Tuesday, August 19, 2008

T-Boone Pickens

I had the opportunity last Thursday to listen to the famous or infamous T-Boone Pickens speak at the convention center in LeMars. He is a very personable speaker. He even took time to answer peoples concerns about alternative energy. I asked him a question about Hyperion, but didn’t like his answer. I mentioned to him that his friend Al Huddleston is planning on putting up a 400,000 bbl per day refinery to refine tar sands from Canada and that this sounded quite contrary to the Pickens plan to loosen our grip on foreign oil. I mentioned the fact that the last time I looked, Canada was still a foreign county. Pickens answer was “Let Al do what Al wants to do. We need the tar sands and Canada is a friendly neighbor, not hostile. I don’t see a problem unless you have to live next to it.”

Is it just me or do I see a problem here? I don’t know what I was expecting to hear when I went to listen to him speak, but the response I got to my question was really disappointing. I really expected an answer something like it would be more effective to channel his (Al Huddleston’s) efforts into renewable energy or wind energy or supporting his energy plan, but for him to just shrug his shoulders and say “Aw let Al do what Al wants to do” just doesn’t wash with me.
How does all this tie into our local problem of a zoning ordinance. If you think about what the ordinance says, Hyperion has the option to do whatever it wants to with the area that has been zoned as a planned development. One of the things Hyperion can do is develop a wind farm to produce electricity. Since I love conspiracies, I have to think it is more than coincidence that a man like T-Boone Pickens would pick LeMars Iowa for a speech on reducing dependence on foreign oil. Of all the places in the United States for him to talk about a project as large as what he wants to do, LeMars just doesn’t fit. Sioux City, Sioux Falls, Omaha, Fargo, or Minneapolis makes sense. LeMars? No Way.

Hyperion has options on over 12,000 acres. The refinery takes up only 3200 acres. Why not put in a wind farm? This area fits perfectly with his plan for wind energy and developing uses for natural gas for things other than heat. The only way T-Boones plan can succeed is if he can find a replacement for natural gas. Take the 22% consumption rate of natural gas and replace it with wind energy, and you have a win win situation for Mr. Pickens. He is heavily invested into natural gas. This deal would be the best of both worlds for him. He stated at the center that he is in business to make a profit. If it isn’t profitable, he gets out of it. He has spent his whole life in the oil business and I can’t see why he would get out of it now. It certainly isn’t compassion or a sense of do good for your country.

His energy grid doesn’t have a chance unless the government steps in. He was asked why not do this as a state issue, and he replied that states rights would make it almost impossible for this to be done that is why he needs the federal government to clear the way for him to create transmission paths for getting the energy to the consumer. What he is really talking about is “eminent domain.”

There is an old saying in this world that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I like the idea of building an energy grid using renewable energy; I just am leery about someone like Mr. Pickens doing it. It just doesn’t sound real. He doesn’t say in his plan just how many wind turbines and solar grids this is going to take to do. I would suspect it is in the tens of thousands. I don’t know that wind energy can be stored can it? is wind energy a case of use it or lose it? The wind is always blowing somewhere and I’m sure it is a viable source of energy, but how far can this energy be transmitted before it isn’t useable? How will it tie into the solar units? I’m not sure but solar power in order to be useable has to be converted from direct current to alternating current. I’m sure wind energy is the same way. How do we do this on a grand scale?
There are many many questions that remain unanswered in Mr. Pickens plan. He doesn’t address these problems in any sites that I’ve read, and until someone can prove his theory, I would really be hesitant about jumping on board. He says that the cost will be in excess of one trillion dollars. This is a significant amount of money. Granted, we are spending $700 billion a year on foreign oil, but can this really work?

Go to his website http://www.pickensplan.com/theplan/ and read on what he plans to do, but question everything he says can be done. Until we are satisfied that this is the way to go, I would be just a little bit hesitant about accepting his theory on blind faith. I am the eternal pessimist and until you can show me that it will work, I will just have to have reservations about it.

the Forty 1/4 1/4

I’m going to devote the whole article this week to explaining as best I can what the 40 ¼ ¼ issue is.
First of all, this is an issue that is vital to the zoning ordinance that was defeated a year ago and is the same today with “minor” changes that throw this whole issue into turmoil.
The way this is set up in the zoning ordinance is that each 40 acres of land can only have one dwelling on it. The quarter quarter means that if you have 160 acres you have a quarter of a section and each quarter is divided into 40 acres, so therefore you have 4 eligibilities. Eligibility means that you have the capability to have one house on each quarter of the quarter. These eligibities can be transferred to another quarter provided the quarter quarters are contiguous. This is clear as mud right?
The restriction here is that you must have multiple pieces of land that can be evenly divided by 40 in order to have more than one eligibility. If you have 80 acres you have 2 eligibilities. If you have 79 acres you only have one eligibility. If you own the whole section, you have 16 eligibilities. The reasoning behind this is to restrict the number of dwellings in rural areas. The commissioners want to restrict density in rural areas and want as many people as possible to live in town. They have the feeling that there is more access to water, electricity, emergency services, adequate roads etc. in town than in the country. The last time I looked I had rural water, my own well, and electricity. EMT service in the country is the same as in town. EMT service for me is probably better than in town, because I am equally distant from both Alcester and Beresford, so if one cannot respond, the other one can, so I don’t see what the problem is, do you? Sometimes the gravel roads are better than the oil roads. They get maintained on a regular basis and when it snows in the winter, the township has someone out the next day after the snow quits. I have been snowbound only a couple of times in 15 years, and quite frankly it was a welcome relief.
This whole thing goes back to the issue that if I hold title to the land, pay the taxes and keep up the land why can’t I do as I please when it comes to selling parcels of the land to someone who is willing to pay the price that I am asking for it? The planning and zoning decided after much haggling that they would grant an additional eligibility to a farmstead for a dwelling for a “family member or hired hand.” You can add an additional dwelling to your property HOWEVER, the second dwelling must be as a conditional use and when the conditional use no longer applies the dwelling must be removed. This makes about as much sense as sticking a finger in your eye.
What the commissioners have done by putting the second dwelling as a conditional use is to make it impossible for one to get a loan to build the second dwelling. Do you think for one minute that any lending institution will loan you money to build a house and then have to remove it? I highly doubt it. So what the commissioners in their infinite wisdom have done is to limit the landowner to one house per forty acres. They say on one hand that you can have an additional dwelling and then turn around and say “Oh but it has to be a conditional use, and once the conditional use doesn’t apply, remove it.”
The other thing they have done by assigning eligibilities is to inflate the market value of the land that has eligibilities on it. If you have 160 acres of ground and move all the eligibilities to one 40 acre area you have a valuable piece of property. When and if you decide to sell that land the eligibilities go with the land and when the real estate folks list it for sale with the additional eligibilities for sale as well, you get 4 for the price of one. When Real estate people come out and find that you have additional lots for sale the value of the property will go up dramatically. Likewise if your neighbor has property for sale but only one eligibility which property do you think is going to be sold first? If you read the Argus leader classifieds, you will see that they often list the property for sale and list eligibilities as well. This is a great selling tool. So again we have the commissioners controlling everything from whether or not you can sell your land as you see fit to artificially inflating the market value of the property by assigning eligibilities to it. Makes me wonder what is really going on here.
Are you confused yet? This very issue is what many of us have been fighting for for over 2 years now and the commissioners absolutely refuse to listen to us. They must feel that the people in this county are country bumpkins and can’t tell sic ‘em from sour apples. We do not understand for a minute why they can’t leave things alone. Currently you must have 2 ½ acres of land to have a dwelling on it. I don’t see anything wrong with that. If you have property for sale and I agree to your price, what’s the big deal? The next thing you know, it is going to be against the law to live in the country and not farm.