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Walker wants to sell State properties

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Re: Walker wants to sell State properties

Postby lukpac » Mon Feb 18, 2013 11:33 am

Perhaps tangentially related, but this reminds me of something from the downfall of the Milwaukee Road:

Possibly the most important information to come to light during the investigations was provided by testimony by Worthington Smith concerning financing of the Milwaukee's car fleet. The Milwaukee was justly famous for its huge fleet of homebuilt boxcars and the equipment trust certificates had long been paid off on them. Since there were no finance charges on these cars, they provided a higher return of net revenue. Starting in the early 60's however, the Milwaukee had started using these cars as a means of generating cash by rebuilding a portion of the fleet and reselling them to a financial institution. They would then lease them back with the cars never actually leaving the property. What started out small, in 1961such lease charges only amounted to $3 million, quickly grew to over $20 million in 1969. Each year more and more of the fleet would be rebuilt, sold, and leased back while new car purchases dropped accordingly. In 1974 the Road was spending more on it's old, rebuilt fleet than it was on new cars and by 1977 it was spending an astounding $65 million dollars per year for it's rebuilds while spending less than $20 million on new. It became a viscious circle where the company had to rebuild and sell cars to be able to pay the charges on it's existing fleet. This practice was likely the biggest single downfall of the company, as it deprived it of both money and an adequate, modern car supply.


http://www.trainweb.org/milwaukee/article.html
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Re: Walker wants to sell State properties

Postby jjoyce » Mon Feb 18, 2013 12:29 pm

Sandi wrote:What is really amusing is that if it was Doyle or any governor with a D you would be posting about how smart he is to get rid of the properties.

Not going to get into a pissing match with you. Will leave you to your progressive circle jerk.


Amusing = 3 pts
Doyle = 2 pts
pissing match = 5 pts
circle jerk = 10 pts
Total: 20 pts

That's pretty good, but I know you can do better.
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Re: Walker wants to sell State properties

Postby ArturoBandini » Mon Feb 18, 2013 12:52 pm

snoqueen wrote:The current administration preferred continued use of coal.
I remember Walker and Co. arguing in favor of gas for Charter Street, not coal. Please correct me if I'm wrong. The capital layout for the biomass-fired portion of the plant was going to cost something like $100m more than a gas turbine of equivalent capacity. The differing fuel costs and supply logistics for either type of energy are another matter for debate.
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Re: Walker wants to sell State properties

Postby snoqueen » Mon Feb 18, 2013 5:24 pm

It's still using coal now. Are there ongoing plans to switch to gas, or was that just talk? And would it not be sensible to try a fuel source plentiful within the state, not requiring pipelines and transportation from elsewhere?

I agree with this:
The differing fuel costs and supply logistics for either type of energy are another matter for debate.


The jury -- and the facts necessary to render judgment -- are still out. The best way to find out how practical biomass is would be to try it. Wind is working fairly well today, corn for ethanol has not worked out. While it's reasonable to try and predict how well biomass would work, the only real proof is in a real-world demonstration. UW was an ideal place to do this, being a small plant supplying a clearly defined market, and having any number of engineers and other experts nearby to consult and evaluate. I wish the project had gone through -- it was a good use of our resources, because it is in the public interest to develop and refine alternative energy sources and test them under real-world conditions.
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Re: Walker wants to sell State properties

Postby green union terrace chair » Mon Feb 18, 2013 5:31 pm

Biomass (switchgrass and the like) would have required 4-5 times the number of train cars to supply the boilers. I never saw any information that factored that into the equation of fuel efficiency and pollution.

Biomass seemed to me to be quite similar to ethanol in that you were just choosing a different trade-off in where you polluted, it was a net-zero change overall (though it can be argued that ethanol is a worse alternative in terms of how it's affected water supplies and farming).
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Re: Walker wants to sell State properties

Postby gargantua » Mon Feb 18, 2013 5:42 pm

green union terrace chair wrote:Biomass (switchgrass and the like) would have required 4-5 times the number of train cars to supply the boilers. I never saw any information that factored that into the equation of fuel efficiency and pollution.

Biomass seemed to me to be quite similar to ethanol in that you were just choosing a different trade-off in where you polluted, it was a net-zero change overall .


There is some level of energy trade-off no matter which method of power generation is chosen. Have you seen any studies that verify that biomass would be a net-zero trade-off, or is this a feeling that you have? If the answers are currently unknown, this seems like a good opportunity to try it and measure the results. If they are known, I'd like to see the study. I'll admit it, I just don't know.
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Re: Walker wants to sell State properties

Postby lukpac » Mon Feb 18, 2013 6:01 pm

Re: Charter St:

snoqueen wrote:It's still using coal now. Are there ongoing plans to switch to gas, or was that just talk?


You're sure about that? They've been doing construction for a while there, and I could have sworn that they stopped getting shipments of coal a while ago. They have definitely ripped up at least some of the rail that was used to support coal delivery.

This seems to suggest the transition is complete:

The state reached an agreement with the Sierra Club that requires it to evaluate all of its heating and cooling plants at UW campuses, correctional and health facilities for compliance with clean-air standards, said Jennifer Feyerherm, of the club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. Already, Feyerherm said, the Charter plant and the Capitol Heating Plant in Downtown Madison converted from coal to natural gas as a result of the agreement.


http://host.madison.com/news/local/govt ... 963f4.html

No mention of coal here:

The primary fuels for the Charter Street Heating Plant are natural gas and fuel oil. Fuel oil is used as a back up fuel source.


http://www2.fpm.wisc.edu/ppnew/services ... /index.htm
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Re: Walker wants to sell State properties

Postby Henry Vilas » Mon Feb 18, 2013 6:17 pm

green union terrace chair wrote:Biomass (switchgrass and the like) would have required 4-5 times the number of train cars to supply the boilers. I never saw any information that factored that into the equation of fuel efficiency and pollution.

Rail is a very efficient mode for freight transportation. Don't know about pollution.
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Re: Walker wants to sell State properties

Postby green union terrace chair » Mon Feb 18, 2013 6:26 pm

gargantua wrote:
green union terrace chair wrote:Biomass (switchgrass and the like) would have required 4-5 times the number of train cars to supply the boilers. I never saw any information that factored that into the equation of fuel efficiency and pollution.

Biomass seemed to me to be quite similar to ethanol in that you were just choosing a different trade-off in where you polluted, it was a net-zero change overall .


There is some level of energy trade-off no matter which method of power generation is chosen. Have you seen any studies that verify that biomass would be a net-zero trade-off, or is this a feeling that you have? If the answers are currently unknown, this seems like a good opportunity to try it and measure the results. If they are known, I'd like to see the study. I'll admit it, I just don't know.

No, it was merely speculation. I was raising the question since I do know about the radical difference in fuel volume and the extra trains it takes to transport it, but I cannot speak with authority to the rest of biomass efficiencies.

A lot of alternative energies are about trade-offs. An electric car that draws its power from a grid that relies on fossil fuels isn't pollution-free ... however if you value concentrating pollution at fewer points (coal plants, where you also have greater power to mitigate pollution), then it's a benefit. Plus a lot of power plants use natural gas, so that's good, too.

Henry Vilas wrote:
green union terrace chair wrote:Biomass (switchgrass and the like) would have required 4-5 times the number of train cars to supply the boilers. I never saw any information that factored that into the equation of fuel efficiency and pollution.

Rail is a very efficient mode for freight transportation. Don't know about pollution.

Quite true, especially when it's dumped directly at the plant and doesn't need to be transported by truck for the "last mile." I think most freight trains are diesel now. Still a fossil fuel, and does cause congestion at road crossings. Another trade-off.
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Re: Walker wants to sell State properties

Postby snoqueen » Mon Feb 18, 2013 7:07 pm

OK, I see the Charter Street plant is using gas now, and I didn't know they'd completed the changeover. Thanks for the information. At least emissions of mercury and other environmental toxins is much reduced. I still wish we could have a trial of biomass. Maybe that'll happen at another state university.

I doubt it will happen if we privatize, though. The risks are greater than most energy companies care to assume.
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Re: Walker wants to sell State properties

Postby ArturoBandini » Mon Feb 18, 2013 8:01 pm

The Charter street plant biomass-conversion would not have been a good trial of the technology, because as gutc notes, there are a lot of other tradeoffs and variables at play. In other words, if the plant succeeded or failed, it would be hard to attribute the result to one factor or a subset of factors.

In my understanding, the Charter St plant is primarily used for steam production, so it needs to be located on or near campus. This proximity to an already densely-developed area gives an advantage to a dense and easily transported fuel like natural gas. The logistics of rail delivery, while not impossible, added complexity and cost to the facility, as well as requiring more space for unloading/storing/moving freight cars. There are soft costs, too, associated with productivity losses due to delays at train crossings, distracting train horns, damage done to vehicles at roughly-graded rail intersections (remember the bike-wheel-crunching appetite of the old tracks across Dayton?) etc. Putting a volume-intensive energy technology in the center of a dense(ish) urban environment is more challenging than putting it somewhere with plenty of space.

Regarding whether the plant should have been constructed as an experiment or demonstration - don't forget about opportunity cost. One $100m experiment on biomass precludes $100m of other experiments elsewhere, maybe those that might be more likely to have a better return on investment. Hell, they might not even be "experiments" - the state might have $100m in projects that they know will turn out positively, so why gamble on an experiment?
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Re: Walker wants to sell State properties

Postby Shorty » Mon Feb 18, 2013 9:49 pm

Sandi wrote:Why hang onto property that carries debt and will accumulate more debt in the future? Getting rid of alligators that are biting your ass sounds like a good idea to me. As we have seen in the wake of hurricane Sandy states do not run power companies well.


If the State property is just a liability that accumulates debt why would the private sector want to buy it? If the State budget is good now as Walker claims why should the State sell off State property? What are the hurricane Sandy examples that show States do not run power companies well? You make claims without supporting them.
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Re: Walker wants to sell State properties

Postby snoqueen » Mon Feb 18, 2013 11:04 pm

I am a big believer in the future of distributed (that is, decentralized) power generation and diverse energy sources, with as many as possible being renewable. (Don't forget conservation -- not using some of the energy in the first place -- is the most renewable of all.)

For these reasons I'd be fine with a few more experimental small generators attempting to use biomass. If you don't want them on campus, put them somewhere else energy is needed and fuel available.

Along that line, before leaving office Kathleen Falk helped some farms in the north part of the county set up biodigesters that produced methane, a perfectly good fuel. They used farm waste, but in Europe municipal sewage is already being tried as an energy source too.

Dane County and Wisconsin as a whole are well positioned to try various applications of biomass. We've got almost no petroleum fuels or coal, our wind energy potential is only middling, and our solar energy potential is only middling, but those very deficiencies could make biomass a regional asset. Heating a small village with steam or generating electric power for several farms with locally-produced fuels are potentially worthwhile experiments. Up north, forest product waste can be used (and already is, in some places).

Sure, there are always tradeoffs and variables. That's why you try things in the real world: trying to foresee all the variables never works, at least in part because they're always changing. (Look at the ethanol thing, as I said earlier.) I can't believe anybody here (not counting Sandi) thinks just because something is complex we shouldn't at least try, in a thoughtful and scientific manner.

No two ways about it: no more coal at the University plant is a huge improvement for dozens of reasons. But believing natural gas is the perfect and final solution is silly. We need more alternatives. And that's why I still think the state selling off these little power plants would be a big loss. Not only are we benefiting from public ownership of generators supplying public universities, but also they hold potential for future refitting and adaptations private owners would be unlikely to undertake. Complexity and tradeoffs are not insurmountable barriers, they're part of any process. Public funding of such "experiments" already happens in the form of grants and supports, as the Dane County/Falk digesters show. Public-private partnerships are an accepted way of getting new technology off the ground when the risks are still too great for most private firms.

Who benefits from Walker selling the plants? Turn around and ask the question that way. I've got little interest in letting the state extend favors to established energy companies that are already quite capable of paying off their own debts and rewarding their stockholders (if any) with nice dividends.
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Re: Walker wants to sell State properties

Postby DCB » Fri Feb 22, 2013 9:44 am

I'm pretty sure this is the intent:

“The whole idea of selling has to do with short-term money gain because we sell the right to bleed the taxpayer in the future,” says Peter Carstensen, a professor at the UW Law School who specializes in utilities regulation.


Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/local/writ ... z2LdgJZ4xB
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Re: Walker wants to sell State properties

Postby SidSeven » Wed Mar 27, 2013 3:21 am

DCB wrote:I'm pretty sure this is the intent:

“The whole idea of selling has to do with short-term money gain because we sell the right to bleed the taxpayer in the future,” says Peter Carstensen, a professor at the UW Law School who specializes in utilities regulation.


So...Who the heck sold us Scott Walker?
And...If He's an asset of Wisconsin, can't WE sell HIM off?
Maybe the Chinese would buy him...
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