Warren Buffett's NV Energy and the NVPUC Conspire to Destroy Rooftop Solar in Nevada
In February 2016, I traveled from Los Angeles to my home state of Nevada. For the past three years, new hires in the rooftop solar industry have been an engine of job creation in the Golden State. Economists up and down California cite the solar industry for its 20,000 new jobs in 2015 alone. Those jobs went mostly to the young and able. Able to sell door to door; able to handle thorny customer service issues; able to mount rooftop solar panels.
As I traversed Interstate I-15 North from the Los Angeles Basin to the Mojave Desert, I anticipated that Nevada, the Silver State, would be keeping pace with California in New Energy production. Arizona, which is Nevada’s more populous neighbor to the east, had already killed rooftop solar in favor of “Clean Coal”, Nuclear and Natural Gas fired electrical production. Surely, the State of Nevada could do better than their troglodyte cousins who live across the dwindling stream of the Colorado River.
As I left Baker, California, I could not wait to see the Ivanpah Solar-Thermal Station, near Primm, Nevada. The Mojave is a large desert, so one must remember that the Ivanpah Valley is still within the borders of California. There, where developers thought that no one would notice, California’s Governor Gerry Brown had authorized the most destructive “green energy” plant in the country. Famous for the displacement and killing of many desert tortoises and the continued flash frying of countless birds, this ill-conceived power plant helps no one other than the old Google Corporation (Now “Alphabet” Soup) and its other ultra-rich investors.
With its three grandiose towers glowing brighter than the sun, Brightsource Energy’s solar folly in the desert is a defining boondoggle and tax-dodge for the rich and infamous. On my outbound trip, all three towers shone like molten pillars of salt. On my return trip, one tower was dark. If you pass that way, do not stare at the lighted towers. More than several seconds of exposure could damage your retinas. Along I-15 there are no solar-thermal warning signs, although there should be. The unearthly scenery at the power plant makes you feel like you are already in Las Vegas.
Several days later, while attending a rally for Bernie Sanders in Henderson, Nevada, I met a (former) crew from SolarCity, Las Vegas. They were campaigning hard for the public to realize that the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC) had recently killed the rooftop solar industry in Nevada. It had also killed 550 SolarCity jobs in Nevada. Through the application of an onerous negative "net metering" structure, the PUC made it impossible for even industry leader Solar City to continue installing rooftop solar.
When one thinks of the West, they often think of sunny Southern California. We also recall that Southern Nevada and Southern Arizona are deserts. Almost anyone could tell you that those two states are “hot, dry and sunny” on most days. As with California, both Arizona and Nevada are perfect places for rooftop solar installations. For reasons of fear and conservative orthodoxy, Arizona killed rooftop solar several years ago.
So, what happened recently in Nevada? Why would the Nevada PUC nix the development of such a natural and benevolent power source? Look no further than NV Energy, the private utility that provides electrical power to 2.4 million of Nevada’s 2.8 million residents. On May 29, 2013, NV Energy announced its acquisition by MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company (now Berkshire Hathaway Energy). In other words, NV Energy is now a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. whose chairperson and primary stockholder is billionaire Warren Buffett.
Apparently, Warren Buffett was still smarting from the ongoing decrease of coal shipments on his Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad. With coal in decline all over the country, Warren Buffett seized on solar as easy prey. The rooftop solar industry as we know it is less than a decade old. In a classic “Old Energy” vs. “New Energy” struggle, Old Energy won. “New energy be damned”, I picture Warren muttering under his breath. “Coal and natural gas are the energy stocks of the future”, he said to himself. Whether Warren Buffet lobbied directly or indirectly with the Nevada PUC, they got his message and destroyed the rooftop solar industry in the state.
Think about it. Once you have solar panels on your roof, with minimal cleaning and maintenance, you just sit inside your home and enjoy low cost energy produced by the sun. Under the Warren Buffett, Old Energy scheme, you will sit inside your home and pay for massive coal or gas-fired power plants hidden far out in the desert. Fossil fuel power plants require a steady stream of carbon stock, which in turn creates a steady stream of revenue for Berkshire Hathaway.
With Buffet’s monopoly control over electrical energy in Nevada, there was no contest. As expected, the PUC bet on what they believed was a long-term winner. If that winner created higher consumer costs, increases in global warming and more money for the billionaire class, so be it. Warren Buffet did not acquire his current wealth of $71 billion by playing nice. With his wan smile, the 85 year-old hustler might as well be telling all Nevada electrical consumers to “shove it where the sun doesn’t shine”. In their boldfaced destruction of the rooftop solar industry, that is what he and the Nevada PUC did.
If California and many other states can promote rooftop solar installations as the backbone of a new industry, why should Nevada kowtow to a billionaire and his cadre of wealthy stockholders? If Nevada were to allow a public referendum on the issue, rooftop solar would return to Nevada in a heartbeat. Pro solar advocates collected over 18,000 signatures during the recent Nevada Caucuses. Only days later, a political action committee (PAC) named "Citizens for Solar and Energy Fairness", designed to "advocate for, or oppose" net metering programs filed a legal challenge to the pro-solar referendum. In a recent statement to Politico, NV Energy admitted that it is "supporting" the new anti-solar PAC.
Residents of Nevada, it is time to put an end to this tomfoolery and allow a vote for Nevada to Bring Back Solar.
at 04:04 PM |
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In Southern California, Rain Barrels Allow Cost Effective Water Storage
In California, and throughout the West, residents who care about long-term environmental viability are monitoring and changing their water usage habits. Here at Casa Carrie, we have been replacing water-hungry outdoor plants. Our new landscape features succulents capable of growing in our now warmer, drier climate. In our parkway, we replaced eighty percent of the lawn with slabs of Arizona sandstone. In our shower and tub, we have five-gallon buckets ready to capture water previously lost during the warm-up process.
In November 2014, we purchased two fifty-gallon rain barrels. At that time, I assumed that Southern Californians would want to save every gallon of rainwater runoff possible. While that may be true, companies that sell rain collection barrels focus their marketing efforts on consumers in the Midwest, where summer storms are often plentiful.
An accompanying brochure scolded us not to leave our rain barrels out in freezing weather. If freeze damage occurs, it will void our warrantee. “Store your rain barrel indoors during winter months”, we were admonished. Copywriters of the brochure may wish to add “In cold climates” to their verbiage. At Casa Carrie, in Simi Valley, California, we rarely have frosty nights, even in midwinter. Unlike many Midwestern or Eastern states, Southern California gets almost all of its rainfall during the winter, between November and March.
After visiting our local Do-It Center, Home Depot and Lowe’s Home Improvement Center, we realized that not one brick and mortar store in our area stocked rain barrels of any kind. I can picture Midwestern marketing types believing the hype that “it never rains in Southern California”. If so, who in Southern California would want a rain barrel? My answer is that every homeowner in Southern California should want one or more.
After a Google search, I located the “Good Ideas 50 gal. Khaki Rain Wizard” on the Home Depot website. At just under $100 each, I ordered two, plus a sturdy plastic stand for each barrel. With free shipping from Michigan to California, the total cost for two barrels and stands came to $285. With a $150 rebate expected soon from our local water agency, our net cost for two barrels and stands was $135.
In December 17, 2014, four cartons arrived via United Parcel Service. Shipped from Michigan, the cartons looked like they had traversed an international war zone. Fortunately, the barrels, stands and hardware packages arrived mostly undamaged. Setup consisted of unpacking, and then using a wrench to thread the brass spigots into pre-threaded plastic holes near the base of each barrel. I found it difficult to tell if I was cross-threading the spigot as I turned the wrench. I suggest drop-shipping your barrels to a local Home Depot and then having them install the spigots, free of charge. After setup, the stands were strong and wide enough to stay upright, even on uneven ground. With their faux whiskey barrel appearance, the barrels blended nicely into our garden.
After placing each barrel under a rain gutter downspout, all we needed was some rain. By the next morning, we received about one third inch of rain, which quickly filled both barrels. Actually, one barrel was full and the other had a small pinhole leak on the “winter-storage hanging knobs” found near the top of each barrel. By the time I discovered the leak, I had recycled the shipping cartons. My easiest recourse was to keep the barrel and try to patch the hole with some glue. So far, that process has not been successful.
Reflecting on “quality control” back at the factory, I thought, “Hey, it’s a rain barrel. Shouldn’t it at least hold water?” Maybe the “Good Ideas” people should use an inspection lamp to check for pinhole leaks and then cushion the protruding knobs prior to shipment. An upgrade in the shipping cartons and heavier packing tape might help avoid damage to both the cartons and the barrels on their long trip to California.
After fixing the leaky barrel, I will have 100 gallons available for rainwater storage. With a net price after rebates of $135, that meant my first hundred gallons of rainwater cost me $1.35 per gallon. Luckily, we were able to use all 100 gallons before the next storm hit. Although the second storm brought less rain, runoff again filled each barrel. By then, my cost for stored rainwater had dropped in half, to $.68 per gallon. At first, that seems like a lot of money for such a modest collection of water. However, we can now reap the benefits of chlorine-free garden water for decades to come.
Now, in mid-February 2015, blizzards and freezing weather continue to lash New England. Boston has received over six feet of snow in less than a month. Here in Simi Valley, California, it is eighty degrees Fahrenheit outside and there is no precipitation in the forecast. Since December 2014, Mother Nature has filled our rain barrels three times. Along with the other buckets that we used to collect rain and shower water, we have saved and reused over six hundred gallons during this rainy season alone.
Here is an idea for homeowners all over Southern California and the West. Rather than letting your rainwater run into storm drains, install rain barrels and residential cisterns throughout California. If all homeowners participated, California and the West could save untold amounts of our most precious resource, which is clean potable water available to all.
at 12:37 PM |
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In California, Private Lakes Scramble for Sustainable New Water Sources
In 2014, California state government began to take the Great Western Drought seriously. The state legislature passed bills to authorize the sale of over $7.0 billion in “water bonds”. That legislation aimed to add more long-term water storage, clean up polluted groundwater and regulate indiscriminate water mining. For the first time, California required local and regional water officials to manage their ever-shrinking supply of groundwater. Although the legislation may provide some relief a decade hence, we expect to see little relief from current water shortages.
About eighty percent of the developed water supply in the state goes to the seemingly insatiable needs of California’s agribusiness. Even so, the governor recently asked all Californians to reduce water usage by at least twenty percent. During 2014, Northern California scored better on water saving than Southern California. Did necessity or indifference drive Southern Californians to use more water per capita than their northern neighbors?
In Orange County, California, Lake Mission Viejo is a reservoir created solely for the private recreation of its members. With a surface area of 124 acres and an average depth of thirty feet, that “fake lake” comprises 3,720 acre-feet of water. According to water management standards in the U.S., a water supply of that size could support 3,720 suburban households for one year.
Rather than devoting lake water to the needs of all Californians, the association that owns Lake Mission Viejo dedicates the lake to the exclusive water sports and scenic enjoyment of its members. Although the Lake Mission Viejo Association is exploring ways to reduce water usage in and around the lake, currently they fill their lake with up to eighty-eight million gallons of drinking water each year.
In the 1960s, during the creation of Westlake Village, California, developers dammed up Lower Triunfo Canyon, and then dubbed the seasonally dry arroyo "Westlake". Upon completion of the planned community, the Westlake Lake Management Association (WMA) became responsible for dredging, maintaining and refilling the lake as necessary.
As the ongoing water crisis in California intensified, WMA found that traditional groundwater sources for its own “fake lake” were dry. In order to keep Westlake full and its surrounding property values high, WMA recently tapped potable (culinary) water supplies. With summer evaporation rates of over 900 gallons per minute, seasonal inflow of potable water at the lake is equal to a two-outlet fire hydrant fed by a twelve-inch water main.
Similar to Lake Mission Viejo, there is limited public access to the shoreline at Westlake. One can enjoy a sunny winter afternoon on the patio at Boccaccio’s Restaurant, and then stroll along a promenade adjacent to the lake. In keeping with the tranquil atmosphere of the place, all private watercrafts on Westlake are either electric boats or sailboats. From a residential perspective, Westlake is an idyllic setting. With the tightening of domestic water supplies throughout California, residents and visitors alike should enjoy the lake while they can.
In the second half of the twentieth century, development of new “fake lakes” in the desert-like conditions of Southern California was still a viable business option. Lake Mission Viejo and Westlake are prominent examples of a Southern California trend that ended when developers finished filling Lake Mission Viejo with imported water in 1978. At both lakes, unscrupulous or ignorant developers sold aspiring Southern California homeowners “lakefront property” adjacent to potentially unsustainable bodies of water.
In 2014, many water wells ran dry throughout Southern and Central California. Hardest hit were the poor and working class communities of the San Joaquin Valley. Ironically, irrigation districts in the same area consume almost half of the developed water supply in the state. In that area, farmers cherish their nut tree crops, which are notorious water wasters. There are credible estimates that it takes one gallon of irrigation water to create a single almond. With 944,000 acres of nut tree crops planted in Central California, just “a can a week” is all that the Almond Board of California TV ads ask us to consume. If their ads admitted that production of just one can of almonds requires several hundred gallons of water, how many of us would buy a can each week?
Many San Joaquin Valley farm workers and their families bathe with buckets of cold water and rely on donated bottled water to survive. Meanwhile, residents of Westlake Village and Lake Mission Viejo, ply their exclusive lakes on electric boats, eating California almonds and drinking Perrier.
It is a free country and if you have the money, you can buy the resources for your own pleasure. With luck and money, you can keep an unsustainable lifestyle going long enough to sell your fake lakefront property to the next true believer. If I owned lakefront property in either community, I would sell my property and move away while the lakes are full and the unsuspecting are still ready to purchase. After all, every bubble must someday burst.
at 04:49 PM |
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Grand County Council Plans to Desecrate Sego Canyon Ancient Indian Heritage Site
Years ago, I asked several Moab, Utah natives where to see the best of local Indian rock art. More than one suggested that I visit Sego Canyon, near Thompson Springs. From Moab, it was an easy drive north on U.S. Highway 191 North and then to Interstate I-70 East. Soon, I exited at the Thompson Springs off-ramp. From there, it was a short jaunt north via Utah Highway 94 to what remains of the town once called Thompson.
Blessed with adequate water in a desert environment, old Thompson was a natural gathering place. From the time of the Ancients until now, the wells at Thompson have supported human, animal and spiritual life. Water was so important in the region that the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway laid its mainline tracks through Thompson in the 1880s. From then until the advent of diesel trains in the mid twentieth century, every steam engine that plied those tracks stopped in Thompson for water. In his seminal book on desert ecology, Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey once traveled from Moab to the whistle-stop at Thompson to catch an eastbound passenger train.
In the 1890s, Harry Ballard discovered and mined coal in the upper reaches of Sego Canyon. For a few years, the town of Ballard flourished. In 1914, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad built a spur line from Thompson to the coal camp, which crossed the stream thirteen times in its five mile journey. In a precursor to what may soon reoccur in Thompson Springs, the watercourse at Ballard dried up and investors soon abandoned the enterprise. Today, Ballard is a ghost town, crumbling back into the floor of Sego Canyon.
In the early 1970s, when contractors finished Interstate I-70, its route paralleled both the railroad tracks and old U.S. Highway 6 & 50. As a remote highway construction camp, Thompson bloomed briefly in the desert. To this day, the Utah Transportation Department maintenance shed and yard serve the lonely stretch of I-70 between Green River, Utah and the western border of Colorado.
Sometime after I-70 opened, Thompson became the “Thompson Springs” that we know today. When the interstate highway bypassed Thompson Springs and steam trains no longer stopped, the town became an afterthought to the world of transportation. Old mobile home parks now stand empty of dwellings. During my visits, I found no overnight lodging available there. A motel and restaurant across from the old rail depot stood gutted and forgotten. Even so, a few hardy souls still live in Thompson Springs. Other than the trains that rumble through town, the people of Thompson Springs live with the luxury of a quiet existence.
Continuing north through Thompson Springs on Utah Highway 94, the road changes designations, becoming Sego Canyon Road and Thompson Canyon Road. Farther north, as it begins its ascent into the Book Cliffs, the road becomes BLM 159. With Thompson Wash winding alongside, signs of contemporary civilization quickly fall away.
About half way up to the border of the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation, there are a few wooden signs and a gravel parking area. From the parking area, it is a short walk to a series of Indian Rock Art Panels. Spanning several millennia, the panels include one in the ancient Barrier Canyon Style, several in intermediate Fremont Style and more art in Ute Historical Style. No other place that I know has such a concentration of high quality rock art from so many different eras.
After my first visit to the rock art panels at Sego Canyon, I dubbed them the “Sanctuary of the Ancients”. With so few visitors in the canyon, I found a solitude that one rarely finds in the High Southwest. The loudest sounds I heard were birdcalls and the rustling of sagebrush in the wind. My only living companions were cottontail rabbits and an occasional lizard, doing pushups on the rocks. As I watched, the changing light of afternoon brought life to the different figures carved, etched or painted upon the walls of Sego Canyon.
Not knowing ancient from recent Indian rock art, I formed my own creation myths from the figures that I saw. Some figures appeared to me as time travelers, perhaps from ancient realms or alternate dimensions. Others looked like families, holding tools and welcoming visitors to their land. If one were looking for ancient, mysterious or extraterrestrial characters to populate a play or novel, this would be their meeting place.
Upon my second visit, I had gained a bit more knowledge of Indian rock art. Even so, I experienced the same awe as on my first visit. Pausing, I looked up from the ancient Barrier Style rock art panel to see two godlike or perhaps human images imposed upon the stone surface above. Not until I returned to Moab and studied the photos from that day did I decipher the interwoven countenances that held court above that sacred site in Sego Canyon.
There, the faces I call Father Time and Mother Nature nestle in relief, cheek to cheek in loving ecstasy. Her countenance faces right, featuring voluptuous lips and nose. To her right and nestling with her face is a gray haired and bearded man, eyes closed in ecstasy. For millions of years they have occupied the canyon wall. A scant five thousand years ago, humans found this sheltered spot and carved or etched their sacred images upon the lower portion of the canyon wall.
Starting with the earliest of human civilizations, each generation seeks to leave its mark upon the land. From the pyramids of Ancient Egypt, to the Mayan temples in Central America, or the sheltered cliffs of Redrocks Country, humans have left their enduring mark. I often wonder how such stone edifices and drawings remain visible, even in our time. To me, they are the gifts from the Ancients to the people of today. In Sego Canyon, each succeeding culture revered the artwork laid down before, then added to the sacred artistry.
In the year 2014, the sanctity, solitude and ancient reverence of Sego Canyon may well end. After five or ten thousand years of respectful treatment by the humans who have visited Sego Canyon, the Grand County Council plans to put a stop to all of that. At present, all three options in the long-term usage plan for Grand County Public Lands dictate Sego Canyon’s demise. Without exception, all three plan options call for a fifteen mile long, one or two mile wide transportation corridor straight up Sego Canyon. Commonly called the “Hydrocarbon Highway”, this newly paved and widened road will serve a Mecca of tar sands mines planned beyond the rim of the Book Cliffs.
With their undifferentiated planning options, the Old Energy extractionists and their Grand County Council cronies have stacked the deck against antiquity and environmental preservation. Taking a shortsighted look at Grand County resources, council members and their Old Energy backers assume that there is no value in prehistoric and historic continuity at Sego Canyon. In the land beyond the Book Cliffs, there are tar sands to mine, hydrocarbons to extract and clean air to foul. As if there are no consequences for mining, transporting, refining and burning the dirtiest of fossil fuels ever discovered, the Grand County Council plans to help extract and transport as much dirty fuel as possible.
If a duly elected council proposed a hydrocarbon highway across Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, St. Peter’s Square in Rome or between the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, what would we think? No one in the civilized societies on this Earth would agree to such desecration of a religious site. Yet, Sego Canyon, as a sacred site, is older than Temple Square or St. Peter’s Square, and nearly as old as the Pyramids at Giza. If British Petroleum proposed a road and pipeline through the middle of Stonehenge, might the citizens of England raise their voices? By what right do seven council members in Grand County, Utah plan to desecrate and destroy one of the oldest sacred sites in the United States? We, the citizens of Gaia, this living Earth must raise our voices against the greedy desecration of the holy sites and sacred art at Sego Canyon.
If the seven council members have their way, they will end over five thousand years of human reverence for Sego Canyon. Instead, a paved highway will replace the winding dirt road and solitude will vanish from the land. When the last ancient rock art panel crumbles to the floor of Sego Canyon, will Father Time and Mother Nature still reside upon the brow of that canyon, or will they too fall in a heap on the canyon floor? Unless Grand County stops this folly now, we will have the human geniuses of its elected council to thank for the whole show.
In Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey rafts down a section of the Colorado River through Glen Canyon. By the time he could publish that book, the sacred sites in Glen Canyon lay beneath one hundred feet of Lake Powell water. For the rest of his life, Edward Abbey wrote about, made speeches about and generally railed against the travesty of Glen Canyon Dam and the huge evaporation pond we call Lake Powell. Sixty years later, will we stand by, ringing our hands about the imminent loss of Sego Canyon? Alternatively, will we inform the Grand County Council regarding the error of their ways?
If you care about preserving the “Sanctuary of the Ancients” at Sego Canyon, Utah, please send a letter to:
Grand County Council
125 E. Center Street
Moab, UT 84532.
Telephone (435) 259-1342
Also, send a copy of your letter to:
Mr. Fred Ferguson
Legislative Director, Rep. Rob Bishop
123 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
at 05:53 PM |
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