Leading the News
Study Warns That Plant Closures Will Impact Energy Prices, Reliability.
Platts (9/19, Winston) covers a report by IHS Markit that was released Tuesday which indicates that current “trends in the power sector that favor development of renewable and gas -fired power at the cost of coal and nuclear generation could hurt electric reliability and affordability.” Concerning the study, Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the US Chamber’s Global Energy Institute said, “Policymakers must be focused on maintaining balance, and reject approaches that limit our options.” Platts adds that the research was sponsored by the Edison Electric Institute, the Nuclear Energy Institute and the Global Energy Institute at the US Chamber of Commerce. The study examined the “hypothetical impact” if coal and nuclear were removed from the generation mix, and found that the “retail price of electricity would have increased by 27% and the variability of monthly consumer bills would have gone up 22%.”
The Houston Chronicle (9/19, Osborne) also reports on the IHS Markit report which warns that the “shift away from coal and nuclear is likely to leave the U.S. grid overly reliant on natural gas and renewable forms of energy and prone to more expensive and volatile electricity prices than we currently enjoy.” Lawrence Makovich, chief power strategist at IHS and the study’s lead author, sees “a confused energy market with criss-crossing and contradictory incentives for carbon-free energy that favors wind and solar energy through tax incentives but does not do enough to incentivise carbon-free nuclear.”
The Midland (TX) Reporter-Telegram (9/19, Makovich) reports that Makovich said the energy market has “contradictory incentives for carbon-free energy that favors wind and solar energy through tax incentives but does not do enough to incentivise carbon-free nuclear.” Noting these “favored technologies,” he says there is a “clear economic argument behind making these additional interventions because we’re not dealing with a clear market operating without distortion.” Axios and the Washington Examiner (9/19, Siciliano, Seigel)also report the story
Udacity CEO To Offer Self-Driving “Nanodegree” Program.
Forbes (9/19, Ohnsman) reports Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun plans to offer an “online self-driving car ‘nanodegree’ program” through his company in order to help staff rideshare operator Lyft’s autonomous vehicle team. According to Forbes, “Lyft will sponsor 400 scholarships over the next year for qualified candidates to complete Udacity’s…program, which certifies them to work with companies struggling to find engineering talent in that field.” In addition, Thrun is also “creating the first academic program for those wanting to design so-called flying cars.”
Texas A&M-San Antonio President Outlines Women’s Growing Presence In STEM Fields.
Texas A&M University-San Antonio President Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson, in a piece for the Houston Chronicle (9/19, Teniente-Matson, Columnist), says the number of women in NASA’s recent graduating class of astronauts constitutes “a game-changing moment for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – or STEM – careers.” Noting the National Student Clearinghouse forecast STEM jobs to grow by almost 25 percent by 2020, Teniente-Matson also outlines higher education institutions’ role in the “increasing shift in the number of women interested in STEM.” She adds that female students interested in STEM fields “do well in Texas, and Texas A&M University ranks first in Texas and 12th nationally on a list of colleges that graduate the most women in STEM, according to BestColleges.com.” On Thursday, Teniente-Matson says, her university will build on this progress by hosting “a topping-out ceremony for the construction of the 136,000-square-foot Science & Technology Building,” slated to open next fall.
ED Approves Purdue’s Plan To Buy Kaplan University.
The Indianapolis Star (9/19) reports that Purdue University officials say that ED has approved the school’s plan to purchase for-profit chain Kaplan University. However, ED “has outlined certain conditions that need to be met, which Purdue says it will work to address as it prepares to complete the transaction.” Now, the Star reports, the biggest remaining stumbling block to the deal is the approval of the accreditor the Higher Learning Commission, which “is expected to make a decision in the coming months.” Purdue’s plan to purchase Kaplan and “create a new, online university that Purdue is calling ‘New University’…rocked the higher education world, where for-profit institutions have fought against reputations as predatory debt-traps and struggled against increased regulation imposed by the Obama administration.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education (9/19) reports that ED “‘preliminarily concluded’ that it had no objections to the deal,” but “noted that final approval requires more information from the parties involved, and that conditions would be imposed.” The AP (9/19) reports that the deal had already been approved by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education in August. This piece adds that “some Purdue faculty members have criticized the deal, saying they’re worried about the reputation of Kaplan University and parent Kaplan Higher Education,” both of which “face investigations and lawsuits in several states over hiring and recruitment practices.”
ED Also Approves Art Institutes Sale. The Hill (9/19, Savransky) reports that in addition to the Purdue/Kaplan deal, ED approved the nonprofit Dream Center’s purchase of the Art Institutes, currently owned by EDMC. The Hill reports that ED’s approval of the deals “could signal a change in the way these deals are looked at under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos,” noting that the Obama administration “did not allow for the conversion of one for-profit to nonprofit college.”
Senate Democrats Call On CFPB To Keep Pressure On Student Loan Industry.
Inside Higher Ed (9/19, Kreighbaum) reports Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) have written to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Richard Cordray calling for the agency “to maintain active oversight of loan servicers and other participants in the student loan industry.” The letter comes “in the wake of a Department of Education decision to terminate two agreements with the agency involving oversight of student loan programs.” The letter calls this move “another example of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos acting in favor of private student loan companies at the expense of borrowers.”
Poll: Most Voters Support Free College.
Politico Morning Education (9/19) reports that according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll, 63% of respondents expressed some level of support for making four-year college free. The concept is, “unsurprisingly, more popular among those who describe themselves as liberal than conservative — though 40 percent of conservatives said they’d support the proposal — and it enjoyed strong support from younger voters.”
American Council On Education Amicus Brief: Travel Ban Harmed American Education’s Global Reputation.
Politico Morning Education (9/19) reports that the American Council on Education is planning to file an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court arguing that “the Trump administration’s travel ban has harmed America’s reputation in a global education market.” The brief says, “From the moment it was signed, prospective students expressed serious concerns about attending American colleges and universities. Faculty recruits were similarly deterred from accepting teaching and research positions. And scholars based abroad pulled out of academic conferences in the United States, either because they were directly affected by the EO or because they are concerned about the EO’s harmful impact on academic discourse and research worldwide.”
Governors Of Western States Discuss Region’s Shortage Of Skilled Workers.
Citing the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Denver Post (9/19) reports four out of the five states with the lowest unemployment rates are in the western half of the US, “a region where economic development is increasingly finding itself handcuffed to workforce development.” At a Western Governors’ Association-hosted workforce development workshop on Monday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper commented, “Our labor market is way tight,” but companies do not want to relocate to the region because of a shortage of skilled laborers. The WGA, which is comprised of 19 western states, is hoping to address that problem by “better aligning the skills workers have with those that employers want.” South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard told attendees that one goal of workforce development programs is to raise awareness among high school students about the necessity of pursuing post-graduation training and the dangers of dropping out. Those post-graduation options, he said, include pathways outside of the traditional four-year college degree.
Companies, Colleges Partner To Train Workers For Tech Maintenance Jobs.
NBC News (9/19) reports that companies and colleges are uniting to train “new collar” students to maintain and program computers. These “new collar” jobs are positions “that require some specialized education (typically in a technical field), but not a four-year college degree.” Some companies “have become so desperate for the right worker, they have started or invested in job training programs of their own, partnering with schools to equip students with the exact skills they will need to get a job, and then to do the job right.” Delta, for example, “has partnered with 37 aviation maintenance schools across the country to give thousands of students the technical knowledge needed to be an aviation maintenance technician (AMT) — and ideally to get them jobs at Delta down the road.”
Research and Development
NSF Awards Coalition Of Alabama Universities Grant For Plasma Technology Research.
Alabama Live (9/19) reports the National Science Foundation awarded through its Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR a five-year $20 million grant to a coalition “of nine Alabama universities, led by the University of Alabama in Huntsville.” The grant “will fund the ‘development of new predictive plasma-surface interaction technologies for the nation’s aerospace, manufacturing, energy, environment, and agricultural sectors,’ according to a statement from UAH.” UAH Center for Space Plasma and Aeronomic Research director and Department of Space Science chair Dr. Gary Zank, also a National Academy of Sciences member, will serve as the project’s Principal Investigator. Sen. Richard Shelby praised UAH for leading the coalition to land the NSF grant. WZDX-TV Huntsville, AL (9/19) reports online, “By leveraging Alabama’s strengths in fundamental low-temperature plasma science, the research team hopes instead to develop new predictive plasma-surface interaction technologies.”
NSF Awards 10 South Carolina Colleges Grant For Advanced Materials Research.
Columbia (SC) State (9/19) reports 10 South Carolina colleges were awarded a five-year, $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation “to research and develop new materials – primarily for industries” with preferences in South Carolina, including IBM and Boeing. University of South Carolina vice president for research Prakash Nagarkatti “said the grant will benefit both graduate students doing the research and undergraduates, including USC engineering students, who can take new advanced materials courses.”
University Of Michigan To Fund Civil Engineering Research Projects.
The St. Joseph (MI) Herald Palladium (9/18) reports University of Michigan researchers and Benton Harbor officials formally announced their new partnership, the SMART and Healthy Cities initiative, on Monday. Tierra Bills, an assistant professor at the school’s Department of Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering, said the collaboratory’s goal is to work together to identify and find solutions to the city’s engineering challenges. Through the partnership, the University of Michigan will fund seven Benton Harbor research projects. Bill commented, “I want to understand the extent at which those improvements to Benton Harbor’s transit system will help Benton Harbor residents better reach desired destinations.”
New York University Engineering Students Win $1 Million In Smart Gun Competition.
The New York Daily News (9/19) reports Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams announced on Monday that a team of New York University Tandon School of Engineering students won a $1 million smart gun design competition. A retired New York City Police Department captain, Adams “launched the gun competition” in “hopes the idea will one day lead to a reduction in violence.” Students Sy Cohen, Ashwin Raj Kumar, Eddilene Paola Cordero Pardo, and Jonathan Ng designed a high-tech vinyl gun holster with three security options: voice recognition, a sensor-activated release, and fingerprint matching. The student team is now in the process of submitting the design for a patent, and will use the award money to create a working prototype over the next few months.
NASA Images Show Potential For Buried Ice Near Martian Equator.
SPACE (9/19, Howell) reports on new research published in the journal Icarus which states that enhanced imagery from NASA’s Mars Odysses spacecraft detected hydrated salts within recurring slope lineae (RSLs) near the equator of Mars. Principal author Jack Wilson said that the higher- resolution images showed “unexpectedly high amounts of hydrogen — a potential sign of buried water ice or very hydrated salts — around sections of the Martian equator.” Wilson “acknowledged that we can’t know for sure how much water is inside of an RSL unless we sent a rover to excavate,” and that a rover might contaminate a site it was sent to. The study states that it is clear the RSLs were not fed from water “in the near subsurface.” Wilson said that the most interesting part of the study was the lingering question of where “this water came from and why it is still present near the surface.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Block Island Wind Farm Tracking Birds and Bats.
Offshore Wind (9/19) reports that Deepwater Wind has “installed a wildlife tracking station on the easternmost foundation platform at the Block Island wind farm, America’s first offshore wind farm, to assist researchers in their studies of bird and bat activity off the Atlantic Coast.” The project, funded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, will “provide researchers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Rhode Island (URI) and the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst with data on offshore movement of high priority species to inform conservation efforts.”
Port of Corpus Christi, Army Corps Of Engineers Agree To Expand Ship Channel.
The San Antonio Express-News (9/18, Druzin) reports the Port of Corpus Christi and the US Army Corps of Engineers are moving forward with the first phase of a $327 development project that will deepen and widen the Corpus Christi Ship Channel. The port’s executive director John LaRue said the project will help boost oil exports, benefiting companies including NuStar Energy, Buckeye Partners and Occidental Petroleum.
Nearly 200K Floridians Still Without Power After Hurricane Irma.
Reuters (9/19) reports that Florida utilities say they have restored power to nearly 98 percent of the 7.8 million customers that lost power during Hurricane Irma, leaving nearly 195,000 homes and businesses still without electricity. Florida Power & Light says it has 110,000 customers without power and Duke Energy Corp. reported 57,000 outages.
FPL Fined For The Customers Still Left Without Power After Hurricane Irma. The South Florida Sun Sentinel (9/18, Pounds) reports that 20,000 homes and business in South Florida were still without power on Tuesday morning after Hurricane Irma hit more than a week ago. Despite spending nearly $3 billion since 2006 to upgrade its distribution system, a total of 4.4 million Florida Power & Light customers still lost power after the hurricane. Although South Florida crews were traveling “neighborhood to neighborhood to restore power” in the hardest-hit parts of Miami-Dade, Coral Gables city attorney still thought the progress was not happening fast enough, and “sent a letter to FPL, fining the utility $500 a day per home without power, up to $15,000 a day.” The city is also considering filing a lawsuit against the utility.
Puerto Rico Braces For Major Damage To Power Grid From Hurricane Maria.
Reuters (9/19, DiSavino) reports that Hurricane Maria is expected to “slam Puerto Rico with a direct hit” on Wednesday, which could “devastate the island’s underfunded power grid.” Less than two weeks ago, Hurricane Irma just “grazed Puerto Rico, knocking out power to more than 1 million of PREPA’s 1.5 million customers,” 60,000 of are still without power. The island’s power provider, Puerto Rico Electric Authority (PREPA) filed for bankruptcy this July due to “years of underinvestment that yielded a system it called ‘degraded and unsafe.’” Experts say even if the system were in prime condition, this hurricane would still do major damage; however, since it is not, “the island could be faced with outages for weeks, straining the resources of a utility whose power plants have a median age of 44 years, compared with an industry average of 18 years.”
Massachusetts Committee Hears Testimony On Bill Seeking To Erase Fossil Fuels From State’s Energy Mix.
The Taunton (MA) Daily Gazette (9/19, Lannan) reports that the Massachusetts’ Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee listened to arguments supporting bills calling on the state to get 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2035. Supporters of the bill, which was filed by Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Reps. Sean Garballey and Marjorie Decker, “said severe weather and sea-level rise brought on by climate change merits urgent and significant action,” while representatives of utilities and the petroleum industry pointed to the major role natural gas plays in the state’s energy mix. Natural gas currently supplies two-thirds of the electricity in Massachusetts. Steve Dodge, the executive director of the Massachusetts Petroleum Council, told the committee in his testimony that the state “cannot cut the cord completely” on fossil fuel even as it adds renewable energy technology because of “heavy demands on oil and natural gas use for electricity generation, transportation and industrial and commercial use.” Dodge added, “I fear that this push to not only eliminate all fossil fuels but to prevent additional fossil fuel infrastructure is going to create a problem when it comes to reliability.”
WBUR-FM Boston (9/19, Gellerman) reports that “if Benson’s bill or a similar proposal in the state Senate are approve, the state would inflate the cost of carbon-burning fuels.” However, supporters of the bill are already grappling with what to call the additional cost. Rep. Benson avoided the word tax and called it an “investment opportunity,” while Michael Ferrante, president of the Massachusetts Energy Marketers Association, said, “We call it a carbon tax, a carbon fee. Essentially, it’s a tax on a unit of fossil fuel.” Meanwhile, Steve Dodge said he won’t be “buttonholed” into calling it a fee or a tax, stating, “It’s an added expense so legislators, regulators, can call it what they want.”
New York City Program Uses Math To Address Racial Gap In School Admissions.
Forbes (9/19, Husock) contributor Howard Husock, the policy research vice president at Manhattan Institute and director of the Social Entrepreneurship Initiative, profiles the Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics, or BEAM, founded by Daniel Zaharopol and Lynn Cartwright-Punnett. BEAM has adopted a different approach than many other advocacy groups in addressing the “small numbers of African-American and Hispanic students” who are admitted to selective New York City high schools. BEAM starts “with sixth- and seventh-grade students in 35 of New York’s middle schools with the most disadvantaged students, identifying those with exceptional raw ability to succeed in high-level mathematics,” and invites them to “intensive summer programs.” At the programs, the students are “taught, to a significant extent, by college and university math faculty looking for ways to reach those whom they would not ordinarily teach.”
Computer Science Initiative In Arkansas Schools Detailed.
The Seventy Four (9/18) reported that Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently visited a North Little Rock high school classroom to “experience firsthand what students across his state are learning, thanks to an ambitious, first-in-the-nation initiative he is spearheading – in partnership with universities, major corporations, and educators – to teach computer science to every student in Arkansas.” The article characterizes Arkansas as “going all in on computer education, spending an initial $5 million to train teachers and help districts pay for staffing and equipment to bring computer literacy to all grade levels.” In the initiative’s first two years, “the number of Arkansas high schoolers taking computer science has exploded, from 1,100 to 5,500 students – nearly 20 percent of the high school senior population.”
Kyyba CEO: America Needs To Encourage Young People Into STEM Careers.
Kyyba President and CEO Tel Ganesan writes in the Detroit News (9/19) that the economic stability and growth of the nation “is hindered – and is at risk of weakening – due to combined problems in STEM industries,” adding, “We must get American young people interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers.” Some of the problems he lists include “the current lack of quality U.S.-born candidates to fill too many vacant STEM jobs,” the “current demise of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” and “too few H1-B visas permitted annually which allow foreign- born STEM experts into the country for work.” He adds, “Our nation’s strength relies too heavily on the H1-B visa system. Immigration policies and our educational system should support and be a catalyst for creating disruptive, ground-breaking technologies that improve the world and keep the U.S. on the cutting edge in these fields.”
Lafayette Officials Consider Expanding Opportunities For Language Immersion, STEM Education.
The Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser (9/19, McElfresh) reports that Lafayette school officials “are considering ways to expand opportunities for language immersion and STEM education.” Lafayette’s David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy “has nearly 1,200 students in sixth through 12th grades.” Because of the school’s popularity, the district “has added 75 slots per year, starting last year, said Superintendent Donald Aguillard. Officials plan to add seats for the next couple of years.” School Board President Dawn Morris said on Monday, “It’s my belief we need to expand our STEM offerings across the board.” Morris “suggested a STEM-focused elementary school, and perhaps another site for a STEM middle school, allowing David Thibodaux to become a complete high school site.”
Tuesday’s Lead Stories
• DOE Investing Up To $50 Million To Improve Security Of Nation’s Critical Energy Infrastructure.
• NSF Awards ASEE $473K To Craft Inclusion Training For LGBTQ Engineers.
• Pratt & Whitney Completes Tests On Novel Fighter Engine. (9/18)
• Hyperloop Competitions Give Students Opportunity To Impress Musk.
• Houston’s Limited Zoning Laws Reduced Harvey Damage.