The Other Side of Solar

I don’t know about you, but the term “solar energy” has usually made me think about photovoltaics, in which light from the sun is converted into electrical energy. No more. This week I was browsing Bill Foster’s energy policy paper and read the term “thermo-solar energy” for the first time. Also called solar thermal energy, this technology is about using the sun’s heat for generating electricity.

The problem is, if you’re only using the light, you can store electricity up to a point but you can’t generate it when it’s overly overcast or dark. Also, it can be more expensive to generate electricity from photovoltaic than from other sources. Unlike light, heat can be stored for power generation during times the sun is sleeping, rendering it more reliable and cost-effective. Continue reading The Other Side of Solar

Whee-e-e!

Here’s an interesting YouTube video, U.S. home prices plotted on a roller coaster program. Be sure to put one eye on the lower right-hand corner, because the corresponding year flashes there. (yes, MOL behind where it says, “YouTube.” Oops.).

Keep in mind this ‘coaster was built last April. Housing inventory is still growing, prices still falling. Welcome to the conclusion of a dream world where, since the 1980s, “investment,” “speculation” and even “gambling” have come to mean the same thing; and where the cure for market ills has been to lower interest rates to prevent us from feeling pain. Trouble is, gangrene is now the source of the pain.

IL-14 Special Election: Thanks, Denny

[Update 12/4: The special primary will be February 5 along with the regular primary, as we thought it would be; the special general is scheduled for March 8.]

It’s funny (albeit in that kind of lip-curling way) that Denny Hastert says he resigned the way he did so we could have the special primary on the same day as the regular primary to save us taxpayers money. That’s hogwash. If he really wanted to save us money he’d finish his term. We still need to have the special general election, one more than we bargained for this year, and as far as I can tell it will cost the county about $45,000 to put on that extra show. Denny does not appear to have resigned because of health issues, which in my book is one of few legitimate reasons for packing up early; indeed, he seems miffed that the nasty partisan Congress wouldn’t let him influence energy policy. Boo hoo hoo. Continue reading IL-14 Special Election: Thanks, Denny

I Need a Tax Abatement

I try not to gripe about logistics (the lowest of low-hanging industrial fruits for a city on Route 88) as long as they stay in the designated warehousing “district” of Park 88. I make no such effort when it comes to the give-aways, especially coming on the heels of the hideous maneater called “Tax Assessment 2007,” another school referendum on the way and a recession looming.

DeKalb City Council Resolution 07-98:

DECLARING INTENT TO PROVIDE FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FOR DEVELOPMENT OF PROPERTY LOCATED ON LOT 11 OF PARK 88.

The City Council passed this on Monday. It means that they are going to “play ball” by supplying tax abatements and fee waivers to a company that probably chose us months ago but that we don’t even get to know the name of yet.

Ah, for the day that someone says: “Fee waivers? Doesn’t that mean we’d need to raise fees for the residents? I don’t think so.”

Or: “If you care about our schools, you’ll pay your full freight from Day One.”

It’s tough to keep up morale. Some days, seems we cling to our middle-class dreams by the ravaged edges of our fingernails.

Political Contributions from Ben Gordon Center

Ben Gordon Center is a tax-exempt, non-profit organization in Illinois. It receives funding for its mental health and substance abuse programs from a variety of sources, among them the local United Way.

Governments kick in, too. The grant allocation from DeKalb county is up to almost $784,000 and the City of DeKalb in July approved human services funding of $5,000 specific to its “220” program (this appears to be in addition to an annual grant of around $9200 but BGC’s allocation was not specified in this year’s online minutes so I am not sure). Then there are state reimbursements and chunks of change from the feds.

Seeing as so much of our tax money goes to Ben Gordon programs, I am somewhat perplexed about its donations to politicians. Continue reading Political Contributions from Ben Gordon Center

County Administrator Gets Obscene Pay Raise

I can’t speak to the assertion that County Administrator Ray Bockman’s 26% pay raise was a “rush” job, except to suggest that the Republicans on the County Board might well focus on procedure in their opposition rather than go on record saying that Bockman is not, in fact, indispensible.

However, I can speak to the fact that several of the hard-working employees at DeKalb County Rehab & Nursing Center (DCRNC) have reached their wage ceilings while Bockman seems never to have to worry about bumping his widdow head.

Deputy Administrator Gary Hanson would probably do a fine job in Bockman’s spot, and possibly not rub so many people the wrong way. The Board should have guffawed at the notion of such a raise. This is symptomatic of its unhealthy dependency on–and deference to–people we don’t get to vote for. It is the same situation that the DeKalb City Council is in.

Then there’s the pension angle, as described by Mac McIntyre:

The truth is it was Ray’s turn to cash in on the Average Last Four Years public pension scam. The loophole was discovered years ago but the practice has become so widespread in Illinois that it’s become accepted with hoodwinks and a few politically correct statements to the media. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the youth of today can look forward to a future as indentured servants to many in the generation that “stuck it to the man” in the 60s and are now hell bent on sticking it to their grandkids today. Public pension benefits are defined in the Illinois Constitution as a contractual right that cannot be diminished. Get used to it kids.

Ouch.

Who Pays to Electrify the City?

The electric rate-setting deal being finalized between state lawmakers and electric companies Ameren and ComEd reminds me that the City of DeKalb pays ComEd nothing for electricity in the buildings it owns.

The city apparently does pay for street lighting. The link takes you to the record of a city meeting where cutting electric costs at intersections was discussed. But I ask you: What is the incentive to conserve electricity at City Hall? If there are freebies and waste, don’t the rest of us end up paying higher rates? The city gives us residential users a conservation incentive through taxing us for our electricity consumption. My share this month was $5.88.

Another advantage the city has is the ability to chose among electricity suppliers (ComEd remains the delivery company).

Illinois law now gives residential customers a choice of suppliers, too, but it is mostly an illusion except for the glimmer of hope that is BlueStar Energy. Although I note that their “How to Switch” page says, “A BlueStar Energy representative will contact you when we have a residential product offering.” [Emphasis mine.]

Our Fiscal Conservatives

Credit where it’s due. I see where our State Sen. Brad Burzynski and State Rep. Bob Pritchard each voted for resolutions that would have blocked pay raises for lawmakers and other top state positions.

Their side lost, so now $5 million has to be budgeted for salaries of $66,000 annually for a job that’s not even year ’round. That’s not counting the $125 expense allowance for each day they’re in session, nor the mileage reimbursement.

How obscene is it that our state lawmakers voted themselves a pay raise while leaving pensions and schools underfunded and Medicaid reimbursements later than ever? Pretty darn obscene in my book. My thanks to our local guys who refused to act like pigs at the trough.

We are Cannibals

Our property taxes are becoming too burdensome to bear. Yet we can’t pay for our schools. We’ve invented impact fees to pay for our schools but that increases the cost of our homes, which leads to higher property taxes once again. We homeowners get stuck coming and going. In effect, we’re cannibalizing ourselves to make ends meet.

I got most of my schooling in the ’70s. We had great schools then. My parents had great schools. And property taxes weren’t the premier topic of conversation or worry. What happened? Continue reading We are Cannibals

Who Thinks Gas Prices are being Manipulated? Oil Investors Do.

[UPDATE 11/17: Here’s a link to U.S. retail gasoline prices across the country that compares the price just before the election with gas prices one week after the election. Please note that crude oil prices are down right now. Question: How high will gas be by Christmas? Any guesses?]

I don’t usually post about national happenings, but this one hits every last one of us in the pocketbook. If you ask your neighbors whether they believe that gas prices are being manipulated for political reasons and will rise again after the election, chances are at least a few of them will say, “Yes.” I’ve personally stayed neutral on the subject up to now because of reading conflicting opinions by people who know something about the energy industry. They can’t agree on whether that is even possible. Then today I read this little blurb from an investor’s newsletter put out by New York Global Securities: Continue reading Who Thinks Gas Prices are being Manipulated? Oil Investors Do.