Monday, September 21, 2020

I.F Mayor Casper heads ECA's 'New Nuclear' initiative

The board of directors of the Energy Communities Alliance (ECA), an organization better known for its work in advancing the cleanup of U.S. Department of Energy sites, has launched a new initiative aimed at supporting the development of new nuclear technologies.

Rebecca Casper

The self-funded, one-year initiative will focus on small modular reactors, micro and advanced reactors, a skilled nuclear workforce, and new nuclear missions around DOE facilities.

“With growing bipartisan support for nuclear energy in Congress, new federal demonstration projects led by DOE and the Department of Defense, and notable investment from the private sector, local governments want to be meaningfully engaged—and prepared—to match the strengths and needs of our communities with new nuclear opportunities,” the ECA said in its Sept. 15 announcement.

To focus its work, the ECA formed the New Nuclear subcommittee, led by Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper. It has identified three core questions:

  • What do communities need to know to attract and support new nuclear development/missions?
  • What and how should communities communicate to industry, national laboratories, and state and federal governments about local resources and development opportunities?
  • What hurdles and challenges will communities face and who can the ECA work with to overcome them?

The ECA, a non-profit, membership organization of local governments adjacent to or impacted by DOE activities, said that its communities host and support the nuclear research and development that is under way across the DOE complex. This includes, the organization said, the advanced nuclear reactors at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee; the production of high-assay low-enriched uranium in Piketon, Ohio; and the development of the Versatile Test Reactor and the NuScale small modular reactor at Idaho National Laboratory.

The ECA also points to private-sector initiatives such as Bill Gates’ TerraPower, Deep Isolation’s nuclear waste disposal solution, and NDB’s battery that is powered by nuclear waste.

“ECA communities are knowledgeable about and, in many ways, driven by the nuclear missions they already host,” the Sept. 15 announcement said. “These local governments are eager to fill vital roles, from establishing new U.S.-based manufacturing and supply chains to promoting creation of training programs at local community colleges around existing nuclear sites.”

The New Nuclear subcommittee intends to begin by hosting a series of educational webinars to facilitate interaction and develop a shared understanding of the outlook for developing technologies, messaging and advocacy strategies, national security implications, and supply chain impacts and needs.

The ECA will also develop written resources to support education and outreach in communities on specific issues, including understanding priorities and timelines, federal and state regulatory requirements, community and workforce needs related to siting, potential cost-sharing, and public/private partnership opportunities. New issues are expected to be identified through ongoing discussions throughout the project year.

Participation: Those looking to collaborate or provide educational resources, or those wanting more information about the ECA New Nuclear subcommittee, are asked to contact Kara Colton, ECA director of nuclear policy, at kara.colton@energyca.org or MacKenzie Kerr, ECA program manager, at mackenziek@energyca.org.

Gasoline demand, prices likely to slip in Idaho


As the summer draws to a close, fuel demand is starting to slip in Idaho and across the country, and gas prices along with it. According to AAA, the average price in the Gem State dropped two cents on the week, while the U.S. average was down three cents.

And there’s more good news on the horizon – soon, refiners and retailers will be making the switch to winter-blend fuel, which requires fewer additives and is cheaper to produce than summer blend.
Barring an unexpected supply issue related to wildfires or Tropical Storm Sally in the Gulf Coast, pump prices are expected to continue their slow descent this week.

"'Never say never' seems like an appropriate reaction for just about everything in 2020, but if we follow the normal trend, the most expensive gas prices of the year are already well behind us,” says Matthew Conde, AAA Idaho public affairs director. “It may take a little time for the last of the summer-blend fuel to work its way through the system, but when it does, we could see gas prices drop all the way to Thanksgiving.”

Today, the Idaho state average for regular fuel is $2.45, which is two cents higher than a month ago, but 31 cents cheaper than a year ago. Meanwhile, the current U.S. price is $2.19, which is a penny higher than a month ago, but 38 cents less than a year ago. Idaho ranks 9th in the country for most expensive gas prices, which is typical for our state.

The Energy Information Administration reports that national gasoline demand currently sits at 8.3 million barrels per day. Even though stock levels dropped by nearly three million barrels this week to 231 million bbl, that’s still a surplus of three million barrels over last year. In the Rockies region, stock levels actually increased on the week by 400,000 barrels to reach 7.4 million barrels on hand.

With an 86 percent utilization rate, Rocky Mountain refineries are currently some of the most active in the country, trailing only the Midwest region. As long as regional refineries stay busy and finished gasoline supplies continue to grow, Idaho prices are likely to stabilize or even decrease.

Tropical Storm Sally and the devastating wildfires in the West could delay fuel deliveries in some areas, but at this time, disruptions are expected to be temporary and site-specific.

“The United States is currently producing 10.3 million barrels of crude oil per day, compared with 12.4 million a year ago,” Conde said. “With fewer opportunities for people to travel for business or pleasure, commute, or even take kids to school, there’s less demand for some finished products like gasoline and jet fuel.”

After being distilled at a refinery, the average 42-gallon barrel of crude oil produces 20 gallons of gasoline, 11 gallons of diesel, and 4 gallons of jet fuel, among other things.

Here’s a sampling of gas prices around the Gem State as of Sept. 14:

  • Boise – $2.48

  • Coeur d’Alene – $2.33
  • 
Franklin – $2.44

  • Idaho Falls – $2.34
  • 
Lewiston – $2.43
  • 
Pocatello – $2.46
  • 
Twin Falls – $2.45

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Electric vehicle owners invited to participate in survey

Idaho National Laboratory will be one of the national laboratories analyzing data collected from electric vehicles and charging stations.

Although it might not be widely known, Idaho National Laboratory has conducted electric vehicle research for the U.S. Department of Energy since the early 1980s and plays a leading role in the national laboratory complex today, especially when it comes to data analysis. Over the last decade, INL has partnered with numerous automakers and private companies to understand how consumers are using electric vehicles and charging stations.

Energetics, a technology consulting firm, has asked INL and other labs to analyze data from its latest project. The Electric Vehicle Widescale Analysis for Tomorrow’s Transportation Solutions (EV WATTS) project will collect real-world use data from electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles around the country. Starting in January 2021, the company will share this data with INL, Argonne National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory so they can analyze it for ongoing electric vehicle research.

Right now, the company is calling for volunteers who want to participate in the EV WATTS program. Owners of an EV or a plug-in hybrid can volunteer their vehicle(s) for the project. Energetics will install Geotab telematic hardware that logs the vehicle’s driving and charging behavior. The program will cover the cost of the hardware, installation and subscription service for up to 18 months.

There is no financial incentive to take part in the study, but the subscription service allows participants to access their driving and charging data through the MyGeotab dashboard. This provides instantaneous reporting on fuel economy, mileage, maintenance issues, faults and vehicle activity. The dashboard also allows users to compare their own data with other vehicles in the program. All information collected by EV WATTS will be kept anonymous.

Nationwide, Energetics is asking for 1,600 EV/Plug-in hybrid owners to take part. Considering that there are more than 1 million such vehicle owners in the United States, one might think it no problem. But the profile of the everyday EV user is changing, said John Smart, lead researcher for INL Mobility Systems and Analytics. First, there are growing concerns across society about data gathering and privacy, he said. Secondly, the first adopters – folks much more likely to have a keen interest in every aspect of their vehicles – are giving way to people who just want to get in and drive.

With the rapid increase in vehicle electrification, there is a need for up-to-date, publicly available national data to understand end user charging and driving patterns, as well as vehicle and infrastructure factors that may affect planning. Under its $4 million contract with DOE, Energetics will work with Clean Cities coalitions, fleets, state and local governments, vehicle manufacturers, utilities, and charging station providers. The data will come from:
 
    •    All-electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles
    •    All vehicle applications (cars, buses, etc.)
    •    Multiple geographic areas and climates
    •    AC Level 2 and DC fast charging infrastructure
    •    Various electric vehicle supply equipment sites (corridors, workplace, multiunit dwellings, curbside, fleets, transit, ports, airports, etc.)

In the last study of this kind, conducted by INL between 2011 and 2013, there were far fewer EVs on the highways. The cars in the study – Nissan LEAFs and Chevrolet Volts – had limited range and performance.

Since then, almost all automakers have brought an electric vehicle to market. “Tesla is clearly dominant, but there’s more variety than ever before,” Smart said. “Americans love to have options, and they love bigger vehicles.”

In addition to the wider variety, many more charging stations exist than there were eight years ago. “Now it’s feasible to drive an electric vehicle from coast to coast,” he said.

Smart said having an outside organization collecting the data frees INL and other national laboratories to do more nuanced and in-depth analysis. “The industry can take the data and form the models that allow them to simulate EVs in the future, when there are more of them,” he said. “We need to know how many charging stations are going to be needed. And the electrical utilities need to know what sort of effect many more vehicles are going to have on the grid.”
 
How to register

If you own or lease an all-electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, and would be interested in having a Geotab telematics device installed for providing data to the EV WATTS program, please answer the questions in the survey associated with the area of your residence.
 
Eastern Idaho: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/EVWATTSEastern-Idaho
Blaine County: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/EVWATTSBlaine-County
Boise Area: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/EVWATTSBoise-Area

Monday, September 14, 2020

Bonneville County takes lead in incidence of reported COVID-19 cases

Wanting to be number one is usually a worthy goal, but it looks like Bonneville County is on track to be Idaho's top COVID-19 hotspot this week. Cases reported to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The number of total cases reported since the end of March has climbed to 2,208. While still small compared to Ada (11,953) and Canyon (7,687), a few things ought to set off alarm bells.

Number one, Bonneville County's seven-day moving average incidence rate per 100,000 people is the highest in the state now save for rural Custer and Clark counties. It's at its highest level since mid-August, when it peaked at 40.7. The statewide rate stood at 12.4 on Sept. 13.

Likewise, the first day of this week saw Bonneville outpace Ada and Canyon in the number of new cases reported.

If you want to browse the numbers, they can be found here: https://public.tableau.com/profile/idaho.division.of.public.health#!/vizhome/DPHIdahoCOVID-19Dashboard/Home. Meantime, let's be careful out there, OK?

Idaho Falls home prices up sharply in 2020


After watching a mid-century home across the street from me sell in less than a week we thought it might be time to take a new look at the housing market in the greater Idaho Falls area. What the January-through-August numbers reveal is a market in which homes are selling in the roughly the same numbers and at a faster pace than either 2019 or 2018, and at significantly higher prices.

The median price for a home in this area jumped from $193,256 to $246,054, an increase of 27.3%. This is confirmed by a report on Zillow.com, from August, which calls the market temperature “very hot.”

“The median home value in Idaho Falls Metro is $247,983. Idaho Falls Metro home values have gone up 11.5% over the past year and Zillow predicts they will rise 0.4% within the next year. The median list price per square foot in Idaho Falls Metro is $119, which is lower than the Idaho average of $173. The median price of homes currently listed in Idaho Falls Metro is $260,000. The median rent price in Idaho Falls Metro is $1,200, which is lower than the Idaho median of $1,400.

Mortgage delinquency is the first step in the foreclosure process. This is when a homeowner fails to make a mortgage payment. The percent of delinquent mortgages in Idaho Falls Metro is 0.5%, which is lower than the national value of 1.1%.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

AmeriTitle names Jenny DeMott newest I.F. escrow officer

 

Jenny DeMott
AmeriTitle has named Jenny DeMott as the newest escrow officer in its Idaho Falls office.

The promotion comes after nearly one year in the title and escrow industry. In this role she is responsible for the closing of real estate transactions for buyers, sellers, and borrowers throughout Bonneville County.

DeMott is a southeast Idaho native who graduated from Bonneville High School. She spent 15 years in the dental industry before moving into real estate industry, earning her real estate license in 2018.

Her passion for helping people, love for the business and ability to adapt helped her quickly move into an escrow officer position, said Richard Hajek, AmeriTitle VP and state manager. When she isn’t working, she enjoys golfing with her husband, Ryan, boating with friends, traveling, and spending her lazy days with her stepkids and her dog, Brooks.  

“Jenny has a high level of integrity, a superior work ethic, and an attitude for service that makes her a great fit with our already outstanding Idaho Falls escrow team," Hajek said. "I am proud of how quickly she has transitioned and stepped up to take care of AmeriTitle clients.”

DeMott can be reached at AmeriTitle Idaho Falls, at Jenny.DeMott@AmeriTitle.com or 208-524-6600.

Bank of Idaho expands commercial lending division

Tony Vahsholtz

Bank of Idaho has expanded its commercial lending division, embracing the strengths of the Small Business Administration (SBA).

With an eye toward becoming the go-to SBA lender in Idaho, the bank is capitalizing upon its
comprehensive expertise in SBA lending by creating a cutting-edge, stand-alone SBA department headed by Tony Vahsholtz, formerly the vice-president and area commercial manager of the Boise Market.

"SBA lending has always been a passion of mine, and I've been doing it since 1998," Vahsholtz said. "Judging by current trends, I really think you'll see a lot of SBA lending done over the next two years. We want to be regarded as the experts in this market."

The shift creates advantages on multiple levels: clients will benefit from the enhanced focus of the new department; and the bank gains assurance because a larger portion of its small-business lending portfolio will be backed by the SBA.

Bank President and CEO Jeff Newgard said adding a specialized department was a boots-on-the-ground decision made after booking more than 1,000 PPP loans in a matter of weeks. "Our loan officers along with our small-business customers are really finding that the SBA is tailoring programs to provide a lifeline that's not available anywhere else. So it only makes sense to get that help to the small-business community as quickly and efficiently as possible."

For instance, the SBA has introduced a program in which they'll cover the first six payments of loans booked before the end of September. "That's huge. For larger loans, that could be hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Vahsholtz said. "And I imagine they'll make new offers as well, as the recovery continues. We want to be there to make sure small businesses in Idaho are first in line."

Vahsholtz officially began in his new role Aug. 17. He relishes the unique opportunity. "Bank of Idaho expanded into the Boise market when I signed on, just over a year ago, and this is very similar. We start up, expand, find the right people, and book some loans,” he said. “We’re very adept at growing the bank by simply addressing our customers’ needs. It's great to work at a place that operates like that. "

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Idaho Falls Costco reveals opening numbers

For Labor Day, Costco is offering it signature 10 inch round cakes. Available in white or chocolate. Baked fresh in house and available at all Costco Bakery locations. Save $2 off at the bakery through Saturday, Sept. 6.

Costco opened its doors in Idaho Falls Aug. 14, and while the grand opening was expected to be busy, it ended up being more successful than managers had predicted.

Over the weekend, 1,300 people signed up for a new membership. Approximately 11,000 members came through the doors and sales were 20% higher than anticipated, Manager Greg Gillingham told the Post Register.

“I think the larger warehouse helped to spread members out in the store a bit more so it didn’t feel congested or have lines at checkout,” he said.

I still have the Kirkland pink Himalayan salt I bought at the Pocatello store in 2017, so I'm on the fence about joining, but it's my wife who will make that decision, I suspect. If you have joined, here are some links that might enhance your experience.

25 Best Kirkland Products You Should Buy at Costco (Kiplinger)

The Best Things to Buy At Costco, Because We Know Those Giant Aisles Can Be Overwhelming (Woman's Day)

The 10 Best Things We Bought at Costco in February (Kitchn)