## Energy’s Unyielding Numbers

I’m a positivist – which basically says my science is confined to numbers.  Since I’m also a stats guy, it means my numbers aren’t always precise – the world is usually plus or minus.  That’s OK.  Then there is the problem of units of measurement.  They need to be consistent.

So here’s a local set of numbers – Eureka is about 50 miles of deadhead run from highway 2.   A gallon of gas provides enough energy to move a ton of material about 50 miles by truck, or about 200 miles by rail.  Folks fortunate enough to use barges and water can move that same ton about 500 miles – but Koocanusa just isn’t set up for commercial traffic.  A century ago Fortine Creek was commercial navigation – logs moved downstream to the mill in Eureka – but we don’t have commercial waterways like the Great Lakes, the Mississippi, Ohio, lower Missouri, etc.

Basically the economics of energy mean that our retail prices have to be higher than Kalispell.  As fuel prices increase, that 50 miles of deadhead run costs twice – once to get the munchies to the grocery store in Eureka, and once to get the empty truck back.  That same economics of energy isolates us further from the county seat in Libby – 37 is a deadhead route either way, while Libby and Troy are on Highway 2.

At Trego, I’m 50 miles from Walmart.  Eureka is 30% further.  Stryker is 10% closer in terms of energy.  The equations don’t change.  They affect our shopping patterns.  They affect our ability to market local products.  This chart  shows the energy equivalents in terms of gallons of gas:

Gasoline Gallon Equivalents

I’d make a wild guess that it takes somewhere around 100 gallons of gasoline equivalent to run a logging operation for a day.  The cost of fuel for a truck was a management decision when that log truck could run to American Timber (Olney), Ksanka (Fortine) or Owens & Hurst (Eureka).  With fewer mills, more distant, energy costs reduce the value of our main product.  Increased energy costs effectively reduce the value of labor as they increase the cost of living.

Electric vehicles for transportation?  We’ll know when the cost of fuel has begun to match the cost of electric vehicles when we see Lincoln Electric linemen driving electric trucks.  As long as our electric co-op finds it cost-effective to use gasoline and diesel, they operate as an indicator – heck, they buy fossil fuels at retail or close to it, and buy electricity wholesale.  The numbers may not be precise when I type at my kitchen table – but they are good enough for the calculations I need.

The cost of housing increased dramatically with inmigration – unlike our boomtown days with the highway and railroad relocation and the tunnel, private investment isn’t moving in to supply more housing quickly.  I see what may be the beginning of a trend – long-time residents selling and moving away.  I’ve looked at what happens when an area moves into the recreation dependent and retirement destination classifications.  The first noticeable step is long-time locals moving into jobs that serve the new landowners in new houses – the folks who are replacing them.

## Measuring Migration

When you work with Census data, migration numbers can be very precise – but the 10 years between each Census often make the data obsolete.  As demographers, we had to find ways to work around that – and U-Haul had the websites that let me better understand and explain migration.

For example, if I price renting a 15’ truck in Bakersfield, California, heading to Eureka, Montana, I get a price quote of \$5,173 today.  On the other hand, it costs \$1,109 to rent the same truck in Eureka and drive it to Bakersfield.

If I want to see beautiful Bend, Oregon in the rear view mirror of my 15’ rental truck, the website tells me the trip to Eureka, MT is \$3,052.  Renting the same truck in Eureka, to go to Bend is only \$654.

I didn’t learn to abuse U-Haul’s website in a classroom – I got the general idea while riding a bus seated alongside a very successful retarded guy.  He made a living riding the bus – back then there was a pass that was good for six months travel in country – and then driving a car or small truck back to Denver.  He may not have completed high school – but he gave me the foundation of a method to quantify migration.  Obviously, Bakersfield and Bend have more people trying to leave, and Eureka has more inmigration.

If we look at the trip from Minneapolis to Eureka, it’s \$1,703.  Eureka to Minneapolis is \$1,362.  Park City, Utah showed up as \$990 to Eureka, while Eureka to Park City was \$495.

It provides a better feel for migration in central locations like Park City – where you can go in any direction.  You can’t go north from Eureka in this time of Covid – and you can’t drive west from California.  Still, it gives data in something resembling a ratio – the challenge the rental truck industry has is getting the trucks from destination locations (inmigration) back to the places they came from (outmigration) without hiring my friend with the Greyhound pass.

TaxFoundation.org gives last year’s data, and it is massaged and compiled from more moving companies.  Guess what?  The top destination state (inmigration) is Idaho – and Idaho has a lot of similarities to western Montana.  Oregon was a destination state – and still needs the rental trucks from Eureka to keep things going.  I think the last person renting a truck to leave New Jersey might want to turn the lights off as he or she pays the last toll to drive out.

I’ve rented U-Haul trucks a couple of times – but the company has provided me a lot of comparative data on migration during my career.  It’s still science, and it’s still numbers driven.