The Cox May bill includes an insert that gives notice to customers about July 2008 rate increases. The notice says, "new rates for pay-per-use calling features effective 7/1/08: $.99 increase to $1.99 for Call Return, Three-Way and Busy Line Redial and doesn't affect monthly subscription customers. Also effective 7/1/08, pay-per-use increase for Directory Assistance with Call Completion--$.99 increases to $1.50.
The bill insert in the May statement included "Caller ID Blocking" ---free to choose 2 options "First Time" (Caller ID Line Blocking or Caller ID Per Call Blocking). If customers change their minds, it will cost them: "However, there will be a service charge for each subsequent change". NO PRICES ARE INCLUDED FOR SECOND CHANGES.
The American Customer Satisfaction Index has released its quarterly report today. No surprise to me that Sprint has hit a low year-over-year of -8.2 percent. Sprint stands alone in the negative column within its own industry. In its press release the index points to Sprint's service problems and customer defections as a reason behind the low numbers that drag the entire wireless sector down.
The ACSI is a national economic indicator measuring satisfaction of U.S. consumers. It is produced by the University of Michigan's Ross Schools of Business in partnership with the American Society for Qualtiy and CFI Group. Read more.
Friday's UCAN News reports that diesel has gone up to $4.77 a gallon in San Diego. Truckers and engineers aren't sitting idle. A recent Los Angeles Times article addresses, among other things, the changing aerodynamics of the cab and other promising technologies stretching from tires to alternative power units. Read more.
As part of a program for action to curb water usage Los Angeles officials today have unveiled their ambitious plan.
The Los Angeles Times reports "This is a radical departure for the city of Los Angeles," said Department of Water and Power General Manager David Nahai. "I think overall this plan is going to be a beacon for other cities."
Los Angeles' plan -- a copy of which was made available to The Times -- would invest in projects to capture and store rainfall and clean up a sprawling, contaminated water supply beneath the San Fernando Valley. About $1 billion would be allocated for reclamation, including a politically sensitive plan to use treated wastewater to recharge underground drinking supplies serving the Valley, Los Feliz and the Eastside.
San Diego county is facing the same water crisis and must start it very own aggressive program. The sooner we start addressing the reality of our situation the sooner we can shape our outcome. I have to tip my hat to those who are taking up the city's 20-gallon challenge. That said, the savings doesn't seem to me to be enough but rather, a drop in the bucket.
To read the LADWP's summary of "Securing LA's Water Future, " click here.
To read the city Los Angeles' press release unveiling LA's 20-year water strategy, click here.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Solitude in Borrego Springs
Sometimes we need to attend meetings inside to save the wilderness outside.
So it was with a sense of purpose that I headed out to Borrego Springs on Monday to participate in the CPUC's public hearing on the dreaded proposed SDG&E 500KV power line, which would run from their dirty gas-fired power plants in Mexico, all the way to Carmel Mountain north of Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve - with a northerly way-point near Lake Henshaw where a large substation would be built to serve as a jumping-off point for a northerly link to the ultimate goal: Electricity customers in Los Angeles, the City of Angels. Along the way, portions of 64,000 acres of proposed federal wilderness stand to suffer the impacts of 7-story tall power towers, high tension lines, and associated road and building infrastructure. The presence of solitude - the very core of federal wilderness - would suffer tremendously should this ill-advised power line be allowed to go forward.
On my arrival, I was greeted to some of the first public comments in an evening that was to include testimony by nearly 70 individuals. I took a number: #65. What I heard as I entered the venue set the tone for the evening: A folk music quartet with a fiddle was singing a heart-warming ode to the desert and the public lands that we all hold so dear to our hearts. It was beautiful, and touching. And it brought smiles to the faces of the four commissioners (one commissioner was absent), and several hundred ‘publics' in the chamber.
What a moving experience it is to hear the 1-1/2 minute soliloquies spoken by citizens who have strong feelings about the proposal. Mothers, fathers, kids, cowboys, riders, runners, homeowners, boy scouts, business owners, advocates for the power lines, advocates against the power lines, biologists, engineers... all of them tax payers, all them rate-payers (well, there were a handful who were off the grid), and all of them heard. Some of them were woefully miss-guided, but what are you going to do? This is a democracy!
As I made my way to the podium, I took a moment to poke my head out the open door. Just as I suspected, the dark night sky was still there, and the bright twinkle of stars penetrated the few dim lights that illuminated the courtyard there. Moments later, I uttered these unrehearsed lines into the public record: "Good evening members of the Commission. Thank you for having us. I hope you can all join me, this evening soon after the hearing adjourns, for a walk out in the desert to view the dark night sky, examine the stars, and have a beer. Or any libation of your choosing - water works. And even if you cannot join me - as I will most certainly be out there very shortly - I urge you to drive your vehicle to a solitary road in the nearby desert, head down the road a bit, stop the vehicle, turn off the engine, and take a walk into the darkness. Look up into the sky, take in the freshness... and experience the solitude. After all that's why we're all here (gesturing to the gallery): Solitude...."
I hope some did.
It is May 8th and the evidentiary phase of the Sunrise Powerlink hearings are finally over. It took the better part of two years to get here. SDG&E is going to be submitting one more exhibit (SD-144) today and we will have wrapped up the fact-gathering part of this case and moving into the briefing mode.
What I can say today is that SDG&E's case has effectively fallen apart. It's alleged economic annual savings claim of $400 million a year shrank after the first round of hearings to $140 million per year. Now, in the latest round, those savings have pretty much disappeared. SDG&E was pretty much forced to concede yesterday that San Diego can save far more money by building just one 500MW in-basin combined cycle power plant than it can by building a powerline to Imperial Valley.
Ex. SD-144 is revealing. It confirms that SDG&E's Enhanced Northern Route has a B/C ratio, according to themselves, of 1.22 compared to an 8100 Btu/kwh Carlsbad-based "super-peaker" plant and 1.06 compared to a 7165 btu/kwh. The net dollar benefits are $35 million/year compared to an 8100 Btu/kwh Carlsbad and $10 million/year compared to a 7165 Btu/kwh Carlsbad. So UCAN shouldn't have any objections to SD-144 being admitted into evidence.
But wait, there's more. The two new Table 11-6 variants, looked at together, show that a 935 Btu/kwh efficiency improvement lowers net ratepayer costs by $25 million/year. So a further improvement to the same 7000 Btu/kwh value that SDG&E used for all other combined cycles would, other things being equal, save a further $25 million/year x 165/935 = $4.4 million per year, knocking the net benefit of the ENR down to under $6 million per year. Bottom line compared to a reasonable range of gas-fired alternatives, the net benefits of Sunrise (ENR version) according to SDG&E's own numbers would be $6-35 million/year.
Now here's the kicker. As will become more evident as UCAN's briefs are released, the actual benefit of Sunrise is a NEGATIVE $133 million. In other words, Sunrise is a remarkable money loser -- some $8 billion over its estimated 60-year lifespan.
Remember, Ex. SD-144 reflects SDG&E's rosiest scenarios. But if you look at a more realistic scenario, the benefits of Sunrise over generation alternatives crumbles like week-old scones. It starts by deducting $36.5 million/year in alleged benefits when you no longer assume (as SDG&E does) that non-local RA is free. Another $27.5 million/year gets lopped off due to increased capacity of Miguel which SDG&E has all but conceded. As will be set forth in UCAN's upcoming brief, the list goes on and on. Reality is a bummer --- especially for trumped-up powerline projects.
SDG&E's claim of access to renewables also fell apart. Aside from the increasing signs that most of the promising, cost-effective renewables are located outside of the Imperial Valley, it was also readily determined that SDG&E could comply with the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard without having Sunrise constructed. And some very compelling testimony relating to the use of indigenous solar power along with Edison's announcement of its ambitious solar project undercut much of SDG&E's claims. There was also the embarrassing revelation that the controversial Stirling project has plans to build regardless of whether Sunrise was built or not. Oops. Of course, no one in California is betting that Stirling will be built anytime soon -- there are no signs that its technology will actually ever work in the field.
As to the question of Sunrise being needed to maintain reliability, or in SDG&E's parlance, "to keep the lights on", SDG&E fell flat on its face. UCAN and the PUC staff made overwhelming showings that SDG&E has a panoply of short and long-term lower-cost options to keep up with electricity demand without Sunrise. Even the California ISO distanced itself from SDG&E's claim that the line was needed for reliability.
The truth about the October wildfires also became clearer during the hearings. The transmission lines were found to be major contributors to wildfires. And the proposed Sunrise route runs directly through a fire-prone area. Moreover, testimony about seismic dangers showed that the Sunrise route begins at a spot that is the most seismically active in the United States with a high degree of likelihood for a 7.0 or larger quake. One of SDG&E's experts claimed that the Imperial Valley substation can withstand quakes in excess of 7.0 without suffering any damage. Yeah right. We'll see how confident they are when their own money is at stake.
So why is SDG&E continuing to push so hard for a powerline that is not justifiable on economic or reliability grounds other than "wouldn't it be nice"? The answer is three-fold:
1. It's about money. The appx. $800 million that SDG&E can reap in profits in building this powerline is simply too much potential profit from which the company can walk away. Sunrise is not just a cash cow, its a cash herd. Plus, SDG&E assumes that it will recoup all of the $200 million that it has and will continue to spend to make this project happen, so it has got nothing to lose by pursuing the project. It gets paid if it loses, it gets paid big-time if it wins. Las Vegas would go broke with those odds.
2. Second, this is about creating the ability for power companies to send power through San Diego County into Northern California. SDG&E views this project as the first of two powerline projects. The "full loop" that the company was found to be planning continues with another major 500kV line into the Edison territory. Why? Well, Sempra's Baja power plant is just one of many reasons.
3. It's about politics. The Bush Administration has been pushing transmission construction for the better part of its 8 years in power. These big construction projects are the mother's milk of the utility industry. With fewer new power plants being built and with those plants being increasingly risky propositions, the utilities need some long-term investments that will ensure their economic welfare for the next generation. Transmission is it -- whether it is needed or not. And with the federal government and the Schwarzenegger administration hell-bent on pushing these utility cash-cow projects, the politics behind Sunrise may well eclipse the merits of this project.
Final briefs will be completed by June 13th. At that time, the public will finally have an authoritative and complete accounting of all of the "facts" behind this ill-conceived nightmare. At that point, the real truths behind the proposed powerline will become far more apparent.
I was over 100 days past due on my Sprint account! Well, that is what Laura told me on March 1. How can that be, I asked, shocked by her declaration. The reason I had called Sprint on this spring day was to ask why I hadn't received a bill in months.
Laura tells me that Sprint doesn't send invoices when no new charges have been added. WhatEVER happened to accountability, I demanded. And, if there are no new charges; what, in the wireless world, do I owe?
Laura quickly reversed the $1.55 but never sent me a copy of my bill so that I could see, for myself, what Sprint had charged me $1.55 for.
I'm a long-time Sprint client. The plan that started our relationship has been called many things by Sprint: The Pioneer Plan, The San Diego Plan, and now it seems that it is being called the Clear & Free 0 Plan.
goal, with this new account number, is to provide me, a valued Sprint customer, "best-in-class products and services" which includes Sprint's new "easy-to-read" bill.
Okay, call me obstinate, or even obtuse: But, a bill never received is a bill IMPOSSIBLE to read.
Leslie, another Sprint customer service representative, told me that I should check with my local post office to find out why I haven't received my Sprint bill. We spoke on April 8. No bill again, and I'm told, by Leslie, that I now owe 96 cents.
I pushed Leslie to transfer me to Adam who then had me speak to Nicole. Nicole was a breath of fresh air. She sent me a copy, free of charge, of my latest "easy-to-read" bill showing me why I owe 96 cents. Sprint has tacked on surcharges. They are "rates we choose to collect from you to help defray costs imposed on us." That, I found on page 5 of my "easy-to-read" bill.
My plan, from 1997, has no monthly charges. That is why I jumped at it and have held on to it. I accepted the terms of the Pioneer Plan and I have kept my end of the contract, for all these years, along with thousands of other San Diegans. I wish I could say the same for Sprint.
Sprint's stock price had soared into triple digits just two years after the beginning of my contract with them. Now, interestingly enough, the stock is trading in the single digits near their 52-week low of $5.48. Should I find it odd that they are trying to alter the terms of the Pioneer Plan as their stock price continues to sink? Hmm.
Skype Pro customers who paid $36 for one year of "unlimited" service charged additional $3 a month and limited to 3000 minutes
Skype Pro Customers who signed up for 12 months of unlimited service at $36 seem to be running into some hidden gotchas with Skype. Apparently, in January, Skype began charging customers who already paid $36 in advance an extra $3 per month in addition to the $36 charge without explanation. In addition, customers who purchased unlimited minutes now have a 3000 "fair use" limit to which they didn't agree. Lastly, there are reports that Skype Credit offered with purchases is not being offered as well. Share your story about problems with Skype below.
So here's a recap
1. Some customers who paid the $36 for 12 months in advance, appear to have errantly charged $3 / month despite having already paid $36 for the year.
2. A 3000 minute per month limit was implemented(perhaps in January) as to all customers despite customers purchasing an unlimited plan.
3. The skype credit that supposedly comes with SkypePro(now $12) appears to not have been honored.
If you have experienced similar issues or have a complaint about Skype you'd like to share, post it as a comment below.
Being prescient after making against-the-grain predictions is a UCAN tradition. Now that the price of oil has reached $105 a barrel, the mainstream media is finally admitting what we've been saying for years: that OPEC's price "increases" aren't really increases at all - what's really happening is that the dollar's value is dropping so quickly that it takes $105 in U.S. dollars to buy what used to cost $75 U.S. Not only that, these cuts in the value of the dollar actually help the U.S. Treasury pay its debts. Good for Uncle Sam, but very bad for you ... especially if you happen to live in America.
Economists have a word for this: They call it "Inflation."
Unfortunately our government has not been monitoring inflation. About ten years ago, the United States began reporting what was called the "Core Rate" of inflation. This "Core Rate" is deceptive ... it does not include the cost of energy, food or housing - those items are considered mere "statistical noise"
That's why Mr. Bernanke has been able to claim that our inflation woes are manageable. The official numbers do not reflect the true price of anything that people actually buy. Apparently, Mr. Bernanke has not purchased a gallon of gas lately ... gone grocery shopping ... or tried to buy a home or pay rent.
Mr. Bernanke's claims that we have "minimal inflation" are wearing thin. Even mainstream economists are waking up and smelling their overpriced coffee (as evidenced by Starbuck's recent financial woes).
Here's how bad it is - the Mexican Peso is actually gaining on the U.S. dollar. That's right, the currency of a third-world country - a country where flush toilets are considered a luxury -- actually has a stronger monetary system than the U.S.A.
So why would our government inflate your money? They have three very good reasons:
1) in the short term, it stimulates the economy by creating the illusion of wealth. When there is more money in the system, it is easier to get into debt, because the money available to banks is cheaper.
2) In the long term, it is a great way to cut the benefits of wounded veterans and social security recipients.
It's ugly but true: Government benefits are tied to the Core rate of inflation" which doesn't measure the true rate of inflation. That means that COLAs (Cost of Living Adjustments) do not keep up with inflation. This process cheats Americans, but helps keep the government in the black.
3) It is a fantastic way to pay off war debts and other foreign debts, such as money we've borrowed from the Chinese ... the debt is payed in dollars that are worth far less than the value of the money that was originally loaned. This is how Germany paid its debts to allied nations after World War I. At one point, it took a wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread in post-war Germany. Hopefully it won't get that bad here.
UCAN is known for making some pretty good predictions. We didn't predict that the Peso would outstrip the dollar, but we did tell you that the government was lying about the inflation rate more than two years ago. And we observed (correctly) that every major economic upheaval of the last 50 years has been accompanied by high oil and energy costs.
Of course UCAN members knew all about this trend TWO years ago, because we explained it in our Spring 2006 newsletter, which is available in print form to our members long before we ever put it on the Internet.
So the next time somebody offers you a penny for your thoughts, say "No Thanks, I prefer a stable currency, like the Peso." And don't forget what President Gerald Ford said, "Inflation is the cruelest tax of all."
Consumers can get their money back on fake "miracle" cold remedy Airborne in false advertising lawsuit settlement
Consumers who bought the cold remedy Airborne, and related products, between May 1, 2001, and November 29, 2007, can get their money back. Simply visit airbornesettlement.com to make your claim, I just did, and I'll give an update on the results. You can file a complaint online or print and send a claim form, but you'll want to rack your brain and try to remember...
- The store from which you bought the product(s),
- The amount you spent on the product(s).
- The city in which you bought the product.
- The type of product you bought
According to Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing, the company that made Airborne "settled a lawsuit brought by customers who were upset to learn that the 'clinical trials' that proved that it worked were faked. If you bought any of this snake-oil, you can get some money back.
Boing Boing points to the Lede blog from the NY Times, which reports that
"Under the agreement, a special Web site was created here to accept claims from customers, who have spent far more than $23.3 million on the range of Airborne products, from Airborne On-the-Go and Airborne Nighttime to Airborne Gummi and Airborne Power Pixies, which is sweetened for children..."