Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Metro security, safety and ingenuity


Photo by Daquella manera on Flickr.
Bag searches before Board this morning: The WMATA Board will be discussing bag searches this morning. Bob Thomson argues this is a "policy" issue because the program "has fundamentally changed [Metro's] relationship with its customers." Given Board chair Cathy Hudgins' statements at a recent town hall, it's unlikely the Board will take action against the searches. (MCCRC)

ATU skeptical about Metro safety progress: ATU leadership has accused WMATA leadership of window-dressing on safety issues to "appease the Board of Directors and local media" and says the agency's policy forbidding employees to talk to the media violates their right to speak out about safety issues. (Dr. Gridlock)

Metro "MacGyvers" SmarTrip sensors: After last summer's fare increase made the fare table so complicated that SmarTrip sensors took extra time to read riders' cards, WMATA is installing plastic domes over every sensor that improve the positioning of swiped cards with respect to the antenna in the sensor. (Dr. Gridlock)

Montgomery now majority-minority: Population growth in Maryland over the last decade is primarily due to increases in minority populations. Montgomery County, like Prince George's, is now a minority-majority county. Baltimore City was the only Maryland county that lost population, albeit at the lowest rate since 1950. (WTOP)

VA Senate passes distracted driving bills: The Virginia Senate has passed two bills to strengthen the state's distracted driving laws. One would make texting while driving a primary offense, while another would make it illegal to talk on a cell phone except in hands-free mode. The bills now go to the House. (WAMU)

Arlington may get hotel tax surcharge after all: After being blocked once by Fairfax's Tim Hugo (R), a bill to renew Arlington's ability to charge a 1/4% surcharge on hotel rooms has passed out of subcommittee and stands a 60-40 chance of passing the House. (ARLnow)

White House proposes $53 billion in 6 years for high-speed rail: Vice President Biden announced the President's proposal to invest $53 billion in 6 years which will focus investment on three levels of service from true high-speed rail on core stretches to so slower "emerging" corridors. (Fast Lane, Gavin)

MD, VA, Feds looking at wind power: Maryland is proposing to require utility companies to buy power from off-shore wind turbines. (WUSA) ... The Federal government is wants to place wind farms in federal waters off the coast of several mid-Atlantic states, including near Virginia Beach. (NBC Washington)

And...: The DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs will open a Small Business Resource Office this spring to help expedite business permitting. (DCmud) ... Maryland's infrastructure has been graded a C-, slightly above the national average of D. (WUSA) ... After the Committee of 100 suggested a different alignment for the 8th Street streetcar, The Hill is Home wants to know, where would you put it?

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Erik Weber has been living car-free in the District since 2009. Hailing from the home of the nation's first Urban Growth Boundary, Erik has been interested in transit since spending summers in Germany as a kid where he rode as many buses, trains and streetcars as he could find. Views expressed here are Erik's alone. 

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Why put wind farms only in the water? Why not put them along the Interstate system (where appropriate). Germany does this a lot. This can be very efficient in rural areas where few people live near highways, and an nice source of income for rural counties.

by Jasper on Feb 10, 2011 9:00 am • linkreport

Wind farms work well in rural areas next to interstates where it is flat. They don't work so well in hilly or mountain areas.

by MLD on Feb 10, 2011 9:25 am • linkreport

Google has invested some money into a underwater transmission lines, which may be part of this entire water-based package.

I agree putting them near highways would make some sense, but are you talking government-operated windmills or private sector? (or given Germany's incentives, maybe it doesn't matter). I can't imagine one wind turbine will generate a lot in tax....

Giving WMATA their own windfarm in West Virginia on federal land could be an interesting move....

by charlie on Feb 10, 2011 9:26 am • linkreport

I agree with Jasper. Put them on highways, especially highways that are already ugly.

by Jazzy on Feb 10, 2011 9:28 am • linkreport

The first priority in siting a wind farm is, well, wind.

The off-shore farm we're talking about here is a good idea for two reasons - one, it's windy there, and two, the project is part of a larger project of adding an additional underwater transmission line up and down the east coast. The transmission line is needed anyway, and putting it there makes getting wind energy to shore from a very potent source easy.

Putting them on Interstates is fine, if it's windy and if there's easy transmission. However, just arguing to put them on interstates for the hell of it is missing the whole point.

by Alex B. on Feb 10, 2011 9:33 am • linkreport

@jasper, this is far from offshore wind at the exclusion of onshore. The US currently has zero offshore wind generation, compared with about 40,000MW of onshore wind nationally. So the Interior Department is trying to address that. The Mid-Atlantic and Northeast coats happen to be good locations for generating offshore wind energy.

by Mike B on Feb 10, 2011 9:40 am • linkreport

Fact: Friction coefficient over water < friction coefficient over land (where there are hills, trees, buildings...) = more wind = more efficient place to generate wind-powered electricity.

by Matt Glazewski on Feb 10, 2011 9:44 am • linkreport

Are the plastic domes really the only change? The gates are definitely running a lot more smoothly, and I'd daresay that even the ones that haven't gotten the domes are faster.

by andrew on Feb 10, 2011 10:03 am • linkreport

My smartrip card can be read through my plastic badge holder now that the domes are in, so something's better.

by Michael Perkins on Feb 10, 2011 10:16 am • linkreport

@ all: I do not oppose off-shore wind farms. I'd just like to see more wind mills (I am Dutch after all). Of course, they would need to be placed in windy places. It is not true though that only flat places are windy. Mountain ranges can be very windy as well. Drive down I-68 and feel the wind slam you when you go over very single ridge. Especially Sideling Hill is a madhouse. And there's a couple of other ones.

I am sure if you send out wind farmers to look along interstates (and US routes), they'll find plenty of suitable spots. The government could lease out spots for a nice fee, while keeping the paperwork down to a minimum since they have the ROW.

by Jasper on Feb 10, 2011 10:45 am • linkreport

@ Perkins: My smartrip card can be read through my plastic badge holder now that the domes are in, so something's better.

Hmmm. Interesting. I am finding the opposite. My card was always read fine from within my wallet, and with the new thingies it's slower, or no read. Perhaps the distance was perfect and now too large.

by Jasper on Feb 10, 2011 10:47 am • linkreport

@ High Speed Rail

I am not so sure how good of an investment this would be. I know high speed rail is great, and for many trips (like dc to NY) would take a simular amount of time but the money could just be better spent.

40-50 major cities in the US could recive some sort of metro or light rail system instead for that much. Taking more cars off the road in the long run.

by Matt R on Feb 10, 2011 10:58 am • linkreport

@Jasper - you're right about the ridges. However, if it is TOO windy, like higher elevations frequently are, then the turbines are forced to apply brakes. Why? If they turn too fast, they'll break apart. This is why you may have noticed in some areas that some turbines are spinning while others are not - the wind speed is right on the threshold of too powerful for the turbines tolerance. Low elevation constant wind flow is the ideal situation. If it wasn't the case, I bet Mount Washington [windiest place in the U.S.] would be covered in wind generators.

by Matt Glazewski on Feb 10, 2011 10:59 am • linkreport

@Matt Glaz -but aren't open seas more likely to have gale force winds more frequently?

by Tina on Feb 10, 2011 11:03 am • linkreport

@Tina -

Yes, but certain areas. I can point you to a wind climatology derived from satellite scatterometers over the past decade, if you're interested. These identify the areas climatologically likelier to experience higher winds. The folks investing in wind power use tools like this to choose the highest yield environments. Certainly, if we installed a windmill in George's Bank off New England it'd not be running most of the time! :-)

by Matt Glazewski on Feb 10, 2011 11:07 am • linkreport

nifty

by Tina on Feb 10, 2011 11:08 am • linkreport

@jasper; I actually think you are really on to something with highways ROW. However, look at the term "government" Which government is that -- state, county, local? Do they actually have the ability to build? You' still have to deal with local opposition (NIMBY), highway beautification types, and transmission lines. And in rural America, wouldn't you rather see farmers rent land (and continue farming) rather than the local government getting the rents?

@MattR: +1. HSR reminds me of the canal craze in the 1800s. Bad model that got smacked around. And because it is government run, it can't be allocated to the very few places that would benefit. HSR screams for an infrastructure bank -- if Amtrak think there is a business case for a 12 billion dollar tunnel, let them get it from a 50/50 bank rather than direct from feds.

by charlie on Feb 10, 2011 11:09 am • linkreport

What about placing windmills in the empty parking lots of abandoned shopping malls and the underused-1/2 empty parking lots suburban office parks? I see places for windmills everywhere.

by Tina on Feb 10, 2011 11:11 am • linkreport

I'd just like to see more wind mills (I am Dutch after all). Of course, they would need to be placed in windy places. It is not true though that only flat places are windy. Mountain ranges can be very windy as well. Drive down I-68 and feel the wind slam you when you go over very single ridge. Especially Sideling Hill is a madhouse. And there's a couple of other ones.

Wind farm on Backbone Mountain outside of Thomas, WV:
http://www.mtnhome4u.com/windmills.html
http://www.shullphoto.com/index.php#mi=2&pt=1&pi=10000&s=20&p=6&a=0&at=0
http://www.windaction.org/pictures/381
http://brightmorninginn.com/2010/05/majestic-wind-turbines-near-thomas-wv/

Also, Altamont Pass in N. California...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altamont_Pass_Wind_Farm

by oboe on Feb 10, 2011 11:20 am • linkreport

There are several wind farms in West Virginia, including all up and down the Allegheny Front (I've photographed a few near Scherr).

by Froggie on Feb 10, 2011 12:13 pm • linkreport

@ charlie: I actually think you are really on to something with highways ROW. However, look at the term "government" Which government is that -- state, county, local?

Do I care? Does it matter? Whomever is in charge can decide this. I'd assume it's states BTW. DOTs tend to be in charge of the roads.

Do they actually have the ability to build?

I don't want them to build. I want them to lease (not sell) space for wind mills to whomever is interested. That could be local utilities, local land owners, I don't care. It would be a nice source of income.

You still have to deal with local opposition (NIMBY), highway beautification types, and transmission lines.

Transmission lines should be underground, and can be plugged into the local network. I would hope that it's easier to deal with NIMBY near a highway, than somewhere else. I'd think it'd be fairly easy for states to adapt laws to make it possible.

And in rural America, wouldn't you rather see farmers rent land (and continue farming) rather than the local government getting the rents?

In all honesty, I could not care less who builds wind mills. I'd love for local farmers to get wind mills as well, but would guess that is harder to do than along highways. More NIMBY from neighbors. Oddly, in Europe it's often local governments that stop farmers from building wind mills because they want the income themselves.

I am no energy expert, but looking with a semi-scientific eye at developments, it seems a no-brainer that wind and solar energy should take over a massive amount of power production from the current power plants, especially nuke and coal. Those are bad in general. There's a few things that need to happen to get wind and solar going.

* Every power producer needs to be able to plug into the local power grid and get a meter than can run both ways, so you can feed the grid when you are producing power, and take from the net when you need it. The role of utilities would change from principal provider of power to making sure that the grid always is powered up properly, using batteries if necessary.

* People, especially farmers, need to be encouraged to install wind mills. Governments need to figure out where wind mills can be placed, and should make it easy for whomever is interested.

* Building codes need to be changed so that new and renovated buildings are required to install as much sun capturing devices as possible (and relevant) on roofs and sides that are exposed to the sun. You could require solar cells, and solar boilers on roofs. Very high buildings could be required to install windmills on their tops. I trust the free market can come up with pretty looking products.

by Jasper on Feb 10, 2011 2:08 pm • linkreport

Wind farms work well in rural areas next to interstates where it is flat. They don't work so well in hilly or mountain areas.

Except for the huge California wind farms where are in hilly regions near interstates. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_California

by dan on Feb 10, 2011 2:13 pm • linkreport

Re wind farms

The US has the largest wind generating capacity of any county, including Germany (see the reference here). Total capacity in the US is 35 GW, about 2% of the total. Most of it is on the plane in Texas.

I have driven through the Fowler Wind Farm, the 5th largest in the world, off of I-65 in northwest Indiana, which currently has 355 turbines, about half of which had blades that have a diameter of 70 m. The terrain is very flat. The installation is immense; there are turbines as far as the eye can see for many miles.

by goldfish on Feb 10, 2011 2:14 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the link to the Hill is Home online survey about where to locate the N/S streetcar line through Capitol Hill.

http://www.thehillishome.com/2011/02/reader-poll-streetcars/

I am getting worried about the connection over the 11th Street Bridge into historic Anacostia. The 11st Bridge construction looks like it's coming right along, but it will NOT have streetcar tracks built in. They are leaving a space on the local bridge for streetcar tracks, but is there anything in the DC budget to actually install those tracks anytime this century?

Having (1.) a toy streetcar going back and forth and back and forth on H Street NE, and (2.) a 0.75 mile (!) line near the Anacostia Metro, and (3.) no connection between them, is a far cry from a 37-mile streetcar system, and seems likely to be a detriment more than a demonstration project for promoting expansion to the citywide system being touted by d-dot.

by Trulee Pist on Feb 10, 2011 2:34 pm • linkreport

Trulee Pist: FYI, the local bridge which will have the streetcar tracks is not under construction yet. The existing outbound bridge needs to be demolished first.

by Froggie on Feb 10, 2011 2:41 pm • linkreport

Just to add more info and resources to the wind turbine debate:

A good source for info on this is the National Renewalbe Energy Lab (NREL). http://www.nrel.gov.

Jasper, what you are looking for is a Feed-In tariff. That's a local issue. Pepco would have to be ordered to accept the additional power a household produces. Usually the argument against this is resource planning--how much power does Pepco contract for if it cannot predict how much will be displaced by individual homeowners' turbines? Should Pepco just buy on the spot market all the time or risk take-or-pay long term contracts? Etc.

Finally, everyone should be clear whether they're talking about large grid-scale wind farms or a tiny wind turbine that you could install for your home. Those are very different animals. Are you talking about a home-based renewable energy source with a two-way meter or a large wind/solar farm that must interconnect with the transmission grid?

rdhd

by rdhd on Feb 10, 2011 3:40 pm • linkreport

rdhd: -how much power does Pepco contract for if it cannot predict how much will be displaced by individual homeowners' turbines?

Dunno. The same way they figured it out in Germany and Denmark. I believe the way it works there is that home owners pay for the installation and maintenance of equipment, while they get the right to "sell" their surplus power back to the grid for the same price they'd buy it. The idea is that they make their investment back from the "free' power they produce themselves, and that over the life-time of the equipment, they actually make money.

Overall, public utilities see a *reduction* in demand. I would get a public utility has smart people that can make educated guesses about such behavior. They would guess there are statistics on the average life-time and production characteristics of solar cells and wind mills.

Don't forget that many of the power companies are *public* utilities. Their arguments against change are mostly laziness, and motivated by pressure from power plants. Politicians just need to overrule them and remind them of their public nature.

by Jasper on Feb 10, 2011 4:41 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: I was just presenting that as a typical argument against feed-in tariffs. Another would be reliability concerns (voltage support, etc.). I'm not saying they couldn't be overcome. But I do think you're oversimplifying the situation.

rdhd

by rdhd on Feb 11, 2011 8:24 am • linkreport

@jasper; I think perhaps you are over-valuing the cost of land. It is so cheap in the US that converting highway ROW into windfarms isn't really necessary or good. Underground transmission lines, by comparison, are all very expensive.

Your point about building codes, although very off topic, is something all of us need to focus more on. I know houses in the US require A/C (caveat -- I rarely run mine in a Virginia summer, but when I do it is much needed), and AC means very leaky houses, but some very basic building codes and light improvements could cut down home electric use considerably. Also amazing to see European home heating and furnaces.

by charlie on Feb 11, 2011 8:46 am • linkreport

@ rdhd: But I do think you're oversimplifying the situation.

There is no problem. It's been solved by the Germans. And knowing Germans, there is gonna be a massive manual dealing with every single detail. Just get a bunch of those guys an H1B and have them "translate" the situation from metric to empirical units, and off you go.

It may also be being solved in California, they are way ahead of us in green energy. I have no clue where they are.

@ charlie: I think perhaps you are over-valuing the cost of land.

I am not worried about the value of land. I am worried about regulations. My idea is that roads are exempt of a lot of regulations. For instance, there are all kinds of roads through state and national forests where economic development is severely limited (for good reason). My idea is that since those roads have certain legal and zoning exemptions, you could use those for circumventing the "normal" rules and get wind mills built faster.

some very basic building codes and light improvements could cut down home electric use considerably. Also amazing to see European home heating and furnaces.

Yep. Insulation can go a long way. I am still waiting for a free bucket of white paint from DOE for my roof as some form of stimulus and energy saving measure in one.

Heating and cooling requirements (and expectations) are very different in Europe and the US though. Most of Europe does not need cooling. Most of the US does need cooling. Remember that DC and SF are at the latitude of Lisbon and Athens. Holland is at the latitude of the James Bay in Canada. Miami is south of Egypt. Finland starts at the same latitude as the Canadian territories.

Interestingly, old adobe houses in NM with very thick walls maintain a perfect average of their high daily and low nightly temperatures making heating and cooling barely necessary. You guys knew how to do it.

by Jasper on Feb 11, 2011 10:43 am • linkreport

@Jasper -- If you ever drove through one of these places, you would have been astonished at how large it is. Check out this pic, which shows the Meadow Lake Wind farm in Indiana (currently under construction; final capacity will be 1000 MW).

This installation covers 26,000 acres, or 40.625 square miles. The area covered is far larger than what can be reasonably achieved by building over the highways. Using a generous 250 feet total width for an interstate, 26000 acre wind farm would be spread along 858 highway miles.

by goldfish on Feb 11, 2011 2:39 pm • linkreport

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