Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Active Hope

                                                                                              written 22 December 2019
                                                                                          published 29 December 2019

            At this time of the return of the light, the world seems fraught, and compassionate people despair.  We unsuccessfully look for "reasons" for this despair in our immediate experience, but need to open to the larger world to really get to the roots.  
            For decades, Joanna Macy, eco-philosopher and Buddhist scholar, has presented the idea that the despair we feel is due to our fundamental connection with the planet, experiencing the grief of the sixth mass extinction of life.  "Active Hope", by Macy and Chris Johnstone, excerpted here, explores how to process that despair effectively.
            "The word hope has two different meanings.  The first (passive hope) involves hopefulness, where our preferred outcome seems reasonably likely to happen.  If we require this kind of hope before we commit ourselves to an action, our response gets blocked in areas we don't rate our chances too high, with no point in even trying to do anything."
            "The second meaning (Active Hope) is about desire, what would we like to have happen in the world, the kind of world we long for so much it hurts. It is this second kind of hope that starts our journey, knowing what we hope for and what we'd like, or love, to take place.  It is what we do with this hope that really makes a difference.  Passive hope is about waiting for external agencies to bring about what we desire.  Active Hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for."
            "Active Hope is a practice, something we do rather than have, which we can apply to any situation, and involves three key steps.  First, we take a clear view of reality; second, we identify what we hope for in terms of the direction we would like things to move in or values we'd like to see expressed; and third, we take steps to move ourselves or our situation in that direction."
            "Since Active Hope doesn't require our optimism, we can apply it even in areas where we feel hopeless.  The guiding impetus is intention; we choosewhat we aim to bring about, act for, or express.  Rather than weighing our chances and proceeding only when we feel hopeful, we focus our intention and let it be our guide."
            "We can react to world crisis by rising to the occasion with wisdom, courage, and care, or we can shrink from the challenge, blot it out, or look away. When we choose to draw out our best responses, we might even surprise ourselves by what we bring forth.  We can train ourselves to become more courageous, inspired, and connected."
            "The spiral of The Work That Reconnects (see also "Coming Back To Life" with Molly Young Brown) reminds us that we are larger, stronger, deeper, and more creative than we have been brought up to believe.  It maps out an empowerment process through four successive movements or stations; Coming from Gratitude, Honoring Our Pain for the World, Seeing with New Eyes, and Going Forth."
            "Coming from Gratitude, we become more present to the wonder of being alive in this amazing world, to the gifts we receive, to the beauty we appreciate. Yet the very act of looking at what we love in our world brings awareness of the vast violation under way, and we naturally flow to honoring our pain for the world."
            "Admitting the depth of our anguish, Honoring Our Pain, we break the taboos that silence our distress.  Our pain for the world not only alerts us to the danger but also revels our profound caring, derived from our interconnectedness with all life, a healthy expression of our belonging to life."
            "Seeing with New Eyes reveals the wider web of resources within a deeper ecological self, with ancient spiritual wisdom and creative imagination, opening us to new views of what is possible and new understanding of our power to make a difference."
            "Going Forth involves clarifying our vision of how we act for the healing of our world, identifying practical steps that move our vision forward."
            We live in powerful times, when every aspect of what we have known is now challenged to grow and change.  In the New Year, my active hope for everyone is: Gratitude, Love, and Global Awakening.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

A Matter Of Faith

                                                                                                written 15 December 2019
                                                                                            published 22 December 2019

            Religions are born from direct experience of unseen spiritual reality, beyond description by the limitation of words.  But words can help in communication, and every organized religion has sacred text inspired by the direct experience, with advice for living an ethical life.  Like a finger pointing toward the moon, words point the way, but are not the experience itself.  If a person gets lost examining the finger, looking at the color of the skin, how callused the hand, how manicured the fingernails, they can miss experiencing the moon completely.  
            Within each organized religion, there is a mystical population which knows the words are only metaphors and are less concerned with literal interpretations, allowing them to get along with mystics from other religions.  However, this makes them suspect to the larger fundamentalist portion of their own religious community, which often views literality as demonstration of being pious. 
            My maternal grandmother attended a rather limited Christian church all her life, and my mother reacted by raising us non-religious.  My personal spiritual explorations began after college.  Influenced by quantum mechanics, philosophy, and Buddhism, I have become a spiritual mystic.  As a result, I view Christianity from the outside, unburdened by rigid dogma, but able to appreciate its deep spiritual truth.
            The heart of Christ's message is to love God, and love the other as you love yourself.  This Golden Rule is found within every religion around the world, testimony to its fundamental clarity.  Aldous Huxley's book, "The Perennial Philosophy", surveyed world religions looking for common elements.  In addition to the Golden Rule, he found they all suggest the work of humanity is a journey from egoistic self to experience of divine unity.  We are all relative expressions of the same divine reality, so to love God, we must love ourselves, and all the parts which appear as "other".  These instructions for living in a non-dual, unity reality, are very simple in concept, but socially radical, and challenging to accomplish.  People who describe themselves as Christian, but fear God and hate passionately, have missed the mark, and are living contrary to the heart of Christ's message.  
            The money, power, and politics required for the business of an organized religion subverts the mystical spiritual foundation of any faith. Christians have killed non-Christians since becoming the Roman state religion, and Catholics have killed Protestants for centuries, despite worshiping the same text, just as Sunni and Shia Muslims kill each other today.  
            A recent article by Alex Morris of the Rolling Stone, titled "False Idol - Why the Christian Right Worships Donald Trump", describes the history of how the Evangelical movement became politicized over time, leading up to the situation today. Trump, despite living contrary to Christian morality, garners Evangelical support by appointing judges who further narrow Christian social goals, but also put corporate rights above human rights, benefiting wealthy Christian donors.  Rick Perry, former Secretary of Energy, recently declared that Trump was "chosen by God", but a few years earlier described Trump as a "cancer on conservatism".  That kind of religious malleability corrodes the integrity of the system.  
            A conservative political commentator stated that if Democrats pick a candidate too far to the left, they will have to sell socialism to evangelicals, and Trump will win.  From a unity perspective, this is a flawed assessment, because at their heart, evangelical Christians and socialists are fellow travelers, because the foundation of socialism is commitment to the common welfare.  America was founded on the principle that all people are created equal, which is the essence of the Golden Rule.  We are all worthy, so the rule of law must apply to everyone.  When America was founded, this was socially radical, but we became a beacon of hope around the world.  Our communities and fates are united.
            The exclusive gain of our extraction economy is killing the planet and all life on it, for short term profit.  There is need for unity spiritual perspective to balance this, but religion constrained by the duality of fear and hate only makes things worse.  People of faith must call out the limitations within their own religion.  Reality has a socialist bent, as the Golden Rule implies.  We are all being challenged to live the best within us.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Russian Issue

                                                                                                written 8 December 2019
                                                                                          published 15 December 2019

            One factor that has been obscured by the daily Tweets and breaking news is 
how Trump's actions have advanced Russian interests.   
            Putin came to power in the Russian Federation in 1999, eight years after the Soviet Union collapsed, as the Russian economy reorganized into an oligarchy. Following the crash of 2008, Russia's primary export, gas and oil, lost value as the global economy slowed.  In early 2014, to distract growing domestic unrest, Putin invaded Crimea, and then eastern Ukraine, claiming them for Russia. 
            Concerned that Russian aggression might expand into NATO territory, international reaction was swift.  By June, 2014, the US funded billions of dollars to increase NATO training, preposition material, and upgrade infrastructure for rapid response.  With bipartisan support, Congress imposed strong sanctions, limiting credit from western banks and kicked Russia out of the G-8 global summit meetings.  Military aid to Ukraine increased by $1.5B.  Sale of oil and gas technology was prohibited, killing a proposed $500B investment by Exxon. 
            In June, 2015, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president. The following spring, hackers accessed Democratic National Committee computers and several state voter registrations.  Attacks on Clinton began on Facebook and Twitter.  US intelligence agencies, suspecting election interference, investigated and concluded Russia was guilty.  December, 2016, Obama signed further economic sanctions against Russia and ejected 35 Russian operatives.
            January, 2017, US intelligence agencies formally reported that it was Russia that interfered, and in August, with almost unanimous bipartisan support, Congress extended the sanctions against Russia.  The Senate intelligence committee reconfirmed it was Russia in May, 2018, and in July, Mueller indicted 12 Russians for election interference.
            Russia needs the sanctions removed to allow investment in their critical oil and gas industry and to continue expanding their geopolitical influence, to Make Russia Great Again.  So, they must destroy the cohesion of the NATO alliance and debunk the conclusion that Russia interfered in our election.
            One of Trump's first appointments was Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, formerly head of Exxon.  From the beginning, Trump suggested that sanctions on Russia should be lifted, Russia should be readmitted to the G-7, and has derided the necessity of NATO.  He and his inner circle began spreading the idea that Ukraine was the source of election interference, not Russia, despite US intelligence conclusions.  The current investigation of the Ukrainian aid holdup, shows Trump had three goals.  One benefited him, dirt on Biden to affect the next election, but the other two were for Russia's benefit.  By switching the narrative to Ukrainian election interference, one of the reasons for economic sanctions could be removed.  By withholding aid, he showed Ukraine that the US was not the strong supporter they need, making them more likely to concede to Russian demands, ending to the fighting, eliminating the other reason for the sanctions.   
            This September, Trump further weakened Ukraine and NATO, when he transferred billions of dollars from the military to fund building his border wall. Those funds were slated to increase our capacity to support Ukraine militarily and rapidly respond to further Russian aggression. 
            When Turkey took delivery on a Russian missile defense system last July, despite the significant national security risk, the Trump administration did nothing, even though he had previously threatened sanctions.  In October, after a call with the leader of Turkey, Trump decided to pull out of Syria, with no warning to our allies, or even our own military leaders. Our withdrawal was so poorly planned, that a new base was left intact, and we had to call in strikes to blow up stored ammunition.  Our Kurdish allies were abandoned, and rather than face genocide from Turkish fighters, switched allegiance, expanding Russian power in the region. 
            It is plausible that Trump is a tool of Russia, because of all the money they loaned him to keep his bankrupt empire afloat.  It is plausible that he doesn't care about American geopolitical power, because everything is only about him.  But why does Republican leadership still support this?  The obvious answer is they wanted to stay in power, and originally thought they could control him.  But Trump's self-serving, erratic nature, is now detrimental to our national security, and continued Republican support is a violation of their oath of office. This is a test of moral integrity.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

On Fire

                                                                                              written 1 December 2019
                                                                                          published 8 December 2019

            Naomi Klein's latest book "On Fire" outlines in stark measure the extent of the climate emergency, and what is required to deal with it.  For over a quarter century the scientific data and understanding has continued to build, and the actual climate impact makes headline news every year with new extremes.  Despite this, climate deniers persist, and even shifted public opinion earlier this century, with well-funded disinformation campaigns.  But the climate crisis is not a hoax or fake news. It is inexorable, global, and indifferent to politics and wealth, so public opinion has shifted back, and climate is a growing concern with a majority of Americans.  
            Over 50 years ago, oil company researchers discovered that their product could harm the climate, perhaps even cause human extinction.  Rather than address the issue, and work for a transition to a less lethal energy source, the companies halted the research, and began funding climate disinformation.  The opportunity for a simple transition was sacrificed for short term corporate profits, which is understandable considering the limited nature of corporate ethics.  But this is only a recent symptom of the deep structural problem: the illusion of separation.
            Five hundred years ago the Pope divided the world between Portugal and Spain, commanding them to explore the non-European world, claiming land for their respective empires.  They were to convert or kill anyone they found, spreading the truth of Catholic Christianity to the heathen "other", contrary to Christ's teaching to love the other.  Vast lands and resources were stolen from people who already lived there, and masses of people were enslaved and moved to other locations to power this new enterprise. The illusion of separation predicates the assumptions that land and resources could be devastated for human gain, and that only Christians were worthy.  The unworthy "other", people or land, was of no concern, and could be sacrificed.  These patterns continue to this day.
            In the last 50 years, humans have consumed as much resource and energy as all of previous human existence, relentlessly increasing consumption for an expanding human population.  Because the Earth is finite, this frenzy of extraction economy is destroying larger portions of the planet, killing life in these "sacrifice zones", leaving the land poisoned and barren.  Massive coral bleaching, enormous plastic gyres and de-oxygenated zones in increasingly acidified oceans, superfund toxic chemical sites, wasted valleys from mountain top removal mining, poisoned areas due to oil spills: all are economic sacrifices to a global consumption economy that is running on fumes.
            The sacrifice of "unworthy people" is also expanding.  The extraction economic model concentrates wealth over time, leaving people behind.  Not only the poor in nations where we take their resources for our use, but now American citizens who can't find living wage jobs, affordable education, or health care for their increasingly toxified bodies.  The immigration floods which have destabilized so much of the world are a consequence of extractive resource depletion, corrupt wealth inequity benefiting the developed world, and adverse climate change.  Increasing climate extremes are eroding economic stability as the destruction happens faster than reconstruction.  
            The climate crisis is just the most universal expression of this systemic dysfunction.  It is living proof that we are all in this together, with no exceptions.  This problem is only going to get worse as the planet continues to burn.  But climate denial persists, especially under this president.  I always thought that if enough facts were presented, logic would convince, and win the day.  But climate denial is now a religious conviction, an article of faith that is immune to reason.  Why?  
            In Klein's second chapter, she presents the best understanding I have encounter so far.  In one way, the ruling class of climate deniers is absolutely correct: addressing the climate emergency will end their life style of massive wealth inequity and exclusive gain.  What the elite knows, but refuses to accept, is that any real solution to the climate crisis will have to simultaneously deal with population limits, consumption styles, gender and racial inequity, and environmental justice.  There can no longer be any sacrificial people or places. The world is whole.  All life is worthy.  We are the last generation that has a chance to make a change.  We need to grow up or die. 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Keep The Lights On: Part 4

                                                                                            written 24 November 2019
                                                                                          published 1 December 2019

            After several weeks of discussing the idea of power down resilience, "Keeping The Lights On" in Ukiah, it is time to summarize, and look to the future.
            To avoid ruinous economic losses from ongoing power shutdowns, the city could build a solar power collection and battery storage micro-grid.  One general solution, with the maximum bang for the buck, would be one large array and one large battery designed to power the entire city during the winter solar minimum.  Benefiting from volume discounts, this would cost about $300M (depending on land costs), 2/3 for the array and 1/3 for the battery.  The primary advantage is that none of the existing power system within the city would have to be rewired, but the primary difficulty is finding 200 acres of land for the array.
            The other general solution would produce about 50% of our normal power consumption during power down emergencies, which would keep the lights on and allow businesses to operate on a reduced basis.  The primary advantage is that it could be started incrementally and could be built entirely within the city limits.  The primary disadvantage is that thousands of small arrays on every appropriate roof and parking lot, with battery storage installed in every home and business, will increase system management complexity.  Further, the rewiring involved at each location, the increased array installation expenses, and the loss of volume discounts, makes the 50% solution cost more than $450M (about 1/2 array and 1/2 battery).  
            In either case, funding for arrays could be finance at low, long term, fixed rates, because they produce marketable power for decades.  Funding for batteries would require more ingenuity. They should be considered the cost of not bankrupting our economy due to complete power outages.  Every level of government is beginning to look at this issue, and grant money is becoming available.  Even PG&E is mentioning micro-grids as part of the solution.  For comparison, the recently completed purple pipe project was funded with a $45M grant.
            Considering the future, a single system designed to provide full power in the winter will produce 300MWh per day excess power during the summer months, helping fund the whole project.  This power could be sold wholesale, or it could power value added projects for local economic development.  It could be stored as hydrogen, which has industrial value, or can be converted back to electricity through fuel cells.  Another chemical storage form is ammonia, which can be used by industry, converted back to electricity, or used agriculturally as fertilizer.  Energy intensive industries could be invited to Ukiah, understanding that the energy surplus is seasonal.  Perhaps the surplus could be used to promote electric vehicle tourism.  These are just a few possibilities for handling the overproduction during the summer from a single large array.
            There are economic advantages from the 50% solution as well.  Even though we won't have a summer energy surplus, we will have to create a large workforce of skilled installers to get the job done in a timely manner.  Ukiah area could become a training center for 21st century, good paying jobs.  The shift to renewable power is gaining speed, and will become the new normal everywhere in the world.  
            To maximize distributed power and storage, we will have to get more energy efficient and build creative systems that will be of value everywhere.  For example, traffic lights go dead with a power outage.  Power resilient LED traffic lights could have solar collection and batteries as stand-alone systems, requiring no wiring to the grid, reducing installation costs. Cell towers died during the outage because of limited batteries, or limited generator fuel.  Every site should have stand-alone solar collection and batteries, without need for grid connection.  These systems could be designed and manufactured here, for sale everywhere. 
            If you would like to "Keep The Lights On" in Ukiah during a power outage, share these ideas with friends, and email your support to the City Council members below.  
            There is no single way to accomplish this, and we need a series of workshops to pull together ideas from every part of the community.  If we show there is popular support for the basic concept, the Council will make it happen. 

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Keep The Lights On: Part 3

                                                                                            written 17 November 2019
                                                                                        published 24 November 2019
            Two weeks ago, I described the cost of the recent power down, the likelihood these would continue for a decade no matter what happens to PG&E, and the inadequacies of using backup generators.  For economic survival, Ukiah must become more power down resilient to "Keep The Lights On", and the idea of a single whole city array and storage battery was considered.  Last week I discussed providing emergency power for the residential portion of the community through small scale distributed storage for each household.  This week I will consider distributed power collection within the commercial part of our community.
            The lost business income during a power outage is one of the major drivers to "Keep The Lights On" in Ukiah.  Solar arrays have a guaranteed return on the investment, providing inflation proof electricity.  Businesses have already budgeted for the cost of power.  Shifting these expenditures from the current system to renewable arrays is like shifting from renting to owning with a fixed rate mortgage.  Not only is the cost fixed, but eventually the system is paid off and subsequent power is free.  The stumbling block is funding the initial investment.  The City or utility could borrow money to make energy loans to subsidize array installations.  Keeping the businesses of the city operational improves everyone's lives, not to mention avoiding business bankruptcies.
            Roof top and parking lot canopy arrays, in joint partnership on existing commercial real estate, would eliminate the cost of land for an array, but would incur larger array mounting costs.  Because these arrays would be within the boundaries of the Ukiah electric district, connecting to the local distribution system would be easy.  Parking lot canopy arrays are becoming more common, and the installation costs are dropping.  Canopies also help cool the land under the array, reducing the heat island effect that can worsen urban summers.  
            An investigation using Google Maps gives a rough estimate for at least 59 possible locations for midsize arrays within Ukiah city limits.  There are 24 roof locations that do not yet have solar.  Assuming collectors cover 50% of the roof area, these arrays would range from 43KW to 1MW, for a total capacity of over 12.8MW.  Covering 50% of 32 parking lots with canopy arrays ranging from 250KW to 1.25MW, would give another 18.8MW.  The area along the east edge of the airport could support an 11MW array.  Building all these would create a capacity of 42.6MW, about 40% of the 100MW target to power the entire city during the winter. In addition to these estimates, there are many locations for small arrays.
            As a society, we have gotten used to having all the power we want whenever we want it.  In an emergency, we can modify our normal patterns for the duration, like conserving water in a drought.  Businesses could shorten their hours of operation to fit the available power. For example, all gas stations have a canopy over their pumps, which could support an array.  Combined with some onsite storage, the array could power the station while the sun shines.  If every station was in operation part of the day the gas shortages and long lines we saw during the recent power down could be avoided.  
            Most restaurants in town use natural gas for cooking, but have to close during a power outage because the hood fans don't work, let alone the lights and credit card systems.  Roof top arrays would have to be supplemented with some on site battery storage to keep coolers and freezers alive.
            Grocery stores have large energy loads because of all the coolers and freezers, and represent the largest commercial challenge for power resilience. Many of the grocery stores in town have already installed generators, although they are vulnerable to failure, risking large losses.  
            If you would like to "Keep The Lights On" in Ukiah during a power outage, share these ideas with friends, and email your support to the City Council members below.  
            There is no single way to accomplish this, and we need a series of workshops to pull together ideas from every part of the community.  If we show there is popular support for the basic concept, the Council will make it happen. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Power Down Resilience Part 2

                                                                                            written 10 November 2019
                                                                                        published 17 November 2019
            Last week I described the impact of the recent power down in Ukiah.  Two successive Red Flag weather events caused PG&E to shut down power for four days, costing over $9M in lost business and spoiled food.  Last year there were 19 Red Flag events, which could have cost over $70M.  From now on, we can expect the grid to power down several times every fire season, the result of 20th century grid design and decades of deferred maintenance colliding with a changing climate.  If we do nothing, our local economy is at risk, along with the state tourist industry and even the California real estate market.
            The citywide system I outlined last time, was just one way we could respond to this crisis.  I have since discovered that I underestimated the amount of land needed for the large array and the installed cost of a large battery.  The 100MW array would be about $200M and the 250MWh battery about $100M. This large expense should be considered as an upper end solution.  It would power the city as usual with no further changes to the rest of the infrastructure.  But in an emergency, we can survive with much less power, requiring less money, but invested in different ways.
            For example, we could install a battery pack in all 6,500 homes in Ukiah. A 13KWh Tesla Powerwall battery would run Internet and phone communications, a refrigerator, and some lights for 4 days or so.  A transfer switch would be required to select key circuits for backup power.  Such distributed storage systems are already being considered by communities in the Bay Area, with a focus on the low income and medical needs populations.
            A Powerwall and transfer switch wiring would cost about $15K per household, for a city wide cost of about $100M.  This distributed storage of 85MWh will cost about the same as one large 250MWh battery, reflecting the economy of scale with the larger installation.  Funding storage is the hardest part of any power resilience plan, since it has no direct economic return, but eliminates the greater costs of a power down.
            Timely installation before the next fire season would require more than a bulk order with Tesla.  The rewiring of each house requires a large skilled work force.  Local solar installers are already busy, so a job training program with this specific focus will be needed.  City inspection staff would have to be increased and the permit process streamlined.
            Once every home has installed storage, a range of options are available to extend emergency power resilience indefinitely by adding some power collection or generation.  A solar array as small as 1KW would suffice, costing about $3K per house, for a city wide total of about $20M.  Homes without good solar exposure could work together, installing a larger array where possible, powering everyone's batteries.  Alternately, a small generator running efficiently a few hours a day could keep the battery topped up.  Maybe the City would have a service bringing large generator trucks around to keep batteries full.
            An essential first step in any power resilience investment is increasing energy efficiency, reducing the power we need.  Two simple upgrades would change all lights to LED's and replace older refrigerators with modern high efficiency models.  The City has had efficiency rebate programs in the past, which could be funded at a higher level to upgrade the entire community in one year.  The electricity saved rapidly repays the cost of the new equipment.  By upgrading lights and refrigeration and installing distributed storage, we can make the residential portion of Ukiah more power resilient in the face of our new normal.  When everyone can stay in their own homes, with fresh food, lights, medical needs powered and emergency communications intact, we are all better off.
            If you like the idea of creating a "power down resilient" Ukiah, sooner rather than later, share these ideas with friends, and email your support to the City Council members below.  
            There is no single way to accomplish this, and we need to pull together ideas from every part of the community.  If we show there is popular support for the basic vision, the Council will make it happen. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Let's Make Ukiah "Power Down Resilient"

                                                                                              written 3 November 2019
                                                                                        published 10 November 2019

            Sitting in the dark last week, with none of my normal distractions available, I got to thinking.  We have an aging 20th century power grid which is failing due to 21st century problems. PG&E, for all of its faults, is doing the right thing to power down the system when weather and fire conditions threaten.  Peak winds in Sonoma County were over 100 mph in one spot, and over 74 mph (category 1 hurricane) in many others.  It is prudent to hunker down during extreme weather events.  
            Based on Ukiah sales tax income, gross annual business comes to $640M, averaging $1.7M a day.  This power down lasted 4 days, for a business loss of about $7M.  There are 6,500 homes in Ukiah, and most lost food with no power. At $150 each, that's another $1M. Commercial food losses might be another $1M, for a grand total cost of $9M for this one event.  This is probably an underestimate. 
            The power down of distribution lines actually started 3 days earlier for most of the area, but the transmission line feeding Ukiah from the south was kept energized.  There is evidence that a failure on this line sparked the Kincade fire near Geyserville. In the future, PG&E will probably shut down all transmission lines in threatened areas.  If they had done that this time, our economic loss would have been more than $14M.  
            This fire season has been relatively calm so far.  If power downs had been in place during the 2018 fire season, there would have been 19 of them.  If the grid shut down only 10 times during a fire season, each lasting 3 days, the annual business losses would be about $50M.  Even if commercial and residential food losses were reduced by 50%, that would still add another $10M, for a total annual loss of $60M.  This rough estimate is the cost of doing nothing different.
            Modern life depends on power, and in an emergency, even a little bit makes a huge difference.  If we don't like sitting cold in the dark, we must do something because this problem will bankrupt our community if not addressed, but will cost money to fix.  
            Burying power lines would avoid fire ignition and make power shut down unnecessary, but introduces other problems and requires massive investment from a bankrupt company, taking years, if not decades, to accomplish.  PG&E has over 100,000 miles of distribution lines, of which 24% are underground, at a cost of $3M per mile.  Their 18,000 miles of transmission lines are on towers, because undergrounding them costs more than $20M per mile and significantly increases radiative power losses.
            Some homeowners and businesses have bought generators to provide a portion of their power needs.  This is a short-term solution.  Ukiah power is currently 70% non-carbon, so burning fossil fuel exacerbates the climate issues which contribute to the power down in the first place.  The cost of generators can be significant, and will sit unused most of the time as a sunk cost.  If they aren't maintained and run periodically, they may not work when needed.  Generators operate most efficiently, with longer life, when operated near their rated capacity powering a constant load, and are not well suited to powering a house. Fuel storage requires care, and there is no certainty that more will be available during an extended emergency. Noise is also an issue.  Finally, installing some generators doesn't address the needs of the entire Ukiah community.  Any long-term solution has to recognize we are all in this together.
            We are fortunate that we have our own power system, and there are possibilities available that did not exist even a few years ago: renewable energy collection combined with energy storage.  A generator is a fixed cost device which requires further funding (the cost of fuel) to actually produce power, thus there is no real return on investment. In contrast, a renewable energy collector is a fixed cost device which collects ambient power for free for decades, giving a true return on the investment.  It is time we invest in our energy future rather than just burning money to keep warm.  
            There are many forms this could take, but I will examine one possibility: a large solar array and battery storage system designed to power the entire City of Ukiah at current levels, grid tied during normal operations, but able to stand alone as a micro-grid.  After Hurricane Sandy, east coast communities began investigating and installing micro-grids for power down resilience during weather emergencies.  In California, micro-grid interest is growing due to the last few fire seasons. 
            There are many advantages to designing a city-wide power system.  The power shutdowns and the numerous fires are beginning to affect the tourist industry, which is a large part of our economy. Making Ukiah fully power resilient would be a marketable asset.  During the first power shutdown, which affected the surrounding area but not Ukiah, people in the outer areas were able to come to town for supplies, gasoline, a hot meal, cell phone recharge, and relaxation during a stressful time.  These opportunities were missing when Ukiah went dark as well.  Ukiah with power can be an evacuation haven from surrounding fires, and allow orderly evacuation of our own community if needed.
            Ukiah consumes an average of 300MWhs a day.  To produce that much power in the solar minimum of winter would require a 100MW array and a 250 MWh battery.  An array of this size would cost $100M to install, covering about 120 acres of land. Assuming land costs of $200,000 an acre for another $24M, and including connection to the Ukiah gird, the array might cost $150M.  Grid scale battery costs, falling rapidly in the last decade as manufacturing scales up, are currently $0.275/Wh.  Our Ukiah grid storage battery would cost about $70M, for a total system cost of $220M. 
            To put this in perspective, we must consider what we are already paying for power. At a wholesale power rate of $0.035/KWh, Ukiah pays $3.85M annually, or $77M over 20 years.  Just one shut down a year like the last one, an unlikely minimum, would cost $90M over a decade.
            There are two fixed cost pieces here: the array and the battery.  The array will generate income.  An investment in a solar array buys decades of power in advance, at a fix, inflation proof rate.  The 100MW array in this example is sized to give sufficient power in the solar minimum of winter, so it will produce excess power in the summer, making Ukiah a net power producer.  Over 30 years it would generate $191M at current wholesale electric prices.  The array cost could be financed by the utility selling bonds, or by borrowing the money as a low interest, fixed rate loan.  
            The second fixed coat is the $70M battery.  Since there is no direct return on this investment, this is the price we pay to avoid the larger costs of doing nothing.  Spread over 10 years, the annual cost would be less than the loss of a single power down.  While grant funding might be available, it may require an increase in electric rates, or sales tax.  
            There are energy loan programs at the Federal and State level.  Even PG&E is looking for ways to invest to deal with the economic costs of a power down.  At every level, special funds are available for emergency preparedness. Humboldt County borrowed from the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development to fund installation of a large array and storage at their airport in 2017.  In 2012, Jefferson County, in Washington state, bought their entire power system from an investor owned utility with such a loan. 
            One large micro-grid is only one possibility.  Maybe there should be 3 or 4 smaller systems, spread around the community. Perhaps small pump storage systems would be cheaper than a battery.  In an emergency, we could survive consuming less power, requiring a smaller investment. Modest collection and storage systems could be installed in every house and business throughout the community.  Installing such distributed systems would require training a large skilled work force.  Decisions about priority of installations would be necessary.  City regulations would need to be streamlined, and utility rebate programs developed and funded.  All this should be investigated and decided by the community.  The City Council can start by making a policy commitment to make Ukiah "power down resilient".
            If this vision of "power down resilience" interests you, I ask you to take two actions.  The first is to email City Council members Steve Scalmanini and Doug Crane, members of the ad hoc energy committee, and Tami Bartolomei, Community Services Administrator (email addresses below).  Tell all three of them you support making Ukiah "power down resilient", and want the council to direct staff, working with community input, to plan how to accomplish this as soon as possible.
            The second action is to send a copy of this document to everyone you know. We are all in this together, even if we live outside the city.  Having Ukiah functioning in a power down helps support everyone in the surrounding area. By spreading the word, building momentum, we can give the city leaders support to make "power down resilience" a reality in Ukiah. 


Sunday, November 3, 2019

What A Week!

                                                                                              written 26 October 2019
                                                                                        published 3 November 2019
            I went out onto the deck Thursday evening (Oct 24th), and could smell the smoke from the Kincade fire burning near Geyserville.  Every day I check https://firemap.sdsc.edu, a site showing fires based on satellite information, using color to show where active hot spots are located (click on the icon in the upper right-hand corner, select fires, and then perimeters and satellite detection).  As I write this, the fire is 10% contained, burning northeast, toward Cobb in Lake county. There are suggestions a PG&E transmission line tower started this fire, but investigation is ongoing.  
            Ukiah has managed to avoid losing power in the first two Public Safety Power Shutdowns, but we are due to shut down during the third one this weekend. Conservative critics are blaming the shutdowns on misguided investment in renewable energy by PG&E.  No mention of corporate priority for shareholder return over infrastructure maintenance, or climate change (can't risk offending Trump's orthodoxy that climate change is a hoax).
            In the real world, where the rest of us live, this week the San Francisco Chronicle ran a long article about the die off of 90% of the coastal kelp in the last half decade.  This is an oceanic environmental catastrophe comparable to California losing 90% of the trees within a few years.  The current ocean heat wave has killed coral and disrupted sea life around Hawaii, and the heat blob in the North Pacific has returned, possibly bringing more drought to California.  Researchers recently reported finding seafloor methane, a potent greenhouse gas, bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean, raising local atmospheric concentrations by a factor of 9.  In response, President Trump has announced that the next G7 meeting of foreign leaders will not have any discussion of climate change. 
            In legal matter, it was a difficult week for the president.  Investigations normally start with secret testimony, including grand juries, to get information on record without publicity or compromising witnesses.  Relevant facts are then made public during the trial phase, where the accused can respond. Since the Justice Department under Trump's Attorney General refused to look into reported misdeeds by the president, the House of Representatives has to do it as their Constitutional responsibility, beginning with closed door hearings in front of bi-partisan committees. 
            Testimony on Tuesday by Bill Taylor, recent US ambassador to Ukraine, was reportedly extensive, well documented, and convincing.  The president, with help from White House cabinet members, did illegally withhold aid to our ally Ukraine to pressure them to support his campaign.
            This process under the rule of law was too much for the cult of Trump.  In response to their worsening political situation, and the tsunami of evidence against their leader, 30 minor Republican members of the House stormed the hearings the next day, demanding "transparency", delaying hearings for several hours before losing interest and departing.  
            In other legal action this week, an appeals court heard arguments why Trump's tax returns should not be examined.  The tax records are of interest in a number of cases, involving fraud, money laundering, and accepting foreign bribes or contributions.  His attorney argued that as president, he is immune from not only indictment, but investigation, or even apprehension if caught in the middle of a crime, specifically even murder.  This god like immunity would extend to anyone related to, or working for, the president.  Of course, this is entirely contrary to the Constitution, which was written after a war to get rid of the divine right of a king.  
            Several cases suggest that Russian money, perhaps even mob money, has flowed to Trump and other Republican politicians.  Trump has advocated for Russian positions before being elected, and as president has defended Russia and Putin against American intelligence conclusions, and made unilateral, ill-considered foreign policy decisions which have strengthened Russia's position in Ukraine and the Middle East.  Perhaps Trump has been acting as an agent for Russian for so long that he thinks he has diplomatic immunity.
            While it is clear why Trump and his hand-picked cabinet believes this insanity, since they all face jail time if it is overturned, the real question is how many Republican leaders will violate their oath of office to defend the Constitution.  
            What an interesting time to be alive!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Considering The Nature Of Truth

                                                                                              written 13 October 2019
                                                                                          published 20 October 2019

            Deep examination shows we can "know" only two absolute truths: "I am" and "something seems to be happening".   Rather than be at peace with this awareness, we elaborate with descriptive stories.  "I am" quickly shifts to "who am I?", with answers rooted in past memories, which are only partial recollections at best.  "Something is happening" becomes a quest to understand "what is happening", requiring description of my current context, framed by further memories, limited by language and social structures. We move from clear awareness to elaborate stories the moment we begin to think about it all.
            The philosopher Kant argued that we can never know objective truth, because our entire experience is filtered through physiological limitations and psychological perspectives framed by cultural interpretations.  Everyone lives in a bubble of their own personal "truth", which is always relative and incomplete.  However, no one lives alone: no self is absolute, but always lives within a larger context.  Even the most socially isolated hermit needs physical sustenance from the organic world. Those of us who live within a social structure have to negotiate even more complex interactions.  How can we transcend our personal "truth" bubble to effectively engage the larger world? 
            What has evolved over time is a two-pronged approach: living within a group with agreed upon social structures for general support, and trial and error for further development.
            Social structures have organized communities of individuals for millions of years, long before humans arrived on the scene.  While the forms vary, their endurance comes from constantly weeding out individuals who don't accept the form.  This can range from shaming or expulsion from the group to actual extermination. In this manner, the relative "truth" of each society member is kept in resonance with the larger group, for mutual advantage.  The history of life, as well as the history of humanity, is an evolution of how social forms deal with divergence within their group and how they engage with groups with different structures. 
            Trial and error can inform individuals or groups as they encounter the larger world.  There is a bumper sticker which says: "Reality is what you stub your toe on".  This points to the fact that, independent of what we believe, we inhabit an effective reality with consequences.  If the structure of our society, or the nature of our personal "truth", is in conflict with this reality, the unexpected happens, even to the point of death. Trial and error is a way to investigate this reality.  When we experience a conflict between our "truth" and reality, like stubbing our toe, we have the opportunity to modify our "truth" before we repeat the encounter.  This can be difficult, since it requires changing our beliefs and social structures, which have psychological inertia and external consequences.  An alternative response is to deny the reality of the "stubbed toe" feedback, blame something or someone else, and proceed as if nothing important happened.  This is very popular in the short run because it requires less effort than real change, but the vulnerability persists since the choice is for continued fantasy over education by reality.  In a rapidly changing world, choosing denial becomes more perilous.  
            This denial is in action today around the issue of climate change.  The "stubbed toe" feedback is becoming more obvious every year, with increasing consequences, but climate denial is tied to religious, economic, political, and social structures which have worked relatively well for a powerful few.  That structural denial has persisted over half a century now, so simple responses are no longer possible, leaving only radical solutions, if any, which creates even more resistance.  Because the conflict is between fantasy and reality, the outcome is inevitable.
            A companion denial is the rise of fake news, with roots in the advertising industry that arose after WW2, presenting fantasy as fact for economic and political gain.  While propaganda and spin are as old as empires, the rise of mass media and technology have brought sight and sound into every home around the globe, making the fantasies harder to distinguish.  The insanity of our current leadership's "truth" bubble has created another Middle East war and global economic chaos, while ignoring issues that threaten our survival as a species.  Again, the outcome is inevitable.