Monday, January 30, 2012

Funeral party tonight!

When I fell into the "no new coal plant world", I was fortunate to meet Bobby and Jane McLendon, who led with fearless determination, the fight to stop Longleaf, a 1200MW proposed coal plant in Early County. They had plenty of good help in the trenches from a few brave souls, organizations like the Sierra Club and the Flint Riverkeeper, and attorneys at GreenLaw. It was clear to me and the other novice coal plant opponents in Washington County that we could learn a lot from the McLendons, who are humble, unassuming, and determined to do what is right and best.

Bobby once called after we captured an orange flag on Plant Washington and told me I was his hero. That was high praise coming from someone who led, and won, the longest active fight in our country against a proposed coal plant. They spent 11 years of their lives standing up in a small community, which, if you ask anyone fighting Plant Washington (or Plant Ben Hill), is no easy thing to do.

Tonight some of us are sending Longleaf off with a funeral party. It won't be a wake to honor the fine proposal Longleaf was, because it wasn't fine. Instead it will be a celebration of what two people began 11 years ago because it was the right thing to do. It is an honor to be invited to stand among real heroes.            

Friday, January 27, 2012

WEMC Board Member supports forensic audit

Yesterday following the Washington EMC (WEMC) monthly board meeting my district rep, Billy Helton, was nice enough to spend a good bit of time talking with me despite his need to return to work. Billy has been on the board since October 2010, and he worked hard to defeat an incumbent who had been there for decades. He will readily say that he is still learning, as I am too.

Billy is very concerned about the money that has been spent on Plant Washington by WEMC, which totals about $1M. Understandably, he wants to make the most of the money spent, and worries that abandoning the project will result in wasted money.

A worthless permit

One option he raised is getting the permit and selling it. That permit won't be worth the additional money required to get it, if it can be had at all. LS Energy cancelled a coal plant in Southwest Georgia just last month in part because there is a surplus of power and the cost of construction and emission controls would not be profitable.Power suppliers across Georgia, and the Southeast, already have surplus that they can't sell with consumers reducing use now. And as Cobb EMC demonstrated with their RFP in December, there are ample options among supplier offerings. Trying to sell a coal permit in Georgia now would be about as easy as selling bottled water to a drowning man. 

And the attorney fees

And the cost to get the permit? Those of us who have sat on the hard benches in the Administrative Courtroom in Atlanta will contest, P4G has a deep bench of expensive lawyers from King and Spalding when they are in court. The cost? Based on going rates for "Big Name" firms, we conservatively and confidently estimate that each lawyer is billing AT LEAST $500 PER HOUR to sit in the room. They haven't had fewer than three attorneys there when I have attended. That doesn't include the billable hours prepping for court and other P4G work. I could do a lot of good work with $15K per hour. And like the P4G attorneys, I would be willing to put in a lot of billable hours.  

And the cost per EMC member

With Cobb EMC no longer propping up Plant Washington, the math looks like this (and note to Dapper Dean: if P4G can announce a $2.1B coal plant without a pro forma estimate, plant opponents can use real numbers like customer base, and do our own math. And please don't use that "naive or just intellectually dishonest" stuff on us. We are neither and the truth validates our points). When Plant Washington was announced four years ago, the customer base among the nine participating EMCs was 741,000. Fast forward to this week, and the customer base for Plant Washington with the four remaining co-ops has been reduced by 77 percent to 167,000 customer meters.             

The math looks like this: Washington EMC has spent $1M of owner dollars on Plant Washington. That equates to $67 per customer so far. With just four remaining co-ops participating in a $2.1M project, the cost per member skyrockets to $12,575 PER MEMBER. I don't know about other folks, but I don't think I can squeeze that kind of money out of my household budget to support Plant Washington. Suddenly the assurances of affordable power don't hold water.   

We can put an end to the madness 

WEMC owner members need to contact their board rep and tell them that it is in the best interests of the co-op to stop now. Let's give them some encouragement to change course for the better. 

Helton: I support a forensic audit

While I may be the one shouting the loudest and the most often, I am not the only one speaking up, or talking with friends and family about the sad state of governance and transparency with the co-op. Billy appreciates the  lack of confidence that many members have in how things have been handled.

With that in mind, he agreed that a forensic audit could be a helpful way to provide information to the owner members and also serve as a way to begin to repair the broken relationship. I added that there should be a committee, with members making up the majority of the group, selected to handle the selection of a firm to conduct the audit, and then report back to the Board and members when it is completed. He agrees there too.

This could be a huge step forward for our co-op. The members want to have confidence in the decisions that are made. Those decisions impact each and every one of us where we work and live every day.

WEMC owner members need to tell the Board that instead of being disappointed if they leave Power4Georgians and Dapper Dean's water sucking, money burning, toxin spewing dirty old coal plant, we will congratulate them for recognizing that a lot has changed and been revealed in four years. We need to do that now.

And while we're at it, let's all thank Billy for wanting to make our co-op the best possible by restoring some confidence in fiscal operations and decisions.  

Not a WEMC member? You can help too.

If you aren't a WEMC member, contact them anyway. The changes at Cobb EMC and other co-ops  were augmented by members who asked for help across the state. We all need clean air and water and affordable power, and operating in a silo doesn't make sense.     

WEMC Board and Senior Staff

Mike McDonald, District 1.....706–465–9414
Jeff Larksen, District 2...........706–444–7556
Joe Taylor, District 3..............478–452–7817
Bill Helton, District 4..............478-348-3078
Mildred Jackson, District 5.....478–552–9438
Chair Mike McCoy, District 6..478–552–0895
Ken Vickers, District 7............478–864–2459
Washington EMC office.........478.552.2577
Frank Askew, CEO

Chair Mike McCoy,

Wendy Sellers, CFO


There would have been more, but I ran out.

The Friday Photo

A weekly photo inspired by spontaneity, art, and community.

Work was interrupted for a short celebration this week
Dapper Dean's coal plant lost its sugar daddy on Tuesday
This week's work has been powered by passion    

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Is Washington EMC "winging it" on Plant Washington finances?

My electric co-op requires that owner members fill out a form to ask permission to attend part of the Washington EMC's (WEMC) monthly board meeting. Yes, owner members must fill out a form, have it reviewed, and be approved to attend the board meeting for the co-op we own. We are allowed in just long enough to raise whatever concerns we have specified in our request, and absolutely nothing more than that. Earlier today fellow co-op owners Larry Warthen  and Lyle Lansdell joined me and Mark Hackett, a Cobb EMC member and electric energy expert, for a presentation on pro forma estimates and how that pertains to Plant Washington (because we learned two weeks ago today that there never has been a pro forma estimate for the $2.1B Plant Washington.

Hackett did a good job of explaining in layman's terms what a pro forma estimate is, why it is important, and how it can be used for making good decisions. His Power Point not only explains why a pro forma estimate is critical for a project as large and expensive as Plant Washington, but he also included charts which demonstrate that there is, and will be, sufficient power available for my EMC without this plant.

Following the presentation only one board member, Billy Helton (who happens to be my district rep) asked a question about power generation and supply which showed he was really thinking through the information that was presented. When CEO Frank Askew asked if any of us had a question, I asked how much the co-op has budgeted for 2012 expenses for this $2.1+B project which has no pro forma estimate and just lost the funding from the largest co-op in the project. It seemed germane to the the discussion.

Askew said that my question wasn't specific to the form I had filled out 10 days ago. Since we were talking about budgeting and decisions relying on owner member dollars, I thought it was appropriate. Call me crazy. The money comes from the members so I feel like I have a vested interest in what they decide.

As the board left the building I approached Mike McCoy, the Chair. He said that WEMC doesn't even have a P4G budget for 2012 and in fact the four remaining co-ops will meet soon to discuss that. It made my head swim. We are almost one month into the year on a project which even by conservative figures is well over the announced $2.1B dollars to build, and still lacks a pro forma estimate.

Since the money decisions seem to be made by moving some numbers around on the back of an envelope, maybe they ought to consider this: when Plant Washington was announced four years ago, the customer base among the nine Power4Georgians co-op participants was 741,000. Four years later, with just four co-ops clinging to this project, the customer base is 167,000. That's a reduction of 77 percent in customer load. In a state where there is a surplus of readily available and affordable power.  

Hmmm. They have spent $1M of our money, have no budget for 2012, and the largest co-op just took their marbles and left based on the fact that Plant Washington isn't a sound financial project to continue pursuing.

So, although I am repeating a question that has been asked often in the last four years, "What does the WEMC Board and senior staff know about new coal plants that companies abandoning coal don't know?" Owner members deserve an answer. Now.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cobb EMC just left Plant Washington at the alter

The Cobb EMC Board of Directors voted to call off the wedding with Plant Washington Tuesday after a  four year engagement which involved a swollen budget, court actions, 35 indictments, and in the end, a realization that this marriage was a bad idea from the beginning.

Cobb EMC owner members have demonstrated that it is possible to regain control of a co-op, and Tuesday's decision in favor of better fiscal action reflects that. Washington EMC members are urged to call their board member and the office on Wednesday and tell them, "NOT ANOTHER DOLLAR ON PLANT WASHINGTON! GET OUT NOW!"

The timing is uncanny. Last week I filled out the "permission form" so I can attend the board meeting of the co-op where I am an owner. That's kind of like asking your first grader if you can see the report card because you are the parent. I asked to attend (the board doesn't believe in members attending the regular meetings and participating in the co-op we own) the meeting by filling out a form and explaining exactly why I wanted to be there.

Fortunately the CEO and Board agreed I could be there, along with two other co-op members and an energy expert, who happens to be a Cobb EMC member. Tomorrow Mark Hackett, who is one of the nicest people anyone could ever wish to meet, will share information about pro forma cost and revenue estimates on projects like a coal plant.

That's especially handy because a V-P at Cobb EMC told the Marietta Daily Journal less than two weeks ago that there is no pro forma estimate for Plant Washington. Should the WEMC Board have any lingering doubts about the financial soundness of Plant Washington, or their legal obligation to carry out their fiduciary responsibilities on the members' behalf, if they listen with open minds and hearts they will see that there is no future in Dean Alford's no-bid Plant Washington.

So, to all the people who have spoken out against Plant Washington, and taken great risks in doing that, your bravery and moral fiber have helped bring us where we are today. For those who know this project is wrong for our community but haven't spoken out yet, there is a huge and important opportunity for you today.

Call the Washington EMC office at 478.552.2577 and tell them to VOTE TO QUIT PLANT WASHINGTON on Thursday, January 26. This plant will impact all citizens in the area and it is absolutely appropriate for anyone to call. If you are an EMC member call your Board Representative too and speak up.

There have never been any good reasons for Plant Washington to be pursued. There are no good reasons for Washington EMC and the citizens of Washington to worry about another dime being spent on it. STOP PLANT WASHINGTON NOW. SPEAK UP. DO WHAT IS RIGHT. This is the time. Don't worry about what you could have done or wish you had done. Do it now. Today.

Mike McDonald, District 1.......706–465–9414
Jeff Larksen, District 2...........706–444–7556
Joe Taylor, District 3..............478–452–7817
Bill Helton, District 4..............478-348-3078
Mildred Jackson, District 5.....478–552–9438
Chair Mike McCoy, District 6..478–552–0895
Ken Vickers, District 7............478–864–2459
Washington EMC office.........478.552.2577                    

Friday, January 20, 2012

Lost time, found time

The Friday Photo

A weekly photo inspired by spontaneity, art, and community.

When I was a stay at home mom years ago I sewed a lot
I made play clothes and a few "nice" dresses for my daughters
When we finished restoring our simple farmhouse
I worked on curtains, chair cushions, quilted duvets, and dust ruffles

I stopped sewing when I began working outside the house
I didn't really miss it much
No time between work, dance classes and homework,
 groceries, and laundry

Last year in March, on a warm early spring day
on what should have been the last few days of 
radiation treatment for breast cancer
the computer on the equipment crashed

It was the worst day of having cancer 
Sunburned from radiation, 
 too exhausted to even think 
of anything that would have given me respite
I decided to start sewing again

This weekend I will try something new 
using cast off and thrift store sweaters
I have learned how to felt them
 cashmere, wool, angora
cabled, patterned, plain     

I hope by Sunday night to have a new scarf
and make others with scavenged finds

I sobbed outside the waiting room while my car was serviced that day
but I finally realized
that I will never have the time back
so now I want to use it well
and not just pass through so much of it  

Thursday, January 19, 2012

They never fail to disappoint

The Georgia General Assembly never fails to entertain the taxpayers with both proposed legislation and their behavior as well while they are in Atlanta. Two (or three, depending on how you count them) of the highlights of this year's General Assembly session, so far, are H.B. 464 and H.B. 1130.

Representative Kip Smith (R-Columbus) managed to get himself stopped for poor driving last week in Atlanta. While he was busy failing a breathalizer test (initial reading was .091, the second was .99, and the third .100, when the legal limit is .08), he made sure to mention he is a member of the General Assembly. Fortunately that didn't impress the officer who stopped him. Smith was booked with two charges of DUI and ignoring a red light.

Republicans aren't the only ones who have done this, but Smith is a co-sponsor of H.R. 464, which would require Georgians who receive welfare to submit to random drug tests. Smith underwent a random drug test the night of January 12 in Buckhead, and he failed. He is a recipient of taxpayer funds, and yet his legislation doesn't require him to tow the same line. Rep. Scott Holcomb, (D-Atlanta) volleyed back with H.R. 677, which would make lawmakers who fail a drug test subject to removal. Unfortunately Holcomb's bill most likely won't muster adequate support, and Smith's bill won't die because of his poor decisions.

In the top 10 (so far) of bills filed this session, H.R. 1130 is absolutely stunning. This bill, filed by Representatives Kevin Cooke (R-Carrollton), Josh Clark (R-Buford), Delvis Dutton (R-Glennville), Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville) ,and Christian Coomer(R-Cartersville), would repeal the 17th Amendment to the Constitution and allow state legislators to elect Georgia's U.S. Senators. This amendment, passed in 1913, finally took the power to elect Senators away from state legislators and put it in the hands of the citizens.

The U.S. Senate operates like a country club. Their staffers are notorious for refusing to attend meetings on the other side of the Capitol in the House offices. They have the luxury of standing for election every six years, allowing them ample time to stoke their campaign coffers and influence other state elections.If they can carry a large enough percentage of urban populations across the state, they can write off rural (rural generally gets the short end of the deal from our current Senators now) because they are elected statewide. It is a matter of managing the urban areas and letting rural ice the cake.

H.R. 1130 turns the electoral process on its head, stripping rights out of the hands of citizens and giving it to an already privileged group of white men under the Gold Dome. Surely if this gains any traction people of both parties, plus the Tea Party, will see if for what it is. This type of legislation is grandstanding and shouldn't be tolerated by Speaker Ralston and party leaders.                

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

No more rhymin' with the bitches

The materialism, violence, and blatant sexism that pervade so much of rap music are an assault against all women. The degrading way that women are referred to as a bitch or a ho doesn't pose as "art" when the images and words are repeated over and over again in demeaning tones.

If any number of reports hold true, this week a respected and successful musician and producer has sworn off any more bitches in his music. Since the birth of his daughter Blue Ivy Carter, proud father Jay-Z, has decided that calling a female a bitch just for the sake of using the word isn't o.k. In fact, he reportedly goes even further with this, “I never realized while on the fast track that I'd give riddance to the word bitch/To leave her innocence intact/No man will degrade her, or call her name/Forever young you may pass/Blue Ivy Carter, my angel."

If having a daughter brought this about, then congratulations are due to the father for quickly realizing that he doesn't want anyone calling his daughter a bitch (why he didn't give the word up out of respect for his wife or mother is another question). It is odd how a pink bow on the front door can change the way you speak (or rap). How many dads figure out that a lot of those doors will never open for their daughter?
Better pay? Women still earn about 77 cents to every dollar a man earns. Chances of leading a Fortune 500 company? The numbers are down to 12 women in that role because three left their posts in the last year and were replaced by men.

Women have made some significant gains in political leadership, but the United States Senate has 100 members and only 17 are women. In the House of Representatives 16.8% of the 435 seats belong to women. 
Last year Georgia State Rep. Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta, deceased) wanted legislation passed which would require rape victims to be called accusers. If rape were predominantly a crime committed against men, would any man in the Georgia General Assembly supported a bill requiring that they be referred to as accusers? Semantics? I don't think so.

Like all new parents, I suspect that while Jay-Z and Beyonce know they can provide for Blue Ivy, they worry about the world that she will grow up in beyond their guarded home. If her father knows it shouldn't be a world where women are casually and routinely called bitches, I hope he can also do something about women also being considered a ho. That's another verse to be sung.      

Monday, January 16, 2012

I hear the Fat Lady warming up off stage

Four years ago this month I was invited to a meeting with other community leaders to hear our Washington EMC Board and Chamber of Commerce leaders introduce Dean Alford, the spokesperson for Power4Georgians (P4G). Dapper Dean, as we have so fondly come to call him since watching him operate, told a stunned group about Plant Washington, which was presented to us as a "done deal." Alford did add that he expected some environmental groups to oppose the plant, but that would be dealt with summarily and they would move on with this project.

Four years later, Dwight Brown, the former Cobb EMC CEO who organized P4G, has been indicted on 35 counts which include racketeering, theft, making false statements (in layman's terms, lying) and intimidating witnesses. Cobb EMC members are taking back their co-op by electing new board members who are committed to operating with the members' best interest at the forefront of their decisions. Along the way Brown funneled millions of Cobb EMC co-op dollars into Allied Energy Services, lead by Alford, which tidily secured a no bid contract for the coal plant. Later this month Dapper Dean is scheduled to make a presentation to the Cobb EMC Board in what should be a last ditch effort to keep his project on Cobb EMC's financial life support.

Cobb EMC Vice-President Sam Kelly told the Marietta Daily Journal last Thursday what so many people have suspected for a long time: there is no pro forma plan for Plant Washington. All we've heard up until now is essentially this is a good investment "because we said it is good." Can you imagine telling a bank that they should loan money "because I said it is good"?

Alford is quoted in the same article saying that Cobb's recent request for power proposals is "no big deal." Well Dean, it is a big deal. And we also know that Plant Washington isn't a "done deal." And that's a big deal too. I know it, you know, and now everyone else knows it.

For a long time I wanted to believe that Washington EMC, Chamber of Commerce, appointed officials, and elected leaders had been hoodwinked into a bad deal. Now that we know without a doubt that there never was a pro forma cost estimate the questions get even tougher.

Did they blindly agree to this project (in which case we all need to think about how much confidence we can have in them about anything else) or did they simply not tell us the truth when they answered our questions? It was a big deal then. It is an even bigger deal now.

The Fat Lady hasn't sung yet, but I can hear her warming up off stage. It sounds like she is rehearsing a funeral dirge for Plant Washington.

"Shed a little light"

This song, written by James Taylor, with its simple but poignant lyrics, delivered without fancy production work, is a wonderful tribute to Dr. King. On days when the vitriol and ugliness are tipping the scales, taking a minute to listen to it helps to clear the mental clutter. It reminds me that there are reasons to shut out the hate and greed and continue the work that Dr. King and so many others taught us is fundamental to communities both small and large.    

Friday, January 13, 2012

Remember these?

The Friday Photo

A weekly photo inspired by spontaneity, art, and community.

I wonder if people squeeze into this tiny phone box,
 shut the door, and use their cell phone.
NYU Law School, 2nd floor  

Friday, January 6, 2012

Brilliant sun

The Friday Photo

A weekly photo inspired by spontaneity, art, and community.

A brilliant sun so far away on 
a frigid January afternoon

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Year and a New Adventure

Four years ago my eyes were opened wide to how fragile and vulnerable the world around me really is when a coal fired power plant was planned about eight miles from my front door. The benefits have included trying new things like paddling, fishing, looking for slave graves deep in the woods on a hot afternoon with church elders  (I was lucky and walked behind my boss who spotted a large rattlesnake obscured by overgrowth. And yes, it was a large snake and he killed it with a stick).

These adventures have allowed me to see the world around me, and especially the world outside the confines of my house and car, with a new perspective. It has changed the food I buy, what I like to eat (fighting coal taught me to like egg salad sandwiches), who my friends are (and aren't), expanded my news resources, and made me a pretty decent social media user.

In an effort to dial back the work a little, I am posting a photo here every Friday, called The Friday Photo. The photo will be something that caught my eye, maybe the first time I saw it, or the 20th time. I hope it will encourage others to look at the world around them with fresh eyes occasionally, or better yet, a world you haven't ventured into before.