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Geothermal Firms Want Same Incentives as Wind and Solar; Pimping Out the Tooth Fairy; UMass Gets Windfall for Life Sciences; MGM Competitors Haven’t Left the Table; Staffing Cuts at Vermont Yankee

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Hard Rock's rendering of its plan for a casino in West Springfield

Geothermal Firms Want Same Incentives as Wind and Solar

Geothermal energy companies in Massachusetts are working together to get geothermal the same tax incentives and other benefits that solar, wind and biogas have in the commonwealth now. A bill filed in the Statehouse by Sen. Barry Finegold of Andover would add geothermal to the list of alternative energy sources that currently receive those benefits. A federal tax credit of 30 percent for the installation of geothermal systems in homes (not rental properties) already exists. In other parts of the country, particularly the West, large geothermal facilities generate electricity. In the Northeast, the emphasis is on geothermal energy for climatization in homes and other buildings. As Finegold explained in a statement about the bill in May, “For the last decade, the Commonwealth has been a leader in promoting technologies that generate renewable electricity. But until now, our renewable energy strategy has lacked similar incentives for renewable heating fuels.”

Geothermal systems use underground temperature to even out the climate inside buildings, keeping them warmer in winter and cooler in hot summer weather than the ambient air. Unlike wind and solar, geothermal energy is constant, unaffected by variations in weather. Geothermal systems are exceptionally quiet when they are operating, and can now be checked and managed remotely by homeowners.

According to one industry estimate, there are 5,000 geothermal projects in Massachusetts today; one of the most highly publicized is the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Boston Nature Center. In Western Mass., Williston Academy in Easthampton has a dorm climatized with a geothermal system, Monument Valley Regional Middle School in Great Barrington uses a geothermal system, and a small but growing number of private homes are heated and cooled with geothermal energy.•

 

Pimping Out the Tooth Fairy

For generations, the tooth fairy ritual played out like this: a kid lost a tooth, tucked it under his or her pillow and the next morning found it had been replaced by some sort of reward. Sure, the value of the reward might vary—a quarter, a dollar, maybe more (although please, keep it to yourself if the tooth fairy leaves a sawbuck in your house)—but the storyline was pretty simple.

But now the tooth fairy has become the latest symbol of childhood innocence to fall victim to commercialization. A company called The Royal Council of the Real Fairyland has launched a line of licensed tooth-fairy products—jewelry, clothing, party supplies, books—aimed a little girls, sold via an explosively pink and purple website. The products feature the “Real Tooth Fairies,” six rather glamorous if skimpily dressed young women—four white; two with slightly darker skin—with names like “Twinkle” and “Brigitte.” For comic relief, there’s also a wannabe fairy named “Stepella,” a decidedly less glam gal (she wears glasses and lacks the va-va-voom figure of the in-crowd fairies) whose online bio describes her as a prankster, “always there to lighten to [sic] mood with funny jokes and Polka-Dotchoo-Gotchoo cookies!”

The “real” fairies have gone viral in recent weeks, thanks to the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, which discovered and then began circulating a video pitch made by the company for potential investors. Over footage of little girls enraptured by the Barbie-esque fairies, a narrator notes the untapped market the tooth fairy ritual offers: “Every night, millions of children around the world put a lost tooth under their pillow and wait for the Tooth Fairy to come. … What if this moment of real-life magic that kids and parents already buy into could be captured into a Tooth Fairy brand that girls love?”

The video then cuts to Paul Yanover, a former Disney executive, who enthuses: “[W]hat’s really amazing is, here’s literally the opportunity to create a brand new holiday that’s going to happen multiple times. I mean, kids are going to lose many teeth over the course of several years and each tooth is really a holiday moment. And I think the opportunities that that creates, from gifting to greeting cards to collecting, it’s just a massive opportunity.”

How massive? The video does the math, over a sound effect of a cash-register “cha-ching”: 10 million American girls aged six to 10, times 20 baby teeth per kid, equals “200 million tooth fairy moments. … And biology guarantees that will never stop.”

“Up until now, the Tooth Fairy has resided in the public domain of children’s imagination,” Susan Linn, CCFC’s director, said in a press release. “The Real Tooth Fairies is an egregious attempt to commercialize an inevitable biological milestone, the celebration of which has always been the purview of family ritual. In Real Fairyland, branding replaces children’s own creations with homogenized, corporate-constructed, sexualized images, constricting both imagination and cultural diversity.”

CCFC has launched a “Save the Tooth Fairy” campaign, urging parents to write to the “Royal Council” expressing their dismay at the effort. An online petition can be found at www.commercialfreechildhood.org, along with a transcript of the video. (The original was taken down from YouTube after CCFC began drawing attention to it.)

And lest you think gap-toothed little boys will be spared this latest assault on childhood innocence, brace yourself for the companion Time Travel Elffs, who look like a ’90s boy band but carry swords and crossbows. “Now every boy can have an ACTION-PACKED lost tooth experience!” promises the website—and, apparently, do so without the indignity of being visited by a “fairy.”•

 

UMass Gets Windfall for Life Sciences

Tens of millions of dollars have been rolling into UMass-Amherst from the state this summer for initiatives aimed at consolidating Massachusetts’ position as a power in the growing field of life sciences.

The largest grant given so far under a six-year-old billion-dollar life sciences program established by Gov. Deval Patrick—a grant of $95 million—will go to UMass-Amherst, to fill its already existing $157-million life sciences laboratories with equipment and help establish research centers that will partner with private corporations.

Another $5.5 million will to go the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute in the North End of Springfield. The institute, whose researchers study cancer, diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders, is a joint venture between UMass and Baystate Medical Center.

The money comes through the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which oversees disbursal of the $1 billion. The MLSC also feeds the Massachusetts Accelerator for Biomanufacturing connected with UMass-Dartmouth. The Accelerator is a part of the South Coast Life Science and Technology Park, established to be a center for the biopharma industry in the southeast region of the state.

Biopharma is the production of drugs from living organisms, and includes drugs produced by genetic engineering. One of its better-known products, for example, is ATryn, an anticoagulant produced by goats genetically engineered to secrete it in their milk; ATryn was developed by GTC Biotherapeutics of Framingham. According to the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, an industry group, the number of jobs in biopharma in Massachusetts has increased by 52 percent in the last 10 years.• —SK

 

MGM Competitors Haven’t Left the Table

Though MGM’s success in winning a referendum favoring its casino proposal for Springfield has grabbed headlines, other casino proposals for Western Mass. are far from dead.

West Springfield has been handed a check for $400,000 following the signing of a host community agreement between the city and Hard Rock Hotel and Casino of New England, which is targeting the Eastern States Exposition grounds in the town as a site for an $800 million casino. The agreement would give the city more than $40 million before the casino would be built; $35 million of that would go for traffic and transportation upgrades.

But voters in West Springfield must approve the host community agreement, as Springfield voters have approved that city’s agreement with MGM. A vote is scheduled for September 10, just three days before the beginning of this year’s Eastern States Exposition.

Another casino company, Mohegan Sun, received a setback recently in its longtime effort to site a casino resort in Palmer, a small town without conspicuous tourist attractions but with easy access to the Mass Turnpike and other highways. The Federal Highway Administration refused to approve Mohegan Sun’s request for a flyover from the Turnpike to the casino property because the ramp leading from the road would go into the driveway leading to the casino, a private business.

Like West Springfield, Palmer is expected to hold a vote on a host community agreement in September.

The state will only issue one license for a casino in Western Massachusetts, so the two companies are in competition with each other and with MGM, which has already won the approval of voters in the region’s largest city.• —SK

 

Staffing Cuts at Vermont Yankee

The owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, Entergy of Louisiana, has announced that it will cut its work force at the plant to save costs. The news has residents of the Brattleboro area and northwestern Massachusetts concerned that the aging plant may not be operated safely with its workforce of 650 cut, possibly by as much as 10 percent, according to a source inside the plant. The company has promised that the cuts “will not compromise safety.” Cuts are also expected at another Entergy property, the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Plymouth.

The company’s actions have given rise to speculation about how far things would have to go before Entergy would shut down Vermont Yankee. Last winter UBS, a leading Swiss financial services firm, predicted that Entergy would close one of its nuclear plants this year, and called Vermont Yankee “the most tenuously positioned plant.”

Last year, in a filing with the federal Securities Exchange Commission, Entergy stated that the value of the plant had fallen from $517 million to $162 million. The Massachusetts-based Citizens Awareness Network and other organizations have petitioned the NRC to suspend Vermont Yankee’s license, charging that Entergy does not have the financial resources to operate the plant.• —SK

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