Sunday, January 23, 2011

Deep Freeze Sunday: January 23, 2011

Greenville goes green. Or greener, we should say. This video of the city installing solar panels on Greenville schools and city buildings from a few weeks ago (print story here) ties in nicely with this week's story about Energy Works of Ann Arbor planning to help 90 Michigan schools install solar and wind systems in the next three years as part of the Michigan Renewable Schools program.

Been lost in some books and my own little austerity movement here. I'm still paying attention though, saving all these links, news junkie that I am. One thought that keeps coming back to me: Since Snyder will focus on "tending our garden" here in Michigan rather than striving for diversity in our economic base (potential fatal flaw in the plan, IMO. See: Engler, John), we better hope the auto industry keeps on keeping on - and keeps getting greener. The efforts we have made to diversify into other sectors such as "energy, defense and film" are predicted to pay off this year, but once again autos and auto suppliers are leading the way in job growth. With that in mind, some items of note from this week:

  • Voltage! GM is bumping up production on the Volt; the original plan for 10,000 this year now has a target of 25,000, and the 2012 goal of 60,000 is now in the neighborhood of 120,000 - if they have the demand and can produce enough parts. CEO Dan Akerson wants to spread the technology to other GM models in anticipation of predicted oil prices reaching a $120 a barrel. "We don't want to be caught flat-footed as we were in 2008." Or 2001, for that matter.

  • As of now trucks are still in demand, leading GM to add a third shift at the Flint Truck Assembly plant to produce more Silverados and Sierras. 650 workers will be called back out of the layoff pool of 3,500. Truck sales increased 15% last year, but rising gas prices may put a damper on demand in very short order - leaving GM hesitant to reopen mothballed facilities in Spring Hill, TN and Janesville, WI. Flint has the equipment already in place.

  • Bill Ford and Anthony Earley, chairman and CEO of DTE Energy, are geeked about electric cars, telling a crowd at the U of M's Ross School of Business Friday that the technology will bring a "revolution" to Michigan as the industry plans more all-electric and hybrid gasoline-electric powertrains in the future.

  • Which would you rather drive around: An electric model, or a car that has big fuel tanks of compressed natural gas? Think about accidents, and get back to us on that one. Ford has produced some natural gas Transit Connect Taxis for Chicago cabbies; the engines are more efficient and reduce greenhouse gases, but the infrastructure for refueling will be a challenge for anything other than commercial use. Popular Mechanics has a good article on CNG powered vehicles, already in use in other places in the world, but a simple cursory search produced pictures of a Honda Civic that "blowed up real good" in an arsonist fire... I don't know about you, but it makes me nervous. CNG may be greener, but it sure seems dangerous. And again, it's a fossil fuel. We may have plenty of reserves, but we still have to get it out of the ground - and that's bad for the environment.

  • Been watching the knee-jerk reaction to President Obama's appointment of Jeff Immelt to the new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness board. Yes, GE has been guilty of out-sourcing thousands of jobs in the past, but I'm going to reserve judgment on this for now. Immelt is one guy who seems to understand the importance of manufacturing in America, and GE has produced jobs in this country, including a big investment in Michigan, in the last few years. He is walking his talk. Let's see what he can do. The example of Evergreen Solar closing up shop in Massachusetts and moving to China should be a warning shot across the bow on the green jobs issue; either do something to prevent that from happening, or stop getting us all excited about mass green manufacturing. And we better move to protect those batteries right now.

  • On that note, we come to the focus of the State of the Union address this Tuesday, a preview of which can be seen in the President's weekly address, or this special message also released yesterday. Jobs, jobs, jobs, American competitiveness, and apparently Republicans and Democrats will be holding hands and singing the Black Eyed Peas "One Tribe" in the aisles. Ahem. You know you would pay good money to see that.

  • Politics. Sigh. Bored. Saul. 2012. Stabenow. Please, don't. So, so tired of all the stupid bullshit - and with Saul, that's what it would be. (as opposed to the others? Yeah, I know.) One name that is not popping up on the MSM radar yet, and that is Dick DeVos. I'm telling you right now - he is all over the TV in the west with his aviation school and other "good deeds", Amway is doing its best to refurbish their name in national advertising, and I figure there is something behind it. Hope I'm wrong - but if I'm not, he certainly has the money to make a run, and that factor alone is why the Rs would let him try. Keep an eye out.

  • Union membership drops again. Losses in manufacturing have dropped Michigan to eighth in the nation when it comes to having a unionized workforce; that's down from sixth in 2009. Only 16.5% of our workers (627,000) are in a union now, and nationwide it's only 11.9%, so can we quit with the false equivalency of comparing to corporations when it comes funneling money to candidates and campaigns? The unions are in decline while corporations are raking in record profits (and apparently are busy sending that money to the freshmen GOP ranks) - by 2012 it will be no contest. Nip that talking point in the bud now.

  • One last shot of green: The Center for American Progress has a great article about "Maintaining Michigan’s Clean Energy Momentum" from Kalen Pruss - it's a nice roundup of how far we have come in the past few years, and what we need to do next to keep creating jobs in this growing field. We should probably e-mail this article 20 times a day to Fred Upton's office to drive home the point - it's a winning issue, and if the Rs obstruct investment and the jobs that come with it, better make sure America knows who is stopping our progress.

    Back to my book. And football. And making some chili, just the ticket for this cold winter day.

    Have a great week.