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Vail Valley Voices: Meanwhile in news not concerning M.J. …

Bill Sepmeier
Vail, CO, Colorado
newsroom@vaildaily.com

A lot has been going on in the world besides Michael Jackson’s death, though you wouldn’t know it if you have a television.

Since most people do and have been effectively out of touch for the past two weeks, here’s an opportunity to catch up with some of the headlines you may have missed.

Rise of the yuan

First, the Chinese government decided that the Chinese currency, the yuan, may be used in international trade.

To be fair, this happened back in May, but it probably slipped under the radar of the corporate media since they don’t do much business in Yuan, or haven’t up till now. It’s important news though, since about 50 percent of all business with Hong Kong will be denominated in the Yuan by the end of this year.

So what?

Hong Kong re-exports 90 percent of its Chinese imports. The European Union is the largest importer; the United States is in second place. Since most everything you and I purchase is from China, we’ll soon need to earn enough Yuan to pay for it.

No problem. We’ll covert dollars to Yuan, right? Yeah … no.

While that new HDTV (made in China, or at least most of its parts were) presented non-stop insight about The Deceased Glove, China again quietly asserted that it really doesn’t want dollars or even dollar based assets (aka, USA Treasury debt) anymore.

The Chinese government actually scaled down its purchases of U.S. Treasury paper back in February. That’s the reason our Federal Reserve stepped up as “T-bill buyer of last resort.”

As Dmitry Orlov says, “the IOU is now becoming the IOme.” And this massive creation of shiny new money is not being received well by people who sell stuff to the United States on credit. People who have noted that the Chinese have begun buying up copper, silver and gold on the international markets instead of U.S. debt. People like oil producers and speculators who, in case you’ve missed it, are doubling in dollars what they get for black gold compared to a few months ago.

It is already possible to have yuan-denominated savings and checking accounts in some countries. In Hong Kong these accounts will exceed 100 billion U.S. dollars by the end of this year.

If you can, you might want to open an account with one of the online banks that allows you to hold your cash assets in yuan instead of dollars, too. Unless, of course, you look forward to using your savings for toilet paper like the Russians did when the USSR’s currency crashed in the 1990s.

I was in Russia back in those days and I joined the locals in using newly printed, crisp red-and-white 200 ruble notes as bung-wipe since they were available and real toilet paper, if you could find some, cost more per square.

Windy promises

In the local news, Tri-State Generation, an independent electricity generation company that provides energy for a lot of Colorado residents through local co-ops and Duke Energy, the third-largest coal consumer in the American electric utility business, have announced that they’re going to put up 34 big wind turbines near Burlington in eastern Colorado.

The governor’s office said this would equal 55 megawatts (55,000,000 watts) of new, green power.

In reality, wind-power generators in ideal locations don’t produce nearly as much energy as their “nameplate capacity,” which is the number the governor’s office used.

Actual wind production is never more than about 30 percent of nameplate over an annual average, since the wind doesn’t blow constantly, even in Burlington.

So the news should have been that another 15 megawatts, on average over the year, has been added to the Front Range grid.

That’s enough power for about 1400 homes — for the eight days out of the year the wind blows 24 hours a day.

But since wind is intermittent energy, what it really means is that a company called Cogentrix Energy, the independent power producer that owns the Plains End power peaking plant in Arvada, now will have to import more huge natural gas generators from Finland in order to provide reliable electricity whenever the wind changes.

That’s not bad news. The Finns still accept dollars.

Plains End is a unique power station since, according to Power Engineering magazine, it doesn’t use traditional steam turbines but instead provides over 111 megawatts of “on demand” energy with 20 Wartsila natural gas engines, generating 5.7 megawatts of electricity per unit.

The plant typically runs about 2,000 hours per year, filling the gaps effectively as natural wind-farm power ebbs and flows with nature’s cycles.

The massive gas reciprocating engines that turn the generators, similar to the 2 megawatt gondola power backup systems on Vail Mountain but much larger, can go from zero to 50 million watts in under two minutes and can deliver 111 million watts in under 10 minutes.

They do this more and more, as we add more wind energy to our grid. The Finnish firm that makes these reciprocal engine peaking plants also provides them in diesel, which means the nation is now adding imported oil to our utility fuel base of coal and gas — in order to be greener.

Spy stuff

In regional news, the National Security Agency, the folks who monitor all of your calls, e-mails and Web surfing in order to protect you from terrorists, announced that they can’t afford the electric bill back east and as a result will be building a huge new data center in Utah, where rates are lower.

The initial plan for this data center calls for 65 megawatts of electric service. 65,000,000 watts, or enough energy to power about 64,000 of the homes the NSA will be listening in on.

Oh, 98 percent of those watts will be generated by … coal.

The new wind turbines in Burlington won’t even keep the lights on.

It’s no wonder everyone would rather watch “Michael Jackson Entombed — 2009!”

Even though the 30 million HDTVs tuned in the The Glove’s Last Waltz burned 15 billion watts of power, at least we had it to burn.

We’ll look back on this fondly, someday. Or maybe not.

Bill Sepmeier lives in Sweetwater.


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