Infrastructure's Digital Disruption

If there's any consensus that emerged from the presidential election, it was on the need to do something about America's aging infrastructure. "We're going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none," President-elect Donald Trump declared in his victory speech. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi responded that top Democrats shared that interest, with a particular focus on job creation. "We can work together to quickly pass a robust infrastructure jobs bill," she said.

Trump is talking about a 10-year, trillion-dollar infrastructure plan -- certainly a bold vision. But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. And the details have to include an understanding of the many ways digital technology is transforming how America works, lives and plays. READ MORE

Limited Resources and the Vision of a Circular Economy

Natural resources like water, minerals, oil and timber are the feedstock of an economy. The predominate pattern of their use is a linear flow of resources into manufactured goods and then on to consumers, product end of life and, finally, disposal. There are, of course, serious problems with this linear-flow, consumption-oriented economy, not the least of which is resource depletion.

But is there another way? Yes, say those who advocate for moving toward a "circular economy," one in which materials would no longer be consumed but rather would be used and then fully recovered to be remanufactured again and again -- ideally with no degradation and of equal quality to virgin materials. "In the circular economy we are no longer consumers and there's no end of life for products," noted Ellen MacArthur at a recent conference. "We are all just users." READ MORE

Doubling Down on California’s Climate Commitment

Back in 2006, California lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 32 (AB32), its first-in-the-nation climate mitigation legislation. State officials were either, depending on one's viewpoint, making a commitment to rescue the state from a bleak environmental future or sending its economy off a cliff. "There's no way to get to the targets except by stopping the use of energy," Dorothy Rothrock, vice president of the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, said at the time. Opponents ran ads warning of job losses, reduced investment and energy rationing.

Despite those dire predictions, California has survived the last 10 years quite well: It tied with Oregon last year as having the strongest state economy. And, already on track to meet AB32's 2020 emissions reduction target, California doubled down this month on its climate commitment with the enactment of Senate Bill 32 (SB32), which will require the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. READ MORE

Electric Utilities and the Future They Need to Embrace

It shouldn't come as a surprise that "net metering" has become such a contentious issue, especially in states like Arizona and Nevada. Where there's lots of sunshine and growing numbers of solar-power installations at homes and businesses, whose owners expect to be compensated for the excess electricity they generate, huge potential exists to disrupt the income stream of electric utilities.

The utilities are by no means awaiting that disruption placidly. Under lobbying pressure, Nevada has approved new charges for net metering (also called "net energy metering," or NEM), and Arizona is looking at completely eliminating its net metering program. Whether sunny or cloudy, states are the battlegrounds because there is no overarching federal net metering policy. Forty-six of the 50 states have some form of net metering in place with varying types of regulation. READ MORE

Where Are the P3s We Need?

Public-private partnerships may seem like the latest innovative way to finance crucial public needs, but P3s have been around for a while -- quite a long while. In a recent Governing Guide to Financial Literacy, Justin Marlowe describes a Revolutionary War public-private partnership as a key factor in George Washington's defeat of the British. After a grim winter spent at Valley Forge, where soldiers starved and died of disease, the Continental Congress authorized a reorganization of the army's supply system and gave private contractors wide latitude in managing the logistics.

As successful as this arrangement was early in our history, we make far less use of such partnerships today than many other developed countries do. A study by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee found that while more than $61 billion was spent on highway P3s in this country from 1989 to 2013, that amount represented just 1.5 percent of the costs of all highway projects completed during that period. READ MORE