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A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
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July 22, 2010
Without any solid facts yet available to justify it, the rosy rhetoric was intensified last week in regard to the supposed big-bucks benefits which Nebraska can expect to reap from wind-powered electricity production.
The latest example was a recent news story which reported a proposal for a “half-billion dollar windfarm” near Elgin, Neb., to be developed by Chicago-based Indenergy, described as the nation’s largest private wind farm developer. (I have heard of at least one other private wind-energy developer which is also described as the nation’s largest.)
Applications for permits to construct wind energy projects, under legislation enacted last spring, must be approved by the Nebraska Power Review Board, a process that could take six to 12 months.
State Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler, who shepherded the wind power legislation through the Legislature, welcomed the Indenergy filing with a glowing but undetailed projection of the economic benefits which he said would flow into the state’s economy from the Indenergy project. The news story said Indenergy proposes to build a “448-million dollar windfarm” but contained no details as to just how that money would be spent.
Senator Langemeier said the Indenergy project would generate $75 million in benefits, through taxes, lease payments and economic development. He also said that the Indenergy application confirms that the new law will have a positive economic impact.
But if you read far enough into the story, you learned that the Chicago-based company “believes” it will obtain financing. A follow-up story the next day said that no power purchase agreements have been signed with customers, as is required by the new state law.
So you have an application for a wind energy farm which as yet has no assured financing and no assured customers, but a state legislator asserting that that project would generate $75 million worth of benefits to Nebraska.
There was no indication as to how Senator Langemeier reached his estimate of benefits nor whether they would be one-time or annual. But I did a bit of arithmetic on the proposal, which would involve 133 wind turbines. A generous annual payment to the landowner for each of those 133 turbines would be $8,000 in the first year of operation, with a small percentage increase (around 2.5% per year in some of the contracts with which I’m familiar).
Eight thousand dollars times 133 would work out to $1,064,000 a year in initial payments to landowners. That may be the most important part of a more realistic estimate of the continuing economic benefits once the construction activity is over.
There would be modest property tax revenues, but as in the case of the annual payments for leases, a modest annual tax payment would be a very long way from helping add up to a total of $75 million.
It seems to me that all parties concerned would be better off to let windfarm developments speak for themselves as they turn into reality, rather than continuing to hype the possibilities which may or may not turn into reality.
Certainly some wind power promoter, journalistic or legislative, should acknowledge that windfarm developments owned by non-Nebraska investors will (1) end Nebraska’s status as the only all-public-power state in the nation and (2) would not be possible without federal income tax forgiveness, thereby increasing the national debt, all in the name of promoting renewable energy projects which would not be economically feasible without the income tax break.
* * *
Why is it that ultraliberal entertainers like Hollywood’s Barbra Streisand and Omaha’s Conor Oberst believe the public should be interested in their “progressive” political and social views?
(“Progressive” was the word used to describe Oberst’s social views in a recent news story. It’s the new label for people who used to be called liberals.)
Oberst, described in a news story as an Indie music icon, has scheduled a July 31 “Concert for Equality” in downtown Benson. The news story indicated that Oberst’s primary target that evening will be his views on a Fremont City ordinance designed to deal with the problems of illegal immigration, although he also voiced indignation over the Arizona law designed to deal with the same problem.
In promoting the July 31 concert in Benson, Oberst was quoted as saying he is “outraged, saddened and embarrassed” for Fremont “and my state.”
To me, that amounts not to any understanding of the problems posed by illegal immigration but simply an insult to Americans who are trying to react to that massive national problem.
I suspect that I have a good deal of company in my feeling that the political views of “progressive” entertainers are too often massively overpublicized and that those views are truly of no more importance than those of any other American citizen.
* * *
I said last week that today I would share with you some details of the story of the Nebraska Democratic Party’s allowing a bus boy to become the Democratic nominee for governor in 1944.
The story got national attention, of course. For example, Time Magazine reported, “No one expected that Pat Heaton, an able small-town (Sidney, Neb.) lawyer and choice of the Democratic bosses, would lose the Democratic nomination.
“Yet last week when the primary votes were counted, Pat Heaton was 344 votes behind George W. Olsen, a baggy-clothed 62-year-old cafeteria bus boy at Omaha’s Martin bomber plant, and an absolute political unknown.”
The Time account reflected the common belief that Danish-born Olsen prevailed because of the “political charm” of a Scandinavian name. (My opinion is that Olsen prevailed because of Democratic Party officials being asleep—fast asleep—at the political switch.)
Time pointed out that of the six top state officers below governor, three were named Johnson and two were named Swanson and all were renominated.
Time opined that while Scandinavians made up only 6.4% of Nebraska’s population, they were electable because “in Nebraska, Germans will not vote for Bohemians, and vice versa. Neither wil Germans or Bohemians or Czechs vote for Irish, and vice versa.”
But all the special racial groups, Time Magazine said, can vote for a Scandinavian, adding that “perhaps more important in predominantly Protestant Nebraska, one certain way not to vote for a Catholic is to vote for a Scandinavian.”
Time Magazine may have overstated the case, but it certainly was true that in Nebraska for a good many years a Scandinavian name on the ballot was often found politically attractive. Thankfully, that situation has changed, as this half-Danish American willingly concedes.
There may be residual knee-jerk reactions. But I believe strongly that religious or ethnic backgrounds no longer play a decisive role for or against a candidate in the very great majority of Nebraska elections. (I’m not talking about Barack Obama’s electoral vote victory in Nebraska’s Second Congressional District or state legislative elections in the northeast Omaha district where Obama understandably built his electoral vote margin.)
Republican Governor Dwight Griswold beat George Olsen by more than 3 to 1, but the Democrats’ bus-boy candidate still pulled 128,760 votes.
Oh, yes, I almost forgot. Democratic gubernatorial candidate George Olsen, according to the Time Magazine article, “used his newfound fame to popularize his hobby. To correspondents, he distributed copies of his formula for squaring the circle.”
* * *
Speaking of Democratic gubernatorial candidates, 66 years after the party had a bus boy candidate, Scottsbluff attorney Mike Meister has saved the Nebraska party from another major political embarrassment by agreeing to fill a vacancy created earlier this month when Mark Lakers of Omaha, a political unknown, withdrew as the Democratic nominee for governor.
Meister is less of a political unknown than Lakers, but not much less, in what I think would be a fair appraisal of name recognition.
In his only effort to win statewide office, Meister pulled only 34% of the vote in losing to Republican Jon Bruning in the 2002 election of Nebraska’s attorney general. Meister failed to carry a single county. He pulled only 42% of the vote in his home county, Scotts Bluff.
Meister, an Omaha native who attended Creighton University, deserves his party’s thanks for saving Nebraska Democrats from the embarrassment of having no gubernatorial candidate along with the failure to have candidates for attorney general and auditor.
Nebraska Democratic Party Chairman Vic Covalt said Meister “has the party’s full support.” Whether that will be enough to help Meister make a credible showing in an election 14 weeks away, Meister deserves credit for making the effort.
* * *
I’m quick to admit that I’m more interested in watching televised golf tournaments—even when the venue is the famous St. Andrews “Old Course” where, the Scots claim, golf was first played—if there is an American golfer in contention.
When Mark Calcavecchia was in second-place contention after the first two rounds, I was especially interested in seeing how Calcavecchia would fare, since he is a former British Open champion and a native of Laurel, Nebraska. (I once mentioned that fact to Calcavecchia in introducing myself as a fellow Nebraska native, and his reply made clear that he had no interest in talking with me about his birthplace).
When Calcavecchia collapsed on the front nine of the third round on Saturday (he shot 43), my interest waned. I continued to watch from time to time and even found myself cheering for Tiger Woods, something which I hadn’t done for some months now.
But as the attractive South African with the unpronounceable name walked away with the tournament, I found it harder to accept the hype which the CNN commentators pumped into their account of Louis Oosthuizen’s impressive but not exactly thrilling march to victory.
I turned to another channel when one of the commentators enthused, “At this home of golf, he’s become a household name.”
Other commentators’ remarks implied that no matter where his golfing future takes him—and I believe he will continue to play well—he need not do anything further to make him a golfing immortal. Come on, TV people. One victory, even on “the home of golf” course, doesn’t create immortality.
I have played the Old Course several times and have always been sensitive to its historic character. But in terms of quality, not history, St. Andrews simply doesn’t rank among the great golf courses in the world, in my opinion.
There are, I believe, a number of better courses in the British Isles and in Ireland—courses like Kingsbarns across the bay from St. Andrews, Turnberry and Royal Dornoch on the west coast of Scotland and Royal County Down in Ireland.
Beyond the historic significance, the Old Course offers some interesting eccentricities—like huge greens which serve two holes and the famous “Road Hole” which offers the sort of contrived difficulty which creates some weird golf shots. (But a fun hole to play and watch others play, I quickly add.)
And it’s hard to rate a course as “great” in terms of pure golf when your wide, trap-free finishing hole is a par 4 which can be reached with a driver.
A final thought: As I watched that calm, competent automaton from South Africa play the properly revered “home of golf,” this American observer couldn’t resist the thought: Phil Mickelson, where were you when we needed you?
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