Archive for the ‘Perspectives on American Gluttony’ Category

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?”

 

Trump is Just Symptom of Clinton’s Disease

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

Dunno how this one is going to turn out, but just wanted to get some thoughts down about how badly our “Betters,” the Very Serious People, the élites of the country, have so screwed us, and thus brought us to this pass. And they know it, too. They belatedly realize that “those people” Beyond The Hudson and Outside of the Beltway actually–gasp!–vote. Now our betters are in a panic. And at least paying lip service to the 99%. There have even been some mea culpas trotted out by the old bulls of foreign policy: Please, please, pretty please, ye unwashed, give us just one more chance!

Then there’s this Atlantic article, another in a long series of what I’m calling The Great Panic of Aught 16 (ie, the establishment in a tailspin over The Bern and The Donald):

It’s actually quite good. Basically explains the genesis of the Democratic Leadership Council Democrat (the sellout wing of the party funded by the Koch Bros.) whom I so vehemently abhor. HRC is the latest in a long line of these turncoats. Also helps explain the link between these bankster-friendly neo-liberals and the pro-war neo-cons, a link which I had always found bizarre but understand better now.

But, sorry neo-liberal élites, Hillary et al, you’ve had your chance, and you blew it. Win or lose, you have blown it. You should have read your What’s the Matter with Kansas back in Aught Four and paid attention to its prescience. You should have paid attention to the data which so clearly showed the crushing of the poor and the middle class. Instead of ensuring a more just and equitable America, you just doubled down on:

  • Economics of Cruelty–Your unfair “free” trade pacts and tax policies that crush the 99% while gilding the preciousness of the 0.1%
  • Torture–You let them off the hook, shaming this nation, enfeebling our moral standing.
  • Warmongering–You voted for those wars.
  • Stasiland–You turned the people’s government into a surveillance state, shredding our Constitution. It was a coup and you were part of it.
  • Banksterism–You rescinded Glass-Steagall and other reasonable regulations, allowing the banksters to drive our economy into a ditch, then let them steal people’s houses. And when that wasn’t enough, you let them loot the treasury. And now you cozy up to them. Yes, Hillary, brilliant idea you proposed at that Goldman Sachs dinner: let the banksters regulate the banksters.
  • Global Warmism–You send us into multiple wars for oil to keep cars well-fueled, then the economy goes into a tailspin from sky high fuel prices thanks to your pro-highway policies (remember your ‘drive til you qualify’ housing policies?), your solution is…to build more highways! Thanks to your pro-gluttony transportation policies we are cooking the climate.

You and your party had it all from 2009 to 2011–the presidency, congress, everything– and you did nothing to rectify the worst excesses of the Bush years. Indeed, you people just gave it your Democratic imprimatur.

And then you wonder why the people revolted.  From 2009 to 2011 you had it all. And you just doubled down on the cruelty.

We’ve had quite enough of you people. Even if you eke out a win we’ve had it with you.

Basically, we the people have but one very blunt instrument available, and that is the vote. We couldn’t get the likes of Hillary to hear us, so masses of us voted against her in the primaries. It shook her up and made her adopt a more, shall we say, 99%-friendly posture. But the emails prove that she is busy staying cozy with the banksters and the 0.1%. And I will never be able to forgive her for her Iraq War vote. So, I’m done with her. (Don’t worry, I won’t be voting Trump though.)

 

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.

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.

Peripatetic Cyber-Peregrinations May 4 – 7, 2011

Friday, May 6th, 2011

My random perusals….updated periodically.

There are always alternatives to fossils!

June 1 – 4  New Urbanism conference–Learn about how to make sprawl pretty! Ok, I’ll be nice. Maybe they have some good ideas. But over the years of watching development projects come through the city, I’ve come to the conclusion that for the most part, the New Urbanist concepts just get co-opted and buzzworded to death by developers who have no intention of ever actually putting the concepts into practice. But the words sound good, and by saying them during presentations at city commissions, they sail on through. Lipstick on a pig, as it were.

The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin jettisoned all the Madison “radicals” — even going so far as to purge their website of all evidence of any bike activism in the 1990s — in order to cozy up to the rightist businessmen….Wonder how that’s working out for them?

A powerful piece on how nature — the earth — is up against it, thanks to our gluttony.

 

Bank Bailout: Obama’s Utter, Abject, Abysmal Failure

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

This is one of the most scathing Op-Eds I’ve ever seen in the NYT.

The bank bailout that Obama voted for as a senator and who was legally mandated to manage for the benefit of the American people as president, was, as the likes of Michael Moore (and yours truly), predicted at the time, an abject failure. It  helped only bank CEOs while imperiling the economic future of the rest of America.

President Obama should be ashamed of himself.

And he simply should not run in 2012.

MGE: The Rustbelt Mindset

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Word has it that Madison Gas & Electric was the lead lobbyist in scuttling the state’s green energy plan during the state’s recent budget deliberations.

One major component of the plan: 25% of state’s total energy was to come from renewables. It also included a massive conservation push. There were significant provisions for reeling in cars. It was a multi-frontal assault on gluttony. It was a good plan.

Kristine Euclid, Gary Wolter & Co. should be ashamed of themselves.

As many readers know, I’m a major doubter about renewables. For now. I believe that there is so much low hanging fruit in terms of conservation that it would be unwise to dive into renewables until we have reduced our overall burn to the point that renewables could actually make a dent. As it stands, we burn so much that even a massive, Manhattan Project-scale investment in renewables wouldn’t make a hill of beans difference. We’ve got to burn less — a lot less — in order for renewables to be more than decorative. That said, this plan was so comprehensive, and so, so, just plain good on so many levels — especially conservation — that I think the 25% was a good, achievable target for renewables. I believe we would have been forced to burn a lot less in order to achieve that target number. We could never in a million years gotten to that number trying to build up to it assuming current consumption. We would first have to reduce, reduce, and reduce some more to make that number a reality. A good thing.

But the old, gray industrialists at MGE didn’t like it. Why? For one, by forcing reductions in the total burn of coal in the state, the bill probably would have reduced the value of their recent investment in 19th century coal technology at the Oak Creek power plant (or Elm Road, or whatever the latest euphemism for that rusting relic is).

It gets worse. Not only did they scuttle a visionary, 21st century green energy policy, they now want to hammer their green power paying customers with the cost of keeping their coal fired power plants.

More below….

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 27, 2010

MORE INFORMATION

Michael Vickerman

RENEW Wisconsin

608.255.4044

mvickerman@renewwisconsin.org

RENEW: Renewable Energy Not Responsible for MGE Rate Increase

Higher costs associated with fossil fuel generation are driving Madison Gas & Electric’s costs higher, according to testimony submitted by company witnesses. The utility filed an application last week with the Public Service Commission (PSC) to collect an additional $32.2 million through a 9% increase in electric rates starting January 2011.

The bulk of the rate increase can be attributed to expenses associated with burning coal to generate electricity. A 22% owner of the 1,020-megawatt (MW) Columbia Generating Station near Portage, Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) and the owner plant owners plan to retrofit the 35-year-old facility to reduce airborne emissions. The cost of Columbia’s environmental retrofit is expected to total $640 million, of which MGE’s share is about $140 million.

MGE also owns an 8% share of the state’s newest coal-fired station, the 1,230-MW Elm Road Generating Station located in Oak Creek. A portion of the proposed rate hike would cover lease payments and other expenses at that plant.

MGE’s application does not attribute any portion of its proposed rate hike to renewable energy sources. However, MGE plans to increase the premium associated with its voluntary Green Power Tomorrow program from 1.25 cents per kilowatt-hour to 2 cents. RENEW estimates that the premium hike will collect more than $1 million in 2011 from the approximately 10,000 customers participating in the program.

According to the utility’s web site, 10% of MGE’s electric customers purchase some or all of their electricity from renewable resources. Moreover, Green Power Tomorrow has the second highest participation rate of all investor-owned utilities in the country according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Not surprisingly, MGE anticipates subscribership in Green Power Tomorrow to decrease if the PSC approves the higher premium. Currently, the program accounts for about 5% of total electric sales. Program subscribers include the City of Madison, State of Wisconsin, Dane County Regional Airport, Madison West High School, Goodman Community Center and Home Savings Bank.

According to MGE, sinking fossil fuel prices have widened the difference between wholesale power costs and the cost of supplying customers with renewable energy. However, it is worth remembering that the cost of supplying power from MGE’s renewable energy assets, such as its Rosiere installation in Kewaunee County and Top of Iowa project, did not increase last year and will not increase in the foreseeable future.

“Even though the cost of MGE’s windpower supplies is not going up, Green Power Tomorrow customers will take a double hit if the PSC approves this rate increase and request for higher premiums,” said RENEW Wisconsin executive Director Michael Vickerman. “It’s a ‘heads-I-win-tails-you-lose’ proposition that will wind up rewarding customers who drop out of the renewable energy program because coal is cheaper.”

“It would be short-sighted to penalize renewable energy purchasers just because fossil fuel prices are in a temporary slump,” Vickerman said. “But if MGE is allowed to institute this penalty at the same time it imposes the cost of cleaning up an older coal-fired generator on all of its customers, including its Green Power Tomorrow subscribers, it would have a profoundly negative impact on the renewable energy marketplace going forward.”

“This is the wrong time to be throwing up barriers to renewable energy development. We at RENEW will fight proposals that reward fossil fuel use and penalize renewable energy,” Vickerman added.

END

RENEW Wisconsin (HUwww.renewwisconsin.orgUH) is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives.

Na’avi Kickin’ Some Ass & Takin’ Some Names

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Ok, so let’s see, the best equipped, best trained most ferociously powerful army ever fielded in the history of the world seeks to subdue a medieval country equipped with nothing better than WW I equipment, and virtually no formal military training….sounds like the makings of a rout, eh?

But sometimes, hollywood fantasies turn out to be more accurate predictors of the future than the Pentagon’s macho-man plans. Indeed, it looks like the greatest army is tucking tail and slinking back to base after getting its ass kicked by third world (barely) villagers.

The abovelinked NYT article ends with this:

Looking back, soldiers say the effort shows how choices made from a lack of understanding or consultation with local people can drive them into the arms of the insurgents.

“We had the best intentions, but when you don’t fully understand the culture” it is impossible to make the right choices, said Major Fussell.

Gee, ya think?

For a little insider perspective, consider this: back when I was in the Green Machine (mid-late 80s), I was constantly derided by my fellow officers for doing wacky — and extremely un-manly — things like learning the language of the place we were stationed or training in (fluent in Italian, pretty good with German, and even picked up a little Turkish). Actually engaging the locals — which I had a very bad habit of doing — was particularly horrifying for them. I was obviously not destined to last long in that environment. But at least I was able to inflict maximum irritation upon the manly-men while serving. (Can you tell I’m a Holden Caulfield fan?!)

I’d like to think that maybe they will learn a lesson from their travails in Iraq & Afghanistan, but I doubt it. I’ve talked with enough of those who stayed in. They don’t get it. My generation of officers came up in the shadows of Viet Nam. Our training, by officers who had served there, was meant to help us avoid the mistakes of that war. The manly-men who got promoted from my generation are the ones in charge now, making the exact same mistakes as their predecessors in Viet Nam.

They really don’t get it.

But it isn’t their job to get it, really. They are trained to do what they do and that’s it. A big part of what they do is taking orders from civilians in charge. That’s us. We appoint, through a vote, the people who give them their marching orders.

So as you recoil in horror to the latest gruesome videotaped slaughter, keep in mind, the dogs of war have been loosed for one and only one reason: to satisfy gluttonous, deathmobiling lifestyle Americans insist on maintaining. Lust for the Unobtainium-based lifestyle as it were. Expect more slaughter of the Na’avi in the pursuit of it. But remember the karmic ending.

And here’s another good description of the karmic process at work as Jesus H. Obama’s drone strikes obliterate international law and shred our own constitution.

Jesus Giveth, Jesus Bargaineth Away

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Just so His disciples don’t get too carried away in their euphoria over the health care “victory,” Jesus H. Obama announces His plan to keep the flock on the gluttonous energy path.

Drill, Jesus, Drill!

And true to form, this give away to the carbon interests is His opening gambit even before negotiations have begun on carbon emissions limits. Yeah, that’s it, give away every bargaining chip even before the bargaining has begun!

This lead up to the carbon cap talks is shaping up to be a replay of the health care debate: Just like His taking single payer off the table even before getting to the table; or handing over the public option ‘chips’ to the hospital lobby before serious negotiations even begin. Cede ground til there’s nothing much left to cede.

Then declare victory. Then, watch your followers, at the receiving end of an abusive relationship, be thankful for their crumbs. He really loves me. I know He does. Even when He abuses me.

Oh, and by the way, is this really the sort of bargaining that the really smart people at Columbia teach their law students? Remind me to not hire an Ivy League lawyer next time.

The Sustainability Mirage: A NYT Update

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Back in January I had an article published entitled “Madison’s Sustainability Mirage,” thesis of which was, all the groovey-green gizmos in the world won’t make a hill-of-beans difference as long as we keep siting “green buildings” in car-mandatory places. Looks like the smart gate-keepers at the NYT just figured it out, too.