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Motorists, expect $4 gas soon [Daily Press, Victorville, Calif.]

April 10– Apr. 10VICTORVILLE — Hang on to your wallets. The average price of gasoline is about to reach $4 per gallon in San Bernardino County, and throughout California.

Gas prices have risen steadily since the end of January and may reach the $4 level by the end of April, according to industry experts that include the California Energy Commission and the American Automobile Association.

April 2014 was the last time gas averaged $4 in the county and the High Desert. On Tuesday, the average local price was $3.81, an increase of nearly 60 cents over the last month, GasBuddy reported.

The average price of gas on Tuesday in California was $3.82, nearly $1.07 higher than the national average.

“The national average gas price has now risen for two months straight, tacking on a total of 50 cents per gallon in the last 90 days, which will cost Americans nearly $200 million more at the pump today than back in early January,” said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy. “The road doesn’t end here, however, with California and the West Coast seeing a surge in unexpected refinery outages, leading to an extremely tight supply of cleaner summer gasoline and causing prices to skyrocket.”

Some of the largest cities in California could see gas prices swell to averages as high as $4.15 per gallon before any relief arrives, DeHaan added.

“It really is going to be ugly this week in the West Coast, and any further issues could lead to more spikes, but for the rest of the country expect the rise to continue for a ninth straight week with little good news on the horizon,” DeHaan said.

“Of the 10 California refineries that produce at least 75,000 barrels of fuel a day, six of them are experiencing unplanned issues, planned maintenance or both,” said Marie Montgomery of the Automobile Club of Southern California.

On Tuesday, a handful of local gas stations were charging less than $3.50 a gallon, according to the AAA TripTik Planner. Those stations include Costco on Valley Center Drive, the Mojave Gas Mart on Village Drive and Circle K on Mojave Drive, all located in Victorville; Best Food and Gas on Main Street in Hesperia; and Michaels Market and Gas on Chamberlaine Way in Adelanto.

“When I was younger, gas prices going up really bothered me,” Victorville resident Frank Pittman, 55, told the Daily Press as he filled his tank at a local station. “But after a while, I realized that getting screwed at the pump is just part of living in California — you get used to it after a while.”

GasBuddy also analyzed gas price data from January to March and discovered that Monday offers the lowest average gas price in 30 states, making it the best day to fill up.

While Saturday is the worst day to buy gas in 16 states, the most expensive average price of any other day of the week occurs on Friday.

“Finally consumers have reason to be motivated about Monday since it offers the biggest savings on gasoline and little wait, if any, to fill up,” DeHaan said. “As the week progresses and our excitement builds for the weekend, gas prices also have a tendency to rise. The most expensive day to fill up barely remains Friday when looking at averages, while 16 states saw Saturday as having the highest average price. Sundays represented the third-worst day to fill up, bringing our study to a conclusion that weekends are the worst time to fill up. You might as well flush money down the toilet.”

Reporter Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227,, Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz


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Get ready for gas at $4 a gallon in the Bay Area [Mercury News]

April 09– Apr. 9–Two workers at the Shell gas station on Hamilton Avenue in West San Jose scurried over to the big sign on the corner listing prices last weekend, with new disturbing numbers in hand. Soon the $3.65 sign was $3.85.

Twenty cents in one day, bringing the state average to $3.80 a gallon with more increases inbound. Experts say $4 a gallon could be coming by Memorial Day, the first time since 2014 pump prices have reached that frustrating and sure-to-get-noticed figure.

That’s a whopping 29 cents more than in Hawaii, which almost always has the most expensive fuel.

“I think we’re going to see a really big spike in gasoline prices,” said Michael Blasky of the state automotive association, noting that prices jumped 19 cents last week and 50 cents over the last month.

Patrick DeHaan of GasBuddy, said, “I wouldn’t say this will be normal all year, but it will be something that sticks around at least a few weeks or as long as two months.”

The national average hit $2.74 a gallon on Monday, ending weeks where prices across the U.S. flirted around the $2 mark. On Monday, it was $3 89 a gallon in Los Angeles and San Francisco, $3.81 in San Jose, $3.80 Oakland and $3.68 in Santa Cruz,

The all-time single-day California record is $4.11 a gallon, set on July 11, 2012.

Reasons are what we’ve heard before. Refinery problems in the city of Carson in Los Angeles County have cut production 2 percent, the conversion to the more expensive blend of summer gas, maintenance work and the start of the spring and summer driving seasons. Oh, yes, toss in the recent 12-cent a gallon gas tax and more SUVs on the road and we’re knocking at the four buck mark.

Gasoline inventories fell nearly 2 million barrels last week.

The national average price of gasoline is up for the eighth straight week, rising 4.8 cents to stand at $2.74 per gallon, the highest level in 149 days, That will cost Americans nearly $200 million more at the pump today than back in early January.

Could it go higher? You bet, Los Angeles and San Francisco may see prices swell to $4.15.

Mike Diaz paid $3.45 at an ARCO in Richmond last week. On Sunday, he forked over $3.59.

“Good thing I have a hybrid,” he said. “It still hurts.”

Many states are dealing with similar supply and demand issues due to refinery problems, such as Arizona which gets fuel from Gulf Coast and Southern California refineries. In Phoenix, drivers were experiencing significant fuel shortages due to refinery production delays, with some reports of stations completely running out of fuel.

“It really is going to be ugly on the West Coast,” said DeHaan, adding that there is “little good news on the horizon.”


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Bill overhauling how oil, gas is regulated in Colorado clears legislature: Now the action really begins [The Denver Post]

April 08– Apr. 8–A jam-packed month of debate and hours of public testimony ended with the passage last week of legislation that will dramatically change how oil and gas is regulated in Colorado.

Gov. Jared Polis is expected to sign Senate Bill 19-181, which received no Republican votes in the Democratic-controlled legislature. Supporters say the bill is needed to put public health, safety and the environment first when oil and gas development is considered. They say it’s needed to give cities and counties more say over drilling inside their borders.

Business organizations, some local elected officials and industry representatives warn the sweeping changes will undermine an industry that a report commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute said contributes about $31 billion to the Colorado economy and supports roughly 232,000 jobs.

The debate isn’t going to die down anytime soon. Ballot proposals have been filed to repeal SB 181 and could go to voters if enough signatures are collected. And the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment must now write rules to implement the law.

Far away from the capitol, those bracing for the changes include workers who drill and service the wells; people concerned about the potential health effects of nearby drilling; and mineral rights owners and business people dependent on revenue the industry produces.

Among the Coloradans watching and waiting are Ethan Lutz ; who works for Denver-based Liberty Oilfield Services; Kathryn Maciula, whose family left Erie to get away from drilling; Pam Evans, the general manager of an extended-stay hotel in Greeley; and Dave Devanney, head of a homeowners’ group in Battlement Mesa.

Uncertainty and anxiety

Lutz takes pride in his work, his crew and his company, which provides hydraulic fracturing — fracking — and engineering services for oil and gas companies in fields from North Dakota to Texas. Walking through the Liberty Oilfield Services yard and maintenance facility in Henderson, Lutz talks about the changes to equipment and practices the company has made to reduce the noise, dust and other nuisances that huge trucks, pumps and traffic can generate.

“A typical pumping unit runs with about a 2,500-horsepower engine,” Lutz said of equipment that blends and injects water, sand and chemicals underground to fracture the shale and release oil and gas. “A 2,500-horsepower engine is pretty loud when it’s throttled up.”

But the big enclosure developed by Liberty to fit over the engines allows people standing right next to it to have normal conversations, Lutz said. He explains that the company has changed how the sand it uses is trucked and delivered to cut down on dust.

Lutz, who oversees one of the company’s eight Colorado-based crews, said he and other Liberty employees care about the neighborhoods and places they work. He said that when he testified against SB 181, the oil and gas bill, he told legislators, “I’m not Big Oil, I’m not a shareholder, a dividend earner. I’m just a Colorado local who cares about the environment, cares about my state, cares about my family.”

Certain parts of the bill, like stronger oversight of pipelines and well flow lines, aren’t the problem, Lutz said. He worries that other parts, like giving cities and counties the option of writing their own regulations, could stifle production.

“I told (lawmakers) that having to watch my guys struggle again, like we did in the last downturn would be hard. It’d be especially hard knowing that it was at the hands of politicians that I potentially helped elect, because I’m a Democrat,” Lutz said.

Drilling just wasn’t on the radar

Are the drilling rigs moving into neighborhoods or are the neighborhoods moving to the oil and gas patch? Both are happening. But there’s no question Weld County has long been a drilling hot spot. Erie, in both Weld and Boulder counties, has 240 active wells, according to the state oil and gas commission website.

However, the prospect of being surrounded by wells wasn’t on Kathryn Maciula’s mind when her family moved to Erie in May 2017.

“The location was good. My husband works in Louisville and we have a lot of friends in Boulder,” Maciula said. “The school district is good. The views (of the mountains) from our neighborhood were just gorgeous.”

But just a few months later, when drilling began on wells about a quarter mile from their house, Maciula said she and her husband realized their dream of sending their children — now 4 and 2 — to high school in Erie wasn’t going to come true.

Maciula, a pediatric speech pathologist, said she, her son and daughter started getting sick. The kids had some of the normal childhood illnesses — colds, flus — but couldn’t seem to shake them.

Maciula decided to have blood tests run on her and the children. The results of tests ordered by an area naturopathic doctor and shared by Maciula showed high levels of benzene in all three and a high level of ethylbenzene in her daughter.

Benzene, which can cause cancer, and ethyl benzene, are toxic volatile organic compounds associated with drilling that can be released through emissions. A 2018 study by the Colorado School of Public Health concluded that the air quality around oil and gas wells puts those who live close at an increased risk of developing cancer. State health officials have disputed the conclusions, saying they conflict with the state’s monitoring.

More study is definitely needed, Maciula said. Since moving to the Golden area, her daughter’s blood levels have returned to normal, she said. She decided to test only her daughter to try to save money.

“I don’t have definitive proof that this is where my children got benzene,” Maciula said during a visit last week to her old neighborhood. “But I think there needs to be studies done immediately because these children are growing up in this environment.”

RELATED: Bill revamping oil, gas regulation in Colorado headed to governor after Senate OKs amendments

Already seeing the impact

Pam Evans said she doesn’t have to wait for the fallout from SB 181. It’s already happening.

Evans is the general and operations manager of the Greeley Homewood Suites, an extended-stay Hilton hotel. About 60 percent of the hotel’s clients work in oil and gas and associated businesses. Uncertainty about the future of the industry in Colorado has led one company to cancel its rooms, she said.

“They’ve been with me over two years,” Evans said. “Some of the companies they work for are putting things on hold until they find out what happens with this bill.”

Evans testified at the capitol against the legislation. She told lawmakers that 14 Greeley hotels employing 500 people owe half of their business to oil and gas employees, accounting for $5 million in revenue annually.

“I’m in the hospitality business, and if I treated people like I didn’t want them here, it would have an impact,” Evans said. “Essentially that’s what the state is saying to oil and gas companies — we don’t want you here.”

Not in my backyard — or anybody’s

Dave Devanney said he doesn’t have a problem with the oil and gas industry.

“We need natural gas. We need crude oil. We need to not be dependent on other countries for our energy supplies,” Devanney said. “But we don’t need to develop those resources in residential communities.”

Devanney, who lives in Battlement Mesa, near Parachute in western Colorado, said he hopes passage of SB 181 will help communities that don’t want drilling in neighborhoods. Members of Battlement Concerned Citizens, which Devanney heads, have joined with the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance to sue the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission over its approval of 24 wells in the community.

The wells, slightly farther than the mandatory 500 feet from homes, would be the second phase of a project by Ursa Resources that includes 31 other wells. In the past two years, Ursa drilled 52 wells in Battlement Mesa, Devanney said.

Before moving from the Denver area to the West Slope, Devanney said he didn’t know much about oil and gas but has received a crash course since. There were wells outside Battlement Mesa, but Devanney said, “We saw the activity around us getting closer and closer.”

“I’m a modified NIMBY — not in my backyard, not in your back yard. Not in anybody’s back yard.”


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Drilling Down: Millennial-run oil company focuses on Permian Basin [Houston Chronicle]

April 08– Apr. 8–They’re under 40 and they’re drilling for oil in the Permian Basin of West Texas.

Oilfield worker is checking the oilfield equipmentMillennial-run oil company Double Eagle Energy Holdings III has received three drilling permits from the Railroad Commission of Texas for projects in Midland County. Two horizontal wells are planned for the company’s High Sky lease target the Spraberry field down to a total depth of 9,000 feet. On its nearby Billington lease, Double Eagle is taking a different approach to targeting the Spraberry, drilling a vertical well to a depth of 10,500 feet.

The Fort Worth company was co-founded by Cody Campbell and John Sellers in 2008. The Permian Basin is the latest shale play for the two 37-year-olds, who received $1 billion of backing from private equity firm Apollo Global Management in Feb. 2018. They had previously drilled in the Permian Basin under one of their previous companies and sold those assets to Parsley Energy.

Permian Basin

Top 10 Drillers in Texas

Fort Worth Point Energy Partners is preparing to drill its first oil wells. Over the past month, the company has received nine drilling permits for horizontal wells in Ward County, all targeting the Phantom field of the Wolfcamp geological layer at depths ranging from 11,021 to 12,116 feet.

Eagle Ford Shale

ConocoPhillips of Houston is preparing to drill four oil wells on its Morrill Ranch lease in McMullen County to target the Eagleville field of the Eagle Ford geological layer down to a total depth of 17,000 feet.

Haynesville Shale

Less than a week after receiving a water diversion permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Dallas oil company Aethon Energy is preparing to drill four horizontal wells on its Revolution 9 GU lease in Nacogdoches County. The wells target the Carthage field of the Haynesville geological layer at depths ranging from 13,200 to 14,000 feet.

Barnett Shale

Mexican oil company Petrobal continues to gain experience with horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in Texas. The company is seeking permission to recomplete a horizontal well on its Anderson-Cooper Unit lease in Jack County. The project targets the Jack County Regular field to a depth of 6,000 feet.


Dallas natural gas pipeline Atmos Pipeline is taking yet another step forward to develop a storage facility in East Texas. The company received a pair of drilling permits to develop two saltwater disposal wells on a facility it owns northwest of Palestine. The injection wells target the Bethel field of the Woodbine geological formation down to a depth of 6,500 feet.


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IN DEPTH: Successful startups utilize resources, capital and some luck

Noah Vernau



Small Business Confidence

Half of new businesses in America fail within their first five years, according to U.S. Small Business Administration.

Two Rivers Coffee opened five years ago in downtown Portage and is not among them because husband and wife owners Nate and Jerusha Smith have learned from others and from their own mistakes.

“You need to be willing to run the business yourself and grow into staffing it,” Nate Smith read from the top of his list of advice for other startups, much of which will be shared April 25 at the next Innovation Champions panel discussion in Portage.

He served customers in between his answers about the success of Two Rivers on March 1, getting some help from their 14-year-old daughter, Anna. Together they roasted coffee that’s also enjoyed as far north as the Twin Cities, as far west as Colorado and as far south as Tampa, Florida.

They’ve experienced 50 percent sales growth in every year, thanks in large part to successful wholesaling efforts the Smiths launched under the name Life Beans Coffee 2 1/2 years ago, Smith said.

Innovation Champions formed about three years ago because Smith wanted entrepreneurs in the area to help each other succeed.

“It just made sense,” he said of the idea.

Stacy Jax of Baraboo presents at the same meeting. Her business, Trinity Gunshot Alarm System, made the top 20 out of more than 200 entries in last year’s Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. The success helped her to find an investor, and she’s now on track to start producing her alarms later this year, she said.

Jax has never concerned herself with the fact that Wisconsin was ranked 50th among the 50 states in startup activity as measured by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in reports it released in 2015, 2016 and 2017, she said.

Ever since the Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, Jax has worked to develop technology that instantaneously can detect the sound of a gunshot when fired inside a building.

“It’s hard to offer specific advice because you’ll go through ups and downs all in one day,” Jax said of what she’ll discuss at Innovation Champions. “You’ll get good news one minute and then bad news the next, and I think it’s really more of a yo-yo than a roller coaster.

“For any startup,” she said, “I really think it’s about finding support — the places where people can share their ideas, learn about resources and get encouragement.”

In the March “Kauffman Indicators of Early-Stage Entrepreneurship,” Wisconsin still is ranked near the bottom at 46th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. The new report, which studied startup activity in 2017, replaces Kauffman’s “Index of Startup Activity,” which was discontinued in 2018 as the foundation retooled its research.

Kauffman’s studies have for years been disputed by local and state business leaders, including Tom Still of the Wisconsin Technology Council, whose organization offers the business plan contest in which Jax has excelled.

“I’m not suggesting Wisconsin is first,” he said of annual Kauffman studies, “but we’re certainly not last.”

Alisa Neumeier said Wisconsin could provide more access to capital for startups to improve the state’s rankings in startup activity, but her business, Firefly Fibers in downtown Beaver Dam, is experiencing success in spite of early strikeouts in financing.

“Everybody kept telling me that there would be grants, but we could not find anything we were eligible for,” Neumeier said of the retail business she opened in 2010. “My husband and I financed it ourselves, and not many people can do that.

“We were lucky.”

Earned luck

Experiencing some luck can be important for a startup’s survival, but entrepreneurs won’t get far without the capital and hard work, Neumeier and other business owners said.

Firefly Fibers — which deals in natural fibers, mostly yarn and nothing synthetic — doubled its retail space in November, and her business keeps growing, in part, because of success in online sales.

It’s something she more or less stumbled into.

“It happened during major road construction about four years ago,” she said of downtown repairs that began in the spring of 2015 and continued for several months. Construction made it difficult for customers to access her store and prompted Neumeier to start offering her products online, which she’d earlier resisted because she prefers customers to see the fabrics in person.

“There’s also a certain momentum that happens in your fifth year,” she said of a period that followed years “without much financial reward or much time off.”

Her online offerings began conservatively — as almost everything in business probably should, Neumeier advised — but today she makes between 15 and 30 online sales per day. Factoring in both in-store sales and her online sales, she sells as much as 200 pounds of fabric per week, and there’s room for growth, she said.

Launching Firefly nine years ago cost about $60,000 — two-thirds of which was inventory and also involved the purchase of a point-of-sale system and remodeling of the space she initially rented downtown.

“Our rent was stupid cheap,” Neumeier said of the store she outgrew last year — a space that cost only $500 per month and now sits empty in the building next to her new one. “Finding a good rate was important because that’s usually a big expense for startups.”

Beaver Dam city leaders have been meeting with local banks, hashing out the details for a revolving loan fund, which would provide to startups the kind of grant opportunities that Neumeier sought without success nine years ago, Mayor Rebecca Glewen said. This would help startups to get their space ready for business, providing funds for signs, renovations and more.

Low-interest loans for local businesses, similar to what the city of Portage offers businesses through its participation in the Wisconsin Community Development Block Grant Program, is important to Glewen because she considers what more businesses like Neumeier’s might accomplish for Beaver Dam on the whole.

“Her business attracts knitters from Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago and that impacts our local economy,” Glewen said. “They come here and get something to eat, they visit other places nearby, and we want to continue to build on that success.”

Innovation Champions

Leasing property is just one topic that’s discussed at Innovation Champions events held twice a year, said Nate Smith, who often warns entrepreneurs against getting locked into “triple-net-lease” agreements.

These agreements make tenants responsible for the ongoing expenses of a property including maintenance and building insurance, in addition to paying the rent and utilities.

“There are a ton of those in this area,” Smith said of triple-net-leases. “People often don’t know what it means until they get a surprise bill in the mail, and the extra costs could be the equivalent of one to two months of rent.”

Participants of Innovation Champions might also ask Smith for tips in controlling waste, learning how Two Rivers offered lunch from 2015 to 2017 but stopped because it resulted in too much waste and additional staffing without much profit.

“We changed because we finally stepped back and looked at it with fresh eyes,” Smith said of the vacation he and his wife took about two years ago. “We need to take a trip out of town regularly because it gives us better perspective.”

Getting out of the “daily grind” now and again is important to the Smiths, who each work 40 to 50 hours per week in coffee and another 10 to 20 hours per week for side efforts including real estate brokerage and the management of commercial properties, Nate Smith said. Two Rivers has a staff of six, including the Smiths, their daughter and 17-year-old son.

Getting good tips from Innovation Champions makes perfect sense, Smith said, when you consider its committee of 12 consists of professionals from Columbia, Sauk, Marquette and Dane counties. It offers panel discussions in the spring and a “boot camp” in the fall, where speakers from local universities or banks might share information about financing and resources.

Its committee has leaders from Madison College, University of Wisconsin-Madison Small Business Development Center, Cheryl Fahrner of Columbia County Economic Development Corp., Ed White of Sauk County Development Corp. and more. Fahrner and White help to organize and host the committee meetings, Smith explained, where they often promote block grants available to entrepreneurs, and Michelle Somes-Booher, director of the development center, organizes the boot camps.

“This is open to anyone,” Smith said of Innovation Champions, “and I hope it keeps growing.”

Many resources

White had introduced Jax to Somes-Booher in the early stages of Trinity Gunshot Alarm Systems. The development center ultimately helped Jax define her market geography, develop business strategy and to “consider issues I’d never even known of,” Jax said.

But the center is one of more than a dozen resources she’s utilized for her business. She found a mentor in Portage native Doug Fearing, who owns Fearing’s Audio Video Security in Madison and helped her feel confident in the product she wanted to offer and encouraged her to participate in last year’s state business plan contest. She’s participating in it once again and recently advanced to the second of four rounds.

The Wisconsin Technology Council holds informational sessions and supporting events during all four phases of its competition, helping Jax and the other competitors to submit “first-rate documents,” she said.

The contest, in its 16th year, has attracted more rural entrepreneurs such as Jax, who’s among 18 of the 50 semifinalists residing outside of Dane County, Still said.

“This used to be a Dane County phenomenon,” Still said, “but parts of rural Wisconsin are getting better connected” to resources.

Other resources for Jax include but are not limited to the Service Corps of Retired Executives, a national group of retired executives who offer classes where Jax gained even more mentors; gBeta, an accelerator group in Madison whose program director had linked Jax to many useful resources, including attorneys; Doyenne, a Madison business management consultant that offers Evergreen Funds for businesses owned by women; and Qualified New Business Venture, a program from Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. that helps startups raise capital by offering tax credits to investors.

Trinity’s business venture status is a big reason Jax secured an investor, she said, since it allows investors in new companies to write off up to 25 percent of their investment.

“It’s amazing how connected people are in the startup community,” Jax said of what she’s learned, “and it would be awesome if Sauk County would provide similar opportunities in mentorship as I’ve found in Madison.”

‘No magic bullet’

The business venture program is one of eight programs Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. offers in entrepreneurship and innovation and sometimes it’s challenging to explain to people all of the opportunities without “overwhelming” them, said Aaron Hagar, the group’s Vice President of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

“The key takeaway is there are resources for every individual and business,” he said, “and we’re making great strides.”

Hagar said 2018 was a record year in terms of investments made in Wisconsin startups at $252.5 million compared to $133.7 million in 2017, according to data compiled by PitchBook.

Still, in a recent column, notes how Wisconsin ranked 50th out of 51 in Kauffman’s “opportunity share” measurement, an important reason why the state finished near the bottom in Kauffman’s March study. Kauffman in that portion of the study aims to measure how many entrepreneurs start a business in pursuit of opportunity rather than necessity, data that Still questions in part because Wisconsin has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the U.S.

Portage’s director of business development and planning, Steve Sobiek, said Wisconsin’s low overall ranking in the Kauffman studies obscures the fact the state ranks favorably in the survival of young companies. It ranks 23rd out of 51 within that subcategory of Kauffman’s latest study.

“There’s no magic bullet and generally there are fewer resources in rural areas,” said Sobiek, whose office is located inside the Portage Enterprise Center that’s currently housing and assisting six startup businesses, two of which just moved out into permanent facilities.

“Successful startups see the obstacles and address them.”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @ NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.


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Bloomington’s Thermo King boasts new electric refrigerator van [Star Tribune]

April 06Bloomington-based Thermo King has made refrigerated diesel trucks and rail cars for 81 years. Now it’s now zooming into the small electric van arena.

Later this month, Thermo King unveils its prototype for a refrigerated food-delivery van that runs on electricity with zero exhaust.

The technology, which took 11 months and more than $250,000 to develop, was created with truck maker Chanje.

The duo’s demonstration van debuts April 24-25 at the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo in Long Beach, Calif. The vehicle produces zero emissions and can carry 4,000 pounds of produce 120 miles before it needs recharging, officials said.

Thermo King’s contribution — the electric refrigeration system and solar panels — was specifically designed to make that “last-mile delivery” of fresh produce — from giant warehouses to neighborhood restaurants and stores — as green as possible.

Thermo King officials say the “last-mile delivery” trend is worldwide.

“This project will be key to Thermo King’s companywide sustainability commitment and to improving the efficiencies and environmental footprint of diesel-powered products,” said Thermo King spokeswoman Stephanie Moncada. The goal is to “develop hybrid and full-electric options that combat exhaust, carbon dioxide and noise pollution.”

While city buses and commuter trains are increasingly diesel-free and electric, many large delivery trucks still run on diesel. Traditionally, that diesel gas has powered not only the vehicle, but any refrigeration systems too.

Thermo King and Chanje want to change that.

Last year, Thermo King, which manufacturers hefty equipment in Bloomington that has cooled big rigs, rail cars, buses and light-rail trains for decades, dedicated 10 engineers, product managers and technicians to the task of cooling something smaller — a little electric icebox that can drive local streets for hours without plugging in.

Thermo King and five Chanje engineers toiled for nearly a year to perfect the product.

Now clean energy buffs attending the ACT Expo will literally get to kick the tires this month. Next month, prospective fleet customers will get to embed the vehicles into their businesses for a test run. In return, Thermo King and Chanje want suggestions.

“We are targeting customers who are seeking to adopt all electric options into their fleets,” Moncada said. “Thermo King, Chanje and the customer will have the opportunity to learn more about how the use of these technologies may drive changes in operations.”

Thermo King wants to learn if fleet managers will change delivery routes because of the van’s 120-mile battery power load. They want to know if more electrical charge stations or other infrastructure are needed and how well the van’s solar energy panels are received.

The van uses Thermo King’s solar energy panels, which help power the vehicle’s 12-volt energy and refrigerator system.

While the van should graduate to the next phase of production soon, officials won’t say when or how much the final version might cost.

If successful, Thermo King and Chanje will join other refrigerated vehicle makers in the electric segment of the market, including Johnson Refrigerated Truck Bodies, Nissan in Tokyo and Alke in Italy. These manufacturers and even Coca-Cola delivery trucks introduced different electric or hybrid refrigeration options for cargo in recent years. Some approaches only exist abroad.

Right now, Thermo and Chanje are focused on the U.S. market and believe there’s room for more players. They are already in talks with other OEM vehicle makers exploring possible partnerships.

“The global refrigerated-vehicle market is expected to reach $16.5 billion by 2022,” said Chanje marketing director Ian Televik. “In the United States, we are seeing increasing demand for medium-duty, last-mile refrigerated solutions due to a steady increase in consumers doing their shopping online and expecting ‘home fast’ home deliveries.”

The time is ripe. Thermo King officials point to Target, Walmart, Whole Foods and smaller outfits who are dueling for online grocery orders and home deliveries. FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service have embraced electric delivery vehicles in California and New York. At the same time, manufacturers elsewhere have drafted new sustainability goals to slash the carbon footprint of factories, suppliers and customers.

Meanwhile, municipalities want fewer gas emissions on their streets and more alternatives to cleanly transporting humans and products. Some have embraced electric cabs and free electric shuttle services. Concerned with smog, California adopted strict gas emission regulations for light-duty vehicles that could take effect as soon as 2025.

“A lot of our customers are trying to stay ahead of this regulation. It’s coming up quickly in California and in Europe as well,” Moncada said.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725


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Report: Toledo area most vulnerable to automation in employment [The Blade, Toledo, Ohio]

April 05– Apr. 5–It seems safe to predict tractor-trailers will continue hauling the country’s goods across interstate highways in the near future.

Trucking veteran Ed Nagle, however, goes a step further. Even as autonomous vehicle technology advances and shapes the future economy, he expects a human will occupy big-rig driver’s seats for at least a decade to come.

“I tell people, when you’re ready to send your family up in an airplane without a pilot, then people will start to look at the possibility of an 80,000-pound vehicle going down the road unmanned,” said Mr. Nagle, president and CEO at Nagle Companies of Walbridge. “I don’t think we’re going to see that any time soon.”

Automation has for years widely changed the workforce and economy. Companies pursuing efficiency and safety found machines increasingly viable in achieving these goals, often at detriment to workers who lose jobs and income in the process.

The next wave of automation is looming. A recent study predicts it will hit Toledo particularly hard.

The Brookings Institution ranked greater Toledo most vulnerable to automation’s employment effects among the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. While manufacturing and industry were traditionally upended by newer robotization and autonomous systems, Brookings found service-industry jobs, such as fast food work, truck driving, and stock clerking, will be most at risk.

“Automation substitutes for labor,” the report states. “This is the fundamental purpose of workplace technology. If a machine can do a task currently done by humans, it will do it with greater precision, speed, and at a lower cost.”

‘Future of jobs’

The report depicts a striking job outlook. It expects by 2030 that roughly 36 percent of employment nationally will face “medium” automation exposure.

Author Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings, said the so-called “future of jobs” began about 30 years ago. It effectively shifted workers from middle-income jobs like manufacturing to work of lower skill and income, he said.

“You’ve been hard hit. These trends are distinct and vivid, and troublesome for the region, but they’re not the end of the story,” Mr. Muro said.

When determining an occupation’s exposure risk, Mr. Muro and co-authors looked at the number of people employed in the region’s various jobs, considered each task that went into performing a given job, and determined whether an autonomous system or technology could complete those tasks.

By this measure, nearly half of all tasks in Toledo-area jobs are replaceable. Analysts did not calculate estimates on number of jobs themselves likely to be affected.

“This is a metric and a story that is particularly important in the Midwest, there’s no doubt about it, and particularly important for Toledo because of its manufacturing history,” Mr. Muro said.

As technology has become more affordable and capable, traditionally service-industry job tasks are increasingly automated, Mr. Muro said. Nearly 87 percent of tasks needed to prepare fast food, for example, are now replaceable, he said.

The region’s occupations with highest employment levels and most tasks at “high risk” of automation replacement are food preparation and service, waitstaff, truck driving, stocking and order filling, and packaging, according to the report.

The most popular occupations with tasks at “low risk” of such replacement are registered nursing, laborers and freight moving, janitorial and cleaning work, customer service, and general and operations managing.

Finally, the fastest-growing area of “low risk” jobs are personal care aides, petroleum engineers, meeting and event planners, community health workers, and marketing research and marketing specialists.

Workers with a bachelor’s degree are expected to fare much better in the more automated working world. The study suggests communities and employers embrace technology, promote continual education, enable smooth changes at work, and ease challenges for struggling employees.

Mr. Muro named as positives an ability to innovate and grow demand for products. Automation complements labor and also increases the value of each remaining human task.

“Much of what is going to be automated are things that are unpleasant parts of jobs, in theory, as these technologies can free up human power to do more interesting things,” Mr. Muro said.

Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said he believes the Brookings’ study omits two important points.

First, Toledo significantly diversified its economy in recent years. Health-care system ProMedica, for example, is by far the city’s largest employer, he said.

Second, Toledo has a history of embracing automation in a way that helped manufacturing employers succeed, as with Jeep production, he said.

While findings regarding service jobs are concerning, every city in this part of the country should have similar worry. It is not unique to Toledo, he said.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz said trade skills development is important. As mayor, Mr. Kapszukiewicz advocates for the HOPE Toledo initiative to raise private funding for education goals.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz referred to the report as a snapshot, not a destiny. Seven years ago, Brookings could not have predicted ProMedica’s growth in Toledo, he said.

“The report speaks to the need for Toledo to be concerned about its future, and I get it. I’m concerned about our future,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. “But what I choose to look at it is as a guidepost for the way we need to diversify what we do in this town, to make sure we’re ready to win the future.”

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles employed 2,289 people in 2010 and 6,802 in 2018 at its Toledo Assembly and Toledo Machining plants.

In a statement, company spokesman Jodi Tinson said automation has been part of FCA operations for decades, with both robots and humans playing an important role.

“Robots are often better-suited for jobs that require exacting precision or could compromise the safety of the operator,” she said. “On the other side, humans are equally as important in providing specialized skills that robots lack, like problem-solving, critical thinking, or complex dexterity.”

A driver’s seat and steering wheel

In addition to running a Walbridge-based trucking firm, Mr. Nagle advocates for state legislation in the trucking profession as well.

Truck manufacturers are still designing vehicles for 10 years from now with a driver’s seat and steering wheel, Mr. Nagle said. The industry may implement additional automation, or perhaps shift the driver’s role to more of an autopilot, but machines cannot yet resolve a number of issues, Mr. Nagle said.

He questioned their ability to navigate snow and freezing rain, or a deer suddenly jumping in front of the truck. Workers are still needed to back in the vehicle.

“There are so many holistic issues involved in the trucking industry that need to be considered, more than just the technical aspect of designing a truck that can drive itself,” Mr. Nagle said.

Dennis Earl, president of UAW Local 14, recalled there were about 4,500 hourly workers when he joined General Motors’ Toledo Transmission plant in 1984. That number is closer to 1,400 now, he said.

Outsourcing led to most of this reduction, but some of it resulted from automation, Mr. Earl said.

“Change is coming. We need to capture that, and be good stewards of that. We can’t just go, ‘I wish it were the past,’ ” Mr. Earl said.

For industries facing new automation exposure, Mr. Earl suggested a renewed focus on exceptional customer service and training. He expressed concern about the general future of work, as some will not be skilled to perform jobs such as servicing high-tech machines.

“How do we provide meaningful employment for people that want it, but aren’t capable?” he said.

In a company statement, spokesman Kevin Nadrowski said General Motor’s greatest asset is its people.

GM’s strategic use of automation in our manufacturing plants is primarily focused on supporting our operators in work assignments that have been identified as difficult, dirty, or dangerous,” it reads. “While there typically are efficiencies associated with the usage of automation, our primary focus is not to displace people.”

Kevin Garvey, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 75, sees rising technology and eCommerce as rapidly changing the grocery business. His group resents 32,000 workers, primarily in retail with some employed in packing and packaging.

Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods Market in 2017 spurred this transition. Changes include customers’ handheld scanners and increased online grocery orders. The latter of which bypasses traditional brick-and-mortar stores, Mr. Garvey said.

Kroger added the service to its Perrysburg store and others last year.

A benefit is these innovations present an opportunity to organize a new group of technical workers, Mr. Garvey said.

But the economy is based on continued consumption, which requires people having money to spend, Mr. Garvey said. It’s also a challenge for communities to retain a larger tax base with less service industry work, he said.

“My concern is, what are we going to do with the masses of people when these perceived entry-level positions are no longer there? It’s like finding someone who pumps your gas for you,” Mr. Garvey said, referring to full-service stations of the past.

At a recent OhioMeansJobs Lucas County job fair, applicants made their in-person pitch at various company stands. Adient, Courtyard by Marriott, FedEx, and Taco Bell were among those on site.

Bruce Fraser, a city leader for Taco Bell, said increased kiosk and mobile delivery technology brings the benefit of more access for customers.

Still, some patrons actually refuse to order by kiosk, mistakenly believing those machines take away jobs, Mr. Fraser said. In fact, the business invests more in labor to make food as a result of such automation, he said.

“People eat when they can, especially [with] busy schedules or if they have meetings,” Mr. Fraser said of changes over the years. “We offer delivery, and kiosks, and all these things to help support that and add that access for everybody so that it’s easier. But we’re not doing it by cutting hours.”

Lucas County stays on top of automation trends in preparing a workforce ready for anything, said Tonia Saunders, county Workforce Development Board executive director.

“One of the things that we really want to put in front of job seekers are career-path opportunities, and jobs that have living wages,” Ms. Saunders said.

Programs are also in place for daycare, transportation, mental health, and substance abuse, she said.

Kathryn Hopkins, a job fair attendee, said she believes automation will supplement — not replace — the office work she wishes to do, and even create new jobs she could possibly obtain.

“You’re going to need someone to fix that machine when it doesn’t work. You’re going to need someone to replace that machine when it does stop working,” she said.

First Published April 5, 2019, 8:00am


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Keller Kissam: Dominion merger brings stability [The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, S.C.]

April 01– Apr. 1South Carolina Electric and Gas customers will officially become Dominion Energy customers April 15 in a changeover utility officials say will be seamless.

“We are trying as best as we can to make it as concise, consistent a changeover as we can,” Calhoun County native and Dominion Energy South Carolina President of Electric Operations Keller Kissam told The Times and Democrat.

Kissam — who is responsible for distribution operations, transmission operations and non-nuclear generations for Dominion — says there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes during the merger. He cited changing company logos and branding from SCE&G to Dominion, as well as having to remark all pipelines with the new company name.

“It takes a while to cycle through all of that,” said Kissam, formerly chief operating officer and president of generation, transmission and distribution for SCE&G.

Earlier this year, Dominion purchased SCANA, the parent company of SCE&G for about $14.6 billion. Dominion South Carolina is a business unit under Virginia-based Dominion Energy.

The combined company will deliver energy to approximately 6.5 million regulated customer accounts and have an electric generating portfolio of about 31,400 megawatts and 93,600 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines.

It also will have a natural gas pipeline network totaling 106,400 miles and operate one of the nation’s largest natural gas storage systems with 1 trillion cubic feet of capacity.

Kissam joined Dominion Energy South Carolina spokeswoman Rhonda Maree O’Banion as part of the company’s tour across Dominion’s service area in an effort to dispel confusion and uncertainty on the part of employees and customers about the impact of the merger.

“All of the stuff won’t happen overnight,” O’Banion said. “Some of it will be a very phased approach.”

Of particular note, O’Banion and Kissam said customers can expect to see visual changes from billing materials to Dominion Energy bucket trucks in their neighborhoods, but “the ease and accessibility of doing business transactions online won’t change.”

“They won’t have to learn new contact information or new phone numbers,” O’Banion said. “That will be seamless. If anything it will become easier and more user friendly.”

O’Banion and Kissam said they particularly want customers to know what to expect during the transition in light of frequent scams that can surround any such change.

“We need to keep our customers safe,” Kissam said. “Every employee will have a badge with their picture on it, their name on it. We encourage our customers to challenge those employees to give us proof.”

O’Banion encourages customers to ask for a photo identification of any individual presenting himself or herself as a Dominion employee.

O’Banion wants customers to beware of anyone saying power is about to be cut off if money is not sent to a particular number.

“That is not the way we do business,” she said.

The merger comes following SCE&G’s abandoning construction of new reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in the summer of 2017 after the bankruptcy of contractor Westinghouse.

SCANA and Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s state-owned utility, had spent about $9 billion on the project, which now is idle. Thousands lost their jobs in the failure, and state and federal authorities are investigating the matter.

In its initial proposal to purchase SCANA, Dominion said it would give a one-time $1,000 rebate to SCE&G customers as a cornerstone of the offer. The utility also planned rate cuts but said it would continue to charge customers for the failed nuclear project in Fairfield County over a 20-year period.

A public relations campaign by Dominion tried to sell the offer, but the General Assembly wanted rate cuts to eliminate ratepayers’ charges for the nuclear debt.

Dominion changed positions after legislative action was upheld as legal.

Eliminating the $1,000 rebate checks, Dominion instead agreed to a temporary 15 percent cut for all customers as set by legislators. The legislative action reduced the typical monthly bill about $22. Under the cash payment plan, customers’ monthly bills would have risen by more than $10 a month above the temporary rate.

The plan was approved by the Public Service Commission and the merger went forward.

“They got a lot of criticism for it,” Kissam said.

O’Banion said while there was some customer concern about Dominion’s change from rebate checks to rate cuts, call volume of complaints was a “small fraction” of the utility’s customer base. Kissam estimates the utility received about 30 complaint calls.

“It would not be anywhere near the top concern,” O’Banion said, explaining that Dominion has made an effort through media outreach to dispel the concerns. “People are understanding it better and that it is better for the long term.”

Dominion can ask for a rate increase for its base costs of generating and distributing power at the start of 2021. SCE&G customers haven’t seen the base costs for power increase since 2012, even though there were several rate hikes to pay for the failed nuclear plants.

Kissam said the change and transition have been challenging for both customers and employees.

He compared it to the movie “Jaws” where Roy Scheider first sees the shark come out of the water and turns to the ship’s captain Quint and says, “We are going to need a bigger boat.”

SCANA and SCE&G needed a bigger boat, he said.

“Everything is pointing in the right direction,” he said. “It is bittersweet. The average employee has been in our company for 19 years. Our employees have been through a heck of a roller coaster ride.”

“They invested in the company,” he said. “Look what our stock did. It got down to the 30s. You start to panic a little bit about that.”

“That is the greatest thing Dominion has brought and that is stability for our employees and an opportunity to move forward hopefully toward a brighter future,” Kissam said.

As the merger becomes official on April 15, Kissam says he is ready to move on.

“My sincere hope and prayer every day is that we go back to being a utility and provide safe, reliable and resilient energy,” Kissam said, adding he is ready for the utility to receive “no more headlines.”

“We want to finish up customer education and go about our business being that silent servant in our communities of electricity, gas and from a philanthropic standpoint.”

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.


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Despite rising gas prices, Americans planning to hit the road this summer [The Topeka Capital-Journal, Kan.]

April 01– Apr. 1Gas prices keep on rising this spring, but many Americans aren’t letting that stop them from making plans for road trips this summer.

With gas prices last last week sitting at a national average of $2.67 a gallon, up about 50 cents from where they were a couple of months ago, 1 in 3 Americans are still planning to take vacations by car, van or motor home this summer, says AAA Kansas.

According to, Topeka’s prices for a gallon of unleaded fuel on Monday morning ranged from $2.43 to $2.55 a gallon, about 24 cents below the national average.

Gas prices are expected to continue to rise to a national average of around $2.75 a gallon before leveling off, AAA says. While higher than the sub-$2 a gallon prices many were paying just a few short weeks ago, the projected high price this summer still would be nearly 20 cents below last spring’s high of $2.92.

Cheaper crude oil prices have helped to keep pump prices lower this winter, said AAA spokeswoman Jeanette Casselano in a news release.

Most areas of the country aren’t expected to see prices in the $3-per-gallon range as they did in May 2018. However, motorists on the West Coast and in the Rockies region likely will see prices reach or exceeded $3 per gallon.

While the first few months of this year ushered in national gas price averages that were at times as much as 35-cents cheaper than a year ago, pump price since the middle of March have been mostly similar to prices at this time a year ago. The national gas price average late last week was four-cents more expensive than a year ago, according to AAA

“Historically, early spring triggers an increase in pump prices due to an increase in demand as Americans put the winter blues behind them and drive more,” Casselano said. “Another factor pumping up the price is the switch-over to summer-blend gasoline, which is more expensive for refiners to produce,”

Gas prices in Kansas and other Midwestern states have been significantly below the national average much of the past few months.

Kansas gas prices have registered 15 to 25 cents less than the national average throughout the spring, and that will most likely continue,” said AAA Kansas spokesman Shawn Steward. “Motorists in the Sunflower State often enjoy average gas prices that are in the top 10 cheapest in the country, allowing road trips that don’t break the bank.”


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EDITORIAL: Protect state’s coastline against drilling proposal [The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.]

March 28– Mar. 28–When considering a proposal for offshore drilling along the coasts of Washington and other states, the Trump administration should pay heed to the notion of state’s rights. It is, after all, a time-honored philosophy of Republicans.

But rather than risk the wrath of opponents, the administration is quietly trying to weaken a decades-old law that empowers states to slow or prevent drilling off their coasts. The U.S. Commerce Department is seeking to “streamline” a review process granted under the Coastal Zone Management Act, reducing the power of states to control what happens beyond their shores.

Last year, then-Interior Department head Ryan Zinke announced plans to sell leases allowing for drilling in federal waters along most of the U.S. coastline. This drew a sharp rebuke from Congressional representatives, governors and legislatures in most affected states, including Washington.

As Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a message echoed by others: “Offshore oil and gas development poses a direct threat to Washington state jobs in coastal communities. … The Washington coast economy relies on healthy, sustainable oceans which support fisheries, seafood processing, recreation, shipbuilding, trade, transportation, and tourism.”

Offshore drilling is regarded as anathema to most residents in the Pacific Northwest, which helps explain why the practice has not existed here since the 1960s. Opposition has been buoyed by the 1972 Coastal Zone Management Act, which gives states a voice when industry development affects their waters, even beyond the state’s 3-mile jurisdiction. The Los Angeles Times explains: “In practice, this means that activity in federal waters that would otherwise not be open to extensive public scrutiny can be subjected to hearings and local environmental impact assessments.”

Notably, part of the impetus for the law was a 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif. The spill, originating at an offshore drilling platform, released up to 100,000 barrels of crude oil and bespoiled the coast while devastating marine life. It remains the third-largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Under the law, states can demand modifications to development that could affect their coastlines. According to a 2016 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, states end up approving more than 90 percent of proposals following negotiations that avoid costly and time-consuming legal challenges.

Now the administration is attempting to undermine that power at the same time it is hoping the Senate approves the nomination of David Bernhardt — a former oil industry lobbyist — as secretary of the Interior.

Overall, the issue reveals the Trump administration’s priorities. As Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said last year, the action “demonstrates exactly what this administration stands for: Big Oil and the relentless pursuit of profit, no matter what it may mean for our environment, public health, economy, or the many, many people who want their pristine coasts preserved.”

That includes the people of Washington, who recognize that our coast is essential to the state’s culture and is more valuable than what might be lying beneath the Pacific Ocean. Selling drilling rights to private interests would undermine the shared stake we have in our coastal waters, and crippling the Coastal Zone Management Act would ignore the concept of state’s rights.

This Washington should demand better from the other Washington.


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