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Whitefish Puerto Rico Contract Cancelled, Now How About Letting Renewable Industry Leaders Step in?

At this blog I often cover how climate change is worsening the global weather situation. How fossil fuel burning is the primary cause of climate change. How renewable energy adoption is the primary means for removing global carbon emissions. And how bad, on our present track, climate change outcomes could become.

What I often do not talk about in main posts (though we see quite a bit in the comments section) is how underlying factors such as political corruption and the ideologies supportiing that corruption can harm effective responses to climate change.

Witness Puerto Rico. A U.S. territory that has suffered a very severe blow from one of the worst hurricanes ever to make landfall in the Caribbean. A storm fed by the warming waters of human caused climate change which were, in turn, fed by a rampant and harmful climate change denial afflicting a number of our powerful political leaders.

There, electricity has now been largely knocked out for more than a month. U.S. Citizens have been forced to go without water, power, and basic life-saving medical services. The Trump Administration’s response to the disaster could best be described as incompetent. More incompetent than the Bush Administration during Katrina. And that’s being generous.

Though people died during the storm, a far more substantial death toll is emerging due to the Administration’s lagging response. With 900 people now estimated to have perished as a result of life-threatening conditions due to a loss of infrastructure and due to Trump’s larger failure to rapidly deploy a necessary massive relief and restoration effort.

If this spiraling situation wasn’t bad enough, Trump Administration incompetence has been followed on by allegations of corruption. The most glaring example comes in the form of a recently cancelled 300 million dollar contract with Whitefish to restore power on Puerto Rico — a small contracting firm reported to have only two permanent employees, links to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and whose larger investors are known Trump donors.

Due to the fact that this contract appeared to contain a number of conflicts of interest that looked like a ‘pay for play’ arrangement, and due to concerns over a privatized grab for control of Puerto Rico’s energy grid, both Republican and Democratic leaders have called for an investigation into the power repair contract. FEMA had also flagged the contract for potential problems. Meanwhile, review of the contract has found a number of cases that could best be construed as over-charging. According to NPR:

Much of the controversy that has surrounded the contract has focused on the high rates Whitefish is charging for labor. The contract shows those labor rates are pricey indeed: $240 an hour for a general foreman and $227 for a lineman. The per diems are also expensive: almost $80 a day for meals, and $332 a day for lodging. Employee flights are billed at $1,000 each way. For subcontractors, the bulk of Whitefish’s workforce, the prices go even higher. A general foreman costs $336 an hour and a lineman, $319.

The combined allegations of corruption, overcharging, and various links to the Trump Administration are all hallmarks of vulture disaster capitalism — where private firms exploit government contracts following disasters or military conflict to bilk exorbitant sums from the government (and by extension the taxpayer) while providing only standard or substandard service. Such exploitation comes along with a policy push for privatization of previously provided government services. And there was serious concern that the Whitefish contract would result in just such a privatized electrical grid in Puerto Rico following over-charging and possible shoddy work.

Today, amid rising scandal, both Puerto Rico’s governor and the mayor of San Juan called for the cancellation of the Whitefish contract. Work already started by Whitefish will be completed — this includes refurbishing two major power lines. But the contract is expected to be awarded to a less shady agency going forward. San Juan’s mayor, on AM Joy today called for work to be led by companies like Tesla or Southern California Edison — both of which have substantial experience with both grids and renewables.

Tesla, for its own part, restored power for a children’s hospital by providing solar + power packs without any incentive. The renewable energy company has become increasingly involved in building power systems for islands and helping to stabilize grids through its renewables based energy storage. Tesla played a pivotal role in providing solar+battery based power for the Hawaiian island of Kauai. It has also worked with Australia to provide batteries to assist in grid stabilization activities.

Given Tesla’s long track record and due to the fact that Tesla workers were already on the ground helping Puerto Ricans, it was a no-brainer add this company to a mixed list of experienced corps in assisting the power restoration effort. In addition, renewable energy systems like those provided by Tesla help to mitigate the root causes of the climate change related extreme weather that has so terribly damaged Puerto Rico — putting of the U.S. citizens there in danger. A fact that was obviously missing in the decision to hire Whitefish — a company with practically zero renewable energy chops.

And it is here that we need to return to the basic problem that arises from having climate change deniers as leaders in government. First, such politicians tend to favor contracts by fossil fuel companies, or worse, by shady firms like Whitefish. They also tend to be ideologically opposed to actual functional government — which leads to harmful privatization, related over-charging, and exploitation following disasters. In other words, such ideologues on the right leave wide open the door to corruption by establishing links with shady corporations. Finally, they tend to block more upstanding corporate players like Southern California Edison and Tesla who have a track record for building public utilities up by establishing solid renewable energy systems rather than by tearing them down by seeking to ram through fossil fuel linked privatization.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Wili

 

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A Call For All True Americans to Stand With Puerto Rico in Their Hour of Need

When I began writing this blog, it was in the hope that human beings would stand united to face the dire threat that is climate change. I also feared that events such as those that have recently occurred in the Atlantic would begin to rise to ferocious intensity.

Puerto Rico did not deserve the terrible blow she received on September 20th. A small island territory, she did very little to contribute to the warming oceans and atmosphere that made Maria worse. That considerably increased the devastation that was inflicted that engorged the risk to the now 3.4 million Americans who are, tonight, rendered refugees.

It does not have to be this way. Though we cannot control the force of a hurricane, we can determine the resolve of our response. We can aim our efforts at helping those who have been thrust into sweltering 100 degree heat indexes without power, air conditioning, water, and in many cases food. We can provide the leadership, as a country united in the face of adversity, that the person who presently and unjustly claims the office of President so glaringly lacks.

This is the time when we all need to pull together for the people of Puerto Rico who are also the people of this great country. To show, as Elon Musk did today, the true nature of our charity and compassion for one another. To show that we resolve ourselves to leave no American behind in the face of rising climate disasters. That we will respond with heart and justice — not with cynicism or an eye toward gaining personal power by dividing America. By responding for Texas and Florida — but not for Puerto Rico.

This is a general call to all who listen and hear these words to act in any way that you can. Though the storm is now over we risk the loss of thousands, a mass exodus of the destitute, and the surrender of a portion of America to the great and dark abyss. In the absence of Presidential leadership we must each now become a leader and take responsibility for our fellows. It is only in this way — together, indivisible — that we can successfully navigate the time of troubles ahead.

Climate Change Related Extreme Weather Rocks World, Weird Major Hurricane Forms East of Bermuda, Cyclone Energy Closing in on Records

Around the world, the litany of climate change related extreme weather events reached an extraordinary tempo over the past week. And it is becoming difficult for even climate change deniers to ignore what is increasingly obvious. The weather on planet Earth is getting worse. And human-caused global warming is, in vast majority, to blame…

Climate Change Related Extreme Weather Spans Globe

(Climate and Extreme Weather Events for September 17 through 24.)

Puerto Rico is still knocked out a week after Maria roared through. With Trump basically ignoring this worst in class blow by a hurricane ramped up by human-caused climate change, it will be a wonder if this territory of 3.4 million U.S. citizens ever fully recovers.

In other and far-flung parts, Brazil is experiencing an abnormally extreme dry season. Australia just experienced its hottest winter on record. In Teruel, Spain, thunderstorms forming in a much warmer than normal atmosphere dumped half a meter of hail. Antarctic sea ice is hitting record lows after being buffeted by warm winds on at least two sides. And in Guatemala, Mexico, Poland, the Congo, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, India and Oklahoma, there have been extreme or record floods.

Weird Major Hurricane in Central Atlantic

More locally to the U.S., in the North Atlantic warmer than normal surface waters have fueled the odd development of hurricane Lee into a category 3 storm. It’s not really that strange for a major hurricane to develop in the Atlantic during September. It’s just that we’d tend to expect a storm of this kind to hit such high intensity in the Gulf of Mexico, or over the Gulf Stream, or in the Caribbean. Not at 30.6 N, 56.8 W in the Central North Atlantic south and east of Bermuda and strengthening from a weaker storm that was torn apart in the Inter-Tropical-Convergence-Zone, before drifting considerably to the north over what would typically be a less favorable environment.

But typical this present hurricane season is not. Maria, which is still a hurricane after ten days, is presently lashing coastal North Carolina with tropical storm force gusts as it moves ever so slowly to the north and east. With Irma lasting for 14 days, Jose lasting for 17, and Lee lasting for 13 so far, 2017 may well be the year of years for long duration, intense storms. Meanwhile, a disturbance to the south of Cuba shows a potential for developing into yet another tropical cyclone.

Closing in on Record Accumulated Cyclone Energy

(2017 Accumulated Cyclone Energy for the North Atlantic. Image source: Colorado State University.)

Storms lasting for so long and hitting such high intensity produce a lot of energy. And the primary measure we have for that expended energy is ACE or Accumulated Cyclone Energy. 2017 is bound to achieve one of the highest ACE measures for any Atlantic Hurricane Season. Since 1851, only 8 years have seen an ACE value hit above 200. Present 2017 ACE is at 194 and climbing. Highest ever ACE values were recorded in 2005, at 250, and 1933 at 259.

Individual storm ACE values are also impressive with 2017 presently showing 3 storms with an individual ACE higher than 40. Only 27 storms with a 40+ ACE value are ever recorded to have formed in the Atlantic. Irma, so far, is the highest ACE for 2017 at 66.6 — which is the second highest individual storm ACE ever for the Atlantic. Jose produced an ACE of 42.2 (24th) and Maria an ACE of 41.4 (26th).

If 2017 continues to produce strong, long-lasting storms over a record hot Atlantic, it is easily within striking distance of a record ACE year. The restrengthening of Lee to major hurricane status so far north and out in the Atlantic was yet one more surprise that shows how much energy the Atlantic is bleeding off this year. Such a tendency will likely continue through October but with storms probably not forming quite so frequently as during September and originating in regions closer to the Caribbean and U.S.

Links:

Puerto Ricans Waiting For Aid a Week After Maria’s Devastation

When Does it Rain Again in Brasil?

Hail Storm Causes Chaos in Teruel

Antarctic Sea Ice Hits Another Record Low

Colorado State University

The National Hurricane Center

2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Accumulated Cyclone Energy

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Vic

Hat tip to Umbrios

Catastrophic Category 5 Maria Strengthens as it Tracks Toward Puerto Rico

As of the 9:00 PM advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Maria was located 145 miles southeast of San Juan Puerto Rico. The very dangerous storm was tracking toward the west-northwest at 10 miles per hour. Packing maximum sustained winds of 175 miles per hour and a minimum central pressure of 909 mb, the storm is now stronger than it was just prior to devastating Dominica yesterday evening and features a lower central pressure than Irma at maximum intensity. Furthermore, the storm is now one of the ten strongest ever to form in the Atlantic by measure of central pressure alone.

 

Along its present and projected path, the storm will reach the vicinity of St. Croix in the Virgin Islands a bit after midnight. Following a close encounter with St. Croix, the storm should approach Vieques and the Puerto Rican southeast coast by early morning on September 20th. Hurricane force winds should arrive about three to four hours prior to passage of the storm center. Tropical storm force winds are already affecting parts of the Virgin Islands and should begin to impact Puerto Rico soon.

In addition to catastrophic winds, the National Hurricane Center expects 7-11 foot storm surges in the Virgin Islands and 6-9 foot storm surges in Puerto Rico topped by powerful breaking waves. Rainfall totals are likewise expected to be quite extreme — totalling 10-20 inches in the Virgin Islands and 12-25 inches in Puerto Rico.

Some of the far outer bands of Maria are presently lashing Puerto Rico with rains and gusty winds. Meanwhile, St Croix in the Virgin Islands recently reported a wind gust of 72 mph.

Maria is passing over very warm sea surfaces in the range of 29 to 30 degrees Celsius. These abnormally warm ocean waters appear to be facilitating further intensification just prior to potential landfalls.

Maria is now a somewhat larger storm than it was when it approached Dominica. Hurricane force winds now extend upwards of 35 miles from the storm center and tropical storm force winds up to 140 miles. The storm appears to still be strengthening with the most recent report of 909 mb pressures near the storm center over the past hour 11 mb lower than a reading taken late Tuesday afternoon and 3-4 mb lower than a reading taken just one hour ago. Maximum sustained winds from this more recent pass were recorded at 175 mph. Maria is now stronger than Irma at peak intensity by measure of central pressure. A yet more powerful storm capable of producing more damage along a wider swath than during last night’s encounter with Dominica.

To say this is a dangerous situation is an understatement. Those in the path of this storm should heed any and all statements from emergency officials and do everything possible to seek shelter or flee the path of this terrible storm.

Conditions in Context

Climate change related factors like warming ocean surfaces, more intense Equatorial thunderstorms, and increasing atmospheric water vapor content have contributed to higher storm intensities during the present hurricane season. Natural factors, like La Nina-like conditions in the Equatorial Pacific, have also contributed. But we should be clear that the primary limiters to peak hurricane intensity — ocean surface temperature and atmospheric water vapor content — are now higher than they were in the past. So the storms of today can hit higher bars than before.

(Accumulated Cyclone Energy or ACE for 2017 so far is well above average. There are approximately 8 weeks left in this year’s hurricane season. Image source: Colorado State University.)

Overall, 2017 has been a well above average year for storms. One in which a number of records have already been broken.

One measure of tropical cyclone intensity — accumulated cyclone energy or ACE — has hit considerably higher than normal marks during 2017. So far, 2017 has outpaced all years since 2010 and appears to be on track for one of the highest ACE years on record. The record highest ACE for any given year was 2005 at approximately 250.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

(UPDATED– UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

Links:

The National Hurricane Center

Colorado State University

Hat tip to Eleggua

Hat tip to Bostonblorp

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