.
Pat Murphy re: Fracking Information : I believe Pat simply provided some articles (there was no name on them in my packet indicating who had sent them.) We welcome information; it's most helpful, however, if each item has a clear cover note or email identifying who is responsible for bringing it to our attention.
Vickie Hennessey re: Letter and Information on Fracking: also opposed to AMP gas plant
Yellow Springs Home Assistance Program re: Services Available
Sharon Potter re: Monthly Financial Statement
Christine Roberts re: Opposing Fracking
also opposed to AMP gas plant. Both Roberts and Hennessey suggest that we craft a request for proposals for renewable "intermediate" sources of power.
MORPC re: Newsletter


Emergency Reading and Public Hearing of Ordinance 2011-15 Approving a Contract with AMP for the Fremont Natural Gas Facility I do not feel I have fully grasped this proposal, and I am still thinking carefully about it, and would like to hear from citizens. This Fremont Natural Gas plant would be a source of "intermediate" power: that means the energy we use during work-week days, from dawn until night. Since it's 5 days a week, 16 hrs per day it's sometimes called "5x16" power. We have received some confusing and contradictory advice; an external consultant to a group of AMP municipalities looked at this and said don't sign because they thought it was base power (24/7 power), which they say we have enough of. But, while this could be used as base power, AMP is going to use it as intermediate power--because it can be and will be shut off on weekends. Moreover, from looking at the colorful graphs of our likely future energy needs, it seems pretty clear that, without dramatic reductions, we will need new sources of "intermediate"/ 5x16 power in our near future.

So I am still trying to understand the projected future needs of our village and how this would play into those needs.
  • One thing I know for sure: THE BEST thing we can do now for our electrical-power portion of the environmental crisis is work to find ways to lower our home energy consumption and our consumption of all manufactured products. The 10% club is full of great ideas.
  • Some things that I'm pretty sure of:
1) Should we vote to reject this facility, we won't stop this facility from opening and operating;
2) and even if we that were not the case, it's pretty clear fracking will not stop immediately: the demand for natural gas is huge overseas as well as here, so if there is gas available to be fracked, it almost certainly still will be, and our current governments are heavily lobbied, and campaigns are heavily subsidized by these industries, so sensible regulation must be fought for tooth and nail and is looking very uncertain;
3) Also, while one recent study
that our Energy Board and some citizens are citing made what I believe to be a very interesting claim that emissions from natural gas are worse than from some coal emissions: That study
is quite likely flawed--see this analysis by a NASA climate scientist--who is very critical of the gas/oil industries--whose research was used to help make the case
(even the comments on that link are amazingly excellent and thoughtful, btw--it's really worth a read). The bottom line: Coal mining--particularly mountain top removal coal mining--also produces fugitive methane emissions that are, at best (still wastefully) just burnt off: this study did not fully account for that--ironically in large part because the industry is so resistant to any reporting on these facts. Therefore...

4) ...I remain strongly persauded that on almost every conceivable level, coal is the worst possible form of energy for us to use--it is horrific at every step of the path and far too many old coal plants like our Gorsuch facility, which is thankfully closing, are the worst of the worst because they've been grandfathered in to avoid complying with the Clean Air act--and it remains a dominant form of energy in Ohio.

5) Many--probably most?--environmental scientists thus still regard natural gas as a "bridge" fuel to a more renewable future and preferable to coal. Although it remains true that we cannot be 100% sure what the total emissions are from any of these industries, please do NOT underestimate just how bad coal mining and burning is for the planet and the local environments around where coal plants are located. Yes, fracking is bad: but mountaintop removal and coal burning and the by products of mining and burning coal are horrific and horrifically damaging in virtually all of the same ways that fracking is bad as an extraction method. Coal mining today does almost everything that fracking does and more. Then, once gas is extracted it is considerably less productive of both greenhouse gases and of particulates, which create breathing problems, contribute to asthma, and lifelong lung damage--gas produces virtually none of these. Coal damages horrifically and often invisibly at every step of the path.

The risks of saying "no":
There are currently no good, renewable alternatives on the market for this "intermediate"/5x16 energy. The main problem being the lack of ability to store energy from things like wind or solar. Wind and solar are not viable for us at this point, where we are, for this 5x16 usage. Thus we will likely still end up buying the same (or worse--coal) sources of energy, and this will likely come at higher cost, on the open market. Moreover, this is a new, state-of-the-art facility that is already nearly completely constructed (unlike the coal plants we turned down in 2007) and has been purchased for what seems to be a very good price, and it has been built to much better standards than most of Ohio's currently operating power (mostly coal) plants.

So while the energy from the 50 year contracts on coal plants that we turned down is reportedly costing more than expected, energy from this one would more likely be lower than market costs. The higher costs of buying on the open market hurt lower income and fixed-income people in our community harder than they hit higher income people. Although we are doing some things to support our rate payers in usage reduction, there's still inadequate infrastructural support for dramatic reductions of one's energy usage. So it takes a great deal of time, effort and often some initial investment to cut back. Thus, the attempt to lower our usage also often burdens lower income people, people who work long hours or have disabilities, more than able bodied people on comfortable incomes. Moreover, we're a small town: while our saying "no" has symbolic power and may have marketing power for us, it likely has little practical power against the massive energy companies that control all the fossil fuel mining.

The risks of saying "yes"
: We lock ourselves in for 30-years in a contract for natural gas energy that lawyers call a "hell or high water" contract (I'm not joking! two lawyers in our documentation used that exact phrase!): meaning we're on the stick even if it never comes to fruition. There seems to be some real possibility that storage for renewables and "smart grid" improvements could come on the market in, say, the next 5-10 years, which could make renewables more viable as a 5x16 fuel source. Because this contract may keep costs a little lower, there may be less incentive for people to make the effort to dramatically reduce their usage. We miss a chance to say no to a continuation of the status quo; to put our little bit more pressure, community pressure, on the suppliers to come up with viable alternatives to fossil fuels. We may hurt our ability to see ourselves, and market ourselves as a "green" town that cares about the environment. Right now, our state (especially) and even federal governments do not seem to many of us very serious about applying this pressure.

Final notes:
  • Some citizens have suggested we issue an RFP for a renewable source of intermediate/5x16 energy. One suggests that we do so in a very public way--making it a press release and using it as a way to announce ourselves as serious about our green commitments. This has merits, in the abstract, but I am concerned about the logistics of it, and I also know that our small staff is not in a position to take on another new task like that in the short term.
  • I am disturbed by the persuasive evidence that some citizens--Chris Roberts in particular--have brought forward that AMP so heavily loads these contracts in its favor, against its own member communities. While "hell or high water" contracts are apparently the industry standard, and are due in part to the practicalities of financing, it's also partly because the industries are so powerful and there is so little competition. Thus, even in a co-op like AMP, that creates standards that inevitably favor the industry over the needs of people / individual rate payers.
Conclusion: This is a close call for me--much closer a call than the coal decision was. (Especially with the benefit of hindsight; we now know that the Meigs plant never got built, but had expensive planning that we didn't have to pay for, and the other plant is charging above the market rate. So I am very happy with that position). But I am leaning toward saying "no."

I will be listening very carefully tomorrow night and very much still want to hear what people have to say. So please write, and/or bring your friendly face to the meeting tomorrow night!

First Reading of Ordinance 2011-16 Approving a Change in Sewer Fees to Permit Residential Installation of Deduct Meters This is the ordinance to allow "deduct" metering to sewers for garden watering, lawn watering, etc. While I understand the point, I was strongly persuaded by a letter from Nick Boutis and other community members who spoke to me privately, that we really need to be in the business of using whatever tools we have to encourage water saving, so I will likely vote no.

Emergency Reading and Public Hearing of Ordinance 2011-17 Amending Pool Fees
This is the "swimming for all" fees, and it's an emergency because the pool is already open! I support swimming for all.


Tornado Siren Update Lack of clear internal rules and communication, and some difficulties with the vendors, led to some of the problems that caused malfunctioning. We believe that staff has made good steps toward solving these problems.
DP&L Power Outage The losses of power over the last few weeks were not Village problems but DP&L problems. We get all the power we distribute via DP&L's lines: if they don't get power to us, we have no power to distribute.

A final note: I understand that it's upsetting when the power goes out, but it is inappropriate and mean and counterproductive to make wild accusations and threats to our hard working staff, particularly when an emergency is ongoing. Of course residents should call the Village to report problems, but please remember that these are human beings who are doing challenging work for all of us. Be kind. (See poem below, particularly the final lines for more.)

Technical Review Committee Membership Discussion Snafu. Partly my fault--we have 4 members of the PC on here, and that's a quorum, which poses problems beyond those we initially considered when we discussed this at the last meeting. I am striving to resolve it.

Discussion of Bryan Center Janitorial Service
During the summer we need to hire internally to clean the Bryan Center.
Liquor Permits (Chief Grote)
Having an interest in the Emporium, I will have to recuse myself. This is just the annual renewal of liquor licences for village businesses.
Discussion of Tree Pruning Parameters: We currently trim every line every 4 years, 10 feet around, but not usually above the lines. Part of the reason we had so many downed wires during the ice storm last year is that we don't tend to trim above the power lines. We could trim more aggressively and we have some good info in our packet advising us about this. I'd love your input! Do you want more cutting and likely more stable power? Or are you worried about too much cutting of trees?

POEM: I'm told by a New York reviewer that this poem was read at Jimmy Carter's inauguration in 1977. It's a fine one. I've had to read and re-read it. It speaks to me about the quiet power that is all around us--and particularly the ways we might sense that power in small towns. (When I think about the more banal power of this very computer and where it's coming from, I am aware of the disconnect between the direct and amazing power flowing in our universe and our power system of huffing and chugging plants and puny wires on seems so small and silly and small and wildly inefficient and kind of "missing the point" at some level.)

And the prayer at the end is so on point: calling us to our internal dignity, "tended strength...and kindness." Preach it, I say. May we all chant the final lines with him, "My life belongs to the world. I will do what I can." By James L. Dickey

... a separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power and a life-enhancing return ...

Van Gennep: Rites de Passage

Moth-force a small town always has,

Given the night.

What field-forms can be,
Outlying the small civic light-decisions over
A man walking near home?
Men are not where he is
Exactly now, but they are around him around him like the strength

Of fields. The solar system floats on
Above him in town-moths.
Tell me, train-sound,
With all your long-lost grief,
what I can give.
Dear Lord of all the fields
what am I going to do?
Street-lights, blue-force and frail
As the homes of men, tell me how to do it how
To withdraw how to penetrate and find the source
Of the power you always had
light as a moth, and rising
With the level and moonlit expansion
Of the fields around, and the sleep of hoping men.

You? I? What difference is there? We can all be saved

By a secret blooming. Now as I walk
The night and you walk with me we know simplicity
Is close to the source that sleeping men
Search for in their home-deep beds.
We know that the sun is away we know that the sun can be conquered
By moths, in blue home-town air.
The stars splinter, pointed and wild. The dead lie under
The pastures. They look on and help. Tell me, freight-train,
When there is no one else
To hear. Tell me in a voice the sea
Would have, if it had not a better one: as it lifts,
Hundreds of miles away, its fumbling, deep-structured roar
Like the profound, unstoppable craving
Of nations for their wish.
Hunger, time and the moon:

The moon lying on the brain
as on the excited sea as on
The strength of fields. Lord, let me shake
With purpose. Wild hope can always spring
From tended strength. Everything is in that.
That and nothing but kindness. More kindness, dear Lord
Of the renewing green. That is where it all has to start:
With the simplest things. More kindness will do nothing less
Than save every sleeping one
And night-walking one

Of us.
My life belongs to the world. I will do what I can.

James Dickey, “The Strength of Fields” from The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1945-1992. Copyright © 1992 by James Dickey. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press,

Source: James Dickey: The Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 1998)

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