Archive for the ‘Energy Efficiency’ Category

LOS-A for People: Willy/Blair/E. Wilson/John NoLane*

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

The Giant Hairball Intersection is up for review & reconstruction. Here is my take:

A Diagram for People: Willy/E Wilson/Blair/John Nolane

Key to the Diagram for People

First principles first:

-Streets are ‘readable.’ Urban neighborhood streets should look & feel and ‘read’ like urban neighborhood streets, not on-ramps to expressways. Both Willy and E. Wilson look like on-ramps as they go off from the hairball intersection. Thus, they are inviting for through-traffic rather than neighborhood business destination traffic. This problem remains with the Design Professionals plan.

-Road capacity is defined at intersections. Left turns at intersections bollix everything up in such a constrained area, and for the benefit of very, very few people.

-Parks should be for people, not machinery. Eliminate the boat ramp and all parking entirely. A Boat ramp at this location is a legacy from when Madison was much smaller, and John NoLane was much smaller (i.e., park was bigger), and boat motors were much smaller, boats a lot slower. Now people towing boats can much more easily access much larger and more appropriate boat landings anywhere on the Yahara Chain of Lakes and arrive anywhere on those lakes within minutes by boat. Faster than a car towing a boat even (no stop lights on the lake!). Today, we have significant population growth in the immediate area. Huge apartment towers are going up constantly. These people access the lakes by foot & bike. Park space should prioritize them above the motor people. The city has changed, park use has changed. Time to acknowledge this and adapt appropriately.

-Scale is of paramount importance, for this intersection and its environs, for pedestrian & bicyclist safety in particular. The tighter the lanes, the narrower the total road width and the smaller the intersections are, the better for people on foot & on bike.

-LOS = Level of Service in Traffic Engineering jargon. It is usually used to justify gigantic roads through neighborhoods. Traffic engineers never apply this schema to pedestrian and cycling traffic. This is a first. Nobody wants an ‘F’, right?

Specifics (#s as coded on Diagram for People):

1 – Willy St. returned to it’s typical width and configuration as found at Paterson or Baldwin. On-street parking (no rush hour restrictions) the entire length, up to the intersection itself.  All dedicated right turns–especially flying rights–are eliminated. It is inviting only insofar as one might have actual *business* to conduct on the street. Definitely not attractive as a commuter route.

2 – Similar to above, E. Wilson returned to a neighborhood-scaled business district street. On-street parking. All dedicated flying rights eliminated.

3 – Blair St remains similar to current configuration with these improvements for efficiency without widening:    

-No left turns for its entire length from any direction.     

-Northeast/outbound onto E. Wash has one single *dedicated* right turn lane becoming a dedicated lane onto E Wash that is protected from other E-bound traffic. This can be done without any widening. This allows a constant green arrow, except when triggered by a pedestrian. This will keep Blair flowing its entire length, taking pressure off of the hairball intersection (it routinely backs up from E. Wash all the way to the Hairball during rush hour).     

-Do “no left turn” signs work? Well, from my experience, they do. The no-rights in the Atwood hood (Division & Atwood; Dunning & Atwood) are working wonderfully to protect cyclists & peds. I have yet to see anyone violate them in the years they’ve been there. And I use those intersections daily, often multiple times a day. They were the site of many a crash, before the no-rights.     

-These measures will make Blair->E. Wash so efficient that there will no longer be a need for all the traffic onto Willy St.

1, 2 & 3 – Scramble cycle: Entire intersection goes green for pedestrians, bikes, rollerblades *only*, all directions, including diagonally across the intersection. All stop for all motor vehicles, no right on red. It is time to recognize that this is a site of intense pedestrian/bike density (has anyone noticed the many towering apartments that are going up like mushrooms within a block of this intersection?). It is time to bring ped/bike LOS up from its current F status to LOS A.

4 – Bike path ever-so-subtly swerves away from JN. No sharp turns. A) It makes for a more pleasant ride, B) it brings the bike path away from JN enough to allow right turning cars to/from the new driveway (Point 5 below) to have some stack room after turning right off of JN, or as they attempt to re-enter JN. Bike path should be raised in relation to the driveway to slow traffic using the driveway.

5 – New driveway accessing parking behind Machinery Row. (See 4. above). Must go over the significantly tabled bike path after yielding to bike path cross traffic. Driveway is very narrow–+/- 18′. Stack room for 2 cars between JN and bike path.

6 – Eliminate lake fill marina feature. Even using a world-famous architect’s cachet should not allow for this travesty. Put the feature over the highway itself, if need be.

7 – Eliminate the left from SW-bound (toward Monona Terr) onto Law Park boat ramp parking. It is a disaster in the making for everyone involved. Plus, the legacy boat ramp is eliminated (as explained above). Permit U-turns at the Monona Terrace stop light for “jug handle”* access back to Machinery Row. (*Oh yes, this is a term of art in the traffic engineering world; there is a “jug handle” way out on Mineral Pt Rd, near the westside Menards/Target area.) This will require traffic waiting to exit the ramp and enter JN to wait for a specific green arrow, no right on red (to avoid crashes with U-turners on JN).

8 – Significantly expanded greenspace by eliminating the anachronistic boat ramp, and returning Williamson St and E. Wilson St to neighborhood scale.

In the face of a cooking climate, I’m not interested in nibbling around the edges. It is time to stop the denialism rampant in the pro-car power structure (it’s across the spectrum; it ain’t just a certain president) and do what needs to be done to prioritize sustainable neighborhoods and sustainable transportation.

-Mike

*John Nolen was given the moniker, John Nolane by the inimitable Tim Wong during the mega-battles over the bike lane closure during the construction of what he called “The Enemy Citadel,” a.k.a., the Monona Terrace back in the early-90s. I’ll generally refer to John Nolen as NoLane as a perma-tribute to Tim.

THE Unreasonable Man: Tim Wong

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

A very dear friend recently died. For 25 years we were brothers in bikes, water & energy conservation, anti-consumerism and so much else involved in community building.  Below was my contribution to his Celebration of Life last weekend (this is the disco version; my talk was a much more condensed version). I hope to add further posts about all things Wong over the next few weeks. -MB

Tim was THE DEFINITION of The Unreasonable Man. As George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Progress in Madison toward a better biking future, a more energy sustainable future, a more water efficient future happened in great measure because of Tim and his unreasonable ways.

And the thing is, people hated him for it. But the way some of us saw it, the more people hated him, the more we knew he was on the right track.

Circa 1980, this unreasonable headline blared across the top of the front page of one of his many underground newspapers (a succession of which, he was routinely booted off of, btw): “$5 a Gallon and a Pound of Sugar in Every Gas Tank!”

And the fight against the deathmobile was on. But it was, of course, on before that.

Not long after high school (ca 1860?!), Tim joined in the defense of a minority neighborhood in Washington DC. It was the beginning of Tim vs. the highwaymen. That fight never abated for the entirety of his life. The DC highway fight was moral combat against environmental racism even before there was a term for it. The middle class black neighborhood that was slated for the bulldozer fought back. Tim joined that fight. They won. That neighborhood is still healthy & happy. Compare to the fates of once-successful minority neighborhoods across the country that went under the bulldozers. From Chicago’s Bronzeville to vast swathes of St. Louis, now they are just husks of their former selves.

Tim was in the thick of the fight to unshackle Madison’s minority neighborhoods from their highway entombement. An early 90s example: The Williamsburg Way/Beltline underpass that would have eased highway segregation was fought by the racists on the one side of the highway. Tim was on the other. He was in the thick of the fight to build the underpass and thereby push the all-neighborhood connectivity forward. Another example: The Beltline overpass was denounced by the aristocrats over in the Dudgeon-Monroe neighborhood on the grounds that “those people” would sneak into their backyards and rape their daughters; their property values would crater. Tim pushed for the overpass and for all-neighborhood connectivity there too. It was built. Crime is still negligible in the surrounding neighborhoods. Property values have soared. Hmmm.

At no point could Tim be construed as a ‘leader’ in any given fight. That would be anathema to him. But he was always there. Providing spine, bombast, data crunching, analysis, and snark. Basically, he was the villager that needed to be destroyed in order for the highwaymen to keep “saving” our villages from traffic. Saving us always meant more traffic, of course.

And they did keep trying to destroy him. At one point, he was the chair of the city’s ped-bike subcommittee. The highwaymen & others tried every strategem possible to shut him down. But they just couldn’t. So they did the midwest nice thing, and did away with the committee altogether.

When he was on the Transit & Parking Commission, he used the city’s own data to show how awfully they were managing Madison Metro’s resources. This really pissed off the powers. Eventually Mayor Pave summarily threw him off of the commission for the crime of analyzing data.

I think the apotheosis of all things Tim came through our neighborhood’s plan, The Schenk-Atwood-Darbo-Worthington-Starkweather Plan of 2000. They made the “mistake” of making him an official appointee. A mistake because he just wouldn’t act at all like an official power broker (as all too often happens with people in appointed positions). It soon became apparent that Tim was not about to accept the boiler plate pro-car neighborhood plan that the Planners wanted to shove down our throats. But what made this the pinnacle of Tim’s power was not Tim’s POWER. He was more about just getting the ideas out there. Bombastically, YES. But he was about putting the onus on others to follow their own consciences to just do the right thing. Vote their own true consciences. The problem is, most people, once in power, even low level power like a little neighborhood committee, believe that it is their duty to submit to powers above them, to the detriment of ethics, morality, just doing the right thing. In most activist endeavors, victories are scarce. But it was different on this committee. It was made up of others who were dedicated to doing the right thing, powers be damned. And almost all could hear past Tim’s bombast and understand that what he was ultimately pushing for was really just a more civilized community and sustainable environment. Every traffic calming measure was a blow for civilization. Every bikeway, another push for the people. In militating against zoning and parking regulations that strangled our neighborhood business district, Tim and the whole committee made this neighborhood the cool place it is today. But the point was, it was the whole committee. That was where Tim was most comfortable: when ordinary citizens banded together as co-equals to push for the good & the just. If someone had made Tim King of the World, he wouldn’t have liked it. Remember his standard salutation: SLAY A LEADER!!!! If he were designated a leader, he would have just killed himself instead of being boss! The most natural order for a dedicated anarchist like Tim: A united front of co-equal citizens working in the trenches together.

Neighborhood was Tim’s laboratory for doing the right thing, for a more sustainable future, a more just future. He never had that liberal angst about other places being “denied” because of our efforts. His idea was that our neighborhood could serve as an exemplary beacon for doing the right thing. Indeed, once our neighborhood plan started making its way through the city committees, alders started asking the planners why their neighborhoods couldn’t have the same pro-community things. The green eyed monster worked for good! And here is what started happening: the zoning regulations that strangled cool neighborhood business districts started getting suspended. Our older hoods started to flourish (and how many of Tim’s beloved micro-brewpubs sprouted because of it?!!!). Eventually, thanks to the successful example of Tim’s collective efforts with his neighborhood, the entire zoning code was scrapped in favor of zoning that allows neighborhoods to look like our old hoods built before the dominance of the deathmobile. Mayor Pave & his powerful sycophants could never understand what was happening over here, but it was Tim and co-equal cohorts that got the ball rolling and transformed this city from a boring highway to the suburbs into the cool place it is now.

His life’s way was a) read everything there is to read about a subject, b) process it through a moral lense (is it good for lowering our pollution output? Is it good for community? Does it reduce the need for engineered bossiness (or any bossiness)? c) to get the truth out there, d) let people follow their own consciences once they have this information. No bossiness allowed. Bombast, yes, bossiness, no. The problem, of course, was that most people couldn’t hear the truth for the bombast. Some of us loved the bombast as much as the underlying truth. Because the bombast was just a wayfinding sign to the truth.

Tim is perhaps best known for his bike advocacy. But his activism went well beyond. In my google perusals I even found a comment Tim left for the Securities & Exchange Commission, excoriating them for some random de-regulation of the banksters. One of his more memorable fights for me is one that probably only 3 people know about: Water conservation policy.

As Dan Melton, former president of the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara Neighborhood Assn., said in an email around the time of Tim’s death:

Here’s a little “resume” Tim put together, in 2011 (sent at 1:50 AM–one of his favored times to send email).

Of all his many civic activities, one I’d like to call attention to — because not many got to see it — was Tim’s vital involvement in 2011 in the Madison Water Utility’s East Side Water Supply Citizen Advisory Panel (ESWS CAP). It was grueling work, important work — and, frankly, I wasn’t sure Tim was up to it. Boy, WAS he. Former City Engineer Larry Nelson was the eminence grise on the ESWS CAP. Larry knew everything–about everything. If you wanted to challenge Larry, you had to know your stuff–inside-out. Tim did. Tim was the ONLY citizen on the ESWS CAP who would directly challenge Larry. Tim didn’t just spout slogans, he KNEW his printouts. I’m not sure how he did it but Tim would go printout to printout with Larry. Tim made some important points to nudge the City Water Utility towards more conservation–and less willy-nilly well-building. Tim pushed Madison to come up with a water rate structure that would “punish property owners for over-watering their pesticide grass”–(‘their pesticide grass,’ a typical Tim flourish). Tim and Dan Moser (who know lives in NYC) worked hard with Larry to craft a Conservation Advisory statement. Tim suspected the ESWS CAP was “sort of window dressing more than anything” but he was willing to swallow his doubts, and put in the work, work that no one else was willing to do, to help nudge the Water Utility towards more conservation.

From bikes, to water, to people, He was the true Renaissance Man of Activism.

But as with those Renaissance greats of yore, Gallileo, Dante – jailed, run out of town– Tim pissed off just about everyone he came into contact with, most especially the powerful, the sycophants & suckups, the propriety obsessives, the moral peacocks. The snowflakes on every listserv he was on wanted him to drink hemlock. Listmarms were left clutching pearls at Tim’s every e-utterance. For those with a less pinched view of the world, we could listen past his bombast and actually hear the truth of what he was saying. Deathmobile? Well, yeah, it’s the #1 killer of all people ages 4-44. What else you gonna call it? Pesticide grass? Well, why else would suburban lawns look like astroturf?

Tim was very much the community’s moral compass. I will so very much miss him.

To close with another George Bernard Shaw, so channeling Tim:

“I hear you say “Why?” Always “Why?” You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”

 

Madison Water Utility: Materially Incorrect

Monday, August 24th, 2015
From a close follower of all things MWU:
If you have 15 min.’s to devote, you really should read the Baker Tilly Audit 2014 Management Letter.pdf
It really is quite a remarkable and sweeping flat-out slam of the Water Utility for its financial incompetence:
“The Utility does not have internal controls in place that allow for the presentation of materially-correct year-end financial statements.”
“Management has not prepared financial statements that are in conformity with generally-accepted accounting principles.”
“Material misstatements in the general ledger were identified during the financial audit.”
….
Customer billing errors
Cyber attack risk: “Have a plan developed and practiced so that you are prepared in the event of a data breach.”
“Lack of preparedness”: Baker Tilly had “difficulties performing the audit”
I am a big proponent of public ownership of utilities. Madison Gas & Electric’s rampant, ideological pro-carbon agenda is an example of why public accountability is so important.
Unfortunately, our city-owned water utility, through sheer incompetence, combined with an arrogant dismissal of public oversight, is invalidating the goodness that public ownership should bring.

Isthmus: “Citizen: The Real Reason for Atwood Avenue’s Renaissance”

Saturday, November 1st, 2014
Just published at Isthmus.com….
***
Citizen: The real reason for Atwood Avenue’s renaissance
Eliminating parking requirements for small storefronts buoyed business growth

Michael Barrett on Saturday 11/01/2014 10:23 am

“Destination: Atwood Avenue” was a nice little promo piece inIsthmus that should definitely be featured in the Greater Madison Convention and Visitor’s Bureau pamphlets. It lacked, however, a good investigative question: Why has Atwood seen such a revival?

Yes, yes, we are lucky to have so many creative entrepreneurs who have worked hard to make their businesses successful on this once run-down thoroughfare; good on them, and thanks. And yes, the the transition of the Barrymore Theatre from adult movie theater to hip venue was a signal event. But it is a tired old story, because there it sat for nearly 20 years, a lonely beacon, with neighbors of empty storefronts and no resurgence in sight.

The true linchpin of the revitalization of Atwood: city parking policy. Had it not been for the informed, critical activism of a few people in the neighborhood, not one of the hip enterprises that have grown up on Atwood in the last 14 years — the era of sustainable and rapid resurgence — could have ever happened on Atwood. Why? Because the city prohibited it through parking policy.

Until the early 2000s, suburban parking requirements were imposed on dense, parking-light urban business districts such as Atwood. It was a death warrant.

Creativity and entrepreneurship were throttled. Coffee shops were told to brew in strip malls. Boutique beers, ordered to industrial parks. Eclectic restaurants, stymied.

Here’s how it worked: The city required that there be an off-street parking space for every table for two, no exceptions. This meant no fun. No funky. No creative. No nothing.

This went on for decades. As older enterprises faded, the city parking bosses ensured that no new businesses could move in to keep the district vital. It wasn’t the mall that killed Atwood, it was public policy.

By 1999, a (very) small group of visionary citizens had had quite enough of this. These active alt-transportation agitators worked with verve and persistence, at times getting in the faces of hidebound alders and parking bureaucrats, to put a stop to the desertification of Atwood Avenue. Over the shrill warnings of planners and highwaymen, the citizens who crafted the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Worthington Neighborhood Plan (PDF) of 2000 enshrined a provision that prioritized a walkable business district. To that end, it strongly recommended eliminating parking requirements.

Yes, eliminating parking requirements. Altogether. This was a radical notion up to the mid-aughties, believe it or not.

Once passed, these same citizens started showing up at zoning meetings, plan in hand, demanding that cool businesses be allowed to locate on Atwood sans parking.

Cafe Zoma was the first successful — but hard fought — “exemption” under the new neighborhood plan. It featured zero car parking stalls. That set the precedent for all the coolness that followed. Creative entrepreneurship blossomed, and just keeps blossoming.

Under new city leadership in 2003, Atwood Avenue’s successful elimination of parking requirements was recognized and even incorporated into the new zoning code. There are no longer minimum parking requirements for small storefronts anywhere in the city.
Michael D. Barrett is an energy efficiency and community plan analyst with UrbanThoreau LLC and publishes urbanthoreau.com/blog.

MGE’s Pump & Dump Rate Scheme

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

Tomorrow is the big showdown at the Public Service Commission to shut down MGE’s outrageous, America-hating rate scheme.

Tomorrow there will be a rally at 9 am at the PSC offices in addition to testimony. Here’s the WhoWhatWhenWhereHow scoop by the RePower folks, followed by my comment:

Madison Gas & Electric proposes big changes to billing rates in 2015 that will increase electric bills for most customers, limit your ability to lower bills through energy efficiency, and penalize clean energy. The MGE billing scheme does not reflect community values and should be withdrawn by MGE or rejected by the Public Service Commission.

The Proposal

Every MGE customer will see a higher fixed charge each month coupled with a slightly lower energy rate. For example, the monthly charge for residential and small commercial customers would rise from $10.29 to $19 (85%), while the electricity rate would decline from 14.4 cents/kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 13.3 cents/kWh (-8%).

The Facts

  • The City of Madison, City of Monona, City of Middleton, Town of Blooming Grove, Wisconsin Community Action Program Association, WI AARP, NAACP and the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups and nearly 50 local businesses have opposed the rate proposal.
  • 80% of MGE residential customers will see their electricity bill increase and will harm most seniors, apartment dwellers and those who conserve energy.
  • The proposal to increase the fixed rate and lower variable rate means that you will have less control over your own future energy bills. (Conservation does not cut the fixed rate)
  • Almost 88% of MG&E’s current energy comes from fossil fuels, most of which is coal.  A recent report, The Coal Truth, by RePower Madison details how MGE proposal is a ratepayer bailout disguised as a matter of circumstances beyond the control of the utility. In reality, MGE has “doubled down” on their dirty coal investments.
  • The rate changes will have a disproportional effect on low-income households. Bill Marcus, an expert witness hired by the City of Madison testified that “the MGE proposal will negatively impact equity in the City of Madison”.
Actions You Can TakeRePower Madison is a citizens group whose immediate goal is to persuade MGE to drop their rate proposal and support customer options for rapid expansion of renewable energy and energy savings.We recommend the following immediate actions:

  • Submit your concerns online at www.tinyurl.com/mgeratehike. Online public comments are due before October 8th and a public hearing is scheduled for October 9th at 9:30am at the Public Service Commission (610 N. Whitney Way Madison)
  • Visit and like our facebook page at www.FB.com/repowermadison.  While there, you can RSVP to testify orally and attend our picket at the public hearing on October 8.
  • Local businesses are encouraged to sign a letter opposing this rate case available at –www.wisconsinbusinessalliance.com/mge
  • Share this information with your members, and forward this email to your friends, for their information.

For more information www.repowermadison.org or email to Info@RepowerMadison.org

###

….And here’s the comment I submitted:

Dear Commissioners,

Please scrutinize closely the MGE rate case. It is, quite frankly, appalling. So appalling that I oppose it in the strongest terms.

I am a real estate investor in the Madison Gas & Electric service territory. I am also a decorated veteran, having served overseas as a commissioned officer for four years and discharged honorably, and having attained the rank of captain. As someone who volunteered service to do my part in forming a “more perfect union,” I am horrified that there are corporations such as MGE who are actually militating against the “general welfare” of the citizens I risked my life to defend. I also see a direct link between energy gluttony and the wars we keep fighting. For that reason, I have invested heavily in energy conservation ever since I was discharged.

Their rate proposal denies the dangers of climate change that even the Pentagon has warned is an imminent threat to national security. Indeed, by MGE’s own admission, this proposal actually militates against American citizens who strive to do the right thing by our environment.

Gregory Bollom, MGE’s assistant vice president of energy planning, conceded this point at a Madison city committee meeting in July:

“If you’re a low-energy user, you will probably have less ability to reduce your bill than someone who is a high-energy user,” Bollom told the Sustainable Madison Committee. “We are reducing the incentive for people to reduce their energy use. I’m not going to quibble with that.”

This is the stuff of morons. It does not belong in Madison, Wisconsin, the home of one of the world’s top-flight research institutions.

An enlightened corporate leadership would institute an actuarily sound, progressive rate structure that strongly encourages wasteful users to waste less and reward those who have invested wisely in efficiency and thereby use modestly. “Actuarily sound” means that fixed costs get covered by usage rates while protecting the steady rate of return required to raise capital for said fixed costs (capital infrastructure). This is important because we know that it is the wasteful users who are driving the “need” for more lines and other infrastructure. So those who demand more power should also be paying for the extra infrastructure required to supply it. Thus the need for progressivity in the rate structure. If the usage rates are properly structured–actuarily sound, progressively increased according to usage–that “need” would soon be obviated, as the wasteful would get wise tout de suite. Or they pay for their willful ignorance. The choice would be the customer’s and entirely the customer’s. Consumer free choice and free enterprise–yes, including investments in efficiency and renewables–is what built this country. Why is MGE undermining free enterprise?

MGE’s rate scheme, by eliminating any progressivity, actually *rewards* waste. It undermines all efforts to do the right thing and create a better, energy independent America. This is important to me, because I’m tired of seeing my friends, my former comrades-in-arms get sent off to fight in fossil fuel wars. Sick. And. Tired. Of. It.

Progressive, actuarily sound rates that cover all costs–fixed included–is the most climate-friendly, peaceable way of properly accounting for climate-damaging, war-causing resource usage.
Fixed charges–of any amount–only aid & abet profligate use.

Furthermore, the idea of fixed v. usage costs is fiction. Much of the fixed cost increases goes to ATC’s wasteful expansions of unnecessary power lines. Unnecessary because they were/are being built on assumptions of ever-increasing fossil burning. That hasn’t happened. Electric consumption has gone down. Why? People are making the connections between their personal energy use->fossil burning->climate destruction. They should be rewarded for making that connection and acting to remedy it, not punished.

It’s also an incredibly cruel thing to do to people who thought ahead for their retirement and invested mightily in energy efficiency in their homes. Now they are on modest fixed incomes and getting slammed by these rustbelt rednecks in charge of our ‘community’ utility. Retirees’ investments in conservation are now set to be vaporized on behalf of energy addicts and their dealers.

There isn’t really a middle ground on this. Either we make the decisions to protect the climate–now–or else. (Please read your McKibben! Heed your Hansen!)

Where does the PSC stand?

MGE is now desperately touting a series of “Town Hall-style” meetings to get them out of this pickle of their own making. Approximately 9 years ago MGE held a series of just such meetings all across Madison. There were over a hundred people in attendance at one meeting alone (even though it was inconveniently scheduled at midday on a weekday). People of all backgrounds showed up, ranging in age 8 months to 80+ years. They were all impassioned, knowledgeable and armed with better ideas for delivering clean energy in conjunction with conservation pricing and other strategies. No one testified for more CO2 emissions or more megalomaniacal power lines. Typical was one woman, with a baby in her arms, who gave a most enlightened & impassioned testimony about how we’ve got to start planning *now* [i.e., nine years ago] for reducing our impact on the climate. That the science was well settled. That we can no longer deny the science through our profligate energy policies. She was unbelievably eloquent and *nice* about it. The old gray MGE execs just sat there, stone faced. Clearly, they didn’t want to hear it. A town hall in the sense of an open minded democratic process, it was not.

I gave testimony as well. I was pointed and concise about the importance of a progressive rate structure to reduce demand while maintaining their bottom line through actuarial science.

The gray MGE execs scowled. Again, they didn’t want to hear it.

This was nine years ago.

They did nothing in the interim to change their CO2 spew as usual. Indeed, they doubled down on fossil thinking.

The point is, they have heard all of this before. They have heard it from a variety of people, some paid by advocacy organizations, but mostly just citizen ratepayers doing their civic duty, expressing concern and better ways of doing things. MGE has had their opportunity–over many years–to do the right thing.

They have done nothing.

They chose to ignore reasonable solutions that quite openly acknowledged the necessity of getting a return to shareholders. Now the gray men in gray suits have gotten themselves in a pickle. A quite avoidable pickle. A pickle forewarned.

As for their shareholders, by & large, they don’t care how the dividend check arrives. Fixed charge, no fixed charge (but with a progressive, actuarily sound rate structure)–it doesn’t matter to them. They just want that check to arrive, on time and in a predictably steady amount. And it is perfectly doable with an actuarily sound, progressive rate structure. Indeed, how a shareholder’s dividend is generated is entirely not their concern in the amoral world of the limited liability joint stock company. Only the people’s representative, you, the regulator, the Public Service Commission can force the right, moral choice. Which is why they need to hear from you in the strongest terms possible that they, MGE, need to protect our climate and our ratepayers–not just their lazy, ignorant accountants who can’t calculate out a reasonable rate structure.

Being an energy geek since the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, I have a bad habit of buttonholing the lower-downs at MGE when I get a chance, to find out why the stupidy of the higher-ups continues. One of them, an engineer, basically just shrugs his shoulders, rolls his eyes knowing that better solutions exist. Tiring of this, he gave me one of his utility trade magazines to shut me up for a while. That magazine issue of eight or so years ago was all about innovative demand-managing rate structures that could respond to a dynamic energy environment (dynamic in the sense of either more competition, more emissions regulation, opening the grid to non-utility participants, all of the above, etc.). So the knowledge of how to stay profitable while driving down carbon spew and better managing the grid (etc.) for all comers is out there. It is well documented even in their energy industry trade group! This isn’t just the stuff of crazy hippies, as Paul Fanlund and Gary Wolter would have us believe.

They’ve heard polite, well informed testimony. They’ve heard pointed, well informed testimony. For *many* years. The research and case studies of innovative, conservation-oriented rate structures in place over decades is well-documented by their own trade organization.

At what point do we the people stop giving them the benefit of the doubt?

You heard their own executive speak out against conservation and renewables in the quotes above. You are obviously quite aware of RENEW’s analysis which further confirms MGE’s militantly anti-climate, anti-ratepayer plot.

In the end, it is a bait & switch. For decades, MGE has been encouraging their customers to conserve and install renewables. (See, for example, any number of MGE bill inserts over the last twenty-plus years; see also their gleeful–and very public–celebration of conservation & renewables here.)

Now they want to crush those who followed their investment advice?

As a long time real estate investor who has invested tens of thousands of dollars in conservation measures on several properties, not only do I believe that you should reject their fixed rate plot against their ratepayers, you should also report them to the Securities Exchange Commission for their pump & dump scheme.

I would think that it’s pretty clear that their plans are not benevolent.

Please reject the entirety of MGE’s rate scheme.

Sincerely,
Michael D. Barrett

….

Madison, WI

Like Water for Oil

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Though it is about energy, this article is highly relevant to managing our water resources as well:

Just substitute the word water for “energy”/”natural gas”/”electricity” wherever they appear in the article. The following tract gets at the conundrum the Madison Water Utility seems particularly stymied by:

“In addition, state regulators should reward utilities for helping residential, business and industrial customers use energy more efficiently, and stop the widespread practice of penalizing utilities when their sales level off or decline because customers are using less energy. When regulators set rates, they establish targets for utilities’ allowable revenues, and this unintentionally links the companies’ financial health to robust sales of electricity and natural gas. The problem can be solved if regulators allow modest annual rate adjustments that correct for any unexpected changes in utility sales.

“Half the states have instituted such “decoupling” systems for at least some of their investor-owned natural gas and electric utilities, but the process is taking too long and only one publicly owned utility, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, has adopted these reforms. The rest should step up.”

Indeed. And this a model for conservation that has been promoted by citizens in the past. Unfortunately, this is an economic model (Econ 101-level) that seems to be alien to MWU management. Instead, they perform their incantation rituals for more drought to fill the utility’s coffers:

It will be more than three years since water rates have gone up for Madison Water Utility customers. The Water Utility had planned to file for a 12% increase in 2013, but officials say it was not needed because of high water use during last summer’s drought.

A forward-looking lot over at Olin Ave…..

Federal Highwaymen Paving Our Democracy Asunder

Friday, July 19th, 2013

I recently received this notice regarding, in their words:

…the metropolitan transportation planning process carried out by the Madison Area Transportation Planning Board (TPB), the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), Metro Transit, and local units of government in the Madison metropolitan area….

The full notice was even more gobbledygookey cryptic; even a transportation geek like me had a hard time deciphering it. Specifically, they never cited what laws they were referring to.

Flying blind, I submitted comment anyway. You’ll find it below.

I went to the meeting.

There was only one other citizen there. (He had little to say other than moaning about the counter-flow bike lanes displacing parking spaces on campus.) It was a pitiful showing, but I think more indicative of the cryptic public notice than apathy on the part of citizens.

Federal policies are shaping our communities for decades to come. The question is, shaping those communities for whom? The Feds sent a phalanx of gray, middle aged, male bureaucrats. That’s whom. City/MPO did the same. (The lone woman bureaucrat present had nothing to say, so I assume she was on board with the highways.) It was all about building more, bigger highways for, by and of the dozen or so middle aged, white males present. Indeed, it was a cast worthy of the Soviet nomenklatura.

Oh sure, there was a crumb or two here & there to ameliorate a few of the many barriers to biking and walking presented by their megalomaniacal highways. And Bus Rapid Transit is but a pipe dream at the scale they are “planning.” They have no intention of funding it (thus the quotes). The crumbs and the fantastical are out there for window dressing only. Bait. Honeytraps. The stuff of Stockholm Syndrome. If we’re nice to our captors, embrace their manly highways, maybe, just maybe they’ll give us another bike path!

None of the MPO board members were there (except ex officio member, Madison Metro GM Chuck Kamp, who had to be there for job purposes related to the public notice).

Happy reading!

******

Madison Area MPO Comment

07/17/2013

by Michael D. Barrett

I have observed and participated in transportation and land use planning issues in Madison and Dane County for almost 25 years. I am trained as an urban geographer.

Here’s what I think of Federal funding priorities as planned by our MPO and prioritized by USDOT: It stinks. It’s all about highways. And your highways are nothing more than the new Jim Crow with a concrete face. It’s the epitome of Reverse Robin Hood, stealing from cities to promote rich suburbs. It’s about gated communities, but instead of gates you use concrete expanses to wall off the people you deem as undesirable – the carless, the aged, the young, the poor, people who are not white. Yes, I’m calling you racist. I’m calling you age-ist. I’m calling you classist. In other words you build landscapes for well-wheeled middle aged white men. Everyone else be damned. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Your Federal policies militate against our community’s expressed political will. Over and over again the people of Dane County, Madison and surrounding  communities have elected stellar individuals who want to do the right thing. Witness electoral revolutions with the election of unabashed enviros like Kathleen Falk and Dave Cieslewicz and the very conservation-oriented council and board. In every League of Women Voters questionnaire for elected office virtually every candidate espouses transit, biking and walking over highways. Falk and Cieslewicz had made careers of fighting your highways. Plan after plan for this region, down to the neighborhood level, emphasizes community over cars, a clean environment over sprawl; inclusivity over segregation. The people’s voice is unequivocal: we want clean air, clean water, inclusivity, social justice and a land use/transportation paradigm that supports those goals. Furthermore, our elected officials explicitly ran on platforms promoting community cohesiveness, across race and class lines. Instead, your policies forced our elected leaders into making bad decisions that ultimately got them thrown out of office or blocked from higher office.

In other words your policies are overtly political. They militate against the will of the people.

Your federal highway funds proved to be a gusher, an endless source of cash, while you people constricted funds for transit, bicycling and walking. Everything our elected representatives stood for, your policies militated against.  Your policies backed Falk into a corner on the very unpopular US Highway 12 expansion. Her political base never forgot that, and she paid dearly for it. Without her most ardent supporters, she didn’t stand a chance for higher political office.  Similarly your policies forced road expansion onto us even under the leadership of the most ardent, pro-urban environmentalist ever to lead a city. Your easy highway money and shrinking transit money proved to be an embarrassment that alienated his base. Mayor Dave became Mayor Pave. When federal funds were used to jack up highway spending by 558% over the course of his tenure – 558%!!!!! – while slashing federal support for clean, city-supporting modes, the environmentalist mayor’s political base evaporated.

See this graph of the Madison City Budget? Now look at the top line. The one going straight up is paving, increasing at 558% during Cieslewicz’s tenure. The other lines are social services and parks: Flatlined during the same period. Now look at the debt that has been racked up to service your over-sized roads. Your highways are crushing our city’s budgets.

Your policies are overtly political.

Those elected representatives represented the will of the people. By embarrassing them with these anti-community funding priorities, you negated the will of the people.

You are a politically vindictive organization.

I oppose your anti-democratic policies. I oppose your racism. Your Neo-Jim Crow. Your social-exclusion-by-highway. Get out of our community, leave us alone. Return our taxes free of all strings and get out of the way while we build a sustainable city. We want a city that requires no war for our mobility. We want a city that protects our climate as we get around. We want a city that is protective of children’s lungs. We want a city that promotes healthy, active, neighborhood-friendly ways of getting around.  We want a city that is inclusive and for all people, not just the well-wheeled. We will no longer serve as suburbanites’ doormats.

I notice the MPO board is not present. Had they been here, I would have told them:

As for you people on the MPO, get a spine. Stand up to these highwaymen. Start thinking creatively. Stop blasting ugliness through our neighborhoods. Start joining with the people in building *community* not commuter sprawlways.

Everything about this organization has militated against the expressed will of the people. You should be ashamed of yourselves. I oppose you because you have incompetently executed the will of the people.

I recommend that this body be decertified from receiving federal funds.

The siting of this meeting at this isolated location speaks volumes as to whom the MPO wants to hear from. Bus service is scant at best. Parking is ample. We are located adjacent to a giant highway. It’s a long way to walk anywhere from here. So the assumption must be that only car drivers’ views are wanted.

Regarding your introductory remarks: You speak of congestion as if it were the root of all evil. I disagree: Congestion is good for cities. It is the sign of a healthy city. It is a sign that people want to be there. Slow car traffic is the best friend of pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users.

[I also entered into the record a copy of the latest (2012) League of Women Voters questionnaire of Dane County Supervisor Candidates (showing their support for transit, walking, biking); a copy of the budget graphs in the article linked above; a copy of a 2011~ 1000 Friends of WI newsletter article showing how much money Wisconsinites spend on roads out of their property and income taxes (i.e. only about 50% of the total road budget is paid for by gas taxes and other car user fees; in other words, socialism for cars; rapacious capitalism for the rest of us).]

###

US 51/WIS 19 camera image.

Sen. Mark Miller’s (D-Monona) $40,000,000.00 gift to the Seven. Thousand. Very. Republican. Villagers. of DeForest.

Keep in mind that the USDOT policies I cite here should not be taken as letting the likes of Falk or Cieslewicz or other locals off the hook. Ultimately, though the concrete dope was free, they injected the needle into the arm of the body politic of their own free will. Furthermore, USDOT’s pro-highway/anti-community policies are the products of pavement-friendly votes by other good liberals/progressives such as US Rep. Mark Pocan, US Senator Russ Feingold (ret) and US Senator Tammy Baldwin. Liberals on the state level have similarly taken the needle and the candy. From 2008-2010 Dane County Democrats – State Rep Mark Pocan, State Senator Mark Miller and Governor Jim Doyle –  held total power over the finances of state government as co-chairs of the all-powerful Joint Finance Committee and as the state’s chief executive (respectively). Truly, they were the patrons to the highwaymen clients in the nomenklatura of the Soviet Socialist Party of Pavers. Much like their Republican counterparts, they prioritized paving over people. Indeed, the pavers are of one party regardless of whether an R or D follows their name. I hold Mark Miller in particular contempt given his $40,000,000 (and counting) pork project more than doubling the size of US Highway 51 to serve the seven thousand Very. Special. Villagers. of. DeForest. while slashing state and federal investment in transit for 225,000 not-so-special Madison citizens.

Consider asking your alder why they continue to fund paving at the expense of people. Then ask your county board supervisor. Then ask your state rep. Then your US rep. Then ask your US Senator why she thinks more concrete is healthy. Always, always question. Then denounce. Because they just don’t get it. Because they are loyal party apparatchiks.

Madison Water Utility’s Science Denial

Monday, March 25th, 2013

TO THE WATER UTILITY BOARD:

We simply disagree with the need for the proposed mega-expansion of Well 7. We oppose the expansion of Well 7.
First & foremost we know, thanks to Colonel Christopher Gellasch’s research for his Geology Ph.D., that the mere fact of pumping vast quantities of groundwater in sudden, powerful bursts and then storing it in massive reservoirs on the surface is:
  • Warping the bedrock below
  • Fracturing an already fractured shale layer that currently at least *slows* transmission of pathogens and toxins to the deep aquifer. (His research on Well 7 was the first to positively demonstrate that the Eau Claire shale is indeed permeable, much of it human caused through overpumping and then overstoring masses of water on the surface. Conventional hydrogeology to that point had held that the shale layer was perfectly impermeable, protecting the deep aquifer. The reality: Warp it, crack it, pump hard, it stops protecting.).
  • Pulling denser, dangerously high concentrations of naturally occurring elements which in trace amounts are otherwise harmless (or nearly so)
This was the finding of his research, under UW-Madison Professor Kenneth Bradbury, at Well 7: That we are currently overpumping an already strained hydrogeologic system at Well 7.

And now we, as a city, want to:

  • Triple the size of the surface reservoir?
  • Pump even more?
  • Faster?
  • More vigorously?
  • Further exacerbating the fracturing? (Yes, the rapid pumping actually creates measurable seismic events under the well!)
  • Creating yet more pathways for toxins and disease right into our deep aquifer drinking water?
  • Actively pulling surface toxins and pathogens downward into the deep aquifer?
  • Increasing the concentrations of the naturally occurring neurologically damaging elements?
  • An expansion in capacity in an area that is essentially built-out and landlocked, not growing and not predicted to grow?
  • When there are so many more opportunities for conservation?

Indeed, before looking to expand capacity with these megalomaniacal tributes to manly engineering, we need to take a serious look at the consumption patterns across the city. We note that our 2-flat (that’s 2 separate families, one meter, 4 adults total) consumes 20% less than the average single family home (average occupancy: <2.3). Clearly, there is a vast chasm between need and waste in the current consumption patterns in this oh-so-enviro city. (Oh, and no one in our house stinks, there are no hairshirts in our respective wardrobes; during the summer we often take 2 showers/day given our high level of physical activity; the tenants have no financial incentive to conserve since they don’t pay the water utility bill, we water our trees, and this low level of water use held even when tenants had a baby, etc.). And we’re working on yet more absolutely invisible water conservation measures that will likely save us yet another 10-20 percentage points or more below the city average.

The fruit…it is so low-hanging that it is nearly dragging the ground!
And yet, everywhere we go–homes, city buildings, private businesses, non-profits–we see sink aerators that pour forth 2.2 gallons/minute (ours is 1.5; the glorious Overture Center’s faucets probably gush 4–FOUR!–gpm given that they have no aeration whatsoever!), showerheads that lavish >3.5 gpm (ours is 1.25, but feels lavish nonetheless), streets getting watered (how many sprinklers we see sending water right down city drains, never touching grass! how many thousands of gallons getting wasted in flushing operations!), new dishwashers that require handwashing before loading (yes, it is routine in the many households with dishwashers I have observed!), ….What’s the point of an EnergyStar/WaterSense dishwasher if you have to handwash the dishes first?
And the insanity continues…..
At Citizens Advisor Panel (CAP) meetings at least a couple of individuals tried to make the point that there is so much more room for conservation, but they were out-maneuvered by staff and out-voted by the timid. Indeed, there was but one lonely ‘no’ vote in a committee vote cast by the most intensely knowledgeable citizens on water issues. They were cowed by staff’s barrages of undigested data on water consumption. They should have held their ground.
And so it goes. Madison water utility leadership, much like Madison’s leadership in general swaddles itself in the attitude of consumption-at-all-costs-is-ok-because-we’re-a-liberal/progressive city.
We, the undersigned, refuse to go along with that groupthink. We choose to listen to the science. Thus, we oppose the expansion of Well 7. The extra water you seek is freely available in very simple, very cheap water management measures in households and institutions and industry.
We implore the Water Utility Board to smash the science denial that permeates the staff reports on the issue and simply say no to an expanded system at Well 7.
We note that only three Water Utility Board members showed up to the Technical Advisory Committee meeting at which Col. Gellasch laid out the hydrogeologic science of Well 7. One of those members has since been thrown off the commission for having raised precisely the questions that came out of that study. Pathetic political leadership made that happen. We implore you to rise above the politics of denial, even if it risks your tenure on the Water Utility Board. It would be worth it. You could achieve with this one action what others could never achieve even in 10 years of service.
On the science: for context, to get a private sector study of the scope and quality of the Gellasch Ph.D. would probably have cost $400,000 or more. It was groundbreaking, thorough, and, most importantly, highly specific to Well 7. And frankly, it was priceless because the funding was independent of the utility and thus untainted by staff’s pre-conceived notions.
To ignore the essential science–laid at your feet–amounts to willful ignorance.
You not only ignore the science at your peril. You, the board members of the Water Utility, ignore it at the peril of us all.
Because the science is clear: Build a mega-well at Well 7 and you:
  • Harm our aquifer
  • Harm our health
  • Deny science
We further maintain that an expanded Well 7 and similar efforts elsewhere in the city will:
  • Harm ratepayers
  • Harm the city’s future economic sustainability
WE OPPOSE SCIENCE DENIAL.
 
Thus,
 
WE OPPOSE AN EXPANSION OF WELL 7.
 
Sincerely,
 
Michael D. Barrett and Pamela S. Barrett
P.s. We give permission to forward this on to whomever, wherever.

Why Mark Pocan Fails…

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

…To interest me….In the least:

From 2008 til 2010, he had it all. The Democrats owned the Governor’s Mansion, the Senate and the Assembly. He was the leader in the Assembly. As such, he co-chaired the all-powerful Joint Finance Committee. He was one of the three most powerful people in the state.

Did he advance education? Nope. Nixed funding for 4-year old kindergarten.

Did he fight for the environment? Nope. Nixed the Clean Energy Jobs Act (an excellent, all-encompassing plan; our one hope to launch a clean energy, hyper-energy efficient economy…).

Did he advance Bicycling? Nope. Slashed funding back to below early ’90s levels.

Did he advance walking? Nope. Ditto.

Did he advance transit? Nope. Ditto. Oh, no, wait. He slashed state support for transit to below levels established by Republican Tommy Thompson.

He sat on his hands.

What did he do with all that money he nixed out of good, people-supporting jobs & services? He accelerated wasteful highway expansions across the state, including the hyper-wasteful US Highway 51 expansion between De Forest and Madison (a route already served by the 8-lane Interstate 90/94/39), the Verona Road interchange, Interstate 94 between Cottage Grove and Madison, and the County Highways S & M (Mineral Pt. Rd & CTH M) intersection. All of these expansions support landscapes of Republicanism and militate against access to good jobs for the poor and working class. Contrary to his claims, Mark Pocan is no friend of the working class.

Let’s face it, we keep advancing lame Democrats like Mark Pocan, who fill the coffers of dirty energy and dirty transportation companies, and then wonder how it is that the Republicans keep beating us in the cash race.

Mark, buddy, I’ve got news for you, it is because you gave them the money!

I’m not exactly thrilled about his opponent Kelda Helen Roys either. I don’t think she exactly gets the money game either. I will cut her some slack about the 2008-2010 time period since she was just a rookie backbencher then. But she should have been raising holy hell about all the subsidies that Pocan & Co. were giving out to the grey economy companies. This past weekend on the Ride the Drive (ok, major plus that she set up campaign operations at that event!), I brought up to her that Tammy Baldwin had been doing the same thing for years, supporting the pavers and polluters (Kipp’s festering filth, anyone? The giant highways she supports now and supported all the way back to her days on the county board?), and that I didn’t want a clone of her in there, she fell silent. No one wants to say anything bad about St. Tammy. After all, Roys seems to be promoting the same old grey stuff Tammy so loves. From Roys’s website: “I support robust transportation investments to build our infrastructure in roads, rail, air, and waterways.” More expansion of the same crap that got us into this hot mess. (Then somewhere way on down there sits bicycling and walking; clearly afterthoughts.)

At the 350.org candidate forum, I felt that the best, most thoughtful candidate performance was by Matt Silverman. As a veteran–an officer who led troops in battle in Iraq–he was the only candidate there who explained–straight up–the ugly connection between our fossil fuel addiction and war. I applaud such honesty. Neither Roys nor Pocan could muster up that courage. I was just sorry to see him cling to the belief that there could be any compromise with Republicans. He made such compromise a highlight of his talk at the forum, and, from his website: “I know that the only way forward is meaningful compromise and cooperation between Democrats and Republicans.” Dude, those days died at the dawn of the Reagan era. I mean, Democrats are so afraid of their own shadows that they can’t even come up with a program within their own caucus–even when they have it all! (I’m talking about, for example, the healthcare debacle which resulted in the adoption of the righ-wing Heritage Foundation’s plan from the early 90s late 80s–and this came out of a congress with a strong Dem majority in both houses and a Dem-owned the presidency!)

Dems need to get their own house in order first.

Why do Democrats insist on being so absolutely gutless? They need to learn that Americans want their leaders to have guts; to be leaders. Pocan and Roys have not shown me that.

I need to see leadership dedicated to defunding the corporate enterprises that would grind us into dust.

Update 08/15/2012: Looks like he-who-sat-on-his-hands won. And decisively. I’m beginning to wonder whether this district, so full of high-IQ types as it is, is really so smart after all. Maybe it is just the reflexive gutlessness, not the brainpower….

 

Now ask yourself why you keep flying, driving, voting for that paving politician….

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

In case you were wondering whether it might be worth it to take the train instead of flying, biking instead driving, investing in a home energy audit or voting out your paving politician (yup, the progressive ones like their paving as much as your standard issue Republican)……James Hansen has the answer.

And Obama needs to get an earful on this.