Nation’s Capital Says “Not So Fast” on Reimbursing Residents for Solar Panels

"Yaaaaaaa. About that…."

Government programs that incentivize citizens for responsible and eco-friendly behavior can certainly be beneficial at times. However, this tale from Washington, D.C. shows what happens to well-intentioned residents when the government doesn’t follow through. The Washington Post dishes the disappointing news:

It isn’t easy going green, and it may also prove costly.

Dozens of District residents who installed solar panels on their homes under a government grant program promoting renewable energy have been told they will not be reimbursed thousands of dollars as promised because the funds were diverted to help close a citywide budget gap.

In all, the city has reneged on a commitment of about $700,000 to 51 residents, according to the D.C. Department of the Environment. The agency has pledged to try to find money in next year’s budget, its director, Christophe Tulou, said.

"It just doesn’t seem fair to go through a process with them and have them make investments in solar panels under the assumption they would be reimbursed," Tulou acknowledged. "It’s really sad we are having these economic woes when we are."

The abrupt suspension of the city’s Renewable Energy Incentive Plan, an annual $2 million fund that was supposed to last through fiscal 2012, threatens to dampen budding enthusiasm for clean energy among homeowners. The program has helped 315 people install solar panels, with another 417 on a waiting list that has been closed by city officials.

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who is leading the push for a sustainable energy utility to encourage green energy in the District, said officials are scouring the environment agency’s budget in hopes of finding reimbursement money for the 51 homeowners this year.

But, she said, "I would think people would take a cautious approach" to future installations.

Climb Aboard the Internet Bus

Looking back at the times I rode the school bus during my high school years reminds me of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – not the Clint Eastwood movie, but my own version. There was the good (spending time with friends), the bad (rowdy passengers) and the ugly (I’ll never forget the time an unsuspecting upper classman making his way on board was greeted with a chorus of, “Junior on the bus!”; apparently, it wasn’t cool to ride the bus past the age of 16). But what could have made those trips pass more quickly and perhaps curbed some of the mischief was riding bus No. 92 – known as the Internet Bus – in Arizona.

According to a New York Times story, a district – comprised of 18 schools and 10,000 students – mounted a mobile Internet router onto one of its buses last fall with the goal of reducing misbehavior and enhancing students’ academic performance. It’s working. Officials are finding that students are making more of an effort to complete homework assignments during long commutes to school (the one mentioned above has a 70-minute route each way) and on the way to sporting events. Plus, they are less likely to hassle one another because the technology provides a distraction.

The investment was relatively minor, given the potential returns: $200 for the router and a $60 per month Internet service contract. Schools and districts in Florida, Missouri and Washington, D.C. also are planning to take advantage of the technology, provided by a company called Autonet Mobile.

Now, I know disobedience won’t magically disappear and kids won’t automatically become dedicated students just because Internet access is available. But, so far, it’s making a difference on bus No. 92. Maybe somewhere, there’s a “junior on the bus” tuning out the mocking chatter by picking up his laptop and escaping into something educational.

Government Snow Day!

Growing up it was the school superintendent with the power to decide if you were going to spend the day learning the multiplication tables and eating mystery meat or racing down snow covered hills and drinking hot chocolate.

For federal government workers in the nation’s capital, that decision currently rests with John Berry. As director of the Office of Personnel Management, Berry made the call each day last week to grant most of the 270,000 federal workers in the Washington, D.C., area a snow day, The New York Times reported.

The D.C. area already broke snowfall records last week with more than 55 inches this winter. And a few more inches arrived yesterday.

The extended break for D.C. government workers started Friday, February 5 when Berry allowed employees to go home four hours early. Offices were closed nearly all of last week with workers having the option Friday (February 12) to either come in two hours late or take unscheduled leave. Add that to today’s President’s Day holiday, and it’s been one long vacation.

Still, not everyone stayed home to make snowmen. Many employees had to report to work because they perform essential functions. And some had to go because their boss said they were expected to show up, such as Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. Others worked from home.

While the final decision to close down is made by Berry, he first consults more than 100 area officials. If the weather is questionable, Berry participates in a nightly call set up by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments with representatives from highway patrols, police departments, utilities, schools and others.

Those in the D.C. area who weren’t sick of the snow this weekend took to Capitol Hill. For the first time since 9/11, the Hill’s lawn was open to sledding for the weekend.

Chavous: Time for Education is Now

Kevin Chavous doesn’t mince words when it comes to education. And if a few more people shared his passion for truly leaving no child behind, all of us (particularly our students) would be the beneficiaries.

During his Wednesday speech to the Economic Club of Indiana, the Indianapolis native and Wabash College graduate said (and backed up the opinions):

  •  “Nothing is more important to the future of this country than the education of our young people.”
  • “Public education is, by and large, failing our children.” He called it unconscionable that as many as 80% of African American males that enter the Indianapolis Public Schools system eventually are dropouts
  • “It’s intolerable to accept mediocrity (in our schools), and that is what we do.”
  • “Innovation and creativity need to be tailored toward kids’ best interest, not the systems’ best interest.”
  • “The system snuffs the lifeblood out of the best and brightest teachers.”
  • “No bureaucracy has reformed itself from within. It has to come from citizens and parents.”

Need proof of a system that is broken? Chavous offers New York’s “rubber room,” where incompetent teachers sit (and get paid, sometimes for years) while in the process of being fired; California teachers get automatic tenure for life with no reviews after two years on the job (while the union itself admits it takes five to seven years to know if a teacher is capable of doing a good job); and a Washington, D.C. union negotiating plank that all teachers must leave the building by 3:15 p.m. or police will be called (no more working or helping students than the minimum).

A lawyer in Washington, Chavous has been an education reformer within the city and around the country. He gives three reasons why Americans should be outraged at our country’s declining education performance:

  1. A moral imperative to not abandon the many students who are not given a chance to succeed beyond their early years
  2. A public safety analysis that revealed a 10% high school graduation increase would lead to a 20% reduction in the murder rate, fewer incarcerations and more productive citizens
  3. An economic report that showed closing the achievement gaps of students of color, poor students and students compared to their international peers would result in gross domestic product increases of billions and trillions of dollars

Chavous served on President Obama’s education policy team during the campaign, but vehemently opposed the administration’s decision to cut funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. His guiding principles on education policy: “The question I ask myself is, ‘Will this proposal help a child or group of children learn? If the answer is yes, I support it.’" And his closing comment on what all need to focus on moving forward – "what’s in the best interest of children, not adults?"

Education makes an encore appearance at the February 23 Economic Club luncheon with Tom Snyder, president of Ivy Tech Community College.

Busy Hoosier Congressmen Still Manage a Few Good Comments

Washington, D.C. is filled with its share of sirens, whistles and other warning noises. Inside the U.S. Capitol, however, the sound of choice is the bell that signals a vote is about to take place.

There were several post 6 p.m. bells last Wednesday on the House side during the congressional delegation roundtable portion of the Indiana Chamber’s D.C. Fly-in. Indiana’s reps did their job by going to vote, but also hustled back to answer questions and share insights for the more than 70 Indiana business attendees.

Among their comments:

  • Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-2nd District) on the possibility of additional troops in Afghanistan: "Will 10,000 accomplish anything? Do you need 50,000? Do you need 100,000?" Those questions and others, he said, are still unanswered.
  • Rep. Andre Carson (D-7th District) deserves credit for not going the political route and offering a clearly unpopular view when he professed his strong support for the Employee Free Choice Act as well as cap and trade.
  • On cap and trade, Rep. Dan Burton (R-5th District): "I think it will cost a lot of jobs; it will drive a lot of business and industry to go offshore."
  • On the same subject, Rep. Mike Pence (R-6th District) noted the emphasis should be on the GOP’s "all of the above strategy" that includes new technologies, renewables, conservation and 100 new nuclear plants in the next 20 years.
  • And finally on that topic, Sen. Richard Lugar explained how a bill was passed in the House. "There was a tremendous desire from President Obama and the Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi) to get a bill, any bill. Nearly 300 pages out of the 1,200 pages in the bill came in the early morning hours on the day of the vote. Deals needed to get done (to get more House votes). When Rep. Steve Buyer (R-4th District) questioned with the phrase that "you would never do that in the Senate," Lugar quickly responded with at least it’s "usually during the daylight."
  • Buyer, a late arrival, summed up several issues: "On card check, it’s un-American. On troop levels, we’ve been the provider of security in Europe for 60 years. It’s time for Europe to stand with America. On cap and trade, it’s the wrong debate. It should be about rebalancing our energy portfolio."

There were several comments on health care reform, with Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-8th District) getting the final word. He just returned from one of the House votes with a message that touched on health care and other unrelated frustrations.

"This place is schizophrenic," Ellsworth stated. "The adjournment votes tonight just disrupt business. There are really good, intelligent people here, but people send folks who talk one way back home and do the opposite here. We all wouldn’t last five minutes in a board room if we acted like we do here."

He goes on to tell of a ranking member on a committee considering health care legislation who told him before the August recess, ‘We don’t want to pass anything and make you guys look good.’ "Both parties do it. It’s sad. I came here to try and change it."

Finally, on health care, Ellsworth added, "You can’t do it by printing off more money. Tort reform ought to be part of it. But personal responsibility is the hardest thing to legislate — the person who goes to Golden Corral three times a week or lights up (cigarettes)."

Takin’ It to the Streets: Hot Dogs on the Way Out in American Cities?

Tired of having nothing but hot dogs, sausage, and nitrate sticks for your afternoon snacks? (Provided you purchase your snacks from strangers on the street.) Perhaps serving as a complement to the celebration of culture that is the Olympics, Governing.com reports U.S. cities are now looking at new, multicultural foods to don their streets.

Governing Magazine reports:

In many places around the country, food-cart options are exploding as vendors branch out and offer new fare. American cities have never had quite the street-food culture that urban centers in Europe, Asia and Africa do. But some sidewalks in the United States are starting to look like a global buffet — with vendors selling everything from crepes and kebabs to vegan burgers and Korean Bi Bim Bop. Street food today means a whole lot more than hot dogs and pretzels.

See there, I thought Bi Bim Bop was simply a type of jazz, so I guess you learn something new every day.