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Friday, May 30, 2008

Milwaukee project lauded for sustainability and solar installation

From a story by Mary Louise Schumacher in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

From a coffeehouse with a green design to a gathering place in a former industrial wasteland, from a dynamic railway station to a new airport concourse, from a face lift for what's now an upscale Cajun eatery to the restored roof of an old Polish church, 27 projects will be honored today by Mayor Tom Barrett for contributing to Milwaukee's urban landscape.

Barrett will present the Mayor's Urban Design Awards, for design excellence, and the Cream of the Cream City Awards, for smart preservation, at a reception at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's School of Architecture and Urban Planning, 2131 E. Hartford Ave., at 5 p.m.
The design awards will go to projects completed by the end of 2007, including the Dr. Wesley L. Scott Senior Living Community, 2802 W. Wright St., for creating an environmentally sustainable building with a rooftop solar energy system (pictured above).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fox Valley companies win 2008 Pulp and Paper Energy Efficiency Awards

From a press release issued by Governor Doyle:

NEENAH – Governor Jim Doyle today announced the 2008 Pulp and Paper Energy Efficiency Awards, recognizing Proctor and Gamble Corporation of Green Bay and Neenah Paper of Neenah for outstanding achievement in implementing an energy efficiency projects. Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary Rod Nilsestuen presented the awards on behalf of the Governor at the Wisconsin Paper Council Annual meeting in Neenah. . . .

Proctor & Gamble Corporation won the 2008 Project for Innovation award for construction of a new energy efficient tissue paper machine at their Green Bay location. The machine uses new technology to deliver its product using 19% less natural gas and electricity than most modern machines. This improvement in energy efficiency will contribute significantly to Proctor and Gamble’s sustainability and energy goals.

Neenah Paper won the 2008 Project for Energy Efficiency Implementation award for its wastewater treatment facility optimization project. The project involved using variable frequency drives to improve the efficiency of the aeration system and feed forward dissolved oxygen control. The project also reduces turbidity in the final waste matter and prevents the release of 1,260 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year.

Governor Doyle established the Pulp and Paper Energy Efficiency Award to recognize the Wisconsin pulp and/or paper mill that best shows outstanding achievement in implementing an energy efficiency project.

Statement in Support of Wind Project in Town of Union, Rock County, Wisconsin

May 29, 2008

To the Town of Union Plan Commission:

My name is Michael Vickerman, and I am here tonight representing RENEW Wisconsin’s 320 members who support EcoEnergy’s Community Wind initiative. This three-turbine project would supply Evansville Water & Light with a zero-emissions, locally available and renewable source of electricity for a minimum of 20 years. We urge the Town of Union to adopt a reasonable ordinance that would allow the construction of this community-scale project to proceed.

RENEW acknowledges that every energy source presents trade-offs, and wind-generated electricity is no exception. However, if one looks at this project through a broad lens that takes into account gaseous emissions, energy and price security, and economic impacts to local landowners and governments, there’s no question that the benefits of this project far outweigh the detriments. EcoEnergy’s proposal advances a number of public policy objectives in a single stroke. These objectives include:

1) Securing adequate supplies of energy from a sustainable sources;
2) Buffering ratepayers from future electricity surcharges caused by the rising cost of diesel fuel, coal, and natural gas;
3) Reducing air and water emissions from generation sources;
4) Preserving working farms and pasture land;
5) Reducing the flow of capital out of Wisconsin for energy purchases; and
6) Increasing the flow revenues into Wisconsin’s energy-producing communities.

If erected, EcoEnergy’s Community Wind project would diversify Wisconsin Public Power Inc.’s resource mix, which is at present heavily weighted toward the combustion of fossil fuels imported from other states and nations. This overreliance on fossil fuels is the primary reason why energy prices are rising this year. Bear in mind that when the cost of diesel fuel increases by 60% over 12 months, the cost of coal delivered to Wisconsin power plants will go up. And when the price of natural gas shoots up by more 50% since January 1, utilities become motivated to look for energy sources whose price they can lock into. Windpower is one of those few energy sources that can help utilities there.

There is one additional benefit from a Community Wind project that might not be apparent today: electricity for vehicular transport. WPPI, which now has four plug-in hybrid vehicles, is a leading utility advocate for electrified transportation. It now costs the average car owner about $8.00 to buy enough gasoline to drive 50 miles. The amount of electricity it takes to drive 50 miles, some 12 to 13 kilowatt-hours, costs an electric vehicle owner about $1.50. Given the current disparity of costs between electricity and gasoline, it seems to me that the transition to plug-in vehicles is a matter of when, not if. I believe that plug-in vehicles, whether hybrids or all-electrics, will become a common sight on city streets in five years. Why? Because the alternative--to leave things the way they--will become too expensive for the average person. And when these vehicles hit the mass market, their owners will want to fill their batteries with clean, renewable, locally produced energy. Imagine the feeling of security, environmental responsibility and civic pride that Evansville citizens would experience knowing that the electricity that powers their motor vehicles is produced from a wind project that’s visible from town. The EcoEnergy Community Wind project can make that future possible for Evansville and the surrounding area, if you let it.

Michael Vickerman
509 Elmside Blvd.
Madison, WI 53704

Friday, May 23, 2008

Comments on Strawman Proposal for Governor Doyle’s Global Warming Task Force - June 18, 2008

These comments, submitted on behalf of RENEW Wisconsin, address the strawman proposal developed by the co-chairs of Governor Doyle’s Global Warming Task Force. I represented RENEW in the Electric Generation and Supply Workgroup and took part in the drafting and preparing of several specific proposals that were submitted to the full Task Force. Among them were proposals to establish (1) uniform permitting standards for wind projects, (2) fixed-rate production-cost-based tariffs to stimulate customer-sited renewable energy systems; and (3) post-2015 renewable energy requirements on utilities. The comments address various proposed changes to the existing renewable energy standard (RES).

In-State Set-Aside

The strawman proposal sets forth a 30% in-state set-aside by 2020 (6 percentage points out of 20 by 2020) and a 40 % in-state set-aside by 2025 (10 percentage points out of 25%) RENEW strongly supports an aggressive in-state set-aside for renewables, for reasons of economic development and energy supply security. Producing renewable kilowatt-hours (kWh) and therms within our borders will spark significant economic activity in the fabrication of equipment, installation of systems, and the provision of high-value services. Those economic benefits would be largely forfeited if those kWh and therms were imported from other states and nations.

Moreover, the sourcing of renewable energy within our borders represents the path of lowest risk from an energy supply and price stability perspective. In the past 12 months, we have seen crude oil prices jump from $66 to $121 per barrel, NYMEX natural gas prices double to $12.60/MMBtu, the national average retail price of diesel fuel increase from $2.80 to $4.70, and the national average retail price of gasoline rise from $3.08 to $4.04. In the first five months of 2008, the PSC approved requests from all five investor-owned utilities to add fuel surcharges to customer bills to collect an addition $149 million in revenues this year. That number is certain to increase before the end of the year.

As most people are aware, the fuel cost increases are being driven by ever-tighter world markets for fossil fuels, which affect wholesale market prices. It is worth pointing out that renewable energy sources in Wisconsin are in no way responsible for the price volatility roiling wholesale markets.

The presumption in this particular set-aside proposal is that renewable energy produced in Wisconsin will be more expensive than renewable energy produced elsewhere. With respect to windpower, it is true that Dakota wind generation will be less expensive than Wisconsin windpower when there is sufficient transmission capacity to move the electricity to market from the Dakotas. The trouble is: no one can guarantee that there will be sufficient transmission capacity to accommodate Dakota windpower throughout the 17-year window between now and 2025. Moreover, competition for low-cost windpower in the Great Plains is certain to intensify as more MISO states like Ohio adopt renewable energy requirements on their utilities.

But this view of Wisconsin windpower assumes that it will always be more expensive than fossil generation, and on this point RENEW disagrees with conventional wisdom. Between the escalating cost of transporting coal to Wisconsin power plants and the global competition for liquefied natural gas, RENEW can easily envision a moment in the not too distant future when locally based windpower facilities like We Energies’ recently completed Blue Sky Green Field project becomes one of the lower-cost energy producers in eastern Wisconsin.

Even if electricity from Manitoba Hydro became an eligible resource under an expanded Renewable Energy Standard, the vast majority of the energy applied toward that requirement would come not from Manitoba, but from wind energy, whether generated in Wisconsin or elsewhere. There is simply no other renewable energy resource that can scale up to supply a double-digit slice of Wisconsin’s electric load.

That said, RENEW is very concerned about the ability of wind energy developers, manufacturers, installers and shippers to do business in the state of Wisconsin if the barriers that are in place right now aren’t resolved or mitigated. These barriers include:

(1) Local opposition to siting and permitting utility-scale wind turbines;

(2) Private airport expansions by wind opponents aimed at blocking turbines;

(3) Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s restrictions on transporting oversized loads in and through Wisconsin; and

(4) Growing utility preference for out-of-state wind over in-state wind.

The difficulties developers encounter in securing land use permits for in-state wind projects are well-known and don’t need to be rehashed. In unanimously recommending legislative changes to address this problem, the Global Warming Task Force recognized the necessity of this initiative to achieving current and successor renewable energy requirements.

Another obstacle encountered by developers is the obstructionist tactic of upgrading private landing strips to public use airports for the purpose of rendering nearby land off-limits to turbines. Once the upgrade has been approved, the Federal Aviation Administration has the power to restrict turbine installations presumed to be hazardous to airport operations, regardless of whether the field is capable of being used by the general public or not. Until the State of Wisconsin establishes procedures and standards for reviewing airport upgrade applications, determined opponents of wind installations will continue to employ this tactic with impunity.

An even larger obstacle has emerged in the construction of wind energy projects, namely restrictions in transporting oversized wind generation equipment across Wisconsin roads and highways. Last year, just as construction of We Energies’ Blue Sky Green Field and Invenergy’s Forward Energy projects commenced, Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) imposed a prohibition on transporting oversize loads during the day, which made it impossible to haul the blades, nacelles and tower sections directly to the erection sites. At the Blue Sky Green Field project site, We Energies had to expand the laydown area behind its operations center in order to accommodate deliveries of the equipment. Some 792 pieces of equipment had to be offloaded in the yard and then reloaded on separate vehicles and taken to the 88 turbine sites. Double-handling this equipment is expensive. WE estimates that the restrictions on transportation added nearly $4 million to the cost of constructing Blue Sky Green Field.

In regards to Alliant Energy’s Cedar Ridge project now under construction, DOT will allow limited daytime transportation of oversize equipment. However, to reduce the cost of transporting turbines, nacelles and blades through Wisconsin, Vestas decided to ship that equipment to the United States via the Port of Galveston in Texas, and transport it by rail to Green Bay. It’s worth noting that those components could easily have been shipped to a Wisconsin port"Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Menominee-Marinette"where they would have been handled by our labor force.

Wisconsin also requires haulers to obtain an individual permit for each load carried along a surveyed route. Contrast that requirement with Iowa’s practice of issuing a permit that covers all trips involving oversized equipment along that route for a defined period of time.

Between the extra costs incurred by heavy haulers and the lost port traffic, Wisconsin’s transportation policies have imposed a heavy economic cost on in-state wind development in Wisconsin. The economic damage could spread to neighboring states if turbine manufacturers continue to avoid Wisconsin ports in favor of less convenient locations that require more truck or rail travel after the equipment is unloaded. To demonstrate to U.S. turbine suppliers, component manufacturers and heavy haulers that Wisconsin is open for business, the State needs to establish a regulatory framework that provides certainty and consistency in the transportation arena.

The unanticipated costs caused by the barriers enumerated above negatively affect utility perceptions on the economic viability of in-state windpower. When this perception is added to the lower wind speeds here compared with Iowa or Minnesota, the prospects for adding significant capacity beyond 2009 starts to fade. In the last three months, two Wisconsin utilities have announced plans to add, by 2010, 300 MW of windpower situated in Iowa and Minnesota. It’s clear that Wisconsin utilities have become very wary of the risks involved in pursuing wind development here, and in response have adjusted their resource acquisition efforts to source more renewable energy from out of state. I do not think it’s an exaggeration to say that some utilities have written off Wisconsin as a source of windpower for the foreseeable future.

While we at RENEW are steadfastly in support of expanding wind generating capacity in Wisconsin, we must point out that the in-state targets enumerated in the strawman proposal are unlikely to be achieved unless they are accompanied by meaningful regulatory reforms to facilitate project permitting, project construction, equipment transport, and component manufacturing in the Badger State. So long as in-state windpower is treated as a second-class resource in the renewable energy world, it is hard to imagine why the global wind industry would want to invest in new productive capacity here when the economic returns are higher elsewhere and the headaches fewer.

Changes to Resource Eligibility

The strawman proposal suggests an expansion of RES-eligible resources to include the following:

(1) Renewable energy credits (REC’s) created outside of the MISO region;

(2) Hydro in excess of 60 MW; and

(3) Renewable energy sold in the voluntary marketplace.

Simply adding these renewable energy sources to the existing Renewable Energy Standard will result in several negative outcomes. Voluntary renewable energy programs would implode overnight if they were folded into the utilities’ mandated portfolio. The whole value proposition of a voluntary program disappears when the utility takes the renewable energy attributes away from customers who paid extra to create the renewable generation in the first place.

While exporting dollars out-of-state to acquire distant sources of large-scale hydro and REC’s may seem like a cheap compliance strategy right now, it would stifle local renewable energy development"and the jobs and business opportunities that come with that--as long as the newly eligible resources remain in plentiful supply.

RENEW suggests recasting the proposed changes in such a way to prevent the new category of resources from competing with existing RES-eligible resources to meet the higher standard. This could be accomplished by creating two tiers of resource eligibility, a Tier 1 group and a Tier 2 group. The Tier 1 group would consist of the current group of RES-eligible resources (and renewable thermal energy). Tier 2 resources would consist of non-MISO REC’s, hydro greater than 60 MW, and renewable energy from the voluntary markets.

RENEW propose that the RES consist of a “hard” target, the compliance of which must be met from Tier 1 resources. Above that, there could be a “soft” goal that can be met with Tier 2 resources. But to ensure that Tier 2 resources don’t crowd out Tier 1 resources, the amount of Tier 2 resources that could be applied to the soft goal has to be capped. While there would be a not-to-exceed amount for Tier 2 resources, there would be no cap on Tier 1 resources.

To illustrate: if the state were to adopt a 20% hard renewable target by 2025 and a soft renewable goal of 25% for that same year, utilities would then be required to source a minimum of 20% of the electricity they sell from current RES-eligible resources. They could incorporate Tier 2 resources and apply them to the soft target up to 5% of their retail sales. But utilities would not be able to apply the Tier 2 resources to any part of the 20% requirement. Therefore there would be no compliance benefit to a utility that aggregates Tier 2 resources in excess of the 5% cap. Interim hard targets and soft goals could be established as well.

It is worth pointing out that Wisconsin already has a similar arrangement in place today. Act 141 requires utilities to increase the renewable energy content of retail electricity sales by six percentage points above their 2004 benchmarks. The same law also sets forth a 10% goal by 2015. The required additions to the Wisconsin utility resource mix will, by themselves, raise the state’s renewable energy percentage to somewhere between 9% and 10%. That percentage does not include the volume of renewable electricity purchased by the State of Wisconsin and by its residences and businesses. Moreover, it is entirely possible that utilities will “overcomply” with their mandated minimums, especially if the cost of conventional fossil fuels keeps rising. Between the renewable electricity mandated under Act 141, voluntary renewable energy sales and any “excess” renewable electricity not serving a utility’s RES requirements or supplying a voluntary program, the prospects for achieving the state’s 10% renewable energy goal are very favorable.

Advanced Renewable Tariffs

RENEW is a very strong supporter of Advanced Renewable Tariffs (ART’s), which are buyback rates for distributed applications of renewable energy that are (1) based on production costs; (2) technology-specific; (3) fixed for a period of time; and (4) uniform across service territories. RENEW believes that ART’s are appropriate for any nonutility-owned renewable generation project under 20 MW and located in Wisconsin.

The strawman proposal rightly sees ART’s as a policy mechanism that would stimulate the development of distributed renewable energy sources that would otherwise be left behind under a typical RES. From a diversity of supply perspective, the establishment of ART’s would encourage utility customers to produce--and receive a fair price for"renewable electricity that a utility can apply toward either its RES requirements or resell to its renewable energy subscribership.

However, the strawman proposal identifies two renewable energy sources"biogas and solar--whose development should be encouraged through ART’s. Conspicuously absent from that list is windpower. This is a significant departure from the technology-neutral approach the proposal takes with respect to other recommended policies, such as the low-carbon fuel standard for vehicles. The proposal offers no rationale for explaining why biogas and solar are worthier resources for this policy treatment than wind.

Apart from the Act 204 wind projects built by utilities in 1999, distributed wind generation has not gone anywhere in Wisconsin. With the notable exception of WPPI, Wisconsin utilities have shown no interest in buying the output from community-scale wind projects. Nor do they have plans to build and operate community-scale wind installations of their own.

The potential exclusion of wind energy from being supported through ART’s provides another example of the state’s peculiarly unwelcoming attitude toward the wind industry in general. Community-scale wind projects elsewhere in the Midwest enjoy strong support from both policymakers and local communities. Minnesota and Iowa have supported community wind projects with public dollars and tax credits, and the results have been impressive. In Wisconsin, community wind finds itself in a policy no-man’s-land, too large to be supported by Focus on Energy, and too small to be supported by utility initiatives (other than WPPI’s excellent community program). The strawman proposal does nothing to correct that situation.

Submitted by:
Michael Vickerman
Executive Director
RENEW Wisconsin
June 18, 2008

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Movie: Escape from Suburbia, June 17, Urban Ecology Center

The interest group Paths to a Sustainable Future will show Escape from Suburbia, the sequel to the award-winning film, The End of Suburbia, about the future of the American dream after the oil age. This film focuses on viable alternatives for communities working at the local level.

The movie will be shown at the interest group's meeting which begins at 6:00 p.m. at the Urban Ecology Center, 1859 North 40th Street, (414) 344-5460.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Solar Valley grows under cloudy German skies

RENEW Wisconsin supports and the Governor's Global Warming Task Force has before it the concept of fixed above-market prices (called feed-in tariffs) for electricity produced from renewable resources, as described in an article by Mark Landler in The New York Times:
THALHEIM, Germany — This sad stretch of eastern Germany, with its deserted coal mines and corroded factories, epitomizes post-industrial gloom. It is a place where even the clouds rarely seem to part.

Yet the sun was shining here the other day — and nowhere more brightly than at Q-Cells, a German company that surpassed Sharp last year to become the world’s largest maker of photovoltaic solar cells. Q-Cells is the main tenant among a flowering cluster of solar start-ups here in an area known as Solar Valley.

Thanks to its aggressive push into renewable energies, cloud-wreathed Germany has become an unlikely leader in the race to harness the sun’s energy. It has by far the largest market for photovoltaic systems, which convert sunlight into electricity, with roughly half of the world’s total installations. And it is the third-largest producer of solar cells and modules, after China and Japan. . . .

At the heart of the debate is the Renewable Energy Sources Act. It requires power companies to buy all the alternative energy produced by these systems, at a fixed above-market price, for 20 years.

This mechanism, known as a feed-in tariff, gives entrepreneurs a powerful incentive to install solar panels. With a locked-in customer base for their electricity, they can earn a reliable return on their investment. It has worked: homeowners rushed to clamp solar panels on their roofs and farmers planted them in fields where sheep once grazed.

The amount of electricity generated by these installations rose 60 percent in 2007 compared with 2006, faster than any other renewable energy (solar still generates just 0.6 percent of Germany’s total electricity, compared with 6.4 percent for wind). . . .

Monday, May 19, 2008

We Energies wind project begins commercial operation

From a press release issued by We Energies:

MILWAUKEE- We Energies’ Blue Sky Green Field wind project was placed into commercial service today. The 88 turbines have a demonstrated capacity of 145 megawatts and are expected to generate more than 328 million emission-free kilowatt hours annually - enough to power 36,000 homes.

“Blue Sky Green Field is one of several targeted efforts we’re undertaking to generate more energy from renewable resources,” said Rick Kuester, executive vice president of Wisconsin Energy Corporation, the parent of We Energies. “We appreciate the support we have received from our customers and from the communities of Calumet and Marshfield and northeast Fond du Lac County in making the project a reality.”

At a cost of approximately $300 million, the Blue Sky Green Field project consists of 88 Vestas Wind Systems turbines spread across 10,600 acres. Each turbine is capable of producing 1.65 megawatts of electricity. The V82 turbines have a hub height of approximately 262 feet and a blade length of 134 feet. From the foundation to the tip, each tower has a height 397 feet.

We Energies continues to pursue the development of additional renewable energy to meet customer demand and to meet the state of Wisconsin’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires utilities across the state to generate 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2015. “While the Blue Sky Green Field project is an important contributor to our renewable goals, We Energies will need to add several more renewable projects to meet the state mandate,” said Kuester.
A story by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also reports on Blue Sky Green Field and notes:

In addition, the 86-turbine Forward Wind Energy Center in Dodge and Fond du Lac counties was completed this month, said Mick Baird, Invenergy project manager.

Fossil Fuel Watch: Gas Tax Pains

Immediate release
May 19, 2008

More information
Michael Vickerman

Fossil Fuel Watch: Gas Tax Pains
by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
May 19, 2008

Could there be more convincing proof of America’s debilitating addiction to oil than the recent calls to institute a gasoline tax holiday issued by two of the three presidential aspirants still in the race?

Imagine what would happen if a candidate for public office endorsed a repeal of cigarette taxes. Articulating such a position would instantly disqualify that candidate from serious consideration by rank and file voters. Indeed, it would stop a candidacy faster than you can say “macaca.”

Yet, while Sens. John McCain or Hillary Clinton, both advocates of suspending the 18.4 cents/gallon gasoline tax, have been excoriated in editorials for espousing such patent flimflam, they don’t seem to have lost any ground with the voting public.

Though the McCain-Clinton gas tax suspension proposal set a new low in the public discussion of energy, it can’t be dismissed as mere election-year pandering. Instead, this proposal reveals a dark truth about ourselves: we Americans are psychologically unprepared to accept the energy reality we now inhabit, which is that oil is neither cheap nor plentiful (relative to demand). The same holds true for natural gas.

The factors converging to create global energy insecurity—diminishing output from supergiant fields, rapid demand growth in the world’s most populous nations, civil unrest in oil-exporting nations, etc.—cannot be held at bay with political stunts.

Whether its citizens like it or not, the United States will, going forward, consume a smaller portion of the Earth’s remaining petroleum than at any time during the Automobile Age.

But before the federal government takes action to address supply uncertainties and price volatility, our leaders have to tell the nation in no uncertain terms that continued dependency on oil and natural gas will hasten our economic decline and lead us into future resource wars.

Certainly, Senators McCain and Clinton aren’t up to the challenge. Fortunately for the nation, both are powerless to push their intellectually dishonest tax holiday proposal past Congress and the White House.

The White House predicts that this year’s budget deficit will reach $410 million, a sum that excludes the cost of our continuing military misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States can hardly afford to forgo $9 billion in hard revenues just to manufacture the illusion that every motorist will have $28 extra dollars to spend on items other than gasoline.

Savings in excess of $28 can easily be achieved with one less fill-up at the gas station. And how can that be accomplished? By driving less aggressively, turning off the engine while standing, keeping your tires fully inflated, and organizing your errands to reduce miles traveled.

These are simple and practical suggestions that don’t involve sacrifice or hardship. All that is required is the will to take responsibility over your driving habits.

Each time we leave a light bulb burning in an unoccupied room, each time we leave the engine running in the drive-up lane, we dig ourselves a deeper hole. Of course, we must stop what we’re doing, but we’ve become so accustomed to cheap and abundantly available sources of fossil energy that wasting it has become second nature.

So who’s going to throw the bucket of cold water on our national energy fiesta and tell the people that thrift and responsibility are in and energy profligacy is out. Senators Clinton and McCain have disqualified themselves in spectacular fashion. Is Obama our only hope here?


Michael Vickerman is the executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a Madison-based nonprofit organization that acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives. These commentaries also posted on RENEW’s blog:
and Madison Peak Oil Group’s blog:

Friday, May 16, 2008

Gas Tax Pain

From a new Fossil Fuel Watch by Michael Vickerman:

Could there be more convincing proof of America’s debilitating addiction to oil than the recent calls to institute a gasoline tax holiday issued by two of the three presidential aspirants still in the race?

Imagine what would happen if a candidate for public office endorsed a repeal of cigarette taxes. Articulating such a position would instantly disqualify that candidate from serious consideration by rank and file voters. Indeed, it would stop a candidacy faster than you can say “macaca.”

Yet, while Sens. John McCain or Hillary Clinton, both advocates of suspending the 18.4 cents/gallon gasoline tax, have been excoriated in editorials for espousing such patent flim-flam, they don’t seem to have lost any ground with the voting public.

While the McCain-Clinton gas tax suspension proposal may have a set a new low in the public discussion of energy, it can’t be dismissed as mere election-year pandering. Instead, this proposal reveals a dark truth about ourselves: we Amnericans are psychologically unprepared to accept the energy reality we now inhabit, which is that oil is neither cheap nor plentiful (relative to demand). The same holds true for natural gas.

The factors converging to create global energy insecurity—diminishing output from supergiant fields, rapid demand growth in the world’s most populous nations, civil unrest in oil-exporting nations, etc.—cannot be held at bay with political stunts.

Whether its citizens like it or not, the United States will, going forward, consume a smaller portion of the Earth’s remaining petroleum than at any time before during the Automobile Age.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Details released on nation's premier energy education event in Custer, Wisconsin

Join the MREA and RENEW for the 19th annual Energy Fair June 20-22, 2008. The Fair will be held at MREA's headquarters, the ReNew the Earth Institute, located at 7558 Deer Road in Custer, WI. See the Travel and Accommodations page for directions and other information.

General Energy Fair Information
Since 1990, the Energy Fair has shown fairgoers how to change the world while having fun. Each summer the Fair transforms rural central Wisconsin into the global hot spot for renewable energy education. The Energy Fair is the world's largest renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable living educational event of its kind. Please join us this year!

The Energy Fair features hundreds of workshops and exhibits all emphasizing clean energy & sustainable living and is fun for the whole family. In 2007, the Energy Fair hosted over 19,500 attendees. We hope to see you in 2008!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Manitowoc mayor named to panel to study lake wind energy

From an article in the Manitowoc Hearld Tribune Reporter:

MANITOWOC - Mayor Kevin Crawford has agreed to serve as co-chairman of the Wind in the Great Lakes Work Group formed by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

The group will review the viability of wind power development on the Great Lakes. The commission is working with the Department of Natural Resources and the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands.

The work group includes representatives who have an interest or stake in the development of wind power.

"The future of our city, our state and nation is to be found in renewable resources and alternative fuels," Crawford said in a news release. "The Great Lakes are not only the largest fresh water resource in the world, but they may also be the solution to much of our nation's energy problems as they are a fantastic wind resource, as well."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

WPPI awards Oconomoc and two other cities two-year energy-saving program

From a story by Matthew Inda on

City of Oconomowoc - For the next two years, Oconomowoc will partake in a communitywide effort that will raise even stronger conservation ethics by way of a pilot program awarded by Wisconsin Public Power Inc. (WPPI).

The program known as Leading by Example will give Oconomowoc Utilities the opportunity to better educate and demonstrate the effectiveness of energy efficiency, conservation and renewable resources development.

The program suits Oconomowoc well, based on its established environmental awareness and involvement, according to Wisconsin Public Power Inc. spokeswoman Anne Rodriguez.

"We were looking for a community where there is strong leadership in this area," she said. "Oconomowoc really provided that natural fit."

The only other two municipalities in the state to receive the grant were WPPI member communities River Falls and Columbus.

The program will reach out to, and help, citizens via ongoing conservation education efforts with local students, businesses and residential customers. It will also assist with energy efficiency improvements to municipal buildings and conservation projects in cooperation with industrial utility customers.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Kohl's solar program becomes world's largest among retailers

From a press release issued by Kohl's Department Stores:

MENOMONEE FALLS, Wis., May 12, 2008 — Kohl’s Department Stores (NYSE: KSS) announced today that it plans to convert more than 50 of its existing New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland locations to solar power, representing nearly 80 percent of its locations in these three states. Currently, Kohl’s operates 34 stores in New Jersey, 17 in Connecticut and 16 in Maryland.

With the East Coast solar installation, Kohl’s is the largest retail host of solar power, and its distributed solar program is now the largest in the world among retailers. In a distributed solar program, silent, renewable energy is produced and used at the same location requiring no transmission infrastructure. Kohl’s has converted more than 25 of its 88 California locations to solar power with plans to activate approximately 50 additional sites in the state. Solar installations are also under way at three Wisconsin locations, and Kohl’s hopes to add other states to its growing solar offering before year-end.

Initial construction for the East Coast solar conversions began in January. On average, solar panels provide 30 percent of a store’s annual energy, or enough to power 54 homes annually. The total East Coast program is expected to offset 370 million pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) over the 20-year program and is equivalent to removing more than 36,200 cars from the road for one year.

Read more here.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Johnson Controls helps Michigan school afford solar power

From an article by Jim Kasuba in The News Herald (Southgate, MI):

WYANDOTTE — The sun was shining brightly on the day the city and school district kicked off their first-ever solar energy project.

It was just as fitting that officials chose Earth Day to highlight the installation of a 10-kilowatt photovoltaic system on the roof of Wilson Middle School.

Melanie McCoy, general manager of Wyandotte Municipal Services, said her department received a $50,000 Michigan Energy Office matching grant earlier this year for the design, installation, operation and maintenance of the renewable energy system.

She said Wyandotte Municipal Services was pleasantly surprised by an offer from Johnson Controls, a Milwaukee-based company working with the district to integrate the project into the school's curriculum.

"Wyandotte Municipal planned on spending 50 percent of the cost of the grant, but Johnson Controls picked up a substantial amount of it," McCoy said.

Photovoltaics, or PV as it is sometimes referred to in the industry, is a technology in which light is converted into electrical power. In such a system, photons from sunlight knock electrons into a higher state of energy, creating electricity.

Such a system rarely generates enough power to fill the needs of a building the size of Wilson Middle School, but it can be used to supplement coal burning and natural gas.

The Wyandotte Municipal Service Commission awarded installation of the system to Kulick Enterprises Inc. of Wyandotte.

This hybrid energy conservation system will be a learning tool both for the energy providers at Wyandotte Municipal Services and students at the school.

The first 12 months will offer a learning curve that should provide data for future years, indicating how much the system can offset energy costs.

"For the first year, we are leasing the roof for $1 so we can get an idea how much energy it produces," McCoy said. "We can then share the savings down the road so we can all benefit from it."

She envisions the city-owned Wyandotte Municipal Services and the school district entering a financial agreement after the first year of the solar PV system's operation.

McCoy speculates that the reason solar energy isn't used more extensively is because of the start-up costs and the time it takes to recoup those costs.

Because of that, McCoy said solar power is expensive on a per-kilowatt scale.

"Coal is 5 to 7 cents per kilowatt, wind (power) is 10 cents a kilowatt and solar is 23 cents a kilowatt," McCoy said. "This system cost $100,000 and we think it's going to be $2,000 per year (in energy savings). If we were paying this ourselves, it would take 50 years until we regained our investment."

McCoy said silicon in the solar panels is a major component that makes them so expensive. She said panels made without silicon would make them considerably less expensive.

However, in this case the state grant and financial support from Johnson Controls have made the system extremely affordable.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Advanced Renewable Tariffs

Presented by Michael Vickerman
American Solar Energy Society
San Diego, CA
May 7, 2008.

A presentation on the importance of advance renewable energy tariffs to encourage installation of renewable energy systems.

Click here for the presentation.

Racine City Council votes to allow electric vehicles

From an article by Stephanie Brien in The Journal Times (Racine):

RACINE — Julie Conigliaro is the proud new owner of a neighborhood electric vehicle, thanks to a City Council decision Tuesday night. Following the City Council’s vote to allow electric vehicles to drive in city limits, Conigliaro signed the dotted line on her new car.

“I’m really happy with it,” said Conigliaro, 41, literally jumping off the ground outside the City Council chambers after they unanimously approved the ordinance. In accordance with state law, the city had to approve an ordinance before neighborhood electric vehicles could be driven within city limits. The new ordinance allows electric cars on all city streets with a speed limit of 35 mph or less.

Madison adopted a similar ordinance in April and Union Grove is in the process of drafting its own ordinance.

“It’s good for the environment, but it’s also good for my pocketbook,” Conigliaro said.

The car cost her $10,500 and will only cost her pennies each time she charges it.

She bought her car from a dealer in Wausau, which is currently only one of five in the state.

Conigliaro lives on 3335 Victorian Dr. and drives four miles every day to her job at SC Johnson.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Waukesha home installs solar panels on shingles of recycled diapers

From an article by Linda McAlpine on GM Today:

WAUKESHA - From the faux-slate shingles made of recycled baby diapers and rooftop solar panels to its engineered wood floors, the house being built at 1512 Rock Ridge Way in Waukesha is anything but traditional.

The 2,100 square-foot house is the 2008 Wisconsin Trend Home and when completed later this summer will house the latest in energy-saving and environmentally-friendly technology.

Starting at the top, Tim O’Brien, of O’Brien Homes, Waukesha, builder of the home, walked through some of its cutting edge highlights.

"The shingles, which look like slate, are made of recycled baby diapers, tires and plastic bottles," he said. "Because they’re light, they don’t need the structure to support them so you need less wood. You’re doing something good for the environment by using product made from recycled material. They also have a 50-year life span."

According to Lisa Schaal, solar site assessor for Sol Power, Milwaukee, the 20 solar panels on the roof enable the house to use about 500 or less kilowatts per month, compared with the average home electricity usage of 800 kilowatts per month.

Dave Schwabenlender, of Arch Electric, LLC of Plymouth, said the panels will generate power even on cloudy days.

Monday, May 5, 2008

We Energies offers renewable energy feasibility study grants

From Amy Flom, We Energies Consultant:

We Energies is offering Renewable Energy Feasibility Study Grants to its business and not-for-profit electric customers, as well as to organizations teamed with We Energies business and non-profit electric customers. This program helps to cover the costs of studying the feasibility of installing a renewable electricity generation project at a customer's facility. Funds also can be used to conduct research on a renewable energy product or technology, or to help demonstrate or commercially advance a renewable energy product or technology into the marketplace.

How much grant money is available per project?

We Energies will fund half the cost that remains after other funding sources are applied to the cost of the study or project, up to a maximum grant of $200,000. Although matching funds are not required for this grant program, any additional funding that can be added to the proposal will be considered a favorable element of the project and increase the chances for a successful grant. In addition, the We Energies grant funds may be used as matching funds towards a larger State, federal or private grant program, provided the activities of the project meet this program's objectives, occur in We Energies service territory, and the applicant is teamed with a We Energies business or not-for-profit electric customer.

How do I apply for a We Energies grant?

Please complete the Feasibility Study Grant Application.

Grant proposals will be accepted on an ongoing basis and will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, subject to availability of funds.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Manitowoc wind-tower company set to expand

From an article by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

More expansion is in the works for Tower Tech Systems Inc. of Manitowoc after its parent company raised $100 million in a stock sale.

Tower Tech is a manufacturer of towers used in wind power projects, a growth area within the manufacturing sector given the record pace in the expansion of wind power generation projects across the country.

For Tower Tech, growth is buoyed in part by an agreement it signed this month to supply wind towers to a subsidiary of the Spanish company Gamesa, a leading player in the global wind industry.

Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but Broadwind says it is the largest single order for towers placed by Gamesa with a North American tower manufacturer. Delivery from Manitowoc of the 256-foot, four-section wind towers for Gamesa begins this month.

"That's a significant arrangement to lock in with one of the premier and major wind developers in the U.S.," said Jeff Anthony of Milwaukee, a manager at the American Wind Energy Association and an active participant in Wisconsin's renewable-energy sector.

"Gamesa is establishing their presence in the U.S. and is one of the fastest-growing wind turbine suppliers and project developers in the U.S."

Broadwind Energy Inc. of Naperville, Ill., Tower Tech's parent company, said it planned to raise $100 million through sale of stock to investment funds managed by Tontine Associates. A separate agreement with an unidentified partner would result in additional financing, Broadwind said.

The proceeds will be used to "accelerate . . . current expansion plans" as well as acquisitions and investments in plans to grow production, the company said.

Lars Moller, chief operating officer, said the company would be poised to expand its production of towers and gears from current locations in Manitowoc and elsewhere, as well as through new factories "strategically placed throughout North America. . . ."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Blue Sky Green Field Wind Farm almost operational

From an article by Brett Rowland in The Reporter (Fond du Lac):

JOHNSBURG — The status of the Blue Sky Green Field Wind Farm has generated a lot of hot air from locals, but operator We Energies said the 88 turbines haven't started generating power.

Blue Sky Green Field remains under construction as We Energies tests the turbines, said company spokesman Barry McNulty.

In recent weeks, locals have called and e-mailed The Reporter with rumors about the project, including that it had been shut down due to stray voltage. Another rumor presented to The Reporter stated the turbines were not constructed properly and the blades could come loose.

McNulty denied those rumors and said the project is progressing according to schedule.

"It just goes to show that it doesn't matter the type of fuel — nuclear, solar, wind — there will always be those who subject themselves to rumor," he said.

The wind farm is located about 15 miles northeast of the city of Fond du Lac in the towns of Marshfield and Calumet.

A contractor has erected all the turbines and now We Energies is conducting comprehensive tests on each unit. Some have been spinning during test runs, while others remain dormant. McNulty said 60 of the 88 turbines are able to rotate, while work on the others remains in progress.

"The turbines have been spinning at times, but have been taken offline at times," McNulty said.

McNulty said commercial operations at Blue Sky Green Field would begin about the end of May. . . .