Solv­ing elec­tric power and fire prob­lem, Congress and ‘Pork’

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - News -

Elec­tric power is a vi­tal part of our way of liv­ing. We rely on it for just about ev­ery as­pect of our in­creas­ingly tech­no­log­i­cal lives.

Elec­tric­ity is in the news be­cause of the re­cent dev­as­tat­ing fires in this state.

Cal­i­for­nia’s ma­jor power providers, es­pe­cially Pa­cific Gas & Elec­tric which serves much of the cen­tral and north­ern parts of Cal­i­for­nia, have been blamed for start­ing sev­eral of the fires, due to al­leged poor main­te­nance of their lines and then shut­ting off power to pre­vent more fires.

We in East Kern and the An­te­lope Val­ley are served by South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son, which was re­spon­si­ble for a cou­ple of fires as was the Los An­ge­les Depart­ment of Wa­ter and Power.

Meet­ing the chal­lenge

As ex­pected, sug­ges­tions for en­sur­ing that fires and the as­so­ci­ated shut-offs are not re­peated are pour­ing in.

PG&E is in trou­ble be­cause it has not been up­dat­ing their equip­ment. Edi­son say it has been do­ing that, in­clud­ing in­su­lat­ing power lines to elim­i­nate fire-start­ing sparks from shorts.

Mo­jave is in very low dan­ger from wild­land fires, and Edi­son has been re­plac­ing its lo­cal in­fra­struc­ture in the last cou­ple of years, which it is do­ing in my neigh­bor­hood as this is be­ing writ­ten.

The most fre­quent source of power out­ages in this area are from wind and rain, which we hope the up­grades will re­duce.

Gov­ern­ment power?

One of the sug­ges­tions for re­solv­ing this is­sue is form­ing a statewide, gov­ern­ment owned elec­tric power com­pany.

That doesn’t make much sense to me. Cre­at­ing a huge bu­reau­cracy has its own chal­lenges, as LADWP has proven. One of its prob­lems in­volves the union rep­re­sent­ing its em­ploy­ees which seems to be a power unto it­self.

Public util­i­ties in Cal­i­for­nia are sup­posed to be reg­u­lated by the state Public Util­ity Com­mis­sion, which has pretty much been in­ef­fec­tive.

A ma­jor prob­lem is lo­cal gov­ern­ments al­low­ing peo­ple to build homes in ar­eas ob­vi­ously prone to fires. This makes ab­so­lutely no sense but will prob­a­bly con­tinue as long as politi­cians can be “in­flu­enced” by de­vel­op­ers and peo­ple de­mand the right to live where they want to re­gard­less of the cost to the rest of us.

Some cities, in­clud­ing Lan­caster, have be­come their own elec­tric­ity providers by buy­ing power from Edi­son and PG&E. I re­ally do not un­der­stand how this is bet­ter and get a kick when I hear lo­cal politi­cians who com­plain about “so­cial­ism” sup­port this so­cial­is­tic con­cept. Kern County is look­ing at this con­cept, and if it chooses to im­pose it, I will opt out, which is per­mit­ted.

Leav­ing the grid

All of this is prob­a­bly moot be­cause the time is com­ing when we will get all or most of our elec­tric power from re­new­able sources.

Rather than de­pend­ing on miles of wire strung from ugly poles, or bury­ing lines un­der­ground, we will gen­er­ate power at our homes, with so­lar pan­els whose ef­fi­ciency con­tinue to im­prove and whose power can be stored when the sun is shin­ing.

Tech­nol­ogy is con­stantly im­prov­ing to the point where one day ve­hi­cle roofs and hoods will be cov­ered with flex­i­ble so­lar pan­els, fi­nally achiev­ing the dream of a per­pet­ual mo­tion ma­chine. At least one car maker is al­ready ex­per­i­ment­ing with this tech­nol­ogy.

De­spite progress, there are al­ways folks who op­pose change.

Back in 1951 or ’52 I was work­ing at the old Mecca Theater on Inyo Street in Mo­jave sell­ing candy bars and pop­corn to my fu­ture wife when a movie called “Des­ti­na­tion Moon” came to the theater.

It was prob­a­bly the first rea­son­ably ac­cu­rate film of its kind, and I loved it.

My boss, “Pop” Goulden, an el­derly Brit whose daugh­ter was a “war bride” who mar­ried a Mo­jave man, from then on razzed me mer­ci­lessly ev­ery time I men­tioned some­thing fu­tur­is­tic, mut­ter­ing “Des­ti­na­tion Moon”

He was a great guy, but like many peo­ple since time be­gan, Pop was skep­ti­cal of change.

Re­gress­ing?

A re­cent let­ter in this pa­per moaned that we should go back to coal and wood be­cause no power was gen­er­ated dur­ing the re­cent storms.

Not true at my house.

Oth­ers claim elec­tric cars will not func­tion in cold weather, com­plaints sim­i­lar to all the tales once told of what would hap­pen to pi­lots who flew faster than sound.

What th­ese folks never un­der­stand that is that change is con­stant, which is why we test air­planes, space ships and mo­tor ve­hi­cles here in the Aerospace Val­ley.

Ger­many is one of the world’s big­gest users of so­lar power, and any­one who has ever been there has prob­a­bly never got­ten a sun­burn in that cloudy coun­try that also uses wind power.

Con­gres­sional Pork

On a dif­fer­ent note, Congress is study­ing a re­turn to mem­bers’ use of ear­marks, a process in which they can insert items ben­e­fit­ting their dis­tricts into ap­pro­pri­a­tions bills.

Ear­marks are also known as “pork” be­cause back when they were al­lowed, some mem­bers used them for stuff that seemed un­nec­es­sary in the eyes of other mem­bers.

I am not among crit­ics of this process, which was dumped by Repub­li­cans when they gained lead­er­ship sev­eral years ago in an ef­fort that has back­fired on them.

When done cor­rectly, as con­gress­men Bill Thomas and our cur­rent Con­gress­man Kevin Mc­Carthy did, ear­marks are a great way for mem­bers to re­spond to the needs of their con­stituents.

When they were le­gal, Mc­Carthy would is­sue a news re­lease each year list­ing the ear­marks he was re­quest­ing. In most years th­ese were for in­fra­struc­ture at Ed­wards Air Force Base and the Naval Air Weapons Sta­tion at China Lake.

Us­ing ear­marks is a quicker way of get­ting things done than go­ing through a lot of bu­reau­cracy.

They are also a tool for party lead­er­ship to keep mem­bers in line, which for­mer House Speaker John Boehner and his suc­ces­sor learned when some “Tea Party” mem­bers strayed off the reser­va­tion.

Which helped cost Boehner his speak­er­ship.

One of the ex­am­ples used by op­po­nents of ear­marks was a bridge in Alaska, which crit­ics called a “bridge to nowhere,” which was in re­al­ity a bridge folks up there needed to get home.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how this plays out, keep­ing in mind that politi­cians op­er­ate mainly by mak­ing each other look bad.

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