Category Archives: Economic development

The Ironies of Virginia’s Growing Diversity

Midlothian’s New Grand Mart taps state’s growing diversity

 By Peter Galuszka

Suddenly immigration is popping up as a major issue in Virginia and the nation.

Virginia Beach has been dubbed a “sanctuary city” for undocumented aliens by Fox News and conservative Websites. GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump is scarfing up poll number hikes by calling Mexicans trying to enter the U.S. illegally “rapists” and proposing an expensive new wall project to block off the southern border. Pro-Confederate flag advocates are pushing back against anti-flag moves, but they can’t escape the reality they are conjuring up  old visions of white supremacy, not their version of respectable Southern “heritage.”

So, if you’d like to look at it, here’s a piece I wrote for The Washington Post in today’s newspaper. When I visited a new, international food store called New Grand Mart in Midlothian near Richmond, I was impressed by how large it was and how many people from diverse backgrounds were there.

Looking further, I found one study noting that Virginia is drawing new groups of higher-income residents of Asian and Hispanic descent. In the suburbs, African-Americans are doing well, too.

The Center for Opportunity Urbanism ranked 52 cities as offering the best opportunities for diverse groups. One might assume D.C. and Northern Virginia would rank well, and they do. More surprising was that Richmond and Virginia Beach rank in the top 10 in such areas as income and home ownership. True, mostly black inner city Richmond has a 26 percent poverty rate but it seems to be a different story elsewhere.

Stephen Farnsworth of the University of Mary Washington says that economic prosperity and jobs that had been concentrated in the D.C. area, much of it federal, has been spread elsewhere throughout the state. It may not be a coincidence that New Grand Mart was started in Northern Virginia by Korean-Americans who undertook research. It revealed that the Richmond area was a rich diversity market waiting to be tapped. They were impressed and expanded there.

Other areas that do well in the study are Atlanta, Raleigh, N.C. and ones in Texas, which show a trend of job creation in the South and Southwest outpacing economic centers in the Northeast, Midwest and in parts of the West. Another story in today’s Post shows that there are more mostly-black classrooms in Northern cities than in the South. The piece balances out the intense reevaluation of Southern history now underway. A lot of the bad stuff seems to have ended long ago, but somehow similar attitudes remain in cities like Detroit and New York.

This progress is indeed interesting since old-fashioned American xenophobia is rearing itself again.

In Virginia, the long-term political impact will be profound as newer groups prosper. They may not be as inclined as whites to embrace Virginia’s peculiar brand of exceptionalism, such as their emotional mythology of Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson. Their interest in them might be more dispassionately historical.

And, as the numbers of wealthier people from diverse backgrounds grow, they may be less willing to keep their heads down when faced with immigrant bashing. That’s what people of Hispanic descent did in 2007 and 2008 when Prince Williams County went through an ugly phase of crackdowns on supposed illegals. They could strike back with their own political campaigns.

Whether they will be blue or red remains to be seen. It’s not a given that they’d be Democratic-leaning. Farnsworth notes, however, that as more diverse people move to metropolitan suburbs, whites in more rural, lower-income places may become more reactionary out of fear. Hard-working and better-educated newcomers might be out-classing them in job hunts, so they might vote for politicians warning of a yellow or brown peril.

In any case, New Grand Mart presages a very crucial and positive trend in Virginia. It shows the irony of the hard right echo chamber peddling stories designed to inflame hatred and racism, such as the one about Virginia Beach being a “sanctuary” for illegals. In fact, the city is attracting exactly the  well-educated and hard-working newcomers of diverse backgrounds upon whom it can rest its future.

But we’re in an age of bloated billionaires with helmet hairdos and no military experience claiming that former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, a shot-down Navy pilot who spent five years in a brutal North Vietnamese prison, is not a hero. If Virginia can ignore such time-wasters and embrace diversity, it will be a better place.

Why Can’t Dominion Do Big Wind Projects?

A wind farm in Texas

A wind farm in Texas

 By Peter Galuszka

Down in the swamplands and farmlands of northeastern North Carolina, construction has begun on a huge new wind farm that will be the largest so far in the southeastern U.S.

Iberdrola Renewables LLC, a Spanish firm, has begun construction on the long-awaited $600 million project with financial help from Amazon, which also plans a solar farm on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The Tar Heel project will stretch on 22,000 acres and could generate about 204 megawatts of power.

The curious part of this is that the farm is only about 12 miles of the Virginia line northwest of Elizabeth City, N.C.

That’s not far at all from the Old Dominion. But Dominion Resources, Virginia’s leading utility, has been sluggish in pushing ahead with wind, citing concerns about cost. It pulled the plug on an offshore pilot project involving only two wind turbines that would have a relatively tiny power output off of Virginia Beach.

So why were renewable energy firm executives and public officials celebrating yesterday in North Carolina and not Virginia?

That’s an easy one. North Carolina has a renewable portfolio standard that requires utilities to produce at least 12.5 percent of their power from renewables. Virginia has a similar plan, but being a “pro-business” state, Virginia has made it voluntary. So, Dominion doesn’t really have to do anything at the moment to push to wind, solar or other renewable.

It might have more incentive to do so when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalizes rules on its Clean Power Plan later this year, but no one really knows what the final form will be.

Nonetheless, Dominion has marshaled its money and its lobbyists to change how regulators over see it in this regard. The General Assembly, some of whose members get huge contributions from Dominion, hurriedly passed a bill this session changing the rules in ways that Dominion wants.

To be sure, Dominion has some wind farms in other states. But here in Virginia, it is pitching the old saw that wind power is too expensive and unreliable and so on.

It may have been at one time. When Iberdrola pitched the plan to put 102 wind turbines on 22,000 acres in N .C., the common wisdom was that the southeast just doesn’t have the natural wind power. The winds are too light, usually.

But this changed when new technology allowed wind turbines to go from about 260 feet into the air to more than 460 feet or almost as much as the Washington Monument. Once that happened, the Carolina wind farm became a go. Of course, critics say that wind turbines have negatives such as their capacity to slice apart birds and be an eyesore.

What’s better for humanity, however? Coal or even natural gas plants or ones that have no pollution, especially carbon, footprint?

Another interesting aspect of this story is how Amazon is getting involved. The retailing giant is becoming an electric renewable utility in its own right. It wants to have renewable power run the massive servers that it relies upon to do business. But instead of screwing around with hidebound, traditional utilities like Dominion that are often reluctant to warmly embrace renewable energy, Amazon is doing it itself.

Amazon is also putting in a 170 megawatt solar farm in Virginia’s Accomack County which has terrain similar that of Perquimans and Pasquotank Counties in North Carolina that will host the wind farm.

To be fair to Dominion, the utility has a legal responsibility to supply its customers with electricity on a 24/7 basis. It needs a diverse energy mix to be able to do that.

But one wonders why Dominion keeps pushing this bugaboo about wind. Its sister utilities have raised the same cry. That could be why wind represents only 5 per cent of the electrical mix in the U.S., even though there are wind farms in 36 states.

It’s different in other countries. Denmark gets 28 percent of its power from wind. Spain, Portugal and Ireland each get 16 percent from wind.

Isn’t it time for Dominion to get off the dime and do more with wind, rather than using its deep pockets to get paid-for Virginia politicians to do its bidding and change regulatory rules at its whim?

Big City Advantage in Innovation Not What It Used to Be

agglomeration

Image credit: “Cities and Ideas,” National Bureau of Economic Research.

by James A. Bacon

Maybe the Internet is allowing innovation and creativity to break free from the confines of geography after all. Economists conventionally argue that large metropolitan areas are better incubators of inventions and innovations than smaller cities and rural areas. However, a new study, “Cities and Ideas,” by Mikko Packalen and Jay Bhattacharya, finds that the relationship between city size and inventiveness is not as strong as it once was.

I partially jest when I refer to the impact of the Internet. In the 1990s, starry-eyed dreamers theorized that the Internet would enable people to plug into global commerce from a mountain cabin or small town coffee shop. As rural America continues to empty out and population migrates to the bigger cities, that promise now seems a cruel joke. But something is changing. As Packalen and Bhattacharya demonstrate, big cities are far less dominant than they were a century ago. Furthermore, the geographic de-concentration of invention long preceded the rise of the Internet. Other trends — the proliferation of telephones, the spread of roads and the automobile, the rise of land-grant universities in out-of-the-way places — may have played equally critical roles in diffusing the capacity for invention.

Scholars first theorized about the correlation between city size and innovation, which they called an “agglomeration effect” in the 1920s. There was a solid basis for the theory then — large cities were the dominant incubators of innovation; rural areas were backwaters. But even as agglomeration-effect theory became more deeply rooted among scholars studying urban geography, the reality upon which the theory was based was steadily eroding.

To measure invention, Packalen and Bhattacharya built a database of U.S. patents between 1836 and 2010, identifying the inputs for each patent from previous patents, how old those inputs were, and where the inventions took place. The study gives great weight to the age of the patents, distinguishing between patented inventions that draw upon new ideas and inventions that draw upon older ideas. The authors explain:

If we find that inventors in large cities build on fresh ideas more often than inventors in smaller  cities, the evidence would quantify a specific benefit to locating inventive ideas in large cities. On the other hand, if we find that inventors in large cities are no more likely to try out new ideas in their work than inventors in smaller cities, the evidence would suggest that location may be largely irrelevant for inventive performance.

The dominant theory in academia today is that size and density matter. The bigger and denser a metropolitan region, the greater the number of people who can interact on a face-to-face basis. Proximity to other people allows innovators to conceive, discuss and test new ideas, and commercialize them in the marketplace. As can be seen in the chart above, which compares idea inputs of patents between cities in the 95th and 50th percentiles (large versus midsized cities) that was certainly true a century ago. But the dominance of big cities has declined, despite a few ups and downs, since then. Today, adjusted for the margin of error, there is very little difference at all.

Bacon’s bottom line: I am not equipped to dissect the statistical methodology employed to reach these conclusions, although I do have a couple of questions. Why the focus on the newness of the ideas behind the patents? Are patents based on newer ideas necessarily more consequential than those based on older inputs? Why not measure the frequency of patents? Surely the number of patents, adjusted for population size, is also an important indicator — perhaps the most important indicator — of inventiveness.

Those questions aside, “Cities and Ideas” would seem to provide hope for America’s small towns and rural regions. In this blog, I have frequently written about the tremendous disadvantages facing smaller communities when competing with big cities for human capital and corporate investment. The odds seem hopelessly stacked against the little guys. But if it turns out that it’s just as easy to keep up with the latest technology in Small Town USA as it is in Big City USA, a lot of people — and that includes me — may have to adjust their thinking.

Capitalism Triumphs Again!

RAM clinic, Pikesville Ky., June 2011. Photo by Scott Elmquist

RAM clinic, Pikesville Ky., June 2011.
Photo by Scott Elmquist

By Peter Galuszka

If there were any questions about just how capitalism has failed, one need look no farther than Wise County, where, this week, hundreds, if not thousands, of people will line up for free medical care.

The event is ably noted in The Washington Post this Sunday by a young opinion writer named Matt Skeens who lives in Coeburn in the coalfields of southwestern Virginia.

This week, the Remote Area Medical clinic will come to the Wise County fairgrounds to offer free medical and dental care to anyone who needs it.

You might ask yourself a question: why do so many people in one of the parts of the United States that is fantastically wealthy with natural resources need free medical care? Where is the magic of capitalism so often lauded on this blog?

A few insights from Mr. Skeens:

“Local representatives of Southwest Virginia will travel to the fairgrounds to stand on a coal bucket and assure us they’re fighting against President Obama and the ‘war on coal.’ These politicians won’t mention that with their votes to block Medicaid expansion, they ensured that the lines at RAM won’t be getting any shorter. But hating Obama in these parts is good politickin.”

Skeens runs through a list of mountain folk who can’t afford health care. One is a breast cancer survivor who hasn’t had a screenings in years. His grandfather, a retired electrician and coal miner, had also camped out at RAM clinics to get help.

Odd that this is the way I found neighboring West Virginia when I moved there with my family from suburban Washington, D.C. in 1962. Just as it was then, the riches that should have helped pay for local medical care went out of state. Much of the coal left by railcar or barge. Now, natural gas released by hydraulic fracking will find its way to fast-growing Southeastern cities or perhaps overseas thanks to new proposed pipelines such as a $5 billion project pitched in part by Dominion Resources.

While I have never been to the Wise County RAM clinic, I did happen to drop by one in Pikesville, Ky., a coalfield area that is one is Kentucky’s poorest county. It is not far from Wise. I was busy researching a book on Richmond-based Massey Energy, a renegade coal firm, in June 2011.

Photographer Scott Elmquist and I were on our way from Kentucky to an anti-strip mining rally in West Virginia when we noticed the RAM signs. More than 1,000 people had started lining up at the doors around 1:30 a.m. at the local high school.

It was packed inside. A Louisville dental school had sent more than 50 dental chairs that lined the basketball court. Some of the patients said they were caught in a bind: they had jobs but didn’t have enough health coverage and couldn’t pay for what they needed.

Since then, there’s been some good news. Unlike Virginia, whose legislature has stubbornly refused to expand Medicaid to 400,000 residents who need it (supposedly in a move to tighten federal spending), Kentucky expanded Medicaid last year. Now, 375,000 more people have health insurance.

Not so in Virginia. People continue to suffer while those with comfortable lives laud the miraculous benefits of capitalism.

How to Bring Broadband to Your Community

broadbandBroadband access is increasingly critical infrastructure for every community, a critical element for government efficiency and responsiveness, economic development, education, public safety, healthcare and the conduct of peoples’ personal lives. What can a rural community or small city do if the dominant broadband providers aren’t in any hurry to build broadband infrastructure?

The Center for Innovative Technology has just published a manual, “Improving Broadband Access and Utilization in Virginia,” that lays out a roadmap and highlights examples of how several communities have taken matters into their own hands.

The most prominent is the City of Bristol in Virginia’s far southwest, which deployed its own fiber-to-the-premises in 2001, reaching 6,000 customers within the first two years. Bristol Virginia Utilities was the first municipality in the country to build a fiber network to deliver the triple play of phone, Internet and cable television. Though not as far along, the City of Danville built a fiber system connecting 120 local government and school buildings, and then expanded it to serve more than 100 businesses and, more recently, residential customers.

Other models include rural co-ops, like the one in Floyd County, and public-private partnerships, as seen in Franklin County and King and Queen County. The report suggests that communities begin with a citizen survey to identify unmet needs, form a stakeholder group that can aggregate demand and hold discussions with Internet Service Providers.

As an aside, the Tobacco Commission, much criticized on this blog (by me among others), helped fund a number of these initiatives. Accelerating the deployment of broadband infrastructure in under-served areas is one of the most worthwhile investments the Commission could make. Unlike a foot-loose manufacturing plant that comes then leaves ten years later,  fiber-optic cable doesn’t pick up and move away.

— JAB

Memories of a Klan Rally

KlanersBy Peter Galuszka

I was looking through a some old clips today and spotted this Golden Oldie that ran in the Jan. 30, 2000 edition of BusinessWeek magazine where I worked for about 15 years. Bloomberg now owns rights to it and I hope they don’t mind me re-running it.

Mindful of the lofty rhetoric one reads on this blog about being Southern and symbols, I thought this might be an interesting read about how nothing is sacred. Not the Confederate Flag. Not even Stonewall Jackson.

It also shows how little things change. The flag and statues of Confederate generals are still flashpoint issues and people like GOP presidential candidate hopeful Donald Trump are running around making offensive statements about Mexican immigrants. (For the record, the late U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia had been a Klan member early in his life and he later renounced his membership).

The Ku Klux Klan rally I covered was on Nov. 6, 1999.

Here goes:

Letter From West Virginia

The High Price of a Klan Rally

Studying me solemnly from across his desk, Thomas A. Keeley sighs and says in his West Virginia twang: “I have to take care of my people.” I kid Tom that he sounds like the sheriff who was battling coal-company thugs in the 1988 movie Matewan. Tom grins. He puts up with me, since we go back 35 years–to grade school here in Clarksburg, a town of 18,000 nestled in the hills of central West Virginia. Today, Tom, as president of the Harrison County Commission, is the county’s top elected official, and I’ve come to find out how he intends to take care of “his people” in what could be one of the biggest crises Clarksburg has ever faced.

In two days, the Knights of the White Kamellia, one of 55 units of the Ku Klux Klan, will hold a rally on the front steps of the Harrison County Courthouse in downtown Clarksburg. The Klan picked the spot because of its dramatic statue of Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, born in Clarksburg in 1824. The Klan figures that Stonewall, riding north against the Yankees, will make a dandy prop for its November rally. So will the 70 state troopers, city police, and county deputies who will be providing the security. The Klan believes that the police presence not only will make it appear to be an oppressed group but will also increase the media coverage.

The city-county expense for the Clarksburg rally will be about $50,000–pin money compared with what 40 cities spent in 1999 hosting the Klan. Security at Cleveland’s August rally ran $600,000, although only 21 Klansmen showed up. But Harrison County is in the heart of the Appalachian poverty belt, and it desperately needs the money for other things. The hamlet of Marshville, for example, badly needs help, since its groundwater has been polluted by coal mines. “It’s costing us a lot of money to accommodate a bunch of white-trash bigots, and you can quote me on that,” says Tom, leaning back in his rumpled suit.

But he doesn’t have much choice. Not only is the Klan making noise, but a far more dangerous ultra-right-wing group is also active locally: the Mountaineer Militia, a cabal of heavily armed survivalists ready to fight what they consider excessive federal power. Militia members from the Clarksburg area hatched an Oklahoma City-style plot in 1996 to bomb the new $200 million FBI fingerprinting center in Clarksburg. The installation employs 3,000. After the FBI infiltrated the group, five men were convicted or pleaded guilty to explosives charges; one was convicted of selling blueprints of the center.

IDENTITY CRISIS. Taking a cue from New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who has also had to deal with a Klan demonstration, Tom is forbidding the wearing of masks at the rally, figuring that fewer Klansmen will show up if they are not able to keep their identity secret. At this point, nobody is sure who they are. The only known Klansman is Cletus Norris, who wrote Tom the letter announcing the rally, using a post office box in Grafton, 20 miles to the east. Norris is a former road worker, once employed by the city. The next day, as I drive to Grafton in search of Norris, I try to recall if the Klan had been active when I lived here back in the 1960s.

In the Deep South at that time, the Klan was bombing black churches and killing civil-rights workers. But from what I remember, not much happened here. Besides, Klansmen in these parts traditionally weren’t so much antiblack (there were few blacks here) as anti-Catholic. That was in reaction to the Italian immigrants who streamed into the area in the 1800s to build the Baltimore & Ohio’s main line to St. Louis, taking jobs away from Protestant backwoods types. The animosity was resolved naturally over the years as boy met girl and both defied ethnic hostility. Today, largely due to intermarriage, 40% of local folk are of Italian descent.

As luck would have it, driving down a Grafton street, I spot a parked gray Dodge pickup with bumper stickers bearing Confederate flags and the slogan, “Racial Purity Equals American Security.” Bingo! I walk up the crumbling concrete stairs to a yellow clapboard house and knock on the door. A slim man with a reddish-blond beard answers. “I am the Grand Dragon,” confirms Cletus Norris. He invites me to sit in the warm autumn sun on the front porch of his parents’ house. The experience is unnerving because for an hour, this 33-year-old is talking softly, pleasantly, almost seductively, but is expounding truly hateful ideas. At one point, Norris asks gently, “You aren’t Jewish, are you?” I reply: “No, but I am Catholic.” Norris says: “That’s O.K.”

A Klansman for five years, Norris claims his group is peaceful and interested only in protecting white rights. “Our rally,” Norris reassures me, “will set a lot of minds at ease. They’ll listen to us and see that we’re just normal Christian men.” Their agenda? “By the year 2040, we will be outnumbered by the combined nonwhite races of this country, and whites won’t get a fair shake.” The message is spreading through cyberspace. “We have some people in Europe and Australia, thanks to the Internet,” he says, as he hushes a dog barking inside the house. Norris insists he doesn’t hate blacks, only “race-mixing.” As for Mexicans, the border to the south should be closed. And Jews? “Christ didn’t have one good thing to say about the Jews.”

Later, I contact Mark Potok, editor of The Intelligence Report of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery (Ala.) nonprofit that tracks hate groups. He says Klan membership is static at about 5,000, but that 200,000 belong to other hate groups: Membership in those groups is increasing 25% a year.

PEPPER GAS. The following day–rally day–the police are nervous. Clarksburg looks as if it’s occupied by an invading army. Police vehicles include a bomb disposal truck. There are SWAT teams wearing black Wehrmacht-style helmets and face masks. “If things really get out of hand,” says policeman J.P. Walker says at a press briefing, “you’ll hear a siren, and then you’ve got 10 seconds until the pepper gas goes off.” The rally site has three fenced-in pens–one for Klan supporters, one for the press, and one for protesters. Participants must go through detectors, and attendees can’t bring in anything more than a car key.

Right on time, Norris, head up and confident-looking, dressed in white robe, leads the Klan parade out of the courthouse onto the front plaza, right past Stonewall. He is followed by eight Klansmen and two Klanswomen in brightly colored robes and hoods–no masks. About 150 protesters and 20 supporters shout insults at each other. “This country will go down the tubes,” shouts Norris, but he is barely heard above the noise because Tom won’t allow loudspeakers. When a rumor sweeps the crowd that one Klanswoman is a local English teacher (which turns out to be false), she yells good-naturedly: “There’ll be a test Monday morning.”

After two hours without incident and only one arrest–for disorderly conduct–the Klanspeople are escorted to a city parking lot, where they get into three cars, with Missouri, Ohio, and Virginia plates. Norris announces that a rally the next day in Fairmont, 20 miles north, has been canceled. Is that because the mayor refuses to provide security, I ask? “No, we just don’t want to make a nuisance of ourselves,” Norris says. The irony of that is not lost on one police officer. As he waves to the departing caravan, he mutters: “Goodbye, you sons of bitches–and to think I had seats on the 50-yard line at the West Virginia-Virginia Tech game today.”

By Peter Galuszka; Edited by Sandra Dallas

Reports at Forty Paces

pistol_duel

Dueling reports

by James A. Bacon

How do citizens know whom to believe in the debate over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), a proposed 550-mile natural gas pipeline between West Virginia gas fields and markets in Virginia and North Carolina?

Dominion, managing partner of ACP, has commissioned studies from Fairfax-based ICF International, a technology and management consulting firm, and Chmura Economics & Analytics, a Richmond econometrics firm, to analyze the pipeline’s economic impact. Both  reports buttressed the utility’s case that the project would be overwhelmingly beneficial.

In “The Economic Impact of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” ICF concluded that over the next 20 years Virginia and North Carolina could expect to gain $377 million a year in energy cost savings,  2,200 permanent full-time jobs, $131 million in annual labor income, and $218 million in annual gross state product. Likewise, in “The Economic Impact of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina,” Chmura said the project would inject $456 million annually into the three-state economy between 2014 and 2019 and support 2,873 jobs.

Yesterday the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and the Allegheny-Blue Ridge, which oppose the pipeline, released its own report. That document, “Atlantic Coast Pipeline Benefits Review,” prepared by Synapse Energy Economics Inc., out of Cambridge, Mass., contends that the alleged pipeline benefits are “overstated, lack sufficient supporting data, and fail to account for environmental and societal costs.”

The Synapse report doesn’t make any economic forecasts of its own; rather, the authors point out limitations and weaknesses in the Dominion-sponsored reports and enumerates negative impacts that those reports did not take into consideration. Among the criticisms:

  • Assumed differential in gas prices. ICF argues that gas from Marcellus shale in West Virginia and neighboring states, to be transported by the ACP, will be cheaper than so-called Henry Hub gas from the Gulf Coast, which Virginia and North Carolina consume now. But Synapse questions whether that price differential will last.
  • Assumed savings to electric customers. ICF assumes that cheaper natural gas prices will be passed to Virginia consumers as lower electricity prices. But due to the nature of inter-regional power sharing, Synapse says is it unclear whether those savings would be passed on to Virginia consumers or shared regionally.
  • Assumed job creation. ICF assumes that Virginia consumers will spend that energy savings, stimulating local economic activity. But “the study did not provide any underlying data to support this claim,” says Synapse. “Critical inputs and assumptions — such as the assumed direct energy savings by sector — are necessary to satisfactorily review this finding.”
  • Are permanent jobs really permanent? The ICF study estimates that 2,225 jobs will be supported over 20 years (for 44,600 total job years). But the study doesn’t break down the impact year by year, so it is impossible to know if the jobs are sustained over time or if they start strong and dribble out over time.

Synapse also argued that ICF and Chmura failed to take into account negatives such as the pipeline impact on property values, damage to wildlife habitat and clean water, and the risk of accidents.

The SELC report holds ICF and Chmura to a high standard — it insists that  consultants provide sufficient detail in their data and assumptions to allow third-party review and verification, and that studies be more transparent with their numbers. “In an economic jobs and benefits analysis,” Symapse says, “a complete set of modeling assumptions, inputs, and outputs” typically would be included.

ICF stated that it based its analysis upon years of experience in North American natural gas and “proprietary software tools and databases,” including its Gas Market Model and Integrated Planning Model to model the North American gas and electric markets with and without ACP.

Dominion stands by the ICF and Chmura numbers. Unlike Synapse or SELC,the company has skin in the game. It seeks the best forecasts it can find because it bases business decisions on the data. The utility uses ICF’s commodity price forecast for the Dominion Virginia Power Integrated Resource Plan and other regulatory filings. The company also uses ICF for its own internal business deliberations, says Jim Norvelle, director-media relations for Dominion. “It is safe to say there are significant business decisions made using the ICF International forecast.”

“ICF International and Chmura are internationally known and respected firms,” says Norvelle. “Their findings quantify what is obvious and undeniable: the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will bring significant financial and other benefits to the residents and businesses of Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina. It is Economics 101. More natural gas supplies mean lower prices, more money available for investment, better reliability and cleaner air. Just plain common sense.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Synapse makes a good point: Consultant studies should be fully transparent, providing sufficient data and articulating their assumptions for third parties to critique them. But what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. When SELC and pipeline opponents make assertions about the pipeline’s economic and environmental effects, they need to abide by the same standards they demand of Dominion. They, too, need to lay out their facts and assumptions for public scrutiny.

Virginia’s Tax on Money

gold_coinBy Steve Haner

You can now walk into a retailer in Virginia (or buy from a Virginia retailer online) and get your gold or silver without having to pay sales tax — but only if you have $1,000 to spend.

House Bill 1648 and Senate Bill 1336, signed into law this year, were companion bills that created a new sales and use tax exemption for gold, silver and platinum bullion. Similar bills had been offered for years without success. Are we looking at another example of a government policy promoting income inequality? To get the exemption, you have to spend at least $1,000. The buyer picking up $250 or $500 of bullion is still being taxed.

Effective July 1 the sales and use tax (5.3 percent in most of Virginia, 6 percent in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads) was not applied to items which met the following tests:

  • It must be refined to a purity of at least 90 percent precious metal. It can be a bar, ingot or coin – but cannot be artwork or jewelry.
  • The sale price must not exceed 120 percent of the value of the precious metal content.
  • The total transaction, which can include more than one exempt item, must exceed $1,000. That is only one ounce of gold, but it is more than four pounds of silver.

You can read the Tax Department guidelines here. Disclaimer: Yes, I worked in support of this bill on behalf of a Virginia Beach company. The $1,000 minimum purchase matches Maryland’s law and in theory limited the fiscal impact. Actually, I’m convinced Virginia has been collecting very little tax on bullion. It was too easy not to pay it.

More than 30 other states – including the largest – already exempt these popular investment items or have no sales tax at all. Virginia dealers have been required to impose the sales tax on any Virginia buyer, which meant most Virginia buyers purchased their bullion somewhere else to save 5-6 percent. They went to the U.S. Mint, which charges no sales tax, or used out-of-state on-line providers and ignored the requirement to pay the use tax.

The smaller investor, spending less than $1,000, will still be doing that. They will still turn around and walk out of the store or cancel the e-transaction before paying the tax. This market is a perfect example of the impact e-commerce makes when there is any marginal price advantage.

Virginia remains behind the times when it comes to the other (and larger) side of this business – collector coins. The introduced bills also would have exempted legal tender, but that far the Assembly would not go. Yes, Virginia, you tax hard money — another investment item not taxed by 30 or more other states.

Investors in coins do much of their business at large national and regional shows, which fill hotel rooms and restaurants in their host cities for a week – generating plenty of other taxes to compensate for the lost sales tax on the coins. None of those lucrative shows will ever come to Virginia unless the General Assembly takes that additional step and stops taxing money. Virginia collectors and investors in these products (big and small) will continue to bypass Virginia dealers and shop on-line.

Stephen D. Haner is the principal of Black Walnut Strategies.

The Boston Globe Visits Richmond

Slavery? What slavery>

Slavery? What slavery?

 By Peter Galuszka

An outside view is always welcome, especially in these incredible days when a lot of Southern mythology is being turned on its head.

Richmond is a great locus for the examination given its tortured history. The former Capital of the Confederacy (more by accident than anything else) is a true crucible.

The Boston Globe is running a series of articles from cities across the country examining how Americans citizens view their identities and how they are reacting to the fast-moving examination of slavery, the Civil War and the debates over its twisted symbols, especially the Confederate flag.

Globe reporter Michael Karnish starts with Ana Edwards, an African-American Richmonder, as she stands near the Jefferson Davis Monument on the city’s famed Monument Avenue packed with Confederate generals, Arthur Ashe and an aviator.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who led the insurrection against the United States, is praised as backing “Constitutional Principles” and “Defender of States Rights” (strangely similar to the conservative reaction to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on gay marriage).

Nowhere is it inscribed about what the war was all about – slavery.

You might go down to Shockoe Bottom for that. It was once the second busiest slave trading market in the country. There’s a site for an old gallows, a “Burial Ground for Negroes.” Lumpkin’s Jail. Ghosts of about 350,000 slaves “sent downriver from Richmond over a 35-year period before the Civil War.

One of them was Anthony Burns, 19, who escaped to Boston in 1853 but was arrested under a fugitive law and after lots of public demonstrations, was returned to Richmond with federal troops at the ready. He ended up in Lumpkin’s Jail.

There’s not a lot in Richmond to remind about slavery. In fact, when one drives north across the James River on Interstate 95, the Virginia Holocaust Museum makes a bigger impression even though Virginia had nothing to do with the Nazi Final Solution.

The Globe reporter does a fair job of contrasting Carytown, the chic and artsy shopping district (that goes hand to mouth with the city’s annoying fetish for fancy food and craft beer) with other parts of the city that are chock full of impoverished people. One out of every four Richmonders is officially poor.

Mayor Dwight Jones, an African-American, discusses his plans to eliminate public housing and fill it with mixed-use and mixed-income developments.

The next page to turn will be the UCL World Cycling Championship where 1,000 international cyclists will converge on Richmond for nine days in September. It is expected to draw 450,000 spectators (as the promoters insist they be called). Jones is a big promoter.

But plans are to have the cyclists zip past the 1907-era Confederate generals and Jefferson Davis on the city’s most famous avenue about 16 times before video cameras that will be broadcast globally. What kind of impression will that make? Given Richmond’s enormous and unresolved image problems and insecurity, can it simply and politely avoid facing the past as it has for 150 years and expect everyone else to go along with it?

I wouldn’t expect Mayor Jones to come up with an answer since he has failed to do much to put a slavery museum in Shockoe Bottom, the most appropriate spot for it. Instead, he was pushing some kind of museum along with an expensive project including a minor league baseball stadium and bars and restaurants.

To be sure, I am not completely sure people or newspapers from Boston have a lock on any moral compass. I went to college there for four years in the early 1970s and heard so much self-righteous nonsense that I began to think of myself as a Southerner.

After all, in the fall of 1974, just after I graduated and went back to North Carolina, Boston erupted into racial violence over court-ordered busing to integrate its de facto segregated schools.

In this case, however, the Globe has a good perspective on Richmond. It is a valuable addition to the debate.

More Gas in Dominion’s Electric Power Future

The combined cycle process

The combined cycle process. Image credit: Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems

by James A. Bacon

Dominion Virginia Power asked the State Corporate Commission yesterday for regulatory approval to build a $1.3 billion natural gas-fired power station in Greensville County. The station will generate about 1,600 megawatts, a substantial addition to the power company’s existing 17,600 megawatt fleet.

Combined-cycle technology represents an advance over older gas-fired facilities by running waste heat through a second generator to create additional electricity. The process extracts more heat from a cubic foot of gas and emits less carbon dioxide per unit of energy generated. The station also will have lower water usage and wastewater discharge, Dominion says.

“Our analysis shows that over the life of this station our customers should save more than $2 billion versus the projected cost for purchasing the same amount of power for customers off the regional power grid,” said David Christian, CEO of Dominion Generation in a press statement. “It will be highly efficient, low cost and very reliable. It will also have excellent environmental attributes and an extremely favorable location for fuel and transmission service.”

In a statement released yesterday, a coalition of four environmental groups addressed Dominion’s 2015 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), a 15-year outlook of the company’s fuel and facility mix. The statement did not mention the Brunswick facility directly but listed three principles for achieving the objectives of the Environmental Protection Agency’s draft Clean Power Plan, which sets a preliminary target of 38% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030. The statement called for full disclosure of the company’s carbon emissions, greater attention to Governor Terry McAuliffe’s goal of reducing energy consumption 10% by 2020, and greater emphasis on renewable energy.

At least one of the environmental groups, the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, is on record opposing an earlier gas-fired plant proposed by Dominion in Brunswick County. “Relying more heavily on natural gas is not how we want to power our state. Energy efficiency is cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable than gas-fired power plants and provides 21st century jobs.”

Both the Brunswick and Greensville plants are included in all scenarios of Dominion’s 2015 IRP. That plan laid out a low-cost scenario, which would not meet EPA goals, as the basis for cost comparison, and proposed four alternate scenarios emphasizing different fuels, including solar, wind, nuclear and natural gas co-fire to supplement existing coal-fired plants. The following elements are common to all four scenarios:

  • The natural gas-fired, combined-cycle Brunswick Power Station, with a generating capacity of nearly 1.7 MW, to be completed in 2016.
  • A second combined-cycle plant in Greensville County, with a generating capacity of nearly 1.6 MW, to be completed in 2019.
  • Retrofit of the 790 MW oil-fired unit 5 at Possum Point Power Station with pollution controls to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.
  • Retirement of Yorktown Power Station’s two coal-fired units with a combined generating capacity of 320 MW by 2016.

Dominion also envisions integrating more solar, wind and energy efficiency into its long-range plans. These initiatives include:

  • 400 MW (nominal capacity) of company-owned solar capacity, including the announced 20 MW Remington Solar facility by 2020.
  • 400 MW (nominal capacity) of solar capacity owned by non-utility generators (NUGs) by 2017.
  • 16 MW (nominal capacity) installed on customers’ property through the Solar Partnership Program.
  • 12 MW (nominal capacity) Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advancement Project by 2019.
  • 611 MW reduction in peak demand through implementation of demand-side management programs by 2030.

The most cost-effective green energy alternative on a risk-adjusted basis is solar power, Dominion concluded in its IRP. (See “Here Comes the Sun.”) However, the report emphasized that assessment does not take into account the expense associated with upgrading the power grid to handle rapid fluctuations in supply caused by clouds. The IRP also concluded that wind power was the most expensive of the four alternatives.