Archive for Energy


One Year In – The Wins

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Photo by Jason Sandford

December 8th will mark one year since I was sworn in as a member of your Asheville City Council. It’s been a learning curve like no other in my life. Thanks for all of the support that’s been offered by friends and all of the prodding that been offered by others. I’ve managed to help get a lot done in this first year, and I’ve still got a ways to go. My colleagues on Council and staff have been patient and helpful as I’ve learned the ropes.

This week I’ll offer some different ways of looking at what’s been accomplished this year. The Wins, The Vote Spreads, and The Chronology will be featured in separate posts to give everyone various ways at looking at what’s what. I reviewed the minutes of all the Council meetings through Nov. 9 and recorded the stuff that I thought would be helpful for my personal reflection as well as your public reflection. It won’t be perfect, but it’s the best you’ll get anywhere.

Today’s chapter, The Wins, focuses on those things that made good on my campaign promises as well as several bonus items. I haven’t gotten everything done yet, but some big strides have been made.

When elected, I promised to try to make Asheville more affordable and more sustainable. I promised to work to increase multimodal infrastructure. I promised to make Asheville more welcoming to her LGBT citizens. I promised to help balance the budget and protect our progressive priorities. After the jump, you’ll find my list of The Wins.

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The Spill

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Frontline, the PBS in-depth news documentary series, recently did a one hour program about the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf. Frontline has a knack for uncovering backgrounds of stories usually lost between the headline narratives. They have won numerous awards including Pulitzer, Peabody, and Emmy. The BP Oil Spill should have been the type of rich story where they could do some eye opening journalism. Alas, they didn’t.

Greg Palast explains why:

“Despite press release hoo-hahs that this Frontline investigation would break news from a deep-digging inquiry, what we got was ‘Investigation by Google,’ old stuff from old papers that PBS forgot to report the first time around.
What us viewers were handed was a tale that could have been written by the PR department at BP’s competitor Chevron. The entire hour told us again and again and again, the problem was one company, BP, and its ‘management culture.’ (They used the phrase management ‘culture’ seven times – I counted.)
PBS sponsor Chevron is desperate to resume drilling in the Gulf. Shell is drooling over its delayed offshore project in Alaska’s Arctic seas. If they can isolate BP, the horror show can go on.”

Having watched it myself, I found the program lacking. It spent considerable time developing BP’s recent appalling safety record and board room drama, but comparatively little time on the Gulf spill itself. Having made the argument that BP’s cost cutting culture led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it could not really connect the dots beyond the obvious fact that Deepwater Horizon happened after the other accidents. And it didn’t spend any time on what happened in the days and weeks after the well blew.

Important questions about regulatory capture, the world’s increasing appetite for oil in the face of dwindling supply, and the total lack of disaster response preparedness were laregely ignored. You wouldn’t even know Halliburton and Transocean were partners on the rig, having barely been mentioned. If this was Frontline’s big investigation of the biggest environmental disaster in US history, they failed by sticking too close to an already familiar thesis: BP is not interested in safety. D’ya think?

It might be tempting for everyone involved, including John Q. Public to let this disaster fall down the memory hole. Frontline’s puff piece only aids in the process. Joe Barton could become chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee. The other BP apologist, Rand Paul, won his Senate bid in Kentucky. Those of us concerned about Peak Oil and Climate Change or any of the number of other issues raised by this event need to keep workin’ it.

Read more about the current activities of the Oil Spill Commission here and here.

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Sustainability = Cost Savings

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On our agenda for Tuesday night is a report from the Sustainability Mgmt. Department about our municipal carbon footprint. It’s chock full of good news. We’ve reduced our carbon output by over 8% in the last three years, and there’s oodles of cost savings to go along with it. Whenever you hear someone incorrectly kvetching about Asheville not being fiscally responsible, feel free to point them in this direction. You can be especially smug about it if they’re global climate change deniers.

From the report:

Key Highlights from this Report:
• Tasked with a 6% reduction over 3 years the city delivered an 8.42% reduction

• The most significant reductions can be attributed to energy conservation in public buildings, streamlined efficiency in water distribution, and fuel/routing efficiency in transit

• The most significant opportunities for future reductions are in the fleet and streetlight sectors

FY 09-10 Financial Facts:
• Municipal energy spending totaled $5,349,610

• Carbon footprint reductions resulted in $336,216 avoided energy spending, which is a 5.91% spending reduction from the previous year

Carbon footprint reduction to date is 2,965 MT eCO2 which equals
• Annual emissions from 567 four door sedans

• Annual energy use of 252 homes

• Annual carbon sequestration of 76,026 trees

Check out the report for several very cool graphs broken down by department. After the jump find a graph that illustrates the trend we were on before 2007 and the trend we’re on now.

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Change is hard. You see that most when people who can change and should change don’t change. We voted for change in 2008. There was no mistaking that. President Obama campaigned vigorously on this theme and seemed to personify it by his very being. So you can imagine how hard change is when people who are all about change don’t want to change.

Bill McKibben recenty visited the White House to be told: there will be no change to the roof of the White House, no solar panels will be installed there. Conservatives, I’m sure, will shower lavish praise on President Barack Hussein Obama for continuing this tradition first established by Ronald Reagan. Progressives on the other hand, well here’s McKibben…

And a confession. We’d walked past Obama’s official portrait on the way out, and despite the meeting we’d just had, I couldn’t help but smile at the thought that he was president. I could remember my own enthusiasm from two years ago that had me knocking on doors across New Hampshire. I admired his character and his smarts, and if I admire them a little less now, the residue’s still there.

And so I couldn’t help thinking — part of me at least — like this: The White House political team has decided that if they put solar panels on the roof, Fox News will use that as one more line of attack. Jimmy Carter comparisons aren’t what the administration is after.

If that’s their thinking, I doubt they’re on the mark. As far as I can tell, the right has a far better understanding of the power of symbols. Witness the furor they’ve kicked up over “the mosque at ground zero.” My feeling is that we should use the symbols we’ve got, and few are better than a solar panel.

To be fair, if I were in the West Wing, THERE IS NO WAY I would accept Jimmy Carter’s solar panels, other than to donate to the Smithsonian. Instead, I would put up the latest and greatest photovoltaics money could buy. As McKibben says, a few solar panels are symbolic, but we need symbols in order to get the rest of the country to think about changing its habits. And we need capitols around the world to do the same thing.

The right wing and the main stream media parrot chamber might want to obsess over White House solar panels like they did the Ground Zero Mosque, or any of the other concocted scandals pointed out by Tom. These are just opportunities (now missing) for the administration to segue into all the positive things they are doing about clean energy. There is no reason to worry about linking solar panels to Jimmy Carter anymore. It is far better to link them to the BP disaster. It’s about clean energy versus dirty energy. Carter’s dilemma was about energy austerity versus prosperity. This administration’s dilemma is be about choosing the right kind of energy. [Note how austerity is bad energy policy but great fiscal policy!]

Change is hard when you let your fears run wild and imagine only negative outcomes. But change can be easier when you grasp the positive outcomes the change will bring, and have the confidence to forge ahead and make the arguments to convince fellow citizens. The West Wing lackeys are playing from an outdated political playbook. 2008 happened. It is time for the White House to be the change it wants to see.

Here’s some transit-related news for those of you who want more bike lanes, buses, and sidewalks: Hundreds of millions of dollars are potentially on the table for multi-modal transportation, but sadly – explaining how our community can get access to it is boring.

Therefore, I’ve written two versions of this post: A single-paragraph “TL;DR” summery (In bold below), and a longer explanation.

TL;DR summery: Complete this SurveyMonkey poll by Wednesday – September 22nd in order to encourage The Powers That Be to allocate more resources to multi-modal transportation. If you don’t, it’s likely that in 2015 you’ll be lucky if they fund a rusty “share the road” sign along an 8-lane highway. Again, here’s the link:

Longer explanation:

Contrary to car-addicts claims, the reason our region doesn’t have more sustainable transportation options isn’t because of money, geography, technology, or demand … it’s because when asked, the ones who usually show up to be heard are developers and highway contractors. This is sad, but logical; since you don’t stand to gain millions of dollars by attending long, boring, MPO meetings.

What’s an MPO, and why are these meetings important?

Glad you asked.

The Feds require urban areas to have a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to plan and approve all federal transportation spending within a region.

Every 5 years, this MPO updates its Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). As part of this process, the MPO takes public comments on the draft plan. The Federal Highway Administration holds MPOs and state DOTs accountable for how they incorporate these comments into their ongoing planning process.

This is a key time to make your views about the region’s transportation system known; because these comments and survey responses will, by law, be shared with powerful elected and appointed officials at the state, local, and national level – which in turn become incorporated into their long-range planning, which eventually translates into building projects.

These comments also influence the MPO when they have opportunities to spend short-term funding.

For example, just last year the MPO received $6.1 million to directly allocate from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Over half of this funding was devoted to bicycle and/or pedestrian facilities. The activism of local citizens helped make that happen, but in order to make bigger changes (Such as making sure all road facilities are built to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians, or shifting larger amounts of funding from highways to public transit.) much more citizen input is needed to document what is important to residents of the Asheville area.

Okay, I can tell that you’re itching to get involved. What can you do?

The good news is you _don’t_ need to attend a long meeting. (It’d be helpful, but not required.)

What you SHOULD do is:

1) Take a few moments and read through the LRTP and/or swing by the open house this Wednesday, September 15th at the Buncombe County Training Room, 199 College St, Asheville, from 2–8 p.m. (College Street by the traffic circle)

2) Take the survey at this link and/or drop an email about your thoughts in the LRTP to:

As far as I know, only six people have taken the survey so far – so if people who want multi-modal infrastructure speak up now, it will go a long way.

– pvh


Sustainable Asheville

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David Forbes takes a look at the movement on an important ordinance that will alter the way we build in Asheville. Go give it a read and join the conversation at Mtn. X.


It’s Called An L3C

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There’s a new company in town — an L3C. Okay, it’s not here yet, but as soon as Gov. Perdue signs SB 308, North Carolina will join Michigan, Vermont, Illinois, Wyoming, Utah, and (in 2011) Maine in allowing this hybrid business entity that appeared first in Vermont just two years ago. It is the kind of vehicle we could use to help put workers displaced by plant closings back to work in WNC. Wikipedia describes the L3C this way:

The L3C is a low-profit limited liability company (LLC), that functions via a business modality that is a hybrid legal structure combining the financial advantages of the limited liability company, an LLC, with the social advantages of a non-profit entity. An L3C runs like a regular business and is profitable. However, unlike a for-profit business, the primary focus of the L3C is not to make money, but to achieve socially beneficial aims, with profit making as a secondary goal. The L3C thus occupies a niche between the for-profit and charitable sectors.

Henredon Furniture, Morganton, NC (Burke County)

N.C. Senator Jim Jacumin, a Republican who represents Burke and Caldwell Counties, introduced the Senate bill which passed in the House on Thursday without a single No vote. The N.C. Center for Nonprofits described his intentions:

N.C. Senator Jacumin envisioned L3Cs as collaborations between local nonprofits and failing furniture or textile businesses. These L3Cs would use investments (direct investments, grants, or low-interest loans) from private foundations, businesses, and individuals to purchase and upgrade factories to make them more energy efficient and less expensive to operate. The L3Cs could then lease these factories to manufacturers at competitive rates that would help keep manufacturing jobs in local communities.

The purpose of the L3C is to assist small businesses that might not be able to get off the ground if they had to pay investors a commercial rate of return. Like MOOMilk, a local organic milk company in Maine. Like small-business start-ups in struggling towns with high unemployment. Or to renovate existing factory space. Or newspapers big and small, for example. For the socially responsible investor, this is a way to do good — including put people back to work — and make a few bucks along the way. The L3C’s creator, Robert Lang, CEO of The Mary Elizabeth and Gordon B. Mannweiler Foundation, Inc., calls it “the for profit with a non profit soul.”

Rush Limbaugh calls it an idea thought up by liberal “wackos.” Rush believes “this is social engineering … designed to pervert capitalism” and “propagandize the American people in the name of the Obama administration.”

Where do I send the check?

Then again, maybe Ashevillians should just invest in more high-priced condos?

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Return to Pandora

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Just recently we finally got around to watching “Avatar.” Yes, we’re kinda behind the popular cultural curve, we know. Occasionally, however, lagging the curve brings with it some added perspective.

In advance of the film’s release, a flurry of articles portrayed “Avatar” as a Hollywood slam against the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions. As the Telegraph put it, “the most expensive piece of anti-American propaganda ever made.” Set against a backdrop of off-world resource extraction.

But watching “Avatar” for the first time in the wake of Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion, the ongoing BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and last week’s HBO documentary, “Gasland,” the film looks more like a slam against extraction industries than against American military adventurism. Even with recent confrontations on Grand Isle, LA, the film’s story line about private security contractors run amok now looks like the subplot.
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Categories : Energy, Environment, National
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On Provoking Your Friends

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The other night Rachel Maddow commented on “how weak the political and rhetorical muscles get when they`re allowed to atrophy.” She was talking about the insular conservative media bubble, but well, a little Socratic method never hurt anyone:

…when Sharron Angle`s political career ended last night on local television in Nevada, it was a perfect case study in what happens if you don`t ever talk to people with whom you disagree. Because here is the thing when your positions are never questioned, you`re never forced to develop strong logic to back them up. When your arguments are never challenged, you don`t ever have to improve them. You don`t ever have to cast out arguments of yours that don`t make sense or learn how to deal with evidence that appears to contradict your conclusions. That`s why I regret that we don`t have more conservatives on this show. Because I do have a point of view, of course, but I like talking with people with whom I disagree, both because it is fun and selfishly because it makes my arguments better.

Conservatives would do better if their own friends would challenge them now and then. You learn little from sitting in a circle and agreeing with everyone else. Playing devil’s advocate and challenging the groupthink is always more productive. The same is true on the left.

The other day on this blog I road tested some ideas around a theme I’ve been working on: leadership on the left. A discussion of wind and solar energy provided the opportunity. I have grown frustrated watching liberals decry leaders in Washington for having no spines when so few seem capable themselves of making decisions when the choices aren’t widely popular or downside-free. But damn, if we don’t have the courage to boldly choose between vanilla and chocolate.

If we expect to get the country out of the mess it’s in, we’d better get better at being leaders capable of more than assenting to the obvious. Leaders need to make and execute plans. Not everyone can. Almost anybody can have a good idea. And ideas often improve when tested.

Categories : Democrats, Energy
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Which Way the Wind Blows?

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Cartoon by Phil Hands

With the Gulf Oil Disaster, Heath Shuler screening On Coal River in Washington DC, and last year’s Coal-Ash Spill in Tennessee, we southeasterners are more than ready for a new conversation on our energy future.

When citizens rose up back in 2006 to defeat the proposed construction of a peaking power plant in Woodfin, we were told by industry officials that there would soon be brownouts and that elderly people would die in their homes unless we decided to burn diesel fuel for energy upwind of west Asheville.

Despite the sea change in Americans’ perception of our fuel sources, there is no emphasis on diversifying the commercial power sources in western North Carolina. Last year when the topic of wind power came up, our Raleigh representation asserted that protecting views was more important than addressing our power needs. They passed a bill limiting the heights of wind turbines to 100 feet, knowing full well that the shortest commercial wind turbines stand 200 feet tall.

Today’s Asheville Citizen-Times reports on a poll taken by Public Policy Polling:

New polling organized by Taylor found that 61 percent of WNC residents thought the 100-foot limit was too restrictive, far too restrictive or inappropriate.

Only 21 percent said it was appropriate.

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Categories : Energy, Environment
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