28 May 2015

All politics is local, said the famous Bostonian and former Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill.

The same goes for business.

Schmoozing and connections lead to deals.

Take a recent example that made the news and caught Dr. Wattson’s eye.

Susan Kennedy, a former California Public Utilities Commissioner and advisor to Governors Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger, landed a very healthy contract—potentially up to $100 million—for her new energy storage company.

Kennedy, who formed Advanced Microgrid Solutions two months after the private utilities announced their first major procurement of energy storage projects, nabbed a deal with Southern California Edison.

The California Public Utilities Commission ordered the utilities to start procuring storage in 2013.

Dr. Wattson et al are pondering whether it is an inside deal.

In reality, most are.

Kennedy raised money for former PUC President Mike Peevey’s farewell bash. She also advised new commission president Mike Picker. Wattson knows that’s par for the course given that Peevey and Kennedy were on the commission together, and she and Picker worked for Brown. Surely she had a say in Picker landing on the commission.

Also, her company had little capacity at the time it won an Edison contract.  Neither Dr. Wattson nor She’lock see that as a red flag for a couple of reasons.

Une: the company is teaming with Elon Musk, who announced earlier this month the sale of $3,500 wall-mounted battery packs, which can store enough solar power to run a home at night.

Deux: Microgrid Storage, like demand response firms, first finds out how much energy savings or storage a utility wants and then lines up customers.  In Kennedy and Co.’s case, that is to entail knocking on many doors to achieve enough behind the meter batteries to store a total 50 MW.

The next question is whether the energy storage deal is fair?

That is murkier because there’s no way to tell. Only a few investor-owned utility insiders know why a utility chooses a particular contract—the terms of which the commission allows to be kept confidential.

A factor weighing in favor of Microgrid Solution’s contracts is that Kennedy’s firm, co-founded with former California Energy Commission Chair Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, won’t get paid unless the company’s storage system performs, at least according to the Union Tribune.

Dr. Wattson’s has her suspicions that this storage deal became news because Kennedy is a tough and smart woman, and works with like-minded women.

Compare this deal to the ill-fated and costly coal-fired project with carbon capture and storage that smelled from the get go.  It is a big deal for Wattson, et al, but major media have paid little attention, although more money and lot more emissions are at stake.

The marginal Hydrogen Energy California project appears to be failing both on economic grounds and in terms of energy returned on energy invested.  Even worse is that the developer, SCS Energy, to date has burned through some $150 million of federal taxpayer dollars, producing nothing but a stack of paper.

At any rate, this detective will keep a close watch on the Microgrid Solution’s storage deal if it is approved by the commission to see if Kennedy and Pfannenstiel turn around and sell the company and walk away with the boodle. (She’ll also continue to keep tabs on Hydrogen Energy.)

Something you’d think would smell but doesn’t is Britain’s first “poo bus.”  It began regular runs (on the roads, that is) in late March of this year.

We American Puritans would think that the source of the messy fuel from the human and household waste of more than 30,000 residences along its 15-mile route would not be advertised.

Au contraire.

The fact is advertised in bright colors on the side of the bus.

The very fact that it’s running in the city should help to open up a serious debate about how buses are best fuelled, and what is good for the environment,” James Freeman, First West of England managing director, told the Guardian.

A concern, though, is potential competition from crap-powered motorcycles made by the Japanese firm Toto.

Gas concerns elsewhere focus on the impacts of legal marijuana growers’ energy intensity and resulting greenhouse gases.

Lighting used to entice the growth of the pot plant is about equal to that used in operating rooms, and 500-times more than used for reading, according to Evan Mills, Ph.D. “The emergent industry of indoor Cannabis production results in prodigious energy use, costs, and greenhouse-gas pollution,” he added.

With Oregon’s recent legalization of pot, the city-owned utility in Ashland, OR, raised concerns about how the expected rise in energy demand from marijuana growers would affect its power rates. The muni gets its power from the Bonneville Power Administration.

“Needless to say, a single large-scale indoor growing operation could easily push Ashland (or other municipal utilities or PUDs) into Tier 2 rates,” Ashland City Administrator Dave Kanner stated in comments published by Ashland Daily Tidings. “This then becomes a cost burden that is spread across the entire customer base; I would suggest unfairly so.”

Rising rates of greenhouse gases are motivating more than poo buses and rate concerns.

The U.S. State Department is schmoozing with Disney officials to try to land a deal that capitalizes on the huge success of the cheery animation maker’s film Frozen, and turn it around to teach kids about climate change.

Frozen is the story a princess who bravely and successfully fights to thaw her kingdom, which was stuck in perpetual winter.

The specifics of any sequel, “Unfrozen,” or otherwise, are little more than hot air at this point.


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