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November 09, 2006


What? Speaker-to-be Pelosi working for the good of the country? It's ironic how the Democrats go searching for leaders when this one is right under their "no's."

Great post, Sara, thanks.

wow. details and specifics.

economics and politics.


i hope comments like this will move us quickly away from the tedious, unsupported commentary that Nancy pelosi isn't quite up to the job.

as for political party power in general,

the democratic party that has emerged from the 2004 presidential defeat has a major opportunity to fold into itself (and has done so with candidates like collin peterson and jim webb) a number of individuals who might be called "good government" folk - that is, before that phrase became one of sneering opprobrium for goody-two-shoes who wouldn't tolerate a "little" good old fashioned corruption in their government.

"good government", not ideology, is what an enduringly successful political party must be about.

alternative energy in the minnesota farmlands is an excellent example. we need energy, but petrol-based energy provides short-term benefits and likely deadly long-term costs.

i would imagine there are many other solution-opportunities in the area of energy generation, conservation, and storage that would involve state or regional economies, just as coal and gas have has done in the high plains west.

we know about ethanol and wind and hybrid cars and solar cells.

we also need to focus a lot of attention, from basic research to engineering, on energy storage - batteries, in other words.

a good government (or maybe, "good-governing") party is concerned about it's society's energy needs (whether wood fuel or nuclear) before ideology,

about health before ideology,

about education before ideology,

about (real) national security before ideology,

about transportation before ideology,

about water supplies before ideology.

i would be most happy to see a democratic party arise from the ashes of 2004 that is focused on talking with and working with american citizens at every political level in an effort to work out effective solutions to some of these challenges.

i think such a party could remain in power for quite a while - if it can avoid the corrupting influence of its leaders using it's power for their personal benefit.

but getting into power and holding onto power are not ends in themselves. a party serves its own interests best when it uses its power to solve the large-scale problems that any society inevitably faces whether in crete, chaco canyon, 17th century europe, or the united states/north american society of today.

I hope your analysis pans out. I very much like the idea of staying on the attack, not the way the Rethugs do it, but the way suggested by your post. Chip away at the Republican seats by getting people there to see that the Dems deliver for them. Make it worth their while to vote for us, so they won't be tempted again by snake-handling Satans.

Will the Dems be able to cut a deal that reduces farm subsidies? At least the ones to Big Ag?

Sara, have you been watching the price of oil and gas?

Have you been keeping track of new exploration and development techniques?

I think that the American Public and the Politics as usual in Washington will not allow more than a "token" to alternative energy sources.

I am not saying that is good just that it appears that it will be business as usual.

Now with $80/barrel oil and higher, there could be more of a push.

Interesting. I believe she's that smart. All the better we got Jerry McNerney, a wind engineer, elected from CA-11.

This battle is going to take engaging an intellectual constituency for energy reforms -- and so far that has not made much of a dent with ordinary folks. We lost an energy proposition and a clean election proposition on Tuesday in CA because proponents didn't understand how very much they had to do popular education on these to get them over the top.

I worry about the thousands of geese and raptors perishing in Altamont wind machines, though reportedly there is a deal afoot to halt the machines when bird flocks are known to be traversing the vicinity, or following other seasonally predictable prescriptions written by biologists. However, raptors have an isolated habit of flight. Maybe the EIRs are addressing this. I am glad National Wildlife Defense Fund, Audubon, and others helped McNerney win. CA has two heartland long rivers, and the one in McNerney's district, the San Joaquin, has had water engineering empty its course of water for several decades, though there is a process recently installed to restore the SJoaquin to actually being a river in its reaches closest to the convergence with the Sacramento River, and their conjoined journey there forward into the SF Bay and ocean.

I have read the research is incomplete on the efficiency of corn ethanol; in CA it is reported as a boondoggle to underwrite midwest producers, and other biological systems could produce fuel ethanol closer to CA markets.

MK's words rang true. I recall some of the Latin American chagrin in the press around the time of the Brazil conference for the widening of the free trade zone. Today I looked at the foodfirst website. The topic is incompletely covered in the media, and concerns first raised in the 1980s persist, that textiles and food commodity trade are parts of larger economic profiteering and cronyism. As John Edwards' vice presidential candidacy proceeded in 2004, I looked at comparisons of Kenyan cotton with Egyptian, both respected worldwide; much of the web source material is behind membership paywalls. I was concerned about Edwards' geographic identification with a part of the US which has a history of preferring protectionism. Count me as a beyond liberal who would like to see free trade, but, instead is seeing sequestering of information and colonialist economics still steering international treaties. Environment and population are what I see as the best and most forward looking issues for the 100th congress. But Pelosi and Reid likely will be more practical than that far seeing vision, and we will be the better for their efforts in the near term.

Likely P+R will be saddled with blame by KRove for whatever the outcome in Iraq and all the other albatrosses Bush-II is carrying. I suppose that is why I like Sara's exploratory concept; if appropriately sized it could accomplish Sara's aims and strengthen the Democratic Party. We still are looking for a 2008 leader. The Draft Warner faction ostensibly remains quiescent; in many ways his views are far more regressive than Edwards'. I look forward to hearing the bright voices in the 110th congress.

I am open to other views on a Kerry topic which may reflect what Sara is addressing. It was my impression he garnered substantial fame for enjoyment of the out of doors. At the time of his candidacy there was tension over excessive proximity to a beautiful land's end spot on the Boston cape planned for a wind farm, with all the usual atavistic MA politics at play in the controversy; my assessment was Kerry avoided environment excessively in his campaign because of that divisive issue near his home, in a place in which he enjoyed wind and water sports. Pelosi is a very interesting and disciplined view of the future. When people get to know her they will realize she is more mainstream than the stereotypes based on geography. In CA terms she has been efficient, accurate, and eminently ordinary, while managing to stay tastefully ahead of most contemporary politicians. The faction of Republicans who are planning preservation of obstructionism soon will discover they have met a Democratic Party leader who easily will outwit them at each turn.

I suspect we need to comprehend that the "energy future" will include a much greater mix of technologies and sources than the present and past. What will make sense in California may simply be impossible in the Great Plains -- there will need to be a kind of mutual support for a whole menu of technologies, some of which will only apply to one region.

In farm country, I believe you can do a trade-off between current farm subsidy programs and investment in infrastructure and R & D for conversion of farm product to energy. As Ethanol is developing, the production plants are being built by Agricultural Co-op's largely locally owned, thus providing an additional stream of income to Farmers. If it is politically possible to use Rural Electric Co-ops to build regional electric distribution systems that serve wind generation sites, you could end up with largely regional consumption and regional ownership and profit distribution. Economically this would pay off in Rural America, which for years has seen the demise of many small towns and businesses, with an unhealthy deprivation of local services -- schools, libraries, police and fire and all. Corporate Agriculture screwed the economy of Rural America, and this is an opportunity to undo at least some of that damage.

and i believe that one of the laws passed in the energy crunch of the 1970's includes a provision that electric utilities must "buy" surplus electricity from individuals who generate their own electricity. i wonder if that might apply to co-ops as well.

widespread small-scale electricity generation, collected like the railroads used to collect grain?

could it be possible?

As a native Iowan, I am proud of the emphasis the state of Iowa is placing on energy independence. Currently we are #1 in wind energy generated per capita and lots of work is being done on ethanol and biomass as we strive to keep our enviroment clean and healthy.

You know if you think mid-sized or fairly small there are lots of possible technologies that could play at an economical rate -- let me add something I've read about in Texas.

Apparently there is research in West Texas to use played out oil holes, and dry holes that have long since been drilled, to do a kind of mini-geothermal. Those holes are deep enough that they have well above 212 temps at the bottom, meaning that putting in a pipe filled with water to the bottom of the hole would produce steam that can turn smallish high tech turbines in a return pipe to produce electricity. You can use filtered but unclean water in the system, and recover essentially distilled water on the return pipe, which can be then used for drinking water and other processes where clean water is essential. One system is estimated to be able to run a small industry or perhaps 1500 homes. Once installed it can be computer managed, minimizing labor costs. Up front costs are fairly high, but over time it pays for itself. This technology would not really appeal in Minnesota, but in Oklahoma and Texas, with all those dry holes GWB and his friends drilled, it could work. But one of the keys to this -- and all the rest of the ideas is to make certain that the resource and profits are not exported, or appropriated by Big Energy and Big Oil.

``Now with $80/barrel oil and higher, there could be more of a push.''

Well now jodi, that sounds like a good argument for encouraging a military strike on Iran.

As for the point about wind power and the high plains, I think that it is more than just the area in Minnesota and Iowa, that could be included, e.g., West Texas and the Panhandle, Eastern Wyoming, etc. What we need, if the means for this is not already in place, is the ability to even out power across the whole region, and indeed, points West and East of there, so that, if need be, electricty generated by a wind machine in the Texas panhandle, can keep lights on in St. Paul, if the wind is blowing hard in the panhandle, but not so much so in northern Minnesota.

As for the birds, this is a hard saying, but there is such a thing as natural selection, that is, it will be wind machine savvy birds that will survive and leave offspring. [It may be necessary to keep wind machines out of areas where the birds have no way around them. I take it that this last is the issue about the Altamont wind machines.]

Similar remarks, btw, would apply to solar power in areas of near constant sun, such as parts of eastern California, Arizona, etc. We need to be able to turn the whole collection of wind machines and solar power generators, put in all the favorable areas into one big system.

That said, Sara's point about Rural Electric Co-ops makes sense to me. Rent payments to farmers and ranchers for keeping wind machines on their land might help also.

Another bottom line, tho', will have to be a 40 or 45 mpg CAFE standard, preferably with a five year phase in. Recall that D's in Congress tried to pass a 45 mpg standard in the early 1990's, that would already have been completely in force by now. We are running out of time on global warming. If we are to hold to the damage that is already in prospect, about which we can do nothing because the greenhouse gases in question are already drifting up into the stratosphere or will be in the next few years, we must act and act quickly.


how do you get a "military strike against Iran" from my statement about $80 oil?

Actually I meant that alternative fuels, and locations would be given a push.

A strike against Iran would actually increase the price of oil.

``A strike against Iran would actually increase the price of oil.''

Precisely. Oil prices have been dropping back of late---to move them up over $80/barrel will take some kind of supply disruption, or serious threat thereof---enough to panic the oil traders. The most likely cause of a supply disruption that I can see at present would be a U.S. attack on Iran. This may be lack of imagination on my part :-) If the Straits of Hormuz were closed for a substantial period of time, for example, oil prices would go up like a rocket.

"That said, Sara's point about Rural Electric Co-ops makes sense to me. Rent payments to farmers and ranchers for keeping wind machines on their land might help also. "

Actually what farmers want is decent loans to buy the turbines over perhaps a 4-5 year mortgage. (Payback on one attatched to the grid is about 2.5 years). What they want local co-ops to do is employ techs and service people with whom they can contract, and put up the transmission lines from turbine to local hub. This makes the farmer and his local co-op a power producer, and the co-op either locally distributes the power (and bills for it) or sells it on the grid.

I have read in silicon valley press a byproduct of chip fab is what makes solar panels, and there is a competition between chipmakers and solar panel manufactures for sources of adequate supplies of the silicon material which both industries use. Beyond this shortage of materials, which makes solar construction slow because of inadequate production of panels, is the new economy of solar. For example, I read of HP selling one of its office parks to a builder who installed a solar array large enough to supply 1,000 families; and, as your commenter above mentions, yes, in CA if we produce excess for our own requirements the electric meter actually twirls in reverse as the homemade electric goes onto the public utility grid.

It is many years since I followed small power generation, however; at last glance some folks in Scandinavia who lived in fjiord country where waterfalls plunge thousands of feet, small streams were put to use for electric generation.

And on the solar topic again, the project at the former HP site, reportedly is amortized over 4 years, but I doubt the bookkeeping of the construction entity which is managing the project: I suspect the profits are intermixed inseparably with some realestate development onsite. The classic figure for amortizing solar a mere decade ago was 30 years; i.e., it was so expensive as to be cost prohibitive save for the upper class.

I have read, as well, that there is research into a microscopic material that holds vastly more promise than current solar technology, and it will generate electricity from something like a gritty paint film comprised of small particles which produce small charges of electricity; i.e., it is touted as going to take current solar panels into a microscopic realm and increasing output exponentially.

On ethanol, I have read in the current issue of Catalyst, the membership magazine for members of the Union of Concerned Scientists, much about ethanol's merits and drawbacks. It provides less energy than gas, so mileage decreased. Ethanol is a byproduct of many plant processes. The technology to extract it from corn is available. There is a newer technology still in development looking at prairie grasses whose cellulose also contains sugars that could produce ethanol, and, in fact, would yield much more ethanol than corn does. The publication mentioned is from an organization trying to sell books published by its members, and its website there has depth but is bulky to navigate, in my experience.

Someday I will ask ew if JDingell ever could align interests to encourage Detroit to fess up to its faked fleet mileage credits based on engines capable of running on biodiesel and other bioproducts. There is more on this on the UCS website, linked above. The gist is Detroit has manufactured engines with capacity to utilize several kinds of fuel but there is no such fuel widely available; yet, a decades old tax credit lets Detroit pay a billion $ less taxes based on the quixotic versatility of the motors it produces.

The current issue of Catalyst has a feature article on wind machines, showing some which are most efficient when 200 feet tall with outsized propellers; reportedly R+D is developing propellers that change dimensions like landing airplanes' wings depending on wind velocity, the aim being reduction of wear on current windmachine designs which function only on one rate of rpm. It is a new industry. Catalyst also discusses new aerodynamic tower designs less destructive of avians and less attractive to birds for habitat, comparing the new tower construction materials to the old fashioned design which was a lattice of spars; the new idea is making the entire vertical tower tubular, without any perches or nesting crannies. We will find the new design resembles something Quixote saw, doubtless; and it will be deja vu, in that vision.

I appreciate the thoughtful essay, Sara; and i leave this here, should you revisit.

Don't worry - no geese are affected by the wind turbines at Altamont Pass. It's not on their migratory route. In fact, even in areas where there are geese in proximity to wind turbines, such as Europe, they don't interact either.

In fact, Altamont Pass is something of a sanctuary amidst thousands of acres of housing developments. The whole area used to be farms, and the housing moved in, and the raptors, and the squirrels they eat, lost territory. There actually seem to be more birds in Altamont Pass these days than there were 15 years ago, despite the presence of wind turbines. There is also a major highway that runs through there.

On average (according to dozens of studies) a wind turbine kills two birds a year, generally sparrows. At Altamont, a specific raptor population is affected. But when we consider that huge swaths of the Midwest have no bird populations at all due to monoculture and pesticides, and consider the things that really kill a lot of birds (5 million birds are killed annually by cell towers, according to US Fish and Wildlife) the effect of wind turbines is minimal.

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