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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Plans moving ahead for bio-refinery in Park Falls

From a story by Heather Sawaski on WAOW-TV, Wausau:

PARK FALLS (WAOW) -- Flambeau River Papers in Park Falls is going to get a little greener.

Company leaders say when the new biomass plant is complete, the mill will use all of its waste energy, making it the first mill in North America not to use any fossil fuels. That's a far cry from where the future of the paper mill stood just over 4 years ago. That's when CEO Butch Johnson bought it out of bankruptcy. That's when the idea of a biomass refinery in the Northwoods started to take shape.

"We're no smarter than the guys before us that went bankrupt," Johnson explained. "What can we do differently with our operation so we can ensure our employees, our partners in our project that we're going to keep going? So we looked at a green initiative from the get go."

The $300 will convert biomass from bark and sawdust into diesel for domestic markets.

Johnson says between logging, construction, and operation, the plant will bring in hundreds of jobs.

"We buy currently about 140,000 cords of wood for this paper mill," he said. "With the bio-refinery, we would be buying an additional 365,000 cords of wood."

Monday, August 30, 2010

No environmental impact statement required on biomass proposal

From an article in the Wausau Daily Herald:

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission released its first assessment today of a proposed biomass plant in Rothschild, declining to perform an environmental impact statement demanded by opponents of the project and environmental groups.

In the preliminary finding released through the PSC site this afternoon, the commission members found the project would not have a “significant impact” on the surrounding community. Under state statutes, no environmental impact statement is necessary with that finding.

The commission members did take issue with the high level of particulate matter and other emissions from the plant predicted by air quality models. But the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has authority over air quality issues.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wood County energy assistance application schedule

From an article in the Marshfield News-Herald:

Wood County Energy Assistance Office will begin taking energy assistance applications at locations throughout Wood County starting Sept.

The Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program is available to qualifying households to help in maintaining utility and heating services.

To qualify a household income must be below 60% of the state median income.

Wood County will be accepting energy assistance applications at outreach sites only. Applicants will be seen on a first come first serve basis.

Registration is from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and no appointments will be scheduled for the regular season applications during this time. The Outreach Sites for the months of September and October are as follows:
September 7 WR Courthouse Auditorium
September 9 Marshfield City Hall 4th Floor
September 14 WR Courthouse Auditorium
September 16 Marshfield City Hall 4th Floor
September 22 WR Courthouse Auditorium
September 23 Marshfield City Hall 4th Floor

October 6 WR Courthouse Auditorium
October 7 Marshfield City Hall 4th Floor
October 13 WR Courthouse Auditorium
October 14 Marshfield City Hall 4th Floor
October 19 WR Courthouse Auditorium
October 21 Marshfield City Hall 4th Floor

Starting the year green at WITC

From an article by by Shawnda Schelinder in The Daily Press, Ashland:

Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College continues to respond to the rapidly growing interest in renewable energy and sustainability — both in operations and in programming. At both the campus and the college level, WITC is employing a variety of methods to improve sustainability and reduce costs. And the college continues to investigate and expand programming, while enhancing current programs.

Locally, sustainability improvements will be evident at the WITC-Ashland Campus, thanks to the Ashland County Land and Water Conservation Department and a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Rain gardens, as functional as they are pretty, were planted at the southern edge of the campus.

Report: We Energies landfills likely source of groundwater contamination

From an article by Christine Won in the Racine Journal Times:

CALEDONIA - A report released Thursday by environmental groups points to We Energies coal ash landfills as the likely source of the groundwater contamination that has left several residents without drinking water for the past year.

Almost 40 coal ash dump sites in 21 states, including Wisconsin, are contaminating groundwater or surface water with toxic metals like arsenic, mercury or lead, according to a report by the Enviromental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club.

The Oak Creek power plant, which has one active and two closed coal ash landfills, was named as having private wells in the area contaminated by molybdenum and boron.

We Energies spokesman Barry McNulty called the report "incomplete" and "flawed," drawn up in a time crunch to meet an agenda of getting it out before the U.S. Environmental Public Agency hearings on the coal ash rule begin nationwide Monday.

For the first time the EPA is proposing a coal ash regulation and considering two possible options at its hearings. One is to regulate as special wastes for disposal in landfills or surface impoundments and another to regulate as non-hazardous wastes.

We Energies has maintained that its coal ash sites cannot be the contaminant source because the natural groundwater in the bedrock aquifer, where most of the contaminated well water comes from, flows toward the northeast, toward the power plant.

Russell Boulding, a freelance environmental consultant who owns Boulding Soil-Water Consultant out of Bloomington, Ind., said he drew his conclusion in the report that the coal ash landfills are the most likely source for the groundwater contamination in the plant vicinity based on collected data patterns and high levels of molybdenum found within a concentrated area of the landfills. Boulding added the bedrock aquifer is a fractured system, where groundwater flow doesn't always follow the general trend, especially if water is pumped.

A dozen private drinking water wells within 1,500 feet of the coal ash landfills were found to exceed the state groundwater standards for molybdenum and boron, 40 and 960 micrograms per liter, respectively, according to the report.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Westfield first in DNR green program

From an article by Jen McCoy in the Portage Daily Register:

Because the Westfield School District continues to demonstrate a high level ecological stewardship, it became the first school to enroll into a state program dedicated to superior environmental performance among businesses.

"For a school district to say, ‘We're going to start managing our full environmental footstep,' that's a big step," said Mark McDermid, cooperative environmental assistance bureau director for the Department of Natural Resources.

Westfield applied for and was accepted into Wisconsin's Green Tier program, run under the DNR, which encourages businesses to move beyond regulatory compliance and promote superior environmental performance. About 30 businesses are in the program.

"We got recognized for what we already achieved, and we're going to prove what we can accomplish in the future," said Scott Peterson, district transportation director.

In 2008, the district began producing biodiesel for district transportation needs from oil donated by local restaurants and businesses. The biodiesel reduced emissions by about 70 percent compared with petro-diesel and saved the district at least $100,000. To further reduce waste, the district turns glycerin, a byproduct of the biodiesel production process, into earth-friendly hand and laundry soaps sold in area stores, such as Pierce's in Portage.

Plant will convert waste heat to electricity for Minnesota & Wisconsin

From an article posted on Ormat:

Ormat Technologies Inc. (NYSE: ORA) has begun commercial operation of a power station in Minnesota, and will sell the electricity produced to Great River Energy.

Ormat said that the GRE recovered energy generation (REG) power plant is a 5.5 MW net power plant that converts the waste heat from the exhaust of a gas turbine in a compressor station along a natural gas pipeline in Martin County, Minnesota. The plant converts recovered heat to electricity without the need for any additional fuel or water.

The electricity produced by the project is sold to Great River Energy under a 20 year power purchase agreement. Great River Energy provides wholesale electric service to 28 distribution cooperatives in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Ormat CEO Dita Bronicki said, "This is the 10th REG unit we own and operate in the US, that brings the total installed capacity to approximately 53 MW and contributes to the important goal of emission free power generation."

Ormat called the technology environmentally benign, with no emissions of carbon dioxide or nitrogen oxide.

Western Wisconsin coalition lobbies for high-speed rail

From an article on BizTimes.com:

The West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition is hoping that opponents of high-speed rail in the state will reconsider their position after its analysis of their arguments show them to be based upon incorrect data and misplaced assumptions.

“It’s time for everyone to hit the ‘reset’ button, look at the facts, and resume the historic bi-partisan support of passenger rail development in Wisconsin,” said Scott Rogers, an Eau Claire businessman who co-chairs the coalition along with long-time transportation professional Owen Ayres.

The group, which advocates a Chicago-Twin Cities route via Eau Claire and Hudson, also recently issued a joint statement with the La Crosse-based Empire Builder Coalition urging continuation of the state’s development of high-speed rail, which was begun under the administration of former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. The two groups jointly sent letters to public officials and candidates for state and federal office with the same message.

“If everything the opponents were saying about high-speed rail were true, even we would have a hard time supporting it,” Rogers said. “But the reality is, this is a good deal for the state of Wisconsin and a project important to our future economy.”

The group is urging officials and political candidates who have opposed rail to “look fully and fairly at the costs, value, return on investment and priority of building a high-speed rail system for Wisconsin.”

The coalition has posted a blog that rebukes Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker’s points of opposition against high-speed rail.

Gwen Moore: Hold up KRM until bus needs addressed

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

Congresswoman tried but failed to block funds until transit system was secure

A proposed Milwaukee-to-Kenosha commuter train line has a new nemesis: U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore.

Moore, a Milwaukee Democrat, recently unsuccessfully sought to freeze federal action on the KRM Commuter Link, a $283.5 million rail line that would connect downtown Milwaukee to Kenosha, Racine and the southern suburbs with 15 round trips daily.

Like Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway, Moore says she's not opposed to commuter rail but believes funding for Milwaukee County's embattled bus system must come first.

"A new commuter line between Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee will undoubtedly offer new benefits to our communities," Moore said in a written statement. "But I think it's important for (the Milwaukee County Transit System) to have a dedicated source of a funding because any new expenditures could come at the cost of current bus service. That's unacceptable."

Moore's action adds yet another layer of political complications for the KRM. The rail plan has drawn broad support from business, labor and community groups, but it has split transit advocates and is opposed by fiscal conservatives who don't want any new taxes. KRM foes have pushed anti-tax referendums onto the Nov. 2 ballot in Racine County and several Kenosha County communities.

Beset by rising costs, falling ridership and state and federal aid cuts, the Milwaukee County Transit System is facing a $10 million shortfall next year. County Executive Scott Walker has said he won't eliminate any bus routes, but he has not said whether he would seek fare increases or service cuts. Supervisors want a local sales tax to replace property tax support for the bus system, an idea that voters backed in a 2008 advisory referendum but that Walker opposes.

Transit supporters had hoped for a package deal that would have empowered a regional transit authority to fund both the KRM and the bus systems in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties. But when the Legislature voted instead for a compromise that would have set up a separate Milwaukee County transit authority with sales tax power, Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed it, leaving the new Southeastern Regional Transit Authority in control of only the KRM.

Federal Transit Administration officials have indicated they could approve preliminary engineering for the rail line but would not authorize funding for construction until the bus system is stabilized financially. Planners are counting on federal money to cover two-thirds of KRM construction costs, with one-sixth from the state and the rest from an $18-a-car rental car tax.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Students ride the sun; take plug-in hybrid buses to school

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

Town of Oconomowoc — Sandy Syburg has driven school buses for years - but none like these.

When they start rolling on their routes next week, these hybrid electric school buses won't lurch forward the way conventional school buses do.

A diesel engine is least efficient when it's trying to get a 27,000-pound vehicle moving from a full stop, Syburg said. Thanks to the hybrid technology, the electric motor kicks in first, with lithium-ion batteries powering the bus forward from a stop.

"It's very smooth. It's like a gust of wind when you're sailing," said Syburg, chief executive of Oconomowoc Transport Co.

In the bus terminal, Syburg can plug an electrical cord into the side of the bus so that solar panels can charge the batteries that run the vehicle's electric motor.

To date, more than 100 hybrid school and commercial buses have rolled off of the IC Bus LLC assembly line since 2007. Eleven of them are plug-in hybrid electric school buses in Oconomowoc, ready to start the school year next week.

The investment, aided by a state grant through the federal stimulus package, aims to reduce diesel fuel use by 7,500 gallons a year. That would provide savings of $26,000 in fuel costs for the Oconomowoc Area School District at today's diesel prices.

When they're done with their morning school run, the buses will return to the bus company on Brown St. and their batteries will be recharged with the help of 224 solar panels that were erected by Renewable Energy Solutions of Waukesha.

It's the first solar-electric charging station in the state, and it's ready to power the biggest fleet of plug-in hybrid school buses in the country.

The buses are projected to result in saving because of a 50% gain in fuel economy. A typical bus gets 7 miles per gallon, but the hybrid technology will boost that to 12.

"It's a little glimpse of the future; it's very impressive," said Mike Barry, assistant superintendent of the district. The district will seek to incorporate the solar-powered hybrids into its curriculum.

"We're trying to make some links between the curriculum that the students learn about in school and the real world," he said. "When the connection is as immediate as the very bus that takes you to and from school, that's a powerful connection."

Northern Wisconsin gets industry partnership grant for training in bio-energy sector

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

PARK FALLS – Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Secretary Roberta Gassman today announced a $463,488 Wisconsin Industry Partnership grant to train workers for biofuel production in Northern Wisconsin, further advancing Governor Doyle’s agenda to grow the state’s clean energy economy.

“This training grant is another example of Governor Doyle’s strategic investments to help Wisconsin create jobs and seize the opportunity to be a leader in the clean energy economy,” Secretary Gassman said. “These funds will help ensure that workers will be job ready as the biofuels industry expands in northern Wisconsin.”

Secretary Gassman awarded the grant to the Northwest Wisconsin Workforce Investment Board, DWD’s regional partner that proposed the Bio-Energy Sector Training project. The board worked with 15 employers in the biofuel, logging and paper production sector, including Flambeau River Papers, which will be powered by the new Flambeau River BioFuels bio-refinery plant once it is operational in 2013.

Through the grant, current employees and unemployed or underemployed workers will receive training in technology covering areas such as biomass harvesting and management. Chemical plant and system operators, chemists and first-line supervisors are among the jobs that will be supported through the 12-month grant project. With over $490,000 in local matching resources, total funding for the training project will surpass $900,000.

Northern Wisconsin gets industry partnership grant for training in bio-energy sector

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

PARK FALLS – Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Secretary Roberta Gassman today announced a $463,488 Wisconsin Industry Partnership grant to train workers for biofuel production in Northern Wisconsin, further advancing Governor Doyle’s agenda to grow the state’s clean energy economy.

“This training grant is another example of Governor Doyle’s strategic investments to help Wisconsin create jobs and seize the opportunity to be a leader in the clean energy economy,” Secretary Gassman said. “These funds will help ensure that workers will be job ready as the biofuels industry expands in northern Wisconsin.”

Secretary Gassman awarded the grant to the Northwest Wisconsin Workforce Investment Board, DWD’s regional partner that proposed the Bio-Energy Sector Training project. The board worked with 15 employers in the biofuel, logging and paper production sector, including Flambeau River Papers, which will be powered by the new Flambeau River BioFuels bio-refinery plant once it is operational in 2013.

Through the grant, current employees and unemployed or underemployed workers will receive training in technology covering areas such as biomass harvesting and management. Chemical plant and system operators, chemists and first-line supervisors are among the jobs that will be supported through the 12-month grant project. With over $490,000 in local matching resources, total funding for the training project will surpass $900,000.

Oconomowoc students to ride on plug-in hybrid school buses

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

Town of Oconomowoc — Sandy Syburg has driven school buses for years - but none like these.

When they start rolling on their routes next week, these hybrid electric school buses won't lurch forward the way conventional school buses do.

A diesel engine is least efficient when it's trying to get a 27,000-pound vehicle moving from a full stop, Syburg said. Thanks to the hybrid technology, the electric motor kicks in first, with lithium-ion batteries powering the bus forward from a stop.

"It's very smooth. It's like a gust of wind when you're sailing," said Syburg, chief executive of Oconomowoc Transport Co.

In the bus terminal, Syburg can plug an electrical cord into the side of the bus so that solar panels can charge the batteries that run the vehicle's electric motor.

To date, more than 100 hybrid school and commercial buses have rolled off of the IC Bus LLC assembly line since 2007. Eleven of them are plug-in hybrid electric school buses in Oconomowoc, ready to start the school year next week.

The investment, aided by a state grant through the federal stimulus package, aims to reduce diesel fuel use by 7,500 gallons a year. That would provide savings of $26,000 in fuel costs for the Oconomowoc Area School District at today's diesel prices.

When they're done with their morning school run, the buses will return to the bus company on Brown St. and their batteries will be recharged with the help of 224 solar panels that were erected by Renewable Energy Solutions of Waukesha.

It's the first solar-electric charging station in the state, and it's ready to power the biggest fleet of plug-in hybrid school buses in the country.

The buses are projected to result in saving because of a 50% gain in fuel economy. A typical bus gets 7 miles per gallon, but the hybrid technology will boost that to 12.

"It's a little glimpse of the future; it's very impressive," said Mike Barry, assistant superintendent of the district. The district will seek to incorporate the solar-powered hybrids into its curriculum.

"We're trying to make some links between the curriculum that the students learn about in school and the real world," he said. "When the connection is as immediate as the very bus that takes you to and from school, that's a powerful connection."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Make small changes in your driving habits to save money

From Madison Gas & Electric:

A few changes in your driving habits could save you money and gasoline. Hypermilers say it's easy... and anyone can do it.You don't have to drive an electric car or hybrid to drive more sustainably. In this story, we hit the road with an expert hypermiler to learn what it takes to go the extra
mile.

Monday, August 23, 2010

La Crosse County board approves gas to energy project

From an story on WEAU-TV, La Crosse:

The La Crosse County Board has approved moving forward with a solid waste project that could bring about $3.5 million to La Crosse County.

The county has been working with Gundersen Lutheran on a gas to energy project. Right now the methane gas that's taken from the decomposing garbage in the landfill is wasted as it's burned off.

The new project would send that gas through a pipeline directly to Gundersen's Onalaska Clinic where it can be used to create electricity and heat.

From a news release issued by Gunderson Lutheran:

Gundersen Lutheran and La Crosse County are moving forward on a unique green project that will turn garbage into renewable energy. The project will use waste gas that is created from garbage at the La Crosse County Landfill to create electricity and heat. The La Crosse County Board unanimously approved moving forward on the combined heat and power project, which is expected to offset about 12 percent of Gundersen Lutheran’s total energy use.

“This is a great use of a currently unused natural resource and it is an excellent example of what a public-private partnership can achieve in our community. We considered many partners for this project, and Gundersen Lutheran was a logical fit with their experience in renewable energy projects,” says Hank Koch, solid waste director, La Crosse County.

“We are very pleased to be entering into this partnership with La Crosse County,” adds Jeff Rich, executive director of Business Services, Gundersen Lutheran. “This project will help Gundersen Lutheran reduce the cost of healthcare, but beyond that, it’s good for the environment and it will be beneficial for the taxpayers of La Crosse County.”

Stopping high-speed rail would be costly for state

From an article by Andrew Weiland in BizTimes.com:

Although U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood insists that high-speed rail is inevitable in the state, Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials indicate a new governor could stop the $810 million project planned between Milwaukee and Madison. However, it would be costly to do so.

The Republican candidates for governor in Wisconsin, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and former Congressman Mark Neumann, have pledged to stop the high-speed rail project if elected.

“As governor, I will stop this train dead in its tracks,” Walker said.

“This is an Obama wasteful spending boondoggle that I will stop immediately in its tracks as governor,” Neumann said. . . .

Although the federal government is providing the construction funds for the Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail project, the state Department of Transportation, and not the federal government, is in charge of the project, said John Oimoen, passenger rail program manager for the Wisconsin DOT.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. DOT declined to directly answer a question asking if a future governor could cancel the high-speed rail project in Wisconsin.

“We’re not going to speculate on hypothetical situations,” said U.S. DOT spokeswoman Olivia Alair.

If a new governor wants to stop the high-speed rail project, the federal funds would have to be sent back to the federal government. By the time a new governor is sworn in, in January, the state will have allocated more than $100 million in engineering and construction contracts, Oimoen said. Construction is expected to begin in October on “land bridges” over wetland areas west of Watertown, he said.

A new governor could direct the Department of Transportation to cancel engineering and construction contracts. However, the state would have to pay a “significant” amount of money to contractors for claims that they would make for their equipment, material and labor costs incurred on their cancelled projects, said Paul Trombino, division operations director for the state DOT.

“I’m not saying it can’t be done,” Trombino said. “We have the ability to get out, but there could be significant costs to get out of a contract.”

The state has a $2.5 billion budget deficit, which could make it difficult to find funds to reimburse the federal government for money already spent on the high-speed rail project by January when the new governor takes office, and to pay the claims filed by contractors for the cancelled contracts.

“In the short term, it creates a major budget problem if we just decide we’re going to stop everything and scramble to send the funds back to Washington that we have already spent,” said state Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee). “I think it will be very difficult to cancel the project, and I think it would be unwise to do so.”

Friday, August 20, 2010

Rothschild residents sound off on biomass proposal

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

ROTHSCHILD -- The village Board of Appeals gave advocates of a controversial proposed biomass plant a boost Thursday, approving the installation of stacks and a boiler building higher than village ordinances typically permit.

About 275 residents attended the hearing at the Rothschild Pavilion, but the crowd had dwindled to double digits after about five hours of testimony.

The ultimate question of the hearing was whether the height of four structures proposed in the site plans was detrimental to the village. But opponents and proponents discussed air quality, noise, truck traffic and other issues that routinely have been raised since the $250 million project was announced in September 2009.

"When we built our homes here, we all knew what the rules were," Rothschild resident Thomas Jessup said during the hearing. "With this plant, we just don't know enough. I'm all for jobs and those are all good people working at Domtar, but there's not enough information."

Most opponents began their testimony with "I live in Rothschild," and asked the board not to make an exception in the village's height limits and to remember residents in their deliberations.

Joe Twaroski, who has worked at the Domtar mill for 28 years, went to the hearing in support of the biomass project and to "put a face" on the paper producer's employees.

He said he's one of the mill employees constantly monitoring emissions and finding a solution for any unusual readings.

We Energies and Domtar presented data backing the variances during the hearing. Experts on air quality, property values, traffic and construction of the plant gave individual presentations.

Community workshops for high-speed rail project scheduled in Sun Prairie and Waterloo

From a news release issued by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation:

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is announcing two community workshops to discuss the design process for the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail project. The workshops are scheduled from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. on August 25, 2010 and August 30, 2010. The August 25 workshop will be held at the Sun Prairie Municipal Building, 300 E. Main Street, Sun Prairie, WI. The August 30 workshop will be held at the Waterloo High School at 865 N. Monroe Street, Waterloo, WI.

At the workshop WisDOT and consultant staff will be available to discuss design activities in the Milwaukee-Madison rail corridor. Staff is also interested in hearing from the community on issues of concern to them as design continues to get underway. The team preparing the planning and environmental studies for rail stations in the corridor will also be on hand to answer questions about the station development process.

The public is encouraged to attend the meeting, provide input and ask questions concerning this project. Maps showing project corridor and potential station sites will be on display.

If you are unable to attend the meeting, or would like more information, contact Alyssa Macy at (414) 550-9407. Written comments regarding the project can be mailed to Alyssa Macy, Wisconsin Department of Transportation, High-Speed Passenger Rail Program Management Team, 433 W. St. Paul Avenue, Suite 300, Milwaukee, WI 53203-3007. To request an interpreter for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, please call 711, the Wisconsin Telecommunication Relay System, at least three working days prior to the meeting. Ask the communication assistant to contact Alyssa Macy of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation at (414) 550-9407.

For more information, contact:
Alyssa Macy, High Speed Rail Program
(414) 550-9407, WisconsinRail@dot.wi.gov

RENEW opposes WPS' proposed green pricing increase and asks for small wind tariff

From the testimony of Michael Vickerman in opposition to the request of Wisconsin Public Service Corporation to increase the cost of renewable energy purchased by customers in the NatureWise green-pricing program:

The purpose of my testimony is threefold: (1) to discuss how basing buyback rates on locational marginal pricing (LMP’s) penalizes low-risk renewable energy sources; (2) to encourage Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPS), with the support of the Commission, to establish a net energy billing tariff for small wind energy systems up to 100 kilowatts and (3) to urge the Commission to hold WPS’s NatureWise premium at 1.25 cents/kWh.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

High-speed rail foes, backers set up rival websites

From a blog post by Larry Sandler on JSOnline.com:

The debate over a planned high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison has spawned dueling websites and online petition drives.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker, who is stressing his opposition to the train route as a key campaign issue, recently set up a "Stop the Train!" site, www.notrain.com. Visitors to that site are encouraged to sign on to Walker's open letter to President Barack Obama opposing the project, which would be built with $810 million in federal stimulus money but then would require $10 million a year in state tax dollars to operate.

Walker, the Milwaukee County executive, faces former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, also a high-speed rail critic, in the Sept. 14 GOP primary. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the leading Democratic candidate, supports the train line.

In response to Walker's site, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association set up its own Web page to back the rail project. Visitors to that page can send a message to gubernatorial candidates and elected officials voicing support for the train line.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Twin Cities suburbs to study mass transit links to Wisconsin

From an article by Kevin Featherly in The Daily Reporter:

Minneapolis — Looking to get their share of transit money, leaders from eastern Twin Cities suburbs are planning a $1.4 million, 18-month study to identify mass transit options for the Interstate 94 corridor into Wisconsin.

The leaders, known as the Gateway Corridor Commission, hired CH2M Hill, a global engineering, consulting and construction firm with offices in Mendota Heights.

Ted Schoenecker, transportation planning manager for the Washington County Public Works Department, said the commission is approaching the study with no preconceived notions about which mass transit option would be best for the stretch of I-94 from St. Paul into Wisconsin, known as the Gateway Corridor.

Some options include a light rail line from St. Paul to Woodbury; a light rail line to Woodbury with a bus rapid transit link to Eau Claire; and a commuter rail line from St. Paul to Eau Claire that could share infrastructure with a high-speed passenger rail line that might one day run from St. Paul to Chicago.

Schoenecker said those are a few among many possibilities. “There could be 400 options beyond that,” he said. “So determining the best options is really the gist of what this study is going to do.”

The commission will launch its study in September and should complete it by spring of 2012. The study will determine potential ridership, project alignment, transit mode and costs for a transit way along the corridor.

Clint Gridley, Woodbury’s city administrator, said developing a mass transit strategy along the corridor is one of his city’s economic development priorities.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Electric cars are the wave of the future, says former Ford engineer

From an article by Randy Hanson in the by Hudson Star-Observer:

The electric car is about to become a much more commonplace sight on the streets of American cities, a former Ford Europe engineer told an audience in Hudson last Thursday evening.

Jukka Kukkonen, a native of Finland and president of the Minnesota Electric Auto Association, spoke to 55 people who attended a presentation on electric vehicles at The Phipps Center for the Arts. The meeting was sponsored by The Purple Tree, a downtown Hudson retail shop that specializes in fair trade products and ones made from recycled or organic materials.

“This is the cool part, because there is so much new stuff coming out each day,” Kukkonen said before introducing a dozen or more electric vehicles currently available or about to be produced.

They included the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, Mini E by BMW and Ford Focus Electric.

“Everybody’s on board. Now it’s just for us to think about which one we want,” said Kukkonen, who moved to St. Paul eight years ago after marrying an American he met while working for Ford Europe.

“The train is moving. The question is who is going to jump on board and who is going to stay at the station,” he later said of automobile companies. “Definitely, there is a new market and a new industry. The question is who is going to be a part of it.”

ATC plan would upgrade local power line

From an article by Jessica Larsen in The Tomah Journal:

A Pewaukee-based company applied to rebuild and upgrade an existing 17-mile electric transmission line that connects the Monroe County substation near Sparta and one near Tomah.

American Transmission Company filed the application with the Public Service Commission on July 29 for the $36 million project. By January 2011, ATC will receive the commission’s decision. If the company gets the go-ahead, construction would begin in summer 2012 and finish in summer 2013.

ATC would also build a new Timberwolf Substation 1/2 mile south of Interstate 90 along Hwy. 131 as part of the project to improve electric system reliability.

ATC’s project plan involves replacing the structures and wires of the existing 69-kilovolt transmission line, which runs mostly along Hwy. 16, and then adding a 161-kilovolt circuit to the new steel structures.

The existing system is about 40 years old, the company reports, and is susceptible to overloads and severe low voltages. The project would increase the reliability of the electrical system. ATC also said that the project would show economic savings by increasing the system’s ability to access lower-cost generation and reducing energy loss.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Northland College among America’s top 20 "coolest" schools

From a news release issued by Sierra Magazine:

Sierra magazine has named the nation’s top 20 "coolest" schools for their efforts to stop climate change and educate students about sustainability. From Green Mountain College's innovative biomass electricity generation to Georgia Tech's sustainable engineering classes, the magazine's September/October cover story spotlights the schools that are making a true difference for the planet, and marks Sierra’s fourth annual listing of America's greenest universities and colleges. The complete scorecard is available online at www.sierraclub.org/coolschools.

"With all of the environmental challenges we face, it's heartening to see the leadership these schools demonstrate when it comes to protecting the planet," said Michael Brune, the Sierra Club's executive director. "This generation of students cares deeply about protecting the environment, stopping global warming, and increasing our prosperity through innovation."

From small, environmentally focused liberal arts colleges to the largest research universities, schools across the country are helping to move the country towards a more sustainable future.

Sierra's Top 20 coolest schools of 2010 are:

1. Green Mountain College (Poultney, Vermont)
2. Dickinson College (Carlisle, Pennsylvania)
3. Evergreen State College (Olympia, Washington)
4. University of Washington (Seattle, Washington)
5. Stanford University (Palo Alto, California)
6. University of California, Irvine (Irvine, California)
7. Northland College (Ashland, Wisconsin)
8. Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
9. College of the Atlantic (Bar Harbor, Maine)
10. Hampshire College (Amherst, Massachusetts)
11. University of California, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, California)
11. [TIE] Middlebury College (Middlebury, Vermont)
13. University of Colorado, Boulder (Boulder, Colorado)
14. Warren Wilson College (Asheville, North Carolina)
15. University California, San Diego (San Diego, California)
16. University of California, Davis (Davis, California)
16. [TIE] University of Vermont (Burlington, Vermont)
18. University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
19. New York University (New York, New York)
20. Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, Georgia)

Wisconsin companies expand to accommodate wind energy

From an article by Nathan Phelps in the Green Bay Press Gazette:

Vorpahl Fire & Safety did not build its business with commercial wind generation in mind, but it's one of many companies that consider that industry a key opportunity for expansion.

For the last few months, Vorpahl has sold protective gear designed for workers in the wind energy sector, including safety harnesses, hard hats, gloves, high-visibility vests and tool bags.

Wind energy is a market the business is banking on for continued growth in the coming years.

"We've been trying to figure out creative ways to break into other, untapped, segments, and wind energy came up because it is really big in other parts of the country and it's starting to catch on in Wisconsin," said Chris Vorpahl, marketing coordinator. "Love it or hate it … wind turbines are going to be here, and we want to provide the protection for the people maintaining, installing it and assembling it."

Throughout the area, sectors that are one or more rings down the supply chain from the manufacture of wind turbines are grabbing a piece of the burgeoning industry.

New North, a nonprofit economic development organization, is setting up an October event in Milwaukee aimed at identifying business opportunities in the wind sector, said Jerry Murphy executive director of New North.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cranberry farmers turn to renewable energy

Chicago suburbanites now favor more transit spending, poll shows

From an article by Jon Hilkevitch in the Chicago Tribune:

Reflecting the increasing strain of gridlocked traffic, a majority of Chicago-area residents think improving bus and train service is so important to the region that repairing and expanding expressways and toll roads should take a back seat, a Tribune/WGN poll shows.

Most suburbanites support investing more in mass transit than roads, sharing the long-held stance of a large majority of city residents, the poll found. Suburban residents also said they are driving less and taking more advantage of expanded suburban train and bus service in communities where the automobile has been king.

Drivers who said they would back spending more on mass transit cited the growing stress associated with congestion; high gasoline prices; and, to a lesser degree, the environmental and financial benefits of riding transit instead of inhaling belching emissions from cars.

Jim Ceithaml, a semiretired teacher from Elgin, said he has given up driving.

"I wish the mass-transit system were expanded a lot," he said, particularly suburb-to-suburb service that has been promised for years. . . .

Fifty-two percent of suburbanites said they agree with investing more of limited government resources in public transit, versus 32 percent who chose improvements to highways and toll roads. In a 1999 Tribune poll, 34 percent of suburban residents said more money should be spent on mass transit than on roads.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Council releases recommendations on rules for siting wind turbines

A news release issued by the Public Service Commission:

MADISON – Today the Wind Siting Council presented the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) with a report on its final recommendations for the wind siting rules. The report is the result of the Council's work conducted in 20 meetings over the course of more than four months.

[The Council vote 11 to 4 in support of the recommendations, with RENEW executive director Michael Vickerman voting with the majority.]

Originally appointed by the PSC pursuant to 2009 Wisconsin Act 40 (Act 40) in March 2010, the Council has worked diligently to provide the Commission with sound advice to consider in finalizing the wind siting rules. The PSC is conducting the wind siting rulemaking pursuant to Act 40, and issued a proposed rule draft in May, 2010 in docket 1-AC-231. The PSC accepted public comments from the public on the proposed rule until July 7, 2010.

“I look forward to carefully reviewing the Wind Siting Council's final report, and I thank them for their unwavering commitment to provide the Commission with useful advice to consider as we finalize the wind siting rules,” said PSC Chairperson Eric Callisto. “I am confident that the rules the Commission sends to the Legislature will provide a fair, uniform foundation to ultimately benefit future energy projects in Wisconsin.”

The PSC plans to complete the rulemaking by the end of August. Once finalized, the uniform rules will set forth consistent standards for the local regulation of wind energy systems in Wisconsin.

View the Wind Siting Council's recommendations here. Documents associated with the wind siting rules can be viewed on the PSC’s Electronic Regulatory Filing System. Enter case number 1-AC-231 in the boxes provided on the PSC homepage, or click on the Electronic Regulatory Filing System button.

Alliant Energy offers customers tips on how to cool off electricity costs

From a news release issued by Alliant Energy:

“Higher summer temperatures and humidity levels mean higher electric bills. This is a direct result of the increased use of air conditioning and other appliances,” says Tim Heinrich, Director of Customer Support Services for Alliant Energy. “However, there are many free and low-cost ways to stay cool and comfortable this summer – while keeping electricity costs in check.”

Customers utilizing window air conditioners may want to consider using a timer to turn on the air conditioner half an hour before returning home rather than running it while you’re gone. Be sure to keep the filters clean to maximize performance. If possible, locate the unit in a window that is most central to the area you are cooling and on the shadiest side of the building. Customers in the market for a new window air conditioner should make sure it is the proper size; it’s better to get one that's too small than too large. A larger unit will start up and turn off more frequently and won't be as effective at dehumidifying the air.

For customers with central air conditioners, Alliant Energy suggests keeping them well maintained to ensure peak efficiency. That means scheduling yearly maintenance and regularly checking the refrigerant charge as well as indoor and outdoor air coils.

Setting back thermostats or using a programmable thermostat during long periods of time, such as at night while you are sleeping or during the day when no one is home, allows homeowners to save energy without having to sacrifice comfort. Resist the urge to override the pre-programmed settings. Every time you do, you use more energy and may end up paying more on your energy bill.

Used in combination with your air conditioner, a ceiling fan will allow you to raise your thermostat setting without reducing your comfort. The airflow produced by the ceiling fan creates a wind-chill effect, making you feel cooler. Be sure to turn the fan off when you’re not in the room to save energy – ceiling fans cool people, not rooms.

Finally, the less you use air conditioning, the less electricity you use. If you keep your windows closed to keep humidity out while the air conditioning is off, a well insulated home should only rise a few degrees throughout the day while you're not home.

Alliant Energy offers a few additional tips for customers to save energy and reduce electric bills, by:

* Keeping window blinds and shades closed during the day.

* Grilling outside or cooking with microwaves instead of conventional ovens.

* Using the dishwasher only when it’s fully loaded. If available, use the dishwasher’s energy-saving features such as partial-load setting and no-heat drying cycle.

* Replacing incandescent light bulbs, which generate heat, with more energy efficient fluorescent bulbs as they consume less energy and last longer.

* Considering whether maintaining a second refrigerator or freezer unit is worth the additional $150 dollars it costs a year to run. If so, place the extra unit in the basement where it is naturally cooler so the appliance will not have to cycle as frequently.

For additional information on how to become more energy efficient year-round, Alliant Energy encourages customers to contact Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s statewide program for energy efficiency and renewable energy, by calling 1(800)762.7077 or visiting focusonenergy.com .

Advisory Council releases recommendations on rules for siting wind turbines

A news release issued by the Public Service Commission:

MADISON – Today the Wind Siting Council presented the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) with a report on its final recommendations for the wind siting rules. The report is the result of the Council's work conducted in 20 meetings over the course of more than four months.

[The Council vote 11 to 4 in support of the recommendations, with RENEW executive director Michael Vickerman voting with the majority.]

Originally appointed by the PSC pursuant to 2009 Wisconsin Act 40 (Act 40) in March 2010, the Council has worked diligently to provide the Commission with sound advice to consider in finalizing the wind siting rules. The PSC is conducting the wind siting rulemaking pursuant to Act 40, and issued a proposed rule draft in May, 2010 in docket 1-AC-231. The PSC accepted public comments from the public on the proposed rule until July 7, 2010.

“I look forward to carefully reviewing the Wind Siting Council's final report, and I thank them for their unwavering commitment to provide the Commission with useful advice to consider as we finalize the wind siting rules,” said PSC Chairperson Eric Callisto. “I am confident that the rules the Commission sends to the Legislature will provide a fair, uniform foundation to ultimately benefit future energy projects in Wisconsin.”

The PSC plans to complete the rulemaking by the end of August. Once finalized, the uniform rules will set forth consistent standards for the local regulation of wind energy systems in Wisconsin.

View the Wind Siting Council's recommendations here. Documents associated with the wind siting rules can be viewed on the PSC’s Electronic Regulatory Filing System. Enter case number 1-AC-231 in the boxes provided on the PSC homepage, or click on the Electronic Regulatory Filing System button.

Alliant Energy offers customers tips on how to cool off electricity costs

From a news release issued by Alliant Energy:

“Higher summer temperatures and humidity levels mean higher electric bills. This is a direct result of the increased use of air conditioning and other appliances,” says Tim Heinrich, Director of Customer Support Services for Alliant Energy. “However, there are many free and low-cost ways to stay cool and comfortable this summer – while keeping electricity costs in check.”

Customers utilizing window air conditioners may want to consider using a timer to turn on the air conditioner half an hour before returning home rather than running it while you’re gone. Be sure to keep the filters clean to maximize performance. If possible, locate the unit in a window that is most central to the area you are cooling and on the shadiest side of the building. Customers in the market for a new window air conditioner should make sure it is the proper size; it’s better to get one that's too small than too large. A larger unit will start up and turn off more frequently and won't be as effective at dehumidifying the air.

For customers with central air conditioners, Alliant Energy suggests keeping them well maintained to ensure peak efficiency. That means scheduling yearly maintenance and regularly checking the refrigerant charge as well as indoor and outdoor air coils.

Setting back thermostats or using a programmable thermostat during long periods of time, such as at night while you are sleeping or during the day when no one is home, allows homeowners to save energy without having to sacrifice comfort. Resist the urge to override the pre-programmed settings. Every time you do, you use more energy and may end up paying more on your energy bill.

Used in combination with your air conditioner, a ceiling fan will allow you to raise your thermostat setting without reducing your comfort. The airflow produced by the ceiling fan creates a wind-chill effect, making you feel cooler. Be sure to turn the fan off when you’re not in the room to save energy – ceiling fans cool people, not rooms.

Finally, the less you use air conditioning, the less electricity you use. If you keep your windows closed to keep humidity out while the air conditioning is off, a well insulated home should only rise a few degrees throughout the day while you're not home.

Alliant Energy offers a few additional tips for customers to save energy and reduce electric bills, by:

* Keeping window blinds and shades closed during the day.

* Grilling outside or cooking with microwaves instead of conventional ovens.

* Using the dishwasher only when it’s fully loaded. If available, use the dishwasher’s energy-saving features such as partial-load setting and no-heat drying cycle.

* Replacing incandescent light bulbs, which generate heat, with more energy efficient fluorescent bulbs as they consume less energy and last longer.

* Considering whether maintaining a second refrigerator or freezer unit is worth the additional $150 dollars it costs a year to run. If so, place the extra unit in the basement where it is naturally cooler so the appliance will not have to cycle as frequently.

For additional information on how to become more energy efficient year-round, Alliant Energy encourages customers to contact Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s statewide program for energy efficiency and renewable energy, by calling 1(800)762.7077 or visiting focusonenergy.com.

Monday, August 9, 2010

High-speed rail activists seek signatures in Tomah

From an article by Jessica Larsen in The Tomah Journal:

Seven activists from the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group hit the streets of Tomah on Tuesday in search of supporters of public transit and a high-speed rail.

The group collected about 140 signatures from residents and 23 from small-business owners.

The research group is based in Madison. Its mission: “To deliver persistent, result-oriented public interest activism that protects consumers, encourages a fair, sustainable economy, and fosters responsive, democratic government.”

The signatures collected in Tomah will be added to about 1,000 other signatures from La Crosse, Sparta and Eau Claire. Then the signatures will be combined with others statewide that the group has collected, and shipped off to Sen. Herb Kohl.

“It’s been a great success,” said group spokesman Jordan Less. “Everyone seems to think we spend too much money on gas and time in traffic. It’s a really easy campaign because it’s a good cause.”

Wind Energy Open House, August 11

Open House - 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Unity School Gym, 1908 State Road 46

Geronimo Wind Energy, LLC, will host a community-wide open house in Balsam Lake on August 11, 2010, to provide residents with information on Wind Energy Conversion Systems (WECS) and the wind energy resource within Polk County, Wisconsin. Geronimo Wind Energy, LLC, will provide community members with the opportunity to discuss a broad range of topics surrounding wind energy, including the potential for wind power within Polk County. Informative display stations and handout materials will be available to facilitate understanding of WECS.

For more info, call (952) 988-9000 or visit www.geronimowind.com

Friday, August 6, 2010

Solar panel manufacturer named among 10 people changing Milwaukee

From an article by Eric Decker, Alysha Schertz, and others on BizTimes.com:

Steve Ostrenga is bringing jobs to Milwaukee at a new Helios USA plant, which will manufacture solar panels. . . .

Milwaukee is known for manufacturing. Companies such as Harley-Davidson, A.O. Smith, Falk, Rockwell Automation and many breweries played large roles in the city’s development.

Manufacturing will drive the city’s future. However, what Milwaukee’s manufacturers produce is changing.

Helios USA LLC, a startup solar panel manufacturer that is developing a 40,000-square-foot plant in the city’s Menomonee Valley, is new to the city. So are its products.

But when the company begins shipping its solar panels throughout the U.S. in early 2011, it will become another of the city’s nationally known manufacturers, tapping into the city’s heritage of supplying the world with parts and components it needs.

“This is a manufacturing center – we put the plant here because of the strong heritage in energy,” said Steve Ostrenga, chief executive officer of Helios. “We’ve got ZBB and Johnson Controls and a lot of other firms that are in the (energy) industry already. And manufacturing is the backbone of this (community) already.”

Helios will hire production workers as early as September as it installs automated manufacturing and assembly equipment. The company hopes to begin full production by January and will have 20 to 40 employees at that time, Ostrenga said.

When it begins production, Helios will use about 15,000 square feet of the total space. The company anticipates several phases of expansion over the next several years. By the time it uses all of the 40,000 square feet of space for production, it will have about 100 employees.

Helios’ production system will be highly automated, using equipment that most workers in the area will not be familiar with, which is why the company will begin hiring this fall, Ostrenga said.

“We’re spending a lot of money on training because this process is unique,” he said. “The solar industry is new.”

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Oil Spill and You

From a commentary by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin executive director:

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.

Tour two energy efficient farms, Hixton & Melrose, Aug. 18

From an announcement made by Focus on Energy:

Two FREE opportunities to see how farms are using new technologies and how they have made their operations more energy efficient.

What does being energy efficient mean? Focus on Energy has helped more than
3,000 farms in Wisconsin save thousands of dollars on their energy bills. Saving energy isn’t the only benefit, increased productivity and higher profits are also realized.

Visit two farms -- Pfaff's Prairie Diary, Melrose, and Ted Janke Farm, Histon -- to see two perspectives on using technologies to save energy and money!

Power line needs serious look

From an editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Wisconsin should ask tough questions about the need and price tag for a major, high-voltage power line stretching from the Madison area to La Crosse.

But Wisconsin also should keep an open mind as public input is sought.

Our state relies on a huge amount of imported energy. The new line would boost reliability and provide access to more of the wholesale electricity market. That could save Wisconsin ratepayers money.

The 150-mile, 345-kilovolt line also could give Wisconsin greater access to renewable wind energy generated in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Dane County isn’t getting any smaller. Our population will soon top a half million people. Though using energy more efficiently must remain a high priority, so must economic growth and jobs.

The American Transmission Co. just gained permission for a similar high-voltage line around Madison along the Beltline to boost reliability and capacity. The company plans to begin construction of the local line next year. The Rockdale-West Middleton line succeeded in part because of an open process of meetings and information that made the case for action.

ATC is now pledging to similarly engage the public as it seeks what’s being called the Badger Coulee Transmission Line project. The path of the power line is unclear. It could follow the interstate or veer more southwest toward Reedsburg, Richland Center and Viroqua.

Putting up new power lines always comes with controversy when property owners don’t want the tall poles passing by — or through — their land. Yet the potential good to the state’s economy sometimes takes precedent.

That’s why a careful and fair assessment of the proposal is so important.

Going green one shade at a time

From an article by Stefanie Scott in Wauwatosa Today:

Program outlines steps to energy improvements

Going green may seem like a daunting task. But it doesn't require saving the world or even making major lifestyle changes overnight.

A new Green Neighbor Program - a collaboration of the city's Energy Committee, local Sierra Club chapter and Renew Wisconsin - encourages residents to start small and look at energy usage within their households.

The program aims "to get people to think about energy efficiency and the environmental impact in their own homes and what specific actions they can take to for improvement," said John Bahr, chairman of the committee's Energy Efficiency efforts.

One-on-one advice
Free home energy-efficiency consultations will be offered Aug. 18 at Wauwatosa Public Library. Professionals from the energy and home improvement fields and experienced homeowners will meet one-on-one with interested residents.

Consultants will address problems areas such as drafts, cold spots and high heating bills. Then they will discuss typical solutions such as do-it-yourself projects or appliance purchases that may qualify for tax credits or rebates.

Homeowners should bring a recent utility bill or WE Energies account number so consultants can review energy expenses and compare them with typical expenses for similar-sized homes in the area, Program Coordinator Michael Arney said.

"The homeowner benefits by having a more comfortable home and lower energy bills," Arney said. "Energy efficiency increases property values and, on the broadest level, it reduces our fossil fuel dependency and our carbon emissions."

Consultations are meant to serve as a starting point.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

High cost of railway plans fires up crowd

From an article in Brookfield Now by Aaron Martin:

But supporters laud vision for balanced travel system

Is it high-speed rail or a runaway freight train?

That depends who you ask, but Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials had their hands full Tuesday night fielding fevered questions from about 170 people who attended a forum on the proposed $8 billion initiative to connect Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and the Twin Cities.

Brookfield is one of three communities on the Madison-Milwaukee line targeted to host a passenger station. A $17.9 million station is proposed to be along Brookfield Road, near River Road, in Brookfield's Village Area.

Donna Brown, DOT passenger rail planning manager, said environmental studies for the stations will soon be completed. The next step is final station site selection, followed by engineering and design. Construction could begin as soon as January, and the rail could be up and running in 2013.

The DOT anticipates 128,611 people would pass through Brookfield's station in its first year, and more than 145,000 by 2020. A ticket from Brookfield to Madison would cost $70 roundtrip, and a ticket to Chicago would cost $97.

Charlie Webb of the DOT said early estimates indicate it would cost about $30,000 a year to maintain a station in Brookfield.

"That's snow removal, cleanup around the station, mowing the grass," he said. "Certainly there are opportunities for the city to offset that."

Strong opposition
Patti Mealins of West Allis said federal and state finances are out of control, and the high-speed rail initiative would be a good place to rein in spending.

"I just don't understand. It's a waste of taxpayer money, and it's upsetting. I think most people are against it, but the government doesn't care. We're going to get it anyway," Mealins said.

Many other people who milled about the Brookfield Elementary School gym, reading information off large poster boards and talking with DOT officials, seemed to share Mealins' frustration.

Someone left a note on a photograph of the proposed rail route that read: "Not with my tax money - use private money. We don't need the train."

Gundersen Lutheran wind farm gets Winona County OK

From an article in the Winona Daily News:

Winona County commissioners approved conditional-use permits Tuesday for a wind farm near Lewiston, Minn., that will be owned by a subsidiary of Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center as part of the company's efforts to become energy independent by 2014.

The wind project calls for building three 404-foot-tall wind turbines and a substation on a 315-acre farm just north of Lewiston city limits, southwest of County Road 25 and Trestle Drive. Each turbine will have a 262-foot-tall tower, topped by a rotor with a 282-foot diameter blade.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Magic Energy


From Madison Gas and Electric:

It's magic when kids can learn... and laugh! That's the goal of the MaGicEnergy show. For years, performer Bob Kann has taken the program into schools and libraries throughout the area.

Watch the story to see how Bob uses magic and comedy to entertain and inspire! See why audiences walk away armed with specific tools to conserve energy and protect the environment.

Interested in bringing MaGicEnergy to your school or library? Click here and tell us about your group.

Magic Energy


From Madison Gas and Electric:

It's magic when kids can learn... and laugh! That's the goal of the MaGicEnergy show. For years, performer Bob Kann has taken the program into schools and libraries throughout the area.

Watch the story to see how Bob uses magic and comedy to entertain and inspire! See why audiences walk away armed with specific tools to conserve energy and protect the environment.

Interested in bringing MaGicEnergy to your school or library? Click here and tell us about your group.

Magic Energy


From Madison Gas and Electric:

It's magic when kids can learn... and laugh! That's the goal of the MaGicEnergy show. For years, performer Bob Kann has taken the program into schools and libraries throughout the area.
Watch the story to see how Bob uses magic and comedy to entertain and inspire! See why audiences walk away armed with specific tools to conserve energy and protect the environment.

Interested in bringing MaGicEnergy to your school or library? Click here and tell us about your group.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Electric Smart car drives into town

From an article by Rick Barrett in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

An all-electric version of the Daimler-Benz Smart car has come to Milwaukee, with a limited number of vehicles available for lease starting in October.

The Smart Fortwo electric is the same size as the two-seater Smart car that's powered by a gasoline engine.

With a standard 220-volt appliance line, you could charge the Smart electric's lithium-ion batteries to full capacity in eight hours and drive about 80 miles before the battery pack had to be recharged.

Don't expect neck-snapping performance. The top speed is 62 miles per hour, but the car has a "kick down" mode similar to a passing gear when you floor the gas pedal of a regular automobile.

The Smart electric uses a 30-kilowatt electric motor that generates the equivalent of about 42-horsepower, compared with a 70-horse power gasoline engine in a regular Smart car that uses premium gas and has a top speed of about 90 mph.

Made in France, the Smart electric will make its U.S. debut this fall. Only 250 vehicles will be available, nationwide, for a lease of $599 per month for 48 months. The price takes into account a $7,500 tax credit, which will go to Smart.

Starting in 2012, Daimler-Benz expects to mass produce Smart electrics for sale and lease. The vehicle's price has not yet been determined, said Derek Kaufman, vice president of business development for Smart USA.

The initial lease program would be too expensive for many consumers. But some early-technology adopters want these cars, Kaufman said, and businesses are likely to lease them to make an eco-friendly statement.

The price will come down in 2012, according to Kaufman.

MATC keeps current with the sun

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

The new Photovoltaic Educational Laboratory harnesses solar energy and offers engineering students a way to plug in to powerful possibilities

People seeking training for careers in renewable energy - especially solar power - will benefit from an ambitious project by Milwaukee Area Technical College and local firms.

The project includes a solar charging station for plug-in vehicles, a solar-powered highway sign demonstration and a training area for solar installers and electricians. They're all built on portable concrete pads.

When it's completed later this month, the MATC Photovoltaic Educational Laboratory on the east side along the Milwaukee River will become the largest solar installation in the state.

"It's here to generate power, reduce our carbon footprint, but it's mainly for training and education," said Mike Sargent, the college's chief financial officer and co- chairman of its sustainability committee.

The $7.1 million solar panel project will be a research center for students at MATC, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and other engineering schools.

The reason: Hundreds of sensors linked to the panels will give detailed real-time data about the solar power produced based on factors including temperature, haze, and cloud conditions, said Joe Jacobsen, director of the Center for Energy Conservation and Advanced Manufacturing at MATC.

The project consists of several "fields" of solar panels, all sitting underneath television towers for Milwaukee Public Television and WDJT-TV (Channel 58).

The project showcases a variety of panel designs and technologies - including residential- and commercial-size systems - as well as some new features.