4 months ago

Darkness in sunny California

California is plagued by unreliable access to electric power, a situation that will persist for years to come. It’s happening as part of Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), one component of the wildfire prevention plans implemented by electric utilities and approved by regulatory commissioners appointed by the governor. During periods of significant wildfire threat, the utility with equipment in those high-risk areas shuts off the power to avoid starting a wildfire. The plan has been in place for years and implemented hundreds of times over the past decade. It is about as popular as you would imagine. If you’re wondering who or what to blame, California offers many targets.

Assignment of blame, of course, is divided along political lines. Liberals blame climate change, a failure to live sustainably, and unscrupulous corporations. Conservatives take aim at the California Public Utilities Commission, the governor and a housing crisis that resulted in home construction in high-risk fire areas. One-sided arguments fed by confirmation bias belie an important truth – there is no one political party or company to blame. The scariest part – we’ll actually all have to work together to solve a complex problem. And it’s going to take decades. Can we do it?

Wildfire prevention has not been a priority. Activities that remove fuel, such as logging or animal grazing, help prevent wildfires. Logging was made more difficult in California. California law made it impossible to remove wood from state forests that was not already dead and on the ground. Air quality laws in California all but stopped prescribed burns and other treatment measures designed to remove fuel. Finally, several invasive species and diseases killed millions of trees and added to the fuel load. In many forest areas, grazing animals were banned and native species that graze have not recovered to levels that adequately manage grass and brush growth in the forests.

Other actions made management of fires more difficult and the damages they cause more severe. Road building clears vegetation and creates fire breaks while providing access to firefighters. President Clinton all but banned road building in U.S. forests in the 1990s, President Bush restored it 15 years later, and President Obama stopped it less than five years later. While fuel accumulated in the forest and road building ceased, a growing housing crisis drove new home construction in the wildfire-urban interface. Homes were constructed that did not follow state rules on building materials, fire breaks and other fire-related design criteria. And with that, the stage was set – forests full of fuel and private property nearby. All that’s needed is an ignition source.

In the tinderbox that is California, there are many possible ignition sources. Just ask Glenn Kile. In July 2018, Mr. Kile noticed a wasp nest underground in his backyard. He was allergic to wasps, so he hammered a metal stake into the ground to keep the wasps from surfacing. Sparks from his hammering ignited the largest wildfire in state history.

Sparks from power lines can also ignite a fire. Cal Fire (the state firefighting agency) investigators said the Camp Fire, the deadliest (86 killed) wildfire in California history and the costliest natural disaster in the world in 2018 ($16.5 billion in damages), was started by a Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) power line failure. While power lines cause a small amount (less than 5%) of the 50,000-plus wildfires started each year in the U.S., many severe fires are caused by power lines. The reason is that severe fires and damaged power lines often share a common cause – high wind speeds. High winds can damage power structures and can also rapidly spread wildfires, making them more difficult to manage.

Maintaining power infrastructure, and the vegetation around that infrastructure, is critical to preventing fire and is the responsibility of electric utilities. As was the case with other stakeholders, wildfire prevention was not a priority of utilities or the regulatory bodies that oversee them. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) repeatedly cut funding to electrical distribution improvements and tree trimming budgets, in the name of keeping rates affordable, and higher priorities like decarbonization. The CPUC also failed to immediately ensure all electric utilities implemented a wildfire mitigation plan even after it became clear that power lines posed a threat to public safety.

At the same time that regulators chose to prioritize other activities, electric utilities like PG&E were mired in distractions created by others (state mandates for renewables, electric vehicles) and of their own volition (pipeline explosions, bankruptcy filings). Already hamstrung by reduced budgets for vegetation management, PG&E served a customer base which increasingly fought them on tree removal. Using California tree laws, customers could take PG&E to court over a single yard tree. While negotiations to trim/remove trees stalled, PG&E would simply skip the tree and move to another property.

With every stakeholder distracted by other priorities, wildfires raged on with an increasing frequency and intensity. From 1980-1999, wildfires burned an average of 3 million acres in the U.S. each year. Over the next 20 years, that burn rate more than doubled to 6.5 million acres per year. The damage from these fires can be severe, especially with more than 2 million homes built in areas with high or extreme fire risk, mostly in the last 20 years.
The delayed response from all stakeholders has now turned into an urgent, all-of-the-above approach to preventing wildfires. Utilities, facing financial destruction from wildfire liabilities, plan to accelerate replacement of aging equipment and adopt new technology, among other measures. Elements of the plan, already in progress, include, but are not limited to:

● Increased weather monitoring to improve the ability to forecast conditions that result in fires and manage equipment appropriately.

● Increased frequency of all inspections of distribution poles and transmission structures, including ground, drone, helicopter and climbing methods.

● Increased vegetation management, including quadrupling tree removal year over year with a priority placed on removal of dead, drying or otherwise high-risk trees in extreme risk areas.

● Hardening of the electrical system, including replacing wooden poles with more resilient, fire-resistant poles, replacing open conductors with covered conductors to minimize sparking and undergrounding power lines.

● An increase in switches in the system, so that fewer people will have to face a planned power outage, if the line starts in an area where fire probability is low.

Even with an all-out effort by utilities to prevent fires, power will be shut off as a last resort. How often should we expect utilities to resort to this measure? A lot. Since 2013, San Diego Gas & Electric shut off power 216 times for public safety reasons.

Power shutoffs aren’t the only measure under consideration. Virtually every stakeholder, from individual citizens to state government, are taking action – some of them dramatic:

● Governor Brown, on his last day in office, signed two forestry bills making it easier to log state forest lands and to build and maintain roads in those areas. The second bill removed requirements to follow California air quality rules when doing planned burns to remove fuel from forest floors and create areas with no fuel to stop fires.

● Governor Newsom issued an Emergency Proclamation that directs Cal Fireto increase vegetation management activity. Historically CAL FIRE planned to treat some 400,000 acres but only treated about 30,000 acres.

● Governor Newsom signed 18 bills to boost housing construction. It’s not just that there is a wildfire crisis in California, it’s that so many people live in wildfire zones. Construction is needed in order to provide housing choice.

● The California Public Utility Commission sped up work on General Order (GO) 95 that includes fire hardening the electric grid with 23 new recommendations finishing work that started years earlier with a final ruling in 2017. Further work is underway to improve GO-95.

● Facing a decade of intermittent darkness, individuals will take matters into their own hands and increasingly look to maintain their quality of life during power shutoffs. Already the leading state for rooftop solar, interest in self-generating power is soaring following the PSPS epidemic, as customer inquiries into rooftop solar and storage have reportedly doubled in recent months.

● With rooftop solar plus storage coming in at $40,000 per typical home, down from the 2016 NREL estimate of $51,000, we can also expect to see sales for diesel generators ($400-$1,100) or backup generators ($7,000-$16,000) soar. Local suppliers have reported customer inquiries increased more than 1,000% in recent months.

Those measures, some of them extreme, highlight the scope of the problem. Many of the measures require a decade or more for implementation. Sweeping changes are coming. Meanwhile, to save lives, it will be dark in California every time there is a high risk of wildfire.

Corey Tyree is a Senior Policy Advisor for the Energy Institute of Alabama. Tyree is also a Senior Director of Energy and Environment with Southern Research. He directs a team of engineers, scientists, and technicians focused on innovative technology solutions for clean energy, air and water.

16 mins ago

Preventing death by allowing ‘essential’ murder

We live in wild times.

I’ve watched people all across the political spectrum in recent days deliver impassioned speeches about the need to take extraordinary measures to preserve human life. They say they believe the elderly and vulnerable are just as deserving of a chance to live as any other.

They are right.

Human life is sacred and should be treated as such from the womb to the tomb.

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But since we live in an age of cognitive dissonance and crumbling reason, the same people who will gladly burn the economy to the ground to save grandpa will sue you for the right to keep killing unborn children, even amid this crisis.

In Alabama, it looks like this: on March 27, Governor Kay Ivey issued an order suspending nonessential medical and dental care as part of a comprehensive effort to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the state. Temporarily eliminating procedures that are not medically necessary reserves scarce PPEs for use where critically needed and reduces the number of people gathering in clinics and potentially spreading the virus.

State Health Officer Scott Harris stipulated that abortion clinics were providing an essential service and could continue to operate.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said that he believed that the original order applied to all elective medical and dental procedures. And as elective abortion is not emergency care and treats no disease process, they should not be exempt from the order.

Enter the ACLU, which filed a petition on behalf of abortion providers with the federal courts, asking for an emergency order to prevent state authorities from closing them down; they want abortion classified as an “essential” service.

They don’t believe that abortion clinics should have to live up to the same deal that thousands of other medical providers and citizens are currently living up to, for the greater good. United States District Judge Myron Thompson issued just such an injunction late on March 30, keeping abortion clinics open and temporarily exempting them from the standards of the governors’ mandate. The court will hear arguments on the matter in full on April 13.

Where do I even begin?

Under the law, women currently have a right to abortion services. Likewise, I have the right to seek all manner of medical and dental procedures, many of which are essential preventative care: pap smears, mammograms, dermatological cancer screenings, x-rays, etc. Under normal circumstances, I even have the right to seek all sorts of nonessential medical procedures that improve the quality of my life: therapies or cosmetic procedures for a variety of conditions and complaints.

But these are not normal times, and pregnancy is not an illness.

And our government – for better or for worse – has the power to temporarily restrain ordinary civil liberties to respond to a crisis, as the Governor has in this case.

Pregnancy may be unplanned or undesired. But it is not a disease.

The vast majority of Americans understand that our resources must, for the near future, be prioritized for the treatment of actual disease processes and emergency healthcare that won’t wait.

But if you say something – no matter how divorced from facts – enough times, you start to believe it. And in this case, the abortion industry mantra that “abortion is healthcare” has been repeated so often that a significant number of activists and their acolytes believe it.

Those of us who think that children in utero are just as sacred as the elderly and the frail would point out that abortion is a kind of “healthcare” that always leaves one of its two patients dead.

The feminist in me is sickened of the degrading presumption that lives inside of the abortion-as-healthcare mentality: that women lack the agency and the intelligence to prevent pregnancy in the first place. That pregnancy is something that just spontaneously happens to us without our consent or participation because the basics of biology are just too hard for little ole us.

Victims of rape or abuse are obvious exceptions to this rule, and only a tiny percentage of elective abortions, so save yourself the pithy email.

It’s a pitifully low view of women. It’s a tragically low view of life.

And now, the abortion industry wants to be held out as exceptional and granted exclusive rights. They want their elective procedure deemed more important than all the other elective procedures and more important than the fight to save their neighbors’ lives.

It is not.

Because of this pandemic, there are people from all walks of life on hold for medical care that is far more consequential to their ongoing physical health than the potential abortion of a healthy pregnancy.

Why must heart patients, diabetics, and cancer patients put skin in the game of achieving our collective good while abortion seekers break the social contract and go right on with their desires?

Whether you think abortion should generally be legal or not, it’s certainly no more essential than a million other types of medical care that Alabamians are doing without in this moment of crisis.
Providers of elective abortion are not deserving of special consideration.

No one can honestly argue we are protecting at-risk people from death by allowing the murder of babies as an “essential” service.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute; reach her on Twitter at @dhmccain.

API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families, learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

1 hour ago

Merrill: Alabama’s ‘greatest champion and favorite son’ Richard Shelby delivers once again

Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill on Wednesday released a statement praising U.S. Senator Richard C. Shelby’s role (R-AL) in the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) stimulus package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald J. Trump.

Merrill also touted the overall leadership being provided to the nation by Trump, as well as the work Governor Kay Ivey is doing for the Yellowhammer State.

Shelby is Alabama’s longest serving senator, and his accomplishments for his home state are well recognized by political observers. Merrill outlined that the COVID-19 stimulus package is merely the latest example of Shelby delivering for his fellow Alabamians.

“Our state is incredibly lucky to have leaders who are willing to step up to the plate and go to bat for Alabama, which is precisely what Senator Shelby has done,” Merrill stated.

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“The historic coronavirus relief package recently appropriated to the states would not have been possible without the leadership and guidance of Senator Shelby,” he continued. “How do I know this? I know this to be true because those words came straight from Senator Mitch McConnell and his team. When liberal extremists pushed their agenda, Senator Shelby drew a line in the sand and said, ‘no farther!’”

There were reports that Democrats were trying to insert provisions related to the Green New Deal into the package, as well as voting measures championed by the left that Merrill and others believed could have jeopardized election security and increased voter fraud.

“I am most grateful for the $400 million provided by Congress to protect the 2020 elections. I am also thankful for the provisions that allow each state to do what is best for that state,” Merrill commented.

He said, “Senator Shelby and his team have been receptive and engaged in finding proactive solutions to ensure the safety and security of our elections are not compromised.”

“After countless calls from me and other election officials from across the country, Senator Shelby made it a priority to see that states were granted the flexibility to best accommodate their respective communities under the bill’s stipulations,” the secretary of state added. “Unlike others who have attempted to implement nationwide election changes – many that would increase the likelihood for voter fraud and voter intimidation to be committed – Senator Shelby has proven yet again that federal interference into the elections process in unwarranted and unnecessary.”

Merrill concluded by lauding the stalwart service of Shelby, as well as casting an optimistic and unifying message as the nation continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

“While we work to get through these trying times, we must remember there is much to be grateful for, such as the collaboration of federal, state and local officials across the country who are working together to provide assistance to those who are most in need,” he advised.

“At the forefront of this fight, finding a solution to the problems we face is Alabama’s Senior Senator, our greatest champion and favorite son, United States Senator Richard C. Shelby!” Merrill concluded.

RELATED: ‘From Alabama to the Moon’ — Richard Shelby is the driving force making America’s space dreams a reality

Merrill’s full statement as follows:

As we navigate these unchartered waters, we must remember that Alabama has a lot to be grateful for.

The leadership exemplified by state and national leaders like President Donald J. Trump, United States Senator Richard Shelby and Governor Kay Ivey should not go unnoticed.

Our state is incredibly lucky to have leaders who are willing to step up to the plate and go to bat for Alabama, which is precisely what Senator Shelby has done.

The historic coronavirus relief package recently appropriated to the states would not have been possible without the leadership and guidance of Senator Shelby.

How do I know this? I know this to be true because those words came straight from Senator Mitch McConnell and his team. When liberal extremists pushed their agenda, Senator Shelby drew a line in the sand and said, ‘no farther!’

I am most grateful for the $400 million provided by Congress to protect the 2020 elections. I am also thankful for the provisions that allow each state to do what is best for that state.

Senator Shelby and his team have been receptive and engaged in finding proactive solutions to ensure the safety and security of our elections are not compromised.

After countless calls from me and other election officials from across the country, Senator Shelby made it a priority to see that states were granted the flexibility to best accommodate their respective communities under the bill’s stipulations.

Unlike others who have attempted to implement nationwide election changes – many that would increase the likelihood for voter fraud and voter intimidation to be committed – Senator Shelby has proven yet again that federal interference into the elections process in unwarranted and unnecessary.

While we work to get through these trying times, we must remember there is much to be grateful for, such as the collaboration of federal, state and local officials across the country who are working together to provide assistance to those who are most in need.

At the forefront of this fight, finding a solution to the problems we face is Alabama’s Senior Senator, our greatest champion and favorite son, United States Senator Richard C. Shelby!

RELATED: Keep up with Alabama’s confirmed coronavirus cases, locations here

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

6 suggestions to protect yourself from stimulus check scams

Congress moved quickly to help the American public with a $2 trillion stimulus bill.

Unfortunately, fraud experts believe scammers will move just as quickly to try to take your share away. The key is to arm yourself with information.

“No doubt, there will be fake messages that will make countless claims,” said Don White, head of Corporate Security at Regions Bank. “Scammers may text, email or call you, asking for your banking information or claiming they can process your stimulus payment for you. Don’t take the bait. Do not, under any circumstance, give away your personal information via text, email or phone to someone you do not know who is soliciting you.”

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The bipartisan legislation to boost the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic includes economic relief for American taxpayers in the form of stimulus checks. Each eligible adult will receive up to $1,200, based on gross income.

According to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the checks could go out in the next two weeks, although there are still questions as to how the money will be distributed. For example, someone who received a refund on 2019 taxes via the Automated Clearing House (ACH) could receive a direct deposit.

Meanwhile, scammers are ready to take advantage by reaching out and saying your account information is needed, or that you can have their relief check for a small fee.

To avoid fraud, consider these suggestions:

1. Hang up. Don’t reply. The IRS, Treasury Department or other government agencies will not call, email or text message people to collect account information, Social Security numbers or credit card information. Anyone who does is likely a scammer, White said.

2. Do not pay anyone offering to get your stimulus funds early or sell you additional stimulus checks. This is a promise that they will not be able to fulfill.

3. Enroll in your bank’s or credit card company’s online and mobile applications to monitor your account activity frequently, looking for suspicious activity.

4. Avoid clicking on unknown links, which may expose you to viruses or malware.

5. While online, verify the legitimacy of websites you visit.

– Turn on browser tools, which can help identify fraudulent websites.

– Ensure the websites are secure and encrypted with HTTPS.

– Look for links that are broken or take you away from the original website.

– Shop through websites you know and trust.

6. As always, slow down, verify, and verify again the legitimacy of financial transactions before approving. Look for changes to account numbers, phone numbers, email addresses or other identifying information.

“We are seeing a spike in fraud activity during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jon Kucharski, Fraud Strategy Manager at Regions. “No matter what this payment winds up being, only scammers will ask you to pay to get it. Just keep in mind, these unusual times require patience and a little extra vigilance to keep your finances safe.”

(Courtesy of Regions)

2 hours ago

‘Don’t let the corona get on ya!’ — Alabama retirees sing during COVID-19 crisis

An Alabama retirement community shared a helpful message on social media this week amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In a video posted on Facebook, residents of Wesley Gardens Retirement Community in Montgomery joined with facility driver Lee McBryde (while practicing social distancing by staying six steps away) to dance and sing some important lyrics during the COVID-19 crisis such as properly washing hands and covering up when coughing and sneezing to help prevent the spread.

“Don’t let the corona get on ya!” McBryde sang as residents danced around him while holding containers of disinfectant wipes.

Watch:

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Birmingham meal prep business offers buy one, give one to help feed those in need

During the novel COVID-19 economic and health crisis, one Birmingham based small business has created a way to give back. Mealfit, a catering and meal preparation company, is donating a free meal to someone in need for every meal that is ordered.

Each customer who purchases a meal for themselves will be offered an opportunity to identify someone who may be in need. Mealfit will provide a meal to those in need at no additional costs.

Mealfit founder and CEO Thomas Cox launched the program as a way to help the community during a time of need.

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“I’ve been racking my brain as a small business owner on how I can provide high-quality, healthy food in a time when people are stuck at home, while also helping people who are in need,” said Cox.

“Everyone has someone who is in need whether it be an elderly person, a single parent or someone who has been laid off because of the crisis we are going through. So from now until further notice, every time you order your Mealfit meals, we will give to a family in need,” Thomas stated.

Customers can order through the company website by 12:00 p.m. on Sunday and pick up food between 4:00-5:00 p.m. on Monday at one of 17 different locations in Birmingham. Once an order is placed the customer can simply respond to their confirmation email and identify the name, number of family members, phone number and email of the person they would like to have a free meal. Mealfit will handle the rest.

Cox only has one small request for the greater Birmingham community: “We ask that you spread the word. We can’t reach everyone on our own, but with your help, we can reach more of the people who are in need that we aren’t directly connected with.”

Go to this website and order food for you and your family.