“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

Posted on by Steve Reick | 2 Comments

How Many Renewable Energy Credits Does It Take To Screw in a Light Bulb?

With the House convening on Thursday to consider energy/climate legislation that’s been negotiated by Democrats, labor unions and environmentalists, I’ve been reading up on what the bill provides and have a few observations and questions.

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First of all, the bill is long on social engineering and very light on the type of engineering that will actually keep the lights on. Along with a laundry list of jobs programs, commissions and task forces, there are programs sprinkled in which will provide grants intended to ease the pain of transition to communities that are losing their coal, gas and (ultimately) nuclear facilities.

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Anyone who’s paying attention will know the major components of the bill that actually affect how we’re going to generate electricity over the next 25 years and keep the lights on thereafter:

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  • Provides roughly $700 million in assistance to Exelon over 5 years for Dresden, Byron, and Braidwood nuclear plants;
  • Increases the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) goal to 40% by 2040 and 50% by 2050;
  • Increases the rate cap on renewables from 2.015% to 4.25%, which will increase the RPS budget from $230 million to more than $550 million per year, to be paid for by Com Ed ratepayers;
  • Includes a Coal to Solar program to repurpose downstate coal sites with utility scale wind and battery storage facilitates (which don’t yet exist);
  • Phases out for-profit coal plants by 2030, and publicly-owned coal plants and cogeneration plants by 2045.  Natural gas plants will be required to close between 2030 and 2045, based on their emissions rates.  All natural gas plants in the State will be required to close by 2045. (This begs a question: Energy can’t be stored; it must be used as it’s generated. At those times when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun isn’t shining, how are we going to generate enough electricity to meet demand if we’ve shut down all the coal and gas plants?)

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The bill assumes from the outset that climate change is an existential threat and that Illinois will lead the way in showing the world how we can eliminate pollution from fossil fuels. Try telling that to the Chinese and the millions of people who live in substandard conditions sub-Saharan Africa.

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What we’re faced with is a risk problem, by which I mean that nobody knows what average temperatures or sea levels will be in 50 years, and if they say they do, they’re lying to you. What we’re confronted with is a range of possible outcomes, from 1% to 100%, and by assuming the answer is 100%, we completely take off the table all of the possible mitigations that can either reduce the risks or lessen the outcomes of climate change at acceptable cost, both economic and in terms of liberty. And don’t discount that last point, because government control of energy generation that suffocates innovation and economic growth will ultimately result in government control of its use, as is being seen in California with its rolling blackouts.

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Think of the incredible transformation that happened in the telecommunications industry over the past 30 years, where we went from sending phone calls over copper wires to fiber optic cables made of sand to the wi-fi waves of today. We need to apply the same thinking to energy, from nuclear power to carbon capture and sequestration. Innovation isn’t planned, it happens when people try to solve problems in a system that encourages and rewards problem-solving. How much economic dynamism are we willing to sacrifice by completely shutting an industry down and not giving it the opportunity to innovate?

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And what about nuclear? There’s no discussion about it in the bill other than the $700 million subsidy to prop up Exelon’s aging nuclear fleet, which went online in the mid to late 1980’s and won’t last forever. Nuclear plays no part in the rush to carbon-free energy either as source of base load capacity or as backup power when renewables aren’t enough.

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Nuclear has its problems, and it’s never lived up to its promise of providing cheap and plentiful power. But to a great extent that’s a function of regulatory strangulation and liability concerns. We’re also subsidizing excess capacity. If we can’t sell it on the open market for what it costs to produce, I’m open to the idea of reducing capacity, but until we know how bad a hit we’re going to take with this quixotic rush to our wind and solar utopia, we need to keep our nuclear fleet intact.

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We also need to upgrade it. Our failure to have done so has much to do with public attitudes rooted in the memory of Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986). Technological advances since then have made nuclear a much more reliable and scalable choice for non-polluting power, and modular reactors would allow power generators to be placed closer to the communities they serve, drastically reducing transmission cost.

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We need a more optimistic and realistic environmentalism than is presented with this bill which once again puts government in the position of picking winners and losers. We have problems, but they will only be solved through technological innovation and dynamism, and S.B. 18 kills that baby in the crib.

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H.B. 4117: Posting Curriculum Online Gives Parents a Glimpse of What’s Being Taught to Their Kids

The past year has seen a tsunami of State government initiatives pointed straight at our public school system. From the implementation of Culturally Responsible Teaching and Leading Standards (CRTL) to mask mandates that put bureaucrats in the position of in loco parentis while ignoring the minimal risk to children of COVID-19, our schools are losing local control to the dictates of a one-size-fits-all State. I’m now getting emails and calls from constituents about the implementation of curriculum centered on such notions as Critical Race Theory (CRT).

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I take a back seat to no one in wanting to stem the rise of politics in the classroom, but I also want parents to be the point persons holding school districts responsible for what’s being taught to their kids.

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Conservatives have long subscribed to the notion that public schools should be subject to local, rather than centralized State control and that state lawmakers ought not infringe on their activities even when the outcomes are not what they’d wish. Ironically, progressives have been more than happy to indulge conservatives’ scruples on this point, voicing uncharacteristic reverence for “local control” over K 12 and the authority of school boards and administrators, knowing that they have such an outsized influence over such measures through the teachers’ unions.

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Parents’ concerns center not only on CRT, but also upon the lack of access to what is being presented to their children as learning material and teaching aids. Illinois law affirms parents’ rights to access curriculum information, but in practice, parents often have limited options to review the materials that are being used in their kids’ classrooms. The Public Act cited here was passed in 1979, and in the 42 years since, very little has changed regarding how that information is conveyed to those entitled to see it. It’s often the case that parents who want to review course materials are required to travel to the school during specified hours, or they are shown only incomplete curriculum frameworks that don’t disclose actual content. Too often, parents find out what is being taught only after their child comes home to tell them about it.

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I recently sent a letter to all of the school districts within the 63rd Legislative District asking for the districts’ policies regarding curriculum review, and the following responses were representative:

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  • Depending upon the materials, they would be made available upon request during school hours. Increasing numbers of materials are available in electronic format (example – licenses for logins). These resources would be handled as appropriate, based on the resource. If a login can be created, it could potentially be shared. Other electronic resources may need to be demonstrated.
  • A student’s parent(s)/guardian(s) may inspect, upon their request, any instructional material used as part of their child/ward’s educational curriculum within a reasonable time of their request…If you wish to review any survey instrument or instructional material, please submit your request to the Building Principal. You will be notified of the time and place where you may review these materials.

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It’s with this in mind that I’ve filed H.B. 4117, which requires public school districts having more than 300 students to post online a listing of all instructional materials used in the classroom, whether it be core textbooks, news articles, digital materials, teacher-prepared reading lists or other resources.

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Parents can already easily go online to the Illinois Report Card to access schools’ financial data, student performance scores, graduation and dropout rates, enrollment processes, and more. H.B. 4117 simply extends the same 21st century access to course content.

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Districts will not be required to copy and upload every page of content. Instead, the bill simply requires schools to simply list the basic information (e.g., title and author or website) to identify each resource, organized by subject and grade. Parents will then have the ability to access these resources for their own review.

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This sort of transparency doesn’t tie teachers’ hands or require any additional pre-approval of materials. It would simply require that the materials be documented. Teachers and administrators may simply post information in a manner as easy and inexpensive as copying the names and links into a Google Doc visible via the school’s website. Teachers are generally expected to submit lesson plans with their material to administrators and are already keeping track of their resources to reuse in future years, so the additional workload would be minimal.

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While some states have successfully passed legislation banning CRT and other politically divisive materials, we must remember that this is Illinois, where the teachers’ unions and progressive members of the General Assembly will certainly not allow such measures to pass here at the State level, and frankly, I don’t want the State to have a dog in this fight. The battle needs to be waged at the district level, and by giving parents the tools they need to see what’s actually being taught to their kids, they can level the playing field and hold school boards and administrators accountable for their curriculum choices.

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**UPDATED X 2** As the CDC Dithers, Schools Twist in the Wind

Last week the board for my local school district met and the main topic on the agenda was the matter of whether students, teachers and staff would be required to wear masks. The board gave a great deal of time to public comments, and many parents took advantage of the opportunity. Except for one parent, all of the comments were in favor of giving parents the choice of having their children wear face coverings.

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In my comments to the board, I said that it has the responsibility to consider more than just the risk of COVID infection among children when fulfilling its role to provide for their education, and I thought it should be a parent’s choice to decide whether his or her child should wear a mask at school. I also challenged parents who argued for choice to think about whether they were doing it for their kids’ sake or whether they were making a political statement. I’ve since received emails from constituents who wanted to know why I spoke out as I did.

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I think it’s important to point out that all flu viruses are coronaviruses, which are very adaptable and prone to mutation. However, it’s also true that as they mutate and may become more contagious than the original virus, statistics are showing that the virus is not more dangerous or likely to kill you. No vaccine is 100% effective, and if you’re vaccinated and are exposed to it, you may get infected. These symptoms are usually mild, manageable, and pass within a day or two. This was the case with the later mutations of Spanish Flu in 1918, the “swine flu”, and will be true of COVID-19. The virus will, as was pointed out in The Great Influenza, “revert to the mean” and become another flu for which vaccines will be developed and which will be another risk that we as a society will take in stride.

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We also have to compare COVID’s danger to children with other dangers. In the United States, extraordinarily tiny fractions of children have died among the millions who have gotten sick. The risk is not zero, and while every death is tragic, we make judgments all the time about acceptable and non-acceptable risks. Every year we go through “flu season” without shutting down schools or resorting to other universal restrictive behaviors. Deaths in automobile accidents could possibly be preventable but trying to stop them all would require rules and enforcement mechanisms that society wouldn’t put up with. How do we measure the harmful effects of what we’re doing to our kids, from isolation to the fear of basic human contact that accompanies the demands of grownups who want to make the world absolutely safe? Those have to be factored in, as well.

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Before the board made its decision, it was announced that just that day, the CDC had issued new guidelines that, because of the rapid spread of the “Delta” variant to the COVID-19 virus, it was recommending that masks be worn indoors, even by those who’d been vaccinated. This announcement was quickly followed by a letter from the district’s insurance carrier that unless this new guidance was followed, the district could lose its coverage, so the decision was put off until next Tuesday. Such is the litigious world in which we live.

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My personal take is that the CDC is being pulled from one side to the other by competing interests which go beyond the need to keep the pandemic from coming back. Otherwise, why make so many inconsistent pronouncements in such short order? This Federal action trickles down to the local level in demonstrable ways such as whether to mask or not. Besides, I certainly don’t want to set a precedent that every time a new variant arises we all go back into lockdown. Nor does this serve to inspire confidence in our public health system. Those who are hesitant to get the vaccine are going to be less likely to do so if they think that even if they do get it, some bureaucrat is going to say that masks are still going to be required.

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That’s not to say that people shouldn’t get vaccinated. The evidence is mounting that the vast majority of new infections is coming from those who haven’t been given the vaccine. I’m not going to ask you to prove to me or anyone else that you’ve done it, but I’m more than a little annoyed that there are some out there who ride on the backs of those who’ve taken the vaccine with the hope that enough will take it to get us to full herd immunity without their cooperation. You aren’t proving anything to anybody and all you’re doing is helping the government slow-walk the process. Regardless of your objections, this thing will be over a lot sooner if you just go out and get the shot, so step up and take one for the team.

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**UPDATE** Of course, there’s no accounting for the hysteria that can be stoked by breathless media reports of possible outbreaks at events where 90% of the participants showed proof of vaccination and another 8% showed proof of a recent negative test. Setting aside for the moment the slippery slope that may come by requiring proof of vaccination for entry, it seems that some people just don’t want our national nightmare to be over.

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Finally, it’s long past time for our Governor to stop hiding behind his pronouncements that he’s “following the science”. His original justification for shutting down the State was to take the pressure off of hospital emergency rooms, and it made sense, but unless we start seeing much higher demand on bed capacity, the fact that the Federal government can’t get its act together is justification enough to open up both our economy and our schools.

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**UPDATE x 2** Well, that didn’t take long. The day after the school board met, the Governor issued yet another Executive Order under the authority of yet another disaster declaration mandating that all schools institute a mask requirement. He’s starting to remind me of this guy.

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You Don’t Apportion Legislative Districts With a Random Survey

Like every other state, Illinois is in the process of drawing new legislative boundaries as is required every 10 years after the taking of the census. This year is unique because (like everything else) COVID interrupted the process.

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The Illinois Constitution provides that the legislature has until June 30th to draw a new legislative map. If it fails to do so by that date, an eight-member backup commission is appointed to draw the map. If the commission fails, the Secretary of State is instructed to appoint a ninth member from a pair of names, one from each party, that he draws from a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat (the hat part isn’t in the Constitution).

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The last thing Democrats want is to possibly lose control of the redistricting process through a random draw, which is the only way the Republicans could possibly get their map approved, so they’re pulling out all the stops to convince people that it’s Republicans who control the redistricting process. They’re even raising money on it.

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As everyone who ever took a civics class knows, legislative boundaries are drawn using data from the U.S. Census, which happens every 10 years. All states must comply with the federal constitutional requirements related to population and anti-discrimination. For congressional redistricting, the Apportionment Clause of Article I, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution requires that all districts be as nearly equal in population as practicable, which essentially means exactly equal. For state legislative districts, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that districts be substantially equal. Some variation is considered acceptable.

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Therein lies the problem. The Democrats in Illinois are doing everything they can to substitute data from wherever they can find it for Census data, which we are told won’t be available until August. They want the map drawn by June 30th so as not to trigger the appointment of the commission, which may lead ultimately to having a Republican’s name pulled out of a hat, which leads us to the American Community Survey.

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At a recent virtual townhall held in McHenry County, the chairman of the Illinois Democratic County Chairs Association said the map should be drawn by June 30 using “the best data you have access to, and make any adjustments, if needed, as the new data comes in.” She also suggested moving the June 30th date back to compensate for the delay in census data.

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See what she did there? By moving the date back, she’s ignoring the plain language of the Constitution, and by using “the best data you have access to” she’s asking that the map be drawn using ACS data, just so it’s drawn by June 30th. When asked, she admitted that she didn’t know anything about the American Community Survey. But what does that matter if it means we have the map by June 30th? To these people, the date’s the thing, we can fill in the blanks later.

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I recently had a chance in House floor debate to talk about what the ACS is and what it isn’t, where its use is appropriate and its limits:

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Watch this video on YouTube.

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“Culturally Responsive Teaching” Standards: Whether They’re Adopted Is Up To You

In my last blog post, I discussed the “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards” which have been promulgated by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and which will be considered by JCAR at its February meeting. Rather than reinventing the wheel, I’d ask that you take a few moments to read the post to get the full background.

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I’ve sent a letter to ISBE asking a number of questions about the standards which I’ve asked that they answer prior to our February meeting. The central question as I see it is:

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Subsection (a) of the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards states as follows:

“Teaching Diverse Students – The competent teacher understands the diverse characteristics and abilities of each student and how individuals develop and learn within the context of their social, economic, cultural, linguistic, and academic experiences. The teacher uses these experiences to create instructional opportunities that maximize student learning.”

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Question: When the very first section of the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards requires an understanding of and a sensitivity to the needs of diverse learners, what do the CRTL standards add that are not already plainly stated?

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ISBE’s stated aim is to increase the number of minority teachers in Illinois, especially bilingual and special ed teachers. I fail to see how these standards will do this.  Instead, these standards are directly aimed at increasing social activism within the teaching profession, which will translate into lesson plans such as was recently reported about a teacher in Cupertino, California who forced her third grade class to deconstruct their racial identities, then rank themselves according to their “power and privilege.” This isn’t new, as George Will wrote about in 2013, describing an effort in Wisconsin to get students to wear white wristbands “as a reminder about your privilege.” What’s new is that this kind of thing is now being elevated to the level of state policy through an under the radar process known as administrative rulemaking.

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I need to take a few moments to discuss the role that JCAR plays in the whole scheme of things. As time has gone by, Illinois has followed Congress’ example by abandoning the practice of passing statutes that fully describe the matter at hand (and taking responsibility for the consequences), leaving that more and more to the discretion of executive agencies through the administrative rulemaking process. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard legislators in debate on a bill saying that inconsistencies and clarifications in a bill can be left to JCAR. That’s not our job.

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JCAR was originally intended to be a committee that had a very low-key role in determining a rulemaking’s adherence to statute and legislative intent, but it has become more of a flash point in the development of (in this case) education policy because of the Legislature’s abdication of its responsibility to clearly state what it means in statute. As the Legislature becomes less involved as the voice of the people (except at election time), JCAR is being asked more often to suspend or reject specific rules, thus taking on the role that the Legislature has all but abandoned: that of guardian of their interests. Again, that’s not JCAR’s job.

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JCAR’s staff has always held the position that any public comments regarding proposed rulemaking should be directed at the agency promulgating the rule rather than the members of JCAR because the agency is considered the “active” party in the process, while JCAR’s role has been deemed to be “passive” by virtue of its stated mission of determining compliance with state statute. While I agree with that intent and understand that the focus of inquiry and comments by the public should be placed upon the agencies writing the rule, the agencies have become ever more insulated from such attention, and the focus has shifted to the members of JCAR, resulting in hundreds of phone calls and thousands of emails to its individual members.

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Last May I received over 10,000 emails when the Governor tried to turn struggling business owners into criminals through the rulemaking process. That pressure upon me and the other Committee members forced him to pull the rule before JCAR considered it. So I’ll leave you with this. If you’re upset about this rule and want to voice your displeasure, you can send me an email, but I’d also ask that you send your thoughts to ISBE by clicking here. You can also clog up their phone lines by calling ISBE in Chicago at (312) 814-2220 or in Springfield at (217) 782-4321.

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There’s a lot at stake, how it ends is up to you.

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