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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Director pleased with city's 'green' reputation

From a Business Journal interview with Ann Beier, Milwaukee’s director of environmental sustainability, conducted by Pete Millard:

1. Since your appointment just over two years ago, what’s been your most satisfying achievement?

“The most satisfying achievement has been the overall success of Mayor Barrett’s sustainability initiatives. I am also pleased with Milwaukee’s reputation as a ‘green’ city. Each year, Sustain Lane, a nonprofit group that provides information on sustainability practices for individuals, businesses and governments, ranks the 50 largest U.S. cities for their sustainability programs. In 2008, Milwaukee was ranked 12th. This a move up from 16th in the prior ranking. This is an important recognition and shows how well we are doing among much larger cities.

We’ve also been named by the U.S. Department of Energy as one of only 24 Solar American Cities, and we are working with the department to reduce barriers to installation of solar technology in Milwaukee.”


2. What are some specific examples illustrating how Milwaukee is more energy efficient today than two years ago?

“The mayor has directed city departments to reduce energy use by 15 percent over the period 2005-2012. By reducing our energy use, we are also reducing our carbon foot print and saving taxpayer dollars.

“We have focused on making our buildings more efficient. We’ve worked with Focus on Energy, the state’s energy efficiency program, to conduct audits of our highest energy-using buildings. We’ve implemented efficiency projects as a result of the audit findings. For the municipal building complex (City Hall, the municipal building and 809 Broadway building), we saved $35,000 in the first year and reduced energy use by 9 percent.

We are also converting stoplights to more efficient LED lights, reducing energy use for stoplights by about 50 percent annually. Another part of our strategy is to convert to cleaner fuels. We now fuel our diesel fleet with B-20 biodiesel fuel. We’ve also installed renewable energy in several facilities.”
From an article in the Onalaska Holmen Courier-Life:

A Wisconsin environmental group says state residents can look back and proudly celebrate 2008 as one of unprecedented environmental victories.

“This New Year, we can all raise a toast in celebration of this year’s amazing environmental progress in Wisconsin,” said Mark Redsten, executive director of Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. “The immense progress made in 2008 builds an environmental legacy that will help protect Wisconsin’s environment, the health of our residents, and a way of life for generations to come.”


Action on climate change was one of the notable environmental victories:

+ Passage of Strong Recommendations in the Governor’s Global Warming Task Force: At the request of Gov. Jim Doyle, a broad spectrum of stakeholders convened, researched, compromised and voted overwhelmingly in favor of strong recommendations that will help guide Wisconsin in the transition to a clean energy economy. These recommendations include a three- to four-fold increase in Wisconsin’s investment in energy efficiency; a renewable portfolio standard requiring utilities to produce 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2013 and 25 percent by 2025; a 75 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2050; and the implementation of a clean cars standard.

Hudson company helps Wigwam Socks save energy


From left to right, Michael Vickerman (RENEW), Paul Milbrath (Wigwam), and Dave Drapac (Seventh Generation Energy) check Wigwam's solar thermal collectors, designed by Energy Concepts, Hudson, Wisconsin.


From a solar hot water profile written by RENEW's Michael Vickerman and Ed Blume for Focus on Energy:
“We wanted to do something genuine, not phony,” said Bob Chesebro, president of family-owned Wigwam Mills, Sheboygan, about his company’s decision to install a solar energy system.

Initially, Chesebro wasn’t sure which kind of solar energy system to go with. But the more he delved into the question, the more he came to believe that solar hot water would provide the best fit for the 103-year-old company.

Placed in service in February 2008, Wigwam’s 27 solar collectors supply 47 percent of the hot water used by the company to shrink, bleach, antimicrobial treat, wash and soften 40,000 pairs of socks each day. . . .

Industry needs wind technicians, training standards

From a story by John Krerowicz in the Kenosha News:

The need for wind energy technician training is not a lot of hot air, said those involved in a conference to be held here on the topic.

The summit is expected to draw 50 participants from the industry and technical colleges on Jan. 6-7 at Snap-on’s Innovation Works. The renovated building, on the company’s headquarters site, 2801 80th St., was the production factory until it closed in 2004.

Representatives from Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, Wis., Texas State Technical College in Sweetwater, Texas, and Iowa Lakes Community College are expected to attend.

One goal of the gathering is to designate representatives to be liaisons with lawmakers in Madison and Washington, D.C., where the new administration is expected to be more receptive to clean energy. The liaisons would promote appropriate policies and encourage funding for training and related issues.

The group also wants to develop a standard training program that technical schools can adopt and quickly implement to meet the anticipated need for technicians, said Fred Brookhouse, Snap-on’s business and education partnership manager and business development manager over education.

There appears to be no formal study of the number of jobs that the young industry would create. The Focus for Energy Web site currently lists 21 installers, including some in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Illionois, with a Milwaukee firm the closest to Kenosha.

But Brookhouse said the need for technicians to install and service wind energy technology will be evident once the country accepts that our major energy supplies are finite.

Pursuing solar, wind energy requires balance

From an article by Brian Reisinger in the Marshfield News Herald:

Mike Anderson retired from corporate life several years ago to a big house he didn't need and a desire to live free. That included how he got his electricity.

"What can we do to minimize our impact?" Anderson, 60, said of he and his wife's desire to pursue alternative energy.

Today, he powers and heats the home he built in the town of Marathon largely by sun and wind. It's a transition that includes major costs and logistical challenges, but also long-term benefits to everyone, experts and residents who use alternative energy say.

In Anderson's case, his solar panel and wind turbine cost about $30,000 and $70,000, respectively. Mike Ritzel, owner of Bullshooters Saloon in Weston, wants to install similar systems at his business, but said upfront costs make it difficult.

"Cost is the prohibitive thing," he said.

There are government incentives and rebates available. That's partially how Anderson paid for his systems, but Ritzel said elected officials need to provide more funding and fewer restrictions.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Many area business pursue sustainability

From the Web site of Sustainable La Crosse:

Sustainable businesses offer products and services that fulfill society's needs while contributing to the well-being of all earth's inhabitants. Sustainable businesses operate across all business sectors: energy efficiency and renewable energy generation, water and wastewater treatment, resource-efficient industrial processes, advanced materials, transportation and agriculture. They create products and services that compete on price and performance while significantly reducing humankind's impact on the environment. . . .

Local Businesses with sustainable efforts:

Gundersen Lutheran
City Brewery
Trane
Honda Motorw├źrks
River Architects
INOV8
Xetex
Michael’s Engineering
Xcel Energy
Dairyland Power Cooperative

Living Green Workshop, January 10

An event in Eau Claire:

Thinking of remodeling or building a new home or business? Want to make your office, a single room, or your whole house more comfortable and attractive while minimizing the harmful effects on you and the environment? Find out about the amazing options now available to you, from energy efficient lighting and natural, sustainable flooring materials to countertops made of recycled materials. Learn about New Urbanism, LEED, USGBC – and what exactly is a VOC? Get inspired by ideas for interior finishes and materials that help create beautiful and healthy places to live and work. Touch and feel samples of today’s eco-friendly materials. Discover how cost-effective it is to be green!

Saturday, January 10
1:30 p.m.
Eau Claire Room
L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library
400 Eau Claire Street, Eau Claire

Repower America and rebuild Wisconsin’s economy

From a guest column by Dan Kohler and Rep. Andy Jorgenson in the Janesville GazetteXtra:

“We have the opportunity now to create jobs all across this country in all 50 states to repower America, to redesign how we use energy and think about how we are increasing efficiency to make our economy stronger, make us more safe, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and make us competitive for decades to come—even as we save the planet.” -- U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, Dec. 8

We couldn’t agree more. Our slumping economy is taking its toll, leaving all of us with a sense of anxiety about the future. But we have a tremendous opportunity to rebuild our economy across the country and here in Wisconsin, and to do it on a solid foundation.

President-elect Obama and the new Congress should enact a green economic recovery plan that makes critical investments in clean energy and green infrastructure to help rebuild the American economy, protect our environment and make us more energy independent.

When it comes to clean energy, the Badger State has a unique combination of assets that can help us capitalize on such a plan and lead the way into the new energy future. We have vast renewable energy potential from wind and solar power, the research laboratories to develop new energy technologies, the manufacturing base to build them, and the farms to grow the next generation of fuels.

Weston committee approves ordinance for wind generators

From an article by Brian Reisinger in the Wausau Daily Herald:

WESTON -- The village Plan Commission on Monday approved an ordinance identifying wind as "an abundant, renewable and nonpolluting energy resource" to respond to growing interest among local businesses.

The Village Board could consider establishing rules on wind turbines at its meeting next Monday.

Jennifer Higgins, community development director and zoning administrator, said the village does not prohibit energy windmills but needs an ordinance to define what's acceptable.

"Right now, we don't have anything," she said.

The ordinance would permit "small wind energy systems" that have a capacity of 100 kilowatts or fewer and are no more than 170 feet tall.

At least three businesses -- Applied Laser Technologies, K&M Electric and Bullshooters Saloon -- are exploring wind energy as an option.

Chris Osswald, president of ALT, a metal fabrication shop, said a wind turbine would allow his company to address environmental concerns and potentially save money.

"It's important to how we do things," he said.

Mike Ritzel, an estimator and electrician with K&M, is exploring wind as an energy resource on behalf of the company. He's also considering Bullshooters, of which he is an owner, as a possible site to help encourage community interest as electric rates continue to rise.

"Nothing ever goes in reverse," he said of energy costs.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Manure digester summit set forJanuary 13

From the announcement of the Manure Digester Summit:

Whether you have less than a 100-head herd or a large herd, digesters can work for you. Come to the seminar to hear how Dane County and Richland County are using community digesters as well as how to implement a manure digester on a 50-head farm.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009
9:30AM -3:00PM
Room B-30 West Square Building
505 Broadway
Baraboo, Wisconsin
Cost: $20.00 and includes lunch

Manure digester summit set for January 13

From the announcement of the Manure Digester Summit:

Whether you have less than a 100-head herd or a large herd, digesters can work for you. Come to the seminar to hear how Dane County and Richland County are using community digesters as well as how to implement a manure digester on a 50-head farm.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009
9:30AM -3:00PM
Room B-30 West Square Building
505 Broadway
Baraboo, Wisconsin
Cost: $20.00 and includes lunch

Manure digester summit set for January 13

From the announcement of the Manure Digester Summit:

Whether you have less than a 100-head herd or a large herd, digesters can work for you. Come to the seminar to hear how Dane County and Richland County are using community digesters as well as how to implement a manure digester on a 50-head farm.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009
9:30AM -3:00PM
Room B-30 West Square Building
505 Broadway
Baraboo, Wisconsin
Cost: $20.00 and includes lunch

Solar panels boost Milwaukee company

From a story by Ken Reibel in the Milwaukee Express:

Jack Daniels, co-owner of Milwaukee-based Hot Water Products, one of the largest distributors of thermal solar panels in the Midwest, isn’t one to go with the flow. “We’re not waiting for business to come to us,” says Daniels, whose partner, Howard Endres, began selling high-efficiency water heaters and boilers in 1998.

Daniels nudged his partner into the solar panel business three years ago, soon after Daniels became a partner in the company. Solar thermal panels circulate and heat water, an efficient supplement to natural gas or electric systems. Hot water can also be passed through a furnace or boiler to heat a house or business.

Today, the company designs and engineers systems for homes and businesses, and hires contractors for installations. Hot Water Products (HWP) has trained more than 100 contractors to install the panels, and fields three sales technicians who call Wisconsin businesses to talk about going solar.

Business is heating up. HWP sold about $400,000 worth of solar panels last year, and $1 million worth this year. “We only sold three installs in 2006, our first year. In 2007, panel installs were 10% of our total business, and so far in 2008 they are 20%,” Daniels says.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Big oil vs. big lakes

From an article by Dan Egan in the Superior Telegram:
SUPERIOR — There is indeed a growing awareness of just how precious the Great Lakes are — and will be — in a century in which many are predicting fresh water will become more coveted than oil.

The significance of this can’t be underestimated for a system of linked lakes that hold 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water and 90 percent of the nation’s.

Recognizing the lakes’ ecological and economic value, President George W. Bush this fall signed the Great Lakes Compact, which prohibits most water diversions outside the Great Lakes basin. Bush signed the measure after the compact received overwhelming bipartisan support from the eight Great Lakes state legislatures, as well as the U.S. House and Senate.

Its passage is the latest example of the region becoming increasingly protective of the lakes.

President-elect Barack Obama promised in his campaign to push for $5 billion to help restore the lakes — money he said would be generated by increased taxes on oil and gas companies.

And it was probably no coincidence he pitted the health of the Great Lakes against Big Oil.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Nation's first 'underwater wind turbine' installed in Mississippi River

From an article by Alexis Madrigal posted on WiredScience:

The nation's first commercial hydrokinetic turbine, which harnesses the power from moving water without the construction of a dam, has splashed into the waters of the Mississippi River near Hastings, Minnesota.

The 35-kilowatt turbine is positioned downstream from an existing hydroelectric-plant dam and — together with another turbine to be installed soon — will increase the capacity of the plant by more than 5 percent. The numbers aren't big, but the rig's installation could be the start of an important trend in green energy.

And that could mean more of these "wind turbines for the water" will be generating clean energy soon.

"We don't require that massive dam construction, we're just using the natural flow of the stream," said Mark Stover, a vice president at Hydro Green Energy, the Houston-based company leading the project. "It's underwater windpower if you will, but we have 840 or 850 times the energy density of wind."

Hydrokinetic turbines like those produced by Hydro Green and Verdant capture the mechanical energy of the water's flow and turn it into energy, without need for a dam. The problem for companies like Hydro Green is that their relatively low-impact turbines are forced into the same regulatory bucket as huge hydroelectric dams. The regulatory hurdles have made it difficult to actually get water flowing through projects.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has oversight of all projects that involve making power from water, and the agency has recently shown signs of easing up on this new industry. In the meantime, the first places where hydrokinetic power makes in impact could be at existing dam sites where the regulatory red tape has already been cut.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

$2.5 million available in grants for Fuels for Schools and Communities

From a media release issued by Focus on Energy:

MADISON, Wis. (Dec. 8, 2008) - Focus on Energy, Wisconsin's energy efficiency and renewable energy initiative, announced today the inception of a new renewable energy program called Fuels for Schools & Communities. The new program is meant to help Wisconsin schools and communities save hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs by switching from natural gas to heating their buildings with wood or other biomass.

"Schools and local governments today are feeling squeezed by energy prices. This new program will allow interested school districts and local governments, especially in the north and southwest portions of the state, the ability to adopt biomass technology as a cost effective and environmentally responsible solution to increasing energy costs," said Don Wichert, director for Focus on Energy's Renewable Energy Program.

The new program offers interested schools and communities pre-feasibility studies and feasibility studies at no cost and up to $250,000 toward the implementation of a biomass system. The program complements Clean Energy Wisconsin, Governor Doyle's strategy to strengthen Wisconsin's energy future. This comprehensive plan moves Wisconsin forward by promoting renewable energy, creating new jobs, increasing energy security and efficiency and improving the environment.

A recent study funded by Focus on Energy and conducted by the Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC), "Heating with Biomass: A Feasibility Study of Wisconsin Schools Heated with Wood," found that as many as 25 percent of Wisconsin schools could save hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs by switching from natural gas to heating their buildings with wood, or other biomass. Biomass, a renewable resource, typically consists of clean wood chips, wood pellets, switchgrass or other agricultural based pellets. This is a significant finding considering Wisconsin schools spend close to $200 million a year on energy costs.

The study concludes that the annual energy costs from wood biomass systems could be 29 percent to 57 percent less expensive than natural gas and save schools between $53,000 and $75,000 annually, depending on current fuel prices. The study included case studies from Barron, Hayward, Shell Lake and Rice Lake, Wis., high schools.

State explores statewide solar panel program

A story on WEAU-TV:

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- State regulators say they are launching a statewide effort to explore how utilities could distribute more solar panels across Wisconsin to take advantage of that renewable energy source.

The Public Service Commission said its solar collaborative will study ways to dramatically accelerate the deployment of the panels by utilities.

The announcement came Thursday as the commission ordered that there be no increase in electric rates and a slight decrease in natural gas rates for customers of Wisconsin Public Service Corporation and Wisconsin Power and Light next year.

The PSC noted that declining fuel costs are a major factor in the move to hold the line on gas and electric rates for customers of the two companies.

Regional transit authority and a commuter rail line still deserve widespread support

From an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Transit supporters have taken a couple of hits recently, casting doubt on both the creation of a regional transit authority and system, and the development of a critical element of such a system, a commuter rail line linking Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha. Nevertheless, the transit authority and the KRM line are still proposals that deserve widespread support if the region wants to build effective regional mass transit that would provide a number of benefits, including fostering economic development.

A regional transit system could improve bus service in Milwaukee County and other areas, as well as help create better intercounty connections to help workers get to jobs. The KRM can help provide a reliable speedy mass transit link along the eastern edge of the region from downtown Milwaukee to Kenosha.

$2.5 million available in grants for Fuels for Schools and Communities

From a media release issued by Focus on Energy:

MADISON, Wis. (Dec. 8, 2008) - Focus on Energy, Wisconsin's energy efficiency and renewable energy initiative, announced today the inception of a new renewable energy program called Fuels for Schools & Communities. The new program is meant to help Wisconsin schools and communities save hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs by switching from natural gas to heating their buildings with wood or other biomass.

"Schools and local governments today are feeling squeezed by energy prices. This new program will allow interested school districts and local governments, especially in the north and southwest portions of the state, the ability to adopt biomass technology as a cost effective and environmentally responsible solution to increasing energy costs," said Don Wichert, director for Focus on Energy's Renewable Energy Program.

The new program offers interested schools and communities pre-feasibility studies and feasibility studies at no cost and up to $250,000 toward the implementation of a biomass system. The program complements Clean Energy Wisconsin, Governor Doyle's strategy to strengthen Wisconsin's energy future. This comprehensive plan moves Wisconsin forward by promoting renewable energy, creating new jobs, increasing energy security and efficiency and improving the environment.

A recent study funded by Focus on Energy and conducted by the Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC), "Heating with Biomass: A Feasibility Study of Wisconsin Schools Heated with Wood," found that as many as 25 percent of Wisconsin schools could save hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs by switching from natural gas to heating their buildings with wood, or other biomass. Biomass, a renewable resource, typically consists of clean wood chips, wood pellets, switchgrass or other agricultural based pellets. This is a significant finding considering Wisconsin schools spend close to $200 million a year on energy costs.

The study concludes that the annual energy costs from wood biomass systems could be 29 percent to 57 percent less expensive than natural gas and save schools between $53,000 and $75,000 annually, depending on current fuel prices. The study included case studies from Barron, Hayward, Shell Lake and Rice Lake, Wis., high schools.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Solar workshops planned for Milwaukee area

A media release issued by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association:

Milwaukee, WI – Through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity and other funders, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) is now offering a wide variety of solar courses in the Milwaukee area. These courses range from introductory seminars to hands-on installation training.

“We are very excited to be working with our partners in the Milwaukee area to offer high quality solar training for home and business owners,” said Tehri Parker, Executive Director of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. “Our goals for this program are two fold: to build a solid base of knowledge and enthusiasm for these technologies among Milwaukee residents, and to train a dependable workforce that can scope, install, and maintain these systems.”

The MREA has been offering workshops on renewable energy system design and installation since 1990. This new initiative will bring more of this training to the Milwaukee area. “Our partnership with Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity will provide us with rooftops where students can participate in actual solar electric and solar hot water installations,” explains Clay Sterling, MREA Education Director. “We now have the equipment and facilities available to offer a full range of Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced Installation courses.” Over 50 seminars, workshops, and training events are planned for the upcoming year. The full schedule will be on line at www.the-mrea.org starting January 1, 2009.

To help people connect to these programs the MREA now has a Milwaukee address and phone number. In addition the main office in Custer, Wisconsin, the MREA may also be reached at:
MREA – Milwaukee, 544 E Ogden Ave. Ste 700-225, Milwaukee, WI 53202, 414-303-7351.
Watch for the schedule to be posted here after January 1, 2009.

Light rail alternative to get to Minneapolis airport

From an editorial in The Tomah Journal:

Let’s assume you live in Tomah and want to visit Atlanta. You either drive to the La Crosse airport, catch a flight to Minneapolis before taking another flight to Atlanta, or you can drive three hours to the Minneapolis airport and take the direct flight.

But there’s another possibility -- replace the La Crosse-Minneapolis flight or long car trip with light rail from Tomah to Minneapolis.

Officials from the Twin Cities are touting light rail between Minneapolis and Chicago, and they have a powerful ally in President-elect Barack Obama, who appears ready to make high-speed rail part of his economic stimulus program. It’s an investment that’s long overdue, and it has potential to unsnarl an air passenger system that’s as reliable as electricity in Iraq. Air travelers are all too familiar with a web of connecting flights that often don’t run on time and leave passengers spending more time in airport lounges than moving through the air.

Almost 3,000 CFL bulbs distributed in regional sustainability project

A short article from the Stevens Point Journal:

More than 2,900 compact fluorescent light bulbs were distributed through the “CFL and Vote!” project by The Eco-Municipality of Stevens Point, Sustainable Stockton and the Commission for a Greener Tomorrow.

More than 700 people who received a free CFL had never used one before, and 565 people signed up to get the Central Wisconsin Sustainability Newsletter during this project.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Public Service Commission presentation on off-shore wind

From a presentation about Wind on the Water by Deb Erwin, program and planning analyst, Public Service Commission of Wisconsin:

The Governor's Task Force on Glocal Warming recommended:
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) and other state agencies complete a study of the feasibility of generating electricity from off-shore wind resources in the Great Lakes by the end of 2008.
[In response,] the PSC created an external Study Group to examine the feasibility of Great Lakes wind projects.

Task was not to determine whether offshore wind is in the best interests of the state, rather to determine whether or not off-shore wind in the Great Lakes is possible.

Meetings were open to the public and documents were shared.

Materials are available on the PSC website.
Click here for the complete presentation in PDF.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Momentum builds to end railroad monopolies

From a media release issued by Rep. Tammy Baldwin and others in Congress:

Momentum is building to pass legislation repealing antiquated exemptions in federal statutes so that antitrust law fully covers railroads.

In a letter sent last week to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader John Boehner, Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers, Judiciary Ranking Member Lamar Smith, and Judiciary Antitrust Taskforce Ranking Member Ric Keller, the Section of Antitrust Law of the American Bar Association endorsed H.R. 1650, the Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2007, authored by Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).

In a 13 page analysis, the Section laid out its support for the bill, concluding that “The Section encourages Congress to move forward quickly to dismantle the antitrust exemption for the railroad industry, through the Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act, and to consider additional legislation to eliminate antitrust exemptions applicable to other industries.”

Their letter follows closely on the heels of a letter that Reps. Baldwin and Conyers sent last month to Speaker Pelosi urging her to include H.R. 1650 as part of the economic stimulus package to be considered in January. Baldwin and Conyers reminded the Speaker that the legislation was reported in April by a voice vote of the Judiciary Committee without opposition and that companion legislation, S.772, authored by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) was reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee, also by a voice vote without opposition.

In their letter to Pelosi, Baldwin and Conyers said, “As Congress continues to address the problems created in part by a lack of regulation and oversight in the largest financial institutions in America, we think the time is right to ensure antitrust compliance by our nation’s railroads. Their current unrestrained pricing power over America’s consumers is hurting our economy and our country, and must be addressed.”


The release cites Dairyland Power as an example of problems with prices and service:

For years, captive shippers have been reporting spiking rail rates and unreliable service. In Wisconsin, for example, Dairyland Power, a rural cooperative provides electricity for approximately 575,000 people in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. Dairyland’s three coal-fired power plants consume 3.2 million tons of coal per year, 75% of which comes by rail from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. Over the years, Dairyland has reported deteriorating service quality; at times forcing them to cut back generation due to insufficient coal inventories. Adding further injury, at the end of 2005 the railroad that holds Dairyland captive raised its rates dramatically. Dairyland now pays about $75 million a year to ship $30 million worth of coal. Railroad rate increases have translated into a 15 to 20% increase in electricity rates for consumers.

Regulators begin review of Ashland biomass power plant

From a media release issued by Xcel Energy:

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) has created a docket to begin evaluating the company’s request to install biomass gasification technology at the Bay Front Power Plant in Ashland, Wis. This represents the first step in the regulatory review process for the innovative project that, if approved, would transform Bay Front into the largest biomass-fueled power plant in the Midwest, and one of the largest in the nation. When completed, the project will convert the plant’s remaining coal-fired unit to biomass gasification technology, allowing it to use 100 percent biomass in all three boilers. Currently, two of the three operating units at Bay Front use biomass as their primary fuel to generate electricity.

In 1979, the facility became the first investor-owned utility plant in the nation to burn waste wood to generate electricity.

This is the first time biomass gasification technology will be used to convert a coal-fired boiler at an existing base-load power plant. The project will require new biomass receiving and handling facilities, an external gasifier, modifications to the plant’s remaining coal-fired boiler and an enhanced air quality control system and is expected to cost $55-$70 million.

Racine school adds solar electricity to sell to utility

From a story John Dobberstein in the Racine Journal Times:

RACINE — Bringing a modern amenity to an aging building, contractors Thursday continued installing solar panels on the roof of Walden III School.

The sun peeked out from the clouds during the frosty morning as electricians wired up two banks of solar panels that, when operational, will boost Walden’s certification with the state as a “Green and Healthy School.”

Between three major grants and several student fundraisers, the community at Walden III, 1012 Center St., raised more than $140,000 in about a year’s time to have 70 205-watt panels purchased and installed on the roof.

Walden will sell the electricity generated by the 14.4-kilowatt system back to We Energies at twice the rate the utility sells it for. The profits, estimated at $4,000a year, will be used for more energy-saving projects at the school.

Walden has been threatened with closure because of its age, said high school English teacher Tom Rutkowski. One area of the campus dates back to the 1860s.

“There is some educational value for students and it’s good for the school to see something new happening here,” said Rutkowski, who helped spearhead the solar project.

We Energies contributed $52,000 for the project and also paid for a weather station to be installed on the roof.

Wisconsin-based Focus on Energy, which promotes energy-efficient and renewable-energy projects, kicked in a $35,000 grant.

And the Kenosha-based Brookwood Foundation, which focuses on education, renewable energy and religious projects, also contributed grant money, although the foundation would not reveal the actual amount Thursday.

Educators Credit Union and the Racine Community Foundation are also sponsors of the project.

MREA supports rules to require certified installers on solar electric projects

training-roof-to-post1
Two visitors at the MREA Energy Fair in June 2008 check out a solar oven on display in front of the MREA's solar training structure.

From a statement of the Board of Directors of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) concerning proposed rulemaking by the Wisconsin Department of Commerce regarding Act 63, relating to a state electrical wiring code; regulation of electricians, electrical contractors, and electrical inspectors:

The Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) would like to point out that it is in the best interests of the people of Wisconsin for the Department of Commerce to take steps to ensure that renewable energy systems that generate electricity:

1. are installed in a safe and reliable manner;
2. are properly & efficiently configured to maximize energy production, and equipment lifespan;
3. are not unduly burdened with unnecessary labor and installation costs. . . .

Based on the collective experience of the solar professionals at the MREA, the best way to ensure the safety of Wisconsin’s citizens (with respect to solar electric systems) would be for the Department of Commerce to require that all solar electric systems be installed by NABCEP certified installers or persons who are legitimately in the final stages of NABCEP certification as recognized by the Wisconsin Focus On Energy program. We believe that requirements of Act 63 can be fulfilled by having a licensed electrician make the final connection to the AC power system.

Our many years of experience have shown that the Department could allow NABCEP certification to suffice for the installation and connection of solar electric systems without any compromise to the safety of the people of Wisconsin, if Act 63 allowed such leeway.

Installation of safe and reliable small wind power systems (up to 100 kW), also requires a very specialized set of skills that are not taught to electricians. Unfortunately, NAPCEP certification does not yet exist for the installers of small scale wind systems, although it is likely that a certification system will be in place by 2010. When this certification standard is available, Department of Commerce adoption of this standard will be the best route to ensuring safely installed small wind systems. Presently, utility-scale wind systems usually are installed in custom engineered systems by licensed electricians, but utility-owned systems are already exempt from Act 63.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Alternative fuels -- no time like the present

An editorial from The Tomah Journal:

As of Friday, gas was $1.68.9 a gallon in Tomah, which is down from $4.06.9 a gallon in mid-summer. That’s an enormous swing, but here’s something that didn’t change: Oil is a finite resource and will be depleted one day. Does anyone believe, barring a Great Depression, that gas will be $1.68.9 a gallon two years from now? When it comes to developing renewable energy sources, there is no time like the present.

Fortunately, president-elect Barack Obama plans to make renewable energy a major part of an economic stimulus plan he’ll present to Congress shortly after his term begins next month. It’s important for the government to take the initiative because private markets won’t. There is simply too much price fluctuation, and if we wait for the market to develop alternative fuels and alternative vehicles, it won’t happen until a more expensive crash program is required.

The government actually has a good record in research and development. It wasn’t the private sector that developed the atomic bomb, sent a man to the moon or created the infrastructure that led to the Internet. It was all done by government researchers who didn’t have to answer to stockholders who cared more about the next quarter than the next decade.

That doesn’t mean the private sector won’t have the largest role in getting alternative energy products to consumers. The private sector is far better equipped to manufacture, market and distribute profitable goods and services than the government. However, it’s the government, not the private sector, that has the luxury of funding research that doesn’t pay off immediately.

Research on alternative vehicles and renewable energy needed to power them can’t hinge on the price of gas in a given week. Perhaps the benefits won’t be felt immediately, but clean and renewable energy will benefit Americans long after next year’s stimulus package is passed.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Transit Center more than just a bus stop

From a story posted on WKBT-TV:

[The] Grand River Station in downtown La Crosse . . . which will be more than just a new place to catch the bus. "In addition to the transit center, there's commercial space here as well as 87 residential apartments and condos; it's a six-story building and it will bring a lot of people activity downtown La Crosse," says La Crosse Transit Utility Manager Keith Carlson.

The $20 million construction project has been in the works for years, and will serve as the new hub for public transportation in La Crosse. The new station will serve more than just the River City, with routes going to other near-by areas. "I think that not only does this help within the city of La Crosse from a transportation standpoint, using mass transit, but I think it's got an awful lot of potential of brining communities together," says La Crosse Mayor Mark Johnsrud.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Energy efficiency evaluation can save homeowners hundreds of dollars

From an article article by Deneen Smith in the Kenosha News:

Shawn Henoch can’t wait for frigid weather and the first serious heating bills of winter.

“I’m really looking forward to January and February to see,” Henoch said. “Who is excited to get their electric bill? But I am.”

Henoch hired a company to do an energy efficiency overhaul of her 60-year-old Kenosha home this year. The work was completed in June, and she said she’s already seen a dramatic reduction in her energy bills and an improvement in the coziness-factor of her home.

The project sealed air leaks in the house, added insulation in the walls and ceiling, and replaced an old, inefficient furnace and air conditioner.

Before the overhaul, her typical winter heating bills were about $400 “and that was keeping my heat set at 67 or 68,” she said. “Now I can really keep my house at 72, and my last bill was, I think, $136.”
Learn more about an energy efficiency evaluaition at Focus on Energy.

Four steps to slow climate change

From an article by Nick Paulson in the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune:

STEVENS POINT -- The average American has gained 10 pounds in the past decade, and the extra weight is helping cause climate change.

"What that means is that the airlines that crisscross this country burn 350 million more gallons of jet fuel every year, schlepping around that extra weight," said Terry Tamminen. "If all of us, myself included, would lose that 10 pounds, the planet would be better off and so would we."

The idea may be a little harsh, but it is the kind of forward thinking Tamminen is known for and has helped him land some of the most prestigious climate jobs in the country. He has worked as the Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Thursday night was part of a conference call with the transition team for President-elect Barack Obama.

Tamminen was Friday morning's keynote speaker at the Wisconsin Climate Change Summit at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

From ideas such as his weight loss theory to broader changes like converting 1.2 million buildings nationwide to more efficient systems, Tamminen shared four steps he believes will stimulate the economy and create a more sustainable country: renewables, efficiency, markets and democracy.

Western’s green vehicle runs on 3 cents a mile

From an article by K.J. Lang in the La Crosse Tribune:

Western’s newest vehicle is a commitment to environmental sustainability and a conversation starter.

“People practically break their neck to look at you,” said Marlin Peterson, site supervisor for Per Mar Security at Western.
Marlin Peterson, Per Mar Security sight supervisor at Western Technical College, gets back into Western’s new NEV (Neighborhood Electric Vehicle) while working parking detail Thursday.

Peterson drives the $13,000 vehicle around campus for parking enforcement and security. He often stops to answer questions about the vehicle, a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle or NEV, that runs on eight, six-volt batteries.

It costs considerably less than the previous security department fleet vehicle, a Chevy Malibu. A typical fleet vehicle had cost the department about 48 cents per mile to run; the NEV costs about 3 cents per mile.

New study questions commuter rail line; author's integrity quetioned

From a story by Larry Sandler in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

A new study by a libertarian think tank claims the projected economic benefits of a proposed Milwaukee-to-Kenosha commuter rail line have been inflated and questions its ridership estimates.

But a business leader noted that the author of the study, Los Angeles-based transit consultant Tom Rubin, took a far more positive view of the $200 million project in June, when pro-transit business leaders were pushing the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority to hire him as the authority's consultant. And a regional planner said the commuter rail projections were sound.

The Reason Foundation study, being released today, says the transit authority should consider express buses as an alternative to the KRM Commuter Link, which would connect downtown Milwaukee and the southern suburbs to Racine and Kenosha with 14 round trips each weekday.

Rubin said his latest study wasn't meant to bash the KRM, but to highlight the advantages of bus options.

"We're not saying that KRM is a dumb idea and it should be dropped," Rubin said Monday. "I am not saying that KRM is going to fail. I am saying there are other options that should be studied before you make that commitment."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Energy efficiency evaluation can save homeowners hundreds of dollars

From an article article by Deneen Smith in the Kenosha News:

Shawn Henoch can’t wait for frigid weather and the first serious heating bills of winter.

“I’m really looking forward to January and February to see,” Henoch said. “Who is excited to get their electric bill? But I am.”

Henoch hired a company to do an energy efficiency overhaul of her 60-year-old Kenosha home this year. The work was completed in June, and she said she’s already seen a dramatic reduction in her energy bills and an improvement in the coziness-factor of her home.

The project sealed air leaks in the house, added insulation in the walls and ceiling, and replaced an old, inefficient furnace and air conditioner.

Before the overhaul, her typical winter heating bills were about $400 “and that was keeping my heat set at 67 or 68,” she said. “Now I can really keep my house at 72, and my last bill was, I think, $136.”
Learn more about an energy efficiency evaluaition at Focus on Energy.

High-speed rail proposal gains steam

From an article by Mark Sommerhauser in the La Crosse Tribune:

A proposal for high-speed rail service from Chicago to St. Paul - with stops in La Crosse and Winona, Minn. - is gaining new steam, buoyed by new federal interest in passenger rail and an aggressive push from St. Paul-area officials.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Ramsey County officials are engaging leaders in Winona and other Minnesota municipalities on Amtrak’s Empire Builder line, which they say could eventually be improved to carry high-speed trains if federal lawmakers fund the project as early as 2009. Coleman and others say overhauling the Empire Builder line would fast-track Minnesota’s best bid for high-speed rail, though the proposal may face questions from state officials and Rochester leaders who hope to be included on a new route.

A high-speed rail on the Empire Builder line, which runs from Chicago to La Crosse, and up the Mississippi River through St. Paul, was first proposed in a 2004 study by transportation departments in Minnesota and 10 other Midwest states. That study estimated an upfront cost of $1.86 billion to improve the line and proposed running five, 110-mph trains per day on the route.

Now, with Amtrak ridership climbing, President-elect Obama and other newly elected Democrats are discussing an ambitious, nationwide effort to fund high-speed rail, possibly as part of a stimulus package focused on infrastructure projects. The sudden prospect of federal support has put supporters in high gear: Mayor Jerry Miller confirmed he plans to meet with Coleman and Rep. Tim Walz, DFL-Minn., next week to discuss high-speed rail.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Central Wisconsin villages, city review ordinances to deal with wind, solar power

From an article by Brian Reisinger in the Wausau Daily Herald:

Alternative energy is something officials in the Wausau area say they want to encourage among residents, but properly regulating such technology remains uncharted territory.

From wind turbines to solar panels to electric cars, enabling the use of alternative energy comes with benefits and challenges.

Kelly Warren, a volunteer with Wausau's Commission for a Greener Tomorrow, said energy alternatives only will be feasible if people and government scale back consumption.

"The first thing should always be to conserve," he said.

In the meantime, local governments are addressing the issue to varying degrees.

Weston's Village Board could consider an ordinance Monday that identifies wind as an important resource while placing height and other restrictions on turbines.

Administrator Dean Zuleger wants the village to foster such alternatives, possibly by using money from business development districts.

"You have to be willing to be forward-thinking with those folks in the business community that want to give that a shot," Zuleger said.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Osceola schools install solar hot water system

From an article in the Osceola School District newsletter:

Over the past year, the school district of Osceola has begun to take an inventory of how many ways it’s becoming a “green friendly” environment. Prompted by a state movement for schools to gain certification as “Green and Healthy,” as well as a community interest in becoming more sustainable, the district began to formally address the initiative district-wide. All buildings have a goal of becoming certified as “Green and Healthy” by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Schools have collected and submitted much data. Many statistics that students and staff tracked were used in earning the titles, from the amount of food waste produced to the temperature of the buildings over time. Buildings also submitted curriculum documentation of environmental education. Finally, each site completed an action and implementation plan for continuing its initiatives. These plans have become a vehicle for communicating with students and staff at each building as to their progress and next steps.

Director of Building and Grounds, Bob Schmidt, has been a solid resource for each building. “When we sat down and looked at the criteria, we realized how much work we had already done as a district to become more efficient and environmentally esponsible. It was positive to see the efforts we had made previously make this transition fairly easy. We still have steps we can take, but we’ve begun to cut our costs, energy usage, and effect on the environment already.”

One of the most noticeable additions to the district is that of 32 flat panel solar energy collectors installed on top of the Osceola Middle School. “We researched solar options for months, traveling to other educational institutions to find out pros and cons of different systems,” stated Mr. Schmidt. “Last spring, we made a presentation to the school board about the different system options as well as grant funding available for the project. The school board has been extremely supportive and proactive in this area.” In the end, the district received grant monies from Focus on Energy in the amount of $46,960.94 to use for the project.

Wind farm firm keeps turbine project spinning

From an article by Paul Snyder in The Daily Reporter:

Summit Ridge Energy LLC isn’t yet ready to let a Monroe County Circuit Court ruling kill a 60-turbine wind farm proposal for the towns of Ridgeville, Wells and Wilton.

“At this point we’re talking with our consultants and looking at all our options,” said Susan Dennison, spokeswoman for Summit Ridge’s parent company, Chicago-based Invenergy LLC. “I don’t think we’re ready to say it’s over.”

After the company developed the Forward Energy Center wind farm in Fond du Lac and Dodge counties, Invenergy planned to build its next Wisconsin farm on land in Ridgeville, Wells and Wilton.

All three towns in 2007 granted Summit Ridge conditional-use permits for the wind farm, but Ridgeville and Wilton vetoed those permits, prompting Summit Ridge to sue.

As the case played out, the two towns also passed ordinances requiring wind farms to be set back a half-mile from property lines. Wilton Supervisor Tim O’Rourke said the ordinance leaves little developable space in the town.

Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Michael McAlpine at the end of November upheld the two towns’ vetoes, but ordinances and withdrawn permits might not be enough to stop the farm.

The development’s estimated energy output is just less than 100 megawatts. Ridgeville Chairman Mike Luethe said he would not be surprised if Summit Ridge increases the capacity to more than 100 megawatts, which, by law, puts project approval in the hands of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

If Invenergy is willing to wait, it might not need to increase capacity. Several state lawmakers said the Legislature will try to pass a bill establishing statewide requirements for wind farms, regardless of size.

That possibility does not sit well with small communities that passed their own ordinances.

“If (lawmakers) do that, they take power away from local governments,” Luethe said. “I’m a big believer in local government, and I think it’s hard for them (lawmakers) to make decisions about areas where they don’t even know what it looks like.”

But local governments might have an ally in state Rep. Andy Jorgenson, the newly appointed chairman of the Assembly Committee on Renewable Energy and Rural Affairs. The Fort Atkinson Democrat said he sympathizes with local governments on development issues. But he would not commit to opposing statewide wind farm regulations, arguing any developments need to be considered if they can help the state snap out of the economic crisis.

“We need to hear what the concerns of the local governments are because it’s something we can all learn from,” he said. “But it’s a discussion I’m looking forward to having, and hopefully we can come together on a decision.”

Mini wind turbine proposal blows into West Allis

From an article by Mark Schaff in West Allis Now:

West Allis residents will get the chance next week to tell the city if proposed restrictions blow too gently or too hard when it comes to an alternative energy source for local homes.

A public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 16, on an ordinance that would allow West Allis residents to install mini wind turbines on their properties. The public hearing will come at the beginning of the Common Council meeting at City Hall, 7525 W. Greenfield Ave.

On Dec. 3, the Plan Commission unanimously recommended approval of the ordinance.

Wind proponent
Earlier this year, resident Conrad LeBeau asked the city to change its municipal code so he could install such a system at his residence.
LeBeau, who has long been interested in alternative energy, had purchased a wind turbine with a 46-inch rotor diameter — a device capable of generating about 400 watts of power in a 28-mph wind.

In an interview earlier this fall, LeBeau, 65, said he could power his garage and lawn lights with the turbine, but hopes to continue experimenting to someday reduce his energy bill to zero.

Setting the rules
City officials responded to LeBeau’s request with a proposed set of rules that address safety and noise concerns.

Under terms of the ordinance, home-based wind energy systems could only be placed outside homes in certain places.

A tower for a wind energy system must be set back 1.5 times its total height from any public road right of way and all property lines and utility lines not serving the property.

As proposed, the system could only be located in a backyard, and all electrical wires must be underground. The base of the wind system must be at least eight feet from the ground and the total height could not be more than 60 feet.

The system could generate no more than 60 decibels of sound — the rough equivalent of normal conversation, according to the University of Wisconsin’s College of Engineering— as measured from property lines.

Too restrictive?
City officials stressed safety in drafting the ordinance because of West Allis’ small lot sizes and high-density neighborhoods, said Steve Schaer, planning and zoning manager.

LeBeau said he shared those same concerns, but he also wanted the city to keep costs and restrictions at a minimum to give homeowners flexibility.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Conserve power say transmission line opponents

From an article by Sara Elmquist in the Winona Post:

Opponents to proposed new high-voltage, 345-kilovolt transmission lines which could cross the Mississippi in Winona rallied Monday night at an open house against the project.

One of the new lines would run from the southeast Twin Cities to La Crosse following a route that would cross the Mississippi in either Winona, Alma or La Crescent.

CapX2020, a group of 11 energy companies in Minnesota, held an open house on the project Monday night, a required step for the routing of the lines for Minnesota and Wisconsin permits. Public scoping meetings are expected in February, with public hearings set for early 2009.

CapX2020 spokesperson Tim Carlsgaard said that the lines would be used to carry power from new wind projects and to help meet state mandates for renewable energy. But opponents at Monday’s meeting said that there was no guarantee the power grid wouldn’t haul coal-generated power to more urban areas on the dime of energy rate-payers in Minnesota.

And discussions, which turned into a roundtable debate, included claims from members of Bluff Land Environment Watch (BLEW) and others that the lines simply weren’t needed.

“The best solution is conservation,” said local wildlife enthusiast Richie Swanson. He said that migratory bird populations would be threatened at transmission river crossings and advocated incentives for using less energy. He said that taller towers would simply exacerbate the dangers birds and other wildlife face along the Mississippi. “We live in a world where wildlife is already getting hammered on the river,” he said, rattling off a list of species seeing huge declines in numbers.

Northwest Wisconsin could be site for on-farm biogas plant

From an article by Jim Massey in The Country Today:

MADISON - A Canadian renewable-energy company says it plans to build biogas facilities in Wisconsin and elsewhere that would use manure and rendering industry byproducts to produce electricity.

Ontario-based StormFisher Biogas plans to build one Wisconsin project in 2009 and two or three more between 2010 and 2012, according to StormFisher Biogas development manager Chris Amey. It plans to partner on some of the projects with Sanimax, an animal byproducts company with facilities in DeForest, Abbotsford, Evansville and Green Bay.

Amey said StormFisher plans to build the facilities on farms with at least 2,000 cows. Each project would cost $15 million to $25 million and would create 12 to 20 full-time jobs.

Amey said the company is still finalizing agreements with dairy producers, so he couldn't reveal where the farms are located. But he said the 2009 project would be in central or northwest Wisconsin.

Doyle adds Milwaukee-Madison rail to wish list

From a story by Mark Pitsch in the Wisconsin State Journal:

The start of a commuter rail line between Madison and Milwaukee, a new UW-Madison medical research tower and expansion of Interstate 94 are among the local projects Gov. Jim Doyle says could be started within months if federal lawmakers pass a massive economic stimulus bill for states.

Doyle met with members of President-elect Barack Obama's economic team and incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday and presented them a list of those and other projects he says the state has ready to go, his office said.

Over all, the state has nearly 1,800 projects worth $3.7 billion that could be ready to start within 120 days if it receives funding under the bill being worked on in Congress — though it's too early to say how much Wisconsin might get.

"These are things we could do immediately to have people work all across the state," Doyle said earlier this week in an interview.

Doyle's office has an additional $10 billion in longer-term projects cued up, including $519 million for the rail project, $300 million to replace UW-Madison's Charter Street plant and $50 million for a campus bioenergy research facility.

The office released the list of projects Wednesday. Doyle is slated to testify before the House Appropriations Committee today and he was scheduled to meet with its chairman, Rep. David Obey, D-Wausau, privately Wednesday.
Click here for the full wish list, including more items for Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Withee business earns award for excellence in energy efficiency

From a media release issued by Focus on Energy:

WITHEE, Wis. — Joe’s Refrigeration, Inc., a family-owned business that designs and installs custom milking and refrigeration systems for dairy farms, has earned Focus on Energy’s Award for Excellence in Energy Efficiency for its efforts to promote energy-saving, environmentally friendly equipment.

Working in partnership with Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s energy efficiency and renewable energy initiative, Joe’s Refrigeration helps dairy producers and processors cut energy consumption and costs by installing efficient equipment such as refrigeration heat-recovery tanks and plate coolers. The resulting savings helps farmers stay profitable and competitive as energy costs continue to rise.

“While milk prices have risen, so too have the costs of feed, fertilizer and fuel. Wisconsin’s dairy industry is important to our economy and we’re glad to help farmers stay competitive,” explained Rich Hackner, sector manager for Focus on Energy’s Agriculture and Rural Business Program.

“Joe’s Refrigeration is a great partner and we applaud their efforts to
help dairy producers make smart choices that save energy, save money and protect the environment.”

Over the past 50 years, Joe’s Refrigeration has expanded and diversified from its beginnings as a refrigeration business. Over the years, the company branched into the dairy industry, a side of the business that has doubled in the past year as more and more farmers have sought financial savings through energy efficiency.

More waste could generate more electricity at Jones Island

From an article by Don Behm in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Sun seekers and swimmers put off by slimy, foul-smelling cladophora algae covering Lake Michigan beaches and rocky shorelines in summer have a pair of new allies in the ongoing battle with the nuisance plant: Daniel Zitomer and hungry microbes.

Where some see a putrid eyesore, Zitomer sees a sweet opportunity to make energy.

Allow bacteria and other microbes known as archaea to digest the stringy algae in enclosed tanks and the end product is methane, said Zitomer, an associate professor of engineering and director of the Water Quality Center at Marquette University.

The same goes for animal droppings at the Milwaukee County Zoo, as well as waste from food processing, candy making or even distilling liquor. Each is rich in organic carbon compounds, and they, too, could yield methane if digested by a diverse set of microbes.

Then, Zitomer says, burn the methane to generate electricity to lessen demand for energy from coal or natural-gas-fired power plants and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases from the power plants that could contribute to global warming and climate change.

The tanks and microbes he wants to fill with cladophora and organic wastes from the community are at the South Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant in Oak Creek.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District uses bacteria and archaea to digest human feces and other sewage solids removed during the beginning of the treatment process at the Jones Island and South Shore plants. The blend is mixed and heated in four separate tanks with capacities of 3 million gallons each and two smaller tanks with half that capacity at South Shore.

Nearly a decade ago, Zitomer identified a seasonal waste - aircraft de-icing fluids from Mitchell International Airport - that could be poured into the digesters to boost methane production.

Christmas will come early again this year for billions of bacteria and other microbes in the below-ground tanks at the South Shore plant. The winter's first tanker full of de-icing waste - propylene glycol and water - arrived last week.

The addition of glycol to the tanks has the same effect as tossing sugar-loaded candy to children: It sets off a feeding frenzy among bacteria and archaea, Zitomer said.

Glycol molecules are broken apart by bacteria, then quickly fermented into acids, which are converted to methane by the archaea. Both groups of microbes working in the tanks thrive in warm, oxygen-free environments.

Since 2000, the airport has shipped between 250,000 and 300,000 gallons of the waste each winter to the South Shore plant. Tankers arrived more frequently last winter, however, and the treatment plant received a record 500,000 gallons.

In October, a separate partnership between InSinkErator, the Racine-based maker of food waste grinders, and Outpost Natural Foods on S. Kinnickinnic Ave. started sending small volumes of ground vegetables to the digesters at South Shore.

In 2007, the total energy value of methane produced in the digesters was estimated at $1.9 million, MMSD chemical engineer Jeff Schilling said. That dollar figure equals the money MMSD saved by reducing energy purchases for the plant. No estimate was available on the value of methane provided by adding the de-icing waste, he said.

Green businesses preferred in southwest Wisconsin

From a column by Gregg Hoffman in WisBusiness:

If you’re looking at doing business in parts of southwest Wisconsin, you’d better make it as green as possible.

Environmentalists, organic farmers, citizens groups and an increasing number of elected officials have made it clear that the environment needs to be part of any business equation.

That was clear in recent protests over a coal ash dump site in Vernon County, which eventually led to Dairyland Power scrapping plans to establish the landfill. It became clear again in similar opposition to a coal blend power plant in Cassville. The PSC rejected plans for that plant.

It was clear over a year ago when hundreds protested establishment of a large pig farm, which would house more than 1,000 animals as a CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation). Plans for that farm did move forward.

Two more examples came to the forefront in recent weeks. Petry Trust of Rockford, Ill., is doing a preliminary investigation into possibly locating a 1,000-plus animal unit dairy in Vernon County.

Just a day or so after that story broke, Organic Valley, a successful organic food cooperative, announced it is talking to Western Technical College and Gundersen Lutheran about erecting two wind turbines in 2009 at its Cashton distribution center.

That announcement was made at a press conference in La Crosse on the Homegrown Renewable Energy Campaign. It was launched by Wisconsin Farmers Union, Clean Wisconsin, the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and RENEW Wisconsin.

The owner of Petry Trust, Jeff Petry, owns "significant" amounts of agricultural real estate in Wisconsin and Illinois and has farmed himself in the past. Petry leases most his agricultural real estate and owns one other dairy facility in the Darlington area.

Bourgault said Petry owns the facility in Darlington, but leases it to a California company. The Darlington facility is permitted through the DNR for up to 2,500 animal units or about 1,800 dairy cows, but there are currently not that many animals on the property.

The testing for the possible Vernon County dairy operation will begin at one of the possible sites along West Smith Road, where Petry owns about 300 contiguous acres. A spokesman for Petry said the site would be selected with a number of factors in mind and with all state and local regulations taken into consideration.

Opposition to so-called “factory farms” has been strong in the past. Concerns are for the amount of manure produced by such farms, storage of the waste in winter and possible runoff. Parts of the Driftless Area are susceptible to pollution from runoff because of the karst geology in the area.

The Petry spokesman said the group is well aware of the concerns and plans on “taking additional measures for our own piece of mind.” He said the dairy operation would fit into Vernon County’s “agricultural tradition.”

Organic Valley’s proposal is the latest in that organization’s emphasis on the environment and sustainability. The co-op’s headquarters in La Farge and distribution center near Cashton are both “green-built” buildings. Other measures are regularly taken to promote sustainable agriculture by the co-op.

BEST Energies Inc., which has a biodiesel plant in Cashton, and the village of Cashton also might become partners with Organic Valley, Western and Gundersen Lutheran in the wind turbine project.

The Homegrown Renewable Energy Campaign promotes four of the initiatives recommended this year by Gov. Jim Doyle’s Global Warming Task Force: create a Biomass Energy Crop Reserve Program to pay land owners to plant bioenergy crops such as switchgrass that can be used for fuel, create a Renewable Fuels for Schools and Communities Program to help fund sources for biomass heating systems in schools and government buildings, develop a program to set utility payment rates to fairly compensate small renewable energy producers and set a low carbon fuel standard.

Southwest Wisconsin rapidly is developing into a hotbed for those, and other green business practices. If the Petry dairy operation makes sure it takes all the precautions to avoid problems with runoff and other environmental issues, it will be welcomed into the area. If not, it will likely face stiff opposition.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Milwaukee-Madison train service cost soars

From an article on Milwaukee Rising:

The capital cost of developing Milwaukee-Madison train service has soard 25% to 50% in just two years, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

The cost was estimated at $400 million when the 2007-09 budget was developed, according to the agency’s budget request.

“As with all other infrastructure projects, the estimated cost has increased significantly in the last two years due to high fuel and materials costs,” the department said. ”While the final cost will not be known until the final design and engineering are completed, the project cost is currently estimated at $500 – $600 million, including all design, engineering, capital infrastructure costs, and equipment costs.”

WisDOT is seeking $40 million in new bonding authority for the project, on top of the $82 million in authority it already has.

The good news, WisDOT said, is that there now is a federal funding program for intercity passenger rail service that could pay as much as 80% of project costs.

“Federal appropriation of funding and rule-making for the rail programs still need to occur,” the agency said in its 2009-11 budget request. ”The work done on the Madison – Milwaukee corridor so far and the bonding already authorized will place Wisconsin in a good position to receive a grant as soon as the process is established.”

There are good reasons to proceed with the project, WisDOT said.

$2.5 million in grants available in Fuels for Schools & Communities

From a media release issued by Focus on Energy:

MADISON, Wis. (Dec. 8, 2008) - Focus on Energy, Wisconsin's energy efficiency and renewable energy initiative, announced today the inception of a new renewable energy program called Fuels for Schools & Communities. The new program is meant to help Wisconsin schools and communities save hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs by switching from natural gas to heating their buildings with wood or other biomass.

"Schools and local governments today are feeling squeezed by energy prices. This new program will allow interested school districts and local governments, especially in the north and southwest portions of the state, the ability to adopt biomass technology as a cost effective and environmentally responsible solution to increasing energy costs," said Don Wichert, director for Focus on Energy's Renewable Energy Program.

The new program offers interested schools and communities pre-feasibility studies and feasibility studies at no cost and up to $250,000 toward the implementation of a biomass system. The program complements Clean Energy Wisconsin, Governor Doyle's strategy to strengthen Wisconsin's energy future. This comprehensive plan moves Wisconsin forward by promoting renewable energy, creating new jobs, increasing energy security and efficiency and improving the environment.

A recent study funded by Focus on Energy and conducted by the Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC), "Heating with Biomass: A Feasibility Study of Wisconsin Schools Heated with Wood," found that as many as 25 percent of Wisconsin schools could save hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs by switching from natural gas to heating their buildings with wood, or other biomass. Biomass, a renewable resource, typically consists of clean wood chips, wood pellets, switchgrass or other agricultural based pellets. This is a significant finding considering Wisconsin schools spend close to $200 million a year on energy costs.

The study concludes that the annual energy costs from wood biomass systems could be 29 percent to 57 percent less expensive than natural gas and save schools between $53,000 and $75,000 annually, depending on current fuel prices. The study included case studies from Barron, Hayward, Shell Lake and Rice Lake, Wis., high schools.

$2.5 million available in grants for Fuels for Schools & Communities

From a media release issued by Focus on Energy:

MADISON, Wis. (Dec. 8, 2008) - Focus on Energy, Wisconsin's energy efficiency and renewable energy initiative, announced today the inception of a new renewable energy program called Fuels for Schools & Communities. The new program is meant to help Wisconsin schools and communities save hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs by switching from natural gas to heating their buildings with wood or other biomass.

"Schools and local governments today are feeling squeezed by energy prices. This new program will allow interested school districts and local governments, especially in the north and southwest portions of the state, the ability to adopt biomass technology as a cost effective and environmentally responsible solution to increasing energy costs," said Don Wichert, director for Focus on Energy's Renewable Energy Program.

The new program offers interested schools and communities pre-feasibility studies and feasibility studies at no cost and up to $250,000 toward the implementation of a biomass system. The program complements Clean Energy Wisconsin, Governor Doyle's strategy to strengthen Wisconsin's energy future. This comprehensive plan moves Wisconsin forward by promoting renewable energy, creating new jobs, increasing energy security and efficiency and improving the environment.

A recent study funded by Focus on Energy and conducted by the Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC), "Heating with Biomass: A Feasibility Study of Wisconsin Schools Heated with Wood," found that as many as 25 percent of Wisconsin schools could save hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs by switching from natural gas to heating their buildings with wood, or other biomass. Biomass, a renewable resource, typically consists of clean wood chips, wood pellets, switchgrass or other agricultural based pellets. This is a significant finding considering Wisconsin schools spend close to $200 million a year on energy costs.

The study concludes that the annual energy costs from wood biomass systems could be 29 percent to 57 percent less expensive than natural gas and save schools between $53,000 and $75,000 annually, depending on current fuel prices. The study included case studies from Barron, Hayward, Shell Lake and Rice Lake, Wis., high schools.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Clark Electric Coop adds cow power

From a media release issued by Dairyland Power Cooperative:

LA CROSSE, WI— Dairyland Power Cooperative has signed an agreement with the
Norm-E-Lane Dairy Farm to purchase the energy and capacity from their anaerobic digester “cow power” facility located in Clark County (Chili, Wis.). Norm-E-Lane is owned by the Meissner family, members of Clark Electric Cooperative.

The facility at the 2,000-cow Norm-E-Lane Dairy Farm is expected to generate about
500 kilowatts of renewable energy, capable of powering 336 homes throughout Dairyland’s four-state service area.

Cow manure is collected and heated in the digester tank, a process that creates methane gas. This biogas fuels a large engine to produce renewable electricity. The process also has additional environmental side benefits, reducing animal waste problems associated with manure disposal on farms. Odor is nearly eliminated, and weed seeds and pathogens are killed during the digestion process, thus reducing the need for herbicides and pesticides on the farm. Also, a useful byproduct is bedding that can be used in the dairy.

Norm-E-Lane is the fourth dairy farm providing “cow power” to members in the Dairyland system. “We continue to seek opportunities to expand our renewable resources and appreciate working with the Meissner family and Clark Electric to bring this environmentally-friendly energy resource to our members,” said Bill Berg, Dairyland President and CEO.

LaCrosse utility adds more cow power

From a media release issued by Dairyland Power Cooperative:

LA CROSSE, WI— Dairyland Power Cooperative has signed an agreement with the
Norm-E-Lane Dairy Farm to purchase the energy and capacity from their anaerobic digester “cow power” facility located in Clark County (Chili, Wis.). Norm-E-Lane is owned by the Meissner family, members of Clark Electric Cooperative.

The facility at the 2,000-cow Norm-E-Lane Dairy Farm is expected to generate about
500 kilowatts of renewable energy, capable of powering 336 homes throughout Dairyland’s four-state service area.

Cow manure is collected and heated in the digester tank, a process that creates methane gas. This biogas fuels a large engine to produce renewable electricity. The process also has additional environmental side benefits, reducing animal waste problems associated with manure disposal on farms. Odor is nearly eliminated, and weed seeds and pathogens are killed during the digestion process, thus reducing the need for herbicides and pesticides on the farm. Also, a useful byproduct is bedding that can be used in the dairy.

Norm-E-Lane is the fourth dairy farm providing “cow power” to members in the Dairyland system. “We continue to seek opportunities to expand our renewable resources and appreciate working with the Meissner family and Clark Electric to bring this environmentally-friendly energy resource to our members,” said Bill Berg, Dairyland President and CEO.

Transit construction creates more jobs than highways

From a fact sheet of the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership:

Transportation policy has a strong, positive relationship with job creation and access. The transportation system should support job creation and grant all people access to good jobs. Unlike past transportation decisions that have focused on short-term solutions and have ignored large sections of the population, modern transportation investments must expand opportunities and improve quality of life. . . .

In recent years, proponents of increased investment in new highway capacity have used job-creation as a rallying cry for their cause, saying that money spent on these new roads will lead to a surge in new jobs. While transportation investment should not be seen as primarily a jobs program, economic studies indicate that transit capital investments and operations funding are even better sources of long-term job creation.

According to a recent study by Cambridge Systematics, 314 jobs and a $30 million gain in sales for businesses are created for each $10 million invested in transit capital funding, and over 570 jobs are created for each $10 million in the short run. While new highway construction does lead to an increase in employment, these jobs are mostly for non-local workers: road engineers and other specialists who come in to an area for a specific job and then leave when it has been completed. On the other hand, transit investments create a wealth of employment opportunities in the short and the long run. Transit system construction leads to an impressive level of short-term job creation, and once the systems are finished, a long-term source of high-quality jobs. Of the 350,000 people directly employed by public transportation systems, more than 50 percent are operators or conductors. In addition, 10,000 to 20,000 professionals work under contract to public transportation systems or are employed by companies and government offices that support these systems. Thousands of others are employed in related services (i.e. engineering, manufacturing, construction, retail, etc.). . . .

Friday, December 5, 2008

Utility gives green power customers certified assurance

From a media release issued by Wisconsin Public Power Incorporated:

WPPI has been awarded Green-e Energy certification by the Center for Resource Solutions (CRS) for WPPI’s renewable energy programs, including Green Power for Business and its companion program for residential customers.

Green-e Energy is a renewable energy certification program established by the nonprofit CRS to provide an objective standard for consumers to compare renewable energy options.

Both programs enable customers to make voluntary purchases of renewable energy from WPPI member utilities. By purchasing WPPI renewable electricity, customers will support currently available renewable resources as well as aid the development of new renewable resources.


WPPI serves the utilities in the following Wisconsin cities: Algoma, Black River Falls, Boscobel, Brodhead, Cedarburg, Columbus, Cuba City, Eagle River, Evansville, Florence, Hartford, Hustisford, Jefferson, Juneau, Kaukauna, Lake Mills, Lodi, Menasha, Mount Horeb, Muscoda, New Glarus, New Holstein, New London, New Richmond, Oconomowoc, Oconto Falls, Plymouth, Prairie du Sac, Reedsburg, Richland Center, River Falls, Slinger, Stoughton, Sturgeon Bay, Sun Prairie, Two Rivers, Waterloo, Waunakee, Waupun, Westby, Whitehall.

Sustainable homes in Milwaukee

"Pragmatic Construction is building two sustainable homes in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee. These homes are targeting LEED-H Platinum certification," including passaive solar design and options of solar hotwater and solar electricity, according to its Web site which calls the company a "green design-build firm specializing in the integration of multiple green principles and technologies."

Q&A on higher buyback rates for electricity from renewables

As part of the Homegrown Renewable Energy Campaign RENEW prepared A Primer on Renewable Energy Producer Payments (REPP’s) in a question and answer format:

Q. What are Renewable Energy Producer Payments (REPP’s)?

A. Renewable Energy Production Payments are premium utility buyback rates designed to encourage customer-owned or third-party-owned installations of small-scale electric generators powered by renewable energy sources as solar, wind, biogas, hydro and biomass. In many jurisdictions where this mechanism has been adopted, REPP’s are better known as feed-in tariffs.

Successfully used in Europe, REPP’s can support a large market for renewable energy and limit the impact on ratepayers by spreading costs to all electricity customers. Where established, REPP’s have fostered extraordinary growth in renewable energy and remarkably high local ownership rates for projects: 45% local ownership of German wind energy projects and 83% of Danish wind installations. In addition, REPP’s have supported a greater diversity of energy sources, such as solar photovoltaics and biogas systems.

Q. Can REPP’s work in tandem with Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Standard?

A. A statewide system of REPP’s could complement Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Standard by stimulating investment in distributed renewable energy installations, making non-wind generation economical, and fostering local ownership of projects. With premium prices available to anyone, REPP’s are the preeminent policy tool for turning electricity customers into renewable energy producers.

Q. Why provide advantages to distributed renewable generation?

A. Increasing production of in-state distributed renewable energy will result in the following benefits to utilities and their customers:
+ Enhanced ability to manage fossil fuel price volatility and supply constraints;
+ Reduced exposure to downstream costs from new regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions;
+ Increased likelihood of lower portfolio generation costs through the long-term use of low- or zero-cost fuels;
+ Cost reductions in photovoltaic, wind, and biogas technologies due to increased market stability and resulting technological and cost improvements; and
+ Increased potential for strengthening local distribution systems without expensive traditional upgrades to utility distribution grids.
Increasing production of in-state distributed renewable energy will result in the following benefits to the State of Wisconsin:

+ Fewer dollars flowing out of state to purchase energy from out-of-state sources (including bulk renewable generation), thereby reducing the state’s dependence on imported energy, the Achilles heel of Wisconsin’s economy;
+ Job growth and expanded business opportunities for Wisconsin farmers and renewable energy equipment manufacturers and installation contractors;
+ Less pollution (cleaner air, enhanced groundwater protection).
Q. Where have REPP’s been adopted?

A. Over 40 nations, states and provinces around the world have adopted REPP’s, including such European nations as Germany, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, France, Italy, Greece, Czech Republic and Austria. The most recent addition to that list is the United Kingdom. As part of the Energy Bill enacted in November 2008, the British government must institute by 2010 a system of REPP’s for small renewable energy producers.

On our side of the Atlantic Ocean, there is increasing evidence that the stiff resistance that once characterized North American attitudes to REPP’s is eroding. The Province of Ontario was the first government on this continent to adopt REPP’s that are available to all participants. In November 2008 Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the largest municipal utility in the United States, has announced plans to institute a solar buyback rate to bring on-line 150 MW of customer-owned solar electric capacity.

Q. Which renewable energy sources would qualify for REPP’s?

A. Eligible resources would be the same as those that electric utilities presently use to satisfy their renewable energy requirements. As specified in 196.378(b), eligible resources include: (1) solar; (2) wind; (3) hydro; (4) biogas derived from landfills, livestock operations, wastewater treatment plants and food processors; (5) biomass (woody crops and residues, agricultural crops and residues); and (6) hydrogen derived from a resource listed above.

Q. How do REPP’s differ from standard utility buyback rates?

A. Standard buyback rates reflect the systemwide average fuel cost of a particular utility. The formula used to determine a standard buyback rate combines the cost of fueling baseload power plants (typically with coal) with the cost of fueling peaking plants (typically with natural gas). Standard buyback rates are fuel-neutral; that is, they don’t change based on the generator fuel being used. With each rate filing, the Public Service Commission reviews the utility’s avoided fuel costs and resets its buyback rates accordingly. Electricity acquired under a standard buyback rate does not increase base rates, but it will vary from one utility to another, based on the utility’s internal fuel costs.

In contrast, REPP’s fix a payment stream over a specified term based solely on the production costs of the renewable energy installation. Projecting a revenue stream over time is made possible when generation sources rely on zero-cost fuel sources like sunshine, wind, dairy cow manure and flowing water. Because REPP’s are completely unrelated to a utility’s internal fuel costs, they do not require adjustment with each rate filing. Within a particular fuel category and generator size, installation and operating costs will be similar irrespective of their location. Therefore, REPP’s have capability of being uniformly applied throughout Wisconsin.

The matrix below compares and contrasts key attributes of standard buyback rates and REPP’s.


Q. But doesn’t Wisconsin already have a renewable energy incentive program that is intended to stimulate distributed renewable energy generation?

A. Yes. Wisconsin’s ratepayer-funded public benefits program, called Focus on Energy, does offer incentives for customer-sited renewable energy systems. However, the quantity of funds available to support renewable generation is very modest. Focus on Energy’s 2009 budget envisions allocating $4.2 million in up-front incentives toward solar, wind (up to 100 kW only), and biogas electric systems. That allocation can’t be increased because the percentage of Focus on Energy dollars available for distributed renewable generation is fixed by law at 4.5%. Moreover, the program’s overall budget is capped at 1.2% of utility gross revenues, and cannot be reset without legislative approval.

At current funding levels, Focus on Energy cannot support more than seven modestly sized biogas generation projects in a given year. As for solar, next year’s budget should support between 180 and 200 systems statewide. As long as Focus on Energy incentives are relied upon to stimulate the distributed renewable energy market, funding limitations will surely impede this sector’s capacity for growth.

Moreover, to spread the awards to as many projects as possible, most Focus on Energy incentives are sized to offset no more than 25% of system installation costs. That is a very modest level of support compared with other renewable energy programs around the country. The prospective system owner has to line up other external sources of funding, such as federal tax credits, U.S.D.A awards and higher buyback rates, to supplement the Focus on Energy award. Under the current system, it takes a certain level of heroic effort—and tolerance for paperwork—to secure a bank loan for a renewable energy installation.

Q. How would REPP’s improve upon the present arrangements for selling renewable electricity to utilities?

In general, the combination of standard buyback rates and Focus on Energy incentives does not generate sufficient revenue flow to make investments in distributed renewable energy worthwhile. Because they are structured to ensure full cost recovery of the investment as long as their renewable energy system is operating, REPP’s are more appealing to investors and lenders than up-front incentives. From the standpoint of both utilities and generators, REPP’s are easy and inexpensive to administer over their term. They are also transparent and open for inspection, unlike Power Purchase Agreements, which usually occasion the signing of confidentiality agreements to prevent cost information from entering into the public domain. REPP’s help renewable energy generators avoid the hassle of negotiating Power Purchase Agreements with utilities, which is often an opaque, time-consuming and lawyer-intensive process.

Q. Is legislation required to establish REPP’s in Wisconsin?

A. The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) regulates all electric providers except rural electric cooperatives and small municipal utilities. Its regulatory authority includes the ability to set rates for non-wholesale electricity purchases. Under current law, the agency has all the requisite authority to, through its own volition, convene a generic proceeding to investigate and establish REPP’s.

However, it may be desirable to adopt legislation directing the Commission to convene such a proceeding and establish a statewide program of REPP’s by a date certain. A bill of this nature could also provide guidance to the Commission in defining REPP’s and setting program boundaries. Among the threshold questions the legislation could address is (1) qualifying system size; (2) setting term lengths and allowable rates of return; and (3) penetration ceilings. An appropriate model for this legislation would be the budget amendment drafted by Rep. Dan Schooff in 2001that led to the revision of Wisconsin’s interconnection standards for distributed generation units, now encoded as PSC Chapter 119.

Q. How would the PSCW go about establish REPP’s?

A. Whether through its own initiative or in response to legislation, the Commission would convene a docket for the explicit purpose of revising and standardizing utility buyback rates to stimulate in-state renewable energy generation. The PSCW already has an abundant supply of material on the record in previous rate cases that could provide some guidance for this proceeding. Moreover, by virtue of its oversight authority over Focus on Energy, the Commission has ready access to up-to-date production cost information on various renewable energy technologies supported through that program. The wealth of cost and performance data accumulated during the renewable energy program’s six-plus years of operation will be immensely helpful when the PSCW reaches the rate-setting phase of this docket.

As was done for the interconnection standards proceeding, the PSCW should form a technical advisory committee to flesh out the details of a statewide system of production cost-based buyback rates. This group should be composed of renewable energy contractors and installers, utility rates and renewable program managers, Focus on Energy technical leads, other state agency staff, clean energy advocates and representatives of agricultural associations, electric customer groups, and local governments. Many of the organizations that were represented in the technical committee advising the PSCW on interconnection standards would likely take part in a similar body created for this proceeding.

Q. What issues should the Commission consider in this docket?

A. At a minimum, the following issues should receive consideration during the investigation phase of this docket?

(1) How much additional renewable energy could be captured through REPP’s statewide?
(2) Should there be a ceiling on the amount of renewable energy acquired through REPP’s and, if so, at what level?
(3) Should there be capacity limitations on the individual installations and, if so, at what level?
(4) What is the appropriate duration of a REPP?
(5) In calculating production costs, how much return on investment is reasonable?
(5) Should any boundaries or limitations be placed on the acquisition of any particular energy resource through REPP’s?
(6) How frequently should tariffs be reset to capture increased production efficiencies or lower capital costs?
(7) Is it reasonable to establish different tariffs in a given renewable resource, based on such characteristics as capacity size and resource availability?
(8) What is the appropriate rate treatment for a renewable generation source once the contract term expires?
(9) After the tariff term expires, should utilities continue to receive the associated renewable energy credits?
Q. Are there any examples right now of REPP’s in Wisconsin?

A. Even though some utilities now offer fixed-rate, technology-specific buyback rates for qualifying renewable energy systems, they do not meet the definition of REPP’s. Consider the example of Madison Gas & Electric’s 25 cents/kWh solar buyback rate, which a system owner can lock into for 10 years. On the plus side, this offering is twice MGE’s retail electric rate. However, it does not qualify as a true REPP, because the revenue stream it generates falls well short of what’s needed to achieve a reasonable return on most installations, even in cases where the system owners can take full advantage of federal tax credits and accelerated depreciation. Unless they are increased to match actual production costs and a reasonable return on investment, the current crop of special buyback rates will have only a modest effect on installation activity.

Q. Can REPP’s be designed to work with federal incentives work?

A. As it relates to solar, yes. Federal policy provides for a 30% investment tax credit (ITC) for solar electric systems, irrespective of size. Unlike the production tax credits for wind and biogas, the solar ITC does not distinguish between individuals and businesses. All taxpayers can take advantage of the credit, which will remain in effect through 2016. Given the lengthy duration of this federal incentive, it makes sense for states and utilities to account for this federal incentive when they estimate the production costs of PV installations in their territory. (A caveat: nonprofit customers and government entities are not eligible for federal tax credits. This disadvantage could be overcome with additional up-front installation incentives, like the kind We Energies provides to spur nonprofit ownership of renewable energy systems.)

Unlike the solar ITC, the renewable energy production tax credit (PTC), the principal federal mechanism for stimulating wind and biogas installations, is designed to reward highly profitable companies that have large tax appetites. Companies that don’t have large tax liabilities or are not yet turning a profit are unable to take advantage of this mechanism. The alternative minimum tax can also negate the impact of the renewable energy PTC. For that reason, REPP’s for wind and biogas should not be adjusted to account for the PTC.

Q. If REPP’s were established, would utilities be able to apply the electricity they purchased toward their renewable energy requirements under 2005 Act 141?

A. Yes they would. In a recent ruling, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission took the view that renewable energy credits created by a renewable energy generation source are the property of the generator unless specifically conveyed to the purchaser. If REPP’s are adopted in Wisconsin, their contract terms should specify that all renewable energy attributes associated with the electricity generated are also conveyed to the utility purchaser. That way, utilities would be able to use the electricity acquired through REPP’s to satisfy current and future renewable energy requirements.

Q. How effective are REPP’s at creating jobs and business opportunities in Germany?

A. In the 17 years since it established REPP’s, Germany has become the world’s leading producer of renewable energy technology. German investments in solar electric systems now total US$5 billion, and nearly 35,000 are employed in its rapidly growing solar industry. German heavy industry employs 70,000 in the wind energy sector. In 2007 investments in new wind turbines totaled more than US$4.5 billion. Across all renewable energy technology sectors, direct and indirect employment in the German renewable energy industry reached 214,000 in 2006, according to a recent study by Germany's Ministry for the Environment (BMU). The study also found that the industry's total turnover neared €22 billion. These jobs increased 40% between 2004 and 2006 alone. Most of these new jobs are in the former East Germany, an area being revitalized by their renewable energy economy. All levels of jobs are created including high-skilled positions in engineering, manufacturing, agriculture, and electronics.

Q. How effective have REPP’s been in stimulating renewable energy installations in Germany?

A. German renewable energy sources supplied 5.3% of primary energy in Germany and 11.8% of electricity in 2006. The breakdown is as follows:

Wind - Germany continues to lead all other nations in wind generating capacity. Current installed capacity is about 23,300 MW, according to data from WindPower Monthly. A country the size of Montana, Germany operates 1.2 times more wind generating capacity than that of the entire lower 48 states. Germany currently provides about 7% of its electricity from wind energy alone

Photovoltaics - Strong demand for solar cells from German farmers and homeowners resulted in another record year for the installation of solar photovoltaic systems in the country, according to data compiled by the German Solar Energy Association). Germany installed an astounding 100,000 solar systems in 2006, representing 750 MW of solar-electric generation. This follows on the back-to-back record-setting years of 2005 (750 MW), and 2004 (600 MW). Germany now operates more solar-electric generating capacity (2,500 MW) than the installed wind-generating capacity of Britain, Italy, France, or the Netherlands. Analysts estimate that solar cells in Germany now generate about 2 TWh of electricity per year, or nearly one-half of one percent of German electricity consumption.

Biogas - Germany employs 8,000 in the on-farm biogas industry. Manure-fired power plants generate nearly five billion kilowatt-hours per year of electricity, or about one percent of consumption, says the German Renewable Energy Association). Biogas is mostly methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that would otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere from dairies and pig farms.

Q. Where can I go on-line to learn more about REPP’s?

A. The following web sites are recommended as information sources:
Paul Gipe’s home page - http://www.wind-works.org/articles/feed_laws.html
Alliance for Renewable Energy - http://www.allianceforrenewableenergy.org
Institute for Local Self-Reliance - http://www.newrules.org/de/feed-in-tariffs.pdf

Prepared by RENEW Wisconsin, December 2008
Contact: Michael Vickerman
608.255.4044
mvickerman@renewwisconsin.org
www.renewwisconsin.org