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Posts published in November 2014

Hybrid alternatives

idaho RANDY

One of the key arguments against alternative and (often) renewable energy sources is whether they can matter economically: Whether they can produce enough power to provide for a major part of a region's needs, and whether they can be produced at low enough cost to provide a financially practical alternative.

In the last few years the answer to those questions has gone from being a big quetion mark to a generally qualified 'yes.' Wind turbine power production has become large-scale in the Northwest (and a number of other places too), and solar is gaining, and the results are coming in: In the area of cost, wind is competitive with more traditional electricity sources, and the costs of solar are dropping enough that they will be competitive in the near future. The economic change in these power sources is underlined by the rapidly growing number of deals large power companies in the region have been making with many of those producers.

One of the big remaining questions, however, has been one of reliability: Whether, given changes in sunlight and weather, wind and solar power production is consistent enough for a region to depend upon.

A new study by Oregon State University (and others), and published in The Electricity Journal, is showing that it can, at least if done in the right way. A hybrid way.

An OSU report explains: "For instance, the wind often blows more strongly at night in some regions, Kelly said, and solar technology can only produce energy during the day. By making more sophisticated use of that basic concept in a connected grid, and pairing it with more advanced forms of energy storage, the door could be opened for a much wider use of renewable energy systems, scientists say."

This is becoming more practical for another reason: "Advanced energy storage could be another huge key to making renewable energy more functional, and one example is just being developed in several cooperating states in the West. Electricity is being produced by efficient wind farms in Wyoming; transmitted to Utah where it’s being stored via compressed air in certain rock formations; and ultimately used to help power Los Angeles."

Put a close-monitored system of wind, hydro and solar power together (and maybe, on the coast, tidal as well?), and the impact on the regional power economy could be enormous. Over time, it could even be cost-cutting, and made more reliable than what we have right now.

The OSU report concluded, "The long-term goal, the report concluded, is to identify technologies that can work in a hybrid system that offers consistency, dependability and doesn’t rely on fossil fuels. With careful matching of systems, improved transmission abilities and some new technological advances, that goal may be closer than realized."

A generation from now, the power picture in the Northwest – and beyond – may look a lot different than it traditionally has.

On the front pages


Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Reviewing changes in prosecutors at Ada County (Boise Statesman)
Idaho impact of new immigration orders (IF Post Register)
Big old Kraft plant falls to fire (Pocatello Journal)

Lane County plans all-day kindergarten (Eugene Register Guard)
Researchers find new earthquake fault (Eugene Register Guard)
Washington billboard argues against wolves (KF Herald & News)
Cop-boy hug picture goes viral (Portland Oregonian, Medford Tribune, KF Herald & News)
Sex abuse cases planned against Salem schools (Salem Statesman Journal)

Damage results from weekend storm (Bremerton Sun)
Columbia Theatre at Longview seeks help (Longview News)
Kids aren't happy with healthy school food (Longview News)
Changes in gun background checks start soon (Vancouver Columbian, Olympian, Longview News)
New Olympia homeless shelter opens (Olympian)
Substantial shopping on big weekend (Port Angeles News)
Reviewing Boeing Chair Jim McNerney (Seattle times)
Climate change brings more sickness in sea life (Seattle Times)
WSU studying measure of pot influence (Spokane Spokesman)
Glitches in law on driving while stoned (Tacoma News Tribune)
Overtime pay at jails proving costly (Tacoma News Tribune)
Helpers for people using C-Tran (Vancouver Columbian)
Debate over taxes on Yakama Tribe gas stop (Yakima Herald Republic)

Count and recount

idaho RANDY

For most politicians, Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks that at least the stress of vote-counting, whether for results happy or sad, has long been over.

Each time around, though, a few can’t count themselves quite so fortunate. In a legislative district around Lewiston, in the closest Idaho legislative contest of the year, candidates Dan Rudolph (Democrat) and Thyra Stevenson (incumbent Republican) had to wait until this week to conclude their tight, tense contest. The unofficial returns showed Rudolph ahead by 26 votes out of the 12,434 cast for the two candidates overall. Stevenson paid for recounting 33 precincts in Nez Perce County, which she lost; she did not seek a recount for smaller Lewis County, where she won. In the end she picked up one additional vote, not nearly enough.

In so close a result a recount seems understandable; a few small counting errors could tip a result. Recounts rarely change the outcome for trailing candidates, though, and not everyone who might seek a recount does. In the other Lewiston-area House district, incumbent Democrat John Rusche led by just 48 votes, but his Republican challenger, Mike Kingsley, decided to accept that number.

Not many elections run so close as to draw the prospect of recounts. The biggest recount effort this year in the Northwest actually is a ballot issue, not a contest of candidates. In Oregon, ballot measure 92 concerns whether certain genetically modified foods should be labeled. On election night, the vote was not especially close with the “nos” leading by more than 10,000 votes. But in vote-by-mail Oregon, ballots have been coming in and have been rechecked for three weeks. Many of the late votes tend to come from liberal Multnomah County, so the “no” margin has dropped daily, and last week stood at just 809 votes – out of about 1.5 million cast. The recount there will be automatic.

In spite of that remarkable gain of votes by the “yes” forces, the prevailing view is that “no” will still win. Simply, once all the votes are accounted for, very few changes ordinarily appear afterward.

Idaho has had a number of legislative race recounts over the years, but I can’t think of one (maybe you can – if so let me know) that changed the outcome. More often, they slightly increase the margin held by the unofficial leader.

Boise District 18 in 2010 saw Republican Julie Ellsworth defeating Democrat Janie Ward-Engelking by just nine votes, or less than .1 of a percent. Ward-Engelking (who now is a state senator and this year won election easily) asked for a recount, and she gained a single vote, so she still lost that race. Ellsworth remained the winner, by eight votes. In 2004, another Boise district (17) also saw a Republican win by nine votes; there, a recount slightly padded that lead.

Not all recounts are futile, however, as anyone who watched the 2004 Washington state governor’s race could tell you. (more…)

On the front pages


Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Boise tries to export New Year's potato show (Boise Statesman)
Little on moving up to governor (Boise Statesman)
Pot legalization pushed for 2016 in Idaho (Nampa Press Tribune)
Twin Falls considers city hall possibilities (TF Times News)
AG warns about seasonal gifting circles (TF Times News)

Concerns about Klamath water bill (KF Herald & News)
Christmas tree prices will rise (KF Herald & News)
Illinois Valley tracts donated by computer scientist (Medford Tribune)
Bill seeks to limit license plate reading (Medford Tribune)
Money issues arise for Hanford treatment plan (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Salem crime dropped by 7% in 2014 (Salem Statesman Journal)

Forest trails monitored by new tech (Bremerton Sun)
Snow possible this weekend (Seattle Times, Vancouver Columbian, Bremerton Sun)
Woodland considers pot sales ban (Longview News)
Protesters compete with shoppers in Seattle (Seattle Times)
Thursday shopping cuts into Friday shopping (Seattle Times, Spokane Spokesman, Vancouver Columbian, Yakima Herald Republic, Longview News)
Voter turnout at Yakima lowest in 12 years (Yakima Herald Republic)

Two economies

mendiola MARK


To paraphrase the start of Charles Dickens’ classic novel “A Tale of Two Cities,” Pocatello’s economy has witnessed the best of times and worst of times in recent decades, experiencing bipolar mood swings that have wildly swung like a pendulum.

Shutdowns of the Bucyrus-Erie complex, Garrett Freightlines’ trucking empire, FMC’s elemental phosphorus plant, various Gateway West Industrial Center manufacturing concerns, Ballard Medical, etc., have been major Gate City setbacks over the years. Closure of the Heinz frozen food plant earlier this year in Pocatello was another major economic and psychological blow.

At its peak, the Heinz plant in Pocatello employed more than 800 who worked its food processing lines, eclipsing the J.R. Simplot Co., ON Semiconductor and Union Pacific Railroad as the Gate City’s largest private employer.

Heinz’ announcement several months ago that it would close its 500,000-square-foot factory near the Quinn Road overpass and terminate its remaining 410 employees stunned the community, sending shock waves throughout Bannock County. The unexpected shutdown was devastating for many and a gut punch to Pocatello’s economy.

That bad news came on heels of the ignominious shutdown of the $700 million Hoku polysilicon plant in Pocatello. Once operating, Hoku was to initially employ 200 and eventually boost its payroll to 400. Those ambitious plans quickly evaporated into the stratosphere, leaving many contractors in a financial lurch, when Hoku filed for bankruptcy.

At the end of October, however, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad announced that Amy’s Kitchen had acquired the Heinz plant and expects to begin operations as soon as December, initially hiring 200 but anticipating its payroll could swell to 1,000 in 15 years -- an announcement that frankly exceeded my expectations.

Amy’s Kitchen Co-Founder Rachel Berliner and CFO Mark Rudolph joined Otter and Blad, plus city, state and county officials, at the revamped Pocatello Regional Airport to make the announcement to a large, enthusiastic, receptive crowd.

Berliner praised Idaho’s swift response in making the mutually beneficial arrangement possible. Rudolph said Amy’s Kitchen could expend $75 million in capital investments here over the plant’s duration. He said the company’s growth would have exceeded 30 percent this year had the Gate City operation been up and running.

To their credit, Otter, Blad, Idaho Commerce Director Jeff Sayer, Bannock Development Corp. Executive Director John Regetz and a host of other Idahoans rapidly mobilized to finalize the Amy’s Kitchen deal, giving laid off Heinz workers a boost of direly needed hope and encouragement, revitalizing an important production site.

Amy’s Kitchen is the nation’s leading maker of organic, vegetarian and non-GMO convenience foods, riding a burgeoning wave of popularity among Millennials and other health conscious Americans that promises to ensure the private, family-owned company’s longevity. The California-based company has enjoyed double digit growth since its inception 26 years ago.

Amy’s Kitchen employees in Pocatello are expected to average $33,000 a year in wages that are anticipated to total $342 million over 15 years, in addition to health benefits and scholarship opportunities. New state tax revenue from the operation is projected to hit $35.7 million. Commerce’s Sayer said Idaho’s reimbursement will be worth $6.7 million.

Some critics have questioned the wisdom and effectiveness of granting Amy’s Kitchen a 26 percent credit on its corporate income, sales and payroll taxes through 2029 under Idaho’s new Tax Reimbursement Incentive, which took effect on July 1, and Bannock County commissioners giving it a matching 75 percent tax abatement on the existing plant and future investments.

Proponents counter that the hundreds of food processing jobs created, the multiplier effect of wages paid, the positive impact on eastern Idaho’s agriculture sector, spinoff business generated and vote of confidence from Amy’s Kitchen more than offset any negatives from the tax incentives, which competing states effectively have used to attract industry at Idaho’s expense. (more…)

On the front pages


Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Gun checks pressed on Black Friday sales (Boise Statesman)
About those who work on Thanksgiving, other holidays (IF Post Register)
Lobby plans to move toward Idaho pot legalization (Moscow News)
Interview of congressional delegation on issues (Pocatello Journal)

Springfield police, fired cop may go to jury (Eugene Register Guard)
Prineville wood plant collapses, with 200 jobs (KF Herald & News)
Medford publishing group accused by feds of scam (KF Herald & News)
Oregon plans to register drones (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Hard to find out cost info on medical procedures (Portland Oregonian)
Legal pot passage hinged on shift in suburbs (Portland Oregonian)
Regional libraries move to new computers (Salem Statesman Journal)

Unusual visit from orcas (Bremerton News)
Inslee promoting electric autos (Olympian)
Seattle and Bellevue competing for shoppers (Seattle Times)
Gambling shifts card houses to casinos (Vancouver Columbian)

A note to Jim Webb

carlson CHRIS


An open letter to former Senator Jim Webb of Virginia.

Dear Senator:

Recently you announced the formation of a committee to explore whether you should make a bid for the presidency in 2016. From a small stop on what once was a railroad stop, a now gone town named Medimont, lost away in the Silver Valley (Idaho) within a 24-square mile Superfund site, comes this answer: Run, Jim, run!

This writer thinks you possess the qualities this country desperately needs, namely an ability to make tough decisions. Additionally, you demonstrated an ability to keep many southern white men in the bi-racial coalition so necessary for future success for the Democratic Party. Your tough election in Virginia in 2008 demonstrated .a unique ability to inspire both black and white men. and say to folks, follow, lead or get out of the way.

Whether Hillary Clinton runs or not, and I personally think she will not, I hope you can stay the course because you recognize, as both Bill and Hillary do, that the long overdue generational change is occuring in American politics. The mantle of leadership is blowing towards younger Democrats like you or Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York.

For much the same reason, I don’t think Jeb Bush will run either. The Republicans will nominate someone like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, or a younger U.S. Senator, like Kentucky Senator Rand Paul or Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the latter two casting themselves as the reincarnation of former Presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater.

Allow me to be so bold as to lay out the key elements of your platform and a successful winning strategy.

The key item you offer the American people is the ability to lead. From your days at Quantico when you were receiving the tough indoctrination only the Marine Corps offers, to your service as Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy., to your seat in the Senate you have always resonated leadership. It is the sine qua non for any president.

The best way for you to demonstrate that leadeship and courage is to make your number one issue the need for the 2016 election to be a referendum on ALL the recommendations of the Simpson/Bowles Commission.

Correcting the horrible deficit and the nation’s incredible debt in order to restore fiscal sanity and meet our obligations to future generations can only be accomplished if everyone is asked to sacrifice and everyone sees the need to do their part. Many of us mark President Obama’s failure to endorse the balanced solution of his own commission as the beginning point that raised serious doubts about whether he was truly capable of leading.

Taking that stance will put Hillary on the spot since she did not endorse the commission and it will also split the Republicans, with the fiscal conservatives led by folks like former New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg and Idaho’s senior senator, Mike Crapo, supporting the package in the national interest and seperating out the Tea Party fanatics like Ted Cruz who would rather see the economy collapse than have any increase in revenue from tax reform. (more…)

On the front pages


Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

EPA may toughen air pollution standards (Boise Statesman)
BLM ends permits for predator derby (Lewiston Tribune, Nampa Press Tribune)
Local option tax for public transit? (Nampa Press Tribune)
Record store opens in Nampa (Nampa Press Tribune)
Republican delegation looks to next Congress (Pocatello Journal)

New plans for Uniontown neighborhood (Astorian)
Pacific County seeing lots of bears (Astorian)
OR-7 roaming toward Fort Klamath (KF Herald & News)
New Klamath levy proposed for area jail (KF Herald & News)
Wisconsin state sues White City groups (Medford Tribune)
Oregon might get undocumented driver cards (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Sellwood bridge work over budget (Portland Oregonian)

New racetrack may get port OK (Bremerton Sun)
Kitsap commissioner sworn in (Bremerton Sun)
Tumwater school superintendent denied extension (Olympian)
Debate continues over mayor's salary (Spokane Spokesman)
Various ski areas opening today (Spokane Spokesman)
Break in negotiations with ports, doc workers (Tacoma News Tribune)

Say it ain’t so, Bill

rainey BARRETT


As we age, many situations and things that were “certainties” of yesteryear are the “uncertainties” of our later times. Early black and whites nearly always are seen through much older eyes in muted shades of gray. Rocks of principle and learned things are - in some cases - no longer firm and unyielding - often a bit skittish and harder to nail down.

Thus it is I’m faced with a story of our recent days - a story of possible multiple cases of sexual abuse and forced submission of women - in which I’m having a hard time applying a lifetime of certainties. And I am, in fact, dealing with five decades of empathy for the accused. Not the accusers.

The accused is Dr. William Henry Cosby Jr.. He’s a dozen months younger than me so interest in his career has been a part of my own life 50 years or so. Because his is a type of humor that is a favorite, I’ve followed him from his earliest days in coffeehouses, college campuses and small clubs.

With no sincere apology to media kids who ignorantly label him a “comedian,” he’s not. Nor has he ever been. Cosby is - like Mark Twain or Mort Sahl or Mark Russell or Garrison Keillor - a humorist. He doesn’t tell jokes as comedians do. He’s made a highly successful career of just finding humor in the daily events we all live with. Humor we don’t see.

One of my favorites of this “humor where there is no humor” is a Cosby routine about going to the dentist. “You spend your whole life being told to keep sharp objects out of your mouth,” he says, “And the first thing this guy does is stick a pointy steel spike in there and starts poking things.” Humor where you don’t expect it.

Or, when arguing with a teenage child - definitely no humor there. Right? Except when Cosby says “I brought you into this world and I can take you out!” What exasperated parent wouldn’t chuckle? Finding simple humor.

But there’s nothing funny about Cosby’s life and career now. Now, he stands accused of rape and other sexual charges proffered by a growing list of women he’s alleged to have had contact with over the last 30 or so years. Cosby faces what likely will be career-ending accusations that could - if pursued - become criminal charges meaning jail for the rest of his life.

What the hell happened?

Cosby’s name has been linked to similar situations in the past. Once, he even reportedly paid a cash settlement to someone who had claimed sexual mistreatment at his hands. But now, the list of women coming forward to point to him for alleged past crimes grows weekly.

If you look at the totality of his life, Cos has been nothing if not a voice of reason and accomplishment in a world of racial discord. He developed a love of education and learning mid-life and even got a doctorate in elementary education from the University of Massachusetts. (more…)