Monday: Grey Bull

Hope you have some free time today to enjoy this short film. Grey Bull by Khoby runs 15 minutes long, but worth it. Its pace is slow, but the emotions this short musters are full and richly explored. I look forward to more from filmmaker Khoby.

Energy escapades
NV ENERGY: Last Friday I posted a link to a story about Nevada’s governor replacing a member of the Public Utilities Commission as a result of costly barriers to residential solar energy integration. Commenter jo6pac pointed out that Berkshire Hathaway-owned NV Energy (NVE) has been part of the challenge to increasing the use of individual residential solar-generated electricity in NV. I thought there was another electricity provider in Nevada besides NVE given the number of businesses switching from NVE. It’s a challenge, though, if NVE has near-monopolistic position in the state’s electricity market, especially since NVE has the second highest residential rates for electricity in the mountain west region.

But that’s only part of NV’s problem. Like much of the U.S., NV must phase out of fossil fuels like coal and gas — NVE’s standard energy mix relies on 75% or more fossil fuels. As a nation we’re not talking enough about exiting fossil fuels, and how to prevent economic damage while winding down an entire industry in the case of coal. The public does not owe corporations guaranteed profits, but there is a compelling reason for the state to minimize damage to the public’s interests by ensuring coal does not crash.

Putting aside that rather large topic, Friday’s story is really the inversion — it’s not the lone PUC commissioner who might have been batting for NVE, but the largest industry in the state damaged by electricity monopoly and using its power to persuade regulatory change.

This January 2016 article explains a lot: casinos want to exit NV Energy for another provider, but they are being assessed enormous exit fees over which they are suing. More than $100 million in fees between three casinos is a lot of pressure to remain with the status quo.

We’re entering a phase where electricity attains commodification — any supplier will do, and the user should be able to freely switch — but the traditional infrastructure based on coal and other fossil fuel sources with steep and long-term sunk costs can’t compete with commodified alternative energy suppliers. It’s a challenge not unlike the transition from brick-and-mortar retail to e-tail, or newsprint to online news. The legacy system must give way, but it’s going to hurt when there is little forethought put into the transition. Nevada’s PUC is in for a very rough ride.

SOLARCITY: Tesla announced it’s buying out all of the solar power systems company for a price $200 million below its initial offer last month. While SolarCity’s headquarters are in San Mateo, California, after the merger it will have battery production facilities in the Gigafactory under construction near Reno, Nevada. Last year the SolarCity sued Salt River Project (SRP) claiming SRP’s increased rates for residential solar energy users violated antitrust laws since the consumers could not leave SRP’s portion of the grid.

Which sounds a lot like the situation in the rest of Nevada where NVE charges higher rates for residential users who install solar panels as jo6pac pointed out (more in NYT via bloopie2). Is there another antitrust suit in the offing? Or will billionaires Elon Musk of Tesla and Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway have a meeting of the minds?

Frightening flooding

Troubled Turkey

That’s it for Monday, only one more month before Congress returns to DC. See you tomorrow!

33 replies
  1. rugger9 says:

    The NVE issue combines a legitimate issue (infrastructure support) with crass profiteering (case in point, the casino shakedown). Now, when one considers that almost all of the utilities get subsidies to maintain the physical networks it is not as grim as it can be described by NVE (or PG&E or SDG&E, etc.), but their business model will have to change to allow competition on the networks they built (but using public money) and it will not go well, especially when the meter rolls backward.
    I am baffled by NATO’s silence on the Gulenist crackdown, since it appears to go beyond the actual coup players into a war on ideas. That’s a Putin play, not a democratic one, and I had opined last week about whether NATO would tolerate what is tracking toward and Islamist caliphate (in every sense of the word) or pull the plug on Turkey. In that event I do not see Erdogan allying with Putin (Russia and revived emphasis on Orthodox Christianity), but more likely with the GCC to provide a veneer of respectability to Erdogan’s support of the Sunni rebels (including ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliates), which may be an acceptable temporary solution for NATO. Whether Assad, Putin and/or Khameini will leave Erdogan alone is unknown.
    One must understand that Erdogan is undoing the Turkish ethos since Kemal Ataturk who was quite firmly secular because he felt that the religiosity of the late Ottoman Empire was the root of its weakness. While the fundamentalists are gaining ground they are by no means a true majority.

  2. HJL says:

    Where is the story about the money given by Gulen to the Clinton Foundation?????? Not important. You know Trump…….

  3. bmaz says:

    Golly there new commenter, if you have a link as to your big “story”, why don’t you post it if it is all so sure fire important? Otherwise, you are trolling useless smoke and vapor.

    • rugger9 says:

      Check for sockpuppetry. Long ago, I used to follow Ed Schultz’s board who had a repeat offender named “parsnips” who was summarily banned but would post under new names. So, the board had Parsy awards for the first ones catching the troll. It’s probably WOW or bevin creating their own personal echo chamber, follow the metadata.
      As I had noted before, it appears a line has been crossed by Erdogan from plotters to the quashing of ideas. Now, Turkey as far as I know doesn’t have anything like the First Amendment, but for almost a century since the Young Turks took over, and especially since Ataturk laid down the law in the early 1920s it has been a secular state if not democratic. That seems to be changing under Erdogan. If Gulenism was a problem it has been around for a long time, so why now?
      From Wikipedia, see how radical this guy is, and note how thw “why now” question is answered:
      Gülen teaches a Hanafi version of Islam, deriving from Sunni Muslim scholar Said Nursî’s teachings. Gülen has stated that he believes in science, interfaith dialogue among the People of the Book, and multi-party democracy. He has initiated such dialogue with the Vatican and some Jewish organizations.

      Gülen is actively involved in the societal debate concerning the future of the Turkish state, and Islam in the modern world. He has been described in the English-language media as an imam “who promotes a tolerant Islam which emphasises altruism, hard work and education” and as “one of the world’s most important Muslim figures.”

      Gülen was an ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan before 2013. The alliance was destroyed after the 2013 corruption investigations in Turkey. Erdogan accused Gülen of being behind the corruption investigations. He is currently on Turkey’s most-wanted-terrorist list and is accused of leading what the current Turkish officials call the Gulenist Terror Organisation (FETÖ).A Turkish criminal court issued an arrest warrant for Gülen. Turkey is demanding the extradition of Gülen from the United States. However, US figures in general do not believe he is associated with any terrorist activity.
      [snark alert] Clearly this is a totally antisocial fanatic intending to destroy us all…. The fact that the “current Turkish officials” had a falling out because he flagged Erdogan for golden toilet seats (part of the 2013 corruption scandal) is COMPLETELY MEANINGLESS, nothing to see here…

      • bevin says:

        ” It’s probably WOW or bevin creating their own personal echo chamber, follow the metadata.”
        Yes, follow the metadata by all means.
        It is a sad fact that, in recent days the collegiality and toleration that used, on the whole, to characterise the discussions on this blog has suddenly dissolved.
        Is this because of the Conventions? Is the nonsense of Russian influence to extend even to here?
        It ought to go without saying that Rugger’s charge is without foundation. I cannot imagine that Wayoutwest, with whom I disagree more often than not but whose contributions are invariably provoking and useful, is guilty either.
        We all ought to pause and consider very soberly before tossing out accusations of dishonest behaviour at others.
        For my own part I am assuming that Rugger is either inebriated or unbalanced by some unfortunate event.

        • Rugger9 says:

          “We all ought to pause and consider very soberly before tossing out accusations of dishonest behaviour at others.
          For my own part I am assuming that Rugger is either inebriated or unbalanced by some unfortunate event.”
          Thanks for proving my point, troll. QED.

      • Rugger9 says:

        Daily Caller is Tucker Carlson’s present from his Mommy to keep writing. It has zero news value.
        Nonetheless, the chances that Gulen is “mysterious” is zero.
        BTW, nice of you to decide WOW’s and your inputs are thought-provoking. Nope, there is a reason bmaz wants to ban WOW for cause. Try again. You’re the one who started the name-calling first, so all I ask is that provide links, and to answer the question why a KGB/GRU mole would make a good POTUS. You seem to dodge answering questions as well.

      • bmaz says:

        Huh. Thanks, I had never heard or seen that before. Doesn’t really establish what our new friend HJL claimed above near the top of comments, i’e. that Gulen is particularly far up into Clinton or the Clinton Foundation. In fact, seems to be rather pedestrian stuff so far. Policy advocacy groups tent to advocate policy, and these actions were not even apparently by Gulen personally. Interesting to know though.

  4. seedeevee says:

    “We’re entering a phase where electricity attains commodification — any supplier will do, and the user should be able to freely switch”

    Uhh, Enron anyone?

    • rugger9 says:

      Good observation, since Enron’s trading created the chaos that took got Governor Gray Davis recalled in CA. Gray was the name and frankly it described him well, and after all of the hoopla and election Ahnold came in, and the facts came out showing that it was a manufactured crisis.
      That’s why regulation exists.

      • P J Evans says:

        A big part of the recall was the car registration thing – the GOP and the Dems had agreed on a temporary rollback in the amount, and when the end date came along the GOP started whining about how they thought it was unfair and it should be permanent.

        • rugger9 says:

          That may have contributed, but as a voter in CA in those times, it was all about how Gray couldn’t keep the lights on.

  5. Rayne says:

    seedeevee (6:10) — Not like Enron. Like the consumer chooses off the shelf, so to speak.

    That’s the problem the casinos are facing now — the market is ‘managed’ by NVE, which chooses the source of energy, bundles it, and sells it with little transparency about what’s in the bundle or what the actual price of any energy in that bundle (whether coal, gas, wind, solar, other). Enron could manipulate any energy they sold because of the same lack of transparency and insufficiency of alternatives on the market from which consumers could choose.

    Ideally the customer has a standardized connection to which they attach their choice of battery/fuel cell/turbine/solar collector, whichever fits their price point and needs at that time.

    (Speaking of which, I notice nobody every asks what the hell happened to fuel cells…)

    • John Casper says:

      If you have time or the interest, “what the hell happened to fuel cells…?”

      From 2014, “”Rhubarb” Flow Battery Could Bolster Renewables Storage”

      “Rhubarb battery, anyone?

      A group at Harvard University has created an aqueous flow battery that uses a quinone, a type of organic molecule that happens to have favorable electrochemical properties. The particular quinone they used is nearly identical to one found in rhubarb.”

      • rugger9 says:

        For a long time, the large energy companies would buy up the patents for renewable energy processes, ostensibly to develop them, but more likely (as it was actually done) to spike them. Patents must be defended but not necessarily used, and so that meant that anyone wanting to use a renewable process would either have to pay a stiff royalty or would get sued by a corporation with lots of disposable cash. All in all too much for a startup. The energy company would then pivot when the market would render the old model obsolete having the patents in hand.

      • bmaz says:

        And to RAYNE – Actually, Toyota is putting a fuel cell vehicle into production, the Toyota Mirai
        Limited production, but still kind of exciting to see how it works (assuming it really comes).

  6. Rayne says:

    HJL (4:52) — Nice drive-by, dude. Let me guess you didn’t take even a second to read the academic opinion on Gulenists’ responsibility for the coup.

    When you come back, show your homework. if you come back.

  7. Rayne says:

    In re: Turkey’s coup — I am not convinced Gülenists or the U.S. being responsible for the coup.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “When you strike at a king you must kill him.” It’s this so-called coup’s lack of commitment to forcing Erdoğan out of the country and away from his seat of power which gives me pause. Had the alleged putschists forced him to accept asylum from another country where he remained in exile, I’d have called this a coup. But that didn’t happen — instead, the attack on Attaturk airport in Istanbul and the actions of July 15 served more like a Reichstag, offering Erdoğan an opportunity to complete remove all possible dissent to his assumption of unilateral powers.

    I’ll need more evidence this was a serious effort at a coup by non-Erdoğan parties.

    • Rugger9 says:

      Knowing the secularist nature of the Army, I would not be surprised in the least if the generals were behind this. Gulen is a convenient bogeyman, and as noted before, had worked closely with Erdogan until the latter started down the road to corruption and Gulen had to be silenced.

  8. bloopie2 says:

    “Ideally the customer has a standardized connection to which they attach their choice of battery/fuel cell/turbine/solar collector, whichever fits their price point and needs at that time.”
    Ideally, yes, but do you honestly think that is feasible in our lifetime? I personally don’t have ten thousand dollars or more to spend on an alternative energy source. Anyone want to give (not loan, give) me that money? And there isn’t much wind energy where I live, and not enough solar to power my house unless I destroy the appearance of the neighborhood (and the value of my house) with solar collectors. And we don’t have natural gas here, so I don’t see fuel cells as viable either. Hmmm. Maybe or even likely in 50 to 100 years, but for now, people who bitch and moan about the grid should not forget the fact that up until now (not counting emissions) they have lived a pretty darn good life on it. Like the husband who maybe you don’t totally “love” him any more but he’s always there and you’re not in the Alone column of life.
    You are always thought provoking, please excuse the above if need be, it’s Monday night tired.

    • Jim McKay says:

      What state are you living in ? (curious about solar viability in your location)

      > I personally don’t have ten thousand dollars or more to spend on an
      > alternative energy source. Anyone want to give (not loan, give) me that money?

      There’s a bunch of viable mean to do this.

      1st, in viable solar regions ROI is 7-12 years, all the while eliminating electricity and gas (gas if people replace gas appliances w/electric) bills. Financing is less then most folks spend on their automobiles.

      Most states still have subsides (tax credits), and with federal usually comes in around 30-35% of total solar installation cost. I did our house 5 years ago, powers everything. Loan has less then 24 months left. This system will work with little or no maintenance for at least 30 years, 22 of them w/near -0- utility bills.

      Panels all lie flat on our (pitched) roof: not a single complaint, ever… about change in neighborhood asthetics. Honestly, for me they are a symbol of elegance: no moving parts, -0- pollution, and essentially free energy from the sky for the next 25+ years!!! What’s not to like about that?

      Makes sense all the around AFAIC.

      Another alternative: several companies (that I’m aware of) mostly operating in western states are offering contracts whereby they own the installation and homeowner essentially leases them their rooftop space. Contracts are generally for 20 years, and they guarantee electricity bills at least 30% below your average over previous 2 years. They’ve done quite a few here (NM), new here. I’ve heard of no complaints.

      As far as grid, some food for thought. U.S. has most inefficient grid (by far) of any major economic power. I was well informed on stats when I “solared” our house, so these numbers are from memory and a little over 5 years old.

      U.S. grid loses +/- 30% of energy between generation and wall socket. Germany then was around 3%, EU average under 7%. That’s a hell of a lot of extra coal burned just to make up for all that loss.

      Pentagon is pushing hard for $400b for refurbishment of ’60’s era B-2 (hydrogen) bombs that NOBODY outside of military circles thinks we need: it’s a make work project for our labs and their contractors. Even 1/2 that devoted to rebuilding our grid (with a “smart” one) would go a long ways towards getting the job done.

      Just something to think about for “the greatest country on earth”. :(

      • John Casper says:

        Thank you.
        You wrote, “As far as grid, some food for thought. U.S. has most inefficient grid (by far) of any major economic power.”
        AFAIK, half the electricity generated isn’t used. It’s either lost in transmission or end users don’t consume it.
        Centralized generation, coal, natural gas, nuclear doesn’t make any sense in a post 9/11 world. Anyone with a few drones and some TNT can knock it out.
        Solar roadways could be the new backbone of our electricity grid.
        “The Solar Roadway is getting a (tiny) test along Route 66”
        “Solar Roadway, founded by Idaho couple Julie and Scott Brusaw, first started selling their solar dreams in 2010. They argued that their plan would deliver three times America’s electricity demands, and that their hexagonal solar panels would also filter stormwater, replace above-ground power cables, melt snow, and even light up to give warnings to drivers.”
        Even if the panels on the roadways aren’t the most efficient. The cabling creates a distributed, redundant network into which residential solar can plug. Store surplus electricity in batteries and sell it.
        Your point that the sun doesn’t charge for photons is vital.
        Why aren’t structures, where the sun hits, covered with solar panels? If urban and suburban ground isn’t agriculture–a park, playground, or rest area–won’t owners cover it with solar panels to make money? How low can we drive the cost of green electricity? We’re going to need a lot of it to clean up the mess we’ve made of the planet.

  9. Rayne says:

    bloopie2 () — When you buy electricity (or gas) from an energy company, you’re paying for:

    [cost of energy] + [maintenance expenses + cost of capital + interest on capital + profit margin]

    If you buy a residential solar power system, you’re paying:

    [maintenance expenses + cost of capital + interest on capital + profit margin]

    The problem for residential owners is that they must provide the capital in a lump sum, whereas buying electricity/gas from energy companies means the provider bears that burden.

    As I see it, the financial industry hasn’t yet figured out how to efficiently monetize and profit from funding the myriad residential installations versus making money off bonds and equities for energy companies.

    And as for appearances: there are numerous ways residential owners can keep their energy costs down without trashing the neighborhood’s appearance. Ex. For much of the U.S., heat pump technology could reduce heating costs and fossil fuel consumption, and the pump is not visible to the neighbors; solar shingles will become more popular as the technology improves, and they also won’t annoy the neighbors like solar panels will. Using small alternative energy improvements will also reduce fossil fuel consumption — like solar-powered fans to force heat out of attics and reduce cooling costs, or whole house fans operated at night, wired separately from the rest of the house and run off solar-powered batteries.

    Most residential owners don’t think twice about the need for capital (apart from having to budget for it) to pay for a roof or a furnace; it can be financed with a mortgage. What residential owners should do is look at increasing that same capital investment enough to pay for energy production — they’re going to pay it anyhow to energy companies, and they can’t take tax deductions for energy costs like they can their mortgage (caveat: that amount is dependent on income and other deductions).

    Oh hell, let’s face it: most home owners don’t want to invest the effort into the analysis required to reduce fossil fuels. As soon as talk of cost per BTU begins, they pay a monthly premium to energy companies to make teh maths go away.

    • Jim McKay says:

      Oh hell, let’s face it: most home owners don’t want to invest the effort into the analysis required to reduce fossil fuels.

      That’s really the bottom line, most of the other “reasons” I hear everywhere why this is no doable come from that.

  10. omphaloscepsis says:

    Re Gray Davis recall:

    “The initial drive for the recall was fueled by funds from the personal fortune of U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican who originally hoped to replace Davis himself.”

    “Congressman Darrell Issa eventually provided most of the funding for the Davis recall petition through a committee that paid Bader & Associates to conduct the signature gathering drive.”

    “It appeared in the middle of a perfect political storm.

    The state was mired in a financial crisis with debts that eventually hit $38 billion. It came at the tail end of an electricity crisis where some residents saw a tripling of utility bills along with rolling blackouts that were later attributed to Enron’s manipulation of energy markets.

    To try to balance the budget, Davis pushed through a series of tax increases, most notably a tripling of the car tax that was seized upon by critics and recall backers.”

    “Costa was able to quickly gather the nearly 900,000 signatures needed to qualify the vote with the help of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-San Diego, who would eventually spend some $2 million of his own fortune to help the effort and who planned to run for governor himself before withdrawing in the face of Schwarzenegger’s surging popularity.”

    As the late Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh said, decades before Citizens United, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”

    • John Casper says:

      Many thanks for the excellent history.

      Jeffrey Skilling’s still in prison, but will be released sooner than expected.

    • rugger9 says:

      Good summary, but the reason the financial crisis existed was due in very large part to Proposition 13 passed in 1978 (Jarvis-Gann Initiative) which among other things required 2/3 votes to pass a budget, which meant that the usually minority GOP could dig in and starve the government. The 2/3 requirement was pulled back a couple of years back
      Before Prop 13 passed, there were stories of those being taxed out of their homes and other examples of fiscal irresponsibility which were used to rein in spending. Therefore the property taxes were capped at ~1 % of 1975 values (before district assessments) which could be adjusted upward by a maximum of 2% per year (compounded). There is no limit on how fast they could go down, but if the market rose again the upper limit would be defined by the 2% compounded ramp from the basis value. The basis value was originally the 1975 assessment, however it would change when the property was sold, and so it is not unusual to have neighborhoods in Silicon Valley where identical homes would have radically different assessments and tax bills. While there is something to be said for “sweat equity” the market in SV is crazy and there is some resentment about that imbalance. Also, since the reassessment restriction also applied to commercial property, many of those very valuable parcels are still assessed at the 1975 level plus the 2% ramp, even before tax breaks are brought into play.

    • rugger9 says:

      Also, any new specific tax assessment requires 2/3 approval by voters, (since reduced to 55% on some specific uses), but a general unspecified tax increase only requires a majority, so for the last few elections we would see a general tax proposition (say, 1A) and another Proposition that would define what the Proposition 1A would be used for (call it 1B), which is one way our politicos dodged the restriction, and IIRC it has been litigated as well and legally blessed.
      So, what typically suffers are the community proposals for libraries and such because there are enough Teabaggers to defeat any proposal and after all, they’ve got theirs and to heck with everyone else.

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