Tag Archives: China

Leidiger goes “nucular” over House energy bill

It’s been a fairly quiet session for State Rep. Ernie Leidiger thus far.  Being in the legislative minority has limited his already meager ability to shape legislation.  He’s chief authored just three bills so far (all transportation-related) — only 15 House members have been less ambitious — and has kept a low profile this session with no Bradlee Dean sightings or campaign finance kerfuffles.

Tuesday night, the House debated H.F. 956, the omnibus energy bill.  The key point of contention in the bill was an ambitious solar energy mandate included in the bill.  Under the terms of the bill, investor-owned utilities (Xcel Energy, Minnesota Power, Otter Tail Power and Interstate Power & Light) would be required to produce 4% of their electricity via solar by 2025 on top of the existing renewable energy mandates.  Cooperatives and municipal utilities would be exempted from this requirement.  Additionally, investor-owned utilities would be required to subsidize solar installations for residential and commercial customers.  Mining companies and paper mills receive protection from potential rate increases that would result from the mandate, and the bill would continue and expand incentives for solar equipment manufacturers in the state.

There’s a lot to chew on in those provisions.  Very real questions can be raised about the necessity of setting a mandate for solar, when the state is currently in the midst of a boom in wind production (up to 14% of the state’s electricity in 2012) and the reality that such a solar mandate may be quite costly for utilities to comply with.  Adding a 4% solar requirement on top of an increase in the  existing renewable energy standard from 25% to 40% would give Minnesota the highest renewable and solar energy mandates in the nation at 44% in total.

As an aside, the Senate version of the bill, S.F. 901, had a much smaller (and in my opinion, more responsible) set of provisions related to solar energy.  The mandate in the Senate bill was only 1%, and it removed the requirement that utilities subsidize solar installations.  Unfortunately, the House bill was chosen by DFL leadership as the baseline version of the final omnibus bill.  The House bill deserved a no vote, in my opinion, based on the solar mandate issue.

So there’s a lot in this bill that could be criticized.  Of the many provisions listed above, which does Leidiger choose to criticize?  Well, none of them, exactly.  Check the video out for yourself (the video will jump to the start of Leidiger’s speech, nearly six hours into debate on the bill):

First off, let’s get Leidiger’s charming Bush-like pronunciation of the word nuclear as “nucular” noted for the record. (Sometimes, a word really is pronounced the way it is spelled.)  It’s also telling that Leidiger’s rant is met midway through by chuckles.  Even Rep. Mary Franson, who enjoys a good rant as much as anyone in the House, appears to go from mild bemusement to indifference to apparently checking her e-mail.

Next, let’s talk about some of Rep. Leidiger’s facts.  Leidiger is certainly correct that China has been building nuclear power plants in the last decade, and is continuing to construct them (although scaled back significantly since the Fukushima reactor issue in Japan).  However, to imply that nuclear is the core of China’s “baseline power” isn’t true.  Nuclear power only represents 1% of China’s electric production today, and will only represent 6% by 2020.  However, the growth in nuclear is only half of that expected in renewable energy in China.  Wind power in China is booming — to the extent that today wind power in China produces more power than nuclear — and that trend is expected to continue.

energy

It should be pointed out that both Minnesota and the United States are currently and will continue to be larger users of nuclear power than the Chinese.  It’s not clear, and Leidiger certainly doesn’t specify, what it is exactly about Minnesota solar mandates and the Chinese construction of nuclear power plants that constitutes the threat to our national security.

Is it the fact that China is the leading manufacturer of solar panels?  If Chinese manufacturing is now a source of national security distress, we’re in a whole world of hurt.  The fact of the matter is that both political parties in this country have largely backed trade and economic policies that have encouraged the off-shoring of American manufacturing jobs — prioritizing the ability to buy low-priced products made elsewhere (like from — ahem — certain office furniture companies) and breaking the power of organized labor ahead of nurturing solid middle-class jobs and promoting critical industries.

And let’s not forget that Leidiger in the past has criticized government programs like the stimulus that sought to boost the American solar industry.  Neither Leidiger nor his party (nor Democrats, for that matter) have produced any meaningful reforms designed to reverse those trends.  The horse has left the barn on this issue, sadly.

Besides, dependence on foreign oil has proven to already be a national security risk.  Yet, Leidiger and his cohorts want us to continue on the fossil fuel bandwagon, despite the potential domestic drilling areas like ANWR  aren’t going to be long-term solutions to the problem.

Or maybe that’s not what he’s getting at.  The argument in its totality makes about as much sense as pronouncing nuclear as “nucular”. If you can figure out what Ernie’s talking about, let me know in the comments.

[h/t to the anonymous tipster who alerted me to Leidiger’s speech]

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Our Infrastructure Crisis

Building America’s Future, a bipartisan group dedicated to infrastructure development, recently released a devastating report highlighting our failure to invest in our future by keeping our transportation infrastructure up to date.  I highly encourage you to read the entire document, but I wanted to highlight some of the key takeaways.

1.  Our transportation infrastructure is already overwhelmed, out-of-date, and losing ground to the rest of the world

The explosion of globalization has dramatically impacted our transportation infrastructure.  Our entire system — roads, rail, ports, airports — are working beyond their capacity and are over-congested.  Let’s look at a few examples to illustrate.

Congestion takes $200 billion out of our economy every year — that’s 1.6% of GDP.  Road congestion alone eats up 3.9 billion gallons of gasoline and 4.8 billion hours of lost time.    It’s common for freight trains entering or departing Chicago to spend more time waiting to be loaded/unloaded than in transit, even on trips to or from the West Coast.

Our air traffic control system is reliant on ground-based radar, instead of satellite monitoring.  Fully 37% of late arrivals can be attributed to by inefficiencies created by this system.  The impacts of this are felt most acutely in the New York metropolitan area, where the three airports suffer crippling rates of late arrivals.  For instance, in Newark, nearly one-third of all flights are delayed and the average late arrival is 73 minutes late.  Over half of all delays in New York’s airports can be blamed on the outdated air traffic control system.

When it comes to passenger rail, we are terribly behind other countries.  We have 0 miles of high-speed rail, defined as routes able to maintain an average of at least 155 miles per hour. (The Acela line in the Northeast has a top speed in that range, but only averages about 70 m.p.h.)  China, meanwhile, has 6,649 miles of high-speed rail with plans to nearly double that by the end of the decade.  Even developing countries are growing their systems — Saudi Arabia is constructing its first high-speed rail line, as are Brazil, Morocco, and Qatar.

Spain has nearly 2,400 miles of high-speed rail with plans to expand it to 6,200 miles by 2020.   Before the high-speed rail line between the two cities opened in 2008, Madrid to Barcelona was the most heavily traveled air route in Europe.  Today, a majority of that traffic has shifted to the train, which delivers a comparable travel time end-to-end (including security, baggage claim, etc.)

The port in Shanghai, China handles as much freight as the top seven U.S. ports combined.  Other countries are making investment in their facilities and surpassing us.  For instance, Canada has invested dramatically in its Prince Rupert facility north of Vancouver, linking it directly to a main CN rail line.  Port traffic to this facility has spiked since its expansion in 2007, while California ports have seen slow to no growth due to their congestion.

2.  The demands on our infrastructure are going to grow significantly in the coming years

Globalization isn’t going to stop — it’s only going to increase.  And all projections show that the demands on our infrastructure are going to go along with it.  Port volume at our largest facilities is expected to double by 2020.  Rail freight tonnage is expected to increase 88% by 2035.  And passenger miles drive are expected to increase 80% over the next 30 years.  Commercial air traffic is projected to be up 36% from 2006 levels in 2015.

3.  These issues have real impacts on our families

Most people don’t realize that transportation is the second-largest expense category for families in the United States, behind housing.  The average family spends nearly 18% of their income on transportation — more than food or health care.  Just like health care, though, Americans spend more on transportation than other countries.  Canadians spend 14% of their income on transportation, European Union citizens spend 13% of their income on transportation, and Japanese citizens spend 12.5% of their income on transportation.

The congestion in our transportation system adds costs in other ways, as well.  The lost time (4.8 billion hours a year) is significant.  Anyone who’s traveled for business knows how much productive time is lost at airports, with arrivals 90 minutes in advance of departure, extensive security retrofit into buildings not designed for such activity and often questionable places to plug in and get some work done.

Also, consider the expense that is added to the price of what you buy in your local store when the delivery truck is idling in traffic or the freight train is stuck at the depot in Chicago, or the cargo plane is forced to circle for an hour before landing.

These issues are more acute for low-income families, who spend up to 40% of their income on transportation.  Budget issues at the federal, state, and local levels have inhibited infrastructure construction and limited mass transit options for those in metropolitan areas.  We’ve seen that here in Minnesota, where our roads conditions have declined precipitously (from 8th in the country to 29th since 2002) and transit users have seen escalating bus fares.

What do we do?  The report has some good ideas, and I’ll share those and some of my own in an upcoming post.


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