A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

1 August 2015

Flathead Electric community solar’s gloomy economics

On 11 June, Flathead Memo published a preliminary analysis of FEC’s community solar project. Construction has begun, and FEC just released more information on the project. The August, 2015, issue of Light Reading (PDF), the cooperative’s monthly newsletter, in a question and answer format with project manager Ross Holter, reports that customers now can invest in the project:

It will consist of 356 solar panels, and each 285 watt panel is expected to generate approximately 360 kWh per year. Each panel will cost $900 and initially, FEC members will be limited to purchasing one panel for the 25-year life of the program.

Less than one kilowatt hour per panel per day, on average.

In a nutshell, how does community solar work? It’s really quite simple. We build a large solar array, thereby achieving some economies of scale. We then sell those panels to individual participants for the 25-year life of the panels. We track the monthly kilowatt output of the whole system and then credit each owner their allocated share against their monthly electric bill.

At what price per kWhr will that generation be credited? Flathead Electric’s residential rate structure (PDF) combines a $22.71 per month base charge with an ascending block rate structure:

fec_rates_2009_2015

In July, I used 517 kWhrs, which by my math will cost $54.20. My true cost per kWhr is $0.10483, but the per kWhr rate for the 0–600 kWhrs/mth block is $0.0609. If I had a share of the project, would I be credited at my true cost per kWhr, or at the 0–600 block’s rate? If FEC uses the block rate for the panel owner’s consumption, the biggest energy hogs will have the shortest payback period. In fact, under that scheme, only the hogs will have a simple payback period shorter than the life of the project:

payback

FEC needs to release a lot more information on the Stillwater Community Solar project. Given what I know right now, and my level of energy use, I could not expect to break even were I to invest in the project. It doesn’t strike me as an economically viable alternative to net metering. And like net metering without a crossover switch, it would leave me in the dark if the grid went down.

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31 July 2015

Flathead Lake still seven inches lower than normal

Flathead Lake is at 2892.21 today, six-tenths of a foot, or seven inches, below the 1965–2014 median for this date. In the drought year 2001, the lake was at 2891.66 at the end of July. Today’s outflow from Kerr Dam is 3,360 cubic feet per second, 440 cfs lower than the 3,800 cfs mandated in Article 56 of the dam’s license. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted the dam’s operator a small variance from Article 56. The license mandated minimum outflow drops to 3,200 cfs in a couple of days. I’ll try to have more on the situation on Monday.

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What’s better? A new jail or putting fewer people in jail?

Flathead County’s jail is overcrowded, so the county commissioners want to convert the old Walmart building on Highway 2 east to a new jail. A wag on Facebook beat me to the punch with “Jade Helm comes to the Flathead.”

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Updates on Hillary Clinton’s campaign

Today, bad reporting by the New York Times, and a hard hitting report by ABC’s Brian Ross from the 2008 campaign.

NY Times botched emails story. Last week the NYT reported that Clinton was under a criminal investigation for allegedly using her private email system to send in the clear classified information that should have been encrypted. That news story is coming apart faster than Humpty Dumpty at the end of his great fall.

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News coverage of the Reynolds Creek Fire

Over at the Flathead Beacon, Kellyn Brown explains how the Beacon has covered the Reynolds Creek Fire, and forest fires in general. Reading between the lines, it’s clear that local business interests believe the Beacon and the news media in general have hyped the fire to the detriment of the local economy:

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30 July 2015

Minimum wage: Hillary bests Walmart by a whole dollar!

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Walmart’s starting wage, at least in Kalispell, is $11/hour. Hillary Clinton thinks that’s not enough. Today she endorsed legislation by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) to increase the federal minimum wage to $12/hour, indexed to inflation.

Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, her rivals for the Democratic nomination for President, support raising the federal minimum wage to $15/hour. So in some cases does Hillary, reports the Huffington Post, but not in all cases:

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Medicare at 50: still single-payer, and still stingy payer

President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law on this day in 1965, culminating a decades long campaign to provide health insurance for America’s senior citizen. Former President Harry Truman, then 81, sat at the signing table with Johnson. Although Truman’s efforts to establish national health care were defeated, Democrats didn’t give up. Truman was issued the first Medicare card.

LBJ_signs_medicare_730

Sen. Mike Mansfield is behind Johnson, Sen. Hubert Humphrey is behind Truman. Ladybird Johnson is dressed in blue, Bess Truman in yellow. I think Rep. Wilbur Mills is on the right.

Although Medicare remains stingy, covering around 80 percent of medical expenses, it also remains a single-payer system, as envisioned in the 1960 platform of the Democratic Party:

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29 July 2015

Glacier Park seeks public’s help in Reynolds Fire investigation

Glacier National Park today asked for the public’s help in determining how the Reynolds Creek Fire started. “Initial evidence suggests that the Reynolds Creek Fire was caused by human actions,” said GNP public relations officer Denise Germann in a press release:

Park visitors that were hiking in the area of Reynolds Creek on the Gunsight Pass Trail or that may have been staying in or hiking through the Reynolds Creek Backcountry Campground, from July 14 to July 21, are encouraged to call 888-653-0009 or email nps_isb@nps.gov.

Reynolds Creek flows into Saint Mary Lake. The Reynolds Creek backcountry campground is approximately 1.4 miles west of Saint Mary Lake and 0.6 miles south of the Going to the Sun Road — and right at the western edge of the fire’s perimeter.

The request for help tells me the investigators probably know where and how the fire started, but have absolutely no idea who was responsible for the ignition. So far, the fire has cost millions of dollars. I doubt the person responsible will step forward, saying “Just a minute while I pull out my checkbook.” And if it’s a case of a campfire thought extinguished in the morning coming to life in late afternoon winds, the person responsible could have been west of Gunsight Pass and might not know he was responsible. I wish the investigators good luck. They’re going to need it, plenty of it.

Has “Grizzly Point” been retired as an NPS place name? That could be. The final paragraph in today’s NPS press release on the fire investigation begins:

The fire was first reported at approximately 3:45 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21, approximately six miles east of Logan Pass.

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28 July 2015

Reynolds fire: maps, politics, locations, Lakota, causes

Today, updates on maps, Glacier’s unpleasant options, Grizzly Point, Lakota’s video, and how the fire started.

Online maps of the fire’s perimeter now are available from several sources. In today’s story on the fire, the Flathead Beacon included a link to the incident management team’s (what a wonderfully bureaucratic name) map, which displays the perimeter and closures against satellite imagery. Here’s a small version:

incident_team_map_730

The fire’s in red, closures in blue, the Sun Road in yellow.

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Louise Bruce’s candidacy for chair is good for the MT Dem Party

Louise Bruce, chair of the Beaverhead County Democrats, is running for chair of the Montana Democratic Party, reports Montana Cowgirl with a lack of enthusiasm. Bruce is challenging incumbent chair Jim Larson.

I know Bruce from years ago when I was active in public lands issues (I once served as chair of the Sierra Club’s Montana chapter). She’s highly intelligent, has an instinct for politics, has good connections, works well with people, and is no one’s tool. And no, neither she nor Dirk Adams has been in touch with me regarding her candidacy for party chair or anything else.

Montana’s Democratic Party might profit from a shake-up in leadership. Certainly it will profit from the debate over leadership that Bruce’s candidacy provokes. Last year’s fiasco with John Walsh is a red flag that’s still waving. He wasn’t properly vetted. He was endorsed by the party’s executive committee prior to the primary, a violation of the spirit if not the letter of the bylaws, and certainly a violation of a party’s obligation to remain neutral in a primary unless a genuine nutball or ringer threatens to hijack the nomination. Walsh’s primary opponents were neither nutballs nor ringers.

At both the state and national levels, the party’s leadership has come to fear contested primaries as dollar burning bloodbaths that weaken candidates. So once again party bosses are trying to pick the nominees, just as in the old days before fair nominating conventions and primaries. This is a dreadful and dangerous mistake that discourages the party’s grassroots.

Next year’s general election will be of enormous consequence for Montana. Apart from the Presidency, the only federal office on the ballot will be our seat, now occupied by Ryan Zinke, in the U.S. House of Representatives. This will be the best chance to replace him that Democrats will have for many years. Even more important, if Steve Bullock is not re-elected governor, radical right Republicans will control the legislature and statehouse with disastrous consequences for progressive programs (I believe Democrats can pick up seats in the legislature, but not enough seats for a majority in either house).

Montana’s Democrats must go into that election united, optimistic, and energetic, led by men and women who don’t meddle in primaries and who recognize and nurture the wisdom of the grassroots. Louise Bruce is that kind of leader.

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27 July 2015

Monday morning march — Stars and Stripes Forever

JohnPhilipSousa-Chickering

John Phillip Sousa wrote the Stars and Stripes Forever in his head, on Christmas, 1896, aboard a passenger ship bound for the United States. Considered his finest march by many, it’s known for its piccolo obbligato. Congress, in 1987, declared the Stars and Stripes Forever America’s national march — proof that Congress doesn’t always make bad decisions. This performance by the U.S. Marine Band was recorded in 2009.


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25 July 2015

Reynolds Creek Fire maps with crazy dates

Take a close look at the dates at the maps below (open the 1920-pixel-wide PDF) of the Reynolds Creek Fire. “Thermal MODIS” is dated 25 July, 1220 MDT. “Fire perimeters” are 24 July, no time given. And the “Sit Reports” are dated 30 July, 2200 UTC. Yes, 30 July. This map is from GeoMac, but frankly I don’t trust it because there’s no excuse for dating the situation report five days in the future. What else is not correct?

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24 July 2015

A few observations on the Reynolds Creek Fire

Update, 1845 MDT. I have a map of the fire’s perimeter (PDF, 340k). See also the comment by Jelff at the end of the Flathead Beacon’s story, Over 300 Firefighters Holding Glacier National Park Fire at Bay. I converted the map to a PDF, wrote this update, and uploaded the files to my server in less than 15 minutes. That’s how much time our federal employees can’t spare for the general public.

Many thanks to the friends and strangers who have sent tips and links on the Reynolds Creek Fire in Glacier National Park. Please keep the information coming. Even if I don’t mention what you send, your information improves my understanding of the situation.

Official updates. Now that an elite Type 1 firefighting team is fighting the fire, reports on the fire will issue from that team, which has its own public relations staff. Glacier’s staff can return to making sure the world knows that only a very small part of the park is on fire, and that the rest of the park is open. Business interests that depend on the park like that approach, which has some validity.

Maps. The Type 1 team now managing the fire will hold a briefing in St. Mary starting at 1800 this evening. You can bet there will be maps — probably large paper maps as well as maps displayed on computer monitors — at that briefing. Can you also bet that these maps will be uploaded to the internet, and if so, anytime soon? Probably not. Meanwhile, private parties have stepped forward with maps showing hot spots detected by the MODIS satellites. This one at mappingsupport.com is among the best. I obtained the latitude and longitude of a couple of hot spots, which I transferred to a digital 7.5-minute USGS topographic map. So the information is widely available. What’s missing is the federal government’s belief that putting fire maps online, and expeditiously, is important.

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23 July 2015

MT’s awful Medicaid expansion law may never be fixed

Governor Steve Bullock flew to Washington, D.C., yesterday to make his case that Montana should be granted a federal waiver (application, PDF) to implement GOP Sen. Ed Buttrey’s law to accept federal money for expanding Medicaid.

Buttrey’s law, which Bullock signed with great fanfare and no appearance of shame, requires those eligible for expanded Medicaid to purchasing private health insurance policies using federal subsidies. That’s bad enough, as it diverts some of the money to profits, not medical care, and condemns the eligible to dealing with private health insurers. It also requires the highest possible copays and perhaps worst of all, a two percent tax on the Medicaid recipient’s income. The law calls the tax a “premium,” but that section of the law quacks like a tax.

Montana’s waiver request will generate some tough discussions with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reports Kaiser Health News today:

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22 July 2015

Reynolds Creek fire video and map

Update, 2019 MDT. The website wildfiretoday.com has a map online showing hotspots as detected by the MODIS satellite. The centers of the hot circles are accurate to a mile or so.

Comment, 1818 MDT. How long does it take to draw a circle on a map? I can do it in two seconds. And I can have it on the internet in two minutes. So can most people — unless they work for the National Park Service at Glacier National Park. Glacier’s managers exactly where the Reynolds Creek Fire is located. If they wanted, they could draw rough boundaries on a map and post it on the park’s website in ten minutes. But they have not done so. Why?

Posted at 1545 MDT. There’s still no official map for the Reynolds Creek Fire, which as of 1525 MDT did not even appear on the Incident Information System, but there’s an unofficial map available from a map developer, who announced his map in the comments section of the Flathead Beacon’s story.

The fire reportedly started at, or first was observed from, a place called Grizzly Point. If anyone can supply me with the latitude and longitude of Grizzly Point, I would appreciate it.

GNP has a news page. And a news release page. It does not have a website that I think is organized logically.

A man named Brian Hodges posted on YouTube video he took in the park yesterday:

 

21 July 2015

Reynolds Creek fire’s smoke plume visible from Kalispell

Update, 2155. Glacier is calling this the Reynolds Creek Wildland Fire (I updated my headline to correct the name), and reported 14 minutes ago that it had grown to 800–1,000 acres. Your best bet for information from the NPS probably is Glacier’s Facebook Page. The park’s website is useless at this point.

Earlier. Strong winds fanned 100-acre wildfire located near Rising Sun in Glacier National Park today, sending into the atmosphere a plume of smoke that was visible 45 miles away. I made the image below at 1721 MDT, shooting from my front yard northwest of Kalispell with a long lens and infrared filter. When I noticed the plume, it was higher. And yes, I did take a bearing with a sighting compass and checked Google Earth.

rising_sun_smoke_plume

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20 July 2015

Democrat O’Malley apologizes for saying “All lives matter”

omalley_100_looking_left

Former Democratic governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley wants to be President. But why should anyone rely on him to defend Americans and America when he won’t even defend himself for speaking the truth?

O’Malley was halfway through his prepared remarks at the annual Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix, AZ, on Saturday, when dozens of foulmouthed thugs executing a well-planned ambush burst into the meeting hall:

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19 July 2015

Frog march those Netroots disrupters to the nearest calaboose

Yesterday at the Netroots town hall meeting in Phoenix, members of several fringe groups disrupted speeches by Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. Sanders, not a man to suffer fools, handled himself well. O’Malley, seeking to be conciliatory, trying to make common cause with the disrupters, was shouted down. You can find the details at the New York Times.

Hilary Clinton was in Arkansas raising money. There’s no evidence, at least not yet, that her campaign, or someone close to it, was associated with the disruption, but it certainly would have been an effective way to deliver the argument that Sanders and O’Malley are too white and male to be the Democratic nominee in 2016.

I find the disruption incomprehensible, selfish, and reminiscent of a coup d’état in a banana republic in a movie starring Peter Sellers. Why weren’t these people seizing the stage at a Republican event?

The moderator should have summoned the constable, had the disrupters deposited in jail, and kept the program on time and on track..

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18 July 2015

Long weekend

Flathead memo is taking a two-day weekend and will resume posting on Monday.

 

17 July 2015

Why did Leland Bowman fly his Beech Bonanza into a mountain?

Sixteen-year-old Autumn Veatch survived the 11 July crash into the North Cascades of the 1949 Beech Bonanza piloted by her step-grandfather, Leland Bowman. According to Veatch, Bowman and his wife, Sharon, also survived the crash, but were trapped in the burning wreckage. Veatch suffered burns trying to free them, but wasn’t strong enough to do so (an Olympic weightlifter might have lacked the necessary strength). Finally, her will to live in command, she saved herself, bushwhacking downhill until she reached the North Cascades Highway.

Yesterday, two bodies from what’s believed to be the crash were transported on stretchers to Rainy Pass, which you’ll find marked by a light yellow circle on this cropped aeronautical chart (PDF, 7 MB). (The full chart can be downloaded for free from the Aviation Toolbox. These 1:500,000 charts, known as sectionals, are useful for surface cross country travel and navigation as well as for aeronautical navigation, as their latitude and longitude grids work well with handheld GPS receivers.)

Attention now turns from Veatch’s remarkable survival to why her step-grandfather flew his aircraft into a mountainside. Here, the story may become darker: an older aircraft, a pilot who acquired his license in advancing middle age, and an attempt to cross high mountains in unfavorable weather. Just before the crash, Veatch says the aircraft was flying blind in a cloud:

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16 July 2015

Light blue shirts for LGBT solidarity is a bad idea

Supporters of the proposed additions to School District 5’s discrimination policy were urged to wear light blue clothing to the 14 July meeting of the district’s board meeting to show solidarity. It’s an understandable tactic, but it’s also a bad idea that could generate more bullying.

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Shame on you, Majority Leader Regier

Tuesday, 15 July, the board of School District 5 (Kalispell) took public comments on the proposed additions to the district’s policy on discrimination, which I believe should be adopted. Among the commenters was a former member of that board, Montana House of Representative Majority Leader Keith Regier (R-Kalispell, HD-4), who, reports the Daily InterLake, said:

“If this policy allows for gender identity and expression, then the door opens for any other form of identity,” Regier said. “What about species, race or academic identity? Who knows what will be next. Recognizing one identity would discriminate against any other identity, so why start?”

Species identity? Does Regier fear that students will identify as dogs, barking up and down the schoolhouse’s hallways? As baboons, swinging from the transoms in the blackboard jungle? As jackasses, imitating a former school board member with a compulsion to make comments that are inhumane?

This is shameful conduct for anyone, but especially shameful for the second ranking member of Montana’s House of Representatives. Regier should have set an example for thoughtful discussion of a sensitive subject. His position carries with it a responsibility to shed light on solutions, not to inflame the debate. But instead of conducting himself with dignity, instead of making a constructive contribution to the discussion, he made a fool of himself and may have encouraged others to be equally offensive.

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