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Friday, August 29, 2008

Green Drinks in Milwaukee, September 10

Cities across the U.S. host Green Drinks events. Here's how the Sierra Club describes Milwaukee's:

Anyone interested in green and sustainable is welcome. No rsvp necessary and feel free to pass this notice on to others interested. What is Green Drinks? Green Drinks is a monthly event where you can meet people, network, do a business deal, learn something new or maybe even find a job! Check out www.greendrinks.org to get an idea of the scope of this movement! Join like-minded people in an informal and unstructured setting to talk about the latest sustainability happenings in Milwaukee and globally. Meet people in various green professions. Have a drink (alcoholic or not) . . .
Green Drinks is held at 5:00 pm on the second Wednesday of the month at Ardor (non-smoking Pub), 607 N. Broadway. The next gathering is Wedesday, September 10.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Coalition wants transit to Pabst Farms development

From an article by Sean Ryan in The Daily Reporter:

A Milwaukee group says the construction of an interchange to serve Oconomowoc’s Pabst Farms shouldn’t move forward unless public transit improvements are part of the plan.

American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation Inc. attorneys filed a complaint (PDF) Tuesday on behalf of the Good Jobs & Livable Neighborhoods coalition.

Coalition Director Pamela Fendt said the complaint doesn’t seek to stop the more than $23 million construction of the Interstate 94 interchange in Oconomowoc. It asks the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission to allot resources to mass transit if the interchange is built.

“It seems like what we see moving forward is the freeway work,” Fendt said, “and we are really at a standstill when it comes to making decisions on mass transit.”

The state Department of Transportation decided to expand the interchange at I-94 and County Trunk Highway P before its scheduled 2010 date because of the proposed Town Centre shopping complex at Pabst Farms. Waukesha County is contributing $1.75 million to the project, the city $400,000, and the state will pay the balance.

Representatives from SEWRPC, Pabst Farms and WisDOT did not comment on the complaint before deadline, saying they had not yet seen it.

Good Jobs & Livable Neighborhoods complained SEWRPC appointees and committees did not fairly represent Milwaukee’s minority workers when they approved changes to the regional transportation plan to include the expanded interchange.

Larry Dupuis, legal director for the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, said he hopes the feds will require representatives of Milwaukee’s minority communities to sign off on future additions to southeast Wisconsin’s highway project plans.

He also said state and local resources should be allotted for transit projects, including busing and rail projects such as the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line.

“Everybody talks about ‘smart growth’ and trying to diminish our dependence on foreign oil and those kinds of things,” he said. “The rule has been more roads and fewer transit resources, and we’re trying to put a halt to that.”

The complaint asks the U.S. DOT to order more planning to incorporate concerns of minority and transit-dependent residents and end its “absolute and substantial deference to local governments.” Short of that, it asks the federal government to ban SEWRPC from receiving federal money.

If new transit or bus routes are not created linking Milwaukee to Pabst Farms, unemployed Milwaukee residents will not have the chance to get jobs in the Town Centre mall, Fendt said.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Solar power is working in Wisconsin

From a story last fall on Fox 6 News:

WITI-TV, MILWAUKEE -- You'd expect solar powered water heaters to be a big deal in Arizona or Texas, but now is becoming a big deal in Wisconsin. FOX 6's Gus Gnorski shows you why it might be a good decision for your house.
The 2008 Solar Decade Conference, where the story was taped, will be October 23-24, also at the Midwest Airline Center.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The sun powers Racine Eco-Justice Center

From a story by Michael Seidel on OnMilwaukee.com:

"Now, when he has enough, he'll stop," Sister Janet Weyker says. She's holding a baby robin; the bird chirp excitedly as Weyker feeds him worms out of a tin of compost and wild black raspberries from a cup. Since the robin's mother disappeared, Weyker has taken over, tending to the fledling's hunger at mealtimes.

This type of stewardship is precisely what motivated Weyker and several other sisters of the Racine Dominican order to found the Eco-Justice Center, a 15-acre learning center, farm and homestead located at 5635 Erie St. in Racine.

As a whole, the Racine Dominicans, a Catholic community of vowed women and lay associates, are committed to the ideas of education and justice. But back in 2000, the nuns saw a gap in their order's efforts to extend those concepts to the environment.

"(We thought) the environment is in crisis and we should really do something," Sister Janet says, "I didn't want to just talk about it anymore, I really want to make that dream a reality. . . ."

"Fifty-five solar panels produce all the energy that we use in the summertime," Weyker explains. Additionally, the house uses geothermal heating for its heating and air conditioning. "Geothermal is a system where there are pipes buried in the ground 9.5 feet deep, and there's a constant temperature of 55 degrees. . . ."

Friday, August 22, 2008

MATC installs wind turbine at Mequon campus

From an article by Sean Ryan in The Daily Reporter:

The first wind turbine gear Milwaukee Area Technical College purchased got scorched in a California brush fire and it took months to find a replacement.

The equipment, a used Vestas Wind Systems 90 kilowatt turbine, was in storage at Halus Power Systems’ facility waiting to be refurbished for use at the MATC Mequon campus when a fire blew through in 2006. Halus had to get another set of gear, and the technical college had to pay another few thousand dollars because there was a shorter supply of the gear a year later, said Al Evinrude, director of construction services for the campus.

The Mequon turbine, envisioned to be a demonstration project and educational tool, has been in the works since 2005. But, after delays caused by the fire and a year-long delay after MATC’s original contractor dropped out of the project, PieperPower, Milwaukee, on Wednesday began to install the gear atop a turbine tower.

There were some unique challenges with the Mequon project, but all plans to build smaller-scale turbines, as opposed to wind farms, require a lot of lead time, said Mick Sagrillo, wind specialist for Focus on Energy. Focus on Energy gave grants to the MATC project in 2005.

He said before anybody hits the market to buy the gear, they need two permits — zoning approval to build the structure and permission from the local utility to connect it to the power system.

“Once you’ve got those two documents in hand, now you’ve got basically permission to build a wind turbine,” he said. “And until you have those two pieces of paper in your hand, you don’t want to put any money down.”

Lakeshore Technical College will visit the Cleveland Plan Commission on Sept. 3 to ask permission to build two 65-kilowatt wind turbines. The college built a turbine in 2005, so it already has negotiated the zoning picture, said Doug Lindsey, Lakeshore Tech dean of agriculture, apprenticeships, trade and industry.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Focus on Energy seeks large renewable projects to fund

From a media release issued by Focus on Energy:

Focus on Energy, Wisconsin's energy efficiency and renewable energy initiative, is helping businesses statewide become more energy independent by offering large, one time only grants to help finance the installation of innovative renewable energy systems. Eligible businesses must submit grant proposals to Focus on Energy by Oct. 29, 2008. Funds will be awarded on a competitive basis and are meant to support one project in each of the following technologies:

Industrial or Municipal Anaerobic Digesters
Many industries and wastewater treatment facilities are looking for a solution to both organic waste management and a source of on-site energy production. Anaerobic treatment of industrial or municipal wastewater can offset waste treatment costs by collecting and using biogas for energy applications. This grant will fund the installation of a commercially available anaerobic digester system in the $2 to $4 million range. The grant will reward up to 25 percent of the installed project cost, or a maximum of $500,000.

Biomass Combustion
Biomass Combustion can serve as on-site energy production for many industries and commercial facilities. The technology offsets energy costs by burning biomass for energy applications. Biomass combustion systems can help supply space heating, process heating, cooling and electricity. This grant will fund the installation of a commercially available biomass combustion system in the $2 to $4 million range. The grant will reward up to 25 percent of the installed project cost, or a maximum of $500,000.

Solar Water Heating
The sun's energy can be used to heat water for commercial and industrial applications. Businesses interested in implementing solar water heating can use this grant for the installation of one large, commercially-available solar water heating system or a group of systems owned by the same entity and installed simultaneously. This grant will fund the installation of a solar hot water system that offsets more than 10,000 therms per year. The grant will reward up to 25 percent of the installed project cost for tax-paying entities and up to 35 percent for nonprofits, or a maximum of $100,000.

Solar Electric
Solar energy can be converted directly to electricity with photovoltaic (PV) cells. As light strikes the PV cell, it creates an electrical potential that generates a current of electricity. To implement solar electricity, businesses can use this grant for the installation of a large solar electric system or groups of systems that are innovative and very visible. This grant will fund the installation of a PV system that produces more than 50 kilowatts (kW) per year. The grant will reward up to 25 percent of the installed project cost for tax-paying entities and up to 35 percent for nonprofits, or a maximum of $100,000.

Wind Energy
The energy present in wind can be converted into electricity with a wind turbine. Wind passing over the turbine creates a rotary motion that turns an electric generator and creates electricity. This grant will provide financial support for the installation of one commercially available wind energy system that demonstrates a new type of turbine, has a special type of application and/or provides very high visibility and educational value. To be eligible the project must produce 20 kW to 100 kW per year. This grant will reward up to 35 percent of the installed project cost, or a maximum of $100,000.

"These grants offer a one time opportunity for businesses and non-profits to apply for projects that are twice as large as those normally accepted by Focus on Energy. We believe there is an emerging demand for renewable energy systems at this larger level, offering businesses a way to mitigate the effects of fossil-fuel-based energy use, reduce pollution and lessen America's dependence on energy from overseas," said Don Wichert, program director for Focus on Energy's Renewable Energy Program.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Oconomowoc Utilities leads by example

From an article by Matthew Inda in The Lake Country Reporter:

City of Oconomowoc - Saving and conserving energy is easier than you might think.

Turning off the water when it’s not in use and recycling are two simple things everyone can do right at home.

But a local effort under the guidance of Oconomowoc Utilities intends to spread even more conservation endeavors across the city just as easily – by following their lead.

Earlier this spring, Oconomowoc Utilities announced it had been granted a pilot program known as Leading by Example, a program to help better educate and demonstrate the effectiveness of energy efficiency, conservation and renewable resources development around the community.

The program was awarded by Wisconsin Public Power Inc. (WPPI) because of Oconomowoc’s strong leadership in these areas.

The initiative has already made some differences.

Helping to implement the program is a conservation committee composed of community leaders and citizens.

“Our major purpose is to educate the community what they can do to conserve energy and water,” said committee member and former Oconomowoc Mayor Floss Whelan.

Spearheaded by Oconomowoc Utilities Operations Manager Dennis Bednarski, the program and its committee also includes Bob Duffy, city director of economic development; Mike Barry, Oconomowoc School District assistant superintendent of business services; Alderman David Nold; and Mike Farrell, chairman and chief executive officer of Sentry Equipment Corp.

“We have a diverse group of community members that can help us give a view of what concerns are here in Oconomowoc,” Bednarski said.

“It’s about local action,” he added.

Already, the group has implemented and nearly completed a light conservation effort at the high school tennis courts, changing the lights to solar power energy.

And coming soon, the group will work with the public library to also make its lighting and lighting costs more effective and efficient.

”We’re starting a project to relight the library with (light-emitting diode) LED fixtures,” Bednarski said.

LED lights are increasingly popular as it uses less energy but operates with as much brightness as a conventional bulb.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

WE Energies plans 243 megawatt wind farm in Columbia County

From an article by Kevin Murphy in The Capital Times:

Milwaukee-based WE Energies wants to build a 90-turbine, 234-megawatt wind farm located between the Columbia County villages of Cambria and Friesland.

In an application filed Monday with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, WE Energies proposes to locate the turbines with a hub height of up to 262 feet generally north and west of Friesland and northeast of Cambria in the towns of Randolph and Scott.

The project would gather power from up to 90 turbines, each with a half-acre footprint, by using up to 50 miles of 50-foot-wide corridors for collector cables. Twenty miles of permanent roads would be used to access the turbine sites, according to the application.

WE Energies acquired an option on the site from Florida Power and Light when it sold its interest in the Point Beach nuclear plant, said Brian Manthey, a WE Energies spokesman.

"The area was already sited for its potential for wind power, once we decided to (exercise the option) we saw that it was a good possibility for us, a good area for wind power production," Manthey said.

Construction costs haven't been finalized for the wind farm, now called the Randolph Wind Project, because the number and type of wind turbines haven't been determined. WE Energies plans to submit those costs to the Public Service Commission within a few months, Manthey said.

He compared the new proposal to the company's $300 million, 88-turbine wind farm spread across 10,600 acres in Fond du Lac County. The Blue Sky Green Field wind project, which became operational in May, has a 145-megawatt capacity, enough to power 36,000 homes, according to WE Energies.

It used turbines that are 397 feet tall from foundation to the blade tip.

Ryan Schryver, Clean Wisconsin's wind power advocate, called the proposal a great example of the "choice that we have to make regarding our energy production."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Workshop: Work Smarter with Wood, Renewable Wood Energy, Sept. 4

From a media release issued by Focus on Energy:

MADISON, Wis. - On Sept. 4, Focus on Energy, Wisconsin's energy efficiency and renewable energy initiative, will host a conference demonstrating how businesses and organizations can take advantage of Wisconsin's most abundant natural resource - wood. The one-day conference titled "Work Smarter with Wood, Renewable Wood Energy," will be held at the Best Western Midway Hotel in Green Bay, Wis., and will offer attendees information and tours highlighting how wood can be used to generate bioenergy. In addition, the conference is being presented as a precursor to the 63rd Annual Lake States Logging Congress - the Midwest's largest forestry tradeshow - presented by the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association September 4 - 6. . . .

Focus on Energy's conference will consist of information sessions and keynotes, including speakers from the Office of Energy Independence, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the Pellet Fuel Institute, and Focus on Energy. There will also be tours of two area facilities that are benefiting from the use of renewable wood energy, ST Paper and Pomp's Service. Attendees will have a chance to tour a biomass combustion system located at ST Paper and Pomp's Service's wood brokering facility (ST Paper acquires their wood fuel from Pomp's).
Complete workshop details here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Get creative with funding green efforts; think solar

From a letter to the editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by John Moses:

Milwaukee should recognize that one of its finest natural resources is local philanthropy. Joseph Zilber wants to write a $5 million check to the city of Milwaukee in each of the next 10 years. He’s asking other area benefactors to quadruple that amount.

So here's the idea: Using some of that money, create a private fund to subsidize the purchase of photovoltaic solar arrays for home electricity generation by Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin homeowners. Lure an established or start-up solar cell company to Milwaukee, with the promise of a guaranteed local market for, at the very least, a significant portion of its production capacity.

Offer the usual government incentives for the construction of a photovoltaic manufacturing plant in Milwaukee's inner city. Begin recruiting homeowners in the area. A typical set-up with 25 panels can run up to around $25,000. Create subsidies of at least 50%, depending on people's ability to pay.

We Energies has promised everyone higher utility rates. The possibility that homeowners actually would see their meters running backwards (i.e. selling power back to the grid) on a sunny summer day, with an initial investment cost that could mean that they'll recoup their money within a decade, might be enough incentive to get people on board.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wind power exaggerations are fear mongering

August 13, 2008

Dear Editor:

What is the likelihood of a 200-foot wind tower coming near city of Madison residents, as discussed in Mike Ivey's story in the July 30-Aug. 5 Cap Times? Consider the following facts.

1. There are no residential-scale wind turbines operating in Madison.

2. There are no residential-scale wind turbines in Wisconsin that are more than 165 feet tall. Any turbine taller than 170 feet would exceed the maximum height that would qualify for Wisconsin Focus on Energy incentives for renewable energy systems. Moreover, most jurisdictions would treat a 200-foot turbine as a commercial wind generator, requiring a conditional use permit.

3. At any elevation reachable with today's turbines, Madison's wind resource is too feeble to be economically viable for generating electricity.

4. Utilities like Madison Gas & Electric offer much higher rates for solar power than wind energy.

Even if there were 200-foot wind turbines available for residential use, anyone proposing to install one in Madison would be committing economic suicide. Of course, no one has and no one will, but that doesn't stop elected officials who ought to know better from voicing these phantom threats as if they were real.

While it may be fun to conjure up headline-grabbing visions of ordinary Madisonians being terrorized by alien wind generators looming over their houses, it has no basis in reality. Such tactics can't help but retard the city of Madison's laudable effort to adopt an ordinance for permitting solar and wind energy systems in a manner consistent with state law.

Ed Blume
Communications director
RENEW Wisconsin

Bike lanes earn equal billing

From an article by Sean Ryan in The Daily Reporter:

Vehicles, sidewalks and medians are stuck in a battle for right-of-way as the state and cities push for new bike lanes with road projects.

On the 76th Street reconstruction project in Milwaukee, for example, the state and city might need to take a chunk from the median to make room for bike lanes, said Dave Schlabowske, Milwaukee bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the Department of Public Works. But the city and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation must weigh priorities, such as whether a narrower median leaves enough room for cars to wait while making left turns, he said.

“You have to balance everything out,” Schlabowske said. “So we’re taking a closer look at it, and it looks like WisDOT is willing to flex a little bit on their lane widths.”

WisDOT is making bike lanes a priority on its projects along local roads because the Federal Highway Administration is tying its money to complete street requirements, Schlabowske said.

The desire to create complete streets for walkers, bikers and drivers is stirring up residents in Shorewood who don’t want trees cut down to widen the right-of-way. Shorewood is considering a long-range plan for a network of bike routes with bike lanes and directions sending bikers to roads that are wide or quiet enough to be safe.

Bikes are a hot topic, and many communities are creating long-range plans to establish bike routes because it’s politically correct and gas prices are driving more people to pedal, said Mary Beth Pettit, project manager of the Shorewood plan for Graef, Anhalt, Schloemer and Associates Inc., Milwaukee. She said the focus on bikes creates problems if the right-of-way doesn’t have enough room for bike lanes.


And a story by Dorie Turner in The Chicago Tribune reports that Ripon College, among others, will provide bicycles to students who don't bring a car to campus:

Cycling already has a foothold at many colleges, where hefty parking fees, sprawling campuses and limited roads make it tough to travel. Still, most students are reluctant to leave their cars parked.

"They're using them to drive from residence halls to class, which is a two- or three-block commute," said Ric Damm, an administrator and cycling coach at Ripon College, which is giving away $300 bikes to freshmen who leave their cars at home. "We thought, 'How can we provide an incentive to get them out of that behavior?'"

Damm's school, outside Oshkosh, Wis., has spent $26,000 on its free bike program, which so far has signed up half of the 300-student freshman class, Damm said.

"I think a big draw is the just the environmental aspect," said freshman Regina Nelson, who readily signed up for a free bike. "And, honestly, I think that anything free when you're in college is good, especially something like a bike that is worth something."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Win-win at Oak Creek

From an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

With all of the praise over the settlement reached this week on We Energies’ Oak Creek power plants, one might be tempted to ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?” Turns out, apparently nothing is. The deal allows We Energies and its two utility partners in the Oak Creek project to finish construction in a timely manner, provides needed help for Lake Michigan and expands renewable energy in Wisconsin.

And while the $105 million settlement will be paid for by electric customers ($100 million) and shareholders ($5 million), the price tag will be far less than it could have been under a protracted legal battle over the plant's cooling system. We hope that next time the issues can be settled without going to court, but the utilities involved and the environmental groups who fought the plant deserve credit for reaching a compromise that serves everyone.

The issue settled this week was a dispute over the water intake system that We Energies will deploy to draw 1.8 billion gallons of Lake Michigan water per day for cooling at the new power plant. Environmental groups opposed the intake pipe and were demanding that the utility construct more expensive cooling towers.

Monday, August 11, 2008

August 11, 2008 - Testimony on Alliant Energy's Cassville Plant: Plenty of wind, not much biomass

From the testimony submitted by Michael Vickerman on behalf of RENEW Wisconsin filed with the Public Service Commission on August 11, 2008:

In my testimony I will survey the windpower prospects under development by independent power producers (IPP’s) in the parts of Wisconsin served by WPL. This information will include an estimate of their annual production (in the aggregate) as well as the current permitting and interconnection status for each prospect. The second half of my testimony outlines RENEW’s concerns with WPL’s proposal to co-fire biomass at Nelson Dewey 3 [proposed Cassville plant] . . . .

There are seven IPP-owned wind prospects under development. All range in generating capacity from 50 MW to 100 MW, totaling 609 MW altogether. . . .

RENEW’s reservations about WPL’s stated plans to co-fire biomass at NED3 flow from the specifics of the proposal. RENEW strongly supports using biomass for space and process heating. RENEW also supports generating electricity from dedicated biomass facilities that are considerably smaller than a new baseload facility.

One reservation we have this proposal is the idea of marrying a low-grade biomass fuel to a very expensive new power station with a capacity cost of about $4,000/kW. There are less expensive avenues for acquiring renewable energy, such as windpower, that have lower capital costs and zero fuel costs. There are also less expensive venues for burning biomass for electricity, such as the soon-to-be-retrofitted E. J. Stoneman plant or Xcel’s Bay Front 3 unit. Unlike building a new 300 MW coal plant, retrofitting those power stations to burn biomass fuel won’t require a capital investment in excess of $1 billion. It is a far more efficient use of ratepayer dollars to wed biomass fuel with smaller power stations (<50 MW) than with a larger and very expensive brand-new power plant. With smaller power plants, it is possible to configure them as dedicated biomass generating units. This is not possible with a 300 MW facility.

RENEW’s second reservation is triggered by the configuration of NED3. WPL’s selection of a circulating fluidized bed combustion boiler creates an opportunity to co-fire biomass energy sources at NED3. WPL’s plans, however, call for the biomass fuel to supplement the coal being fed into the boiler, which could easily be fueled with 100% coal. There is nothing about the boiler design that is dedicated specifically to biomass generation. Coal is the mainstay in this configuration, while biomass is simply an opportunity fuel to be used when available. The possibility of being unable to acquire enough biomass fuel for co-firing will not in any way hinder the operation of NED3, because there will always be enough coal on hand to operate the plant at its full rated capacity. Also, because the biomass portion of the plant’s output can vary, depending on how much biomass fuel is available, there is no possible way to predict how many renewable kilowatt-hours will be produced at the plant. Depending on NED’s variable biomass output to help satisfy in-state renewable energy requirements introduces a level of risk that can be avoided by relying on other renewable generation strategies.

Our third reservation stems from WPL’s need to lock up significant supplies of fuel sources of wood and energy at a lower cost than what the same resources would fetch in other markets, especially the biomass thermal market. As a general proposition, burning biomass in an electricity-only facility is a low-value use for a resource that can deliver substantially more energy to an end-user in the form of space and process heat. If biomass is burned at NED3, two-thirds of the energy value of the fuel, be it wood, agricultural residues, or switchgrass, is discharged into the atmosphere. In contrast, a modern wood-fired heating system serving a forest products company can convert 65% of the energy embedded in the fuelwood to useful heat. The higher the conversion factor of a particular energy application, the greater the energy return, which generally translates into a higher economic return. Thermal market participants are well-positioned to pay top dollar for the fuel they use, because they receive an energy return that is double what the same fuel yields when burned in a biomass electric facility. Because NED3 will, if approved, have a low thermal efficiency, WPL would be at a disadvantage if forced to match the prevailing biomass fuel price set by thermal market participants in order to secure upwards of 300,000 tons of biomass a year. . . .
In response to a rebutal of his testimony by one of Alliant's expert witnesses, Vickerman said:

WPL’s 60 MW biomass initiative is piggybacked on a power plant that, if approved and built, would add four times as much coal-fired capacity estimated to cost more than $4,000/kW.

Wall Street's jitters drove deal on We Energies' Oak Creek plant

From a story by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Fielding calls from folks on Wall Street isn’t in the typical job description for someone working for a conservation group.

Opponents of an Oak Creek power plant reached a deal that will provide money to address environmental issues.

But the calls were about the costliest construction project in state history, the $2.3 billion We Energies power plant being built in Oak Creek.

Jittery stock analysts visited with representatives of Clean Wisconsin in Madison this spring, wanting to know whether its eight-year dispute over the building of a coal-fired generating plant could be resolved.

Those jitters were restraining the company’s stock price and were a key driver behind the settlement reached between We Energies and environmental groups. A deal was reached just hours before utility executives were scheduled to field questions from analysts about the plant’s status.

The settlement ended the last piece of litigation, which was being fought over the power plant’s cooling system. It not only removed hurdles to the plant’s opening, it also meant costly cooling towers wouldn’t have to be built.

Clean Wisconsin and the Sierra Club, in turn, won utility company commitments on a couple of high-profile environmental issues — the Great Lakes and global warming.

Although the deal was in the works for six months, it didn’t get done until utility executives faced their quarterly conference call with investors.

“They were clear they wanted to settle this thing before that analyst call,” said Katie Nekola, energy program director at Clean Wisconsin.

“We wanted to communicate that certainty could be accomplished. That is very true,” said Barry McNulty, We Energies spokesman.

A new business angle: Conserve energy, increase profits

From an article by Kathy Bergstrom in the Business Journal of Milwaukee:

Officials at Quad/Graphics Inc. see efforts to increase energy efficiency and reduce its carbon footprint as an opportunity to be both a better corporate citizen and a better company.

“Being efficient is just being socially responsible, and it’s frankly good business,” said Joe Muehlbach, director of facilities and environmental policy for the Sussex-based commercial printer. “If you’re not conscious of your energy consumption and your emissions, you in fact are probably a struggling business.”

Wisconsin business and environmental leaders said many companies are already taking steps to conserve energy and reduce waste because it makes good business sense. Rising energy prices mean those moves have an even bigger impact on a company’s bottom line.

But some leaders say embracing environmental responsibility at times requires more flexibility when looking at return on investment for an energy or environmental project.

From manufacturers such as Racine-based S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. to retailers such as Kohl’s Department Stores of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin businesses are taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and use less energy.

“The really good thing about climate change and business is that almost all the things that are good to address reducing carbon emissions and global warming emissions are also profit making for businesses,” said Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, an environmental group based in Madison.

Quad/Graphics is one of seven Wisconsin companies listed as participants in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Leaders program, which had 196 total members as of July 2.

Companies agree to complete a corporate-wide inventory of their greenhouse gas emissions, set long-term reduction goals and annually report their progress to the EPA, according to the agency’s Web site.

The program started in 2002, and the other Wisconsin members are Johnson Controls Inc., Glendale; Kohl’s; MillerCoors, Milwaukee; S.C. Johnson; the former Stora Enso, now NewPage Corp.; and Western States Envelope & Label, Butler.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Using mass transit saves big bucks, report says

From an article by Doug Hissom posted on OnMilwaukee.com:

We can each save more than $8,000 a year by taking mass transit says an American Public Transportation Association report. If gas prices stay in the $3.90 a gallon range (unlikely at this point) the association predicts a person can save around $672a month -- more than the average household spends on food.

Among the top 20 cities with the highest ridership, Honolulu wins the savings title, amounting to $8,703 a year, Minneapolis riders saved about $8,104 a year by taking the bus and Chicago amounted to $8,100. Milwaukee did not make the list.

The association says its study is based on the assumption that a person making a switch to public transportation would likely purchase an unlimited pass on the local transit agency, typically available on a monthly basis.

Testimony in Alliant rate case, asking for higher buy-back rates

BEFORE THE
PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION OF WISCONSIN

Application of Wisconsin Power and Light Company
For Authority to Adjust Electric and Natural Gas
Docket No. 6680-UR-116 Rates

DIRECT TESTIMONY OF MICHAEL J. VICKERMAN
ON BEHALF OF RENEW WISCONSIN

Q. What is the purpose of your testimony?
A. The purpose of my testimony is to discuss the company’s proposed solar, wind and biogas energy buyback rates in the context of promoting customer-sited renewable generation facilities. Wisconsin Power & Light (WPL) proposes to acquire wind- and biogas-generated electricity at a price of 9.2 cents/kWh fixed over 10 years and solar electricity at a price of 25 cents/kWh fixed over the same duration.

Q. What are the estimated production costs for biogas and wind energy systems above 20 kW?
A. The data from Focus on Energy-funded wind and biogas energy systems in the past two years give us a clear picture of production costs. For biogas systems up to 500 kW installed this year, the break-even number is now 11 cents/kWh. Between 500 kW and one MW, the system cost drops to 10 cents/kWh. With respect to wind energy installations up to 100 kW, the break-even cost ranges from 18 to 25 cents/kWh range. For a 900 kW wind energy system, the production cost drops to 14 cents per kWh. These estimates are exclusive of federal renewable energy tax credits.

Q. Do you believe that the proposed tariffs will lead to the additional supplies of renewable distributed generation serving WPL?
A. At 9.2 cents, the biogas rate could result in new installations at dairy farms or food processing facilities, but only if the developer succeeds in attracting enough external funding from federal and state sources to cover the difference. Without a U.S.D.A Section 9006 grant or a Focus on Energy incentive in hand, the proposed rate is not likely to amortize a new 500 kW installation over its term.
As for the proposed wind tariff, I am skeptical that it could provide sufficient stimulus for leveraging independently owned installations, even with external funding. The gap between the rate and the system’s production costs is simply too great. It would take either exceptional fundraising talent on the part of the prospective wind turbine owner or a significant disinterest in cash flow to go forward with an installation through the tariff as proposed.

Q. Do you support WPL’s proposed solar electric buyback rate?
A. Yes I do. If approved WPL’s proposed solar tariff will spur additional installations in its territory, which help the utility manage its peak loads more effectively. Certainly that has been the experience with We Energies (WE) and Madison Gas & Electric (MGE). Customer installations of solar electric systems have increased dramatically in both WE and MGE territory since the utilities began offering solar specific rates. WE’s 22.5 cents/kWh rate took effect in January 2006, while MGE’s 25 cents/kWh hit the streets in January this year. The amount of solar electric capacity leveraged by WE’s solar rate is in the neighborhood of 600 kW. At MGE, about 200 kW of solar capacity has been applied for. Relative to other utilities, WE and MGE are attracting a disproportionate share of Wisconsin’s solar electric installations, a phenomenon that can only be explained by their solar buyback rates.

Q. Does the proposed solar tariff fit your definition of an Advanced Renewable Tariff?
A. It does in every way except for the price. Like a true Advanced Renewable Tariff, it is a fixed offering over a specified period of time that does not increase with higher retail rates. The solar tariff is certainly not based on utility avoided costs. However, it is not, by itself, high enough to capture the production costs of a typical photovoltaic installation. According to data gathered from Focus on Energy-funded PV installations, the tariff would have to be at least double that amount in order for the system owner to recoup the investment over a 10-year period. However, that estimate does not factor in the effect of federal tax credits, Focus on Energy incentives, or accelerated depreciation. When those external economic benefits are added on top of WPL’s proposed buyback rate, the overall package starts to approach the break-even point over a 10-year period, especially for larger-scale systems serving for-profit customers.

Q. Is there a need for additional information on WPL’s renewable energy tariffs?
A. Yes. WPL has not indicated whether it will consider money paid to its renewable energy-producing customers as taxable income. With respect to those customer-generators that currently provide electricity to WPL under the utility’s net energy billing tariff, the utility has a policy of disclosing to the Internal Revenue Service any payments made to those customers. Customers who receive a Form 1099-MISC from WPL are legally obligated to include those payments as part of their taxable income. But not all utilities report these payments to the Internal Revenue Service. Those that don’t include WE, MGE, and Wisconsin Public Service (WPS). If WPL intends to send 1099-MISC forms to its renewable energy-producing customers, it should disclose that that information in the tariff language. I can easily imagine the irritation customer-generator would experience when he or she learns that their return on investment is suddenly subject to federal and state taxes. An even better approach would be to discontinue that practice. Judging from the prevailing practice at WE, MGE and WPS, there appears to be no need for WPL to penalize its customer-generators in this fashion.

Q. Does this complete your direct testimony?
A. Yes, it does.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

LED street lights expand Ruud Lighting’s market

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

Sturtevant - Energy-saving lighting that could help cities in Alaska to Australia save on the cost of electricity in street lights is creating global growth opportunities for Ruud Lighting Inc.

Ruud Lighting's LED street light fixtures use 50% less energy than a conventional street light, company President Alan Ruud says. The lights will be installed on some Racine streets.

Sue Ailes tests LED panels that make up new street light fixtures produced by Ruud Lighting of Racine. The city will install the lights along several streets. Other cities in the United States and around the world also have purchased the long-lasting, energy-saving fixtures.

AdvertisementRuud Lighting on Tuesday celebrated a new energy-saving street light fixture coming off the assembly line. The street light fixtures will soon be installed on several streets in Racine, Mayor Gary Becker said.

Ruud Lighting’s Beta Lighting division is seeing increased interest in LED technology because of demands to reduce costs through energy efficiency and to avoid the use of hazardous materials, such as mercury, in energy-efficient light fixtures, said Alan Ruud, company president.

The privately held company and its lighting partner, Cree Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., won a contract under which the City of Anchorage will replace all of its 16,000 light fixtures over the next four years. The first 4,000 fixtures were approved last week under a $2.2 million appropriation announced by Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.

In Racine, where the electric bill for street lighting is $2 million a year, Becker said the city already uses the Ruud BetaLED fixtures at the Racine Civic Center parking garage.

“Anything we can do to cut costs and help the environment and save energy is a plus,” Becker said. “And we know electricity prices are not going down. It’s just a matter of how quickly it’s going to go up.”

Ruud Lighting has patents to develop fixtures that incorporate technology from Cree, an LED lighting manufacturer.

The company employs about 550 people and has added about 12 since last year, said Christopher Ruud, executive vice president.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Oak Creek plant settlement includes renewable energy commitments

From a story posted on the Web site of The Business Journal of Milwaukee:

The three owners of the Elm Road Generating Station in Oak Creek will pay $105 million over a 25-year period for Lake Michigan protection projects to end a three- year legal battle over the water intake structure at the power plant, Clean Wisconsin and the Sierra Club said Wednesday.

Clean Wisconsin and the Sierra Club filed suit after the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued a permit allowing the use of a once-through cooling system at the coal-fired power plant. The organizations claimed that once-through cooling did not represent the best available technology for cooling the plant and thus should not be permitted.

Under the settlement, the three utilities that own the generating station -- We Energies of Milwaukee, Madison Gas & Electric of Madison and Wisconsin Public Power Inc. of Sun Prairie -- agreed to the following:

- Funding $4 million per year from 2010 through 2035 for projects to address water quality issues in Lake Michigan such as invasive species, polluted runoff, toxic loadings, and habitat destruction;

- Purchase or construct 15 megawatts of solar generation by Jan. 1, 2015; and

- Support legislative efforts to establish a renewable energy portfolio standard of 10 percent by 2013 and 25 percent by 2025.

We Energies will also retire two coal-fired units in Presque Isle, Michigan and ask the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin for approval to construct 50 megawatts of 100 percent biomass-fueled power in Wisconsin.
In a media release, Mark Redsten, Exeuctive Director, of Clean Wisconsin said:

"We're happy to have reached an agreement that has significant benefits for both the lake and the fight against global warming. These environmental protections help ensure Lake Michigan is a healthy natural resource for generations to come."
From a separate release issed by the Sierra Club:

“In the long run, this agreement will result in dramatic improvements to the overall health of Lake Michigan and will contribute to the development of renewable energy sources such as solar and biomass,” said Jennifer Feyerherm, Wisconsin Clean Energy Campaign Director.

“It will help us address two of the most critical issues of our time—climate change and protection of one of the world’s greatest freshwater natural resources.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Wisconsin must seize the green opportunity

From an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

One of the objections to seriously addressing global warming is the cost. Some critics argue that curbing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions will bankrupt companies, create an unreliable electricity network, drive families into the poorhouse and generally ruin the economy.

There is no doubt that there will be a cost and that some sacrifice will be required. And it's true that many Americans today don't handle sacrifice very well. But the evidence produced by a United Nations panel and other scientists leaves little doubt about the reality and the seriousness of the threat, a threat that both presidential candidates appear to have taken to heart, unlike the current occupant of the White House.

But there is also an opportunity here to create a new economy that provides jobs at the same time that it reduces emissions and reliance on fossil fuels, a significant portion of which come from a volatile part of the planet. And if the country acts now to create that economy, it would be ahead of the curve and could take the international lead in providing a brighter future for the planet.

The opportunity lies in creating more green jobs - many of which people already know how to do - to use energy more efficiently and build the technologies that, from biofuels to wind turbines, could curb climate change.

That economy is in the process of being created, and among the builders are key companies in southeastern Wisconsin, such as Johnson Controls in Milwaukee, which has been doing excellent business in energy efficiency. Green jobs were the subject of recent conferences in Milwaukee and at Racine's Wingspread conference center. Nationally, the Blue Green Alliance - a joint venture of the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club - is campaigning for green jobs and energy independence.

We hesitate to use the New Age concept of harmonic convergence, but something does seem to be happening across the country at a number of levels.

Even more of the same is needed.

Among the immediate priorities:

• Congress needs to pass this year the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008. The bill would extend federal tax incentives for energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies that have expired or will expire at the end of the year.

In a recent meeting with the Editorial Board, representatives of the Blue Green Alliance said that 100,000 jobs could be lost at the end of the year if the tax incentives and credits aren't extended. The bill would extend for another eight years investment tax credits for installing solar energy and would extend for one year the production tax credit for producing wind power. It also would extend for three years credits for geothermal, wave energy and other renewables.

• Federal renewable energy standards should be stepped up. In Wisconsin, the Governor's Task Force on Global Warming has recommended a series of measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 22% by 2022 and 75% by 2050. Those are reasonable goals, but the closer the nation can come to Al Gore's 10-year goal of producing all electricity from sources that don't produce greenhouse gases, the better off it will be.

• The federal government needs to set a clear cost for carbon emissions, either by taxing such emissions directly or establishing a cap-and-trade system that would cap emissions and reduce them over time by allowing parties to trade in emission credits. Such a system was proposed by the governor's task force. Whether such a system is better than a straight tax on emissions deserves a thorough debate, but, either way, affected industries need stability on the regulatory front.

• Governments at all levels need to do a better job of promoting and encouraging businesses that produce green jobs.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Reenewable Wood Energy workshop, Sept. 4, Green Bay

From a media release issued by Focus on Energy:

MADISON, Wis. (August 4, 2008) - On Sept. 4, Focus on Energy, Wisconsin's energy efficiency and renewable energy initiative, will host a conference demonstrating how businesses and organizations can take advantage of Wisconsin's most abundant natural resource - wood. The one-day conference titled "Work Smarter with Wood, Renewable Wood Energy," will be held at the Best Western Midway Hotel in Green Bay, Wis., and will offer attendees information and tours highlighting how wood can be used to generate bioenergy. In addition, the conference is being presented as a precursor to the 63rd Annual Lake States Logging Congress - the Midwest's largest forestry tradeshow - presented by the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association September 4 - 6. . . .

Focus on Energy's conference will consist of information sessions and keynotes, including speakers from the Office of Energy Independence, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the Pellet Fuel Institute, and Focus on Energy. There will also be tours of two area facilities that are benefiting from the use of renewable wood energy, ST Paper and Pomp's Service. Attendees will have a chance to tour a biomass combustion system located at ST Paper and Pomp's Service's wood brokering facility (ST Paper acquires their wood fuel from Pomp's).


Complete workshop details here.

Wisconsin must seize the green opportunity

From an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

One of the objections to seriously addressing global warming is the cost. Some critics argue that curbing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions will bankrupt companies, create an unreliable electricity network, drive families into the poorhouse and generally ruin the economy.

There is no doubt that there will be a cost and that some sacrifice will be required. And it's true that many Americans today don't handle sacrifice very well. But the evidence produced by a United Nations panel and other scientists leaves little doubt about the reality and the seriousness of the threat, a threat that both presidential candidates appear to have taken to heart, unlike the current occupant of the White House.

But there is also an opportunity here to create a new economy that provides jobs at the same time that it reduces emissions and reliance on fossil fuels, a significant portion of which come from a volatile part of the planet. And if the country acts now to create that economy, it would be ahead of the curve and could take the international lead in providing a brighter future for the planet.

The opportunity lies in creating more green jobs - many of which people already know how to do - to use energy more efficiently and build the technologies that, from biofuels to wind turbines, could curb climate change.

That economy is in the process of being created, and among the builders are key companies in southeastern Wisconsin, such as Johnson Controls in Milwaukee, which has been doing excellent business in energy efficiency. Green jobs were the subject of recent conferences in Milwaukee and at Racine's Wingspread conference center. Nationally, the Blue Green Alliance - a joint venture of the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club - is campaigning for green jobs and energy independence.

We hesitate to use the New Age concept of harmonic convergence, but something does seem to be happening across the country at a number of levels.

Even more of the same is needed.

Among the immediate priorities:

• Congress needs to pass this year the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008. The bill would extend federal tax incentives for energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies that have expired or will expire at the end of the year.

In a recent meeting with the Editorial Board, representatives of the Blue Green Alliance said that 100,000 jobs could be lost at the end of the year if the tax incentives and credits aren't extended. The bill would extend for another eight years investment tax credits for installing solar energy and would extend for one year the production tax credit for producing wind power. It also would extend for three years credits for geothermal, wave energy and other renewables.

• Federal renewable energy standards should be stepped up. In Wisconsin, the Governor's Task Force on Global Warming has recommended a series of measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 22% by 2022 and 75% by 2050. Those are reasonable goals, but the closer the nation can come to Al Gore's 10-year goal of producing all electricity from sources that don't produce greenhouse gases, the better off it will be.

• The federal government needs to set a clear cost for carbon emissions, either by taxing such emissions directly or establishing a cap-and-trade system that would cap emissions and reduce them over time by allowing parties to trade in emission credits. Such a system was proposed by the governor's task force. Whether such a system is better than a straight tax on emissions deserves a thorough debate, but, either way, affected industries need stability on the regulatory front.

• Governments at all levels need to do a better job of promoting and encouraging businesses that produce green jobs.