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Arizona Prop 127 and the Dentist

Amending the Arizona Constitution to Require Electricity Providers to Generate at Least 50% of their Annual Sales of Electricity from Renewable Energy Sources.

Despite my cynicism 640-02771702and shaky belief in our experiment in American democracy, I still take my responsibility of voting seriously. I truly don’t believe my voice is heard or that my vote amounts to a hill of beans, but I’m programmed to believe that if I don’t participate, I haven’t earned the right to enjoy the occasional benefits of freedom bestowed upon all of us. I guess it’s similar to the old exchange where I’m asked, “Do you believe in free will?”

My response … “Of course, what choice do I have?”

With this said, I diligently do my homework on the ballot issues upon which I’m allowed to vote. In an effort to learn how I felt about the matter of Prop 127, I have contacted representatives of organizations espousing both sides of the matter. I have found it difficult to get straight answers from either side, especially the “Vote No” people.

One information resource available to me is called “NextDoor.com”, a pseudo-social network composed of neighbors – thousands of them – in the area of Scottsdale in which I live. One neighbor began a thread on the site encouraging neighbors to oppose the proposition. I muddled through the dozens of responses, some caustic and snarky, some myopic, some humorous and some more thought provoking than others. Here are a couple of the take-aways from my efforts.

  • Many people drink the cool-aid. The “Vote No” contingent is largely fed by the big utility companies, APS in particular. Their motives seem to be one-percent altruism (possibly misguided) and ninety-nine-percent profit motive. I don’t believe for an instant that profit is necessarily bad, but when it comes by selling your soul to the Devil or peddling your daughter on the streets to the highest bidders, the profit-motive may run into a few moral barriers.

APS may not be taking the moral high road on this matter. They make no claims as foolish as to suggest renewable energy in of itself is bad. They just say your monthly electric bill will increase. Those supporting Prop 127 make the argument that utility bills will go down. In both cases, there seems to be some sleight-of-hand being employed to make the cases. Bills probably wouldn’t go up as much as APS claims and they probably wouldn’t go down as much as NRDC claims.

Either way, the discussion of utility rate hikes seems to have an air of red herring. If APS insists on presenting blatantly false, fear mongering arguments about cost increases, this seems to beg the question “Why is APS so vehemently opposed to Prop 127?” I can guarantee you that the president of APS doesn’t go to bed each night with a prayer about keeping my personal utility bills as low as possible. He may pray that his income continues to grow without bound. I’ve got a whole file of cancelled checks that pretty much proves he doesn’t give a damn about my personal budget.

As an experienced engineer, I will assume that APS opposes Prop 127 for two principal reasons, taxes and control. I suspect that investing in significant new infrastructure in the form of solar and/or wind generation equipment is a “capital expense” and that those expenditures must be depreciated over an extended time period. If they could be immediately “expensed”, the Corporation Commission would no doubt do what it normally does and allow them to roll the costs into the utility rates immediately. If the costs are to be depreciated over time, APS would have to wait to fleece the consumers longer. I’m sure the picture is a bit more complicated than presented here, but you get the gist of it.

It should strike you as contemptable that APS can spend millions promoting and peddling the anti-127 rhetoric and immediately force you to pay for it via such “expenses” being rolled into your monthly utility bill, but they fight investing in a cleaner environment because that can’t take those dollars out of your pocket by the handful; they still get them, they have to grab them a few dollars at a time.

The other issue is “control”. A constitutional requirement for a certain energy mix takes a little bit of the choice from them. Heaven forbid they don’t retain complete, unbridled control of their world.

So some people drink the cool-aid like it’s free. They listen to what APS says and take it as the gospel. After all, it must be true because many of those who support Prop 127 are tree-huggers or liberals or environmentalists or even Democrats. Some have even gone over the edge and drive a Prius. My God! What further proof do you need that APS is standing on the right side the fence? Drink up. It beats the hell out of thinking it through.

  • Many, if not most people, don’t look at the big picture even if it’s held right in front of their faces. I’m stunned at the number of people who look at the issue solely from the standpoint of the amount they believe their utility bills will increase. Let’s take the improbable worst case scenario as presented by APS and assume your monthly bill will increase $100 per month. There is more, much, much more to the picture. If you’re content with viewing a grossly over-simplified picture, here’s a quick way to not only save the $100 per month, but actually cut your bill out altogether – don’t pay your bill. There you go; how much better can you do than that? But they’ll cut off my electricity you say. Well of course they will, but that’ll be a month or two down the road. We can deal with that problem when it comes along.

By viewing the Prop 127 question as nothing more or less than an increase or decrease in your monthly electric bill, that’s precisely what you’re doing. You’re ignoring myriad other costs that you will have to pay, just not necessarily immediately. These costs are very real and the bill will be coming due. You can try not paying the bill, but you’d be better off letting APS turn off your power. If worse comes to worse, you can at least buy batteries and a flashlight. Escape from the other expenses that so many people ignore isn’t nearly so simple.

Fact: Health care costs increase with increased burning of fossil fuels. Fact: Even if you don’t personally end up with asthma or heart disease of any one of the countless other maladies, you’re still paying the bill. When some American citizen who can’t afford health insurance ends up in the hospital, guess who’s paying the bill. You are.  Fact: reducing fossil fuel consumption results in a cleaner environment. When air and water is polluted, everyone suffers as the economy suffers. The cost of clean-up has to be borne by someone. Take a look in the mirror if you’d like to see who gets that bill.

There are countless other expenses that legitimately need to be taken into account when looking at Prop 127. Life would surely be grand if it was about nothing more than your utility bill, but it’s not. Some of the expenses may have differing time horizons, but they WILL be paid. If you consider yourself fortunate in that maybe, just maybe, the bills won’t come due in your short lifetime, I’m sure your children and grandchildren will think highly of you for having the wisdom, vision and love to care about their future quality of life.

  • The power of rationalization is the irresistible force. Many of the anti-127 voices put forth the “argument” that Prop 127 won’t solve the problems of pollution, global climate change, etc. They’re absolutely correct. In truth, the overall impact may be miniscule in comparison to the overall challenge at hand.

However, it can’t be argued that one small, short step in the direction of a goal isn’t in fact far better than no step at all. If we do nothing at all, nothing will be done. In fact, it strikes me as sort like my view on casting my vote. I don’t really believe my voice is of any consequence, but if I don’t vote, I have no voice at all.

Prop 127 is much like going to the dentist. I have a legitimate phobia with dentists and all their tools of torture. Sometimes I feel like the choice of seeking dental care should only come when the pain is so excruciating as to overwhelm my fears. But with a little common sense, I come to the realization that line of reasoning is childish and foolish. If I keep putting it off, the pain would become intolerable and the cost of mitigation would become huge. How long do we want to suffer before we act? How much suffering can we endure tomorrow for a few fleeting moments of pleasure today?

Hey, it worked for Emperor Nero. Do you ever wonder what tune he was playing when Rome finally caught fire? Thanks to NextDoor.com, I’m voting Yes on Prop 127.

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A Death in the Family

graveNo one’s getting out alive. One of the few constants in the universe is that there is an ultimate end to everything. If we’re to believe all of the philosophical euphemisms surrounding death, we shouldn’t fear it. It comes to all things. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is inescapable. All things are ultimately buried, even if only metaphorically.

When the end comes, whether it be expected or a sudden and shocking event, the process of grieving begins.  People deal with their grief in different ways, some constructive, others not so much. In her landmark book, “On Death and Dying”, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross spoke of what she called the five stages of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Although she directed her words to those who were dying, the five stages also apply to those forced to grieve the loss of a loved one.

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Obama and the Great British Petroleum Scandal

Damn Harry Truman! Harry was President when I was born. And here I am a mere 5’8” in height. Truman could have done something, maybe sent in the government to insist the hospital staff do something to accelerate bone growth. My basketball career was done before it ever got started thanks to Harry T. What is government for if not to help citizens like me? Hey, Harry – I thought you said the buck stops with you.

By the mid-fifties, I was playing hockey on the frozen ponds of Michigan. Hockey sticks weren’t cheap and I ended up breaking my share. Where the hell was Ike when this was going on? Those diabolical Canadians were obviously selling cheap “Northland” hockey sticks to the kids in the U.S. to keep them from becoming a hockey power. The proof can be seen in the results of the recent Winter Olympics where Canada beat the Americans by a goal. The whole time this was going on Ike was visibly absent. He could have stepped in, but he didn’t. And there you have it – we lost the gold.

In the sixties, I was at the lake when a freak storm blew over a tree which knocked over a power pole which sent a big electric transformer crashing through the roof of our neighbor’s house. There was only one way off the island with its five houses and the fire that burned in one of them blocked access to the bridge. We were trapped. No one came to the rescue for over three hours. Where was Lyndon Johnson as this was going on? Why didn’t he have an emergency backup plan ready to go? Wasn’t his job to anticipate such problems and deal with them when and if necessary? He fell down on the job. That’s probably why he didn’t run for another term. The incompetent bastard!

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Is the Sierra Club Pulling My Leg?

It wasn’t long ago, I wrote a piece about why I belong to the Sierra Club.  It proves there can be more to a situation than meets the eye. Membership carries certain privileges and benefits, one of which is the monthly magazine. I was thumbing through a recent issue when I came upon an advertisement that left me speechless and shaking my head.

Keep in mind the Sierra Club is dedicated to protecting the planet, promoting clean and green energy, activities and lifestyles. The image of a Sierra Club member is one of a young, fit, outdoorsy, tree hugging, activist working against anything and everything polluting or harmful to the world around us. Clean energy, green transportation, resilient habitats, and reduced carbon footprints are all prominent goals of this organization founded more than 100 years ago.

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Water on the Brain and the Politics of Shortage

I confess; I’ve been playing. I spent the past week driving up the California coast to get to a magnificent resort in Boyes Hot Springs about an hour north of San Francisco. I’d forgotten how spectacularly beautiful the coast is between Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz. If you know anything about the geography of California, you know Highway 1 along the coast isn’t the fastest route from point A to point B.

I didn’t have the luxury of taking three days to make the return drive from Sonoma to San Diego. I went east out of the San Francisco area and headed for Interstate 5 where I could set the cruise control at 0.001 mph below the speeding ticket limit and get a straight shot into San Diego. I’ve driven that road many times over the past thirty five years and remember it lined with agricultural fields and orchards from Stockton to Bakersfield. The San Joachin valley is commonly referred to as the bread basket of America. A substantial percentage of our nation’s food is grown in central California. Or should I say it used to be?

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Why I Belong to the Sierra Club

I don’t always agree with them. In fact, I frequently disagree with them. I have been to a couple of their events and found that many of them seem to be naïve, idealistic, air-heads on crusades to save the planet from humanity at the expense of humanity. The common thread in most of their campaigns comes across as the world will be a better place if every human holds its breath until he turns blue, falls over and mulches himself. They look to be visionaries, but only while looking down a length of sewer pipe. Sometimes they see the big picture; other times they can’t see beyond the ends of their noses. Yet I have been a Sierra Club member for many years.

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Still Don’t Believe in Global Warming?

We humans are programmed to make assumptions, to extrapolate, to assume things move gradually from the past and into the future. If we see an object rolling down a slope, we’re wired to conclude it will gradually gain speed and ultimately reach the bottom of the slope. This ability serves us well when shooting clay pigeons, jumping on escalators, and swatting flies with a newspaper. Problems arise when the phenomenon being observed is more complicated than the simple, linear events we’re accustomed to seeing.

Consider a couple of rather poignant examples. House prices will always go up so buying a house is the only safe and secure investment a person can make. For a long time, that was true. House prices bounced a little, but by and large they increased continuously for a long time. But nothing increases forever, not even entropy. Many Americans were lulled into a false sense of security, but have now learned the meaning of terms like “short sale”, “up-side-down”, and “sheriff’s sale”.

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