We’re paying $4.9 billion to rebuild the Iraqi electrical system that we destroyed? What the hell do we think we’re doing there? Are we bombing them back to the stone age so corporations can make $$$$ — well, I think that’s already been established. Who benefits, who pays?

Anyone concerned about security of our electric grid should be working for distributed generation and away from vulnerable large generators a long way from load connected by vulnerable transmission lines. It’s a “DUH!” So why don’t “we” get it?

From LA Times via Truthout today, a nuts and bolts example of what we’ve done to Iraq, another argument for distributed generation, and another example of US corporations profiting from our destruction:

A Different Kind of Power Struggle in Iraq

By Alexandra Zavis
The Los Angeles Times

Monday 24 March 2008

Most residents get only a few hours of electricity a day. In a reversal of the old days, the problem is stickiest in Baghdad.

Baghdad – Khitam Radi remembers how excited she was the day her husband took her out to buy their first washing machine.

It was soon after Saddam Hussein’s fall. Foreign soldiers, journalists and officials were snapping up her artist husband’s paintings as souvenirs. The newlyweds had everything to hope for.

Now, there are days when she hates that machine. With no electricity most of the time to pump water to their apartment, Radi has to wait in line to fill her jerrycans at a communal faucet, haul the water up four flights of stairs and wash her family’s clothes by hand.

“I feel like someone is torturing me,” she said. “The Americans promised to make our lives better…. But after five years, nothing has changed.”

Violence may have dropped in Iraq, but the absence of reliable electricity remains one of the bitterest disappointments of the last five years.

The United States has devoted $4.9 billion to improve the power supply since U.S.-led forces invaded in 2003. But most Iraqis can count on only a few hours of electricity a day, especially when demand peaks in the summer and winter.

U.S. and Iraqi officials say progress has been made but warn it will take years to bring Iraq’s dilapidated system up to Western standards, an effort made even more challenging by surging demand for electricity in the last five years.

The country’s electricity woes long predate this war. The system was heavily damaged during Iraq’s eight-year conflict with Iran in the 1980s and during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. It continued to deteriorate the next dozen years under the United Nations embargo, when spare parts were hard to come by.

By 2003, the World Bank estimated that it would cost $20 billion to rehabilitate the electricity network, and the price tag continues to go up. The Iraqi government’s current estimate is $27 billion.

U.S. officials never intended to do more than jump-start the process, said Col. Mike Moon, who heads the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ electricity sector in Iraq.

The U.S. investment has added just over 2,200 megawatts to Iraq’s generating capacity, which now stands at about 5,500 megawatts.

Five years ago, that would have been enough to cover the country’s electricity needs, but demand has increased 125% because Iraqis are buying more energy-intensive devices, said Terrence Barnich, a senior advisor with the U.S. government’s Iraq Transition Assistance Office.

Since the fall of Hussein’s regime, Iraq has been flooded with cheap electrical imports from China, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. Already, stacks of fans, water-based air coolers and refrigerators are displayed in front of stores in anticipation of summer, when temperatures can approach 120 degrees.

Adding generating capacity has helped, but the amount of power produced on any given day rarely reaches peak potential. For a start, keeping the turbines spinning requires fuel. Iraq has the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves, but its refining capabilities are limited and its power plants are beset by fuel shortages. Oil and electricity installations are also constantly attacked, creating disruptions that can destabilize the entire network.

Nearly 1,200 electricity employees have been kidnapped or killed or have fled the country since 2003, Electricity Minister Karim Waheed told reporters in August.

“We cannot ask our employees to work in certain parts of Iraq due to the insecurity,” he said. “I mean, they are workers. They are not army soldiers.”

Despite those setbacks, electricity production averaged 4,380 megawatts a day in the last quarter of 2007, enough to meet nearly half of the national demand, according to a report by the U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

But how much electricity is available to consumers varies greatly. Priority is given to essential services such as hospitals, police stations, fire stations and water treatment and sewage plants. So nearby homes and businesses enjoy a near-continuous supply of power.

Government offices and universities are in the next category. “Then there is everybody else,” Moon said. “They are the first ones to lose power.”

The pain of frequent outages is felt most acutely in Baghdad, which received 16 to 24 hours of power a day before 2003.

Hussein diverted electricity from the provinces to keep the capital fully powered, but the current government is striving for a more equitable distribution across the country. That means that Baghdad receives less power while the rest of the country typically receives more.

Baghdad also suffers disproportionately from the effects of the violence. Most of Iraq’s power is generated in the north and south of the country, and the towers supporting the lines that bring electricity to the capital are frequent targets.

To make matters worse, some parts of the country are taking more than their share of electricity before it reaches Baghdad. With no central means to control the flow of electricity from far-flung power stations, officials in Baghdad must get on the phone with their provincial counterparts and ask them to flip a switch to redirect power to the capital. Often they refuse, Waheed said.

In some cases, this is a result of a sense of entitlement on the part of provinces that were starved of power under Hussein.

But employees at local control stations are also at the mercy of armed gangs who force them to keep power flowing to their areas, Waheed said. He singled out the cities of Basra, Mosul and Baqubah as among the worst culprits.

As temperatures rise after an unusually cold winter, pressure is easing on the national grid and Baghdad residents are enjoying 10 to 14 hours of power a day. But the supply is unpredictable.

When the lights suddenly come on, Radi jumps up from the table where she has been chatting with a visitor and starts stuffing clothes into the washing machine in hopes of getting a load done before losing power again. She then switches on the TV so her two toddlers can watch cartoons, and she can relax. But the certainty that they will soon be sweating through the summer keeps the family from fully enjoying this respite.

Most families supplement their meager electricity supply with power from a generator. Few can afford the fuel to run their own, but in most neighborhoods an entrepreneur will sell them a few extra hours of power from a shared generator for about $50 a month. But even that’s too expensive for Radi’s family.

She says she doesn’t even bother putting food into the refrigerator anymore; it would just spoil. Instead, she buys blocks of ice, which she breaks into chips to fill a cooler. On hot summer nights, she and her family curl up on the roof to catch the evening breeze. But even there, it is sometimes too stifling to sleep.

“I feel sick just thinking about it,” Radi said.

To help meet the summer demand, Waheed has been negotiating deals to buy electricity from Iran and Turkey, and diesel to keep his plants running.

Taking advantage of the improved security, the ministry’s crews have been making much-needed repairs to the lines that bring power to the capital.

For the first time in five years, Moon said, “I think it could be a very bearable summer.”



Times staff writer Usama Redha in Baghdad contributed to this report.

The five stages of collapse

March 23rd, 2008


For those of you who haven’t bookmarked Jonathan Larson’s site, Elegant Technology, here’s another reminder to do it now. Today, the inbasket had another choice piece that he’d found and forwarded:

The Five Stages of Collapse

Here’s a snippet to chill your innards:

Stages of Collapse

Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost. The future is no longer assumed resemble the past in any way that allows risk to be assessed and financial assets to be guaranteed. Financial institutions become insolvent; savings are wiped out, and access to capital is lost.

Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost. Money is devalued and/or becomes scarce, commodities are hoarded, import and retail chains break down, and widespread shortages of survival necessities become the norm.

Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost. As official attempts to mitigate widespread loss of access to commercial sources of survival necessities fail to make a difference, the political establishment loses legitimacy and relevance.

Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost, as local social institutions, be they charities or other groups that rush in to fill the power vacuum run out of resources or fail through internal conflict.

Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in the goodness of humanity is lost. People lose their capacity for “kindness, generosity, consideration, affection, honesty, hospitality, compassion, charity” (Turnbull, The Mountain People). Families disband and compete as individuals for scarce resources. The new motto becomes “May you die today so that I die tomorrow” (Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago). There may even be some cannibalism.

Although many people imagine collapse to be a sort of elevator that goes to the sub-basement (our Stage 5) no matter which button you push, no such automatic mechanism can be discerned. Rather, driving us all to Stage 5 will require that a concerted effort be made at each of the intervening stages. That all the players seem poised to make just such an effort may give this collapse the form a classical tragedy – a conscious but inexorable march to perdition – rather than a farce (“Oops! Ah, here we are, Stage 5.” – “So, whom do we eat first?” – “Me! I am delicious!”) Let us sketch out this process.

Sooooo… now that your appetite is whetted, here’s the link again for the whole thing:

The Five Stages of Collapse

Telling it like it is in the world of coal — exposing the truth about coalers’ strong-arming and bullying.  This clear specific editorial should be up for an award!  Here it is in its full glory:

J. TODD FOSTER: Newspaper’s Editorial Position Is Not For Sale
Sunday, Mar 16, 2008
BY J. Todd Foster
Bristol VA Herald Courier

Reasonable people can disagree about Dominion Virginia Power’s proposal to build a coal-fired power plant in Wise County.

Reasonable people.

That would not include a few members of a nine-member Wise County delegation that recently visited the Herald Courier to ambush our three-member editorial board for its muted opposition to the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center.

I SAY MUTED because we realize that society’s energy needs have outpaced production, and – given our love of Southwest Virginia – we are not unfriendly to Big Coal. We also know this proposed $1.8 billion plant could help a depressed area and would be more environmentally friendly than existing ones.

The problem is the cumulative impact this plant would have when combined with other, existing major polluters. And the plant’s promise to harness new technology for capturing carbon dioxide seems to be more of a pipe dream.

Our past conditional support of this plant changed to opposition late last year when it became clear that the Dominion project could not possibly live up to its press releases.

And so our opinion page editor, Andrea Hopkins, writing on behalf of our editorial board – whose other members are yours truly and Publisher Carl Esposito – has written thoughtful, nuanced editorials against the project.

WE’VE GOTTEN much praise and much condemnation. It comes with the territory.

One legislator even noted that our newspaper was founded more than a century ago by a coal magnate, the implication being that we’re disloyal ingrates. Never mind that knowledge evolves: For example, we now know Earth is not flat and that slavery was barbaric.

Some members of the visiting Wise County delegation (one called us back to apologize for the shameful behavior of some of the others) went way too far in their condemnation, however.

Mark Wooten, chief engineer of A&G Coal Co., noted that his company may have to rethink spending future advertising dollars with our newspaper because of our editorial opposition to the Dominion plant. And he chided us for not printing a story (we were never told about) on his company building a playground in a show of altruism.

WOOTEN NEVER mentioned the real nature of his angst with us – the fact that in 2004, we broke the story of Jeremy Davidson. A&G ultimately paid the toddler’s family $3 million after a boulder from one of A&G’s strip mines rolled down a hillside and killed the little fellow while he slept in his bed.

Regardless, Esposito quickly reminded Wooten that our editorial position is not for sale.

Next came Ronald C. Flanary, executive director of the LENOWISCO Planning District Commission. He defamed Hopkins with a totally baseless allegation that she plagiarized some of her editorials. He was lashing out at us for disclosing that an opinion column penned by his pal, state Sen. Phil Puckett, was actually written and published by others – the real definition of plagiarism.

Esposito, who as publisher runs the entire enterprise known as the Herald Courier, informed Flanary that his allegation was “heinous” and pressed him for proof.

IT’S BEEN a month, and we’re still waiting.

The fact is, there is no proof and never will be. Even so, Flanary repeated the falsity in a Feb. 21 letter to “Mr. Carl Esposito, Editor” and carbon-copied Hopkins and me, although he changed my name to Todd Miller, which might explain why I never got it.

His letter stated in part that some of our editorials were “particularly stinging and do not reflect, in our opinion, that the
newspaper editorial staff has fully apprised itself of all sides of the issue(s) before rendering an opinion.”

Perhaps Flanary is right. It is true that our editorial board has not given equal time – to the opponents of the Wise County plant. (Our three meetings on this matter have included two with Dominion Power and one with Flanary’s delegation from Wise County.)

BUT UNLIKE Flanary, who doesn’t even bother to double-check the titles and names of the very people he’s condemning (even though they’re printed in the newspaper every day), Hopkins does her homework.

You don’t have to take my word for it.

“The writer’s strong opinion is always supported by strong evidence,” wrote the journalism judges who just awarded Hopkins our company’s highest honor for commentary.

Hopkins is the 2007 commentary winner of the D. Tennant Bryan Award, named for the founder of our parent Media General Inc.

HER THREE columns were selected from among entries by 22 newspapers throughout the Southeast.

The Bryan Award judges – three independent journalism experts from outside the company – noted that Hopkins’ reliance on evidence “has the effect of exposing the reader to information he or she may otherwise not encounter. The writer consistently acknowledges others’ opinions but provides a clear point of view written in plain language.”

Hopkins’ award is no fluke: Last night in Roanoke, she picked up two first-place awards, for editorial and column writing, from the Virginia Press Association. They’ll go on a bookshelf next to the same two awards she won last year, and alongside the award from the Tennessee Press Association for the best 2006 editorial in the state against all competition, including Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga.

Meanwhile, The Roanoke Times has reached the same editorial conclusion about the proposed Dominion plant.

IN AN EDITORIAL reaffirming its position Friday, The Roanoke Times opined: “If Dominion Power is granted approval for this plant, the people in and around Wise County will pay the highest price. Already, residents of that area live in what the Harvard School of Public Health terms the ‘cone of death,’ where they are at three to four times higher risk of death from pollution-related causes.”

Note to Flanary, who I hear has since written a letter of apology to the publisher (I haven’t seen it): Reprinting the paragraph above is not plagiarism because I cited the Roanoke paper twice.

J. Todd Foster – not Miller – is managing editor of the Bristol Herald
Courier and can be reached at jfoster@bristolnews.com or (276)A

The Comments of the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the Excelsior Energy Mesaba Project EIS drove a few stakes into the slimy heart of Excelsior Energy’s Mesaba Project, the IGCC coal gasification proposal from hell. Now that they’re finally public… It’s going to be an interesting week.

US EPA Comment on Mesaba DEIS

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Letter January 31, 2008 and attachments

These agency Comments, and the way they were disappeared, made me wonder what else might be out there, so I fired off Subpoena Requests yesterday:

Cover letter – Subpoena Requests from OAH

Subpoena Request – Department of Commerce

Subpoena Request – Public Utilities Commission

Subpoena Request – Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Subpoena Request – Dept. of Natural Resources

And from there, it’s time to move on to the feds, so I fired off a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the DOE, and soon the Environmental Protection Agency:

FOIA- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

FOIA – Department of Energy – NETL

EPA FOIA sent via email…

Oh, yes, we are having fun…


OOPS, quick, somebody get ahold of Foster Wheeler, PDC Harris Group, Newport Partners, and get a handle on this.

Let me see if I understand… they put up this “biomass” burner as “clean energy” and violated the air permit, so egregiously that the MPCA is “most likely” to fine them, and are saying that the air permit has to be amended (loosened up, duh) because they based the permit on a biomass/fossil fuel combo… in other words, straight biomass is more polluting than biomass and coal, so they have to loosen up the permit or they’ll continue to be in violation. Oh, great. So I’d guess that everyone out there now has enough information to come to the reasonable conclusion that biomass is not “clean energy?”

From the Mesabi Daily News:

Utilities will likely get MPCA fines
Negotiations continue on manufacturer reimbursement

City Editor
Published: Thursday, March 6, 2008 9:59 PM CST

VIRGINIA – The Virginia and Hibbing public utilities will most likely be fined by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for violating the emission permit on its biomass boilers.

The utilities first notified the MPCA in mid-2007 that malfunctioning equipment was causing them to operate beyond the parameters of their air operating permits. Since then they have been working on a solution, including possible fines.

“The MPCA and the public utilities are close to agreeing to potential fines and a process to modify the air-operating permit in order to be in compliance in the future,’’ according to a joint news release issued Friday by both utilities.
Virginia Mayor Steve Peterson did not want to comment at this time because did not have enough information. He also said he has been out of town and not able to talk to Terry Leoni, general manager for the Virginia utility.

MPCA spokesperson Anne Moore confirmed the negotiations but could not comment on the timeframe or what fines might be forthcoming.

The boiler manufacturer will likely reimburse the utilities for the fine, according to the release.

“Our equipment manufacturers, Foster Wheeler and others, have provided us with technical and monetary support to correct these issues and we are working with Foster Wheeler through a settlement agreement to reimburse the utilities,’’ said Leoni.

The Laurentian Energy Authority, a public authority of the utilities, operates the biomass facilities cities under a 20-year power purchase agreement with Xcel Energy.

“As our new renewable energy biomass plants started up after construction, we experienced several equipment malfunctions in Hibbing and Virginia,’’ said Leoni. “This is common in new plant construction. As our technicians attempted to adjust the operations of the biomass boilers, we exceeded the permitted operating parameters.

In addition, “the MPCA has encouraged us to pursue an air permit amendment,’’ Leoni said in the release. “The original data used to prepare the permit compared our equipment to other dissimilar biomass boilers, which were co-fired with fossil fuels. We uncovered this error, and will now suggest to the MPCA that a modified permit use date from boilers like ours which utilize only biomass as the fuel source.’’

“We are confident that the changes our equipment manufacturer has made along with the permit modifications we are seeking will enable our public utilities to operate within permit parameters going forward,’’ said Jim Kochevar, general manager in Hibbing. “We also believe LEA has offset any excess emissions by the investments in our 1,700 acres of closed loop hybrid poplar tree plantations, which are good for the environment.’’

The Virginia and Hibbing public utilities formed LEA and invested more than $87 million in new biomass renewable electric power facilities in both communities, a new combined renewable fuel handling yard, and almost 1,700 acres of hybrid poplar tree plantations.

LEA now sells 35 megawatts of clean, renewable electric power to Xcel Energy, providing many new jobs in the logging, trucking, and fuel handling industries, along with preserving 70 jobs at the public utilities, the release states. LEA’s renewable energy production is helping Xcel meet Minnesota’s renewable energy mandates.

“This capital investment insured the survival of the two public utilities by creating a new customer, updating our plants, and continuing to produce energy for our customers in the cities of Hibbing and Virginia, said Kochevar.


Jim Romsaas can be reached at jim.romsaas@mx3.com. To read this story and comment on it online go to www.virginiamn.com.