Thursday, July 02, 2015

Cooling Pond Futures - Hyco and Mayo

Along the north shore of Hyco Lake, near the border with Virginia north of Durham where I live is a dock with a roof covered by solar panels.

That’s seemingly incongruous only because Hyco is one of a pair of lakes created on each side of the small town of Roxboro to serve as gigantic cooling ponds for coal-fired steam generation power plants.

In fact, an astonishing 38% of the nation’s fresh water goes to cooling power plants.

Recreation on Hyco and Mayo lakes, including cabins, lake houses, as well as houses on the two lakes (there is a difference) have become byproducts from the water needed for their respective power plants.

But as I will note, changes are underway that may soon elevate these to the primary purpose of these lakes.

Of personal interest is Mayo, the lake on the east side of the 8,000 person town.  The lakes differ greatly and so do the steam plants for which they were created.

Mayo Lake not only has 25% less surface, it has 52% of the shoreline of Hyco Lake.  On Mayo, the northern third around the plant is undeveloped, making it rarely, if ever, in view.

Technically, Duke Energy owns up to the 420’ mark around each lake, but while on Hyco there are little or no restrictions, Mayo reflects the concern for the environment that later emerged in the 1970s.

Around Mayo Lake, according to observers this buffer is protected natural vegetation as habitat for “black bear, white-tailed deer, red fox, opossum, skunk, beaver, and bobcat as well as hundreds of bird species such as grebes, herons, ospreys, red-tailed hawks and owls.”

Motorized watercraft are permitted on both but Hyco Lake seems more “recreational” in nature, as in amusements.  Kind of like “camp” vs. nature preserve.

Mayo does not permit “permanent” docks, while Hyco has elaborate docks and boat houses that cost as much as some lake houses.  Both have public parks to launch boats and swim.

The power plants are much different, too.  The one for which Hyco, known as the Roxboro Steam Plant was created is a couple of decades older and is more than three times larger than the Mayo Plant shown in the image in this essay.

Both are now equipped with “scrubbers” required by the EPA to cut down on air pollution and first mandated by Congress in 1977.

They each burn a lot of coal including about 5.5 million tons annually at Hyco and 1.8 million tons at Mayo.

To put that in perspective, the Hyco plant burns between a 100-car train and a half to two and a half trains of coal a day, each coal car carrying about a 100 tons. A 45-60 day supply or so is kept in reserve.

Mayo uses a third as much.

Occasionally, some coal supply may come from as far away as northeastern Wyoming, but primarily, both plants are supplied from mines in Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky via routes through Virginia.

Remember the haunting song You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive?

Both lakes have coal ash stored on site, Mayo’s stretching up toward South Boston, Virginia, while Hyco’s stretches toward Roxboro.

The Mayo plant sells about a quarter of its 160,000 tons of annual coal ash for use in road and building construction.

The Hyco plant generates around 500,000 tons of coal ash.  It is one of the largest in the country and for the past six years, the remaining coal ash from Mayo has been trucked over there.

A year ago, a state of the art, special landfill with groundwater monitoring was opened downstream from the Mayo Plant which will eventually grow to 100 acres.

The solution, though, is more than tougher limits on emissions and conversion of the plants to natural gas.  Natural gas is now used to generate more than 30% of electricity compared to less than 37% generated by coal.

But while natural gas generation uses four times less water for cooling than coal, a savings of nearly 20 trillion gallons of water since 2005, fracking, the technology used to source the natural gas uses 28 times more water than it did 15 years ago.

An even better alternative is a new patented closed-loop process pioneered here in Durham by NetPower called the Allam Cycle which eliminates all air emissions including carbon dioxide from fossil fuels.

NetPower’s technology is not equipment to control pollution but an entirely new combustion process called oxy-combustion.  It has turned a major problem into a recyclable solution, in part, utilizing carbon capture.

In effect, it eliminates the entire steam process, which wastes 30% to 40% of its energy, and all of the associated equipment.

Ironically, it very well may be this Durham-inspired innovation that will finally bring Republican skeptics onboard regarding climate change, turning their pejorative “Whatever else they do in Durham,” into an accolade.

As noted by local journalist Alex Dixon, it is a phenomenon of behavioral change identified in a recent study conducted here at Duke entitled, “Solution Aversion: On the Relation Between Ideology and Motivated Disbelief.”

NetPower’s new technology also means that power plants such as Hyco and Mayo can be greatly downsized as they convert, while also lowering the cost of the power generated.

They also probably won’t be needing those “cooling ponds,” leaving Hyco and Mayo lakes as a lifestyle legacy.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

A Personal Story of Why I See Immigrants As Patriots

In May of 1775 as a set of my 4th and 5th great grandparents set sail for America from Belfast on a 350-ton brig named The Pennsylvania Farmer, they already knew what civil war was like.

But they probably hadn’t heard yet about the clash less than two weeks earlier on Lexington Green between colonial militiamen and British Army regulars.

Nor were they aware that the makings of the revolution and even after, in places such as North Carolina where they planned to settle was already more like a civil war.

Four years earlier, in the Battle of Alamance, North Carolinians fighting as colonial militia on behalf of the Royal Governor defeated North Carolinian rebels known as Regulators.

The ship my ancestors were on had meant to dock in Charleston, South Carolina.

But cross-Atlantic voyages at the time, even aboard a ship as fast and maneuverable as a two-masted brig were often blown off course and forced to land at other ports.

So on July 1, 1775 The Pennsylvania Farmer (similar to the brig shown in the image in this essay) dropped my ancestors off in Baltimore instead.

Soon Thomas and Hannah McCrory along with my 17-year-old 4th great grandfather James plus some other relatives began trekking down the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia on the Great Wagon Road.

They were at the tail end of the Great Migration of 200,000 Scots-Irish who immigrated here between 1717 and 1775, most settling inland along the Appalachians and western Piedmont.

They were Presbyterians of differing factions whose lowland Scottish ancestors had been transplanted to Northern Ireland by the British.  Even in religious, they understood civil war.

It is from their folk music, by the way, that country music spawned.

Initially it was successive droughts in Northern Ireland that drove them to leave.  My ancestors, though, were weavers who also left because the linen market had collapsed and British estates had cancelled the land they leased.

Shortly after passing through the relatively new Moravian settlement of Salem, North Carolina (part of present-day Winston-Salem,) they planned to cut south on the Georgia Road to their final destination Waxhaw, North Carolina.

It was an area just south of the village of Charlotte where the month after their departure from Belfast, the defiant Mecklenburg Resolves had been signed as one of the earliest declarations of Independence.

But it may have been at Salem, that one of my 4th great grandfathers, James McCrory, decided to settle 28 miles east instead at a new crossroads that had sprung up around the Guilford Courthouse the year before, while Thomas and Hannah continued a hundred miles further south to Waxhaw.

After less than a year as Americans, Thomas enlisted as a captain overseeing a company of troops in the 9th North Carolina Regiment of the Continental Army commanded by Col. John P. Williams.

James also enlisted first under his father and then seemingly transferred to another company in the same regiment under Captain Ramsey.

Ironically, this is also when North Carolina purchased their old ship The Pennsylvania Farmer in New Bern and began to arm her as the centerpiece of the colony-soon-to-be-state’s Navy.

The regiment soon marched north to join General Washington in Middlebrook, NJ.  They soon engaged the British Army in battles at Brandywine and Germantown where my 5th great grandfather was apparently mortally wounded in action.

His body must have been taken home to Waxhaw because he is buried near there on Mint Hill.

James eventually served in nearly every major battle in the Southern campaign including at Guildford Courthouse before marrying after the war and heading over the mountains in 1783 into Tennessee and eventually down along the Tombigbee River.

But why leave North Carolina?  After Generals Greene and Cornwallis left the state, the nearly seven year Revolutionary War soon concluded in victory of Americans.

But in North Carolina, the vacuum meant the civil war continued to rage on between loosely organized gangs of armed men terrorized Tar Heels while presenting themselves as either revolutionaries or loyalists.

Totally undisciplined, according to the late Dr. William S. Powell in his book entitled, North Carolina Through Four Centuries, they were more like “robbers.”

These partisan gangs “burned houses, murdered men, and attacked women indiscriminately,” terrorizing large areas of the state while taking hundreds of prisoners hostage.

Normalcy wouldn’t come to North Carolina for nearly a decade.

Powell reminds us that during this period there were almost 350,000 people living here, a quarter in bondage with no hope of freedom and a third of those who were white still loyal to Great Britain.

Even after the war, only 40% of Tar Heels were un-ambivalent about Independence.  A faction known as “conservatives” wanted a return to prewar ideals and conditions including renewal of trade with England.

Back then they even wanted to “tap the breaks” on Independence.  Another known as “radicals” or “rioters” wanted even more change.

Sound familiar?  I obviously come from a long line of moderates.  But during that time Tennessee was part of North Carolina which had been granting land their to soldiers and their families.

My McCrory ancestors were close to the family of later US President Andrew Jackson both because they lived in the same Waxhaw district but also because Jackson’s brother married a Crawford relative of James’ mother Hannah.’'

Judging by the year, Jackson, my 4th great grandparents James and Jane McCrory along with his brother Thomas, Jackson’s friend, all migrated to Tennessee together in 1783, during this period of anarchy.

But life there was anything but peaceful.

While living on land along Cripple Creek, James was fired on by Indians just north of the Cumberland River in 1792.

By 1811 when my 3rd great grandmother Sarah Ann McCrory was born, her parents had purchased land down in the recently opened Mississippi Territory, along the Tombigbee near the western border of what five years later would become Alabama.

It was a still a tense time for the young family.  A civil war soon broke out within the Creek Nation of Native Americans due to a hostile faction known as the “Red Sticks” because of of the red war clubs they used.

It soon spilled over with the massacre of settlers.  In addition, there was the threat of invasion by the British via New Orleans as war broke out again in 1812.

This in turn drew General Andrew Jackson’s troops down from Tennessee in defense, along his friend my 4th great grandfather’s brother, Col. Thomas McCrory, who had built a two story cabin in 1790 along what is now Old Hickory Blvd. in Forest Hills, Tennessee.

The cabin is now on the National Register of History Places.

When the old solider, James McCrory finally died in his 80s, my great-great-grandmother Sarah Ann headed to Illinois and then across Iowa with her family hoping to make it into my native Rockies.

She died in route, just south of Des Moines, in the harsh winter of 1847 but it is in part from her daughter Amanda, who was five at the time, that I draw my 5th generation Idaho roots.

McCrorys were late comers compared to all but a couple of lines of ancestors who immigrated to America in the 1850s and 60s.  Most had been here since the 1600s.

But uncovering their story and placing it in context makes me even more proud to be an American.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Equivalent to a Management MBA

I have a good friend who is weeks away from successfully matriculating a two-year residential substance abuse treatment program in Durham, North Carolina.  The program is called TROSA, which stands for Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers.

As an aside, he will have also learned the equivalent of an MBA when it comes to managing people, every type imaginable in the workforce.

In addition to hours of therapy, TROSA teaches residents, who are willing, everything one needs to know to succeed in the workplace including how to work, how to adapt to organizational culture, how to resolve conflict, and how to be accountable.

But the organization also has an eye for identifying and nurturing people who have a talent for managing other people.

It isn’t based on tenure or non-managerial success in one of the many enterprises it uses to help fund the program and instill values.  They have learned what Gallup researchers have proven.

Those elements, while important overall, only count for so much when developing managers.State of the American Manager

Much more predictive of management success, according to Gallup’s research is talent.

It is the natural capacity one-in-ten people have for management, which they have found enables people to “learn a role faster” and “adapt to variance in a role more quickly” than those without it.

Another two-in-ten have what they call “functioning managerial talent.”

Tenure and success as an individual contributor, which is how most are promoted to management, don’t lend themselves to being in a management role.

As TROSA has learned as well, talent to become a manager has five dimensions as outlined in Gallup’s State of the American Manager Report:

Motivator – they perpetually challenge themselves and their teams to improve and perform.

Assertiveness – they overcome challenges, adversities and resistance.

Accountability – they ultimately assume responsibility for their teams’ success and create the structure and processes to help deliver on expectations.

Relationships – they build a positive, engaging work environment and shield it from infiltrators who aren’t engaged.

Decision-Making - They solve complex issues and problems inherent to the role of thinking ahead, planning for contingencies, balancing competing interests and taking an analytical approach.

Gallup quantifies the percentage of the American workforce that is engaged or just putting in time or actually working to undermine others or the organization.

But it also surveys to determine the proportion of managers who fall in those categories.

Managers overall are only slightly more prone to be engaged, which contributes, along with personal traits, to employees who are not engaged.

But the report finds that high-talent managers are twice as likely to be engaged as those with limited talent and engagement in a workforce, not just putting in time, is closely linked to a slew of positive business outcomes.

Engaged employees thrive under high-talent managers who are open and approachable, who manage performance continually rather than just with performance reviews, who help them  set priorities and goals and who focus on strengths.

One of the most corrosive things an organization can do is to promote managers with limited talent for it and then tolerate those who are not engaged or even actively disengaged themselves.

Gallup has found that managers who work for highly engaged leaders are 39% more likely to be engaged themselves.  Employees who work for engaged managers are 59% more likely to also be engaged.

One of the cruel hoaxes perpetrated on people in most careers or organizations is to make being a manager a stepping stone from tenure or being a good individual contributor.

The former should never be a consideration and the latter is where many people can continue to thrive and showcase their talents in other areas.

Subjecting them to managers who lack talent in the five dimensions Gallup research has identified is negligent.  Leaving them trapped once a mistaken promotion has been discovered is near criminal.

I was rated highly as a leader, but guilty of both.

Monday, June 29, 2015

“Get Over It and Move On”

I’ve tried to shake it but I can’t -- for long anyway -- get a comment I heard three days ago in a news report from a small town in South Carolina, less than three miles along US Route 176 from the North Carolina line.

It is along this route, nearly 475 years ago to the day that I heard this quote, that Hernando de Soto marched up into the Blue Ridge Mountains, becoming the first European to explore inland across the Southeast.

It would be another 220 years before European settlers reached this area, a few bringing or obtaining enslaved African Americans, some as status symbols.

It wouldn’t be until 15 years after the Civil War that the little town was established, the year that a white supremacist organization called the Ku Klux Klan began to terrorize African Americans and white sympathizers along both sides of the border here.

Until now, I’ve only known the area from its reputation as a spectacular motorcycle route.  But the statement by a resident there last week ruined that impression.

It was a reaction to calls by the legislator representing the area to remove the Confederate battle flag from where it flies above the state capitol in the wake of a murder of nine African Americans 228 miles southeast along US Route 176.

He is also a former city council member and mayor of the little town and a close friend and colleague of one of those slain.

The quote from a constituent objecting to the flag’s removal from state property was:

Is it hurting anyone?  No. If somebody has poor feelings about it, get over it and move on.”

Germany has many monuments honoring soldiers who were killed during WWII, including many in the areas my father’s American Tank battalion overran at the end of the war and then dismounted to search for pockets of resistance while liberating Dachau, first of the concentration camps established by the Nazis.

Remembrances for the victims is why places such as Dachau are now monuments.

I know people who lost their German fathers and husbands in that war before immigrating to America.  It is clear that many were caught up in that war without being part of its cause.

But Germany doesn't fly the Nazi flag anywhere, although it makes appearances in museum exhibitions.  In this country, while some collectors may have one that was brought back as a souvenir of war, it is viewed in disrepute, a symbol of white supremacist extremists.

Although, they too might rationalize it by saying “If somebody has poor feelings about it, get over it and move on.”

A far more thoughtful interview last week was with John A Powell, an African American law professor at UC Berkley and author of Racing to Justice: Transforming our Concepts of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society.

From parents who were sharecroppers in the South, Powell reminds us on the program On Being with Krista Tippett that “race is deeply relational.”  Any discussion is about whiteness as much as about color. 

In her blog, Courtney E. Martin writes that “Black people, people of color in general, don’t have the luxury of forgetting, especially as long as white people, particularly the “good ones,” remain so fragile.  She’s referring to our inability to discuss race.

Professor Powell, in his interview, states that “race is in the DNA of this country…it is like gravity.”   Any history of slavery, such as From Slavery to Freedom by the late Dr. John Hope Franklin, Powell would assert is really a history of America told through that institution.

To illustrate that point, he notes that when he taught white students at the University of Minnesota about the history of Native Americans, it was just a lens into the history of America.

He repeats an observation by the African American author Tony Morrison that any discussion of the effects of slavery should include what it’s done to mark the white identity as well.

Powell noted in the On Being interview last week, “The human condition is one about belonging…how we define the other affects how we define ourselves.”

“And so when we define the other as extreme, it means we have to cut off large parts of our self.”

Powell, when he explains that the notion of being American is and has historically been an ever evolving and expanding “we” would agree with the opinion read a few days later by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The conservative Justice reminds us that the notion of freedom in the Constitution has been forever evolving.  It was first limited to property-owning white men and has been expanded ever since to include all Americans including now the freedom of gay and lesbian Americans to marry.

Kennedy wrote for the majority, “The past alone does not rule the present.  The nature of injustice is that we do not always see it in our own time.  The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all its dimensions…”

He continues, “…and so they entrusted future generations to a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.”

Honoring war dead such as ancestors who fought to preserve a way of life called slavery is to respect their sacrifice without condoning the injustice requiring it of them.

But flying their flag is an insult, just as flying the Nazi flag is an insult, just as flying the flag of ISIS is an insult to freedom and justice.

The Confederate flag as an artifact of history is important to preserve.  But not when flown, as it has been in South Carolina beginning in the 1960s, to signal refusal to accept the end of desegregation.

But what’s far more important, in my opinion, than all of the energy we spend pushing and pulling over symbols such as a flag, is the need for us to discuss race, white as much as black or brown, beginning with implicit bias.

A wonderful start is to read or listen to the words spoken by John A. Powell.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Taking Up The Slack

In case you missed it, North Carolina where I have lived for going on three decades just missed ranking in the top 10 states for couch potatoes.

We came in #6 for average minutes watching TV, just below the middle of the pack for least amount of exercise, #11 for watching daytime soap operas and, drum roll, #14 for love of Lazy-E-Boys.

As a whole, Tar Heels are #15 when it comes to thinking about frozen pizza and #19 in our love of fast food, but in the middle of the pack again in our love of video games.

That is just a sampling of the metrics used to develop the Couch Potato index.

Regionally, according to Roberto Ferman, a reporter for Wonkblog, the South dominates the nation when it comes to Couch Potatoes.

It’s probably the humidity but that doesn’t explain why we don’t make up for it during mild winters.

North Carolina comes in #15 overall in the analysis compiled from various sources by bloggers for Estately, an online real estate research site.

Most fascinating to me was the variation across the country in the number of fast food restaurants per capita and the linkages to measures for Lazy-E-Boys, obesity and lack of exercise.

For many years I ate, on average, more than a hamburger per day, especially after moving to North Carolina, so it was no wonder then when my doctor told me I needed to lose 20-30 pounds as part of a regimen to lower my triglycerides.

I’ve eaten three hamburgers in the past year, two when traveling.  In the mean time, the number ordered per American has reached 28 compared to the nearly 550 a year I used to contribute alone.

The Burgers “ordered-in-restaurants” market is double the size of the market for pizzas, which is why it was smart of the index to include frozen pizzas.

A few years before I retired in 2009, Durham, where I live, jumped into the “better-burger movement,” led by a great restaurant that existed here at the time called Starlu.

It, in turn, helped spawn an early food truck called Only Burger, now also a sit-down or order-to-go restaurant with two locations.

At the time, better burgers were less than 2% of the overall restaurant burger market.  Now, they are double that share even though the overall market for burgers in restaurants has grown by another $13.4 billion.

Obviously someone is take up my slack.