Co-op hears complaints about peak-demand rates

Not a rate increase, officials say

March 27, 2019 in THE KITCHEN SINK | Comments (0)

A 1937 REA poster by artist Lester Beall


The San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative heard complaints from perplexed residents of Crestone-Baca struggling to understand the new rate structure that takes effect on April 1. Despite pleas for a delay of the effective date, the board took no action except to enact a 30-day delay in enforcement of  the use of smart meters by those customers who have refused them in the past.

The smart meters, already installed at most homes, record and transmit the running consumption of electric power, beeping radio frequency waves to Monte Vista.

The new rates will appear first on May bills based on April consumption. The change will cost more for consumers that the co-op decided are not paying their fair share of the non-profit costs of providing electric power.  Targeted are people with solar panels and second-home owners, among others, the raucous meeting disclosed.

The “Dear Member” notice sent on March 12 came as a surprise for the Crestone residents, although the rate change was telegraphed at the end of the monthly column by Chief Executive Loren Howard in the co-op’s February “Newsboy” mailer.

Matie Belle Lakish, former chair of the Baca Grande POA, waved the notice at Howard, protesting that it was incomprehensible. “Why don’t you get somebody who knows how to write?” she said. 

Residential bills right now show a fixed charge plus a calculation of charges per kilowatt power used during the month. The new bills, apparently varying with rate class, will show a fixed charge  plus a kilowatt hour charge, plus a surcharge per kilowatt (not kilowatt hour) for the highest 15-minute spike in demand during the month, regardless of total usage, and for some customers  another surcharge per kilowatt for the highest monthly spike during the hours of 12 noon to 10 p.m. on any day except Sunday.

Some teachers explain the difference between kilowatts and kilowatt hours with the simile of a garden hose. A KW is like the water pressure and a KWh is like the amount of water used. 

Providing electricity requires more available kilowatts the more household appliances are turned on at once. 

So to keep the demand spikes lower, you need to cut down the number of electric things operating at the same time. The co-op’s innovation of off-peak KW “demand” tells you to save money by using more power between 10 p.m. and 12 noon the next day (or on Sundays).

Daniel Frelka of Crestone protested what he called “the life-style change you are imposing on everybody. I don’t want to roast a chicken and find it costs me 50 bucks.”

Wade Lockhart of Crestone, who is running for the co-op board, pointed out this affects the bathroom showering by those who have on-demand water heaters. Conventional tank heaters can heat up during the night, providing hot water any time at lower costs than the more efficient instant heaters.

Lockhart also engaged Loren Howard in a conversation about people who are frequently away from home in Crestone, including second-home owners. They pay little more than the fixed charge when they use little power. Under the new rate structure they would pay for the highest spikes no matter how much they use. 

Lori Nagel of Crestone found this incredible. “Why not just pay for what we use?” she asked Howard, who responded it was complicated, involving costs of always being prepared for peaks. 

Nagel said, “This is just a fancy way to increase rates.” Howard responded this is not a rate increase, and board members chimed in on this theme. Mark Rierson of rural Center explained it is an equalization because some consumers (called members) are subsidizing others. If the revenue from residential customers is now $1 million a year, it will still be $1 million after the rate change, he said.

Rierson added, “Nothing lasts forever. Things change over time. The industry as a whole is changing. Savings are not as great as ten years ago.”
The co-op and 43 others in the West buy wholesale from Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which relies on coal-fired power plants such as the 100-megawatt one at Nucla, CO, due to be closed down in 2022 and a 472-megawatt unit at Craig, CO, closing in 2025. A quarter of Tri-State power sources are described as “sustainable” such as solar photo-voltaic generation.

Board member Scott Wolfe of Alamosa said, “We did this as a business decision, helping our business run better.” He told Nagel not to “panic,” that it was not a rate increase but a correction. “Some people under-pay, some over-pay.”

Board chair Cole Wakasugi of Blanca said, “Our biggest responsibility is to protect our co-op.”

There was no response on the issue of smart meters, on the minds of most of the outspeaking Crestonians. Several cited studies about the adverse effects of rf radiation. Several told personal stories of being stricken upon contact with smart meters. 

Two years ago a number of Crestonians opted out of smart metering, choosing to pay more for their traditional meters that have to be read visually.  But this op-out agreement is now discarded because smart meters are essential for the new rate structure. Lars Skogen of Crestone said, “Our opt-out does have legal weight,” implying that the abrogation could be challenged.

Russel Preister and others called smart meters an invasion of privacy because they might make it possible for somebody to track the behavior of residents, such as when they watch television or cook.

Most protested the short notice. Nagel asked, “What was the urgency?” Frel said it left no time to respond, “Just: boom!” 

Board member Wolfe pointed to the February Newsboy as early notice. But the chief executive’s column did say, “An adequate explanation of how this three-part rate will work takes more than the space for this month’s Newsboy article, so stay tuned for further articles on this change in rates.” There have been no further articles.

(A personal disclosure: In 2004 I designed ETS heaters into my Baca home, which was about to be built. The system sets up off-peak electrical heating of heavy firebricks in the units, which release heat by blowers as needed, night and day. The same for the water heater. The deal let the co-op use its excess capacity — the spinning Tri-State generators — at night and at certain times during the day. When there was a wide difference between off-peak and on-peak rates early on, the savings were substantial as compared with traditional electric baseboard heaters, but in recent years the spread in rates has become narrower, and the co-op has stopped providing maintenance of ETS units, although it stocks parts such as heating coils for private electricians to purchase for repairs. Under the new rate structure ETS heating might be comparable to wise use of baseboard heating. We shall see.)

 This article has been revised to correct an error in the effective date of the rate change.

The Unheard Hearing

Regarding the separation of church and science

October 8, 2018 in THE KITCHEN SINK | Comments (0)

By Larry Joseph Calloway

Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist, was a stranger in that strange land, the United States Senate, and so her impromptu response to the two most definitive questions by the Democrats was strange. 

When Sen. Feinstein asked how she was sure her sexual assailant was Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Ford responded: 

“In the same way that I’m sure I know I am talking to you right now. It’s just basic memory functions. And also just the level of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain that sort of encodes — that transmitter encodes — memories in the hippocampus.  And so trauma-related experience, then, is kind of locked there, whereas other details kind of drift.”

And when Sen. Leahy followed up with the question, “What is the strongest memory of the incident, something that you cannot forget?” Ford responded:

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”

It occurred to me that these Spockian responses could be explained psychologically as Ford’s distancing herself from the terror of reliving an attempted rape when she was 15, or formally that as a witness to power she was suppressing her tears. In Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land,” (Exodus 2:22) there are respected professionals called Witnesses who can be called to testify exactly and relevantly what happened without emotion or ego. 

Like Ford.  Unlike others in this — to use the common word for anything fictional non-fictional on TV — show. She was the only scientific thinker in it.

The most definitive question from the other hemisphere of this surgically divided brain of the American state, the Republicans, was by Sen. Kennedy to Kavanaugh: “Do you believe in God?”

“I do,” said Kavanaugh without hesitation.

Kennedy followed by asking him if he could look him in the eye and swear “before God and the nation” that all he had said was true. He did.

Two things about this exchange impressed me. The first, of course, is that no American politician regardless of party would ever declare in public that they do not believe in God. This cultural absolute is powered by the tyranny of the majority. Non-believers can lie without worrying about the Decalogue dicta to not take the name of the Lord in vain or bear false witness any more than they worry about committing adultery.  For, if God does not exist all things are lawful (Dostoyevsky).

The other thing is that Republicans do not in practice honor the “separation of church and state,” as generations of constitutional lawyers have called it. This is one explanation how we got a Supreme Court with a majority of Catholic-trained men, two of whom went to the same small Catholic prep school near Washington. 

And this also explains why so many Protestant Christians, with unusual ecumenical spirit and prayers about God’s will, supported the Republican candidate for president, ignoring Trump’s inconvenient record of adultery and other probable sins.

“The Great Separation,” as Mark Illa, a historian of political theology, calls the principal behind the unique Exclusion Clause in the American constitution, goes back to the 17th Century philosopher Hobbes, who was reacting to the ravages of 150 years of religious wars. Instead of dealing with the use of religion by politicians, Hobbes changed the subject. Another philosopher at the birth of science, Spinoza, dealt with it. Before turning to freedom of thought, his political-theological essay advocates studying the Bible in the same way you would study the natural world. Sweeping away the superstitious revealed truths of religion is necessary and sufficient to establish free thought and expression in the world.

Spurned as an athiest, the sephardic jew Spinoza was formally shunned by his synagogue and threatened with death by others in Amsterdam. Four centuries later, a scientist who told the truth was similarly estranged. I was saddened.

On Natural Education

Review of “Educated” by Tara Westover

April 18, 2018 in The Rockies,U. S. Politics | Comments (0)


“Educated” is an ironic title for a memoir by a young woman, Tara Westover, who showed up at Brigham Young University from rural Idaho at age 17 without any education at all, not even home schooling. All she knew was the mountain where she lived and the personalities of her extended family and the beauty of the seasons and animals and junk cars and how to ride and tame horses and how to cook and identify herbs and their healing properties, and how to sing before an audience and how to trust her own instincts. The meaning of “educated,” then,  must lie in her flyleaf quote from John Dewey that “education is a reconstruction of experience.” 

At 27 Tara Westover received a PhD in history from Cambridge University in England. Her story, published in March, is sure to provoke public schoolers and believers in Jeffersonian democracy. They will have explanations and investigations. All I have is the suggestion that you read this book.

If it were simply about “another young person who left home for an education. . . and isn’t going back,” as the New York Times review concluded, then her memoir would not be a best seller, despite her skillful story telling. The success is in the setting, the surrounding, which is a mystery to most Americans. Most of the book takes place in what is being called The American Redoubt, by fringe writers and their followers. This is the mountainous spread of the interior northwest (Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and parts of eastern Oregon and Washington).

The survivalist culture of the Redoubt (a fortified refuge) involves severing dependance on government, its schools, its police powers its health care requirements, its systems of water, power, and transportation, and its distribution of goods. The culture involves preparing for the political-economical system’s collapse by stockpiling guns, food and fuel and other necessities. Culture is the business of anthropology and this memoir, along with its literary virtues, is anthropological.

Her father is a tyrant, a doomsday prepper who has dozens of guns and a thousand gallons of fuel wrapped and buried. He draws his absolute family authority from random biblical passages. He supports the family with his junkyard salvaging and barn building, in which the seven children as they grow are expected to help. He ignores safety as a matter of crazy religious faith — the angels of the Lord will protect them — and Tara is slashed, impaled and twice nearly crushed to death by his frenzied junkyard sorting. “Dad lived in fear of time. He felt it stalking him. I could see it in the worried glances he gave the sun as it moved across the sky, in the anxious way he appraised every length of pipe or cut of steel,” she writes.

Still, as the novelist Anna Carey wrote in, alas, the Irish Times (American reviews are routine commercials):  “Westover never demonizes him, or her mother, a midwife and herbalist who facilitated his delusions. She doesn’t even demonize her violent brother, whose behavior provided a further impetus to get away from her stifling environment. She recounts her experiences with a matter-of-act lyricism that is extraordinarily evocative and which makes the emotional impact of the inevitable rift between herself and some members of her family even more powerful.”

Tara Westover’s values are expressed in literary conceits, such as her description of her half-trained gelding by contrast with the mustangs being broken by the violent brother, Shawn. She writes of her horse, “He had accepted the world as it was, in which he was an owned thing. He had never been feral, so he could not hear the maddening call of that other world, on the mountain, in which he could not be owned, could not be ridden.” 

She lost the reins when her horse panicked during a training ride. Her instinct to hold on to the saddle horn instead of trusting her brother snag the reins as she slid off the bucking horse saved her from being dragged. “All my life those instincts had been instructing me in this single doctrine — that the odds are better if you rely on yourself.”

Self-reliance distinguished her from other teenage girls obsessed with finding a future husband and settling down after high school to raise children, in conformity with the expectations of local society. Shawn, two years older than Tara, enjoyed taunting girls in town who were attracted to him. He seemed perfect. His father’s right-hand assistant in the junkyard, he could drive an 18-wheeler, operate heavy construction machinery, break horses, maintain firearms, hunt, fish and fight. He would do things like ask a mooning girl to go buy him a Milky Way and when she came back with it, complain that he had ordered a Snickers and send her back. The patriarchal tradition demanded they accept this treatment.

Tara softly narrates his similar acts of domination over her — describing her clothing as whorish, holding her head in the toilet bowl while screaming “slut!” crashing into her room and grasping her neck, and as things progressed, threatening her life in various ways. His behavior was denied by their father and ignored by their mother, and her accounts were dismissed as lies by others in the family. She was thought to be possessed.

The book begins with the disclaimer: “This story is not about Mormonism.” Yet Idaho is as Mormon as Utah, and her family went to LDS church on Sundays. Her father and his likeness, Shawn, are vested with patriarchal authority, which is a tradition of the Mormon church (and some other religions). But this is not the male dominance of survivalists, white nationalists or simple militant racists because it comes from religious faith, not from the American secular-consumerist culture gratified by the non-print media and its cast of reasoning politicians. 

There are many others up there in the refuge who have nothing to do with the political exploiters or the self-styled militias. I have friends deep in the geography of the Redoubt who have lived quite well for 50 years on 40 acres in an artful house hand made from used materials, with a shallow well, a fertile garden, freezers full of Alaskan salmon, three cords of bartered sawmill scraps for firewood, and a carefully home maintained VW bus. They depend upon electric power and gasoline, but there are backups. They are neither religionists nor politicians. They are not afraid. They know the best defense is community. They have good friends. Their children went to public school and college.

They represent an American tradition, mostly secular, going way back. A Economist report using the term Redoubt came under the headline: “The Last Big Frontier” and concluded, “The Old West is alive and well.” For a long time, Americans were inspired by Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis, which said the constantly receding frontier, with its requirements of  communal skills and cooperation, defines American history. 

So what’s wrong with the modern frontier picture? Nothing, except, as the Economist reported, the demand for safe autonomous dwelling places exceeds the supply. One real estate agent in northern Idaho shows properties by air. He flies his own plane and keeps cars ready at several small airports. The historian Turner called the frontier a “safety valve.” But now the cost of escaping urban hopelessness might be beyond the means of most Americans. 

And the picture here encourages resentment, the tyranny of the majority, which under some political conditions can be dangerous. The first chapter of Westover’s book begins with the enduring foundation image — she was only five — of her father gathering the family to tell about the Weavers of Ruby Ridge not far away. She personalized it, imagining for the rest of her childhood gunfire and shouts as the family hides in the kitchen and her mother holding a baby when, “a shot echoes like the lash of a whip and she falls.” Tara, the youngest of the family, always identified with the baby in her dead mother’s arms.

She reproduces her father’s chilling narration as the siege of the Weaver cabin was still going on:

 “They’re freedom fighters. They wouldn’t let the Government brainwash their kids in them public schools, so the Feds came after them.” Dad exhaled, long and slow. “The Feds surrounded the family’s cabin, kept them locked in there for weeks, and when a hungry child, a little boy, snuck out to go hunting, the Feds shot him dead.”

 No one spoke. Eventually Luke, who was twelve, asked if we could help. “No,” Dad said.

 “Nobody can. They’re trapped in their own home. But they got their guns, you can bet that’s  why the Feds ain’t charged in.”

The story of the siege by FBI agents and others is told in many versions, but the principle in all of them is you must prepare to defend your family against the government. The famed Wyoming trial lawyer Gerry Spence, who successfully defended Randy Weaver in a notorious trial, was compelled by his outrage at continued police shootings around the nation 20 years later to retell the story as Chapter 1 of his 2013 book, “Police State.”

“The Weaver case demanded change. It demanded that we remain vigilant and dedicated to restoring America to the land of the free and the home of the brave. But nothing has changed,” he says. The new rule of engagement became: “Kill any armed person, and Vicki (the mother) was armed, remember, armed with a baby. It is merely how one interprets the rule,” he says.

In its prolonged prosecution, Spence wrote, “the government lost no opportunity to broadcast its toxic propaganda—that the Weavers embraced religious beliefs that would be offensive to most of the jurors who’d be trying Randy Weaver. Never mind our constitutional right to freedom of religion. That right is mostly extended to those whose religion is substantially the same as mainstream America’s. Hanging out in a minority religion in America has been dangerous from the beginning. Ask the Indians.”

To which I would add, Ask the Mormons.

In the way Notre Dame is a Catholic university, BYU is a Mormon University. A bishop in that community, Provo, Utah, was the first to counsel Tara Westover when, due to intimidation in classes and lack of support from her hostile father, she considered dropping out. He got her a grant. Faculty members encouraged her unusual abilities. “My teacher said I had a knack for writing but that my language was oddly formal and stilted. I didn’t tell her that I’d learned to read and write by reading only the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and speeches by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young,” she writes.

If educators are to disregard her story as an anomaly that does not refute the proposition that in order to learn everybody needs to be taught in a formal manner by competent people, then they will have to discard this too:  of the three Westover children who left home after the same unschooled upbringing, one brother earned a PhD in mechanical engineering and the other earned a PhD in chemistry. Tara Westover’s Cambridge doctoral thesis is entitled: “The Family, Morality, And Social Science in Anglo-American Cooperative Thought, 1813-1890.”

Puma, Panther, Cougar. . . Lion!

“Close enough to hear them purr”

December 10, 2017 in Rio Grande West,The Rockies | Comments (6)


National Park Service photo

By Larry Joseph Calloway

Mountain lions live here in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of Colorado. So you’d think Ron Garcia would not be surprised to see one. He’s the longtime manager of the Baca National Wildlife Refuge five minutes from Crestone, and lions are, of course, wildlife. They are unmistakable, with adult males about eight feet long from nose to tail tip and females a foot shorter.

Yet, one evening a few years ago as he left work at the historic ranch headquarters of the refuge Garcia was very surprised. First he noticed a barn door was open. He got out of his truck to close it. The winter shadows were long. Suddenly he saw something move in the dark at the base of a barn wall. It was a full grown lion lying in wait.

Ron Garcia

Not waiting for Garcia, who instinctively reached for a pistol he wasn’t carrying. He knew mountain lions eat deer almost exclusively, and this one likely was waiting for the deer that wander into the cottonwoods at the headquarters — and nowhere else on the flat, watery refuge. It has an over-population of about 3,000 elk, but they are not the natural prey of lions, whose normal habitat is higher ground — beginning with the pinyon-juniper belt where most us live.

There is no record of fatal attacks on people here. And though occasionally a lion will kill a small mammal, in Garcia’s view pets are safe. “Taking a small dog is rare. If they attack one it’s more from fear or hunger.” With all the deer wandering in the Baca subdivision and in town, there shouldn’t be starving lions around.

Anyway, the shadowy lion by the barn that evening padded softly away. (Like this: Garcia showed with his hands like paws.) It was not seen again, and lions are seldom seen on the refuge generally. “Typically when you see one in the flats there’s an issue with the animal — usually a health issue — because the animal is out of its element. It’s the same thing with bears,” he said. (more…)

83 Per Cent Eclipsed At Crestone, CO

Until the 17th Century the Universe was global

August 24, 2017 in THE KITCHEN SINK | Comments (0)