Archive | May 2014

Energy Efficiency from Ukraine to Ohio

What’s it like living in Putin’s neighborhood?

These days it’s not much fun—especially if you happen to be in the Ukraine or some other countries, such as Moldova or Georgia.

Russian Presidential and Press Office, 2008:

Russian Presidential and Press Office, 2008:

Damon Wilson at the Atlantic Council has his own ideas about how the United States and other countries should respond to potential threats presented by Putin. Last night he outlined the potential problems and some possible strategies for members of the Cleveland Council on World Affairs.

Some strategies would involve the United States and NATO members stepping in with aid to make their presence known. Others suggest reaching out through trade and alliances to bolster stability. As a comparison, Wilson points to Turkey and Greece as examples where their involvement with NATO increased stability in the face of unrest.

Ukraine is not helpless, either. Longstanding traditions of corruption are a big problem. Recent leaders have enriched themselves at citizens’ expense by making bad business deals with Russia. Ideally, whoever wins this weekend’s elections will make fighting a corruption a priority. Violent clashes have been threatening that process, though, so there are still a lot of obstacles to overcome.

Ukraine could shift its mindset on energy too, says Wilson. Right now, the country is extremely dependent on Russian natural gas. But, says Wilson, the country is also one of the least energy efficient countries in the world. The United Nations Development Programme agrees.

With that in mind, Wilson says, the best way for Ukraine to strengthen its security would be an aggressive energy efficiency policy.

Wilson raised the same idea when he testified before a Senate subcommittee in 2012:

The best way to strengthen Ukraine’s sovereignty, and to mitigate Ukraine’s dependency on Russia for natural gas, would be to pursue an aggressive energy efficiency program and to liberalize its antiquated energy sector inviting in investors and promoting transparency.

Basically, a reduction in demand for fossil fuels, coupled with possible markets in the West, could reduce Ukraine’s need for natural gas from Russia. That, in turn, would reduce its dependency.

This seems like an ambitious strategy. Yet it seems to make sense in economic and political terms.

Meanwhile, closer to home, Ohio remains in the throes of a debate over energy efficiency.

So far, the state has been making substantial progress under current renewable energy and energy efficiency targets. Supporters of energy efficiency say it saves consumers money at the same time that it reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Ohio’s progress on energy efficiency and renewable energy should also position the state well when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency comes out with its carbon emission rules for power plants next month.  That’s the word from Rebecca Gaspar of World Resources Institute and Brennan Howell at the Ohio Environmental Council in a press conference held earlier today.

Yet even while there are rumblings of a possible compromise, some of Ohio’s lawmakers seem determined to derail both renewable energy and energy efficiency. Leading them is Cincinnati-area Republican Bill Seitz, who chairs the Ohio Senate’s Public Utilities Committee.SeitzB052114

During debates yesterday on House Bill 483, Seitz spoke out against an amendment that called for all Ohio General Assembly committee hearings to be broadcast. Sponsor Charleta Tavares of Columbus pointed out that much of the substantive work on bills gets done in committees, not on the floors of the Ohio House or Senate.

But the amendment’s language was too broad, stated Seitz. It wouldn’t just apply to hearings for the standing committees. It could also cover ad hoc committees and commissions, such as those for criminal sentencing and the energy efficiency review commission.

Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

That review commission doesn’t exist yet but has been proposed in various versions of Senate Bill 310. And Seitz made it sound as if he would prefer that the study committee’s proceedings not be broadcast. That would mean fewer opportunities for people across the state to follow whatever happens in that committee and who advocates for what.

Also during yesterday’s debate in the State Senate, Seitz spoke strongly against a proposed amendment that would have removed a new provision adjusting setbacks for wind turbines. Seitz claimed that the turbines present clear health and safety risks, including noise.

Beyond that, the spinning turbine blades can create a strobe effect with sunlight, Seitz said. Imagine being on the 18th hole at the golf course.

“Even Tiger Woods” would have a hard time making his shot with a wind turbine in the vicinity, Seitz said.

The proposed amendment failed. And the bill’s language actually seemed more concerned with residences than golf courses.

But now I’m wondering where Seitz plays golf.


Guns and Gadgets

Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

You’d expect exhibitors at the NRA Convention to bring out their big guns—and the little ones too.

In my view, some of the coolest stuff at last month’s convention was totally nonlethal.

Laser practice systems topped my list of favorites. Marketed by several different companies, systems basically include a computerized set-up with software, video cameras, sound, and a projection system. And, oh yes, there’s a laser gun too. Line up the sights with the on-screen target, pull the trigger, hear the sound of a shot, and—if your aim was good enough—see the target go down.

The eye-hand coordination practice reminded me somewhat of a primitive video game my husband and I used to call “Ducks and Bunnies.” As in the old video game, none of the targets on the systems I tried resembled real creatures. These systems just cost hundreds of times whatever we paid for that early video game.

Much less expensive was the $5 rechargeable UV glowstick I bought. An enthusiastic saleswoman demonstrated it inside a blacked-out tent, keeping up her sales spiel the whole time. While I don’t camp out much, power outages do occur from time to time. Something to provide extra light in those cases or act as an extra a nightlight can come in handy. Ah, phosphorescence!

Another neat gadget I got was a $22 ratcheting pruner. I expect the target market is folks building duck blinds or cutting trails as they hunt in the wilderness. I just want to be able to hack away at some of the errant elms and other “weed trees” that spring up around our house each year.

Of course, there was lots of real-gun technology on display too—guns made of polymers, precision target systems, and so on. The craftsmanship on many of the guns was also impressive, even if you weren’t in the market to buy one.

One vendor even had ornate guns that were small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Rhodochrosite, malachite, turquoise, and other minerals decorated some of the grips, turning them into little lethal works of art. (I love geology!)

You could even mount some of the guns on a belt buckle—sold separately, of course. I wonder how practical that would really be for anyone who says they want a gun for self-defense. Could someone surreptitiously remove the belt buckle in that situation? Or would they have to say, “Excuse me a minute….”

Nonetheless, I have to admit it would make a bold fashion statement.


Energy Wars

My latest article at Midwest Energy News deals with the continuing political battle over Ohio’s energy laws. A big committee hearing takes place today.

Ohio bill revives energy law freeze, but only temporarily

Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

The debate over Ohio’s energy laws took another turn Tuesday, as Republican lawmakers introduced a substitute bill that threatens to destroy a compromise plan developed over the past few days.

State Sen. Bill Seitz, who chairs the Senate Public Utilities Committee released a substitute bill late Tuesday afternoon that would impose a three-year freeze, eliminate in-state requirements for renewable energy, and make other changes to the state’s energy law.

The bill would undo the work done by legislators, consumer, business, and environmental groups on a proposed compromise that would have preserved the state’s efficiency and renewable energy standards, but with significant changes. 

Read MORE…