Search This Blog

Friday, July 30, 2010

DOT to hold rail-station workshops in Brookfield, Oconomowoc

From an article in BizTimes Daily:

The state Department of Transportation will host community workshops next week to discuss the location for the proposed Oconomowoc and Brookfield high speed rail train stations.

The Oconomowoc workshop is scheduled from 4:30-7:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 2, at Nature Hill Intermediate School, 850 Lake Dr., Oconomowoc.
The Brookfield workshop is scheduled from 4:30-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 3, at the Brookfield Elementary School, 2530 N. Brookfield Road, Brookfield.

At the workshops, DOT and consultant staff will be available to discuss the proposed train station sites. The DOT says its staff are also interested in hearing from the community on issues of concern to them as planning and environmental studies for the station get underway. The team developing the final design for the rail corridor will also be on hand to receive initial input on corridor issues.

The public is encouraged to attend the meetings, provide input and ask questions concerning the project, the DOT said.

Wisconsin Valley Fair goes green

From a story by Colby Robertson on WAOW-TV, Wausau:

WAUSAU (WAOW) -- The 142nd annual Wisconsin Valley Fair kicks off next Tuesday, but this years fair is going to be a little greener.

Every night of the Wisconsin Valley Fair, [one of the oldest and largest ag fairs in Wisconsin], features a different free grandstand performance, thousands of fans turn out for some of music's biggest stars.

This year those performances are going green by using WPS renewable energy to power the musical entertainment.

Kelly Zagrzebski of Wisconsin Public Service says, "You're not going to see anything different other than its runNATS by green energy and there might be a few banners up, but the actual energy use will be exactly the same, just powered by green power."

The renewable energy comes through the WPS Naturewise program that's been selling blocks of renewable energy to customers since 2005.

Zagrzebski says, "As you're looking at the different sustainability groups and people being more conscious of their energy use and where they're getting their energy from, it was a great partnership since it is with Naturewise and the fuel we get for it is really through biomass and the use of manure."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Eco-friendly apartments proposed for Eagle Plumbing building in Stevens Point

From an article by in the B. C. Kowalski in the Wausau Daily Herald:

If all goes according to plan, the former Eagle Plumbing building is in for a makeover.

The Stevens Point Plan Commission on Monday will consider allowing a plan to build apartments at 1000 Third St., the former Eagle Plumbing site. The plan also would encompass adjacent property at 941 Portage St.

Arc Central has proposed converting the existing structure into a two-story, eco-friendly apartment building, company co-owner Jim Lucas said.
"Our interest is to build an energy-efficient building," Lucas said. "The brick walls tend to lend themselves to that."

Lucas said Arc Central also is considering amenities such as catching rainwater, solar panels, tilled gardens and outdoor bicycle storage.
"I think most building owners want energy-efficient buildings," Lucas said. "It's not a matter of promoting green; it's just a matter of good design. Nationally, more energy is consumed from heating and cooling than transportation."

LaHood, Doyle say there's no derailing high-speed rail line

From an article by Larry Sandler in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Watertown - U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Gov. Jim Doyle on Thursday portrayed a planned Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail line as an unstoppable train that Republican gubernatorial candidates can't derail.

"High-speed rail is coming to Wisconsin," LaHood said. "There's no stopping it.

LaHood was in Watertown to sign an agreement to release $46.7 million of the $810 million in federal stimulus money that Wisconsin is receiving to build the 110-mph line.

That's the second installment, after a previous $5.7 million payment.

Republican gubernatorial candidates Scott Walker and Mark Neumann have threatened to shut down construction on the line if they're elected, saying they don't want taxpayers burdened by operating costs. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the leading Democrat in the governor's race, backs high-speed rail.

But LaHood, a former Republican congressman now serving in a Democratic administration, brushed those concerns aside, saying high-speed rail is a national program that will survive changes in political leadership.

In a statement, Walker vowed to stop construction of the train if is elected governor.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

GreenBiz: Women active in sustainable businesses

From an article by Gregg Hoffman on Wisbusiness.com:

Women are playing a more active role than ever in sustainable agriculture and the sustainability field overall, in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Several of those women gathered at the Organic Valley Country Fair recently in a forum called “Planting fresh seeds: How women are transforming sustainability."

“The USDA reported a 30 percent increase in women-owned farms,” said Lisa Kivirist, a Kellogg Food & Society Policy Fellow who headed the forum. “Many of these women are in their 40s and 50s, and farming as a second career. They often have roots in agriculture and are returning to them.”

Not all have the roots in farming though. For example, Kivirist and her husband, John Ivanko, were involved in advertising in Chicago and decided they wanted to make a change.

Kivirist runs a farm with her husband, south of Monroe. They also run the Inn Serendipity Bed and Breakfast on the farm. It is completely powered by renewable energy and recently was named one of the “Top Ten Eco-Destinations in North America.”

The inn is named, in part, because of what Kivirist refers to as the “serendipitous diversification” that has been a key to her progress in building a sustainable business and lifestyle. When things have happened, she has adapted.

“For example, when our laundry kept getting blown off the line, we said, ‘it’s windy here’ and decided to put in wind power,” she Kivirist said.

Sustainable agriculture is a natural for women in several ways, Kivirist said. Women across the U.S. are the main food purchasers. Globally, women raise more than 80 percent of the food, while owning in many countries less than 1 percent of the land.

Aimee Witteman used her roots in central Wisconsin to build a career in sustainable agriculture policy. She recently served as executive director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in Washington D.C. and was extensively involved in the 2008 Farm Bill debate.

“If you’re interested in connecting humans with nature, agriculture is a natural,” said Witteman, who has returned to the Midwest. “Public policy can be a step toward becoming one with place. We have work to do on those policies.”

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Doing it cleaner

From an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

We Energies' Valley power plant is a vital link serving the region's energy needs. That doesn't mean it can't run cleaner.

We Energies' coal-fired Valley power plant isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Nor should it. The plant - about a mile south of downtown Milwaukee in the Menomonee River Valley - meets a vital need in the utility's energy network and plays a unique role among power plants by producing steam to heat many downtown buildings, helping to keep heating costs stable.

But it is time to clean up the plant and bring it into the 21st century. We Energies is working on that, but anything the utility can do to expedite the process would be helpful. What that will mean is either switching to a new kind of fuel - natural gas - or adding equipment to the plant to clean up its emissions. Both would cost money, and ratepayers will have to pick up the cost.

The utility needs to figure out which is the better option and look for ways to mitigate the cost, but improving air quality is essential to public health and economic development. It's worth some cost.

As a recent article by Thomas Content and Lee Bergquist made clear, Valley is a plant with a problem. It is We Energies' oldest power plant that lacks modern emission controls. It thus adds to air pollution in the Milwaukee area, a region with air quality challenges.

Monday, July 26, 2010

American Transmission Co. announces plans for 150-mile transmission line in western Wisconsin

From a news release issued by ATC:

PEWAUKEE, Wis.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Following approximately two years of study and analysis, American Transmission Co. has determined that a 345-kilovolt transmission line from the La Crosse area to the greater Madison area would provide multiple benefits to the state of Wisconsin including improved electric system reliability, economic savings for utilities and energy consumers, and access to additional renewable energy. As it finalizes its evaluation of the multiple benefits of the project, ATC will begin the public outreach efforts on the proposed Badger Coulee Transmission Line and will host a series of open houses this fall with the public and other stakeholders in the 150-mile area from La Crosse to Madison to explore routing options for the new line.

“There are multiple benefit indicators that make the Badger Coulee Transmission Line Project a plus for Wisconsin residents and the Midwest,” says John Procario, ATC president, chairman and chief executive officer. “It’s an exciting new project because it demonstrates multiple benefits. Badger Coulee enhances electric system reliability; it provides direct energy cost savings to electricity users, and it supports the public’s desire for the greater use of renewable energy resources.”

The Badger Coulee Transmission Line will improve electric system reliability in western Wisconsin by providing increased regional electric transfer capability into Wisconsin and alleviating stability issues in the Upper Midwest. ATC’s studies also indicate that building a more efficient high-voltage line offsets the need for approximately $140 million in lower-voltage upgrades in western Wisconsin communities.

The economic benefits of the Badger Coulee Transmission Line include providing utilities with greater access to the wholesale electricity market by reducing energy congestion. A new 345-kV line in western Wisconsin will give utilities greater capability to buy and sell power within the Midwest when it’s economic to do so, and those savings can be passed on to electricity consumers. A 345-kV line also delivers electricity more efficiently than lower voltage or heavily loaded transmission lines and reduces line losses in the delivery of power.

Proposed biomass plant has benefits

From an editorial in the Wausau Daily Herald:

The debate about the proposed Rothschild biomass plant has at times been a heated one. The proposal would pair a biomass-fueled We Energies electric plant with the existing Domtar paper mill in Rothschild.

The citizens' group that opposes building that plant, Save Our Air Resources, or SOAR, has at times been openly confrontational toward those its members perceive as wanting to stifle that debate -- or those who simply disagree with them.

But SOAR has forced a public conversation about the plant, and that is a good thing.

That conversation continues in today's Wausau Daily Herald, which includes an in-depth look at the questions raised by biomass opponents, as well as a discussion of the projected benefits -- economic and environmental -- of the plant.

The Daily Herald's Editorial Board has met with representatives from We Energies, Domtar and SOAR. We have editorialized in favor of a thorough study of the plant's environmental impact. We're proud that the paper has provided a thorough look at the pros and cons of the project.
On balance, we continue to see the substantial, concrete benefits of this project as outweighing the costs, at least some of which seem to have been overstated by biomass opponents.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Rothschild residents preview Biomass plant plans

From an article by Kathleen Foody in the Wausau Daily Herald:

ROTHSCHILD -- The mood at the open house hosted by We Energies on Thursday about a proposed biomass plant in Rothschild was calm, though discussion about the project has become heated.

About 110 residents attended the sessions, one each in the afternoon and evening, at the Holiday Inn in Rothschild. Staff from We Energies and Domtar stood near displays and video monitors, explaining the plant plan and its effects on the community.

The proposal to burn woody biomass as fuel to create electricity for sale by the Milwaukee energy company and steam to power the Domtar paper mill is pending before the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. Since the plant was proposed in September 2009, We Energies has tried to get ahead of critics with direct mailings, community meetings and door-to-door consultations.

Many residents who attended the Thursday meetings said they were undecided or in favor of the $250 million project and felt satisfied with answers to their questions about air quality, jobs and traffic around the plant.

"I want to make sure it's safe. My grandkids attend (Rothschild Elementary School) across the street (from the mill)," Andy Champine of Weston said. "I walked in neutral to get the facts."

Barry McNulty, a spokesman for We Energies at the event, said the company was pleased with turnout and the questions posed.

"No one particular issue stood out," he said. "Residents asked very similar questions (as at the February open house), and we tried to give them a better understanding of what we do and how we do it."

Rob Hughes, a member of Save Our Air Resources, a citizen group that has opposed the plant, said he applauded the open house events. But he's not satisfied with We Energies' responses to his requests for specific information on air quality if the plant is constructed.

River Falls sees green in new solar power program

From an article by Ricardo Lopez in the Pionerr Press, St. Paul, MN:

River Falls has launched a program to encourage homeowners and businesses to install solar energy systems.

While a few months into the project and only one resident — who owns a solar installation company — has signed up, the western Wisconsin city is confident more residents will take part.

Known as the Renewable Energy Finance Program, city and community leaders say the program shows River Falls' commitment to the environment and renewable energy.

With an $18,000 loan, Mike Harvey is installing solar panels and an electrical system to the home he shares with his fiancee. The money will be paid back through an assessment added to his property taxes.

"I went the day they had the paperwork available to fill it out," Harvey said of his eagerness to sign up.

The lone resident to take out a loan through the program, Harvey owns River Falls-based Synergized Solar, a solar panel distribution company.

He estimates the panels, which are wind and weather rated, should pay for themselves in about 11 to 12 years with saving on electrical costs.

River Falls has been recognized as a regional leader in pushing "green" energy. This new initiative has been in the works for two years, said Mike Noreen, conservation and efficiency coordinator for River Falls Municipal Utilities, which administers the program. Residents can qualify for a loan of up to $50,000, and Noreen said the agency set aside $500,000 for the loans.

It is designed to help homeowners who previously thought renewable energy systems were out of their financial reach, said Kelly Cain, sustainability director at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
"From a social justice equity perspective, it helps to level the playing field for everyone," said Cain, adding the River Falls program is the most significant step any city has taken. Cain is also a member of the Powerful Choices committee, a River Falls group heavily involved in renewable energy planning, including the new solar program.

Seats still available on the Fond du Lac energy efficiency and renewable energy tour

From a news release issued by US-Cooperative Extension, Fond du Lac County:

The public is invited to attend a Local Energy Tour on Saturday, July 31st from 8:30 am - noon organized by the Fond du Lac County and the Green Lake County UW-Extension offices.

Fond du Lac County businesses have made this area a unique place to learn about cutting edge energy technologies, and the tour allows participants a chance to see these technologies in action and learn what difference they are making in the financial, environmental, and social bottom lines of these companies. Participants will also discuss the land use consequences of energy production and ways to minimize the negative consequences and maximize the economic benefits.

This guided bus tour will visit:
• Mercury Marine
• Wildlife Acres subdivision
• Vir-Clar Dairy
• Cedar Ridge Wind Farm
• Pheasant Run
• a home with a geothermal pond system installed.

Energy use is a serious economic concern for our region, state, and nation.

• Wisconsin residents spent $22.5 billion in 2008 on imported fossil fuels. This amounts to $9000 per household.

• Unfortunately, it is the energy sources on which we are most dependent right now (coal, oil, & natural gas) that are becoming increasingly volatile in price and limited in availability around the world.

• The only energy expenditures that stay in-state is the amount spent on renewables, because that is the only type of energy we are able to produce locally.

• Only 4.5% of our total energy use in Wisconsin comes from renewable, locally-produced fuels.

A virtual tour including pictures, video, and fact sheets about the sites is available online at www.SustainFDLCounty.org.

Limited seating is available. The tour will begin at and return to Prairie Fest on the campus of UW-Fond du Lac, rain or shine. Email Diana.Tscheschlok@ces.uwex.edu or call 920.929.3173, 920.748.7565, or 920.324.2879 to register.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wisconsin creating jobs, harnessing wind power

From a news release issued by the Department of Workforce Development:

TOWN of MENASHA – Department of Workforce Development Secretary Roberta Gassman said today Governor Doyle’s investments in Wisconsin’s clean energy future are showing gains in manufacturing, job opportunities, a cleaner environment, and a more energy independent Wisconsin.

“Under Governor Doyle’s leadership, Wisconsin is harnessing the wind to power economic growth, creating clean energy jobs,” Secretary Gassman said. “As the economy improves from a deep national recession, the steps Wisconsin has taken to encourage efficiency and renewable energy will continue to pay dividends in the long term.”

Secretary Gassman highlighted Governor Doyle’s successful clean energy efforts during a visit to SCA Tissue. At SCA’s Service Excellence Center in the Town of Menasha, she joined the global manufacturer of tissue and paper products in dedicating four wind turbines, the first commercial units built by Renewegy, LLC. The Renewegy turbines will generate 100 to 125 megawatt-hours per year to help power SCA Tissue’s operations. The turbine-generated electricity will complement other energy-saving steps at the company, including heat recovery systems, energy-saving light bulbs, auto lighting systems and low-energy computer screens.

In operation for two years, Renewegy received a $525,000 grant from Governor Doyle last December to purchase manufacturing equipment and create 40 new jobs. The grant was funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Renewegy is one of more than 300 companies in Wisconsin that provide products and services to the wind industry, employing thousands of people.

7th Annual Kickapoo Country Fair, July 24-25, 2010

Now in its seventh year, the Kickapoo Country Fair is the Midwest's largest organic food and sustainability festival. In La Farge, Wisconsin, nestled among the ancient hills of the Kickapoo Valley, the fair serves up a generous helping of fun for all in celebration of family, culture, and community, all the while looking toward a healthy, sustainable future.

Held July 24-25, 2010, on the grounds of Organic Valley headquarters Kickapoo Country Fair will bring together thousands of attendees for two fun-packed days of food, music, bike and farm tours, cooking demonstrations, theater, kids' activities, dancing, author readings, and speakers—all offered at an affordable price for families.

*Authors, activists and innovators including Temple Grandin, author of Animals Make Us Human
*Live music all weekend on two stages
*Musical headliner Miles Nielsen — Good ol' heartland rock 'n' roll, main stage, Saturday night
*Wisconsin Author Michael Perry reading from his latest book Coop and performing with his band, the Long Beds
*"Green Village," green building and lifestyle workshops
*Delicious local and organic food
*Farmers market
*Farm tours and exhibits
*Vendors and artisans
*Fourth-annual Butter Churn Bike Tour
*Children’s activities
*Stiltwalkers and other surprises!

High speed rail informattional meeting, July 22, Milwaukee Public Market

From an article by on BizTimes.com:

The public is invited to a “brown bag lunch” to learn about the economic benefits of high-speed rail at informal hearing by the Midwest High Speed Rail Association at the Milwaukee Public Market on Thursday, July 22, at noon.

In January, the federal government awarded $823 million to Wisconsin to develop the Milwaukee-to-Madison high speed rail system, with $810 million earmarked for upgrading existing rail lines and constructing stations.
The state Department of Transportation is already moving forward with contracts for upgrading the existing rail lines between Milwaukee and Madison to accommodate high speed passenger trains.

“The high-speed rail infrastructure is becoming a reality, and with that will come economic development that could create thousands of good-paying jobs in Milwaukee and communities stretching from Waukesha to Madison,” said Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is expected to let contracts for all or most of the $823 million prior to January 2011.

Republican gubernatorial candidates Scott Walker and Mark Neumann have threatened to derail the Wisconsin project, but Bauman said that would set up “the rather ridiculous situation of having a new and upgraded rail line with no trains running on it. It would be like spending $823 million on a new highway and then refusing to fund the cost of policing, snow plowing, routine maintenance, or even street lights, thereby effectively preventing motor vehicles from using that new road.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Couple Nurtures Green Living in Walworth County

From a story by Susan Bence on WUWM radio, Milwaukee:

Catherine McQueen and Fritz Kreiss describe themselves as partners in life and business, who decided to put their money where their green talk is.

I’m invited to their home to see for myself.

You drive into their five acres – it’s a former mink farm – through lush trees. A circle drive pulls you into their brightly white-painted home, surrounded by perennial beds.

Then WHAM, you spot the 50 kilowatts wind turbine throwing giant shadows along a line of trees.

Fritz says they’re goal is to use no more energy than they consume. They seem to be off to a good start.

“The 50 KW is about enough electricity for 15 homes,” Fritz says.

When the couple transplanted from Illinois five years ago and took on the fixer-upper, Catherine says they weren’t on an environmental mission.

“This was our Shangri-La. We were going to go out toes up from this house,” Catherine says.

They had just rolled up their sleeves to tackle the project, when Fritz says they learned their quiet country road was slated for development.

“We went to a town meeting and the town basically said, listen Highway 50 is meant to be a commercial corridor in the long term plan,” Fritz says.

Catherine says after pulling their jaws off the floor, they started brainstorming. Why not transform their vision to a B&B? Next summer they hope to welcome their first guests.

“`Where you’re sitting is going to be the area where people can get their breakfast and I’d like to serve tea at 4:00 and we’ll have like a cookie of the day,” Catherine says.

Solar panels gain popularity

From an article by Molly Newman in the Marshfield News Herald:

When Doug Petznick's roof needed to be replaced last year, he invested $14,000 in the project -- about twice the average cost for a new roof. But thanks to federal and state green energy rebates, Petznick will end up paying only half of that amount for his solar electric roof.

Petznick is one of five Marshfield homeowners who have installed solar electric panels in the past year. He chose photovoltaic panels, which convert sunlight into energy, both to save money in the long term and to reduce his family's carbon footprint.

He already was considering installing a metal roof when he arrived at Kulp's of Stratford and learned the company offers solar electric metal roofing, Petznick said.

John Maggitti, solar specialist at Kulp's, said the roofing and insulation company has been offering photovoltaic panels for about a year, since customers started asking about them two years ago.

Since last year, Kulp's has installed about 12 photovoltaic roofs statewide and has six more projects pending, Maggitti said.

The panels are an investment that offers an average 6.5 percent return after 15 years, Maggitti said. The systems last about 25 years, so homeowners can expect 10 years of profit on the investment.

"People are acutely aware that the cost of energy is rising, and there's no indication that the cost of energy is going to come down anytime in the future," Maggitti said.

Petznick said he saw an immediate change in his electric bill as a result of his installation, and he now pays about one-third less each month.

7th Annual Kickapoo Country Fair, July 24-25, 2010

Now in its seventh year, the Kickapoo Country Fair is the Midwest's largest organic food and sustainability festival. In La Farge, Wisconsin, nestled among the ancient hills of the Kickapoo Valley, the fair serves up a generous helping of fun for all in celebration of family, culture, and community, all the while looking toward a healthy, sustainable future.

Held July 24-25, 2010, on the grounds of Organic Valley headquarters Kickapoo Country Fair will bring together thousands of attendees for two fun-packed days of food, music, bike and farm tours, cooking demonstrations, theater, kids' activities, dancing, author readings, and speakers—all offered at an affordable price for families.

*Authors, activists and innovators including Temple Grandin, author of Animals Make Us Human
*Live music all weekend on two stages
*Musical headliner Miles Nielsen — Good ol' heartland rock 'n' roll, main stage, Saturday night
*Wisconsin Author Michael Perry reading from his latest book Coop and performing with his band, the Long Beds
*"Green Village," green building and lifestyle workshops
*Delicious local and organic food
*Farmers market
*Farm tours and exhibits
*Vendors and artisans
*Fourth-annual Butter Churn Bike Tour
*Children’s activities
*Stiltwalkers and other surprises!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Milwaukee County rolls out 90 clean diesel buses

From an article by Sharif Durhams in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee County's bus system unveiled on Wednesday the first of 90 new buses purchased to replace those in its aging fleet.

The clean diesel buses cost a total of nearly $33 million. About half of that money came from the federal stimulus package.

Milwaukee County plans to buy 35 more buses in 2011, according to MCTS.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We Energies' Valley plant operates under more lenient standards

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

Many old coal-fired power plants are shutting down or being upgraded, but Valley escapes change

Many of Wisconsin's oldest coal-fired power plants are shutting down or are being upgraded as regulators tighten standards to improve air quality.

But We Energies' Valley plant - with its twin 400-foot smokestacks that tower over the High Rise Bridge a mile south of downtown Milwaukee - is a glaring exception.

The utility has avoided installing costly pollution controls by capitalizing on the plant's age, its unique role in producing steam to heat many downtown buildings and a court settlement with environmental regulators.

Valley is We Energies' oldest power plant that lacks modern emission controls. As a result, it exposes metro Milwaukee - an area with longstanding air quality problems - to more air pollution.

"Valley is the poster child for the oldest and dirtiest coal plants in the state," said Jennifer Feyerherm of the Sierra Club, an organization that has been active in forcing utilities to clean up operations of old power plants.

We Energies' No. 2 executive said the company has installed equipment to bring down pollution.

"We have not ignored Valley," said Rick Kuester, the utility's executive vice president.

He signaled for the first time that the company is studying the future of Valley and considering adding more pollution controls or switching to a cleaner burning fuel.

Kuester also emphasized the critical role the plant plays in the financial health of downtown Milwaukee by relying on steam to keep heating costs stable. The plant also provides supplemental electricity for the broader power grid on hot summer days when usage is high.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Oil Spill and You

From a commentary by Michael Vickerman:

Commentary
by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
July 12, 2010

About 100 people gathered in downtown Madison in early July to take part in “Hands Across the Sands,” an internationally organized protest against continued oil drilling in and along the world’s coastal waters. Against the backdrop of the weed-choked waters of Lake Monona, they joined hands for 15 minutes to express their fervent desire to see a cleaner, less destructive energy future emerge from the liquid melanoma spreading across the Gulf of Mexico.

No doubt the protestors would like to do more, much more, than simply engage in ritualized protest in front of a few camera crews. But we live in a society that is organized around the expectation of a limitless supply of nonrenewable hydrocarbons feeding concentrated energy into our economic bloodstream. Most of us have not bothered to comprehend the yawning gulf that lies between our best intentions and our abject dependence on the wealth-producing properties of petroleum. Nor how this addiction fills us with delusions of godlike mastery over our environment while blinding us to the reality that we humans have grossly overshot our planet’s carrying capacity.

For those who read and still remember the science fiction classic Dune, the “spice” on Arrakis remains the quintessential literary analogy to the reality of Earth’s oil. Like our oil, the spice held a special place in that world as the ultimate prize worth waging wars and plundering hostile environments for. . . .

Need I mention that once you begin to appreciate the finitude of the Earth’s endowment of petroleum, there’s nothing to stop you from taking immediate steps to curb your personal consumption of this irreplaceable fuel. Whatever you do to lessen your dependence on petroleum will turn out to be a much more satisfying and meaningful response to our energy predicament than any canned protest promoted through Facebook.

As for myself, I made two resolutions since the Macondo well erupted. The first is to go through this summer without activating the household air-conditioner. So far, so good, I can report. (Luckily, we were spared the triple-digit temperature swelterfest that gripped the East Coast last week). It wasn’t that long ago that life without air-conditioning was the norm rather than the exception. If we all resolved not to turn on air-conditioners, we could force the retirement of two to three coal-fired plants in this state.

The other change was to ratchet up my reliance on my bicycle and make it the default vehicle for all my local travels, irrespective of weather conditions. I have been a fair-weather bicycle commuter for many years, but after watching everyone on TV blame someone else for the catastrophe, I felt the need to push myself a little harder. My objective here is to regard my car as a luxury that one day I might do without.

Though the extra perspiration and the occasional dodging of raindrops may take some getting used to, you are going to sleep better at night. Trust me on this.

If the oil spill has prompted a similar response from you, feel free to describe them and send them to the moderator of our Peak Oil blog or post them in a response.

The Oil Spill and You

From a commentary by Michael Vickerman:

Commentary
by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
July 12, 2010

About 100 people gathered in downtown Madison in early July to take part in “Hands Across the Sands,” an internationally organized protest against continued oil drilling in and along the world’s coastal waters. Against the backdrop of the weed-choked waters of Lake Monona, they joined hands for 15 minutes to express their fervent desire to see a cleaner, less destructive energy future emerge from the liquid melanoma spreading across the Gulf of Mexico.

No doubt the protestors would like to do more, much more, than simply engage in ritualized protest in front of a few camera crews. But we live in a society that is organized around the expectation of a limitless supply of nonrenewable hydrocarbons feeding concentrated energy into our economic bloodstream. Most of us have not bothered to comprehend the yawning gulf that lies between our best intentions and our abject dependence on the wealth-producing properties of petroleum. Nor how this addiction fills us with delusions of godlike mastery over our environment while blinding us to the reality that we humans have grossly overshot our planet’s carrying capacity.

For those who read and still remember the science fiction classic Dune, the “spice” on Arrakis remains the quintessential literary analogy to the reality of Earth’s oil. Like our oil, the spice held a special place in that world as the ultimate prize worth waging wars and plundering hostile environments for. . . .

Need I mention that once you begin to appreciate the finitude of the Earth’s endowment of petroleum, there’s nothing to stop you from taking immediate steps to curb your personal consumption of this irreplaceable fuel. Whatever you do to lessen your dependence on petroleum will turn out to be a much more satisfying and meaningful response to our energy predicament than any canned protest promoted through Facebook.

As for myself, I made two resolutions since the Macondo well erupted. The first is to go through this summer without activating the household air-conditioner. So far, so good, I can report. (Luckily, we were spared the triple-digit temperature swelterfest that gripped the East Coast last week). It wasn’t that long ago that life without air-conditioning was the norm rather than the exception. If we all resolved not to turn on air-conditioners, we could force the retirement of two to three coal-fired plants in this state.

The other change was to ratchet up my reliance on my bicycle and make it the default vehicle for all my local travels, irrespective of weather conditions. I have been a fair-weather bicycle commuter for many years, but after watching everyone on TV blame someone else for the catastrophe, I felt the need to push myself a little harder. My objective here is to regard my car as a luxury that one day I might do without.

Though the extra perspiration and the occasional dodging of raindrops may take some getting used to, you are going to sleep better at night. Trust me on this.

If the oil spill has prompted a similar response from you, feel free to describe them and send them to the moderator of our Peak Oil blog or post them in a response.

The Oil Spill and You

From a commentary by Michael Vickerman:

Commentary
by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
July 12, 2010

About 100 people gathered in downtown Madison in early July to take part in “Hands Across the Sands,” an internationally organized protest against continued oil drilling in and along the world’s coastal waters. Against the backdrop of the weed-choked waters of Lake Monona, they joined hands for 15 minutes to express their fervent desire to see a cleaner, less destructive energy future emerge from the liquid melanoma spreading across the Gulf of Mexico.

No doubt the protestors would like to do more, much more, than simply engage in ritualized protest in front of a few camera crews. But we live in a society that is organized around the expectation of a limitless supply of nonrenewable hydrocarbons feeding concentrated energy into our economic bloodstream. Most of us have not bothered to comprehend the yawning gulf that lies between our best intentions and our abject dependence on the wealth-producing properties of petroleum. Nor how this addiction fills us with delusions of godlike mastery over our environment while blinding us to the reality that we humans have grossly overshot our planet’s carrying capacity.

For those who read and still remember the science fiction classic Dune, the “spice” on Arrakis remains the quintessential literary analogy to the reality of Earth’s oil. Like our oil, the spice held a special place in that world as the ultimate prize worth waging wars and plundering hostile environments for. . . .

Need I mention that once you begin to appreciate the finitude of the Earth’s endowment of petroleum, there’s nothing to stop you from taking immediate steps to curb your personal consumption of this irreplaceable fuel. Whatever you do to lessen your dependence on petroleum will turn out to be a much more satisfying and meaningful response to our energy predicament than any canned protest promoted through Facebook.

As for myself, I made two resolutions since the Macondo well erupted. The first is to go through this summer without activating the household air-conditioner. So far, so good, I can report. (Luckily, we were spared the triple-digit temperature swelterfest that gripped the East Coast last week). It wasn’t that long ago that life without air-conditioning was the norm rather than the exception. If we all resolved not to turn on air-conditioners, we could force the retirement of two to three coal-fired plants in this state.

The other change was to ratchet up my reliance on my bicycle and make it the default vehicle for all my local travels, irrespective of weather conditions. I have been a fair-weather bicycle commuter for many years, but after watching everyone on TV blame someone else for the catastrophe, I felt the need to push myself a little harder. My objective here is to regard my car as a luxury that one day I might do without.

Though the extra perspiration and the occasional dodging of raindrops may take some getting used to, you are going to sleep better at night. Trust me on this.

If the oil spill has prompted a similar response from you, feel free to describe them and send them to the moderator of our Peak Oil blog or post them in a response.

Environmental study will add biomass info

From an editorial in the Wausau Daily Herald:

The Sierra Club's Wisconsin Clean Energy Campaign and the advocacy group Clean Wisconsin recently asked the state Public Service Commission to complete a environmental impact statement on the effects of a proposed biomass plant in Rothschild.

We're in favor of bringing more information out to the public about this project, and we hope that a full assessment will be performed.

The $250 million plant, which is being proposed by We Energies and the Domtar paper mill, is not large enough for state statute to trigger the evaluation, which would be completed by state and federal agencies. We agree with the Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin that it should, anyway.

It's worth saying that we're very much open to the possibility that an environmental impact statement will not find that the plant will have a negative effect.

We're living in polarized times, and it's easy to slip this question into that sort of lens -- environmentalism vs. industry, perhaps. The assumption, in this view, would be that having more information will necessarily show that biomass technology is harmful, and a more detailed study will necessarily lead to the rejection of the plant. So people who favor the study must be people who oppose the plant. People who favor the plant, then, will naturally be opposed to doing the study.

We reject that way of looking at this question. Our Editorial Board's experience with Domtar and We Energies has been that they've been forthcoming and willing to provide substantive answers to critics' questions. Even in this specific case, the companies haven't ruled out conducting the formal study. A We Energies spokesman said it would be premature to call for a study before the Public Service Commission completes its own environmental evaluation.

The Oil Spill and You

Commentary
by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
July 12, 2010

About 100 people gathered in downtown Madison in early July to take part in “Hands Across the Sands,” an internationally organized protest against continued oil drilling in and along the world’s coastal waters. Against the backdrop of the weed-choked waters of Lake Monona, they joined hands for 15 minutes to express their fervent desire to see a cleaner, less destructive energy future emerge from the liquid melanoma spreading across the Gulf of Mexico.

No doubt the protestors would like to do more, much more, than simply engage in ritualized protest in front of a few camera crews. But we live in a society that is organized around the expectation of a limitless supply of nonrenewable hydrocarbons feeding concentrated energy into our economic bloodstream. Most of us have not bothered to comprehend the yawning gulf that lies between our best intentions and our abject dependence on the wealth-producing properties of petroleum. Nor how this addiction fills us with delusions of godlike mastery over our environment while blinding us to the reality that we humans have grossly overshot our planet’s carrying capacity.

For those who read and still remember the science fiction classic Dune, the “spice” on Arrakis remains the quintessential literary analogy to the reality of Earth’s oil. Like our oil, the spice held a special place in that world as the ultimate prize worth waging wars and plundering hostile environments for.

To carry the analogy further, if oil has become the spice, as it were, of America, then America has become our planet’s House of Harkonnen. Each great power has been willing to deploy their military supremacy to launch pre-emptive strikes on distant lands to assert control over the most valuable resource in their domain. In Dune, the invasion of Arrakis began as a rout, but over time evolved into a wearying, treasury-sapping occupation that ultimately cost the House of Harkonnen its status as a great power. Sound familiar?

Extracting these highly prized resources is dangerous business. On Arrakis, careless spice miners wind up as snack food for giant sandworms coursing through the sands. On our fair planet, British Petroleum’s stumbling ways a mile below the sea surface let loose a lethal eruption and a tide of goo now washing over countless estuaries and coastal outposts dense with life.

Just as the universe in Dune revolves around the spice, petroleum sets the rhythms and beats that make up life in America. It powers our comings and goings, our getting and spending. It is the fuel that carries us and our possessions across continents and over oceans. It makes possible the transporting of lettuce grown in California to supermarkets in Florida, and enables an envelope picked up in Phoenix to be flown to Memphis and then to Seattle in under 24 hours.

In fact, petroleum is the fuel of fuels, powering diesel trains that pull 130 carfuls of Wyoming coal to electric generating stations in Wisconsin and Georgia. Diesel seems to be everywhere, in tankers carrying crude oil, in trucks hauling solar electric panels, and in cranes assembling 250-ton wind energy turbines.

It’s worth mentioning that all the boats that gather shrimp and oysters from the Louisiana coastline are equipped with engines that run on diesel fuel. Gone are the days when baymen reached their favored fishing grounds using muscle power and wind energy. Without petroleum, shrimping ceases to be the industrial enterprise it is today.

But while diesel is ubiquitous, crude oil is not. The big, shallow reservoirs have all been discovered and many of them are showing signs of exhaustion. But as long as the demand for petroleum remains at current levels, oil companies have no choice but to fan out to the most remote corners to find the next big strike. Yet because we have fashioned an economy that can’t operate “normally” without petroleum, it will be extremely challenging, if not downright impossible, to effect an organized program of reducing oil consumption through political channels. To the extent we’ll see any policy response to our energy predicament, it is highly unlikely that it will be anything more enlightened than what the House of Harkonnen cooked up under similar circumstances.

Americans from all walks of life believe that we can accomplish anything if we put our collective will and ingenuity to it. But invoking that appealing myth will not help us extricate ourselves from our present predicament. What we need instead is the capacity to envision a fulfilling and livable world without copious quantities of petroleum. Only then do we have a chance of breaking the spell that has put us in the thrall of this wondrous energy source.

Need I mention that once you begin to appreciate the finitude of the Earth’s endowment of petroleum, there’s nothing to stop you from taking immediate steps to curb your personal consumption of this irreplaceable fuel. Whatever you do to lessen your dependence on petroleum will turn out to be a much more satisfying and meaningful response to our energy predicament than any canned protest promoted through Facebook.
As for myself, I made two resolutions since the Macondo well erupted. The first is to go through this summer without activating the household air-conditioner. So far, so good, I can report. (Luckily, we were spared the triple-digit temperature swelterfest that gripped the East Coast last week). It wasn’t that long ago that life without air-conditioning was the norm rather than the exception. If we all resolved not to turn on air-conditioners, we could force the retirement of two to three coal-fired plants in this state.

The other change was to ratchet up my reliance on my bicycle and make it the default vehicle for all my local travels, irrespective of weather conditions. I have been a fair-weather bicycle commuter for many years, but after watching everyone on TV blame someone else for the catastrophe, I felt the need to push myself a little harder. My objective here is to regard my car as a luxury that one day I might do without.

Though the extra perspiration and the occasional dodging of raindrops may take some getting used to, you are going to sleep better at night. Trust me on this.

If the oil spill has prompted a similar response from you, feel free to describe them and send them to the moderator of our Peak Oil blog below. Thank you.

Michael Vickerman is executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a sustainable energy advocacy organization. For more information on the global and national petroleum and natural gas supply picture, visit "The End of Cheap Oil" section in RENEW Wisconsin's web site: www.renewwisconsin.org. These commentaries also posted on RENEW’s blog: http://renewwisconsinblog.org and Madison Peak Oil Group’s blog: http://www.madisonpeakoil-blog.blogspot.com

Friday, July 9, 2010

Manitowoc wind tower maker plans to hire 60 workers

From an article by Charlie Mathews in the Manitow Hearld Times Reporter:

MANITOWOC — Paul Smith is excited to hang a "Jobs Open" sign at Tower Tech's manufacturing plant on the Manitowoc River peninsula.

With two major new contracts, the wind tower company's chief operating officer said about 60 people will be hired in the next month, increasing the work force to more than 200.

"It feels pretty good to bring some individuals back from layoff, as well as hire new to do welding, painting, blasting and assembling," said Smith.

The recession hit the wind industry hard, but contracts awarded in late June and this week to supply 265-foot, 200-ton towers for Danish-based Vestas and Spanish firm Gamesa Technology Corp. will keep the Manitowoc plant operating at full capacity for the next year.

"Our people have a work ethic combined with basic fabrication and welding knowledge that enable us to build some of the heaviest towers in the industry better than anybody," Smith said.

It also helps that Milwaukee-based We Energies was looking for Wisconsin suppliers for its $367 million Glacier Hills Wind Park to be erected in 2011 in Columbia County. Tower Tech will build 90 towers for the project.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Wind stakeholders cite uniformity as key to more projects

From a news release issued by RENEW Wisconsin:

Collectively drawing upon the individual roadblocks that developers experienced in permitting wind energy projects in Wisconsin, a group of renewable energy stakeholders urged the Public Service Commission to adopt standards that can’t be undermined by additional restrictions imposed by local governments.

The comments, submitted on behalf of 38 signatories, addressed the draft siting rule published by the Commission in mid-May. The draft rule proposed standards applicable to all wind energy systems -- large and small -- erected in Wisconsin. In the next phase of this proceeding, the Commission will review the public comments before issuing a final rule in August.

The rule will specify, among other things, setback distances from neighbors, sound limits, shadow flicker durations, procedures for decommissioning inoperable turbines, and mitigating electronic signal interference.

Noting that local governments would have discretionary authority going beyond the legislation’s intentions, renewable energy supporters recommended specific changes to give developers a greater sense of certainty in the permitting process.

“We are willing to work collaboratively and cooperatively with political subdivisions to establish mutually agreeable provisions beyond the requirements of the rules,” the stakeholders said in their joint comments. “However, we cannot develop wind projects in Wisconsin if current uncertainty regarding political subdivision requirements continues.”

Wind stakeholders cite uniformity as key to more projects

From a news release issued by RENEW Wisconsin:

Collectively drawing upon the individual roadblocks that developers experienced in permitting wind energy projects in Wisconsin, a group of renewable energy stakeholders urged the Public Service Commission to adopt standards that can’t be undermined by additional restrictions imposed by local governments.

The comments, submitted on behalf of 38 signatories, addressed the draft siting rule published by the Commission in mid-May. The draft rule proposed standards applicable to all wind energy systems -- large and small -- erected in Wisconsin. In the next phase of this proceeding, the Commission will review the public comments before issuing a final rule in August.

The rule will specify, among other things, setback distances from neighbors, sound limits, shadow flicker durations, procedures for decommissioning inoperable turbines, and mitigating electronic signal interference.

Noting that local governments would have discretionary authority going beyond the legislation’s intentions, renewable energy supporters recommended specific changes to give developers a greater sense of certainty in the permitting process.

“We are willing to work collaboratively and cooperatively with political subdivisions to establish mutually agreeable provisions beyond the requirements of the rules,” the stakeholders said in their joint comments. “However, we cannot develop wind projects in Wisconsin if current uncertainty regarding political subdivision requirements continues.”

Makin' juice: Cranberries - and energy - harvested at Tomah bog

From an article by Danielle Begalke in The Country Today:

TOMAH - The story of how cranberry grower Fred Prehn came to own his first wind turbine begins in an unusual place.

His son, Fritz, a materials science major at UW-Madison, came up with the idea as the pair climbed Mount Aconcagua in South America.

"He said, ‘Dad, why don't you do something renewable and make a statement?' " Prehn recalled.

That statement was made last December when Prehn had a 35-kilowatt Endurance Wind Power wind turbine installed to power his Prehn Cranberry Co. in Tomah.

The source of renewable energy stretches toward the sky on a 140-foot-tall base.

In terms of wind turbines, that's relatively small, Prehn said. But the turbine has made a big impact.

Prehn said he had reservations about how well the turbine would work at his 160-acre Monroe County farm.

"There's better wind in other parts of the state, no question about it," he said.

Still, with average wind speeds of about 12.5 mph at his farm, Prehn estimated the turbine will pump out 100,000 kilowatts of energy per year - enough to run about eight homes annually. The turbine powers his shop and an employee's home.

According to Ry Thompson, a project manager at Seventh Generation Energy in Madison, which installed the turbine, the Endurance turbine fits well in Wisconsin's climate.

"We've been eager to install one of these," Thompson said. "It's a very well-designed, durable machine, and the 30-foot-long blades make it suitable to lower wind speed environments, as are common in Wisconsin."

Thompson said he expects the turbine to be popular among farmers, schools and manufacturing facilities.

Prehn said he earns 11 cents for every unused kilowatt the turbine produces.

"Right now my electric bill is nothing," he said. "Oakdale Electric is paying me."

Wind stakeholders cite uniformity as key to more projects

From a news release issued by RENEW Wisconsin:

Collectively drawing upon the individual roadblocks that developers experienced in permitting wind energy projects in Wisconsin, a group of renewable energy stakeholders urged the Public Service Commission to adopt standards that can’t be undermined by additional restrictions imposed by local governments.

The comments, submitted on behalf of 38 signatories, addressed the draft siting rule published by the Commission in mid-May. The draft rule proposed standards applicable to all wind energy systems -- large and small -- erected in Wisconsin. In the next phase of this proceeding, the Commission will review the public comments before issuing a final rule in August.

The rule will specify, among other things, setback distances from neighbors, sound limits, shadow flicker durations, procedures for decommissioning inoperable turbines, and mitigating electronic signal interference.

Noting that local governments would have discretionary authority going beyond the legislation’s intentions, renewable energy supporters recommended specific changes to give developers a greater sense of certainty in the permitting process.

“We are willing to work collaboratively and cooperatively with political subdivisions to establish mutually agreeable provisions beyond the requirements of the rules,” the stakeholders said in their joint comments. “However, we cannot develop wind projects in Wisconsin if current uncertainty regarding political subdivision requirements continues.”

Stakeholders Cite Uniformity as Key to Wind Siting Success

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 7, 2010

MORE INFORMATION
Michael Vickerman
RENEW Wisconsin
608.255.4044
mvickerman@renewwisconsin.org


Stakeholders Cite Uniformity as Key to Wind Siting Success

Collectively drawing upon the individual roadblocks that developers experienced in permitting wind energy projects in Wisconsin, a group of renewable energy stakeholders urged the Public Service Commission to adopt standards that can’t be undermined by additional restrictions imposed by local governments.

The comments, submitted on behalf of 38 signatories, addressed the draft siting rule published by the Commission in mid-May. The draft rule proposed standards applicable to all wind energy systems -- large and small -- erected in Wisconsin. In the next phase of this proceeding, the Commission will review the public comments before issuing a final rule in August.

The rule will specify, among other things, setback distances from neighbors, sound limits, shadow flicker durations, procedures for decommissioning inoperable turbines, and mitigating electronic signal interference.

Noting that local governments would have discretionary authority going beyond the legislation’s intentions, renewable energy supporters recommended specific changes to give developers a greater sense of certainty in the permitting process.

“We are willing to work collaboratively and cooperatively with political subdivisions to establish mutually agreeable provisions beyond the requirements of the rules,” the stakeholders said in their joint comments. “However, we cannot develop wind projects in Wisconsin if current uncertainty regarding political subdivision requirements continues.”

“Many worthy projects have been stalled by changes made to ordinances after the project application was filed,” said Michael Vickerman, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin, a
renewable energy advocacy organization and a signatory to the joint comments. “We have to ensure that the rules don’t create opportunities for new restrictions that could bring wind energy development to a standstill.”

One example of such a restriction would be a requirement on developers to guarantee property values in the project area, Vickerman said. “Those kinds of conditions have nothing to do with protecting public health and safety, but would certainly increase wind development costs. Their real purpose would be to make wind energy an economic non-starter in whichever community that adopts those requirements.”

The comments submitted on behalf of renewable energy stakeholders can be retrieved at this link -- http://psc.wi.gov/apps35/ERF_view/viewdoc.aspx?docid=134452

END

RENEW Wisconsin (http://www.renewwisconsin.org/) is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Will we create a grid smart enough for the 21st century?

As daylight fades, Manhattan continues to gorge on power. New York City is tied to fuels like natural gas, with less than one percent of its electricity coming from wind or solar.

From an article by Joel Achenbach in National Geographic, with photos by Joe McNally

Can we fix the infrastructure that powers our lives?

We are creatures of the grid. We are embedded in it and empowered by it. The sun used to govern our lives, but now, thanks to the grid, darkness falls at our con­venience. During the Depression, when power lines first electrified rural America, a farmer in Tennessee rose in church one Sunday and said—power companies love this story—"The greatest thing on earth is to have the love of God in your heart, and the next greatest thing is to have electricity in your house." He was talking about a few lightbulbs and maybe a radio. He had no idea.

Juice from the grid now penetrates every corner of our lives, and we pay no more attention to it than to the oxygen in the air. Until something goes wrong, that is, and we're suddenly in the dark, fumbling for flashlights and candles, worrying about the frozen food in what used to be called (in pre-grid days) the icebox. Or until the batteries run dry in our laptops or smart phones, and we find ourselves scouring the dusty corners of airports for an outlet, desperate for the magical power of electrons.

The grid is wondrous. And yet—in part because we've paid so little attention to it, engineers tell us—it's not the grid we need for the 21st century. It's too old. It's reliable but not reliable enough, especially in the United States, especially for our mushrooming population of finicky digital devices. Blackouts, brownouts, and other power outs cost Americans an estimated $80 billion a year. And at the same time that it needs to become more reliable, the grid needs dramatic upgrading to handle a different kind of power, a greener kind. That means, among other things, more transmission lines to carry wind power and solar power from remote places to big cities.

Most important, the grid must get smarter. . . .

Will we create a grid smart enough for the 21st century?

As daylight fades, Manhattan continues to gorge on power. New York City is tied to fuels like natural gas, with less than one percent of its electricity coming from wind or solar.

From an article by Joel Achenbach in National Geographic, with photos by Joe McNally

Can we fix the infrastructure that powers our lives?

We are creatures of the grid. We are embedded in it and empowered by it. The sun used to govern our lives, but now, thanks to the grid, darkness falls at our con­venience. During the Depression, when power lines first electrified rural America, a farmer in Tennessee rose in church one Sunday and said—power companies love this story—"The greatest thing on earth is to have the love of God in your heart, and the next greatest thing is to have electricity in your house." He was talking about a few lightbulbs and maybe a radio. He had no idea.

Juice from the grid now penetrates every corner of our lives, and we pay no more attention to it than to the oxygen in the air. Until something goes wrong, that is, and we're suddenly in the dark, fumbling for flashlights and candles, worrying about the frozen food in what used to be called (in pre-grid days) the icebox. Or until the batteries run dry in our laptops or smart phones, and we find ourselves scouring the dusty corners of airports for an outlet, desperate for the magical power of electrons.

The grid is wondrous. And yet—in part because we've paid so little attention to it, engineers tell us—it's not the grid we need for the 21st century. It's too old. It's reliable but not reliable enough, especially in the United States, especially for our mushrooming population of finicky digital devices. Blackouts, brownouts, and other power outs cost Americans an estimated $80 billion a year. And at the same time that it needs to become more reliable, the grid needs dramatic upgrading to handle a different kind of power, a greener kind. That means, among other things, more transmission lines to carry wind power and solar power from remote places to big cities.

Most important, the grid must get smarter. . . .

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

High-speed rail decision months behind schedule

From an article by Dustin Kass of the Winona (MN) Daily News:

WINONA, Minn. - Funding for a high-speed rail line in Minnesota is in jeopardy after federal delays have put the project months behind schedule.

A route for high-speed rail service between Madison and the Twin Cities likely will not be selected until this winter, nearly half a year after originally estimated, Minnesota Department of Transportation officials say. The delay could torpedo the chances of the project receiving federal funding - and of cities such as La Crosse or Winona gaining the economic boost the service would bring.

"The longer we delay, in my view, the less chance you get any money," Winona Mayor Jerry Miller said.

MnDOT received a $600,000 federal planning grant in January to cover half the cost of a preliminary study examining possible routes between Madison and the Twin Cities. But officials have not even started the study because they are waiting on Federal Railroad Administration officials to review the results of a separate Midwest regional study completed in 2004, said Dan Krom, director of the MnDOT office of Passenger Rail.

Officials are considering lines that would run through Eau Claire or La Crosse, with the second route passing through either Winona or Rochester, Minn. Winona leaders have banded with representatives from municipalities along the Mississippi River to form the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission and advocate for the line to follow an existing train route along the river. Miller is the commission's chairman.

Krom attributed the FRA delays to the burden the agency faces as it administers $8 billion in high-speed rail projects awarded in January. FRA officials did not respond to a call for comment on this story.

The Madison-to-Twin Cities study now will likely start in September, Krom said, with a

preferred route indicated "by the end of they year." The full study isn't expected to be finished until September 2011.

CUB sues PSC regarding Alliant's subsidies for industrial customers

From a news release issued by the Citizens Utility Board (CUB):

MADISON – The Citizens Utility Board filed a lawsuit on Friday, July 2 against the Public Service Commission for its decision to allow Wisconsin Power & Light to give discounts to industrial customers that will likely be subsidized by residential customers and others.

Wisconsin Power and Light, a utility subsidiary of Alliant Energy, applied with the PSC on November 13, 2009 for permission to offer an “economic development rate” that would provide certain large industrial customers with discounts on electricity service. The PSC issued an order approving this rate on June 4, 2010.

CUB has long been opposed to rates with discounts, because they usually force other customers to pay for the discount. The laws that regulate utility service in Wisconsin prohibit utilities from charging rates that provide discounts to one customer that are subsidized by other customers. CUB noted many of these concerns in correspondence to the PSC dated February 17 and March 16, 2010, and in its lawsuit filed last Friday.

Although PSC Chairperson Eric Callisto and Commissioner Mark Meyer approved the discounted rates, Commissioner Lauren Azar voted against them, noting that subsidies for certain industrial customers may cause higher rates for residential and commercial customers. Ms. Azar also issued a dissenting opinion on June 25, 2010, in which she called the rate “essentially a giveaway to businesses.”

“CUB filed this lawsuit to protect residential customers from subsidizing large, politically powerful companies,” said CUB executive director Charlie Higley. “The job of the PSC is to set electric rates that are fair, just, and reasonable, and the economic development rate approved by the PSC violates these legal principles.”

Support for new rail transit systems dips below 50%

From an article by Larry Sandler of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

But expansion of I-94 finds increased support

Support for new rail transit systems has dipped below 50% in the Milwaukee area, while I-94 expansion receives stronger backing but still falls just short of a majority, according to a recent poll.

At the same time, The People Speak Poll found majority support throughout the four-county area for a new half-cent sales tax in Milwaukee County only to fund the county's transit system, despite skepticism about empowering a regional transit authority to levy a broader sales tax.

The Public Policy Forum's People Speak Poll is a tracking poll, designed to follow changes in public opinion on key local issues over time. The latest telephone poll of 386 residents in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties focused on transportation issues and was the third such poll in a year to ask about plans for high-speed trains, commuter rail and streetcars.

Last fall, 57% backed plans for high-speed trains linking Milwaukee to Madison and Chicago. Narrower majorities supported plans for commuter trains from Milwaukee to Kenosha and Racine and modern streetcars in downtown Milwaukee. Those results didn't change much in the spring.

But when the latest poll was conducted June 1-4, support had dropped to 41% for high-speed rail and 42% each for downtown streetcars and commuter rail, the Public Policy Forum reported.

By contrast, a new question about adding lanes to I-94 between Milwaukee and Waukesha drew 49% in favor to 39% opposed, with the rest voicing no opinion.

Those results reflect inroads by vocal rail transit opponents, as well as public concern about the economy and strained government budgets, Public Policy Forum President Rob Henken said.

Marshfield renewable energy plan just 7 percent under goal

From an article by Molly Newman in the Marshfield News-Herald:

A report released Friday [July 2] by Energy Center of Wisconsin showed Marshfield is already set to complete 93 percent of its goal as one of 10 pilot programs in Wisconsin's "25x25" challenge.

The 25x25 plan was proposed in 2009 as a way for the state to attain its goal of generating 25 percent of energy consumption from renewable sources by 2025.

Marty Anderson, chair of the city's Sustainable Marshfield committee, said the group came up with 16 projects to reduce energy consumption. These included solar collection and geothermal energy use in city buildings, conversion of the non-emergency fleet to hybrid vehicles and purchasing 25 percent renewable electricity from Marshfield Utilities.

"We tried to put in (the plan) projects that we thought had a reasonable likelihood of being completed," Anderson said.

About 30 percent of the energy consumption goal will be met by projects that have already been implemented or are included on the city's five-year plan, Anderson said. For example, the new fire station integrated several energy-efficient features.

According to Sean Weitner, author of the Energy Center report, Marshfield also proposed installation of a $12 million, 38 megawatt wind farm, a project that was not included in the 93 percent indicator because it would cost more than five times the current total energy budget.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Area communities among those reaching energy independence

From a news release issued by Governor Jim Doyle on the success of the ten communities in Energy Independent (EI) Pilot -- Brown County; Chequamegon Bay (including the cities of Ashland, Bayfield and Washburn, the towns of Bayfield and La Pointe, the counties of Ashland and Bayfield, the Red Cliff tribe and the Bay Area Regional Transit authority); Columbus; Evansville; Fairfield; Marshfield; Oconomowoc; Osceola, including the school district; Platteville and Lancaster; Spring Green, including the school district:

MADISON – Governor Jim Doyle today announced ten Energy Independent (EI) Pilot Communities are well on their way toward achieving “25 x 25” – getting 25 percent of their electricity and 25 percent of their transportation fuels from renewable sources by 2025.

“Through the EI Pilot program communities have found ways to reduce their overall 2025 fossil fuel-based energy consumption by 30 percent,” said Governor Doyle. “This is significant considering we spend $16 billion on fossil fuel energy every year in Wisconsin, and all those dollars go outside of our state. We are finding ways to reduce our dependence
and generate jobs in Wisconsin.”

Two independent reports released by the Office of Energy Independence revealed how the ten EI Pilot Communities were able to accomplish 98 percent of their collective 25 x 25 goal.

The communities reduced their overall 2025 fossil fuel-based energy consumption by 30 percent and reduced their 2025 carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent.

The information gathered by the EI Pilot Communities will assist Wisconsin local units of government including the 140 EI Communities to decide which strategies will work best with their unique assets and capitalize on the diversity of their resources.

The reports were conducted by two non-partisan research and policy organizations: the Local Government Institute and the Energy Center of Wisconsin.

Oconomowoc among communities reaching energy independence

From a news release issued by Governor Jim Doyle on the success of the ten communities in Energy Independent (EI) Pilot -- Brown County; Chequamegon Bay (including the cities of Ashland, Bayfield and Washburn, the towns of Bayfield and La Pointe, the counties of Ashland and Bayfield, the Red Cliff tribe and the Bay Area Regional Transit authority); Columbus; Evansville; Fairfield; Marshfield; Oconomowoc; Osceola, including the school district; Platteville and Lancaster; Spring Green, including the school district:

MADISON – Governor Jim Doyle today announced ten Energy Independent (EI) Pilot Communities are well on their way toward achieving “25 x 25” – getting 25 percent of their electricity and 25 percent of their transportation fuels from renewable sources by 2025.

“Through the EI Pilot program communities have found ways to reduce their overall 2025 fossil fuel-based energy consumption by 30 percent,” said Governor Doyle. “This is significant considering we spend $16 billion on fossil fuel energy every year in Wisconsin, and all those dollars go outside of our state. We are finding ways to reduce our dependence
and generate jobs in Wisconsin.”

Two independent reports released by the Office of Energy Independence revealed how the ten EI Pilot Communities were able to accomplish 98 percent of their collective 25 x 25 goal.

The communities reduced their overall 2025 fossil fuel-based energy consumption by 30 percent and reduced their 2025 carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent.

The information gathered by the EI Pilot Communities will assist Wisconsin local units of government including the 140 EI Communities to decide which strategies will work best with their unique assets and capitalize on the diversity of their resources.

The reports were conducted by two non-partisan research and policy organizations: the Local Government Institute and the Energy Center of Wisconsin.

Northern communities among those reaching energy independence

From a news release issued by Governor Jim Doyle on the success of the ten communities in Energy Independent (EI) Pilot -- Brown County; Chequamegon Bay (including the cities of Ashland, Bayfield and Washburn, the towns of Bayfield and La Pointe, the counties of Ashland and Bayfield, the Red Cliff tribe and the Bay Area Regional Transit authority); Columbus; Evansville; Fairfield; Marshfield; Oconomowoc; Osceola, including the school district; Platteville and Lancaster; Spring Green, including the school district:

MADISON – Governor Jim Doyle today announced ten Energy Independent (EI) Pilot Communities are well on their way toward achieving “25 x 25” – getting 25 percent of their electricity and 25 percent of their transportation fuels from renewable sources by 2025.

“Through the EI Pilot program communities have found ways to reduce their overall 2025 fossil fuel-based energy consumption by 30 percent,” said Governor Doyle. “This is significant considering we spend $16 billion on fossil fuel energy every year in Wisconsin, and all those dollars go outside of our state. We are finding ways to reduce our dependence
and generate jobs in Wisconsin.”

Two independent reports released by the Office of Energy Independence revealed how the ten EI Pilot Communities were able to accomplish 98 percent of their collective 25 x 25 goal.

The communities reduced their overall 2025 fossil fuel-based energy consumption by 30 percent and reduced their 2025 carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent.

The information gathered by the EI Pilot Communities will assist Wisconsin local units of government including the 140 EI Communities to decide which strategies will work best with their unique assets and capitalize on the diversity of their resources.

The reports were conducted by two non-partisan research and policy organizations: the Local Government Institute and the Energy Center of Wisconsin.

Marshfield among communities reaching energy independence

From a news release issued by Governor Jim Doyle on the success of the ten communities in Energy Independent (EI) Pilot -- Brown County; Chequamegon Bay (including the cities of Ashland, Bayfield and Washburn, the towns of Bayfield and La Pointe, the counties of Ashland and Bayfield, the Red Cliff tribe and the Bay Area Regional Transit authority); Columbus; Evansville; Fairfield; Marshfield; Oconomowoc; Osceola, including the school district; Platteville and Lancaster; Spring Green, including the school district:

MADISON – Governor Jim Doyle today announced ten Energy Independent (EI) Pilot Communities are well on their way toward achieving “25 x 25” – getting 25 percent of their electricity and 25 percent of their transportation fuels from renewable sources by 2025.

“Through the EI Pilot program communities have found ways to reduce their overall 2025 fossil fuel-based energy consumption by 30 percent,” said Governor Doyle. “This is significant considering we spend $16 billion on fossil fuel energy every year in Wisconsin, and all those dollars go outside of our state. We are finding ways to reduce our dependence
and generate jobs in Wisconsin.”

Two independent reports released by the Office of Energy Independence revealed how the ten EI Pilot Communities were able to accomplish 98 percent of their collective 25 x 25 goal.

The communities reduced their overall 2025 fossil fuel-based energy consumption by 30 percent and reduced their 2025 carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent.

The information gathered by the EI Pilot Communities will assist Wisconsin local units of government including the 140 EI Communities to decide which strategies will work best with their unique assets and capitalize on the diversity of their resources.

The reports were conducted by two non-partisan research and policy organizations: the Local Government Institute and the Energy Center of Wisconsin.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

New wind turbine produces energy, training opportunities at Lakeshore Tech College

A 50 kW Entegrity wind turbine is installed May 26 on Lakeshore Technical College’s Cleveland campus. The turbine was made operable June 8 and is visible from I-43.

From a news release issued by Lakeshore Technical College:

A second wind turbine is up and running on Lakeshore Technical College's Cleveland campus, providing additional opportunities for student training and field testing, as well as energy savings for the college.

The 120-foot, 50 kW Entegrity turbine is located just northwest of the LTC Flexible Training Arena. It was installed May 26 with the help of Seventh Generation Energy Systems, and was made operable June 8 following final interconnection tests and inspections by We Energies.

The Entegrity is expected to produce between 75,000 and 91,900 kWh annually — slightly more than the Vestas V-15 turbine, which was erected on campus in 2004. A third turbine, a 50 kW Endurance, will be installed at LTC later this summer.

"The main point of the project is the head-to-head comparison of these three models for energy production, maintenance costs, installation costs and other factors," said Doug Lindsey, LTC's dean of Trade and Industry. "We Energies has a strong interest in providing consumer-level field test data on these turbines."

Regular maintenance on the Entegrity will be performed by second-year students in the Wind Energy Technology associate degree program.

While the two existing turbines — the Vestas and the Entegrity — are similar in size, Wind Energy Technology Instructor Jenny Heinzen said individuals visiting or passing by the campus will notice one key difference.

"The Entegrity is a downwind machine, which means it operates with its blades facing away from the wind," Heinzen said. "Because the Vestas operates by pointing into the wind, the two will appear to be positioned in reverse directions while operating simultaneously."

Xcel Energy and co-sponsors release Phase One of Transmission Study for transporting wind energy across Upper Midwest

From an news release issued by Excel Energy:

MINNEAPOLIS – Phase One of a comprehensive study released today by a coalition of energy leaders, identifies future transmission needs in the Upper Midwest to support renewable energy development and to transport that energy to population and electricity load centers. Xcel Energy is co-sponsoring the study with Electric Transmission America – a joint venture between subsidiaries of American Electric Power and MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, American Transmission Company, Exelon Corp., NorthWestern Energy and MidAmerican Energy Company.

The Strategic Midwest Area Transmission Study (SMARTransmission) sponsors retained Quanta Technology LLC to evaluate extra-high voltage transmission alternatives for new transmission development in the Upper Midwest. In phase one, Quanta evaluated eight transmission alternatives designed to support the integration of significant new wind generation within the study area, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. The plans would accommodate the integration of up to 56.8 gigawatts of wind generation. This translates into enough energy to power over 15 million households. If it is determined that less wind energy is needed, transmission recommendations would be adjusted accordingly.

The study’s Phase One results recommend three alternatives for further study based on a rigorous reliability assessment and stakeholder input. One of the alternatives is primarily 765-kilovolt extra-high voltage transmission, another includes 765 kilovolt combined with limited use of high-voltage direct current transmission lines, while the third constitutes a combination of both 345-kilovolt and 765-kilovolt transmission lines. The three alternatives will be evaluated further during the second phase of the study, scheduled for completion during the third quarter of 2010. The Phase One report can be downloaded at www.smartstudy.biz.

Plastic bottles expelled from UWSP campus

From an article by Nick Paulson in the Stevens Point Journal:

If you want a drink of water on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus this fall, don't expect to find any bottles for sale.

The university's new vending contract, which will go into effect before the school year starts in September, bans bottled water sales in campus vending machines. The 30 or so beverage machines also will switch to aluminum cans for soft drinks, cutting additional use of plastic. Only beverages which don't come in other materials, such as sports drinks, still will be sold in plastic bottles.

UWSP bids its vending contract every five years. When Jerry Lineberger, associate director of University Centers, and other staff members asked for student input on this issue, the biggest call was to get rid of plastics, especially bottled water. The Student Government Association even passed a resolution asking for a reduction.

"If you want water, we have lots of water fountains on campus," said Lineberger, who put together the new contract. "You can bring your own water bottle and fill it for free."

Eliminating bottled water and switching to aluminum will cut, possibly by half, the amount of plastic the campus uses. The switch fits in with UWSP's commitment to sustainability and image as a "green" campus.
But it also has a practical side. Recycling all the plastic costs the university money, but it can make money by selling the aluminum cans.

Committee hears various views on wind siting regulation

From an article by Jessica Larsen in The Tomah Journal:

About 40 residents attended a public hearing in Tomah on Tuesday to present their opinions about wind turbine siting to the Public Service Commission.

The PSC held afternoon and evening meetings at the Tomah Holiday Inn. The Tomah hearing was one of several held around Wisconsin.

The general consensus was support for wind turbines as long as there were educated regulations for where and how to build them. Seventeen residents voiced their opinion, and other attendees wrote theirs out in the hour-long meeting.

The information received from each hearing and other submitted testimonies will be reviewed by the commission and incorporated into the Wind Siting Rule this summer. The commission will then send the final Wind Siting Rule to the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate. The rule will be assigned to a committee in each house, and the committees have 30 days to review it and may hold public hearings. After legislative review, the final Wind Siting Rule takes effect.

Vernon County resident Natalie McIntire said she supports the emergence of wind power.

“Wind development will bring benefits to residents like me,” she said. “But if Wisconsin adopts unreasonable rules, it will drive benefits to other states.”

Speakers discussed the bad side effects such as the noise, flicker, health of those near the turbines and loss of scenery.

“I really wish, hope and pray that you would not put these in our country,” said Gurido VonAulock.