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By now, we have all heard that the Democrats are planning a massive fiscal stimulus package to be passed only a few hours after Barack Obama is officially swornin as the 44th President of the United States.

Estimates for the package are now estimated to be in the $500-700 billion range. The usual list of spending projects includes infrastructure spending such as building or rehabbing roads, bridges and even older school buldings. It also, supposedly, includes another round of middle class tax cuts.

But, the most intriguing aspect of President-elect Obama's plans are spendiong on so-called "green" technology, whatever that means. Below, I have a few suggestions on what we should be spending our money on, and I hope you will all list some ideas of your own.

First, I suggest that we use that fiscal stimulus to build out a massive fiber optic network. Right now, the task is largely funded through private industry and investment. But, this is taking too long, is uneven, and is assing to the cost of your cable and cell phone service.

The United States should treat fiber optic networks similar to how we treated the Interstate Highway system in the 1950s. As a national security public investment, that will have enormous spin-off eceonomic benefits.

Second, I also propose that we spend that money on creating a network of alternbative fuel/plug-in fueling statiuons across the united states. reportedly, the City of San Francisco is planning to build a plug in refueling network, and we should seriously contemplate doing so for the entire United States, at least along the interstate highway system. One of the problems the auto makers face is that they have spent a large amount of money developing next generation fuel cell technology, but they have no hydrogen refueliung infrastructure to make production of the vehciles practical right now.

To see what is possible, check out the hydrogen highway that is being developed in Norway. One is also being developed in California.

In my view, one of the things the automakers need to do is start producing generation skipping vehicles, such as hydrogen fuel cells -- rather than hybrids. This will make them immensely competiiive, and drive the market for these vehicles. But, you need hydrigen refueling stations to make it work. [One recent cost estimate for building a reliable nationwide hydrogen refueling network is $20 billion.]

The DOE recently created a report on how transitioning to a hydrogen-based economy will effect employment in the United States. Under an aggressive development plan, the DOE estimates that converting to hydrogen will create a net of 675,000 jobs nationwide. But that is by the year 2050! If we accelerate that time frame to within the next 10 years (i.e. by 2019) -- you would get the impact of that in a much closer timeframe. I also think that is an underestimate of the number of jobs it woudl create.

A third candidate for the use of the fiscal stimulus, is to help finance on-the-shelf urban redevelopment projects that have stalled out due to the financial crisis. Re-building roads and bridges is nice. But, it would actually make sense to fund commercial developments (in exchange for an ownership stake, of course) -- that would help revitalize urban environments. Cities such as Detroit could benefit tremendously urban renewal projects, building out the fiber optic network, and revitalizing crumbling schools.

These are just a few of the ideas I had. I don't want to see the same old conventional projects being funded. I want to see the United States take advantage of this situation to massively trasnform the way of life -- and move ahead of every other industrialized democracy into the 21st century. So, what do you all think? And please list your own ideas.

Originally posted to Hesiod on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 06:16 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The numbers the government uses are apparently (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    arbitrary.  subject to change (increase).  I say our government since they want to give out money (make no mistake, there will be no return on this money.  Not anytime in our youthfulness), so why doesn't the government pay off all the household debt/ mortgages of Aeveryone in america, and let us start off fresh?(up to 250k or so).  it's all arbitrary.

    42.7% of all statistics are made up on the spot. A Wrightism

    by publicv on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 06:25:46 AM PST

  •  Hydrogen is a net energy loser (5+ / 0-)

    unless the energy used to crack it is green.

    Why not just subsidize panels and wind turbines for direct generation and plug-in cars?  We've already got an electrical grid (sort of).

    •  How do we make the stuff? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Crashing Vor

      It seems to me that we have all these Big Three auto plants lying idle, and all these workers who need something to build.  Why don't we put them to work building wind turbines, which can be used to create hydrogen (northern Michigan is one of the best wind sources in the world) to power our next generation of autos?

    •  Even with green energy... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Crashing Vor

      it's a net energy loser.

      Hydrogen is a "battery", a way to store energy, just as batteries store energy.  

      With hydrogen you have to first capture energy from some other source, a green source such as wind or solar, or a black source such as coal or natural gas.  Then you have to transport, distribute and store that energy in the form of hydrogen.

      Hydrogen is hard to store.  Those little molecules can leak out of the tiniest hose.  And that big tanker that brings about 300 full tanks of gasoline to your service station can carry only 30 or so hydrogen equivalents.

      About 1/3rd of the energy that you started with when you set out to make hydrogen makes it to the power than turns your wheels.

      Go the battery route and you can use the existing grid to ship the power, get some big trucks off the highway, and you enjoy about 2/3rds of the initial energy pushing you around on your daily travels.

      15 to 6. Pulled ahead as soon as the gate opened and never looked back....

      by BobTrips on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 09:36:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Dark fiber (0+ / 0-)

    The thing that would give me pause about a massive fiber optic network project is what happened in the 1990s with Global Crossing, Lucent et al where people like George Gilder hyped a "telecosm" (I think that was the word) that would transform the world, singularity-like. In reality most of the fiber was "dark"--the telecosm traffic never came, and Global Crossing and Lucent collapsed Enron-like.

    One fact I came across while working on the campaign was that there are a lot of poor people who have no internet access at all and lack the basic skills to use them. Telling such people they could "look up their absentee status on line" might as well have been said in Latin.

    How about funding local groups like Free Geek which provide computers and computer education at the grass roots level, and further, the government could provide credits for ISP subscriptions, so that even people on limited (or even zero) income can get online?

  •  I think hydrogen is pie in the sky thinking (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel

    too many complications mean it just won't get off the ground. New battery technology is a far simpler solution.

    But before alternative fuels really make a difference in green house gas emissions you need an entirely new, green energy source. I'm a big fan of concentrated solar energy, but if we're going to be running the number of vehicles we have today, plus our air conditioning etc. we're probably going to have to resort to nuclear.

  •  The only hydrogen powered... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chicago jeff

    vehicle that I've seen in real life (as in actually working and driving) have been a fleet of Chevy Cobalts in Southern California, with the fueling station at the GM Training Facility in Burbank.

    It's simply not viable.  Yet.

    We need far more infrastructure, to say the least.

    •  That's my point. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chicago jeff

      It's not viable in large part because there's no refueling infrastructure. Ergo -- you build one out and skip a generation of energy efficient vehicles to go right to hydrogen.

      •  But it is not just the filling stations. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        GW Chimpzilla

        You have to have a production and right now there is not any good tech for that. You can crack Hydrogen out of water, sure, but it is really expensive in terms of energy required. You can get it out of coal, but again, there is a problem with waste and initial energy input.

        It is a nice idea, but it is way beyond where we are technically right now. For stimulus to work it has to be immediate, roads, bridges, wind turbines, large scale solar (based on heating water to turn turbines using focused sunlight). All of these are more likely to do the job for us.

        Oh, and a new power gird, mustn't forget that!

        If you live in fear, then the worst that can happen to you, already has. Will you live in fear? -6.25, -6.10

        by Something the Dog Said on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 07:55:55 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The money we are putting into Citi and AIG (0+ / 0-)

          would pay for the infrastructure twice over.  So, why not bite the bullet and go into a little more debt?

          •  Time. The money is only one issue (0+ / 0-)

            we would have to have a real break through in order to have commercially viable hydrogen fuels. While a lot of money would help, you can not predict when the break through would happen.

            Given that they situation is dire, it is better to go with what we can do now, and then invest in research on this kind of tech. It is not a bad idea, it is just one that can not be viable with our current tech and science.

            If you live in fear, then the worst that can happen to you, already has. Will you live in fear? -6.25, -6.10

            by Something the Dog Said on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 09:30:36 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Build it, they will come... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Something the Dog Said

              Remember, that was a work of fiction.

              It's not "when the break through would happen".  

              It's whether a whole bunch of breakthroughs would happen.

              1. Affordable fuel cell engines.
              1. A reasonable transportation system.  Using the technology we know it would mean putting 10 times as many "gas tankers" on the road.  That makes it 10 times more expensive to ship.
              1. A reasonable storage system.  The stuff doesn't store as much energy per volume as does gasoline.  We would need very large tanks.  And it can leak out of very tiny holes.  It's much harder to contain than are liquid fuels.

              Keep going with the research.  But it's way, way too early to build any infrastructure.

              15 to 6. Pulled ahead as soon as the gate opened and never looked back....

              by BobTrips on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 09:43:52 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Ready to go (6+ / 0-)

    There's a list of 60 or 70 public transit projects, almost all for light rail, with a few street car or commuter rail lines, that are sitting on the shelf, ready to go.

    Under Bush and the Gingrich Congress and Reagan before that, the formulas for federal aid to transit were cut and cut again. In addition, hurdles were put in place for a project to qualify for approval for even the lower federal match.

    As a result, many local bodies have prepared complete plans and even submitted applications for funding, expecting their proposals to qualify, only to be turned down, or told that they barely qualify and so would go to the bottom of a long waiting list.

    Some cities have gone ahead and built light rail or other transit projects without any federal money. But many still wait for a possible federal contribution. The current match, when approved, is 50% of the construction cost. If this rate were raised to the same 90% match available for highway construction, we'd see big new transit projects underway in almost every state by the end of next year. If the match were raised only to 60% or 65%, we'd still see many projects going forward.

    These light rails lines, commuter rail services, streetcars, etc. would allow commuters to choose a more fuel efficient way to get to work or school, help reduce imports of foreign oil, improve air quality, promote new development around transit stations, and help us move toward a way of life that does not cause further damage to the planet.

    In the short term, these projects will put construction workers to good use when home building has almost stopped and commercial construction is also grinding to a halt.

    •  Link to the list? (0+ / 0-)

      I know there are lots of highway and bridge projecgts with environmental clearance, right-of-way, and engineering complete, lacking on ly construction money.  Do you have a link to the transit project list?

      Torture is Wrong!

      by tom 47 on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 08:37:02 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Here you GO ... (0+ / 0-)

        I counted 89 cities, from El Paso to Louisville, Richmond to Tacoma, on this list from May 2007.  Lots of good stuff at this site, Light Rail Now.

        Cities like L.A. have multiple projects under consideration. A few from this list are already underway, or like the BART extension into San Jose, have recently been funded in whole or in part.

        My memory of the list was a bit too rosy, however. The author estimates that they all could have work underway within 12 to 36 months, a little longer than I'd recalled.

        The entire process could be speeded up with proper leadership from D.C. and by events. Voters and govt officials have all had a recent taste of high gas prices, and should have greater appetite now for rail alternatives. The ongoing collapse of commodities,  industrial prices, and private construction will drive down costs of steel, concrete, and other materials, while making for keen bidding from contractors hungry for such work.

        To front-load the actual hiring and spending, we might want a formula for the federal match to be, say, 80% for amounts spent during 2009 and 2010, 70% for later years. If this recession prolongs into a Japan-since-1990-type recession or a 1930s-type depression, Congress could always extend the higher match.

        Note that the author, Alan S. Drake, a former accountant, an engineer and professional researcher based in New Orleans who  specializes in public transportation and energy issues, gives a "horseback" estimate of $135 to $175 billion to complete. Even with 89% funding that would be less than has been squandered in the past month bailing out a couple of big banks and insurance companies.

        •  Thanks for the link. Another silver lining" note: (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          If real estate prices are down, it helps keep project costs down for right-of-way purchases.  Depending on the project and thecorridor, it could be in an existing railroad corridor, or all-new right-of-way.  Either way, stations/parking lots ususally require additional property purchases.  

          They also provide the opportunities for transit-oriented development near the stations ("live-work-play"), furthering the advantages of the tranist service availability.

          Torture is Wrong!

          by tom 47 on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 09:37:39 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I wouldn't involve the feds in (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Hesiod, Woody

    urban commercial redevelopment. There's too much of that already, commercial developments never add anything, they just take away sales from other existing centers. But...

    ... a massive influx of cash for urban infrastructure is right on target. Not necessarily roads and bridges, but public transit, schools, hospitals, electrical upgrades, sewer upgrades, energy efficiency retrofits, etc. The plans are already in place for trillions of dollars and they just need funding. Obama could really put our nation back on track in a hurry if he smartly invests federal funds in these areas.

  •  Identify new technologies that are ready to go... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    esquimaux, TheUnknown285

    I don't know what they are but might include:
    --solar, wind energy complexes and whatever needs to be done to make "the power grid" efficient.
    --metropolitan and regional mass transit.
    --hydrogen fuel cells...what you said.
    --communications (fiber optics)...what you said.
    --healthcare information technology.  The technology to switch from mostly paper to mostly digital is there; it just needs to be done.  The transition is labor intensive (setting up the system, converting data, training staff, managing the transition).  There are a lot of nursing homes, medical practices, clinics, and smaller hospitals that could benefit from help doing this.
    --public health programs.  Lifestyle-related health problems like heart disease and type two diabetes are (like HIV prevention) more responsive to "assertive" outreach in the community.  If someone comes to my house each week to encourage me to stick with an exercise program, check my bp and weight, etc.... This is something you can train a non-professional to do with proper supervision and program design.  Make it part of Obama's public service program.  And make universal healthcare less expensive.  Three birds with one stone.

    McCain is this year's Alan Keyes.

    by chicago jeff on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 06:49:43 AM PST

    •  Two others... (0+ / 0-)

      First - solar thermal.  Cost effective and power can be stored for hours by pumping hot water/salts/oil into insulated tanks and pulling it out as needed.

      That allows solar thermal to supply all the "peak hours", to keep on kicking out power after PV solar has shut down for the day.

      Solar-thermal comes out of the shadows

      Second - geothermal.  Both from existing steam pockets and from "dry rock" plants.  In the first case you locate and drill into places where underground streams come into contact with hot rocks.  We've been making electricity this way for a long time.

      With dry rock geothermal you drill two or more holes down into very hot rocks, fracture them, and then pump water down one of the holes and capture the steam coming up the others to run turbines.   There are two hot rock geothermal plants up and running today.  Many more in development.

      Geothermal isn't likely to be as cheap as wind, but it provides the reliable base load that we need to smooth things out.  It's 24/365. (And it's cheaper than new nuclear.)

      Wet and dry geothermal

      15 to 6. Pulled ahead as soon as the gate opened and never looked back....

      by BobTrips on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 09:56:27 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hydrogen Isn't a Fuel (3+ / 0-)

    You have to use fuel to make it. It's like farmed fish. They're carnivores, you need to go out to sea and catch lots more fish to raise the fewer fish you're going to sell.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 06:57:15 AM PST

  •  Hydrogen is not a dead-end ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    necessarily, but it is a very mediocre answer to transport challenges and opportunities at this time for a host of reasons. There are far (FAR) better ways to spend resources in a green stimulus package than throwing money at hydrogen.

  •  The private automobile is a dead end (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Regardless of how it is powered. Traffic jams of electric cars will still be traffic jams.

    Spend transportation money building clean, fast mass transit in cities and high speed intercity rail.

    "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken." - Oscar Wilde

    by greendem on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 08:03:01 AM PST

  •  anarobic digestion (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Woody, GW Chimpzilla

    How about retrofitting every sewage plant in the US for anarobic digestion to generate at capture the methane gas that is produced.  This could be extended to land fills and any other areas (feedlots, turkey farms) that produce waste organic material.

    The second mouse gets the cheese.

    by bgblcklab1 on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 08:09:20 AM PST

  •  Hydrogen is an alternative for long-haul green(er (0+ / 0-)

    ) transportation, i.e. longer than the distances affordable purely on plug-in charging.

    As several have noted, it requires energy to produce hydrogen either by electrolysis or processing of methane.  And both processes generate CO2 unless the electrical source for electrolysis is a renewable although the net CO2 production is less than burning gasoline in an internal combustion engine.

    There needs to be policy and R&D directed toward both the internal combustion and electrical options for efficiency and CO2 mitigation.  

    For the IC, transition to non-food ethanol, high-efficiency diesel and natural gas fuels is a good starting point since there is a deep body of knowledge of the IC engine.

    In parallel, the electric options of fuel cells and battery power need to be developed.

    Of course, hybrid combinations of both will likely address the transitional issues in moving to highly green and efficient transportation solutions.

    •  Hydrogen doesn't pack much power... (0+ / 0-)

      per unit volume.  It would take some huge fuel tanks to power long-haul trucks a few hundred miles.

      We're probably going to solve our long range transportation needs with some sort of biofuel.

      Biofuel from non-food sources, not grown on agricultural land, quite likely from algae.

      Test flights are now being made using biofuel as we aren't likely to fly planes using hydrogen either....

      15 to 6. Pulled ahead as soon as the gate opened and never looked back....

      by BobTrips on Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 10:05:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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