The Billings Outpost

Taste of Iraq electricity outages, global warming

Now I know something about how Iraqis feel, at least regarding sporadic electricity. During a Sunday afternoon thunderstorm, lightning hit a power pole just down the street from my office, causing an approximately three-hour outage that cut electricity to parts of Helena’s downtown and south side.

 

I heard the crash of the main strike and then watched as the pole slumped over and the lines made contact with each other, causing a bluish-white explosion.

 

The fire department sent a truck to block the street by the Holter Museum of Art and make sure nothing was on fire anywhere, and two NorthWestern Energy workers in big trucks carefully straightened out and lifted the wooden pole back into position as I watched.

 

The NWE guy in the cherry picker cautioned me not to get too close. A couple of hours later, the power came back on and we were back in business. Nice work.

 

It’s a far different situation in Iraq, where high summer temperatures (118 degrees is not unknown) demand air conditioning, but power may come on for only a few hours each day or alternate availability, say three hours on and then three hours off.

 

According to Internet sources, the country’s entire electricity output averages less than 6,000 megawatts, while demand is typically more than 10,000 MW. In contrast, Montana’s net summer generating capacity in 2007 was 5,479 MW, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

 

The reasons for Iraq’s pathetic energy situation are no surprise: the ongoing war, looting, sabotage and consequently the slow pace of power plant and transmission line construction. According to the World Bank, it would take $35 billion to fully rebuild its power-generation system.

 

American firms have contracted to do some of this work. General Electric reportedly got a $3 billion contract from the Iraqi government in December to provide gas turbines capable of generating 7,000 MW. Iraq is planning to issue $5 billion in bonds, no doubt backed by its massive oil reserves, to pay for rebuilding the country’s devastated infrastructure.

Climate faceoff

Eleven Greenpeace activists were arrested last week for a demonstration that involved scaling Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and draping a huge banner with a climate-change message (“America Honors Leaders, Not Politicians. Stop Global Warming.”) and President Obama’s image over the rock next to Abraham Lincoln’s face.

 

After staying up on the monument to hold the banner in place for about an hour, they rappelled down again, found sheriff’s deputies waiting, and were taken into custody. The timing was apparently designed to influence this past week’s G8 summit in Italy on greenhouse-gas emissions.

 

One of the 11 charged with misdemeanor trespassing and climbing on the monument was Brian Jenkins of Helena, 25. Those arrested have all pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to appear in federal court sometime in October.

 

The maximum penalty for the alleged offenses is six months in jail.

 

A video of the incident is available at www.greenpeace.org. Wildly mixed reactions to the stunt are posted on the group’s Web site, ranging from effusive (“This is the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen”), to thoughtful (“It’s flashy, but is it effective?”), to pejorative (“Stay off of our natural monuments, you tofu eating freak!”).

 

Cutting costs

The mountain pine bark beetles have been busy chewing up their favorite tree in Montana’s capital city. More than a third of Helena’s forested open space is infested with them, according to the city’s natural resources coordinator, and it’s about the same proportion on U.S. Forest Service land.

 

The price tag for cutting down all the dead ponderosa pine on Helena’s open spaces is estimated at $825,000 and goes up to about $2 million when replanting is included.

 

The city plans to start felling the reddish-orange trees on Mount Helena this fall, thanks to help from state and federal funds, with the work projected to last as long as five years. When the chainsaws stop, the 2,140 acres of public spaces around Helena certainly won’t look the same.

 

Replanting could take another few years after that.

 

I spy

The Bush administration’s infamous warrantless wiretapping program (aka, “President’s Surveillance Program”) was apparently much more extensive than has been previously known but perhaps not that effective, according to a Joint Inspector General report requested by Congress in 2008 and released July 10.

 

Among other things, the report states that the ultra-secret program was too secret for some intelligence officials and the information it secured not generally timely or detailed. The Bush program allowed agencies, without getting a court order, to intercept communications between Americans and people in other countries suspected of having terrorism ties.

 

The 43-page unclassified report was produced by the inspectors general of five agencies: the Departments of Defense and Justice, the CIA, National Security Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. A searchable copy can be accessed via www.nytimes.com.

 

Quote of the week

“In all due respect to those who like to examine the entrails and look backward, the fact is we were three points ahead on Sept. 15 and the stock market crashed and we went seven points down. Sarah Palin ignited our party. We were winning and we could have won.”

 

– U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on “Meet the Press,” July 12.

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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