Archive for Energy

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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I didn’t see Gasland on HBO this week.

But I heard about it plenty:

Two months after the BP oil spill, it may be easy to hear the words “water contamination” and “drilling” and immediately think “Gulf Coast.”

But one filmmaker says there’s another water source at risk — and this one is in our own backyards.

In his new film, “Gasland,” filmmaker Josh Fox spotlights the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, a process that extracts natural gas from rock formations.

Fracking energy companies own this one-time democracy:

In 2005, the Bush/ Cheney Energy Bill exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing. Essentially, the provision took the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) off the job. It is now commonly referred to as the Halliburton Loophole.

What really pricked my ears was the flaming tap water.

Hmm. The sea has turned to oil. Water has turned to fire. Frogs, hail and locusts can’t be far behind.

Gasland is here.

Categories : Energy
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Gulf Oil

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Discover posts this NASA image:

Categories : Economy, Energy, Environment
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Joe Biden On Joe Barton and BP

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Is Conservation the Cure?

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toyota_prius008It seems so obvious. If everyone uses less oil, via sexy hybrid cars, or on the dole public transport, we’ll actually burn less gas, drill fewer seabeds, spill less lube and spew less carbon into the atmosphere. But if you said that, you’ve never met a man named Jevons. For he would tell you one thing: efficiency improvemnts only create more demand for the very fuel you’re trying to conserve.

If conservation is not the answer, what about generating new sources of fuel from crops? The 2005 Renewable Fuel Standard mandates greater biofuel usage over time and provides tax credits for biofuel producers. That ain’t no unfunded mandate. Problem solved. Just one thing. For biodiesel, the Renewable Fuel Standard never gets biodiesel beyond 5% of diesel fuel supply. So now all the sexy new diesels coming on the market (which are about 25% more efficient than their gasoline siblings) won’t accommodate anything more than B5 (5% biodiesel, 95% regular diesel). Never mind that my 1976 diesel Mercedes runs B100 without a problem (though 35 year old cars do encounter problems.) In that sense diesel engine technology has gone backwards, with Congressional approval.
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