Jillian Kay Melchior’s a Solar Assassin!

Solar assassin, because Jillian’s killing it today on the solar stories! Here’s her latest. I’ll let it speak for itself, or her speak for herself, whichever may be:

Hawaii’s solar subsidies have been highly effective. Maybe too effective, actually . . .

The Aloha state gives homeowners and businesses tax credits covering 35 percent of the cost of their solar installation. Oh, and that’s on top of the 30 percent federal credit. So faster than you can say “free money,” Hawaiians started tricking out their homes.

Just one problem. The costs to the state are mounting, though Hawaii isn’t really sure how much:

“The unexpected popularity of the solar incentive has opened a hole in the state budget and become a major topic in state politics.

“During the 2010 tax year, Hawaii residents claimed $42.8 million in renewable energy credits, mostly for solar projects. In just six months of 2011, they claimed $54.9 million in credits, according to data provided to Stateline by the Hawaii Department of Taxation. This year, the price will soar to $173.8 million, the state estimates. That’s out of an overall state budget that hovers around $12 billion each year. . . .

“To be clear, $173.8 million is what Hawaii thinks its credit will cost this year. It’s the highest and most recent of several estimates, meant to guide the governor in putting together the state’s next biennial budget. State economists admit there’s no way to be sure of the program’s cost, either for this year or in the future.”

Hawaii isn’t alone, turns out. In Louisiana, which offers a 50 percent tax credit on wind or solar purchases, capped at a whopping $12,500, residents are really, really, really taking advantage of the subsidy:

“Its cost has soared to 18 times the state’s original $500,000 per-year projection, a problem uncovered by a legislative committee that’s reviewing each of the state’s major tax programs. . . .

“‘How do I know how many people would put a solar system on top of their house?” asks Greg Albrecht, chief economist of the Louisiana Legislative Fiscal Office. “I’m just guessing.””

Keep up the good work Jillian. We at Free the Commons! see all the promise in the world for solar, but we’ll only be successful if we put the right policies in place. Keep the facts flowing, so that we can recognize, evaluate, and overcome all the obstacles. Nothing stands in the way of success like not knowing, and we are working hard to know it all.


Free the Commons! 100th Post!!!

Wow, who knew I was such a wordy bastard? Thank you WordPress, thank you dear readers for the opportunity!

I thought to write something deeply profound, deeply spiritual and moving and lasting for my 100th post. And as I sat down to write, I realized that others had already written it, and I know who they are, and I could share them with you! So here are two blogs that I enjoy immensely. These two blogs bring me a bit of happiness, serenity, and joy each day. And I want to share them with you in case some of you, like me, find a bit of bliss in them.

The first blog is The Horse’s Mouth, by Joe, and looks like this:

And this:

The second blog that is a must-read for me is by Taru, and is titled World Tour Stories, and feels like this:

And here is Taru again, saying to you this:

If you’re a romantic you’ll love Taru’s site. I’ve a series of screensavers that I’ve lifted from her blog. And Taru’s wordsmything is truly enjoyable: honest and salty and blissful. Don’t miss her ‘About Us‘ page, which I copied down long-hand in my journal because it spoke so strongly to me.

I hope that these sites bring a bit of joy, or extra joy, to your days!

Private Property and the Tragedy of the Commons

Brought to you by the Missoulian, the paper of record for Missoula, Mont. Appears that a former pulp mill just outside town is a prime candidate for listing as a Superfund Site. And if it’s not a prime candidate for Superfund, it is a prime candidate for creating 3-eyed fish. From the “life imitates the Simpsons” department:

Potentially dangerous levels of dioxins, heavy metals and other hazardous chemicals turned up in a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency review of the former Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. pulp mill in Frenchtown.

Nice, huh? I love the smell of dioxins in the morning. Here though is the important part that I want to discuss with you:

The first pulp mill started operating south of Frenchtown in 1957. By the time it closed in 2010, it had expanded to a 100-acre industrial complex bordering 900 acres of settling, sludge and wastewater ponds in the Clark Fork’s floodplain. At its peak in 1993, the mill processed about 1,900 tons of pulp a day into linerboard for cardboard boxes.

Final owner Smurfit-Stone went bankrupt in 2009. The company recovered in 2010, but closed the Frenchtown mill as part of a nationwide restructuring. MLR Investments bought the mill, and then sold it to Green Investment Group Inc. in May 2011.

What I want you to pay attention to, besides the awesome size of this pulp plant, is that this was a private operation, on private land, run by a private corporation. More after this caveat:

I appreciate private property, and I like the free enterprise system. The two together – private property and private enterprise – have done more to lift humanity out of despair and poverty and misery than all the combined efforts of the world’s governments ever. There is no system that is more fair, more productive, more ennobling and enabling than private property and private enterprise. But…

Awhile back I started an argument with Mr. Jonathan Alder, which you can read here. Mr. Alder is a hugely reasonable and thoughtful proponent of privatizing public resources in order to conserve them. It is a compelling argument, made by many, increasing in attractiveness (particularly given the U.S. budget deficit), and difficult to argue against.

Except by me. You see, this line of reasoning, that privatization could/would avert the Tragedy of the Commons, is a pet peeve of mine. Hardin was wrong to suggest it, and others are wrong to recommend it as a policy solution. And here in little Missoula, Mont. we find a perfect example.

That Smurfit-Stone property is decimated. It’s done. All the buildings are dead. If we’re lucky, the U.S. government will step in and spend hundreds of millions of your tax dollars to clean it up, tear it all down, and build an open space park on top of it. As I argued earlier in that Alder piece I link to above, there is no indication, none whatsoever, that those who hold private interests in property are able to plan for the long term any better, with any more foresight, than can the government. The Tragedy of the Commons is not averted simply by transferring ownership. Ownership is not the issue. True, Mr. Alder as well as others making his argument say that the incentives for long-term conservation are more strongly prevalent under a private property rights regime than under common ownership. My rebuttal is that the facts, the evidence from the world, do not weigh kindly upon this claim.

Now, to be fair, the Smurfit-Stone factory isn’t the perfect example, but it is very, very close. This is a factory, on land, that could have been protected, maintained, managed, and sold in the future for economic gain, as Mr. Alder and others argue would happen if private companies/individuals owned, say, forests, or range lands, or parks. But there was no long-term planning with this site, and no long-term gains. Because in business, you take short-term gains when you’re patient, and immediate gains when you’re like most of us. You don’t conserve for the long-term. There is no long-term on a balance sheet.

I keep promising to develop this line of reasoning more thoroughly. Eventually I will write an essay on this subject and try to have it published. But for now, on a Friday evening, after two glasses of Cabernet, you’ll have to settle for what I am able to offer, and I love you all for that.

Apologies All Around

So, I need to offer WordPress a big apology. I have been experiencing a lot of trouble accessing my blog from home. At first I assumed this was a WordPress issue, because I was having the problem on both my PC, and my Ipad. Turns out, the problem is with my wireless router. It’s a strange problem to have, but it is clear to me now that my wireless router is randomly blocking websites, including my own (and a number of other wordpress blogs). Time for a new router. So I’d like to offer my sincere apologies to the folks at WordPress for bearing the brunt of my angry emails over the past few days, and to say thanks for all of your patience and help.

WordPress is Letting Me Down

Hi everyone. I’m having an ongoing issue trying to access my WordPress account. Seems I can log in to WordPress, but I can’t access my blog’s dashboard, which makes it difficult to do a lot of writing. I know some of the tech guys are working hard on this, but it’s frustrating not to be able to blog. I’ve had three days off from work now in which I had intended to do some serious posting, but so far I’m stuck using the WordPress quick post function. I’ll see if I can make it work with some updates later today. In the meantime, get outside and enjoy nature this weekend!

Back from Vacation

Hello all! I’m back from the annual family vacation. This year we toured the great state of Oregon. Beautiful place, Oregon. I love that high desert country of rock and pine around Bend. What a great town that is too. The Columbia River Gorge is just fantastic to travel through on Interstate 84. I should have taken some photos of that area, particularly the massive wind turbines, but I was on driving duty. Spectacular views though. Spent some time at the beach as well, getting blown around by the 30 mph Pacific breeze. Also visited Crater Lake, which now is one of my top five favorite national parks.

Any national park fans out there? I’ve visited roughly 240 National Park System units. I ran up the numbers while I worked back in DC – there are a lot of small parks back east. Nearly every year we road trip as a family and visit at least a few, if not several national parks. My favorite parks so far, not in any order, are Glacier in Montana, Mount Rainier in Washington, Crater Lake in Oregon, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and the small parks near Flagstaff, AZ, particularly Wupatki. I’ve enjoyed all the parks I’ve visited, but I find that these five parks are the ones I have visited most often, and want to visit again.

Now that the vacation is over, it’s back to blogging. Have I missed anything?