Letters for the week of November 25, 2020

Who pays the cost?

This letter is in response to a recent opinion on an “Emission-Free Future.” Before commenting, I need to state that I absolutely believe in climate change and the causes of it. I also believe all levels of society must take technically feasible, cost-effective steps that are fully analyzed to reduce climate-causing emissions from as many sources as possible. This opinion piece presented a number of statements/opinions with no facts to justify these positions, nor was the full scope of the proposed changes disclosed.
Increasing the use of electricity in our homes and businesses is the right approach when these changes are technically feasible, economically viable and accepted by our community. So, as we increase the demand for electricity, where does this extra electricity come from? Renewables is the common goal, but where are the renewables installed? Eastern Washington? Can Bellingham secure the extra renewable electricity when other cities and companies are taking similar actions to increase their demand for renewable electricity? Offshore wind farms?
Unfortunately, the ocean floor off of Washington and Oregon is too deep for the current off-shore wind farm technology. Work is slowly beginning to develop this technology, but when will it be available on a commercial scale? What will happen to the supply, cost and reliability of the electrical supply to western Washington if the hydro dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers are removed as many people are demanding? An electrical supply system that is dependent on multiple sources of renewable energy requires a new electrical grid or distribution system. History tells us that trying to expand the electrical grid systems in the United States and Canada brings out the ultimate in NIMByism, so how will this new grid be put in place? Lastly, who will pay for all of these changes to our electrical system, including the cost of stranded assets for homeowners and businesses?
The opinion implies the burning of natural gas in our homes or within the City of Bellingham increases the exposure to certain chemicals. However, the article provides no data on the existing concentration of these chemicals in our homes or the COB at large. There are many reliable established standards from universities, medical institutions, OSHA, the EPA, etc. that discuss allowable exposure limits to chemicals. There are established air-modeling practices to use to analyze an existing condition (currently burning natural gas) versus a new condition (substantial reduction in natural gas consumption in the COB). Was one of these air models used to establish the existing and future conditions to justify these proposed changes?
Increasing the use of electrical appliances and heating systems in new construction makes sense in today’s market. The new buildings or facilities can be fully designed to accommodate the requirements of these systems. Requiring existing homes and buildings to replace gas-fired appliances and heating systems with electrical appliances is questionable at best.
Yes, the technology exists, but at what cost to the homeowner? In my home, I have an instant-on gas-fired water heater that requires one 110 volt, 15 amp electrical feed. To replace this with an electrical instant on hot water heater requires a 220 volt, 60-80 amp feed. To replace the remaining gas-fired appliances in our house with electrical appliances require similar upgrades for each new electrical appliance. I doubt the existing electrical supply to my home or many of the homes and businesses in Bellingham are properly sized for this significant increase in demand, nor is my electrical panel large enough to accommodate multiple 220 volt, high-amp circuits.
The furnace in our home is gas-fired and ducted to supply the heat throughout our home. According to the available literature, the new cold-temperature heat pumps are not designed for large duct distribution systems. These new systems use heat-transfer devices in each room similar to old-fashioned radiators. They also require significant electrical demands to function during cold weather. From the literature one can easily conclude that replacing a gas fired furnace with a new cold temperature heat pump is not a one-for-one replacement but requires significant carpentry, electrical and related changes to one’s home. 
The effort by the COB to reduce climate-causing emissions is commendable. That said, to have the citizens accept the proposed changes the analysis behind each decision must be extensive, robust and transparent following established scientific and engineering processes; the benefits and risks clearly defined and, most importantly, who will be responsible to implement these changes and how will they be paid for.

—Paul W. Sheridan, Bellingham

Too little, too late

Whatcom Health officer Greg Stern’s logic about in-person classrooms for younger students appears to me to have some pretty big holes. He reasons that because there is less transmission in classrooms with younger students so far, that Whatcom schools should continue to have in-person classes for younger kids even in the current context of skyrocketing case numbers. Say what?
At the outset of the pandemic we were told that if we got out ahead of the spread by shutting down hard, we could head this thing off. Places that did this effectively, did indeed head it off (New Zealand, Taiwan, Australia). We waffled and opened a little bit here and there in response to political and economic pressures that don’t consider the reality of transmission dynamics. Now we have 250,000 dead.
It will get much, much worse. We know this. Yet right here in Woke Bellingham we are still piddling around with opening a little bit, until—wait for it—it is too late.
The current policy recommendations from Dr. Stern say that what cases do occur in younger classroom situations will be dealt with by clear procedures. Yet it is too late after a case is discovered to un-infect the other folks who have already been infected by the kids and teachers who were infected by being in a classroom.
Shut the schools down now. It is hard, but not as hard as the consequences of an out-of-control pandemic.

—Michael Chiavario, Bellingham

Fiddling in a firestorm

Since Sept. 30, and particularly in recent days, much economic activity has ceased in all parts of the country, with restrictions or closures of nonessential enterprises. Perhaps 20 million people have either severely reduced or negligible income as we head into winter, with no immediate relief in sight. Indeed, for many people the relief promised by vaccines will come too late. Homes will be lost, businesses will be lost, health coverage is already lost. 
Meanwhile, the Senate has been unable to stir itself to relieve the increasingly widespread suffering attributable to the pandemic. In six weeks, we have seen nothing from them, a breathtaking inaction in the face of an economic disaster.
One hundred well-paid, warm, comfortable federal employees who were somehow able to confirm a Supreme Court justice in three days and have approved six federal judges (the only substantive actions in those six weeks) have been unable to find a way to provide pandemic relief for millions of desperate citizens in those six weeks. That’s shameful.
How these 100 individuals can face themselves, let alone the people who sent them to Washington to represent them, is beyond comprehension.
Our Senators have cemented themselves a place in history alongside those wretched British Parliaments that enabled the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s and the Madras Famine of 1876. How humiliating it would be to have a family member be a United States Senator in 2020. Better that he or she played piano in a whorehouse for a living.
I suggest that the Senate is the poster child of a nonessential enterprise and should be closed until the end of the pandemic. If they are unable to help us, at least they could stop costing us their salaries and benefits.

—Richard Fulton, Bellingham

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