Wednesday, April 15, 2015

DC Taxes - 2015 Update: GOOD and BAD News, This Could Save YOU Money

As many of you know, I have paid special attention to the DC government tax situation.  By clicking my INDEX post you can find all the earlier tax related articles.  Having just finished preparing my own 2014 taxes, and comparing the current situation with earlier years, I now have the new information for that year.  We in the DC Statehood Green Party have struggled especially long and hard to bring tax fairness to the lower and middle classes.  We can now report some success.  However, our Council still has a long way to go to restore equity to our people.

In an email last week I called attention to the fact that even though our Council approved using some of the tax Revision Commission's (TRC) recommendations, even though they agreed to implement these changes in our Deductions and Exemptions that would put $85,000,000 each year back into our neighborhoods, the small increases they did approve were even less than the federal increases.  Since federal D & E rates are pegged to inflation, this means we continue to fall ever farther behind.

I followed through on my plan to check on the proposed tax rate reductions for upper income earners and businesses.  If you are a lower income earner, it may help you feel a bit better to learn for that group, those rates were unchanged from last year.  We will need to continue to watch like hawks to make sure the Council does not backtrack on the TRC goal of reducing the tax burden to the middle class.  At last year's hearings many were astonished to learn the middle 20% of taxpayers paid more than 11% taxes, while the top 1% and the bottom 20% paid near 6% taxes.

This year's Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) (Jan. 2015) report indicates the middle 20% now pays a little over 10% taxes.  Here is further information from DC Citizens for Tax Justice on impact of some changes. I read ITEP's information on tax changes in 2013 and 2014, but some of their information does not agree with the information on DC's 2014 D-30 and D-40 tax forms.  For example, they report a decrease in the UIC (Unincorporated Franchise Tax).  Having just calculated my own official printed 2014 D-30, I can report the tax rate was still listed as 9.975%.  I'm not sure why Chairman Mendelson reported at last year's Chairmen's Candidate Forum that he had helped reduce the business tax rate by 17%.  Perhaps this is planned for a later year or on a different tax form.  We will have to keep watch on this.

As I hurried to get my taxes sent off to the IRS and OTR, I decided to check out the District's D-40 Schedule H. Since in the past, the limitation of eligibility has been a maximum income of $20,000, I was not paying much attention to this particular issue. DCSGP's David Schwartzman has brought this up as an important benefit needing change. I was amazed and pleased to see that SURPRISE, I am now eligible for this benefit.  If I am now eligible, then it means many more of you could also get money back.

Even if you have already sent in your tax returns you can always file an amended return if it will give you money back.  This form has a Line 16a, which is, as explained in the General Instructions, is the place to include the Schedule H property tax credit.   You then explain in Part II that you are eligible for the Schedule H credit, and attach a copy of your completed Schedule H to your D-40X.   If you submitted the FR-127 for an automatic 6 month's extension of time to file your D-40, then you can include the Schedule H in that filing.

This new and GREATLY improved Schedule H  allows a Tax Filing Unit (members of a household/family/etc.) to earn a total up to $40,000 if under age 70, and up to $60,000 if over age 70.  If you are not living alone, you will have to study the instructions to see if total household income falls within the allowed limits.  There are separate calculations for renters and home owners. A simple Worksheet is provided for computing the Property Tax Credit. You:
1) enter your federal IRS 1040 Adjusted Gross Income (AGI),
2) enter property taxes or 20% of rent paid in 2014,
3) multiply that figure by 3% or 4% as instructed,
4) subtract 3 from 2. The Credit Limit is $1,000, and you use this or number 4), whichever is smaller as your credit on the Schedule H form.

As an example:
1) AGI = $24,000;
2) Property Tax = $3,300;
3) AGI times 3% = $720;
4) $3,300 minus $720 = $2,580. Since $2,580 is more than $1,000, you can only use $1,000 as the credit on Schedule H.

I wish I could have passed on this information earlier. I am providing links for the Schedule H  and D-40X Amended Return forms below. At any rate, THANK YOU Councilmembers.

It is too late to use with your filing due on April 15th, but you can always file an amended return if it will benefit you. If you sent an FR-127 Extension of Time to File, you can submit the Schedule H  when you file the D-40. Instructions are unclear as to whether you should submit the Schedule H with the FR-127 or only with the final tax submission. This should be fixed. The Schedule H Instructions say it is due by April 15, 2015. The FR-127 only says to submit full payment of any taxes due by April 15, 2015.

Here is the link for the fill-in version of Schedule H. http://otr.cfo.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/otr/publication/attachments/2014_Schedule%20H_0002FillIn011515.pdf

Here is the link for the print, fill out and mail Schedule H. http://otr.cfo.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/otr/publication/attachments/2014_Schedule%20H_11201412-2014.pdf If there are 3 or fewer people in your Tax Filing Unit, then you only need print pages 1, 2, and perhaps 5 (the Computation Worksheet).

Here is the link for the D-40X Amended Individual Income Tax Return.
http://app.cfo.dc.gov/services/tax/forms/tax_forms/pdf/d-40x.pdf

Good luck, and please pass this information on to as many of your friends, neighbors, and lower and middle class earners that it could benefit.

G. Lee Aikin, DC Statehood Green Party

          This message was sent as an email a week earlier:

ATTENTION COUNCIL MEMBERS:  Last year the Council agreed to follow the Tax Revision Commission's advice and restore our Deductions and Exemptions (D & E) parity with the federal rates which we had in 1973 when we got Home Rule.  UNFORTUNATELY, it was decided to delay the benefits to our low and middle income workers by phasing in this measure over 6 years.  Of all the measures approved by the TRC, this benefit helps the working poor and middle class the most.  Please urge your Council contacts to speed up implementation.

DC BENEFIT falls behind federal benefit.  In DC the basic D & E benefit for a family of 4 is now $11,050, while the IRS benefit is$28,200.  DC gave a $250 increase while IRS gave $400 more in deductions.  For a single, DC is now $5,875, and IRS is $10,150.  DC increases $100, IRS adds $150. For a couple under 65, the DC figure this year is $7,600, while the IRS is $20,300 (talk about a marriage penalty!).  DC raised the benefit by $150, the IRS raised it by $300.  Thus we continue to fall ever further behind this benefit we had in 1973.  In other words Council gives LESS than inflation.

Does this make you angry enough to do something about it?  My next step will be to see what benefits have been given to high income earners and report them.  [See above for this info.]

Obviously, we need funds to make everyone happy.  So, here is one idea to raise money that should benefit all who might participate.  Anyone with a car already pays for ONE parking sticker.  However, some have a regular need to drive somewhere else besides their home.  They might be caring for a sick/elderly relative regularly, or managing/renovating a second property, or need their car for their job. 

So this idea is to allow drivers to buy a second or even a third parking sticker for the area where they need to spend other time.  There should be definite limitations:  1) not within a certain number of blocks of a Metro stop, 2) not within certain downtown limits, 3) not near sports arenas or Convention Center on days or evenings when there are events scheduled.  This still leaves many places where a person could effectively use one or more extra parking stickers.  They could only be used in ONE CAR so should not harm the parking rights of anyone else.  Surely a WIN/WIN for DC tax revenue and the public.  

If you would benefit from this idea, PLEASE COMMENT.  A Council staff members asked me if I had any idea how many might want to use this benefit.  I did not know the answer.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Solar Energy Revolution in Washington, DC Could Inspire the World


A Solar Energy Revolution for Washington DC
Guest post by Don Wharton

By conducting business as usual, we are unlikely to stabilize global warming below the two degrees centigrade required to prevent a dramatic global catastrophe.  If this limit is exceeded, the Greenland ice mass will eventually melt raising ocean levels over twenty feet. Ocean acidity would increase to the point that jellyfish may replace many if not most of the fish species of our oceans. Fully half of existing species could face extinction if we exceed a tipping point of no return. The last IPCC report noted significant risk to global agriculture that feeds humanity. More carbon is encapsulated in Arctic permafrost and in ocean methane hydrates than all carbon fuels burned to date.  A recent article in Science Advances, based on 17 major climate models, is predicting a mega drought for the US southwest and central plains.  The projected drought would be much worse than the current drought in California and the Dust Bowl of the 1930's.  It is simply not an option to allow this carbon from business as usual or Arctic sources to be added to our atmosphere.

Washington DC can spark a major impact by making this city an example of success for the world. Many people are afraid that increased energy costs will be needed to stop the worst effects of global warming. We in DC could show that renewable energy solutions cost less than business as usual.  If we can do this it becomes obvious it is an absurd waste of our resources to not go with renewable energy. Achieving such a price point would enlist natural market mechanisms to prevent an ecological disaster. It would also magnify economic activity in a way that can provide jobs, profits, and increased returns for governmental coffers.

This policy document will review the cost goals, mechanisms to achieve them, and the benefits of embracing the revolutionary change that has already been demonstrated by policies elsewhere.  DC is the capital of the most important country in the world. It is the logical place to synthesize best solar energy policy in a way that proves what is possible with the best governmental vision.

Cost Goals

By mid 2012 German rooftop solar energy cost had declined to $2.55 per peak watt on average for all roof top systems of less than 100 KW capacity. By December 2014 there was an additional decline to $1.43 per peak watt. This was doubly impressive since the decline in solar module prices was relatively modest in this interval. Most of the decline was in the “soft costs” of installation, customer acquisition, overhead, permitting, etc.

German installers are immensely experienced. The best are well known. The costs of acquiring customers are very low since most people know a number of people who have had systems installed. Word of mouth becomes very efficient with large scale adoption of solar. The average American costs are 2.5 to 3 times current German costs largely due to differences in soft costs.

The German experience was accumulated at the price of very costly feed in tariffs (FIT). Early adopters got long term contracts promising that they would be paid $.70 per kwh.  In contrast recent (late 2014) DC electric cost has been less than $.10 per kwh.  This incentive worked to create great economies of scale. A cost effective vision for DC would need to deliver the same efficiency without the long term cost commitments made in Germany. If that could be achieved virtually everyone in the United States with even moderate sun would find solar energy to be less costly than the grid based power they are now using.  Policy changes in the following areas should facilitate this cost effective mass movement to solar:

     Permitting and Inspection
     Utility interconnection
     Mass customer acquisition
     Financing
     Installation
     Large Scale Issues

Permitting and Inspection

Government services are often costly.  However, that need not be the case. Permitting fees are often a very profitable revenue source. If we are to maximize solar energy use, permitting should be a very minor or even near zero addition to the time, energy and costs of solar system installation. The German model across that nation is a simple on-line form that takes an hour or two at most to fill in. In Australia permits are only required if a building is zoned as “heritage preservation.” The American Department of Energy has their Sunshot Initiative that seeks an average total US installed cost of $1.50 per peak watt on residential roofs and $1.25 for commercial roofs. The DOE specifies the streamlining and reduction of permitting and inspection costs as a significant requirement to reach this goal.

Bonded contractors can be required to pass a high level of certification backed with mandatory legal guarantees to correct anything that violates code requirements. Such a policy may be adequate to meet the quality requirements now met by DC's current detailed governmental permitting and inspection process. If that is not adequate it is imperative that waiting in line, clerical interaction, and total time required be eliminated wherever possible. For example, Chicago has implemented a Chicago Solar Express project guaranteeing 24 hour turnaround on permits and a 25% reduction in billed costs.

Utility Interconnection

Solar systems installers are often frustrated with the quality of service, timing and costs of interconnection with the current PEPCO utility. In Germany there is excellent cooperation between utilities and solar installers. Installations in Germany can often be accomplished in a single week with two weeks as an unusual outside time frame.  Quick installation is seen as an obvious goal that is widely supported everywhere in German society. This reduces the management overhead costs required to track a larger number of outstanding projects. Management attention is focused on efficient completion of the smaller number of current projects.

If our society is to copy the German example, government will need to communicate the values that create that success. This means a short and reliable time frame for utility interconnection.  Achieving the desired success of distributed solar, requires real reporting requirements and sufficient financial incentives. Many jurisdictions around the world require the utility to assume the interconnect cost. This relatively modest cost can be passed on to all ratepayers without increasing the cost per kwh significantly.  Power consumption has always been highly distributed.  Utilities understand their mission of providing access to all consumers.  A solar energy future mandates that a widely distributed network of energy producers also be a central mission of our electric power utility.

Mass customer acquisition

Government should serve the common interest in areas where it can function more efficiently than the private sector. State level markets under the Affordable Health Care Act, with with their explicit standards and efficiencies derived from million of customers, illustrate this principle. Customer acquisition is extremely costly and inefficient for solar system installers. Only 10 to 20% of cost estimates delivered to prospective buyers result in signed contracts. This implies that between 80 and 90% of site evaluation, engineering, and proposal preparation is wasted effort. These costs then must be recovered from those who do sign contracts. If a government market platform can deliver pre-sold customers then this inefficiency ceases. The DC government has greater power to integrate many complexities into a single transaction which simplifies things for the customer and can eliminate most marketing costs for the provider.

LiDAR techology (Light Detection and Ranging) can be used to create 3D models of all structures and foliage in an area. Many jurisdictions have used it to create tools to estimate solar energy potential. DC Department of the Environment (DDOE) working with Mapdwell has done that for DC. This provides data for selecting the most promising customers and for generating proposed contracts based on a "not to exceed" price point.

Currently, given neighborhoods in DC create group buys which are then submitted for bidding. A city wide bidding process creates greater economies of scale and would enable a continuing market process to serve all neighborhoods. If DC continues to rely on ad-hoc group buys then the lower price points of the bidding process will continue to be available only to specific DC neighborhoods for limited periods of time.  DC needs a dynamic process that solicits customers across the city and offers them the current best price for that month through a group bidding process.  The goal would be to emulate the rapidly declining cost points of recent German experience.

Mapdwell had a $4.32 per peak watt projection for a sample DC system. That is a little over three times the December 2014 costs for German systems and is well above actual DC contracts at the end of 2014.  Neighborhood DC group buys are closer to $3 per peak watt.

Mapdwell projects solar modules with 16% efficiency. DC can specify 18% efficiency as a minimum standard without risking any significant increase in cost per peak watt. An important quality in the solar module industry is bankability. This means the supplier is a high quality manufacturer with the excellent financial strength required to reliably support long term warranties.

Financing

Local governments have several advantages over profit making financial institutions. Property related investments, such as solar energy, can be recovered through the real estate tax mechanism. This is called Property Assessed Clean Energy or PACE for short. DC with its AAA bond rating can access money at the lowest long term rates. DC can directly fund the purchase of solar systems and recover the costs at a profit using the real estate tax bill.  DC can set recovery rates to generate guaranteed direct profit to DC.  The actual rate can be less than required by a bank reporting to shareholders. In addition any funds repaid as part of the real estate tax might be deductible from federal taxes.

There are complexities in the PACE mechanism that must be addressed because of a criterion set forth by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).  FHFA feared creation of a claim senior to the first mortgage holder in the event of default. Preliminary evidence shows the arguments against PACE are not factually supported. The default rate for energy efficient homes is lower than for other homes. The added value of solar panels and efficiency upgrades are reflected in their market prices. The lower energy costs are a valuable positive that both reduce the prospect of default and add value that is at least equal to the investment. However, FHFA has placed restrictions on Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac compliant mortgages that need to be addressed in any policy.

One solution is to make PACE related loans junior in default claims to the mortgages covered by FHFA policy. Vermont, Oklahoma, Maine and Rhode Island have taken this approach, as does a $230 million PACE program in Miami.  Commercial properties and residential properties with no first mortgages or non FHFA confirming mortgages do not require this legal option.  There is some modest increase in risk to the government where this junior status is allowed. This can be addressed by requiring more substantial equity above the first mortgage to get the best loan interest rates, and a very modest increase in rates to compensate for risk if there is less equity above the first mortgage.  Energy related loans can be senior to home equity lines of credit and secondary mortgages since they are not traded by Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac. Another approach to PACE loans used in California creates a fund which guarantees payment of PACE related obligations in the event of default.  This avoids FHFA related risk in the absence of specific clauses that may exist in a first mortgage agreement and is working for 160 California localities, but is not the policy supported in this article.  FHFA dislikes this arrangement and may take future action against it.  It is mentioned here just to illustrate again that FHFA regulation is not preventing PACE funding.

The major competition to private ownership of solar systems are the various leasing arrangements that promise lower energy costs to the home or building owner. While such arrangements work after a fashion they have not provided the intensity of support for solar required to achieve the German success level. However, in order to compete with these leasing arrangements the government must provide comparable simplicity to the homeowner while taking advantage of all financial options. This means the sale of SRECS and provisions to reduce capital cost from Federal and DC related credits should be part of a single financial instrument. This would emulate the simplicity of leasing arrangements while delivering greater benefit to DC residents and the DC government.

It should be noted that the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU), which encourages home energy efficiency upgrades, could use the above PACE mechanism to finance home upgrades more cost effectively.  Currently they can only use commercial banking services for this purpose. The actual funding may still come from banks.  If DCSEU acquires and vets the customers and handles all interactions through the real estate tax mechanism, it would be possible to negotiate lower rates for a PACE mechanism requiring zero bank interaction with specific customers or the risk of loss from those customers. As noted above, the AAA bond rating may make bonds a less costly source of funds.

Installation

Time and motion studies done by the Rocky Mountain Institute found that German installers are able to accomplish all installation tasks two to four times faster than US installers. No specific governmental policy will make US installers more efficient in loading trucks and getting material to the work site. This and other needed changes must be a side effect of highly streamlined governmental policies and a more competitive  market platform. We must expect that economies of scale and long term experience will allow US installers to emulate German efficiencies.

In the future, there will be specific additional governmental policy changes required to support installation efficiency. A major policy direction of the Department of Energy is their Plug and Play strategy. They  envision that people will be able buy small and modular systems from retailers. Such systems, if plugged into the grid with a standard interconnect, will become a commodity that reduces costs and increases functionality with a speed of change similar to PCs, cell phones and other consumer electronics. There are a good number of vendors attempting to provide technology in this marketplace. However, there are significant disadvantages with all of them and the required market scale has not yet appearing. We will need a more intelligent and a standardized grid interconnect. It is intrinsically possible for a home smart meter to recognize a newly connected device in the same way that a PC recognizes a newly attached printer or flash drive. The recognition could then be communicated to a central database with automated generation of all require permitting.  Current policies do not presently support this technology. Government should recognize that these changes are coming and be prepared to implement supportive policies as the opportunities arise.

Large Scale Issues

The German experience also demonstrates as solar energy becomes a more significant fraction of provided energy it will be important that grid managers have the ability to control the dispatch of energy from all providers. Solar and wind energy are intermittent energy sources.  Blending energy from various sources will be a complex engineering task as renewable sources increase as a percentage of the whole supply. In Germany grid managers make small changes to cycles per second to signal a decline is required in energy provided from the solar energy systems. If they did not have that ability the grid could be overloaded. The US will need to achieve similar smart grid capabilities as increasing renewable energy resources become installed.

Summary Policy Implications

The best governmental policy can greatly lower renewable energy costs. There are many important elements in such a policy if DC is going to demonstrate that success at a scale that will inspire much of the rest of the world. Government is not configured to earn a profit. However, the success advocated here will have substantial positive implications for DC income. Many homes will have the capacity to produce much more energy than they will use. If that power is provided by a leased system the excess power will provide profits that will accrue to and be spent by a leasing company chartered elsewhere. If it is owned by DC residents they will pay taxes on those profits to DC and spend those earning largely in DC.

If DC provides a large percentage of the energy used in the city with DC based labor, then fewer of our energy dollars will be supporting West Virginia coal mining and North Dakota gas fracking.  Meeting DC power needs with DC labor, skills and vision is an obvious advantage for our city.  This has the additional  benefit of taxes paid to DC providing resources to meet other needs of DC citizens. A strategy using the best of governmental policy is a win-win strategy that serves our local needs while providing an example of success that should serve as a shining example for all humanity.

Resources

German site with rooftop solar costs in euros:

Rocky Mountain Institute (three documents)
Can the Cost of Solar in the U.S. Compete with Germany?

Lessons from Australia - how to reduce U.S. solar PV costs through installation labor efficiency

Reducing Solar PV Soft Cost: Focus on Installation Labor

Chicago Solar Express project simplifies rooftop PV for city residents and businesses

Mapdwell web site for evaluating solar energy potential of DC buildings:

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Exelon/PEPCO Merger--Is it Good for DC Residents?

I testified at the recent hearing before the DC Public Service Commission regarding the Exelon/PEPCO merger.  If it was scheduled the same night as our President's State of the Union speech to discourage attendance, it failed.  The hearing room was standing-room-only for a good part of the hearing.  All but 5 of the 56 registered to testify spoke, plus more than 16 people who signed up to speak at the hearing.  There were a few more who spoke after I left.  As a point of information it is important to know current PEPCO stockholders will receive cash for their shares and no longer have any direct economic interest in our electric service once it is owned by Exelon.  Our DC Council appears to have washed it's hands of any responsibility on this issue.  Several members own stock in PEPCO.  More facts needed on this.

Among people who signed up at the hearing, 13 were against or worried, and 3 favored the merger.  I did not hear all the registered testimony, but the majority I did hear was against.  The only people favoring seemed to be those who worked for or owned companies that would benefit from potential Exelon contracts, or a few community organizations which had received grants from PEPCO for their activities.  These groups did not even seem to realize that Exelon made no guarantees of continued support, nor that its offices were far from potential community lobbying in Chicago.  Nor did they seem to understand how small these grants were compared to the huge potential cost to the entire community, all of whom will have higher electric bills directly or indirectly.

Do we really want to be part of a "too big to fail" organization.  One which in fact has a large, aging, soon to be obsolete nuclear component.  It would not be so bad if they were also embracing the need for renewables, and moving into solar and wind power.  Unfortunately, their record seems to be one of rejecting this wave of the future which could gradually lower energy costs and help cushion the ever increasing expenses for running their old nuclear plants.  Quite aside from the obvious increasing costs of operating aging nuclear plants, we must consider the much higher cost of any forseen or unforseen accident or disaster.

This link discloses the shameful details of the Fukishima nuclear plant cleanup.   Government auditors found that more than a third of the $2 billion already allocated for repairs and reclamation have been wasted.  Repeated and varied efforts to get rid of radioactive groundwater have failed.  After a recent typhoon (Asian hurricane), the radioactive level in the groundwater had increased ten fold.  Decades will be needed to develop successful technology and methods for the cleanup and more $billions will be spent.  Do we want to risk being saddled with such a cost?

Compare PEPCO's recent figure of less than 0.1% solar energy use with the exciting news that California now produces more than 5% of it's energy from solar.  After all our hard work to get PEPCO to use DC solar first, let's not throw our gains away by surrendering to Exelon's takeover.

Unfortunately, the people of California do have some issues with the CPUC (California Public Utility Commission).  This 23 minute video link regarding the retiring head of the CPUC, Mike Peevey, was forwarded to me by someone who read the testimony below.  Apparently he is accused of being too cozy with the utilities he regulates, and avoids important meetings with the state legislature in Sacramento, CA, as reported here.

Our take away on these reports should be to keep a very close eye on our own DC Public Utilities Commission, so that they do not make similar cozy mistakes.  Unfortunately, our DC Council did NOT vote favorably to add Betty Noel, a committed people oriented candidate from the Office of the Pouple's Counsel to our PUC.  I hope they will take heed of the many voices against this pro nuclear, anti solar merger/take-over that will be so costly to us the rate payers and reject this merger.

[I will be adding links, comments and new paragraphs as this story unfolds.  Check back from time to time for new information.  For example, research needed on how many shares of PEPCO stock are owned by our DC Council members and how that might affect their votes.]

Testimony Regarding Exelon/PEPCO Sale, 
January 20, 2014 before the 
DC Public Service Commission, by G. Lee Aikin

Thank you for hearing our concerns regarding this sale. You will be receiving a lot of valuable technical and professional testimony from experts like Anya Schoolman and Scott Hempling, so I will focus my testimony elsewhere. My main concerns are safety and especially how this ownership change would affect our environmental future.

After about 5 years of effort we finally have PEPCO working with the community to effectively distribute and bill for solar energy. We hope that within one or two decades local solar can provide as much as 20% of our electrical energy, especially in hot sunny weather when it would reduce stress on the larger grid. Since Exelon mainly produces nuclear and is paid for that, they have no incentive to aid solar. One pro-Exelon speaker said 900 new jobs would result from “merger.” With only 2.5% solar in DC we have 800+ new jobs. Imagine how many new jobs we'll have with 20% solar.

Even if protections for solar are ever written into agreements, we need to examine how well Exelon has kept past promises. Some jurisdictions have successfully negotiated demands favoring the community. Our Council is letting the Commission do the heavy lifting. How many Councilmembers own Pepco stock and will receive a guaranteed payout if the deal goes through? Have they/will they recuse themselves from key votes? People call buying out PEPCO stockholders for $27 a MERGER. It sounds more like PEPCO is being swallowed whole as by a snake.

Regarding safety, I was surprised to see that Exelon owns Three Mile Island. I will never forget the frightening week in March 1979 when we feared there would be a major meltdown. After Fukushima, we all have a greater appreciation of what that could mean. In 1979 my sons were 5 and 8 years old, my husband and I debated where we should flee and what we should pack in our car as the suspense continued. Fortunately this accident caused by a combination of equipment and human failures and mistakes was ended without full meltdown. The $1 billion cleanup ended in 1993.

In 2011 sitting in my bedroom, I was shocked as the wall facing me began to vibrate and shake alarmingly. We learned this 5.8 quake's epicenter was close to a Virginia nuclear plant which fortunately sustained no serious damage. Several friends nearby had chimney damage that needed professional repair. One participant at this hearing spent $1,000 having his chimney rebuilt. Our Washington Monument and National Cathedral have spent $millions to repair, for this rather small earthquake. I was in the 7.5 Mexico City earthquake in 1957. Walking home after midnight, my date and I clung to each other to keep from falling down as telephone poles rocked wildly back and forth.

Don't underestimate the earthquake risks in the US.  
* Charleston had a major (6.5 to 7.3) quake in 1886 and
* New Madrid, MO, monstrous (8.0+) earthquakes in 1811-12. 
* Boston had a major (est. 6.0 to 6.3) earthquake in 1755 within a month of the great Lisbon earthquake that killed around 50,000 in Portugal. 
* New York quakes in 1737 and 1884 were about 5.5 magnitude. 
Other more recent eastern US earthquakes include: 
* Kentucky shaken by a magnitude 5.1 earthquake in 1980; 
* Arkansas with 88 quakes in June and July 1982, 4 between 4.0 and 4.5; 
* a magnitude 5.9 earthquake 1983 in Indiana; 
* Painesville, Ohio, 1986, magnitude 4.9 quake and aftershocks felt in 11 states; * Southeast IL had a 5.2 quake in 1987, and 7 quakes magnitude 4.5 or more since1892.

Exelon has 22 nuclear reactors at 13 locations in Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Fracking seems to be causing quakes in brand new locations.





FIGURE
I don't think any of us want to underestimate the risk of encouraging production of costly nuclear energy, at the expense of far safer and less costly solar and wind energy. In fact we should do everything we can to reduce our dependence on nuclear and carbon based fuel sources. In 2013, 47 people were incinerated in the oil train explosion at Lac Megantic, Canada, and in Qingdao, China 62 people died when a mile of pipeline exploded in that city. 

For more information on the little known Qingdao tragedy, see my blog article titled: Prevent Future Keystone XL Pipeline Disasters Now.

Please, members of the Commission, don't let Exelon destroy our budding solar and renewable energy efforts. Don't let them increase dependence on potentially deadly nuclear energy. And again, thank you for hearing our concerns.


A comment at an article on the 2011 earthquake summarizes many important points:

    “As a one-time resident of Virginia (Richmond) it has come to our attention that the North Anna plant, because of cost-cutting, short-sighted, mendacious, bonus-preserving measures, decided to dismantle its earthquake/seismic detection equipment--which if functioning properly, would have shut the plant down on the onset of the quake.  [What record does Exelon have regarding maintenance and safety in its many facilities?]

    But perhaps even more alarming, the plant is built to withstand nothing greater than a 6.0 magnitude quake before extreme failure. The quake a few weeks ago in Mineral, Virginia, was a 5.8 quake -.2 shakes (quakes) away from a dog-day disaster scenario.  [As my earlier listing of earthquakes shows, 6.0 is a very thin margin of safety. I wonder what the rating is for even closer Calvert Cliffs.] 

    Indicative of the aging nuke plants around the country, North Anna's bottom line, profit-driven management would rather pad the salaries and bonus's of it's top executives and share holders, than protect the few million Virginians who live within a 200 mile radius of the plant (200 miles the new exposure standard, thanks to the Fukushima disaster - still ongoing, we should add). [A serious problem with Exelon versus PEPCO is that being a generating rather than a distributing company, we in DC would be victimized by any major economic damage to Exelon caused by nuclear accident, nuclear waste storage issues, etc.]

    The only potential bright spot in an otherwise gloomy national picture, would have been had the disastrous quake exceeded the 6.0 tremor rating and unleashed cesium, plutonium and strontium into the atmosphere, the Continuity of Government (C.O.G.) plans of moving...Senators and Congressmen/women to the underground bunker facility in an undisclosed location (somewhere outside Warrenton, Virginia) would have put them all in the direct path of said radiation release....” [Although the writer jokes about the welfare of our Congresspeople, the fact is that Warrenton is near a nuclear plant, and we in DC are even closer to Exelon's Three Mile Island and Calvert Cliffs nuclear facilities.]


A future concern for us all is the $3 billion proposal to put all electric lines underground. Our DC Council has already approved $1 billion for putting lines underground. This will be paid for by a combination of taxpayers and rate payers. In other words, all of us. Obviously, this will be good for excavating, paving and construction companies. We need to ask how much of the other proposed $2 billion needs to be spent. PEPCO has already done considerable successful work trimming trees that caused past storm issues. We need to know regarding remaining above ground wire areas where homes are far apart, is it hard to find the exact site of an underground outage?  When an above ground wire breaks, it is easy to find and fix the problem. How much more difficult and costly is it underground compared with frequency of above ground breaks?

This link shows a 1/16/15 letter from the DC Environmental Network urging DC Council Chairman, Phil Mendelson to SAY NO TO EXELON!


Anya Schoolman's testimony  on behalf of DCSUN, 11/3/14, before the DC Public Services Commission, 61 pages of testimony and 394 pages support material, regarding Exelon/Pepco merger.
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8XoFPD-CIaAUFJ3YzRUc0dZWkU/view

Scott Hempling testimony to DC Public Services Commission on behalf of GRID2.0, 11/2/14.  He is a grid expert and professor at Georgetown Law School, 180 pages of testimony and 112 pages support material, regarding Exelon/Pepco merger.
http://dcpsc.org/edocket/docketsheets_pdf_FS.asp?caseno=FC1119&docketno=155&flag=D&show_result=Y

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

McMillan Park, an Opportunity for DC Council to Serve the People Not Developers


WILL McMILLAN PARK HAVE A FUTURE??
DC Council Hearing, 11/12/14
By G. Lee Aikin, Fifty-three year resident,
with Guest Posts by Daniel Wolkoff and Kirby Vining after that

     What does the community want for this wide open expanse of grass and historic public structures? What should the DC government want with regard to supporting the community, growing our city, and proposing ideas for best use?

     
     This project will be carried forward by our new Mayor. Her mentor, a former Mayor was elected with small business support. He was defeated because he neglected the small businesses he said he favored, and concentrated on following the wishes of people west of 16th Street. Our new Mayor convinced a majority citywide she supports the interests/needs of the majority. Here is a big opportunity to show unconditional support. The city is now growing rapidly, but without careful, historically focused plans, those attracted to DC as it is now may face future disappointment and leave for MD and VA.  [May 2015--I have just been told that the Mayor has a $69,000,000 item in her Budget for demolition of all the historic water works.]
     New residents are drawn to the exciting combination of history, politics, public facilities, and as they settle down, to educational opportunities for their children both in schools and in the wider community with its parks and museums. There is also major concern over skyrocketing housing prices in DC. Many new residents want the city to maintain diversity. If developers are so greedy that all they care about is short term profits, they will destroy what makes DC such an attractive place to live. Their politicians will also suffer!
     We hear the city wants some return on it's $9 million investment. Giving a piece of land worth nearly $100 million to developers is unsound business practice.  It repeats the scandal of last year when a square block of downtown land worth over $100 million was given away to a developer for $20 million. I wonder how angry other developers were about such a giveaway? Our Mayor elect has said she will do away with this practice. The McMillan land is a fine place to display to us her ethics and commitment on stopping these expensive giveaways.
     I find it really distressing that after 28 years of just sitting there with a big fence around it, finally, now that big developers want to make big bucks, suddenly there is push to do something.  If the city is serious about serving the community, they should plan immediately, before any other decisions are made, to open a portion of the green space to the public by next spring.  Repositioning some of the fences, adding some seating, and a demountable building operated by our Recreation Department should cost nowhere near as much as some of the sole source, no bid planning and design contracts that have been awarded.
     Others have spoken about the community's plans and ideas, so I will limit mine. I have seen that young people today are fascinated by process and have a love for old and vintage things.  My 40 year old son is visiting and helping me sort through many things in our old home.  He works for high end lawyers and doctors on special projects, and keeps telling me, "Oh, I know someone who would like this old (lantern, car part, tool, etc.)"   
     This historic waterworks must be maintained as a museum, and as part of the Blue Plains education efforts.  I was surprised to be told that the old sand filtration system is superior to the chemically laden processing that our municipal water must now undergo. Apparently the chemical companies really were eager to change municipal water treatment to methods that would help their bottom line.
     The underground areas have wonderful potential for year round intensive agriculture for luxury crops like mushrooms. What a chance for our students to observe and take part in growing food and flowers for nutrition and for marketing. There should be USDA grant money available for this kind of training effort.  Elevated and spaced solar panels could provide energy for the underground agriculture, and shade from the hot summer sun for community gardens interspersed with the solar panels.  Farmers in Germany do this all the time.  By using both the underground acreage and the area above it the city will get double the use out of the property, with the attendant benefits of employment, income taxes, parkland, and lower health costs for the people benefiting from better nutrition and outdoor exercise.
     DC is almost a one industry town—government and its related activities. We need to diversify into production, arts and crafts, and develop appropriate technically skilled workers.  Here is the place where such activities can take place on a regular basis. Some housing would be suitable and it should be a healthy mix of low, moderate, and market rate income units. Then, of course we have the open space. Why do we need a soccer field at Hains Point with the convoluted exchange of the Reeves Center and other city property for developers.
     On April 21, 2012, a tour of the facility was made available to see the late 1800s sand filtration system which saved our residents from typhoid and other water borne illnesses. In 1986, when a more modern filtration system was installed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offered the site to the DC government. Our city paid $9.3 million and in 1991 the DC Historic Preservation Review Board awarded the site historic status. This provided permanent recognition of the combined park and water filtration facilities historic value. We should not loose that for shortsighted profit motives.
     Next, politics reared its frequently ugly head. In 1990 the Ward 5 Council member urged rather dense development of the site to gain a return on the city's $9.3 million investment. It was wrongfully presented that the community backed the idea, resulting in spirited protests by the community. I wonder what campaign money or construction deals were proposed behind the scenes on that one? Recently a no-bid contract consultancy deal was given to Vision McMillan Partners and EYA for site development proposals. No-bid?? Whose idea was that?
     A total of 97 people registered to testify at the Nov. 12, 2014 hearing at the Wilson Building which started at 10 am.  Most favored the community plan, not the one from the no-bid developer.  Future Mayor Muriel Bowser (who was absent much of the time), and Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyon McDuffie chaired the two Committees sponsoring this hearing-- Comm. On Economic Development and Comm. On Government Operations. This is an excellent first opportunity to see our new Mayor in action and judge our future.  Tell your friends and others to follow this story on cable or the web, now and ongoing.

     Thank you for hearing our voices and please do the right thing for all the people not just the big developers and corporations.

     When I arrived shortly after 2 pm, registered testifiers in the 50s numbers were being called upon.  One of the most distressing things I heard is that 2 buildings of 13 stories are planned for the site.  All the neighboring buildings are 2 and 3 story.  Quite aside from scale and appropriateness for the neighborhood, is the question of handling traffic for so many residents and workers.  I have recently driven beside McMillan Park and across past Catholic University during rush hour.  It took me a half hour to drive 10 blocks, without any major development and 13 story buildings.
     A Dutch woman hydrology expert explained that corporate testimony expressing alarm about flooding runoff was wrong.  This was based on reports of a concrete underlining. She explained that with a yard or more of earth and grass above the concrete, all rain and snow would be absorbed and evaporate back into the air over time.  In fact, the corporate planned parking lots and other development would create far more runoff than the community plans and ideas.
     Our DC Statehood Green Party was well represented with people signed up to testify, including Joyce Robinson-Paul, Chris Otten, Eugene Puryear and David Schwartzman who I heard give excellent testimony, Debbie Hanrahan, Jenefer Ellington, myself, and Marian Douglas-Ungaro.  Anyone in our Party I missed, please forgive me.  Any who testified should feel free to add important facts in the Comments.  Community comments are also welcome.   


STOP MCMILLAN, Don't increase carbon emissions, urban heat island.
by Daniel G. Wolkoff

Subject: Urgent action for City Council McMillan surplus and land disposition

Neighbors of McMillan, for addresses and phone numbers just go to DC City Council, on line.
     Trying to get a City Council member's attention by email is a lost cause. The City Council members ignore all our emails.  This is a decade long effort to ignore the concerns of DC taxpayers and our children.  I invite all concerned residents to join my lawsuit, in DC Superior Court, to appeal the improper Zoning Commission decision to super urbanize and demolish McMillan Park.
     The media is doing a concerted avoidance,, "bias by omission". The Washington Post, so totally pro corporate, is busy taking a stroll down Memory Lane in the wake of Ben Bradley's death.  Reliving the days of Watergate, with Woodward and Bernstein, and The Pentagon Papers, while  not reporting 100's of protestors arrested in civil disobedience at The White House to STOP THE KEYSTONE PIPELINE, no real coverage of McMillan the "disposal" of our 25 acres by the City Council, Mayor and the development conglomerate.
     On McMillan, Mike DeBonis, avoids it, but Roger K. Lewis column in the Real Estate section paints a glowing column on the development that doesn't mention anything of the downside, the opposition, hundreds of testimony, petitions, zoning issues, etc, etc.  Of course, Roger K. Lewis is on Kojo, and Kojo puts you on MUTE the moment you call in and mention McMillan.  The miserable local developer in VMP, EYA has become WAMU corporate sponsor, and are spreading advertising money all over the place.
     I love all the local TV News stations, reporting for days if  Marian Barry has an outstanding parking ticket but not a single reporter has ever covered dozens of McMillan DC government hearings, meetings, protests, town  halls.  How much local political news can you fit in, in the 3 to 4 minutes before they go to the Redskins?
     Local media, the very few mentions, have been contemptuous of the public, Washington business journal "The McMillan Soap Opera Goes On".  The City Paper once upon a time muckraked the DC government regularly, but totally prodevelopment, a rag.  The only place for info is Scott Roberts Bloomingdale Blog, but it's a national issue.
[National Register of Historic Places nomination (http://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/places/13000022.htm ) by DC Office of Historic Preservation architect Kim Williams]ly
     Our DC government has been governing without informed consent, and doesn't care, as Miss Bowser dissed my questions at BNCA , 90% off the district has no idea what is going on, it's a  Private Pig Fest!  I think the figure for the Surplus land disposition is negative $3.65 million, when developers all over the world would pay tens or hundreds of millions.  VMP once approved and land handed to them will undoubtedly sell it to Japanese, or Chinese developers, and walk with the money. 
     Brian, the Council has been lobbied by The Carmen Group, Grosso, Cheh had meetings, and I assume anyone else potentially on the fence.  The Jamie Fontaine PR firm, was hired, by Jeff Miller the Deputy Mayor( which he denied to Bowser oversight hearing Feb. 11th, 2014), and they have faked community support, or "neutralized opposition" and "created the appearance of support", 
so the government has kept its own agencies as oversight, and bought an "astroturf campaign" from Baltimore.
     I would ask the council member and staff, if they have ever been on the site, or in the mystical underground 20 acres of masonry "vaults". PLEASE ASK how does Mayor Gray find out what all the public needs are for the 25 acre green space? 
     Get responses in writing, and do not let these DC government hacks BLOW YOU OFF!
     The exclusion of the public, and the determination that the city Council has no responsibility to represent the Ward or At- Large, clearly has got to change now.
     Long story short, I would call our representatives, McDuffie, At-Large members, Gray, and staff, and demand that your needs for the 25 acre green space be acknowledged. We have the environmental concerns, water security, urban food and nutrition hub,        
cool breezes, community gardens, sunset views, not tunnels between rows of condos and offices. 
     Get answers not INSULTS, on this ABSURD declaration that "there is no longer any public need" for the land at McMillan. I would also blame each of these hacks, for the way they kept it fenced off, wasted about $40 million, which if the green space was in a white upper income section of DC, would have CERTAINLY been spent on safely opening up  access to the public, and not flushed down the overflowing sewers.
     Thank you from all the neighbors around the Park,

Daniel Goldon Wolkoff
McMillan Coalition  for Sustainable Agriculture
1231 Randolph Street, NE
Washington, DC 20017
Tel: 202-232-8391

I asked Mr. Wolkoff for more details and received the following:

I think one important aspect in our struggle to save McMillan for the community is the lack of information, the govt. was just thrilled to keep virtually everyone un-informed including themselves.

City Council members just differed on any awareness for years; Mary Cheh called my writing on McMillan "inspirational", but said she is not informed, and is it just too late.  David Grosso and Mary Cheh have "sustainable Agriculture", and increased public involvement in legislation bills, just not on McMillan.  David Grosso, our new younger At-Large, just said things like, "McMillan, don't go there".  Like just don't bother, it is a waste of your time. Cheh and Grosso had an appointment with Trammel-Crow lobbyists. The Carmen Group, top government lobby firm, paid $10,000 a month (indefinitely!) by Trammel-Crow. He then, right at the City Council push through, got very excited and just said "fantastic development", "hope we can do this right away".  These council members are giving away, and committing the govt. to a massive deal, but they have mostly never even visited the site!

The City Paper, Washington Business Journal used disdain ("more of the McMillan Soap Opera") to diminish any real coverage of the facts, and especially the opposition in the community.  I have called the method of keeping the issue out of public focus, "bias by omission". Kirby tells us that Washington Post and City Paper were called in to VMP, and pressured, I believe.

 My position is that elected officials are obligated to gather informed consent, on which Muriel Bowser just turned her head and ignored this, and most questions when posed at Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association meeting.

I would like to share some background.
Below is the DC Office of Historic Preservation staffer Kim Williams nomination to National Registry of Historic Places. But that office has completely circumvented their responsibility to enforce our and federal historic preservation laws.

Please read Nomination written by DC Office of Planning Historic Architect Kim Williams
  National Register of Historic Places nomination (http://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/places/13000022.htm ) you will quickly understand that McMillan is a resource of NATIONAL SIGNIFICANCE, and its preservation is NOT a Ward 5 issue, but a national issue. I have been disappointed that the Council has not educated the people in DC or even itself very well, while determining the future of this incredible site,, just awesome as originally designed and landscaped. 
Ms. Williams describes an engineering miracle in good condition and  remarkably preserved.

The Vision McMillan Partners development plan is financially driven and over-crowding of any great work is always a mistake, diminishing the original intent and elegance. Six congested "private" streets, 3000 parking spaces, and 50 brutalist building have no reference to the historic site. The unimaginative 5, 6 acre "McPark" proposed by VMP, is the only unpaved area, grudgingly carved out of the site and shows how little understanding these architects have of great urban design.  These are destructive compromises that  are not comparable to this spectacular Olmsted designed "great place", as required by the Historic Preservation laws, worthy of world capitol.

Daniel Goldon Wolkoff
McMillan Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture


Guest Post by Kirby Vining, Friends of McMillan Park

I hope some of this will help clarify some ideas in what at times gets to be a one-sided debate.  The things the Friends of McMillan Park are doing have been, I think, unfairly characterized by the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED).   Unfortunately, DMPED has worked hard to keep our side of the story out of the Post and City Paper, etc., so the end result is only the Vision McMillan Partners (VMP, the sole-source bid developer pushing the heavy development) side of things is visible in the press, generally.

In Friends of McMillan we’ve been trying to get the city to do what it appeared it was going to do based on the 2002 Office of Planning ‘Recommendations for McMillan Site Revitalization,’ which is to send out an RFP (Request for Proposal) for some feasibility studies (which was done, 2006: Solicitation for Land Development Partner).  But supposedly five responses were received from that, and then they were ignored.  The Williams administration sent out that ‘Solicitation,’ and then the new Fenty administration took the whole project away from the National Capitol Revitalization Corporation (NCRC) and disbanded the NCRC and gave the project to DMPED.  DMPED did not continue with the line of approach of the ‘Solicitation’ and the 2002 OP recommendations, but hired the existing VMP group as a consultant and the whole character of the project changed.  Friends of McMillan participated in the ‘Recommendations’ fora and strongly encouraged it then and encourages it now.  There are many very good and very specific recommendations for options for the site.  Demolishing 90% of the place to put up high rise buildings is not at all consistent with any of the recommendations.

Friends would like to see that process be followed: a competition for feasibility studies and a design competition.  Our core values state quite clearly that we’d like to see what can be done working with the resource, and would support ideas that are consistent with the Comprehensive Plan (whole sub-chapter of the Comp Plan concerns that site) and the historic resources. Questioned at a couple of Council hearings on affordable housing for the site, a number of us responded that we’re not against or for any particular recommendation
for reuse of the site, would like to consider any and all, but we’d like to see what can be done to work WITH the resources, above and below ground rather than AGAINST those resources. Community surveys reveal that a significant part of the community wants substantial surface area to be available as the parkland it was until the fences went up, but the Friends has not taken a position on that point, other than supporting the results of that door-to-door survey of 1,000 community households that we did.  The city has never done such a survey, but we did. 

The site is really two thing, directly related: it’s a surface area of 25 acres,
but it’s also those caverns down underneath it.  Those two considerations
are unique to the site, and there are two-fold possibilities there.  So many of
us, myself strongly included, would like to see what can be done to incorporate
those existing caverns into the design…this is also consistent with Comp
Plan and 202 Recommendations.

This  site is, architects have told me, the largest green roof structure ever built
on the east coast.  There are some tremendous possibilities, all of which are
abandoned by demolishing the underground.

But all this hope to see what can be done is precluded by the ‘exclusive rights agreement’ the Mayor signed with his consultant, denying any possibility for a design competition or even any outside bidding for any aspect of the land sale or development, proposing the VMP plan as a fait accompli. “Value” means many things in the context of that site, the value of the land is only one of them.  The scale of the Mayor’s proposed development, one mile from the nearest Metro, should be a factor, as the Comp Plan states, determining the scale of any proposed development.  [Having driven past the site during rush hour, I can attest that traffic is already horrible there.  What will it be with 13 story businesses and condos?  GLA]

There are some interesting possibilities here that are being ignored in the rush to give the deal to VMP, ultimately as a result of the land that was taken from EYA in the first (not the current) stadium deal long ago.  Why is DMPED so afraid of having an open RFP and bidding to see what things are possible there?

Thank you! -Kirby Vining

Tour the magical spaces of McMillan Park, http://vimeo.com/111638481

and please consider donating to our legal fund to stop the city’s plans
to demolish and sell our park: https://www.crowdrise.com/savemcmillanpark