Monthly Archives: April 2019

Immigration Issues

Recently, President Trump has proclaimed, referring to immigration at our southern border, that we are full. “… We can’t take you anymore. We can’t take you. Our country is full.” But really are we full? The birth rate in the United States has been below replacement level for several decades.

To maintain a stable population there must be 2.1 live births per female. The fertility rate now is less than 1.8 births per female. The average age in the United States has risen by ten years over the last 50 years, from 28 to 38.

Without immigration we would be experiencing negative growth – our population would be shrinking. Some might say that we do have too many here already and we need to shrink our population but that creates a demographic problem. Quite simply a shrinking population is an aging population. An aging population means a shortage of more youthful workers to maintain economic productivity, and provide the tax base to support social programs for the aged.

A rapidly growing population presents its own problems. Rapid growth means a youthful population. A very young population distribution can mean trouble for education and employment. Young , poorly educated, and unemployed could mean disaster. Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria all have an average age under 25. The most extreme are a number of African nations where the average citizen is a teenager.

The current growth rate in the United States is 0.7 %, due to the combination of births, deaths, and immigration. Compare this to the global growth rate of 1.2%. Although the population in both the United States and the world is growing, the rate of growth is slowing for both.

Over the last couple of decades, the immigration rate to the United States has been decreasing. This is partly due to a reduction in the number of migrants from Mexico. Increased prosperity (NAFTA?) has lowered the pressure for impoverished Mexicans to flee to the north.

The current wave of immigration, the infamous caravans, come from a region called the Northern Triangle (of Central America.) Poverty and Violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have driven whole families to risk a perilous journey of over 2000 miles to seek asylum in the United States.

Closing the border will not change the plight of the Central Americans. Besides, the migrants are flocking to legal ports of entry, close those and they will head to more dangerous border crossings in essentially unpredictable areas. Likewise unregulated totally open borders is no solution either.

The current rate of immigration is not particularly high. The only crisis is our inability to rapidly process the claims for asylum. We don’t need walls or barriers to immigration. We need facilities to humanely house the migrants. We need mechanisms to get them to where there are jobs so that they can do what they came for – raise their families in a safe and prosperous environment.

Over the past five years, the Immigration rate for Canada is about twice that of ours, and for Norway three times. We can handle it. Si Se Puede.

Dr. Bob Allen, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Arkansas Tech University.

The Green New Deal

The Green New Deal is a proposal to address global warming and economic inequality. It is widely feared by conservatives as a proposal designed to take away freedom – and cars and money and hamburgers and airplanes. Nonsense.
What it is is a very broad brush plan to eliminate the use of fossil fuels and the release of other greenhouse gases in ten years. Although the timeline is unreasonable, the objective of necessity will be accomplished in the longer term.
Under the plan, sustainable energy sources will be expanded to eliminate the use of fossil fuels for electricity production. Wind and solar with battery backing can eliminate the need for any fossil fuel use for electricity production. This is already underway, as the use of coal has been cut in half in just the last two to three decades.
At the same time, grid-scale batteries are becoming a thing. The City of Fayetteville will soon begin utilizing a ten megawatt solar panel system with energy storage in batteries – intermittency is not an issue with battery backup. Entergy is planning to close two coal fired plants and is building its own solar farms.
In our economy, the transportation sector is the largest user of fossil fuels. Electrification of transportation is in its infancy but happening none the less. Tesla, the biggest manufacturer of electric cars, has sold over a half-million vehicles since they began in 2012. Electric long haul trucks, semis, are in development and will hit the highways in 2020. Electrification of the rails is a no-brainer, it exists already on a limited scale and can be expanded nation-wide.
A tougher nut is aviation. Jet fuel, essentially kerosene made from crude oil, is an ideal energy source as it is very energy dense. To eliminate the use of fossil fuels from aviation will require either of a couple of solutions. The most likely, especially in the short term is to manufacture fuel synthetically from renewable sources.
Biodiesel from oil crops like soybeans is a possibility but would compete with cropland for food production. Better would be the use of waste organic matter as a feedstock for fuel production. This is already happening but needs to be done more efficiently.
Electrification of aviation has already been achieved but is a long way from commercial airlines’ scale. A battery-powered single engine plane with a range of four hundred miles has been flown in England.
The cost of the total conversion to sustainable energy systems will require considerable investment in research and infrastructure, but at the same time it will create quality jobs in an increasingly automated economy. The increased tax revenues from these new jobs can offset some of the costs.
Then there is the issue of what is the cost of doing nothing. Hurricanes in the East, flooding in the Midwest, and wildfires in the West are already costing hundreds of billions of dollars a year and will only get worse from inaction. Our future depends on facing the reality of climate change. The sooner we address the issue the less costly it will be.

Favoring the Sun

Polling shows that a clear majority of Arkansans, 60 to 70 percent give or take, recognize that global warming is happening. Without any polling data, we can only guess the everybody given a choice would favor clean air over polluted air. One method to reduce the rate of global warming and clean the air is to generate electricity from solar panels. Keeping the lights on in a house at night or through a week or two of wintery overcast requires one of two options, a battery bank or buying power from a utility during those periods.

The latter is by far the most common as batteries, where utility power is available, are far more expensive. A common solution is a so-called grid-tied array. People with rooftop solar panels remain connected to the utility grid so that they can get power at night. During the day they can generate the power they need from the sun. To make solar power more attractive most states have some form of net metering.

Net metering is achieved via a bi-directional meter. At night when solar panels are inactive, the meter runs normally, but during sunny periods when the solar panels produce more power than is consumed in the home, the meter runs backward. The homeowner is at these times a net producer, essentially a little power company selling to the utility.

Act 464, 2019 addresses some issues with solar energy production. It allows for third-party leasing. Essentially this allows a homeowner to rent his roof space to another company for placement of solar panels. It also allows for larger net metered arrays so a business can take advantage of the sun to power their facility. A debate exists as to how the solar panel owner is rewarded for their excess production. The simplest and current method in Arkansas is that excess production is rewarded at the same rate as consumption. If in a given billing cycle there is an excess production, credit for that production is carried forward.

Utility executives say that this makes them buy power at a retail rate. Of course, they want to buy power at a wholesale rate, then sell at a retail rate to maintain profitability. But that is an oversimplification. Utilities pay different rates for power depending on demand, so there is no single wholesale rate. High demand times calls for the purchase of expensive “peaking” power. Conversely during low demand times equipment is idled which also has a cost.

Power demands vary by both season and time of day, but one thing is clear. Demand for electricity is always higher during the day than at night. Wouldn’t it be neat if there were a way of producing power during the day when it is needed but not at night so no utility equipment is idled? Solar generated electricity is nicely matched to demand which can serve to lower overall costs to the utility and at the same time clean the air and slow global warming.

The act has good and bad points, but overall it is supported by several environmental organizations.

Dr. Bob Allen, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, Arkansas Tech University.