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Archive for March, 2013

Vortex Tools looks at a recent infographic release from the White House on the Energy Security Trust and explains why it makes a flawed boast.

So the White House recently released this infographic explaining the perks of the Energy Security Trust:

wh_2013_energy_trust_large

There’s a lot that sounds good here—no extra costs, more clean energy, and supporting American jobs, research and innovation—but there’s an obvious burning question that this style of marketing often misses: If this $2 billion revenue is from profitable oil and gas companies, and it’s used to “shift our vehicles off oil for good,” why would the oil and gas industry support it? Natural gas isn’t enough (as an industry that has yet to recover), and anyone in oil and gas just assumes it’d be next on the chopping block anyway.

If I looked at Bill Gates and said, “I want to take some of your profits and use them to invest in companies that will shift computer use away from PCs for good” I’d expect him to look at me and say, “Um… no.” So when I see this type of stick it to ‘em marketing, I just assume that there’s something dishonest going on. While I’ve run across some in-depth rebuttals already, the short version is this:

  • The oil and gas industry is only giving what they have to, by royalties and fees paid to the government for using federal land.
  • While there is no increase in the budget for this program, these funds could be used to pay down the deficit.
  • These types of subsidies already exist… and many would argue that they already don’t work. I spoke to a guy who got out of solar recently. He said, “We’re all playing a game of last man standing, waiting for the subsidies to stop so that we can cash in after many solar companies crash. The only way to make money as a small, innovative company is to get acquired by the big energy companies, because they’re the ones with the funds to last to the end.” Who are the big energy companies? They’re the ones who’re tied to the oil and gas industry, either directly or indirectly, so you’re just pouring in money to delay the inevitable and still have the guys you don’t like make a profit (if that’s your bent).
  • While there’s duplicity for subsidies, not surprisingly, none of the Energy Security Trust is going towards oil and gas expansion in the U.S.

Of course I hope that the Energy Security Trust increases jobs, innovation and clean energy, but when I see flawed tactics covered by iffy marketing, I’m not expecting much.

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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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SpiroFlo looks at how drought conditions are shaping water utility pricing and why some of these increasing costs are necessary.

800px-Vianden_lakeLast time, I covered how Colorado has officially moved deeper into its drought, hitting the stage two level (meaning forced water restrictions as opposed to mere suggestions). In recently attending a Q & A with Denver Water CEO, Jim Lochhead, one of the main topics that came up was how they’re reacting to drought conditions. After hearing his comments, I have to say that while Denver Water isn’t government run, when I look at some of their pricing tactics, it feels like it is. Here’s what I mean:

Denver Water is aiming to reduce water use in Colorado by 20% in 2013. With the stage two drought limitations, this seems like a fair goal. However, on May 1st of this year, Denver Water will assign people a “drought charge” – a fee assigned to cover their reduced revenue from customers’ reduced water use… which Denver Water is enforcing with their rules and fines.

I don’t think this is completely unfair—given that there is actually less water to use with the drought, and it needs to be aggressively conserved—but Denver Water’s customer fees went up in 2010, too. They didn’t go up then because of a drought; they went up because 2009 was such a wet year and people didn’t use enough water.

So in the end, if you don’t use enough water because of good water conditions, you get charged more, and if you aren’t allowed to use water because of drought conditions, you get charged more. Admittedly, this feels like any old company that charges its customers more because they’re not making enough, but there are some differences. First off, people need clean water and someone has to treat it. Every utility has fixed costs: the base level pieces that are required to maintain any business at all. For Denver Water, these fixed costs include maintenance of pipelines, infrastructure and the overall system—you know, the parts necessary to treat and deliver clean water. According to Lochhead, as Denver Water does a decent job of keeping their fixed costs down—which make up 20-30% of their costs, as opposed to the 40% average for other utilities—only 4% of the customer’s rate is made up of these fixed costs.

Inevitably, there is that awkward conflict where Denver Water is providing a need (with fees that are at least somewhat regulated on the state level), yet, like any business, they’re trying to make a profit. Considering 2012 and 2013 will stack up as the two worst consecutive water years in Colorado history—and Denver Water is slated to lose $50 million in 2013 alone—water utilities are not in an enviable position.

That said, should water utilities simply feel the pains and costs of slower years like any other business, or with the need of clean water on the line, are they allowed to? If their provision of a need doesn’t allow them to face the pains of drought years, should they be allowed to reap the rewards of good water years? However it goes, I’m not sure you can argue that a different company could do a better job without being allowed to have a successful business model.

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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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By Tomas Castelazo (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsSpiroFlo covers the impact of the 2012-2013 Colorado drought and how water utilities are responding.

With 2012 and 2013 slated to be the two worst Colorado drought years on record, Denver Water has declared a stage two drought.

I’m going to assume the term ‘stage two drought’ doesn’t magically fill your mind with water restriction information, so let me break it down a little: Basically, as a water utility — in this case: Denver Water — declares a higher level of drought, the more restrictions (fines and flow limits) there are. Stage one is “We’re asking nicely for you to limit your own water use”; stage two is the start of “We’re done asking. Here’s what you have to do.”

From Denver Water:

  • Stage 1 Drought: A Stage 1 drought will alert customers that water supplies are below average and continued dry weather could lead to a Stage 2 drought declaration. Stage 1 calls for customers to voluntarily reduce water use.
  • Stage 2 Drought: A Stage 2 drought imposes mandatory water use restrictions and requires a significant effort on the part of customers. Stage 2 water use restrictions will appear in the Operating Rules. A surcharge program may be used to support water use restrictions and help reduce customer water use. Customers who violate Stage 2 drought restrictions will be subject to increasing penalties, including the possibility of a flow restrictor or suspension of water service.

As this is the worst Colorado drought on record (and overall, 2012 was both the hottest year on record and it made the top 10 worst U.S. droughts), Denver Water hasn’t yet reached stages three and four, but they do exist:

  • Stage 3 Drought: A Stage 3 drought imposes mandatory water restrictions on Denver Water’s customers. Stage 3 drought restrictions are severe and will probably result in significant damage to or loss of landscapes. Customers who violate Stage 3 drought restrictions will be subject to increasing penalties at levels higher than in a Stage 2 drought, including the possibility of a flow restrictor or suspension of water service.
  • Stage 4 Drought: A Stage 4 drought activates a rationing program for Denver Water’s customers. Conditions that would lead to a Stage 4 drought are highly unlikely. However, if conditions warrant, Denver Water may implement a rationing program for an indefinite period of time to ensure, to the extent possible, that there is adequate water for essential uses.

Interestingly enough, there is no limit to the drought stages, so while a stage 42 drought may require an initial 41 stages of catastrophic water shortages, it should also reveal the answer to everything:

In the meantime, many environmentalists see a silver lining in water being more valued during periods of extreme dryness.

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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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SpiroFlo covers how a large swarm of locusts recently descended upon Egypt and how the government, the green crowd and some people of faith have reacted.

Say I mention to you that a monstrous swarm of locusts descended upon Egypt. When do you think that happened?

Maybe you’d think Biblical plague, putting it roughly around 1313 BC if you’re using Exodus 10 as the marker, or, if you’ve seen YouTube lately, the answer would be last week.

Eugenio Morales Agacino's Photographic Archive. Via Eugenio Morales Agacino's Virtual Exhibition

Nearly 30 million locusts swarmed over Egyptian cities and farms. The current timing of this gets awkward, as the Biblical plague of locusts—when all the crops were destroyed—also occurred right around this time of year (the Passover). As this is the kind of apocalyptic news that can unhinge people—as well as fuel several Weekly World News cover stories—government officials responded: “The current inspection teams at areas targeted by locusts did not witness swarms damaging a single inch of crop.” Egyptian Agricultural Minister Salah Abdel Moamen went on to note that the locusts are “sexually immature and do not depend on plants for energy since they mainly rely on fat stores.”

Ah, so when the locusts hit puberty, that’s when the apocalyptic munchies will commence.

In the meantime, it’s important to note that these locusts’ swarms naturally occur each year as part of their migration pattern. The uneasiness is because this swarm is much larger than usual.

The Atlantic Wire noted:

Conflicting reports aside, Moamen insists that the government has everything under control. “Egyptian armed forces and the border guards are attempting to fight the swarm with the means at their disposal,” the agriculture minister said. “I ask the families living in the locust-plagued areas not to burn tires. This does not chase away the locusts, but only causes damage and could ignite large scale fires that would cost in lives.” Also, that smoke isn’t doing Egypt’s grandchildren any favors. Scientists anticipate that, as global warming worsens, plagues like this will also get worse.

When I hear of armed forces fighting bugs, I immediately think of several sci-fi action/horror movies capped off with giant insects, flamethrowers and unloading fully automatic weaponry (without regard for friendly fire and/or long-term hearing), though I imagine the reality is likely akin to some lackey dual-wielding cans of OFF!® bug spray.

Inevitably, there are multiple ways to view any situation. For those on the John the Baptist survival mode diet—a la Matthew 3:4b: “His food was locusts and wild honey”—this mega swam of locusts looks like the best flying buffet in town. For the rest of you, you can watch the locusts below (without the need to scream and flail your hands above your head):

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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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