Archive for February, 2012

Demand for green energy project is weak

Remember Solyndra, the “green” solar panel company that spent a half-a-billion of your federal tax dollars before filing for bankruptcy last year?

Solyndra’s failure has not slowed the Obama green energy train. Quite the contrary: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) continues to dish out funds for seemingly ill-conceived green energy projects. One came online in San Antonio only two weeks ago.

Through a grant from DOE, San Antonio’s municipally-owned electric utility, CPS Energy, has installed 120 electric vehicle charging stations around the city.

You may have seen one at the movies, literally. They have been placed at Santikos Theaters and other spots where people are likely to spend two hours or more.

The units look like car wash vacuum cleaners, but of course they come with a heftier price tag. Taxpayers must pony up $5,000 for each unit. Total bill for the San Antonio roll-out? $600,000.

But the surprise is not the cost, as significant as it might be to you or me. The real shock is the number of electric vehicles on San Antonio roads capable of using the stations. 10,000? 500? 150? Nope; try 80, and that’s a CPS Energy estimate. The actual number may be lower!

That’s nearly two public charging stations for every one private electric vehicle. What a great time to be a Nissan Leaf!

And what a great description of Mr. Obama’s version of the law of supply and demand. If ideology demands it, we supply it, regardless of actual demand.

Other factors point to weak demand for the charging stations.

A recent San Antonio Express-News article about the project includes this line: “The reality is that many electric car owners shouldn’t need the stations because their vehicles will have enough range to cover their daily commutes.”

And then, there is this subversion, also from the Express-News report, “The economics of buying an electric car and driving it for 15 years does [sic] not pencil out for most drivers when compared with the lifetime expenses of owning a fuel-efficient, gas-powered compact car such as a Honda Civic, according to the (US) Energy Department.”

Let’s say I do charge my $40,000 electric car for two hours while I’m watching The Muppets movie at the theater. How far will that charge get me? 15-20 miles. In other words, barely home.

I understand the Obama administration’s argument for green energy. In some instances, only centralized governments are capable of funding projects that attempt to catalyze extraordinary changes. However, those projects need to have a clear national security or economic benefit.

Promoting relatively small and weak electric cars doesn’t fit the category, especially when profound North American oil reserves have yet to be tapped.

Solyndra and superfluous charging stations are what you get when Kermit the Frog and other liberal puppets demonize Tex Richman (the antagonist in The Muppets movie) and the oil and gas industry. It matters not that no other energy source can move so much so far so quickly for so relatively little.

It’s not easy being green. And, as Obama’s green energy experiments keep showing us, it’s not often productive, profitable or prudent either.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Cost clarity will help prevent a commons tragedy

[Note: Long-time San Antonio radio personality Ricci Ware invited me on 550 AM KTSA last week to discuss my recent article in the San Antonio Express-News. To listen, click on the following link and then click “File > Download”: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B0h4O0zyLnkMR3pfX1ZMcWZTZGFfalM2cnR2bmo0Zw.]
Cost clarity will help prevent a commons tragedy  
“Surgery Center. How may I help you?”

“Yes, m’am. My son is scheduled for a tonsillectomy next week. I need an estimate of what it will cost.”

“It depends on the procedures that are done, sir. We won’t know that until after the surgery.”

“He’s having his tonsils out. Can you please give me a ballpark just for tonsils?”

“Not really. It depends on your insurance. You should call them.”

***

“Insurance Company. How may I help you?”

“My son’s scheduled to have his tonsils out next week. I am trying to make plans to pay for it. Can you tell me roughly what it will cost me out of pocket?”

“Unfortunately, we can’t say until we get a claim from your providers.”

“Can you give me an approximation for children’s tonsils? It’s a fairly common procedure.”

“We have 25,000 procedural codes, sir. I really wouldn’t know where to begin. If you can call your doctor and get the codes, I could look it up.”

***

“Dr.’s Office. How may I help you?”

“My son is scheduled to have his tonsils out next week. I need the procedural codes so I can get a cost estimate from my insurance.”

“We don’t know exactly what the doctor will bill for. We will send a pre-authorization to your insurance the day before surgery. That should give us some idea of what they will cover. You can call back then.”

“That doesn’t give me much time to plan. I’m curious. What would you charge a cash payer for this?”

“$450. But you can’t pay cash. We’re required by law to run this through your insurance now that we know you have it.”

***

Long (based-on-a-true) story short, the surgeon charges the insurance company thousands in hopes of getting hundreds. Multiply this scenario by the surgery center and the anesthesiologist and the cost confusion compounds. Even weeks after the surgery, I still had no clear picture of what I would owe.

No wonder I see in my lending office so many “medical collection” items weighing down consumer credit reports.

Can you imagine any other industry running this way?

“How much for a burger and fries?”

“We won’t know until the chef completes the order and the USDA gives us the contracted rate for beef.”

I understand uncertainty. I comprehend complexity. I know that working on human bodies has different stakes than repairing an air conditioner.

I also know that until we identify health care costs clearly and pay them accordingly with a fair profit included, our system will continue to confound. Industries in general and businesses in particular need certainty to succeed.

We must stop inflating charges for those who do pay to compensate for those who don’t. We must limit services to those who can not or choose not to pay. Doing so will prompt people to take responsibility for their own health and their own finances.

Otherwise we are heading toward a tragedy of the commons, the old economics concept that says that assets owned by everyone will deteriorate in value over time. Where there is no pride of ownership, there is but government malaise.

Politicians may gloat over giving everyone’s goats a field to graze, but there won’t be any grass in the field.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info

Valentine’s, what’s not to love?

Valentine’s, what’s not to love? Let me count the ways:

No day off from work.

Carnations.

Drugstore seasonal aisles. If throwup were pink and red… oh, wait, throwup is pink and red.

Biting into a chocolate candy and having a confectioner’s peculiar concoction bite back at you.

Necco brand Sweetheart conversation hearts, with messages as bland as their taste. “Be mine”? How about “Let’s do this” or “How you like me now?” And get some new ink for the printer, Necco! The washed out look worked in a dot matrix world; today it screams “Grannie’s coffee table” in hi-def.

The loneliness of singles. The anxiety of husbands. The disappointment of wives.

The character that rhymes with stupid and other pudgy angels with wings.

Somewhere between Valentine’s founding to honor Christian martyrs and the Hallmark cable channel, we forgot that every time an angel appears in Scripture, “Don’t be afraid!” accompanies him.

Isn’t that just like us – and him who leads men astray? Take a day designed for the holy and make it earthly, carnal, about us and our rocky pursuit of ecstasy. We so want earthly romance to settle our restlessness and shorten our longings.

We take Valentines and give them. We try to make it last. Then life gets in the way, not to mention our hurts and pride, which has its roots in our hurts.

The most sense I’ve made of the back and forth we call love is this: At its best, it’s a reflection of a deep, triune togetherness forever sustained by mutual sacrifice. A relational warmth worth celebrating in the dead of winter.

Two can become one on Earth, as the three are, in fact, one in Heaven.

***

If you’re looking for a last-minute gift for a music lover, I’ll be your personal shopper.

My wife’s sister, Amy Stroup, has spent a decade in the Nashvegas songwriting scene. Her tunes have played on Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Parenthood and a host of other TV shows.

Recently, Amy teamed with fellow singer/songwriter, Trent Dabbs, to form “Sugar + the Hi-lows.” Their album boasts a throwback mo-town R&B sound that may cause dancing or tambourine shaking. It is really good and available on iTunes starting today.

Huffington Post’s music critic called the project “the first sweet musical treat of 2012.” USA Today asserted, “The only thing better than the bluesy, garage-rock guitars is Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup’s vocal chemistry.” In other words, perfect for Valentine’s.

If I weren’t related, I probably wouldn’t come across Sugar + the Hi-lows since I buy toothpaste more frequently than music. But if I happened upon the CD, say, left in a rental car, I’d listen to and like it.

There’s a reason Amy and Trent are presently opening for blues rock artist Marc Broussard on a 19-date tour.

If you buy, you can feel good about the people receiving the fruit of your labor. Both artists are former Texans, both committed to things that last, both more impressed with art than fame.

And if you get your friends to buy, I might get more than argyle socks from Amy this Christmas. I might just get a red argyle sweater.

Ahh, red sweaters: one last thing not to love about this day.

 
 
Kevin Thompson writes a weekly opinion column for The Boerne Star. Follow him at www.kwt.info.

Hostages at home

[Author’s Note: The San Antonio Express-News printed an earlier column on the front page of its Business section today. Find it here: http://www.mysanantonio.com/default/article/Guest-Voices-Some-advances-put-people-out-of-work-3076217.php]
“You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything,” so sang twangy country artist Aaron Tippin two decades ago.

Collectively, we are standing for less and less and falling for more and more.

Case in point:

Christian fraternity Beta Upsilon Chi (a.k.a. Brothers Under Christ) started at The University of Texas in 1985. It has since spread to two dozen campuses across the country including Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, my beloved birthplace BTW.

Vanderbilt’s chancellor recently issued a decree to every campus organization: sign a statement that you will not discriminate in your membership or leadership requirements based on, among other things, a person’s sexual preferences. Or get kicked off campus.

How can Brothers Under Christ pledge to accept and elevate a person who chooses homosexuality when such a choice is juxtaposed to the vast majority of Christian teaching and tradition?

Vanderbilt law professor Carol Swain succinctly summarized the situation this way, ““Carried to its logical extension, [the new university policy] means that no organization can maintain integrity of beliefs.”

The policy ignores a basic tenet of private property rights, namely, that ownership is most clearly defined by what is excluded, not by what is included.

The irony, of course, is that while one must remain quiet about his or her opposition to homosexuality, there would be no limit to how loudly one could promote gay rights.

And so tilts the academic marketplace of ideas, that hallowed ground where once all perspectives received voice.

***

Second case in point: President Obama’s ruling last week that forces Catholic institutions to provide insurance coverage for birth control and abortion-inducing drugs. San Antonio’s archbishop is decrying the decree, as are many, many others.

Rarely, if ever, has there been such a blatant affront to a religious tradition. All in the name of nothing but raw ideology.

Abide by the regulation or pay a hefty fine. Get in line or shut your doors. Let homosexuals lead your Christian fraternity or never associate with this university again.

Do you see the hostage theme unfolding here?

***

Third case in point: The Susan G. Komen Foundation decided against giving half a million dollars to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings. Like any philanthropic organization, the breast cancer awareness group regularly reviews and adjusts where its funds go.

And, all things being equal, it’d probably rather associate with less controversial groups than with radioactive ones.

Officially, Komen has a policy not to grant awards to groups under government investigation, as Planned Parenthood currently is. Hence, the decision not to grant the organization $580,000 this go-round.

Sensing a hostage candidate in the making, liberal ideologues pounced on the pink people, demanding that Planned Parenthood get what it was “entitled” to. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg personally pledged $250,000 as a show of support to Planned Parenthood.

Dallas-based Komen showed signs of relenting under the pressure, though it is still unclear whether the grant money will continue to flow to the abortion clinics.

Investigations aside, it seems more fitting for Komen to support life-giving breast screenings at pregnancy centers that directly promote life than at abortion facilities that purport to eliminate it.

Regardless, such a thought is of no import if liberals in academia, government and the social sector can subdue hostages into relinquishing the integrity of their beliefs.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info

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