Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"What I Choose Is My Choice"

Read the headline and you think, "Well, of course!" Or maybe you think, "That's a pretty lame attempt at prose." But read it as Billy Corgan screeched the lyrics in Smashing Pumpkins' "Disarm" and you get a sense of what your choice can symbolize.

Why the poetic bent to begin this post? Views like this can put you in a lyrical state of mind.

Energy NOW! photojournalist Ian McAllister and I recently traversed Pennsylvania for a story on clean energy jobs, a journey that took us into the upper reaches of the Marcellus Shale. And in that shale gas haven, we met Brian Nielsen. He's a Midstream Operations Superintendent with Chesapeake Energy based in Horseheads, NY.

What? You don't know where Horseheads is? Easy. You just leave Towonda and head Northwest. OK, OK...it's just outside of Elmira (home to one of Dunder Mifflin's regional branches).

Anyway, Brian's story is simple but I think quite compelling. After spending the last 15 or so years in energy transportation (for lack of a better term), Brian jumped to CHK just a few months ago. His rationale? He's from the area, he sees what the discovery of natural gas shale means for his hometown, and he wants to be part of the clean energy revolution.

It's his choice.

Just like it was Billy Corgan's choice to play every single instrument on Smashing Pumpkins' albums and relegate the rest of the band to concert tour duty and lame music video posing. What I choose...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hero For Hire

Well-trained journalists and storytellers, often the same thing, recognize the value of delivering a surprise. And there's something of an art to introducing a plot twist in just the right place. One of the best I know at this, with all humility, is NBC 4's Kimberly Suiters (yes, we are most definitely related).

While I plan on cultivating this as a nice surprise in the story itself, here I'm just gonna drop the curtain and let you gaze. The guy on the left here is Justin Cox, a two-tour veteran of the Iraq War. He suffered a closed-head injury, came home to California, and now finds himself in the solar business. A business, not coincidentally, that is booming across the Golden State.

My path to meeting Justin involves an interview I did in Oakland this week with Danny Kennedy, the founder of Sungevity. We're working on a story about Proposition 23, a ballot proposal that would effectively rescind a bunch of California's clean-energy regulations. Well, exhibiting true Australian hospitality, Danny invited us for beers following our shoot, hence the plastic keg cups in the picture below (that's Danny on the right, with me and Clean Skies' photojournalist Ian McAllister). Eventually, he tells me Justin's story. I resolve then and there to do turn our shooting schedule upside-down in order to get Justin on camera.

This is a look at our location for the shoot, a rooftop in Riverside, CA where Justin was busy managing a team of residential-solar installers from PPG (who, BTW, are pretty good guys too). I felt a bit guilty distracting Justin from his job, but his patience and character won the day and we felt most welcome (if ill-equipped for the heart).

So look for a much more visual and, I hope, compelling version of Justin's story during a piece we're completing on Energy Jobs. It's slated to air on Clean Skies Sunday (soon to be Energy Now!)the first weekend of October, which should give me ample time to craft a story structure worthy of my subject (who's also attending Med School in his spare time).

I mentioned the heat, right? Well, but the solar crew's estimate we hit upwards of 120 degrees on the roof that day. And the entire time, just a short but well-aimed leap from the roof, this is what was beckoning to us. Sweet relief...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


If you've been on the Southern California coast, this shot should feel familiar. The aqua-green surf rolling in long, foamy swells. The clusters of deep green seaweed rotting on the sand, stinking up the entire cove. A electricity generating facility churning warm water out into the chilly Pacific.

Yep, nothing says "So Cal Beach" quite like a power plant (well, nothing except these guys). And today we rolled through or by three of these. El Segundo's natural gas facility, in LA; NRG's Encina plant, north of San Diego; and the San Onofre nuclear generation station between the two. While San Onofre has...oh, what's the best way to put it...the most recognizable profile of the three, Clean Skies News photojournalist Ian McAllister and I spent the most time at Carlsbad. And with good reason.

Here's a look at my interview this morning with Steve Hoffmann, NRG's Senior Vice President and Regional President, West. That's NRG Communications Manager David Knox in the pink shirt, keeping an eye and ear on the proceedings. Among our topics of discussion, the potential ramifications of rolling back California's clean-energy regulations and the emphasis NRG is now putting on renewable energy (especially solar).

The subject that really sticks with me, though, is the "history lesson" Steve shared with us as we walked through the plant's de facto photo gallery (1952-1984). The Encina Power Plant has adapted remarkably well since started generating electricity in 1954. What started as burning oil to turn a turbine or two has evolved into a 965-mw natural gas-burning plant with five turbines. This is a shot of Ian and me on the generation floor, which was as spotless as Steve had promised.

So, thanks to the switch from oil to nat gas, the Encina plant is emitting far less CO2 and providing less expensive electricity to So Cal. Driving that point home today? This was one of the hottest days of the year in California, 98 in LA and 80's in San Fran. That means one of the biggest electricity demand days of the year, since everyone wants their air conditioning, right?

And of you don't have AC? Well, as you cool yourself in the surf you might still appreciate the Encina Power Plant and the way it warms this wet section of the Carlsbad coast.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

An Army of Two

Our mission on this day was pretty simple. Interview Steven Rose, an economist at EPRI and one of the lead authors of the forthcoming IPCC report. Here's a pic from the interview itself...

So off I go from the Clean Skies studios to EPRI, carrying nothing more than my sunglasses and an iPhone. With me are photojournalists Jevan Alves and Ian McAllister, carrying significantly more: cameras, tripods, lighting kits, hand trucks, etc. We arrive, scope the location, and they set to work (while I pre-interview Steven about essential topics like DC biking and Wisconsin Soccer)...

BTW, that's EPRI media relations exec extraordinaire Clay Perry in the pink shirt above. And that's his handiwork on the table to the left. Knowing this was an early morning and how hard these guys work, Clay had breakfast muffins and fruit ready for The Crew when we arrived. Very thoughtful. Jevan had another shoot immediately after ours, so this was breakfast and lunch for him. Ian, I believe, snacked on blueberry muffins and giant strawberries (hard to resist).

After Ian and Jevan spent 20 minutes setting up, 10 minutes perfecting the shots and lighting, 15 minutes shooting the actual interview, and 10 minutes tearing down everything afterward, we had what would eventually be a 3:30 piece for Clean Skies Sunday. The end result? My name's all over the piece, and Jevan and Ian's fingerprints are all over the final product. Thank you, gentlemen.

See for yourself (about 12:45 into our newscast)...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Behind the Curtain

Wasn't that the moment when Dorothy realized that The Wizard was full of it? She peered behind the curtain and discovered what really went into creating this particular "power."

Nothing nearly so nefarious here. But given the extenuating circumstances we faced putting together this week's edition of Clean Skies Sunday, I thought a peek behind our virtual curtain might be worth a laugh.

First, take a look at the show (posted above). Good interview about the environmental realities of the Gulf spill, a look into BP's most attractive sale items if it needs to start raising cash, plus a talk with one of the many authors of the next UN Climate Report (the last one led to a Nobel Prize).

OK, next take a look at the pictures below of the taping process. We're revamping our Capitol Hill studio, so our old set is out of commission and our new set is still in the some-assembly-required stage. The result? A jerry-rigged lighting grid, no Teleprompter, and me squatting/sitting in front of a gigantic big-screen TV (I'm taller than the monitor). And the ladder? That's my make-shift desk.

So, what happens behind our Clean Skies News curtain? We make sausage, of course.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A True Juggling Act

Ever seen The Flying Karamazov Brothers? A rotating cast of characters plays the same four roles, Russian Guys who can juggle anything. And they do exactly that, based on audience participation. When I saw them, I think one of them juggled a bowling ball, a Spider-Man action figure, and a stick of butter. Sick.

Anyway, I'm doing my best Karamazov impersonation right now by juggling The Energy Report, a handful of Clean Skies Sunday interviews, and a Sunday story on what could be a bit of a BP fire sale. Whew!

So while I have so many journalistic balls in the air, here's a look at last week's show. I think our product came out especially well, especially since Susan McGinnis had to make an emergency trip to the Disabled List.

Oh, and here's the aforementioned FKB in action. Almost as mind-boggling as deciphering the more than 1,300 pages of the EPA's Transport Rule proposal. Ouch.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How Washington Works (Or Doesn't)

The biggest lines at The Capitol tend to involve "Mark-Ups," the sessions in which lawmakers discuss and decide the fate of pending legislation. Seems like everyone with a horse in the race wants an ear in the door. That means lobbyists, reps, players (and their stand-ins) are eager to get inside the hearing room.

With a big committee like this one (House Energy & Commerce) comes big jurisdiction and big, broad bills. So, no surprise that this pic gives you an indication of the full house in attendance this day. Not many seats left in the audience, though you can tell more than a few committee members decided they didn't need to be here. Oh, well...it takes less time to count the votes after each proposed amendment that way.

On this day I was following an amendment we expected Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) to introduce, legislation involving the natural gas production technique called hydrofracking. Without getting too "land man" on this, she wants E&P companies to be forced to disclose what's in their fracking fluids (insert punchline here). Trouble is, leadership won't let her bill hit the floor. So she wanted to try something of an end run by introducing the plan and as amendment.

As it turns out, the K Street defense knew all about Rep. DeGette's end run and was in perfect position. Thanks to an eleventh-hour arm-twisting session the night before, seems that lobbyists convinced E&C Committee Chairman Henry Waxman to ask that the Congresswoman withdraw her amendment, even though she apparently had enough votes in place to pass her amendment.

So, bottom line, there wasn't even a vote on the plan. But, in true legislative fashion, lawmaker spent roughly 30 minutes discussing the merits of the amendment. Yeah, even though Rep. DeGette agreed to pull her amendment almost everyone in the room felt the need to outline how they feel about the amendment that was not going to be introduced. And in a flash, half an hour evaporates without anything actually happening. Not that Congress has much no do anyway, right?

Nonetheless, the Washington Nationals are playing .500 baseball right now so you can certainly argue that our town still has its redeeming qualities.