JEA: Take the Power From the People

Thomas Jefferson said “the sheep are happier left to themselves, than under the care of the wolves.” As the Jacksonville Electric Authority eyes proposed changes to regulations for roof-top solar, this public utility must decide what sort of entity it is: will it build community, which is its motto, or destroy it. At the recent board meeting held on the opulent 18th floor of the JEA tower, the board listened patiently to members of the Jacksonville business community and concerned citizens . Let’s hope they actually heard.
What is the plan?
In broad terms, JEA would like to reduce the buyback rate for grid-tied solar by 36%, which will do great harm to the burgeoning industry and the community itself. Essentially, they would like to charge homeowners one fee for the power they use, but reduce the credit given for the electricity the resident creates with a solar array. This makes solar less economically attractive for business owners and residential customers alike.
Why would utilities do this?
The unfounded argument that utilities use to justify proposals like this is that consumers without solar subsidize those who do. This has been refuted over and over again all over the country. Policies like this are incredibly short –sighted. JEA has an enormous solar farm, and is committed to adding to this over the course of this year. That’s a good thing, something to be applauded. What is unacceptable is the underlying idea that the utility would like to generate its own solar power, but crush the ability of the average homeowner to do the same thing. JEA seems to believe that the two are somehow mutually exclusive, when the reality is that more generation capacity is a good thing.
Hostile Takeover
If these proposed changes go into effect, JEA will have quietly committed the hostile takeover of solar in its service area. Public-owned utilities aren’t supposed to behave this way. In Nevada, something similar is occurring now, where a utility owned by Berkshire Hathaway destroyed the economics of roof-top solar overnight with the stroke of a pen. In Jacksonville, solar accounts for a tiny fraction of the total electricity generated. While it is true that the utility is losing some revenue stream, it is also benefiting from the increased production of energy. There is no justification for a utility owned by the people to follow Sun Tzu and act like there is a war, because the people will wind up losing.
Real people with real jobs will be put out of work by these proposed changes. The economic ripples will wash over families and communities. Can a company with the motto “building community,” move forward with a plan which will actively destroy lives and smash an entire sector of that very community?

Renewable energy is the future, and Jacksonville would like to define itself as a forward-thinking, vibrant city of tomorrow, rather than the slightly smelly backwater the name conjured in years past, where folks are set in their ways and change is seen as a threat. We are better than that, on our way to becoming vibrant, diverse, and truly metropolitan.
Our city needs to attract more businesses, more intellect, and the energy of youth. One of the most impactful speakers at the Board of Directors meeting was a self-proclaimed millennial. He pointed out that the eyes of the country are upon us. This proposal is a step backwards in every way for this great city, for these changes will stifle growth and stain the community with small-mindedness and stagnation.
The people overwhelmingly support solar in Jacksonville and around the country. President Bush set up the federal tax credit in 2008 to spur the growth of the industry, and the growth of solar has exceed all expectations. Our citizens want solar.
This proposal from JEA runs counter to the will of the people it is chartered to serve. So call your congressman, write the Mayor’s office, bug your city councilman, and let them know that you think these changes are unfair. Beat back the wolf.


Of Music and Memories

I’ve heard that smell is the sense most tied to memory. I don’t doubt that, but for me, a certain melody can bring the past flooding back in a way that nothing else can. Music has been an integral part of my life since Junior High, so at my age, that’s a prettty long soundtrack.

The perfect song at the right moment leaves an indellible imprint on me. If I’m in a pensive mood and hear that song again, there is a kind of echo in my soul and I can feel the sun on my face, taste the wine, or catch a whisper of perfume.

When I hear Jimmy Buffet, sometimes I’m back in college on a leaky boat with my old friends, that lazy warmth of sunshine, salt water, and laughter shining strong. Back when I knew I could do anything and the world was my oyster and real problems were things other people had. My biggest concern then was whether we would catch fish or get caught by the Marine Patrol. (We were always in violation of something.)

Rock You Like A Hurricane takes me back to high school, getting pumped up before a big basketball game, and I can smell the gym floor and feel the adrenaline and sweat and anticipation. Basketball was a huge part of my life, and like so many things, it’s faded from my consciousness, something I once did that I no longer do. I miss it sometimes, especially when I hear that song.

The Song Remembers When brings me  out west to Jackson Hole  and Yellowstone  when the air was crisp and the light was golden and tasted like hope. We heard that song on the radio as we drove over the Great Divide, the sun slipping below snow-tipped peaks around us and the sky painted a glory of pink and orange, and I recall that moment, knowing how rare and precisous it was, holding on to it for as long as I could. She and the moment slipped away like old loves always do.

My wife recently turned me on to Van Morrison, songs like Into the Mystic, and I can feel those songs wraping around my soul as we make new memories that one day we will look back on with deep fondness. I am in a season of gratitude and love, keenly aware of the often fleeting nature of peace and passion. It’s priceless, a sensation to be savoured, an emotion to be relished in the moment.

Because the memory is only an echo.

The Big Chill and Old Friends

An old friend passed away this week, someone I had not seen in over twenty years. I don’t pretend to know what happened to her during the last decades, but she made a difference in my life and it makes me sad to know she is gone from this world.

I remember her shining and  beautiful and bursting with hope and life. She was smart and kind. In my mind she will always be twenty and tan, on the beach and turning every head. She was beautiful and didn’t know it, a rarity in every way.

I feel a certain wistfulness, looking back at friends I’ve loved and lost. Those who were important, central, even, in my life, who drifted away because that’s what time and this world do to us. We change, we grow, and often we grow apart. It’s inevitable and not something to rage at. Still…

The fierce friendship of youth leaves an indellible imprint upon us, because we know we’ll never have friends like that again. When you are seventeen, unfettered by failure or responsebility, friends are the most important thing in the world. The future stretches long into the horizon, dancing with possibility, and Friday night is but the starting line.  Living in the moment with the certainty that tomorrow will be just as grand.

It’s magic and tragic how life propels us into the undiscovered country, where we often forget who we were, who we should be, and even who we are. If we are not surrounded by friends and family, it’s easy to stay lost. I know, because I spent time wandering out there in the lonely.

Today I’ll pick up the phone and talk to some old friends and pull my children and my wife close. Life is short.