Category Archives: Blogs and blog administration

New Chapter for Bacon’s Rebellion

Today marks the end of a three-year era at Bacon’s Rebellion — the final day of Dominion Energy’s sponsorship of reporting and commentary on energy issues in Virginia. Dominion and I are parting on excellent terms, but I have decided to let the sponsorship expire in order to take the blog in a new direction. One option I am considering is creating a new business model that will allow the blog to become a bigger force in Virginia journalism.

It’s a sad fact that shrinking news staffs and editorial holes in Virginia newspapers are leaving vast gaps in journalistic coverage. Sponsorships over the years gave me the freedom to cover important state boards such as the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, whose activities would have gone largely unreported otherwise. I have reported in-depth about transportation, land use, smart growth, public health, higher education, and the electric grid.

The one-man-blog model allowed me to make a comfortable living doing what I loved to do, but it was impossible to grow. For a long time, I really didn’t care if Bacon’s Rebellion grew — it did what I wanted it to do. But now I worry that Virginia’s newspapers are in meltdown mode. The press corps covering the Governor’s Office and General Assembly is a shadow of its former self. Increasingly, state government agencies are operating in the dark. A handful of statehouse reporters are still doing yeoman’s work, but it’s not clear how long Virginia’s newspapers can continue to employ them.

If newspapers continue their meltdown, who will report the news? Who will hold government accountable?

An emerging model of journalism is based on funding by non-newspapers — conservative government watchdogs or liberal environmental advocates. Agenda-driven journalism is better than no journalism at all, but… it’s agenda driven.

All reporters have biases, conscious or unconscious. I freely acknowledge that I am favorably disposed to limited government and free markets, and I am unfavorably disposed to social engineering. However, I firmly believe that you can’t understand one side of the argument unless you also understand the other side of the argument. Ironically, under my Dominion sponsorship, I felt an obligation to give greater voice to anti-Dominion environmental groups than I might have been inclined to do had I remained an unsponsored commentator. As an aside, while Dominion would pitch stories to me as it did to other reporters, the company never tried to control what I wrote. I question if the backers of agenda-driven journalism will be willing to take the same hands-off approach.

Beginning with the “Big Bacon Fry” event late last year, I have been holding conversations with a variety of people about the future of Bacon’s Rebellion. I have concluded that there is a viable business model for a non agenda-driven publication focused on covering the Virginia statehouse. Such a venture would re-conceptualize reporters from people who report to editors and publish articles in newspapers into people who create a nexus for the flow of information on a chosen topic, such as the future of the electric grid, innovation in transportation, productivity in health care, or something similar. Content would run the gamut of written journalism, commentary, white papers, video presentations, networking luncheons, seminars and conferences.

Another possibility is to reinvent Bacon’s Rebellion as a platform for cranky old men (and women). At 65 years, I’m in a financial position to do whatever I want in “retirement,” and that might include doing what I’ve been doing all along — without the necessity of focusing on subject matter aligned with sponsorships. Steve Haner, who has reached a similar stage in life, already has made a tremendous contribution to Bacon’s Rebellion, adding his valuable perspectives as a former journalist, political operative and lobbyist. Perhaps there are others who would enjoy blogging as a serious retirement activity.

I have some personal decisions to make about how to allocate my time over the next couple of years — I do have a major commitment writing a corporate history — so I may or may not have the bandwidth to oversee a full transformation of the blog. But I am open to talking to and partnering with others. If anyone has thoughts to share, I would love to talk to you.

A Newer, Bigger, Shinier Command Bunker

Bacon’s Rebellion is moving its hidden underground command center to a new, undisclosed location today. This massive logistical effort will entail a temporary diminution of insurgent activity. But have no fear, the blogging of the rebellion will resume shortly.

Welcome Steve Haner to Bacon’s Rebellion

I’m pleased to announce that Stephen D. Haner is joining the ranks of Bacon’s Rebellion contributors. An occasional guest columnist in the past, he will become a more regular presence on the blog.

Steve brings a unique perspective to public policy in Virginia. He started his career as a journalist. When I first met him at the Roanoke Times in the early ’80s, he was a dogged reporter covering the Roanoke County board of supervisors in. He moved on to partisan politics as a Republican Party operative, worked in the Attorney General’s Office, and rounded out his career as a lobbyist, most notably for Huntington Ingalls (owner of Newport News Shipbuilding). In other words, he has observed Virginia sausage making from both the inside and the outside and has few illusions about the process.

Winding down his lobbying practice, Steve has the freedom now to proffer opinions that he once considered prudent to keep to himself. I, for one, look forward to reading what he has to say now that the manacles are off.

— JAB

Still a Few Slots Open for the Big Bacon Fry

The political discourse in the United States just gets nastier. People in the other political tribe aren’t just misguided or informed by different values, they’re ignorant, stupid, lying, evil people out to ruin the country. If you’re a Bacon’s Rebellion reader, you’re probably just as tired of the hyperbolic rhetoric and personal vilification as I am. Fortunately, there’s an antidote — the Big Bacon Fry, the first-ever gathering of Bacon’s Rebellion readers and supporters. Our mission: to get Americans talking civilly to one another again.

Please join me in brainstorming ways to improve the quality of dialogue and debate. We’ll put a couple of concrete ideas on the table: (1) pulling friends together in monthly groups like Richmond’s own West End Eating, Drinking and Bloviating Club to discuss topics of mutual interest, and (2) forming stakeholder groups to tackle tough public policy issues of community and statewide import. But we’re open to ideas of all kinds, and we want to hear them.

The program starts 11:30 a.m., this upcoming Saturday (Dec. 2) at the Westin Hotel in Henrico County, just off Interstate 64. We’ll open with a mix-and-mingle just to get to know one another, and then we’ll get down to business. The meeting ends at 2:30, and you can be on your way. Or you can join me afterwards at the hotel bar!

We still  have a few slots open. If you can make it, please let me know — [email protected] — so I can notify the caterer.

Groupthink Leads to Polarization… Which Leads to Foaming at the Mouth

You’re Invited to the Big Bacon Fry

We won’t be sitting around the campfire and singing Kumbaya at the Big Bacon Fry, but we’ll try real hard to get along.

Politics is nastier now than at any time in forty years. As University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato recently opined, at least in the 1960s and ’70s the country fractured over monumental issues such as Civil Rights, the Vietnam War and Watergate. Today, the animus is largely personality driven, mostly involving the person of one Donald J. Trump. The politics of personal destruction has always haunted us, but never has it been so virulent. Our opponents aren’t just wrong or misguided, they are vicious and depraved and out to destroy the country.

Here at Bacon’s Rebellion, we reach across the partisan divide. Sure, I have pronounced libertarian-conservative views, but I have always believed that you cannot effectively advance your own argument unless you can replicate the arguments of those who disagree with you. Further, I have always opened up the blog to anyone with different inclinations, and I have fostered a lively exchange of diverse views in the comments accompanying each post. 

I am proudest of how, with the need for only occasional whip cracking, participants are able to maintain a civil dialogue. Rarely does anyone actually change anyone else’s mind, but we earn a grudging respect for one another. At the very least, we learn that those on the other side of an issue are not mindless zombies. They do have reasons to think what they do, and facts to back them up, even if in the end we still think we’re right and they’re wrong.

In the spirit of deepening that civil dialogue, I invite Bacon’s Rebellion readers and participants to a get-together on Saturday, December 2, 11:30 a.m., at the Westin Hotel in Henrico County. I have arranged for a private room for three hours, along with food and libations (lunchable hors d’oeuvres and a bacon-themed cocktail). Conveniently for out-of-town guests, the Westin is located just off Interstate 64 and provides free parking.

The primary purpose of the Big Bacon Fry is for Bacon’s Rebellion regulars — including lurkers — to get to know one another. I am hoping that the experience of participating in the blog will be more fun when you know the people you’re reading or interacting with.

Aside from mixing and chatting, I would like to propose some ideas and solicit feedback on how to build the Bacon’s Rebellion community. Bacon’s Rebellion readers are smart and well informed. I want to engage you more in the blog. I want to explore how we can direct our collective energies in ways that will have greater impact on public policy deliberations in Virginia.

If you plan to attend, please contact me at [email protected] Due to the cost of providing food and booze, I’ll have to cut off the number at thirty. (Please don’t say you’ll come unless you’re realllly sure you can make it because you’ll be taking up someone else’s slot.) I look forward to seeing you.

— Jim Bacon

Five More CURA Studies!

Both Virginia Commonwealth University and I have fallen down on our pledges to promote the Virginia-focused public policy work of the university’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis (CURA). Since last I highlighted one of CURA’s studies on Bacon’s Rebellion, the center has published five more without any notice on this blog. Hopefully, we have rectified the breakdown in communications, and I will provide access to future studies on a timely basis.

To make partial amends, I would like to alert Virginia’s policy wonk community to those five studies published over the past year or so.

Evaluation of the Virginia Enterprise Zone Program  (December 2016)

Analysis of the impacts of the program on employment and real-estate values, the features of the program that work well, and determination of how enterprise-zone performance can be enhanced. (Prepared for the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.)

The Impact of Heritage Tourism on the Virginia Economy (February 2017) ‌ 

Estimates the quantitative impact of heritage tourism on the state’s economy, and provides a qualitative picture of the role of heritage tourism in community development in Southwest Virginia, Northern Virginia, and on the Eastern Shore. (Prepared for Preservation Virginia.)

Downtown Hopewell Space Feasibility Study (August 2017)

Studied the community demand for potential uses of a 14,000-square-foot building, located in downtown Hopewell. The study looked at successful kitchen incubators and makerspace facilities in other states, conducting a business survey, and presenting a cash flow analysis of five scenarios for potential uses of the space. (Prepared for Hopewell Downtown Partnership.)

Understanding the Jobs-Affordable Housing Balance in the Richmond Region (July 2017)

This report maps and describes the geographic relationship of affordable housing and low-wage jobs in the Richmond region through two different spatial models: a Thiessen polygon-based approach and a gravity-based approach. The report also examines housing value and crime data in neighborhoods around six different affordable housing developments to identify any impacts the developments had on topics of concern to neighbors of affordable housing. (Prepared with the support of the Community Foundation.)

Second Annual MetroView Development Tracker (July 2017)

MetroView Development Tracker provides a snapshot of land use, property value, development footprint, and jobs-housing balance as of 2014-2015 for 15 counties, 6 independent cities, and one town comprising the greater Richmond metropolitan area. Detailed land use profiles for the RRPDC and Crater PDC boundaries and for individual county/city are also included in the report.

Bacon Bits: Coal Ash, Eclipses and Online Learning

Moon as energy conservation device. During the solar eclipse Monday, local temperatures dropped five to six degrees and electric consumption reported by Bristol Virginia Utilities, which serves Bristol, Va., fell five megawatts — or about 7.6%. So reports the Bristol Herald-Courier.

Dominion launches coal ash study. Dominion Energy has hired AECOM, a multinational engineering firm, to conduct an independent assessment of how to dispose of the ash in the utility’s coal ash ponds. Dominion is evaluating whether to close and cap the coal ash in place, recycle it, or transport it to a lined landfill, reports the Chesterfield Observer. Dominion is required to submit a report to state government by Dec. 1.

VCU Engineering joins the online parade. Thanks to a $25 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering will launch an online program in conjunction with VCU’s Medicines for All Institute. The purpose of the Institute is to  reduce costs of manufacturing pharmaceutical products and increase global access to medications. Read more at Richmond BizSense.

I’m Going Cyborg, Baby!

Artificial hip

Part man, part machine — that’ll be me in about six or seven hours. I’ll be checking into Saint Mary’s hospital to get a new ceramic-titanium hip to replace the flawed model that my DNA bequeathed me.

I’ll be out of action for a few days, and I expect my blogging productivity will be diminished for some time after that. Pain meds and clear thinking do not go hand in hand. But with luck I’ll come back stronger than ever. Personal issues have severely distracted my blogging over the past few months, and I hope this will be the last of them. There’s so much woolly headed thinking to dispel!

A Substation in Time Saves Nine

Photo credit: Dominion

The 2013 sniper attack on Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s Metcalf transmission substation was a wake-up call for the electric power industry. A team of riflemen knocked out the facility near San Jose, Calif., by firing upon and severely damaging 17 transformers. Thanks to redundancy in the grid, PG&E was able to prevent blackouts by re-routing electrical power. But the incident drove home how vulnerable the electric grid is to sabotage.

“The next day,” recalls Mike Lamb, manager of operations engineering for Dominion Energy Virginia, “we started brainstorming about what resiliency improvements we needed.”

As part of a multi-pronged strategy to bolster resiliency of its 6,500-mile electric transmission lines, 57,000 miles of distribution lines, 900 substations and 66,000 transformers, Dominion procured mobile transmission equipment designed by manufacturers in Europe, Asia and North America. The mobile equipment provides a “plug and play” design that allows it to connect with high-voltage cables in a fraction of set-up time required by conventional technology.

Most of the equipment held in resiliency reserves sits idle until needed in the aftermath of a hurricane, earthquake, or human-caused event. As it turned out, has Dominion found a use for the trailer-borne transmission outside of an emergency situation.

Temporary substation on the job in the Cartersville transmission line rebuild.

The company had a “wreck-and-rebuild” job on an older transmission line between the Bremo Power Station and a substation in Cartersville. Typically, says Lamb, a temporary transmission line would be constructed to carry load to customers while the old line was being rebuilt. In this particular case, a five-mile section had poor access.

Besides saving the $4 million expense of stringing a temporary line, says Lamb, the company was able to conduct a “proof of concept.” Workers proceeded slowly and deliberately over four months in order to work out set-up processes and develop checklists.

“We accomplished a lot of things with this one installation,” Lamb says. “If we have an unplanned situation in the future, we could hopefully make it within five to seven days.”

Nationally, the electric grid is aging. Most transformers in the United States were installed between 1950 and 1970, and have far exceeded their expected 40-year life span. U.S. utilities, some fear, may be forced to contend with an increasing number of breakdowns. Thus the grid is growing more fragile even as the threat of sabotage, cyber attacks and natural disaster looms ever larger.

While Dominion says that it has been proactively replacing older transformers, substation equipment, and transmission lines in order to improve reliability, the mobile transmission equipment gives it an added safeguard against an extended outage.

“The installation of the mobile transmission substation in Cartersville was a first in North America, and the equipment operated as designed,” says Lamb. “Dominion will definitely be better equipped and prepared in the future to respond to unplanned events.”