There are a number of articles like this one, below, daily. How crazy is it for the United States, with its $14 trillion debt, to be obliging the cash-strapped states to build a high-speed luxury train for the well to do, while our infrastructure is crumbling around our feet?
As I've suggested many times, this is like the house we live in, and can barely afford to stay in, decaying over our head. Instead of fixing the house, to maintain its value and permit us to live a reasonable life, we are going to borrow dollars we can't afford to buy a Ferrari. Yes, what the HSR advocates intend for us to do is that stupid!
The Obama Administration and the Democrats are concerned about America's future. They are right to do so. But if we don't fix what's broken, we will have no future. Building new whizzy trains is certainly not the path to a prosperous future, all the rhetoric of the train promoters to the contrary notwithstanding.
50% of our energy now comes from coal-fired power plants. Much of the other 50% comes from oil and gas powered electric generation. Is that a problem? Aren't we Democrats the "Green" Party? We're being told that because high-speed rail is electric, it's therefore green. Obviously that's not correct.
Furthermore, you may have read how China is slowing down it's high-speed trains. They won't tell you this, but the power demands, as trains go as fast as China's -- over 200 mph -- skyrocket and so do the operating costs. A new, although not acknowledged, frugality is sinking in as the Chinese continue to pursue their HSR hegemony in the industrial world. They are struggling within competition for prestige vs. reality. The Chinese, as we are told, spend 9% of their GDP on infrastructure. The US spends 2%.
The problem is, of course, what we spend it on. We opt for new whizzy, photogenic trains, ignoring the crumbling concrete of highways, bridges, dams, schools, etc. (Nobody wins elections fixing potholes.) We already know what the stunningly vast costs of HSR will be; and those are far, far higher than what we are currently promised.
Shouldn't we be re-thinking this infrastructure strategy? Shouldn't we be "investing" in maintenance and repair, even upgrades of the current, deteriorating infrastructure before we contemplate enormous expenditures in such a limited use rail capacity?
This irony will amuse you. Say we've build our high-speed trains, and don't have enough power to run them, especially at the energy-gulping top speeds. We have brown-outs and black-outs. (We've had them before in California.) Our high-speed train sits on the tracks in the middle of the Central Valley in California (fortunately with only half a passenger load) stalled for lack of power. Meanwhile the sun bakes down; the air-conditioning doesn't work. And, guess what else doesn't work, like everything else in our lives requiring electric power.
Think this couldn't happen? Think again!
Budget woes threaten infrastructure
By DARREN SAMUELSOHN | 6/19/11 10:31 PM EDT
The nation’s energy and water infrastructure is crumbling, with a price tag for repairs and replacements well beyond $1 trillion.
The federal, state and local officials with a large share of the responsibility for keeping the lights on and the spigots flowing must also deal with their own red ink. That means a problem of staggering proportions, especially considering many of the nation’s power plants, power lines and water systems are nearing the end of their useful life after enduring for more than a century.
Antiquated infrastructure prompted Energy Secretary Steven Chu to joke earlier this month that a time-traveling Thomas Edison would be amazed at modern-day progress in lighting and sound recording and the iPhone. “But on the other hand,” Chu said, “he would feel really at home with most of today’s power-generation system.”
Aging infrastructure has real-world consequences when it doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.
The Energy Department counted 349 blackouts from 2005 to 2009 that affected at least 50,000 people, while another report warned that power disruptions annually cost the economy between $25 billion and $180 billion.
Major water main breaks have become a regular occurrence, too. Just ask residents in Cleveland, Boston and Washington.
“You just can’t sustain the standard of living we’re accustomed to without a strong infrastructure component,” said Ken Kirk, executive director of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies.
On Capitol Hill, a handful of lawmakers are trying to kick-start infrastructure investments but face long odds because of the budget deficit and a GOP base that has made limited government a mantra. (See: When saving energy could save lives)
One proposal, from Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), would use $10 billion in federal seed money to establish an independent bank that gives out loans and loan guarantees to major infrastructure projects.
“This really goes to the heart of American competitiveness,” Warner said during an event hosted by The Atlantic earlier this month, where he bemoaned how U.S. infrastructure investments as a percentage of gross domestic product have fallen to 2 percent, compared with 9 percent in China and 5 percent in Europe.
Federal spending on infrastructure comes in fits and starts.
The 2009 stimulus law had record amounts for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, including a $4.5 billion down payment to improve the electric transmission grid, which led to $5.5 billion in private spending. Spending on a pair of Environmental Protection Agency revolving loan funds for drinking water and wastewater system improvements has hovered between $2 billion and $3.4 billion per year over the past decade.
Tight budgets are also having an effect on private electric utility companies that need to find their own financing to pay for upgrades and construct new plants. It’s a complicated process that in many states requires approval of the public utility commission for any rate increases — no small order when most Americans are squeezing every penny out of their paychecks.
Some state public utility commissions have garnered accolades for how they’ve handled recent rate increases. In West Virginia and Missouri, for example, customers have been sent easy-to-digest information that explains the long-term benefits of improving energy efficiency and other plant improvements.
“It’s an unusual example of that tension brought out into the open,” said Scott Hempling, executive director of the National Regulatory Research Institute.
Demands on the power industry are especially daunting as core parts of the existing fleet reach milestone birthdays that often involve expensive decisions about environment and operating permits.
Nuclear power plant owners are scrambling to get 20- or 40-year permit extensions on reactors built in the 1970s and 1980s. And coal-fired power plant operators must decide whether to spend big dollars on pollution control equipment or mothball old units in the face of new EPA air and climate change regulations.
“That’ll be the biggest question regarding how much new generation has to be added to the mix beyond normal load growth,” said John Hutchinson, a senior energy strategist at the Electric Power Research Institute.
Hydroelectric dams — which on average are more than a half-century old — will need $12.5 billion in infrastructure improvements over the next five years to keep operating, according to the American Society for Civil Engineers.
As Chu noted, the nation’s power grid needs a facelift, considering so much of it was built decades ago, primarily with coal, nuclear and natural gas in mind. While renewable energy can be accommodated on the existing transmission lines, industry officials estimate the costs will grow in order to supply Americans with greater amounts of wind and other stop-and-go power sources.
The Electric Power Research Institute estimates it will take about $338 billion and $476 billion in new costs to upgrade about 300,000 miles of power lines, although other industry officials say it will be even more when new power plants and EPA compliance costs are added.
“There’s no question there’s going to need to be significant capital investment in the electric utility industry, from plug to power plant,” said Charles Gray, executive director of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.
Pipeline industry officials say age is not the biggest factor in determining their ability to operate in a safe manner. More important is geography, soil and a number of other risk factors
Still, there are some big expenses on the horizon, in particular for laying new pipes to service customers around the country with the sizable natural gas finds from the Marcellus Shale region that includes Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia.
Local natural gas distributors have already spent more than $100 billion over the past 25 years to build about 1.2 million miles of pipeline.
The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America Foundation estimates $133 billion to $210 billion in spending needs over the next 20 years for new storage capacity and tens of thousands of miles of pipeline in the United States and Canada.
Water officials have their own infrastructure crunch.
The EPA estimates a $187.9 billion funding shortfall over the next 20 years for wastewater system upgrades, as well as $334.8 billion gap on the drinking water end.
Congress already struggles every year to get the federal end of the revolving loan funding enacted. Long-term ideas have also withered on the vine, including a water-only trust fund, because of its large price tag and debate over whether union members should be specified to do the work.
Even with a funding shortfall, local municipalities are still commissioning many infrastructure improvements. Some must be done sooner rather than later to comply with long-standing environmental requirements.
“They don’t have the option of saying, ‘Sorry, not right now,’” Kirk said. “They have permits. They have requirements they need to meet and investments they have to make and rate increases they need to put into place to generate the revenue that’s required. They really don’t have any flexibility.”While renewable energy can be accommodated on the existing transmission lines, industry officials estimate the costs will grow in order to supply Americans with greater amounts of wind and other stop-and-go power sources.