Los Altos ranks ‘code red’ on pensions
The State Auditor’s office recently released the results of a study ranking the fiscal health of 471 cities in California, with the results conveniently accessible in a new website: auditor.ca.gov/bsa/cities_risk_index. We should thank State Auditor Elaine Howle for making these data available.
The results for Los Altos are interesting. The city ranks 382/471 as far as overall risk of distress, which is better than Palo Alto (164/471) but worse than Mountain View (403/471) and Los Altos Hills (453/471). However, when one digs into the details of the rankings, Los Altos’ pension costs are ranked at 20/471, which falls into the auditor’s high risk, or “code red,” category, which is not good.
Readers of this letter can examine the auditor’s data for themselves (it takes a little digging). Obviously the Los Altos City Council needs to take a look at those pension costs and compare them with those of the other 451 California cities that appear to do better than we do.
Energy code: Careful what you wish for
Gas appliances replaced by electric appliances can require twice as much gas to generate the electricity the replacements use. This is not just an engineering problem to solve; rather, it follows from the basic laws of thermodynamics – the same laws that forbid perpetual motion machines.
These fundamental properties of the universe limit a generating station to well below 100% efficiency in converting heat energy to electric energy. Transmission losses rob more power, decreasing efficiency further.
Thus, changing gas appliances to electric ones takes a lot more energy because of the inefficient conversion of heat to electricity then back to heat in the appliance. Only if the electricity comes from non-carbon generation can there be any reduction in carbon, but the increase in energy use will occur regardless.
If the gas distribution system is used less and less, each remaining user will face a larger and larger cost to keep it safe.
This may lead to abandoning the distribution network while significant numbers of users remain.
The abandoned users would then incur very significant costs for replacing appliances and rewiring.
A. Richard Jones
Los Altos Hills