Living in the Bad Old Days.

Baby, It’s cold outside, even in Florida

Most of you, like me, remember living through the bad old days – of the 1970s. You know unaffordable heating, waiting in line for gas  (every other day) for gas for the car and a host of other things. Not only was it uncomfortable, to most of us it felt unAmerican. And it was, this country was built on movement, and movement demands affordable energy. We didn’t really get going until the railroads started to build out the network, and then we were pretty much unstoppable.

Until the 70s, that is. A lot of people have tried to lay the blame off on the Arabs. Well, they had something to do with the proximate cause, but the real cause was right here at home. It was (and is) called the US Government.

Steven Hayward wrote about this yesterday. let’s have a look.

Everyone remembers the lines for gasoline. What is less recalled are the shortages and price spikes for natural gas, whose price and supply was also regulated at the federal level. But in Texas, intrastate natural gas outside the federal purview was abundant and cheap, and the lack of pipeline capacity to transport it, along with the price controls, meant Texas enjoyed cheap natural gas while the rest of the country shivered or paid out for expensive home heating oil and oil-fired electricity (oil-fired electricity was nearly 20 percent of the nation’s total electricity in 1973; today the figure is less than 1 percent). Hence there was a popular bumper sticker in Texas back then: “Drive fast, freeze a Yankee.”

Yep, I remember those, and like Steve says, even Jimmy Carter was able to figure out the problem, although, as usual, he had the slows in doing anything about it. But Reagan didn’t, those controls ended his first week in office. It’s one of the reasons for the 80s boom.

But the Northeast still hasn’t figured it out, and so its residents are freezing in the dark again. From Steve.

But from the looks of things the northeast is living back in the bad old days during the current bout of global warming climate change gripping so much of the country. The spot prices for natural gas and electricity are soaring:

Gee—how can natural gas be so expensive when its abundant and cheap (thank you fracking), and moreover available in nearby states like Pennsylvania and Ohio? It’s not necessary any more for eastern natural gas customers to have to deal with those cowboy hat-wearing folk in Oklahoma and Texas.

Ah, maybe headlines like this have something to do with it:

He’s blocked 3 (at least) pipelines, although the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has overturned him on one. He’s also stopped fracking in New York, depriving upstate and western New York of who knows how many jobs, good paying ones too. In fact, so good that western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio are all but booming again. The Wall Street Journal (Paywall, sorry) took this nonsense apart last summer

The U.S. shale boom has lowered energy prices and created hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country. But those living in upstate New York and New England have been left in the cold by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose shale gas blockade could instigate an energy crisis in the Northeast. . .

All of this is ominous since the region desperately needs more natural gas to make up for lost power from the impending shutdown of nuclear and coal plants. New England’s Independent System Operator projects that 14% of the region’s electric generation capacity will be retired within three years and says more pipelines are needed for grid stability.

Energy costs in the Northeast are already the highest in the nation outside of Alaska and Hawaii in part due to the shortage of natural gas. Northeast residents pay 29% more for natural gas and 44% more for electricity than the U.S. average, according to a recent study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Industrial users in the Northeast pay twice as much for natural gas and 62% more for electricity. . .

Inclement weather can cause energy costs to skyrocket. During the 2014 polar vortex, natural gas prices in New York City spiked to $120 per million Btu—about 25 times the Henry Hub spot price at the time. Natural-gas power plants in New York are required to burn oil during supply shortages. Due to pipeline constraints and the Jones Act—which requires that cargo transported between U.S. ports be carried by ships built in the U.S.—Boston imports liquefied natural gas during the winter from Trinidad. This is expensive and emits boatloads of carbon.

Speaking of which, about a quarter of households in New York, 45% in Vermont and 65% in Maine still burn heating oil—which is a third more expensive than natural gas and produces about 30% more carbon emissions per million Btu. Yet many can’t switch due to insufficient natural gas and pipeline infrastructure.

So what is Cuomo doing about this? This:

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, in connection with his State of the State address today, announced a plan to create new energy efficiency targets and appliance standards. He directed the state’s Department of Public Service and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to propose new 2025 energy efficiency targets by Earth Day, April 22, 2018, and also announced the state’s plans to develop new appliance efficiency standards for products not covered by federal standards, coordinating efforts with other states. According to the Governor, the targets will be “achieved through cost effective implementation strategies and innovative approaches from both utilities and the [New York State] Clean Energy Fund.”

Yep, that’ll fix it. Make appliances even more expensive and less reliable.

Steve writes, “Turns out the New England electricity grid manager (the ISO) warned of this very problem a couple months ago:”

[P]ower system operations could become challenging if demand is higher than projected, if the region loses a large generator, electricity imports are affected, or when natural gas pipeline constraints limit the fuel available to natural-gas-fired power plants. . .

While New England has adequate capacity resources to meet projected demand, a continuing concern involves the availability of fuel for those power plants to generate electricity when needed. The region’s natural gas delivery infrastructure has expanded only incrementally[thank you Gov. Cuomo], while reliance on natural gas as the predominant fuel for both power generation and heating continues to grow. During extremely cold weather, natural gas pipeline constraints limit the availability of fuel for natural-gas-fired power plants. Further, the retirement of a 1,500 MW coal- and oil-fired power plant in May has removed a facility with stored fuel that helped meet demand when natural gas plants were unavailable. . .

To address potential shortages of fuel to generate electricity, ISO New England will administer the Winter Reliability Program again to help protect overall grid reliability. The program provides incentives for generators to stock up on oil or contract for liquefied natural gas before winter begins . . .

But, what about all that solar power we keep hearing about?

While PV helps reduce energy consumption during sunny winter days, demand peaks in winter after the sun has set.

Typical. I’d feel sorry for them, but I just can’t manage it. After all, they elected these statist cretins, and the chickens are coming home to roost, good and hard. I’d invest in tar and pitchforks futures though unless they all do freeze in the dark. But they’ll probably re-elect them again. It’s what they do, and why they have become increasingly irrelevant to the modern world.

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Tocqueville and Democracy in Action

Alexis de Tocqueville, French political thinke...

Alexis de Tocqueville, French political thinker and historian. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Around here we talk a fair amount about Tocqueville and his view of early America. He was an honest, sympathetic observer who saw both the good and bad, He also was a very good writer.   wrote an article yesterday on The Federalist that struck me as valuable. He is stressing the importance in the American system of the localness of government. Here are some excerpts

[…]

Tocqueville is adamant: local government is absolutely key to democracy in America. It’s what makes it work. For a whole chapter, he marvels at the extent of self-governance in the townships of New England, looking at them as the model of local self-government.

For Tocqueville, this isn’t idle social analysis: he makes very clear that looking at how local government works in America explains how all democracy works in America. As we’ll see, the picture he draws of American local government is different from what we have today, and that has dramatic consequences for democracy in America.

First of all, there is direct democracy: when some question of importance needs to be debated, the whole town gathers, debates, and takes a vote.

What about day-to-day administration? The township is “run” by a committee of “select-men” who summon these town meetings, although a small number of landowners can force the select-men to summon such a town meeting. This isn’t the public meetings we see today in most American towns (and have always seen in European towns) where the people can petition and talk but the elected officials ultimately have the final say. Instead, it’s the vote at the town meeting which carries the day. If the select-men want to do something of importance, they have to summon a town meeting, and if the town meeting rejects their proposal, that’s it; conversely, if the people want to do something the select-men don’t, they can summon a town meeting and vote for it, and that vote is binding. […]

That is a lot different from my city council. How about yours? But does it matter? Tocqueville says yes.

Assessors, who establish taxes to be paid; collectors, who raise the taxes. An officer called constable is in charge of police duties […]. Another officer, the town clerk, keeps records of deliberations and maintains the town records. A cashier keeps watch over the township’s treasury. […] School commissioners, who run public schools; road inspectors. […]

Let’s pause to look at this picture of local government in 18thcentury America. All of the rules are designed to do two things: divide governmental power, and increase government officials’ accountability to the people. Select-men and the other officials are up for reelection every year. Big decisions are reached at town-meetings, and the citizens can call town-meetings. This is the American Constitution, Tocqueville writes, using that word in its proper sense: not a document, but the living tradition of a political order. Down to the upkeep of roads and “harvest inspection”, the American political system is designed with limited government and popular accountability in mind.

Of course, Tocqueville notes that these local townships, not state governors (and certainly not even Washington–the idea doesn’t even occur to him!) take care of almost all of the issues that require governmental attention. The state sometimes passes laws that townships have to obey, for sure. But the way the state government most often intervenes in local government is not through the executive or legislative branches, but through the judicial—judges have review power over actions of the local governments if they do something illegal. Tocqueville sees this system working well, which indicates we are before the day of activist judges and three felonies a day.[…]

That’s all true enough but, Tocqueville says, local government is fundamental not so much because it’s a “laboratory” of democracy but because it’s a school of democracy. Through such accountable and democratic government, Americans learn to be democratic citizens. They learn to be involved in the common good. They learn to take charge of their own affairs, as a community. Tocqueville writes that it’s because of local democracy that Americans can make state and Federal democracy work—by learning, in their bones, to expect and demand accountability from public officials and to be involved in public issues.

In other words the people had the responsibility for the local government and because they did they also had the accountability. That’s a lot different from the autocratic way we do it today.

There’s quite lot more in the article that you should read, it is Tocqueville Reminds Us That Local Communities Make Democracy Work, do read it.

This would be a good place to note that Ilya Somin who is Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law, and blogs at The Volokh Conspiracy has a new book out which bears on this point as well. It’s named  Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is SmarterHere is a link to his introduction, while I haven’t read it (yet), it sounds pretty interesting.

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