In October, the US International Trade Commission, ITC, reversed course on its June exemption for bifacial modules indicating that the exemption would undermine the objective of the 201 tariffs. The ITC noted that the changed decision came about after new information became available. The short-lived bifacial exemption is set to expire on October 28.

Comment: Where to start, where to start — First, what exactly is the objective of the 201 tariffs? Because, if the aim is to protect domestically manufactured cells (the electricity-producing component of the module otherwise known as the most important component of the module), it ain’t working. Second, new information? Likely one of the commissioners read the widely available forecasts of a boom in bifacial imports to the US. Maybe the commissions realized that many cell types are appropriate for bifacial production, including PERC, so an exemption on bifacial modules is a potential exemption for about 70% of cell capacity.

Crystalline cell technology capable of bifaciality are not new; it was introduced decades ago by Sanyo, which looked to capitalize on the bifacial capabilities of its HIT modules, focusing on car port applications. Concerns about bifacial cells and modules include:

  • The necessity for system design specific to bifacial modules that are, a swap with a non-bifacial module would require a new system design
  • Little standardization in testing
  • Components, such as trackers, must be specifically designed for systems using bifacial modules
  • Difficulty modeling and quantifying assets of bifaciality for financiers and investors
  • Junction box design and placement concerns
  • Supply chain concerns (glass or transparent backsheet)
  • Limited applications (ground and large flat roof)

Lesson: The International Trade Commission giveth, and the International Trade Commission taketh away. In the case of the short-lived exemption for bifacial modules, likely the industry has, in part, its overly enthusiastic (and honestly, unrealistic) announcements in the press about a boom in bifacial imports to thank for the reversal. Sometimes you don’t get what you brag about.

In late January 2019, California’s largest investor-owned utility (IOU) Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) declared bankruptcy for the second time causing anxiety for investors, ratepayers, employees, PPA holders, elected government officials and, lest we forget, fire and gas explosion victims. Judge Alsup, who is overseeing PG&E’s probation from its felony conviction, lambasted the company for violating its probation. “To my mind, there’s a very clear-cut pattern here: that PG&E is starting these fires,” Alsup said. “What do we do? Does the judge just turn a blind eye and say, ‘PG&E continue your business as usual. Kill more people by starting more fires.”

In the US, corporations enjoy personhood, that is, as an entity a corporation has the same rights of free speech and due process as individuals under the constitution. Corporate personhood rights date to the 1890s and the railroads, in particular, the 1897 Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway CO V Ellis case in which the Supreme Court held that: “A state has no more power to deny to corporations the equal protection of the law than it has to individual citizens.”

The rights of personhood conferred to corporations in 1897 also allow the corporation to be tried and convicted. In 2016 PG&E was found guilty in Federal Court of violating pipeline safety rules and misleading investigators over the 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

PG&E’s recent bankruptcy filing was a strategic defensive move designed to protect the utility from liability. The utility’s filing potentially enables it to renegotiate power purchase agreements, in particular for solar contracts, at rates the utility argues, reflect new, lower costs. In its filing, the utility asked the court to allow it to cancel $42-billion (387) in energy contracts that it entered into over the past 15-years. 298 of the contracts were for solar, wind, or other RE. Just the potential of contract cancellation and renegotiation has affected the credit ratings of utility-scale projects in the state and could affect the ratings of projects out-side of California if these projects are on the Western Grid and sell electricity to PG&E. The US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has stated it has veto power over the bankruptcy court in this regard.

Meanwhile, PG&E obtain senior secured liability financing of $5.5-billion from JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Barclays, and Citigroup, putting the banks at the head of the line when it comes to recouping money.

PG&E’s latest bankruptcy is being overseen by the same Federal judge who oversaw its 2001 bankruptcy filing, Judge Dennis Montali. In PG&E’s first filing, Judge Montali upheld the PPAs. Despite the precedent set in the first bankruptcy, a different decision is possible given the different circumstances existing today for the US solar industry than did in 2001.

In the US, solar deployment has grown significantly from 2001 through 2018, while module prices have decreased drastically over the same period. PG&E could argue that the significant price decrease for components argues for a reassessment of current PPA rates and might lead to a decrease that would benefit ratepayers as well as PG&E as it restructures.

Allowing the utility to renegotiate its contracts inserts uncertainty and therefore risk into the development process, potentially shaking investor confidence. One example of a market shaken by government and utility actions is Spain, which saw its market for solar deployment crash after retroactive changes to its FiT.

Another example is the Republic of South Africa’s government-owned utility Eskom. Mid-2016 Eskom began refusing to sign PPAs won under the country’s REIPPP (Renewable Energy Power Producer Program) with Independent Power Producers (IPPS) claiming inadequate transmission an action that effectively stalled solar project development. In August 2017 Eskom continued refusing to sign PPAs with RE IPPs, preferring nuclear power. In 2018 South Africa courts ruled that Eskom must resume signing the abandoned PPAs. In late 2018 Eskom resumed honoring PPAs.

In 2019 the government looks to be moving to renegotiate PPAs signed under its 2011 and 2012 REIPPP in an attempt to aid its technically-bankrupt utility.

PG&E Bankruptcy #1 – Blame it on deregulation and Enron

PG&E’s first bankruptcy had its roots in California’s poorly designed, ill-thought-out energy deregulation of the late 1990s.

In 1996, then-Governor Pete Wilson signed the bill that deregulated California’s utilities, keeping intact regulation of distribution lines, but freeing the states three IOUs to sell generating assets and buy natural gas on the open market, theoretically at competitive rates. In their eagerness to sell burdensome generating assets such as nuclear facilities, and under the naïve assumption that the free market would drive rates down, the utilities sold too many generating assets and, during an unusually cold winter and extremely hot summer, found themselves the victims of poor regulatory design and vulnerable to market manipulation.

Under California’s deregulation, ratepayers choosing to stay with the IOUs continued with a regulated default rate for electricity that was capped for four years. Utilities, assuming competition would lure ratepayers to different sources were surprised to find that only 3% of ratepayers switched, leaving utilities with 97% of their customer base to continue serving.

Moreover, utilities were not allowed to buy forward contracts and instead bought natural gas on the new wholesale spot market – not a problem if a utopia of competitive pricing pushes prices down, but definitely a problem if wholesalers work to promote scarcity and force prices up.

California’s newly deregulated market also encouraged energy traders to enter the market where previously they could not operate. The newly minted middlemen saw opportunities and took advantage, basically enacting a wild-wild-west version of business-as-usual.

In May 2000, demand for electricity surged due to high industrial activity and unexpectedly hot weather. On May 22, 2000, California’s electricity crisis officially began.

Suppliers responded by overbooking capacity and creating scarcity. California’s utilities were stuck with capped retail rates and premium-priced natural gas, and by the end of the year were paying ~six times what they could charge ratepayers for electricity. Energy traders, such as Enron, used a variety of methods to drive up the prices or profit in other ways. Strategies used to drive up prices included again, overbooking and forcing Cal-ISO (the California Independent System Operator) to pay a premium for power, or, overscheduling and forcing the Cal-ISO to pay a congestion fee to the energy trader, or, buying power at California’s capped rate of $250/MWh and reselling at a higher price elsewhere.

In January 2001, PG&E became insolvent, and then Governor Gray Davis stepped in to buy power on the spot from the unregulated suppliers on behalf of the beleaguered (and bankrupt) utility). Eight billion dollars later, Governor Davis negotiated 20-year power contracts worth $50-billion, passing the additional cost on to ratepayers who were not amused and launched a successful recall effort.

What PG&E’s latest bankruptcy may mean for the US Solar Industry

Pay attention to this case because should the judge allow PG&E to renegotiate its contracts, a precedent will be set. Blame it on the solar industry’s low margin environment. This precedent could encourage other utilities across the US and in other countries, to take the same action, thus insinuating uncertainty, and risk, into the market. Granted higher risk generally means higher reward, but, as the solar industry has no control over the price of its components, or the value of its product (electricity), higher risk may mean, lower reward.

 

In its late February filing, PG&E stated that it was ‘probable’ that its equipment was at fault in the November 2018 Camp Fire, which claimed 85 lives. The utility also stated that: “Management has concluded that these circumstances raise substantial doubt about PG&E corporation’s and the utility’s ability to continue as going concerns.” California Governor has formed a team to study and suggest potential solutions. One thing is certain, a complete failure of Pacific Gas and Electric without a plan in place to serve ratepayers could be catastrophic. At the very least, rates for electricity and gas would rise, at the very worst, reliability of service could be disrupted. As transmission and gas line maintenance has been lacking for many years, any entity taking over the utility’s responsibilities will find itself mired in maintenance needs.

And in fact, in August 2019, PG&E advised the bankruptcy court that it had reached an agreement to cut PPA prices by at least 10% on five power contracts.

Could net metering be next?

Market after market the outcome has been the same, when governments offer incentives markets balloon, and when governments remove, pause, or reverse incentives, market balloons deflate.

  1. Executive Summary

In 2018, the photovoltaic industry experienced its first retraction in demand in fifty years following abrupt cessation of deployment activity mid-year in China. As a direct result of the changes in China’s support policies for solar, total industry demand fell by 5% in 2018 to 89.1-GWp from 93.9-GWp the previous year, with prices taking an even more precipitous drop.

China’s demand for solar deployment fell significantly in 2018, decreasing by 27% from 51.5-GWp in 2017 to 37.4-GWp.

As the solar industry remains, incentive, subsidy, and mandate driven, and operates in an environment with many substitutes, abrupt changes in demand should be expected. As such, an abrupt change in China’s solar policy should not have been a surprise, as the government had signaled a desire to slow its market for years.

Expectations at the beginning of 2018 were for a 60-GWp year in China, as well as strong growth in other markets. Many observers expected market demand of >100-GWp in 2018. As most manufacturers were in a sold-out condition at the beginning of the year, on the supply side, manufacturers had prepared for strong demand and mid-2018 were left with inventory and, as many had begun implementing capacity expansion plans, overcapacity.

Strong demand in Europe, the US, Australia, the Middle East, and Latin America mitigated some of the fallout, but could not completely make up the difference.

Well into 2019, the global solar industry finds itself with unstable markets, poor infrastructure, weakening economies, unstable incentives, and vulnerable markets. To continue with strong growth, the infrastructure problems, over which the industry has no control, will need to be solved. Meanwhile, though the industry has fully embraced tenders and bidding, its lacks the infrastructure to support its growth goals and plans. 2019 has seen several countries cancel or delay auctions for various reasons, inappropriate infrastructure chief among them.

2.1      Report Highlights

  • The global market for solar modules grew by a compound annual rate of 38% from 1998 (134.8-MWp) to 2018 (89.1-GWp)
  • In 2018 the photovoltaic industry experienced the first slowdown in 50 years with demand falling from 93.9-GWp in 2017 to 89.1-GWp in 2018.
  • The cumulative total of PV cells/modules shipped from 1998 through 2018 is 466.9-GWp
  • In 2018 global system and application revenues decreased by 11% from $140.9-billion in 2017 to $124.8-billion in 2018
  • In 2018 the grid-commercial application, all system sizes, consumed 99.2% of PV modules
  • 97.5% of modules sold in 2018 were >300/Wp
  • Ongoing trade issues between the US and China indicate module and BoS component prices will be volatile through 2020
  • Taken globally, Tender bidding for solar projects continues to trend downward with many bids <$0.03/kWh, indicating a global average in the mid-three cent range trending down to <$0.02/kWh
  • From 2013 through 2018 the grid-connected application (residential, commercial and utility-owned) grew at a CAGR of 21% while the grid-connected commercial application grew at a CAGR of 26%
  • Australia’s market for solar deployment is estimated to experience growth of 27% to 38% through 2021

In a world with orderly market behavior with price easily explained by supply and demand dynamics, there would be little need for a discussion about price behavior because visibility would be clear. Unfortunately, markets are not orderly, and buying behavior is driven by multiple industry or product specific factors. In the solar industry, price visibility is far from clear.

Manufacturers of solar cells and modules must cope with buyer expectations that prices will decrease, which is not always true, that solar cells and modules have little differentiation and are thus commodities, also not true, and that gross margins of ~10% are sufficient, which is not valid.

Module prices differ by country or regional market, by tariff activity, by how much pain the manufacturer will absorb, and by outlier events such as 2018’s sudden slowdown of activity in China.

The industry is young, volatile, and filled with unstable markets all relying on a mechanism of some sort to stimulate demand.

In Europe, the MIP (minimum price) is no longer in effect, and while the EU hopes for a competitive domestic manufacturing base, individually, manufacturers know this is not possible.

True, Europe is experiencing strong growth, and though economic indicators for the continent are not stellar, there is no reason to assume a drastic slowdown for at least a couple of years. With demand for solar increasing in Europe and other countries, manufacturers in China have a ready market for excess capacity and can avoid the problematic US market with its tariffs and its bellicose trade war. Without the MIP in place, importers are free to price aggressively – good for developers, bad for domestic EU manufacturers.

Trade Games

Tariffs, minimum prices, quotas, et al., are tools in the tradecraft handbook that governments wield under the guise of protection. Meanwhile, back at the real motivation corral, the underlying motives are to punish another government, a misunderstanding of the advantages and disadvantages of protectionism, as a lever to gain something from another government, lack of knowledge about the protected industry, and sometimes, from a lack of understanding of how global trade works.

No matter the motive, the results are usually the same in that the protected industry becomes reliant on the protection while importers counterattack. Without a workaround, buyers pay higher prices.

Luckily for many buyers and sellers of solar components, workarounds abound. To get around tariffs and other punitive trade mechanisms such as minimum prices and quotas importers can:

  • Transshipment: ship the product through a different country on the way to its ultimate destination. In this case, the product is sometimes minimally altered during a brief stop and shipped. In the case of modules, manufacturers from China have expanded to many other countries, and this option is used quite option. Taxes, VAT for example, are sometimes absorbed by the shipper.
  • Absorb the tariff, a common practice available for all but the smallest buyers and the reason tariffs on modules have little impact.
  • Refund a portion of the payment in cash or other goods such as trackers, inverters and other mounting, an option used often in the EU during the MIP (minimum price) era.
  • File for an exemption claiming that the uniqueness of your product or your commitment to the market makes you to special to be the subject of a tariff or quota.

The moral of the trade war story is that no matter the restriction a workaround or exemption will be found in most cases. In a perfect world, which of course does not exist, trade actions would correct the inequity.

Bad behavior happens to both unregulated and regulated markets. In most cases, bad market behavior comes from side industries that spring up to take advantage of suddenly hot markets. There are many examples from history of side markets and side players following booming, young markets. During the US gold rush, snake oil salesmen sought to cure anything with what was, in most cases, poison. Closer to solar-home, during Spain’s briefly booming market of 2007 and 2008, the cost of doing business skyrocketed as speculative side businesses bought up permits and created administrative roadblocks and problems, all solvable, for a fee.

Average Module Prices 2019

Globally, expect the 2019 ASP in the range of $0.40/Wp. Individual markets will behave in distinct to that particular market with module prices in the US likely to average $0.48/Wp for the year, prices in Europe at $0.42/Wp, and prices in India at $0.40/Wp depending on the application, of course.

Prices in the US were down at half year, but are ticking up as tariffs (on multiple countries) take a toll.

India has a problematic manufacturing base. Its cell manufacturing is out-of-date. Its module assemblers need to upgrade their quality. Downward pressure on tender bidding, unrealistic expectations concerning outcomes, unreliable auction mechanisms, and a costly administrative infrastructure has resulted in low participation in some tenders. Now that the US has removed its special importer status, its manufacturers will need to focus on their domestic market pushing prices down.

 

 

Bad Decisions: A Scott Roth Mystery, Volume II

Prologue: Long Unforgotten Line

Here’s to all the flawed ones

The lives adrift,

The hopes denied.

Here’s to all the lost ones,

All in a long unforgotten line.

 

Here’s to all the betrayed ones

The little lies,

The truths behind.

Here’s to all the returned ones,

All in a long unforgotten line.

 

Here’s to all the loved ones

The buried smiles,

The wounded prides.

Here’s to all the abandoned hearts,

All in a long unforgotten line.

It’s a law of the new west, never f… with a man’s ride, thought Roth as he stood looking down at the remains of his burned Harley. He pursed his lips, gingerly touched his swollen nose, and thought, yep, you can sucker punch a man and damn near break his nose, but if you f… with a man’s ride, you f… with the man.

To find out what happens next go to: https://www.amazon.com/Bad-Luck-Scott-Roth-Mystery-ebook/dp/B07K658PNP

4.     Jolene

Jolene gripped the sink and looked into the dirty mirror. She was hiding in the restroom of the gas station’s convenience store afraid to pee in the overflowing toilet and waiting for inspiration to smack her upside the head. She looked into the mirror, which was covered with lipstick smudges, fingerprints, and graffiti. Her bloodshot eyes stared back. Meanwhile, up in Jolene’s head the first verse of her lifetime anthem, Dolly Parton’s Jolene played on an endless loop through her mind.

When she was younger serving drinks at the bar, everyone in the room would put down their pool cues, and sing the first line of Jolene every time she walked through the room carrying her tray one-handed above her head, her long red hair floating behind, and her little ass swinging from side to side. “Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, I’m begging of you please don’t take my man.”  That song was the only true thing in her life now, and since Jerry hated Dolly Parton he wouldn’t let her play it or sing it out loud.

He’d gotten her to go home with him that first night by promising to take her to Dollywood so that she could meet her idol, and maybe get a job there. He’d promised her a new life. Instead ten years later she was trapped with Bob and Jerry, and now Jerry hated her. Worse, Jerry hated Dolly Parton. Which wasn’t fair because all she had left was Dolly and that song, which played through her head all the time making her forget what she was doing, and earning her a slap when she didn’t move fast enough getting Jerry a beer, or whatever. To Jolene, the song was worth it.

She’d needed to pee for miles, even before they pulled over at the accident, and was surprised that Jerry and Bob let her go in alone when they’d pulled into the gas station. There’d been a big argument about it as usual. She never knew where one argument started and ended, and when exactly the next one had begun. The two of them were always shouting at each other, and shoving her back and forth between them. The arguments were permanently smudged together.

Finally, Bob had pulled off the freeway into this rundown rest stop. There was nothing around for miles but an aging diner with an old, burned-out neon sign, this combination gas station convenience store, and a stretch of empty land. This was no oasis, it was a little stretch off the freeway for those on their way from one shitty situation to the next.

Thinking of the guy they’d left on the side of the road, Jolene rubbed a small blurry circle in the smudge on the mirror and leaned towards it. “He’s dead,” she said, testing her voice. A tear rolled out of one eye and made its way down her cheek. She’d seen dead guys before, sure she had, couldn’t live with Jerry as long as she had without seeing some ugly stuff. The difference was that she watched this one die. Could have sworn she felt his spirit pass on through her, saw his eyes go from watchful to blank with little pinpoint pupils just as her pupils changed when she was really high. “We shouldn’t have left him all alone,” she said aloud.

Christ, she needed something, a drink a pill, a jolt of something, even crack much as she hated the whacked out feeling of it; just something to get her through the next fifty miles so that she could figure out what to do next. Jolene was always trying to figure out what came next, and never got very far figuring it out.

The stench in the bathroom was getting to her. Jolene gagged and leaned over the sink. It was one of those boy/girl combo bathrooms with a urinal against one wall, and a stall with a broken door, but at least the door to the room locked behind her. Jolene rubbed her hand across her mouth smearing what was left of her lipstick across her cheek.

Outside the bathroom, she heard the door ding as it opened. It was a puny sound meant to warn the clerk that he wasn’t alone. The door gave up more of a whine than an alert, and the guy behind the counter hadn’t even looked up when she came in. Just jerked his thumb towards the wall when she asked where the bathroom was.

“Jolene, fuck, Jolene,” Jerry banged on the door, “get your ass out here. What the fuck are you doing in there?”  More banging, “Shit.”

Get her out of there,” Bob growled, “come on man.”

“I’m almost done,” Jolene wiped the back of her hand across her mouth and rubbed her nose. “Gimme a minute.”

“Get the fuck out here fast,” She heard Jerry say, another bang on the door. “Bob, grab me some jerky and a beer.”

“Grab it your fucking self.”

Jolene heard the ding as Bob and Jerry went out the door, the sound of their argument fading into the parking lot, but still loud enough to hear. She looked up in the mirror into the circle she’d made on the glass, and into her face, which looked blurry through all of the smudges, all the rough edges smoothed out almost like she was young again.

The dead guy, it felt like he knew her. There was blood on her jeans where his head had been, and a streak of it on her palm that she couldn’t quite wipe off as much as she tried. He’d looked right into her eyes like he knew she was done with it all, passed around once too often, through with this life and hopeless. A strand of her long red hair slipped over her shoulder. She was known for her bright red hair, kept long and wavy. It was still bright red, but out of a bottle now. Under this light, it almost looked purple. Jolene wiggled a loose tooth with her tongue. She needed something to take the edge off. Jerry always had something to get her up or down when she needed it. It helped to keep life a blur.

The man had looked right into her eyes as he died. Just looked up and through her, and when he died she felt the hopeless part of her start to go with him like it was being sucked right out of her soul. Jolene pushed back from the sink and ran her hands through her hair. She didn’t have her purse with her, but there was no money in it anyway. Wiping a few layers of grime from the toilet seat she hovered an inch above it, and let loose, feeling instant relief.

Jolene opened the door and peeked out. Bob and Jerry weren’t in the store. She was alone with the counter guy, who seemed to be nodding off. Jolene left the restroom and looked out through the windows. Bob, looking irate as usual was waving his arms, his bandana askew. Jerry was smoking and pacing, his long skinny body bent over to hide his tallness, which he hated. Jolene knew that she used to think he was handsome, but she couldn’t remember why. Once she thought he was the answer to her prayers but that had lasted 24 hours max. She’d stayed anyway, got married and stayed some more.

She tiptoed to the counter taking exaggerated steps, trying not to make a sound. The counter guy jumped when she whispered, “hey.”

The man did not look at her.

“Sir,” Jolene whispered looking down at the counter, “Sir, my name is Jolene. I need to get out of here. Is that the only way?”  She pointed a trembling finger at the door.

Looking up the man cocked his head to the side and looked from the woman to the two men outside. They were waving their arms in the air, and yelling at each other. The one with the bandana hit himself on the top of the head several times. His bandana fell off, and he jumped up and down on it before putting it back on his head. The tall skinny bent over guy laughed, lit another cigarette from the one in his mouth, and flung the half smoked lit cigarette onto the cement.

The man behind the counter gritted his teeth. He had immigrated to the United States from India two years ago after finding an ad offering this convenience store, and its accompanying gas station, for sale in a local newspaper. With an uncharacteristic leap of hope, he had bought it sight unseen. He’d left his family in India for a year, and moved here to begin their new prosperous life. When he’d saved enough to bring his sweet wife and son to America, and brought her to this wasteland in the middle of a depressed and uninspiring landscape, she’d smiled and proclaimed him very successful, but when she looked at him her eyes were filled with betrayal.

He regarded the red-haired woman. He noticed the bruises on her arms that looked like fingerprints. He looked into eyes that were like deep holes of nothingness. She was probably a drug addict. He looked at her more closely, there was a plea in her eyes, and something more, maybe the last grip on hope as it slid down her soul on the way out.

The man came to a decision. “Come with me lady,” he said. He came out from behind the counter and stretched his arm out towards her, his hand unfurling from its usual clench. She flinched back. The man smiled gently and lowered his voice so that it was soft and silky, the way he would speak to the very old, a small child, or a frightened animal.

Making his hand into a small cup he gestured for the woman to follow him. “Follow me, lady,” he said, suddenly filled with a sense of urgency, something he’d forgotten existed, “hurry.”  Later when he told his wife about it she would ask him why he had helped the sad woman, and he would shrug. Then he would look into his wife’s soft eyes and see pride there for the first time in years, and it would help bring back his hope.

The man led Jolene to his office in the back of the store. He opened a drawer, counted out some bills, and held them out. “There is a big field behind this door,” he said, unlocking and opening a door that seemed to lead into a dark vast expanse of nowhere. “In about five miles you will find a small town. Look far away and you can see the lights. It is a small town, few buildings. When you come out the other side of the field there will be a road with one street light in front of a house. The house will look very disreputable, but do not worry. Knock on the door. The people in the house will help you if you mention my wife’s name, Mrs. Lavanya Singh. They know her from church. Just mention her name.” He reached forward and touched her elbow, noticing her flinch. “Now lady,” he said gently as if to a very small child, “run.”  He maneuvered her towards the door. “Run, and do not come back here tonight.”

Jolene looked into his eyes.

“I will be okay,” he said smiling and gesturing towards the door. I will lock the door after you leave, and call the police. Now, run.”  He motioned her out of the door. Shaking his finger, he said, “I do not need you to tell me that these are very bad men. Go, and fast.”

Jolene stepped over the threshold into the dark night. The door shut behind her, the sound like the end of something. She shoved the bills into her back pocket and looked up at the stars. And then she ran into the dark, into the weeds. She fell, pulled herself up, and fell back down, scraping her knees, and arms.

As a toddler, Jolene had scared her parents with her stubborn refusal to crawl. Instead, she had pulled herself up by any means possible to stand, falling down many times before managing to finally stand up, shaking and triumphant.

Summoning her childhood stubbornness Jolene ran into the dark as fast as she could and fell, crashing down on her hands. Pulling herself up by the tall weeds that surrounded her she ran on, tripping over rocks, weeds, and once something that growled. Still, she pulled herself up and ran, faster than she thought she could run. Jolene ran on, grabbing at the tall weeds, falling, stumbling, and scrambling until she saw the lights of the promised town up ahead, and while Dolly Parton sang inside her head. “I had to have this talk with you, my happiness depends on you, and whatever you decide to do, Jolene.”

Pushing her way through the weeds Jolene finally found herself on an old and uneven sidewalk. Reaching into her back pocket she found that the money Mr. Singh had given her was still there. Across the street, a light illuminated a house, badly in need of repair, with an overgrown lawn strewn with rusted bicycles, strollers, and an old car with no tires. The house looked pale and ghostly in the yellowish light of the streetlight. As she crossed the road tumbleweeds rolled slowly past, though there was no wind that night.

On the front walk, Jolene made her way to the house stepping over toys, tricycles, wrenches, and the remains of a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Standing for a moment at the door Jolene looked behind her into the darkness. Finally, she took a deep breath, and turning towards the door, raised her hand to knock.