Help, I can’t turn on or off the lights in my home

Well, actually, I can turn the lights on or off, IF,  I get out of my chair and walk to the wall switch, but who wants to do that in this day and age.

This last Christmas, my sister sent a present to me, an Amazon Echo. In case you have not seen the ads on TV or pop up on your Internet searches, Amazon Echo is a device that sits on a shelf in your home, connects to your WIFI and controls devices such as lights, HVAC, and other electrical appliances. All that you have to do is say, “Alexa, turn on my Living Room light” and Voilà, the light comes on.

To make this work, you need to buy what is called a smart WIFI plug that operates through your WIFI system. Once the Lamp is connected to the smart WIFI plug, you download the software to your Smartphone.

The plug that I chose is manufactured by TP-Link and their smartphone app is called Kasa (don’t ask me why—it just is).

kasa

Once the Kasa app is on your phone, it will locate the various TP-Link devices in your home. I have two plugs, and two wall switches installed. For security reasons, you need to connect each individual plug or switch to your WIFI with the WIFI password and give each one a separate name such as “Livingroom Light.” A little time consuming at first but it is for your own security. You can also by WIFI operated front door locks that operate the same way, and that is where the security really matters.

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Now that you have the all of the plugs and switches connected to the app on your phone, you can then connect them to the Amazon Alexa app on your phone and start using voice commands to control each device.

Alexa is so good that she can hear me from any room of my single-story home.

amazon-eco-deals

When I was a kid, we used to have to walk, nine feet across Shag carpet, just to turn the dial that changed the channel on the TV.

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Nowadays, in the world of remote control, you can turn on and off practically everything in your home with your Smartphone. And with the Amazon Alexa or the new Google Home, the control is totally by voice—except for today.

As the sun was setting this afternoon, I asked Alexa to turn on my Livingroom light. Unfortunately, Alexa could not “find the device” and the light did not come on. However, I am resourceful and simply opened the Kasa app on my phone, pressed the button for the Livingroom light and it responded nicely.

Not a total loss, but I had to actually pick up my phone, open an app and push a button—how lame is that?

The problem, as it turned out, is with the Amazon Cloud. Three days ago, on February 28, 2017, the Amazon Simple Storage Server (S3), started throwing errors into the system and disrupting thousands of customers throughout North America. It just so happens that on February 28, I was trying to put out a client newsletter and the mail service, Constant Contact, was having difficulties because of the S3 problem. Likewise, I received a notice from someone saying that their report would be delayed because the Emma newsletter service was having problems with their cloud server.

Once Amazon got their S3 Cloud service up and running, then the trickle-down effect began. Companies like Constant Contact had to go into their system and do whatever they needed to do to reconnect with S3.

But some of the fallout was delayed. The TP-Link software that I use to connect with Alexa, stopped working two days later, and after placing a call to customer support, I was told that the S3 problem caused it and that their engineers were working on a fix.

The point of this story is, we now live in a world where computers that once were the size of an entire single story home, are now thousands of times more powerful and fit in the palm of your hand. We can find answers to any question within seconds by searching Google or Bing. And now, we can control our lights, temperature, music, and just about everything else in our immediate environment with the sound of our voice. Except—when we lose the computer server that makes everything run.

In the future, we are looking at driverless cars, drones, and robots that will take us places, deliver things, and do our work. But, we had better have the know-how and be prepared to get up out of our chairs to manually flip a switch if something goes wrong with the “cloud.”

 

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Jim Rhodes and the Clark County Commission play a game of Cat and Mouse

By Craig A. Ruark, LEED AP (BD&C), Freelancer Writer

But who is the cat and who is the mouse?

It has been said, that if you look up the “controversy” in the dictionary, a picture of Jim Rhodes will appear. Not that Jim Rhodes has not built some pretty nice homes and communities in Las Vegas because he has. However, the wake of government battles and litigation from contractors, architects, and engineering firms that follow each new development gets longer with each project.

Currently, Rhodes is applying for a zoning change from low density rural to high-density community development on a ridge that sits 1,500 feet above the pristine Red Rock Conservation Area. In his proposal, Rhodes company Gypsum Resources LLC. proposes to build a “village” on the plateau of Blue Diamond Hill, the site of a gypsum mining operation that has been in existence for over 80 years.

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Gypsum, a chalky like substance, is composed of calcium sulfate dehydrate and used in the production of construction wallboard. Gypsum is ideal because the product is noncombustible, easy to install, has an insulation factor, accepts most finishes, and is durable. Durable, that is until it meets water. The one weakness in wallboard is that the gypsum is water soluble and tends to melt under a massive amount of H2O.

Since spending $54 million to purchase the James Hardy Gypsum Mine in 2003, Rhodes has made it known that he intends to reclaim the mining site in order to build a “scenic village” on the approximately 2,100 acres of land.

In 2010 a conceptual plan was submitted to the Clark County Planning Commission for a waiver from the currently zoned one home per two-acre parcel to a higher density of 2.5 homes per acre, resulting in the construction of over seven thousand homes. The Commission, in 2011, came back with stipulations that lowered the amount to just over 5,000 homes and a stipulation as to where the access road to the property can be built along with a provision for recreational green space.

In the meantime, a group of environmental activists calling themselves ‘Save Red Rock’ had formed to protect the Red Rock Conservation area from any residential encroachment and protested before the County Commission during the public comment portion of the agenda.

Because of the public outcry against the residential development project, Rhodes agreed to entertain a land swap with the Bureau of Land Management. The problem was, convincing the BLM of the deal. Rhodes along with members of the Clark County Commission and Save Red Rock traveled to Washington D.C. to speak with the head of the BLM. The proposal was a land swap that would allow Rhodes to develop an equal amount of property elsewhere in the valley and for the BLM to take ownership of the private parcels of land on Blue Diamond Hill. After four years of discussion, the BLM finally determined that due to the extensive mining that has been performed on the site over the last eight decades, that the land did not have and environmental value and that the BLM was not interested in a land exchange.

After the BLM had made their final decision, there was a debate as to whether, after so much time had passed, the 2011 conceptual plan was still valid. The Save Red Rock group took the matter to court to ask a judge to rule on the validity of the 2011 conceptual plan, and that case is still pending.

During all of this time, the County Commission sued the Save Red Rock group to prevent them from re-hashing all of their protest items during future meetings. The County lost that case and was told that Save Red Rock has the right to speak at all public meetings.

The decision by the BLM and the pending court case left Rhodes in a quandary. So not to lose any more time, the Rhodes team then drafted a new 2016 Conceptual Plan that incorporated all of the Commission’s previous comments and submitted the new concept to the County Commission for approval.

Based upon the filing of the Rhodes 2016 plan, the project was properly noticed and placed on the agenda of February 22, 2017, meeting. The Save Red Rock group, who had been actively working to acquire signed petitions against the construction of over 5,000 homes and some businesses on Blue Diamond Hill, went to work asking protesters to show up at the County Commission Meeting. On February 22nd, there were over 120 people that spoke against the development, with a maximum time of three minutes each, and approximately 20 individuals, most of who identified themselves as Rhodes employees, stood up to speak on behalf of the development. Save Red Rock also presented the Commission with 45,000 petitions against a residential development on Blue Diamond Hill.

After seven hours of passionate pleas on behalf of the Save Red Rock group, it was time for the Commissioners to weigh in on the subject. Commissioner Steve Sisolak opened the discussion with a series of questions to the County’s legal counsel Robert Warhola, during this questioning it was brought out that according to County records, Rhodes had paid the fees and filed the required follow-up paperwork in a timely manner and that the 2011 Conceptual Plan was still valid. “Whatever you decide today, the 2011 concept plan is in place, and the developer can move forward regardless,” Warhola, who specializes in land use and zoning law, told commissioners.

“Well, if the 2011 plan is still valid, why are we voting on a second Conceptual Plan,” asked Sisolak.

With that news, Commissioner Susan Brager, whose district the project is located, made a statement that she will vote against the 2016 plan unless Gypsum Resources wanted to withdraw the plan without prejudice so that there would only be one plan in place. Project planning consultant and spokesman Ron Krater said the plan submitted in 2016 was done for “an abundance of caution,” and Attorney Jay Brown, representing Gypsum Resources agreed to the withdrawal without prejudice.

A motion was made by Brager to accept the withdrawal, and Sisolak opened the discussion on the motion to the rest of the Commissioners.

Chris Giunchigliani took a great deal of time debating with Warhola as to the validity of the 2011 plan and stating her objection to any development at all on Blue Diamond Hill. Joining Giunchigliani in expressing concerns over the development was Commissioner Lawrence Weekly and upon voting both Giunchigliani and Weekly were the only two dissenting votes.

When the decision was announced, there was a burst of loud booing and a few cheers from the crowd that had been sitting for over seven hours and felt that their voices were not heard.

Sisolak, appearing on KNPR’s State of Nevada, claimed that his vote to accept the withdrawal of the 2016 plan was vote to help save Red Rock stating that the commission did not “approve one home, one street light, one store, one road going into Blue Diamond Hill or Red Rock for that matter.” He said the commissioners voted to let Rhodes withdraw his 2016 plan for the site, which essentially sets the clock back to 2011.

Save Red Rock attorney Justin Jones, also appearing on KNPR’s State of Nevada, had a different take on the outcome of Commission meeting. “I think the commissioners had an opportunity on Wednesday to do the right thing and turn down the proposal that was before them,” he said.

But what if the 2016 Plan had not been withdrawn and the Commission had voted against its approval, the result would be the same, with the 2011 plan still in place. And since the 2011 plan was not on the agenda, no action could be taken on that issue without proper notice.

So now the games begin.

Rhodes must complete a traffic study, drainage study, and show how they intend to bring all the utilities up a 1,500 hill to support the community that they want to build.  

Based on current statistics, water will perhaps be the largest obstacle that this development faces. The average family of four uses 400 gallons of water per day. Assuming just 300 gallons per day average for 5,000 homes would mean a minimum of 1,500,000 gallons of water each day that would need to be pumped 1,500 vertical feet to serve that community. It is a given that the Developer must install the power, sewer, and water lines to the houses and businesses. However, building on that plateau would also require between 4 and 6-million gallons of water to be stored to serve that specific community. Given the distance from current utilities to the new development and the cost to build a pumping station and water storage reservoir will cost the developer upwards to $100 million.

If the County Commission decides after seeing the traffic study and other plans that they will not change the zoning to allow more than one home per two acres resulting in a maximum of about 700 homes it, according to Sisolak, “would be very cost prohibitive to build the infrastructure needed.”

The County, at this point, is in control of what happens on Blue Diamond Hill. They have the right to determine how the access road will be built, the type of lighting that can be used, how much water will be needed to account for emergencies, and all other components that are ruled on for a typical subdivision.

The question is, how will the County Commission act when given the hard choices? In addition to the water and utilities, there is the following issues to consider.

  • Drainage: Once you build roads, sidewalks, buildings and other solid surfaces, you significantly decrease the amount of area that can absorb rainfall and increase runoff. Storm runoff picks up whatever is on the ground (e.g. oils, grease, herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, paper, etc.), and no matter how well you build the drainage infrastructure, there is over 1,500’ of fall from the Blue Diamond Ridge plateau to State Route 159, and much of that runoff will collect down below, damaging the existing environment.
  • Trash: In addition to rain events, the wind will be an important factor. Humans generate trash, and a great deal of it is plastic and paper. In my neighborhood, It seems as if the wind always blows on trash day and when I look out my window, I always see trash blowing down my street. Just think about how far paper and plastic will blow from an elevation 1,500 feet above the Red Rock Conservation area with a prevailing wind from the south.
  • Light Pollution: The developer stated that they would use “dark sky technology” to keep the light pollution from hindering the night sky. However, no matter how good the technology, with 5,000 homes and additional businesses’ along with street lights, landscaping lights, and security lights, the top of Blue Diamond Hill will look like a cloud of light suspended in mid-air. The reflection from the concrete, sides of buildings, glass, vehicles, and other reflective surfaces will create a dome effect over the plateau and significantly decrease the visibility of the sky in that direction.
  • Visual Impact: The developer presented charts showing that only 12% of the structures would be visible from State Route 159. Those statistics are based on the site lines to the current surface elevations of the plateau. However, the developer showed plans to construct two and three story buildings which would rise 23 to 35-feet above the surface. Of course, those building along with trees, light poles, and other ancillary structures will create a very un-natural look to the plateau compared to the surrounding terrain, without a natural transition and more than half of the structure roofs would be visible from the road below. As you move away from the ridge the roof lines, trees, and other tall structures will be entirely visible, and there will be a stark contrast between the desert brown rocks and sharp peaks surrounding the flat plateau of imported trees, plants, and structures. 

Not only are the views from the Red Rock Conservation area important, but equally so are the views from Las Vegas looking west. From most of the Valley, Blue Diamond Hill is very visible at the forefront of the Spring Mountain Range. To build a plateau town in front of the beautiful Spring Mountain Range spoils the natural beauty for hundreds of thousands of residents who may never hike or bike Red Rock but still enjoy the beauty from afar.  

  • Traffic: Although the developer has agreed to have the road access to the development on State Route 160 (one mile east of SR 159); there will no doubt be a significant amount of traffic that will use SR 159 to Charleston in order to access the 215 and Summerlin Parkway. The traffic of SR 159 will significantly increase.
  • Soil Stabilization: Of course, the developer is responsible for the proper development of a project site and not the County Commission. However, having worked for two geotechnical engineering companies, I have learned that developers cut corners as often as they can in the name of profit. I have seen nesting issues, improper compaction issues, and issues were over excavation to a certain depth was called for and not performed. As it has been pointed out, Blue Diamond Hill is the site of an open-pit gypsum mine which has been excavated over the past 80 years. As it was pointed out, gypsum dissolves when applied with water over time. Even with suitable import fill, the gypsum will still be subject to water over time. Placing landscaping for 5,000 homes and some businesses on that plateau will require irrigation. It may take ten or more years but water seeping down to the gypsum base will start dissolving the mineral and cause caverns to develop. Perhaps, if the project is approved, the Developer should be made to tell future home buyers, in very large letters, that: “The home you are buying has been built on a former gypsum mine, and while the Developer has used prudent engineering to develop the foundation, it cannot be guaranteed that over time, the gypsum below will not dissolve and create cavernous sinkholes.”
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Trump’s Gold

I am not a prognosticator of world events or political outcomings, in fact, I have shied away from political controversy altogether. What happens in Washington, D.C. has very little effect on me as an individual except for my taxes and health insurance. However, on a global scale, both the president and Congress have a great impact on our environment.

As Donald J. Trump takes office as the 45th President of the United States, he also inherits the power to change the destinies of many corporations. One such company is Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd.

Northern Dynasty, for those of you unfamiliar, is a company that owns the rights to the Pebble Mine, the largest, untouched, gold and copper deposit in the world. However, one problem exists, the deposit is located in Alaska and next to Bristol Bay, a watershed estuary and the most valuable salmon fishery in the northwest.

bristol-bay

Over the last several years, Northern Dynasty has applied for and been refused the rights to develop the Pebble Mine due to its proximity to this pristine ecological sanctuary. Mining, as we all know, is a dirty business and runoff from the tailings and the cyanide used to leach gold, mobilizes arsenic and other metals that in concentration could quickly pollute and kill the salmon that return to Bristol Bay each year to spawn.

The Obama administration through the EPA has essentially barred Northern Dynasty from permitting the construction of its Pebble Mine. However, as president-elect, Trump and his transition team have met with corporate officers of Northern Dynasty. Trump, during his campaign, has stated that the EPA has overstepped its authority in many areas and has pledged to roll back regulations.

And now, as Donald Trump takes office, Northern Dynasty has been sending out advertisements promoting “Trump’s Gold.” Northern Dynasty, which had been trading at around fifty cents per share has suddenly risen to close to one dollar a share. Estimates are, that if Northern Dynasty receives preliminary approval to start the permitting process to open their mine, that their stock will skyrocket.

However, the permitting process is just the beginning. And, even if the mine is permitted under the Trump administration, it takes millions of dollars and nearly four years to build the infrastructure needed to start a mining operation.

So here is the question for all of you “business experts.” If you had, for many years, been fighting environmental regulations and activists, only to get a reprieve from someone that quite possibly would only be in office for just four years, would you risk those millions to actually build your mine? Or, would you build your kitty, hold it in reserve and run with the profits when the next administration shuts you down.

In fact, why would power companies, coal mining companies, or any other EPA regulated company revert to previous non-ecological operations on the whim of a single president? The public backlash alone could be detrimental.

Please note, at the beginning of this article; I said that “I am not a prognosticator.” However, I am a pragmatist and had lived in Las Vegas long enough to know that when a table grows cold for one person, it grows hot for another. But eventually, the table will flip again, and those that were losers and who are still in the game will again become winners.

Despite Donald Trump’s denial of climate change, the majority of scientist, world leaders, and the general public agrees that we need to band together to save our planet.

I predict that Trump’s legacy will only be four short years and then sanity will once again take over. The next president, just as Trump will lessen environmental regulations, has the power to reinforce stricter environmental regulations and therefore bring companies back to today’s compliance standards, if not to an even stricter standard.

A few companies may see the inauguration of Trump as an opportunity to relax their environmental protection systems and reap the benefits of not having those overhead expenses. Of course, they will not pass along those savings to their customers or even divulge that they have relaxed their commitment to the environment. They simply, will take their money, thank Trump, and prepare for the time when they, once again, must toe the environmental line.

As for the Pebble Mine, if you invest, take your profits early and get out before the Bristol Bay tide begins to change. Trump’s Gold, is certainly a fool’s gold.

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Supermoon

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Super-size—no I’m not talking about a large order of fries at McDonald’s. For those of you who are enamored by the moon and the stars, November 13 and 14 will provide a real treat with what is referred to as a Supermoon.

A Supermoon is when the moon’s elliptical orbit around the earth brings it to its closest point. There are three full moons in 2016 that meet the definition of a Supermoon – October, November, and December. But this November 14 full moon is the most super of the Supermoons! A super-duper moon!

At its furthest, the moon is 406,662 km (252,687 mi) away from the earth. This year’s orbit will bring the moon to within 356,509 km (221,523 mi) of the Earth. A difference of 31,164 miles.

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The last time that the moon was this close to Earth was on January 26, 1948, when it came within 356,461 km or 221,495 miles of the earth.

Even to the naked eye, the Supermoon will appear quite a bit larger than a regular full moon, but it is difficult to judge just how much larger. The two photos below were taken during a regular full moon and a Supermoon from the same vantage points and using the same camera settings. You can see from the overlay how much visually larger the Supermoon is to the naked eye.

While beautiful to see, Supermoons also have a dramatic effect on the earth. For those of you living along the coast, the Supermoon will bring dramatically super high and low tides. Each month, on the day of the full moon, the moon, Earth, and sun are aligned, with Earth in between. This line up creates wide-ranging tides, known as spring tides. High spring tides climb especially high, and on the same day, low tides plunge especially low. Anyone up for digging clams?

Whether coincidence or not, a number of catastrophic events have also been linked to the timing of a Supermoon, within a few days before and after the actual event.

  • Christchurch, NZ earthquake of February 22, 2011 (Supermoon Feb. 18)
  • Hawke’s Bay, NZ earthquake of February 3, 1931 (Supermoon Feb. 3)
  • Japan 9.0 mega-quake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 (on Feb. 18, 2011, there was a Supermoon and on March 19, 2011, an extreme Supermoon)
  • Hurricane Katrina, August 23, 2005 (Supermoon Aug. 19)
  • Haiti 7.0 earthquake January 12, 2010 (On Dec. 31, 2009, there was a Supermoon and on Jan. 30, 2010, there was an extreme Supermoon)

It is also said that full moons have an effect on people and animals. It is said that a full moon brings out the crazy in people. Again, it may be coincidence, but on November 8, 2016, a new President of the United States was elected—just six days before the biggest Supermoon in 68 years.

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Grandfathering Solar Customers

Since the December 2015 decision of the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to lower the amount paid to net metering customers from nearly 12 cents per kilowatt hour down to 2.6 cents for residential rooftop customers over the next 15 years, there have been pleas to grandfather the existing customers under the old rate. On February 12, 2016, made the following statement to the PUCN against grandfathering.

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My name is Craig Ruark, and I have been a resident of Las Vegas since 1975. I am not an architect or an engineer; I am a journalist. But, I am also one of the few NON-technical LEED Accredited Professionals by the U.S. Green Building Council. I have been writing about environmental issues since 2008 and have been following this political folly on solar energy since the introduction of SB374 in the legislature.

A few months back I spoke before this commission to urge you to make your decision on the new guidelines for the purchase of residential rooftop solar generated energy by NV Energy, based on what is called the “Value of Solar” (VOS) tariff.

For NV Energy to pay nearly 12 cents per kilowatt hour for residential rooftop solar is probably too much. But decreasing the amount down to 2.6 cents per kilowatt-hour is a huge underestimate of the true value of rooftop solar. I would say that the true valuation is closer to 10 cents than it is to six cents per hour.

Currently, there are over 17,000 families that have installed rooftop solar on their homes. Those families represent less than 1% of the total number of families served by NV Energy and its subsidiary’s.

For the past few months, we have seen hundreds of these everyday people, just like the people in attendance today, as they stepped up to this microphone and pleaded their hearts out, many with tears in their eyes, for justice. These passionate people told stories about how their passion for the environment and assessment that going solar was the right thing to do in the fight against global warming. And they are right! We need to set up a system that makes good economic sense for more people to join these environmental pioneers and start covering more roofs throughout the valley.

That is why I am speaking again today. To ask you NOT to grandfather these people in for the next twenty years.

NV Energy has it figured out. They grandfather these current customers for the next 20 years, and these 17,000 families go home satisfied and vindicated. They got their solar system and their money; they are fat and happy, and you never hear from them again for fear of upsetting the apple cart.

Meanwhile, we still have a problem with global warming and NV Energy still wants to build more infrastructure in order to continue to line their pockets.

I don’t want to see these people grandfathered because I want them to be lean and hungry. I want to see them continuing to fight for the rights of the rest of Nevada’s population to be able to install solar on their roofs. I want to see them continue to fight for a fair compensation that will allow for a reasonable payback on the return of their investment and continue to lower their energy costs. I want to see them with tears in their eyes and passion in their hearts as they talk about the environment.

Without the continued voices of the current solar customers, NV Energy will be able to quietly let this small 1% ride out their solar contracts for the next 20 years. And without opposition, NV Energy will be able to effectively make it financially impossible for other families to afford rooftop solar and water down their utility base.

We need to look for a fair compensation—not a payoff for silence.

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Value of Solar Tariff

The Nevada Public Utilities Commission has been holding public hearings on the value of residential rooftop solar and this morning I stepped forward with the following statement to the commission.

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My name is Craig Ruark, and I have been a resident of Las Vegas since 1975. Currently, I work as a freelance writer and have written several articles that have appeared in the Las Vegas Business Press, on the topic of Net Metering and rooftop solar. The following represents my views and not necessarily those of the Business Press.

I am here to discuss the basic issues.

First of all, NV Energy from 2006 to 2011 has spent $4.3 billion to build, expand or buy eight power plants, more than doubling its generating capacity to 5,862 megawatts. That is a huge investment to bring reliable energy to the citizens of Nevada. And even today, NV Energy continues to invest the funds necessary to maintain the transmission lines and infrastructure that makes up the local grid.

The complaint that NV Energy has about rooftop solar customers not paying their fair share for the grid is legitimate. One of the problems that NV Energy faces is that they must plan the amount of power that they generate based on the needs of all customers in the valley regardless of whether they have solar or not. The reason for this is they never know how much solar energy they will be receiving from the residents at any given time. One home with a seven kW system might contribute four kW of that energy to the grid, and another may contribute one kW back to the grid. The variables are dependent upon the time of day, the number of resident’s home during those times, and the amount of electronics in use, in addition to air conditioning comfort preferences.

The electronic components that make up the power grid do not like power spikes and surges. So when NV Energy generates power based upon the number of connections, and solar starts throwing a few thousand extra kilowatts back into the system there is a problem.

That said, the other side of the coin is that distributive generation is far more efficient than building more centralize power plants. And when calculating the contribution made by residential and commercial rooftop solar the PUCN needs to take a number of things into consideration.

  • It reduces the need for expensive new power plants and transmission lines;
  • less energy is lost in transmission because much of the power is used right where it’s generated;
  • it requires no fuel and so provides a hedge against future fossil fuel price increases;
  • the kilowatt hours produced by solar does not require water
  • and it could allow utilities to meet state renewable energy and greenhouse gas emission goals without paying for utility-scale solar and wind farms.

The recent passage of SB374 shifted responsibility from the Nevada Legislature to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to evaluate what is called the “Value of Solar” (VOS) tariff and establish new guidelines for connecting rooftop solar to the grid.

This may be a logical solution assuming that the PUCN attaches a proper value to the energy generated by residential and commercial solar.

To make this work, all solar customers would purchase all of their energy from the utility company at the utility’s retail rate which includes all of the costs of power production and/or the purchasing of power, as well as, the transmission and distribution of the power.

Second, the solar customer feeds 100% of its generated power into the grid and is compensated by the Utility, based on an established VOS rate in dollars per kilowatt hour. The VOS calculation generates a long-term leveled value rate that is looked at annually, based on factors that may include:

  • Utility variable costs (fuel and purchased power)
  • Utility fixed costs (generation capacity, transmission, and distribution)
  • Distribution system and transmission line losses
  • Ancillary services (to maintain grid reliability)
  • Environmental impacts (the reduction of carbon and other pollutant emissions)

With those factors in consideration, the value may not be the current 11.6 cents that are being paid under net metering, but it is far more than the 3.1 or 5.5 cent numbers proposed.

By instituting these two items, the utility company now has a constant base of power that is provided by solar and can then plan appropriately the amount of power that is needed from their central plants and purchased from the grid.

The goal of the calculation process is to estimate the total value of a unit of solar energy generated in the distribution grid, at or very near the point of consumption thus eliminating long distribution charges and limiting transmission line losses for a more efficient method of energy production. The result is a conservative estimate of the cost that the utility would face for a unit for energy with the same character as that generated from a local commercial solar facility.

In other words, the residential solar customer also becomes a source of power generation for the utility, and as such, the total amount of power generated can be more accurately calculated and relied upon for servicing all of the utility’s customer needs. This is greatly different from the current Net Metering system where the solar customer bleeds off power for their own needs and then pushes any excess power (in unknown and inconsistent quantities), into the grid causing spikes and fluctuation that wreaks havoc with the utility’s transmission and distribution equipment.

Under the VOS tariff system, the solar customer is billed for their energy use exactly as all other customers within the utility. They, however, will have an amount deducted from their monthly bill based on the amount of energy they produced and sold to the utility. One advantage that the VOS tariff system might give to the homeowner is the ability to secure better financing for the installation of their system based on the long-term projection of income.

One variable on the investment side is that each year, a new VOS tariff would be calculated using current data, and the new resulting VOS rate would apply to all customers entering the tariff during the year. Changes such as increased or decreased fuel prices and modified hourly utility load profiles due to higher solar penetration could be incorporated into each new annual calculation.

And finally, I would like to point out that the PUCN has published a document titled Choosing Wind or Solar. In that document, there is an analysis to “Determine how much energy the system could potentially produce, in kilowatt-hours in a year.” The mathematics assumes a 6-kilowatt system x 8,760 hours in a year x 24% efficiency based on inclement weather, cloudy skies and of course darkness at night for a total of 12,614 kWh per year multiplied by $.13 equals an annual savings of $1,640 off your energy bill.

This is a straight calculation without net metering.

The flaw in that calculation is that 80% of that energy is generated while children are in school, parents are at work, and the household is fairly quiet. Most residents have their air conditioners turned to a higher temperature so as not to waste energy; the television is off as are most of the lights, etc. So in reality, depending on the time of year, and the outside temperature, the home is generating an abundance of energy that is not being used. Without some sort of compensation such as net metering or Value Of Solar Tariff, the homeowner is not receiving near the value in the PUCN example and therefore the payback of the system is far greater than the 11 years used in the example.

Without fair compensation for rooftop solar, the proposition becomes a 30 to 40-year payback and for residents in particular that is not a doable situation.

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Gun Control

HandgunsI have developed this forum as a means to convey information on the subject of sustainability and being green.  Most view this subject matter to pertain to things that affect the environment, either with positive or negative results.  But sustainability is also about people and what affects them.  Thus, the pertinence of this topic in this forum.

There is, and has been for many years, a lot of talk about gun control.  To me, gun control was what my father taught me when I was a young boy of around the age of ten.

Grip the pistol lightly with my right hand and just the tip of my index finger on the trigger.  Place the palm of my left hand on the pistol grip with those fingers wrapped around the top of the right-hand fingers.  Stand with my feet shoulder width, left leg slightly forward and extend both hands forward.  Pull back slowly and evenly on the trigger.  And practice.

Today, all the rhetoric is not about how you control your gun, but instead about identifying and controlling the violence enacted by criminals and mentally disturbed people with their guns. Something that I think might be a losing battle until the time we are able to master the art of the Vulcan mind meld.

However, short of being able to control the minds of other people, we can control and allow the acquisition of guns by law abiding citizens (e.g. those who do not have a history of social violence, mental illness, or criminal activity).  Now obviously, there will be those that will slip through the system. Just as the saying goes, ‘there are two types of sailboat operators –those who have run aground and –those who about to run aground,’ there are and will be those gun owners who might fit the category of exclusion but have yet to flip the mental switch.

The solution that I speak of is the mandatory registration of all handguns.  (Notice that I said “handguns”). I say handguns because of the fact that those small weapons can be easily concealed and are used in many more crimes than rifles.

So what is the concern here?  Most of what I have been hearing is fear from U.S. citizens that if their gun is registered then the Federal Government will have the ability to come to your home and seize your guns.  Quite frankly, I find that whole concept paranoid and crazy.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads:

A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. 

This Amendment provides that all citizens (those who have not lost their Constitutional Rights through the Court System) the right to keep and bear arms and that that right cannot be taken away without an Amendment to the Constitution. And if you know anything about the process for amending the Constitution (see below for details), you would know that repealing the Second Amendment would be impossible.  The only other thing that the Federal Government could do would be to declare war on its citizens which I also do not see happening.

Therefore, if you a legal, law abiding citizen –you have nothing to lose with stricter laws for the acquisition of a gun.  If you are a law abiding citizen –you have nothing to lose with the stricter tracking of guns.  And, if you are a law abiding citizen –you should have nothing to hide.

Now, let me state that I am not naive enough to think that just because a handgun is registered to someone that it will prevent them from doing a bad thing with that weapon.  Not at all!  However, if we start now, by registering all handguns at the point of sale, it will significantly slow the proliferation of illegal (unregistered), handguns from getting onto the streets.  This process will not happen overnight and may, in fact, be a ten-year process, but as more and more handguns are registered it will leave less and less unregistered handguns on the street until the supply is dwindled down to a more manageable number.  And, through this process, at the very least handguns will be traceable back to a person that legally purchased that gun and then either gave it or sold it to someone who in turn does bad things –like go on a shooting spree.  So in turn, the person that gave or sold that weapon to the “bad guy”, could be severely penalized for contributing to a crime or the death of another person.  With this penalty clause in effect, a registered (and legal), gun-owner will think twice about selling his gun on the black market.

Is this some sort of euphoric dream?  I don’t think so.

The other day I was listening to an NPR interview with a young man that grew up in the Watts neighborhood of L.A.  He like most of his friends was involved in gang activity even as a very young boy.  He told the interviewer that during times of heightened gang activity he would be given a gun by one of the older members of his gang and told to use it against rival members.  If the gun were used, he would “ditch” that gun by literally throwing it away, because it is better not to be caught by the police with a gun and because unregistered guns were plentiful.

Again I say that if we start an aggressive registration program today, ten years from now we may have eliminated 90% of the illegal handguns that are on the street and used by gangs.

The trick is, how do we make it both convenient and affordable for conscientious, law-abiding citizens to buy and register handguns.  The simple way would be to authorize licensed gun dealers to process the “legal” registration when they sell a handgun.  Things are so automated these days, with computers and such, that the $25.00 background check fee should include the issuing of a registration card as well.  Once you have one handgun registered, an additional $10.00 registration fee for additional handguns would be a reasonable price to pay to the retailer as a processing fee.  With this system in place, if I wanted to sell one of my registered gun(s) to a friend or stranger, I could go to my local gun dealer, have him be the middle man in the transaction to assure that a proper background check was made and that the registration of that handgun was transferred from me to the new buyer, relieving me of all responsibility of that handgun.  Of course, this can still be done for free at the local police sub-station but for convenience sake, there are many more authorized gun dealers than police sub-stations.

Once we overcome the hurdle of limiting the amount of illegal guns that are on the streets and have a handle on who owns handguns; we can then address the issue of mental stability/illness and how to record and report persons that appear to have, but not yet openly displayed, violent tendencies, without violating their personal rights.  This will be a much more tedious process and I am sure will include enough lawyers, politicians, and doctors to fill each and every hotel room in Las Vegas.

Craig A. Ruark

Conscientious Handgun Owner

Constitutional Amendments

There are essentially two ways spelled out in the Constitution for how to propose an amendment. One has never been used.

The first method is for a bill to pass both houses of the legislature, by a two-thirds majority in each. Once the bill has passed both houses, it goes on to the states. This is the route taken by all current amendments. Because of some long outstanding amendments, such as the 27th, Congress will normally put a time limit (typically seven years) for the bill to be approved as an amendment (for example, see the 21st and 22nd).

The second method prescribed is for a Constitutional Convention to be called by two-thirds of the legislatures of the States, and for that Convention to propose one or more amendments. These amendments are then sent to the states to be approved by three-fourths of the legislatures or conventions. This route has never been taken, and there is a discussion in political science circles about just how such a convention would be convened, and what kind of changes it would bring about.

Regardless of which of the two proposal routes is taken, the amendment must be ratified, or approved, by three-fourths of states. There are two ways to do this, too. The text of the amendment may specify whether the bill must be passed by the state legislatures or by a state convention. See the Ratification Convention Page for a discussion of the makeup of a convention. Amendments are sent to the legislatures of the states by default. Only one amendment, the 21st, specified a convention. In any case, passage by the legislature or convention is by a simple majority.

The Constitution, then, spells out four paths for an amendment:

  • Proposal by convention of states, ratification by state conventions (never used)
  • Proposal by convention of states, ratification by state legislatures (never used)
  • Proposal by Congress, ratification by state conventions (used once)
  • Proposal by Congress, ratification by state legislatures (used all other times)

It is interesting to note that at no point does the President have a role in the formal amendment process (though he would be free to make his opinion known). He cannot veto an amendment proposal or ratification. This point is clear in Article 5 and was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in Hollingsworth v Virginia (3 US 378 [1798]):

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