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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pollution is harmful; cleanup is overdue

From a column by Francisco Enriquez in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

A cloud of soot engulfed Milwaukee recently, with particle pollution levels so high that the Department of Natural Resources issued four days of advisories and watches that warned children, older adults and people with asthma, bronchitis and heart or lung disease to pay close attention to their symptoms. On days when air pollution levels are high, more people suffer from more frequent, more severe and more deadly asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes.

As a pediatrician on the near south side of Milwaukee, I am deeply concerned about the effects of breathing polluted air. Some of my patients' medical conditions get much worse when they are exposed to an environment that is loaded with irritants and noxious chemicals. Access to health care and medication can lead to improvement, but if they are to heal, then cleaning our polluted environment is paramount.

Where does this pollution come from? In Milwaukee, We Energies' Valley power plant, operating without modern pollution controls, is the single largest source of particle pollutants. Sitting in the Menomonee Valley among some of the most densely populated communities in the state, the stacks are neighbors to some 24,000 people who live within a mile of the plant. The pollution from the plant contributes to violations of health standards that are set to protect public health. Cleanup of the Valley coal plant is long overdue.

Xcel halts biomass plant in Ashland

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

Xcel Energy Inc. on Monday halted plans to build a biomass power plant on Lake Superior in Ashland.

The utility holding company's Eau Claire-based utility informed the state Public Service Commission of its decision in a letter Monday.

Xcel had planned to build a biomass gasification plant that would have made the Ashland power plant the largest wood-burning power plant in the Midwest.

The decision came as a result of a significant increase in the cost of the project, as well as declining costs for other generation options. The utility also cited "considerable regulatory uncertainty at the state and federal level."

The announcement was made one day before the start of Public Service Commission hearings on a separate biomass power plant, proposed by Milwaukee-based We Energies to be built at the Domtar paper mill in Rothschild.

The timing of the announcement was coincidental and not linked to the We Energies proposal, said David Donovan, Xcel manager of regulatory policy.

"Although we are disappointed with the outcome, we have gained considerable value from the evaluation that we have completed," said Mike Swenson, president and chief executive of NSP-Wisconsin, a unit of Xcel Energy, in a statement.

"The engineering studies will advance gasifier technologies for utility applications and our efforts to procure sustainable biomass supplies have resulted in a model that can be adopted in future projects," Swenson said. "In addition, as part of this project we helped fund the development of two biomass energy plantations in northern Wisconsin, which will provide valuable research and study opportunities for decades to come."

Those plantations are testing the development of hybrid poplar and black willow trees for harvesting and burning at the power plant.

Monday, November 29, 2010

'Green print' saves county greenbacks

From an article by Steve Schultze of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

$800,000 in energy saving has been realized from efficiency program

Milwaukee County has reaped some $800,000 in energy saving from its "green print" environmental program, as well as millions of gallons of water and gasoline saved through more efficient plumbing, cars and trucks.

Though slow to adopt "green" efficiencies, the county jump-started its efforts once a half-time sustainability director was assigned to monitor the program in early 2009. Since then, the courthouse complex and more than 50 other county buildings either have undergone energy audits or soon will.

Lighting, heating, cooling and other upgrades enabled the saving, though it's applied to upfront costs of some $10 million. In theory, after eight years the costs through contracts with private vendors will be covered, and savings will go to the county's bottom line.

"I'm happy with the successes we've had with the resources we've been given," said Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic, who pushed for the program's creation in 2007. She said more could be done if the county would add more staff time to the effort.

It took more than a year to designate a green print coordinator, with the county's budget problems hindering the initiative.

"By having small changes all over the place, we'll have a very huge result," said Dimitrijevic.

Domtar biomass power plant at juncture

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

As a new administration prepares to take office in Madison, with a different attitude toward renewable energy than the Doyle administration, We Energies is pressing forward with plans to build a wood-burning power plant in north-central Wisconsin.

The state Public Service Commission will hold a hearing on the project this week, with a decision expected early in 2011.

Concerns about greenhouse gas emissions, the cost of the project and even competition for biomass are all being reviewed as the proposal makes its way through the state approval process.

We Energies is optimistic, as it has won all the local approvals it needs from officials for the Village of Rothschild and the Village of Weston, utility spokesman Brian Manthey said.

"We believe we've answered every question that has come up, and we are pleased that we've gotten unanimous support from the municipal boards for the project," he said. "We'll continue to supply the information needed to move the project forward at the state level."

The $255 million project at the Domtar Corp. paper mill in Rothschild, south of Wausau, would generate 50 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 40,000 typical homes. It also would provide steam for the Domtar mill. . . .

The $255 million cost of the Domtar project is also raising concerns.

An analysis by auditors at the PSC found that building a wind farm would be less expensive for customers than building this project. The commission suggested that We Energies explore the possibility of burning wood in conjunction with coal at some of its existing coal-fired power plants, such as its older coal plant in Oak Creek.

An estimate by the customer group Citizens' Utility Board found the plant would be twice as expensive as a similar-sized wind farm, executive director Charlie Higley said.

While the cost may be higher, We Energies said the utility wants to diversify its renewable energy sources beyond wind. And unlike wind and solar projects, biomass power plants have the added benefit of being able to run round the clock.

In addition, Allan Mihm, We Energies director of generation projects, said the project is more efficient because it's supplying electricity and steam. It would cost the utility $20 million more to build a power plant separate from the paper mill, he said.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Minn. to host high-speed rail public meeting in La Crosse, Nov. 30

From an article by Joe Lanane in The Daily Reporter:

The Minnesota Department of Transportation will host a pair of public meetings on the proposed high-speed rail line from Milwaukee to Minneapolis-St. Paul despite assurances from Gov.-elect Scott Walker that he will kill the project in Wisconsin.

Since March, MnDOT has studied the environmental impact of possible routes between the two cities. During the two open houses, agency officials will provide updates and seek public input on their findings. . . .

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which partnered with MnDOT on the study, will host its own public meeting in La Crosse to discuss the extended portion of the proposed rail from Madison to the Twin Cities. The hearing will take place 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 30 at the La Crosse Best Western Riverfront hotel.

Monday, November 22, 2010

There's a whole lot of sustainability going on

From an article by Pat Eggert in The Dunn County News:

A lot is going on in sustainability here, and 50 local residents gathered Thursday at the First Congregational UCC Church in Menomonie to learn more about what is happening.

Linda Walsh, member of the steering committee of Sustainable Dunn, introduced panelists from the city, county and UW-Stout who reported on recent efforts.

“I think that sustainability is the most important area in which we participate,” Dunn County Board chair Steve Rasmussen told the group. “The County Board endorses sustainability, engages in it and tasked our staff to come up with a sustainability action plan. It was one of my priorities when I was first elected chair.”

“We’re very fortunate that the County Board has supported us,” Dunn County Planner Bob Colson told the group.

Plan of action
Some of the elements of the county plan are an eco-county resolution, a sustainability action plan charter, and a sustainability action plan, Colson said. The county approach has been to complete an internal process first.

An action plan, adopted in February of 2010, covers purchasing, energy, education and public policies.

PSC to hold Public Hearings on We Energies Proposed Biomass Facility

From a news release issued by the Public Service Commission:

MADISON -- The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (Commission) will hold public hearings in Rothschild on Wisconsin Electric Power Company’s (WEPCO, doing business as We Energies) application to construct a Biomass-Fired, Cogeneration Facility in the village of Rothschild, Marathon County, Wisconsin. The public hearings will be held Tuesday, November 30, 2010, at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites, Crystal 1 Room at 1000 Imperial Avenue in Rothschild. Administrative Law Judge Michael Newmark will preside over the hearings.

We Energies filed an application with the Commission on March 10, 2010 for approval to build and operate a 50 megawatt, Biomass-Fired, Cogeneration Facility in the Village of Rothschild.

Prior to acting on the application, the Commission will seek and consider public comments.

Public comments offered at the public hearings on the proposed biomass plant will be included in the record the Commission will review to make a decision. Attendees at each hearing will be able to provide testimony to the Administrative Law Judge presiding at the hearing. Citizens are encouraged to attend. If you cannot attend the public hearings, but would like to provide comments, you can do so on the PSC’s website through November 30, 2010. Click on the Public Comments button on the PSC’s homepage and click on the case title.

200 people rally to support rail line

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

About 200 people attended a Saturday rally at Milwaukee's Amtrak-Greyhound station, asking Governor-elect Scott Walker to back off his pledge to cancel contracts for a planned Milwaukee-to-Madison passenger rail line.

Rally speakers said the rail service would create badly need jobs, provide a more environmentally friendly alternative to driving, and link Milwaukee and Madison to a national rail network that includes Chicago - and eventually Minneapolis.

Without that link, said state Sen. Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee), Wisconsin "will be isolated from the rest of the national rail network."

The rally, organized by the Sierra Club and other groups, was part of a statewide action that included rallies in Madison, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Oshkosh and Watertown.

Milwaukee rally organizers asked the crowd to write or call Walker.

Walker says the estimated annual costs to state taxpayers of operating the train, $7.5 million once fare revenue is subtracted, would be too high for an underused and unneeded service.

UW-Platteville's farm going cutting edge

From an article by Kevin Murphy in the Telegraph Herald, Dubuque, Iowa:

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. -- Pioneer Farm at University of Wisconsin-Platteville touts itself as a state-of-the-art agricultural research facility. However, it's been lacking renewable energy systems that have become an increasing area of importance in agribusiness.

That changed Wednesday when the State Building Commission approved a $1.18 million bio-energy project that will produce about 7.5 percent of the campus' electricity needs from the university's 160-head dairy herd.

Anaerobic digesters, which turn manure into methane used to generate electrical power, typically need 600 cows to reach a break-even point. The Pioneer Farm digester will show that process can be economically feasible on a much smaller scale.

The farm will test other organic material in the digester such as cheese whey, food waste and byproducts from biodiesel processing to determine if they adequately supplement manure in the production of biogas.

Pioneer Farm currently buys all its energy from local utilities, but its master plan considers using power from renewable sources, including wind and solar. However, the intent of the digester project is to install a system compatible with the farm it serves.

"A unique aspect of the project is demonstrating a renewable energy system that is highly integrated into the current farming system with little modification to current livestock cropping and manure management practices," according to the information supplied to the commission.

The system should save the farm $73,400 in annual energy costs and have a 14-year payback period. That is within the state's energy-efficiency program that seeks a 16- to 20-year payback period for major projects.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Governor-elect Walker should get on board

From a post by Wallace White, principal and CEO of Milwaukee's W2EXCEL LLC, on the BizTimes blog:

Here are my reasons for supporting high speed rail for Wisconsin:

$810 million of work for our engineering firms and contractors and some of our minority and women owned companies. For example, Norris and Associates, a Milwaukee based African-American engineering firm, had won a subconsultant contract with a HSR engineering company. He had just hired 3 engineers and now has had to lay them off. The same is true for all the other companies who had just started to work on HSR contracts.

The returned money may not just go to Illinois or New York where there are Democratic governors. Other Republican governors would love to have the money. Gov. Rick Perry and the Republican administration of the state of Texas is seeking HSR funds to run trains between Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston. The Republican administration of the state of South Carolina has applied for HSR funding to connect Savannah, Charleston, Florence and parts of North Carolina. The Republican administration of Minnesota has joined the Democratic administration of Wisconsin to study HSR between Minneapolis & Madison. They have received $1 million of planning money from the federal government.

The United States is in competition with the rest of the world for economic survival. Transportation is a large part of this global effort - we are competing with Japan, China, Brazil and Europe - all of which have already committed to some form of HSR to expand their economy, reduce pollution, provide service to rural areas and to the poor. Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker should understand - this is part of a bigger picture. . . .

How loud is a wind turbine?

From GE Reports, a blog that is sponsored by GE but created by a group of tech bloggers and editors. The content covers topics from aviation to alternative energy to healthcare -- virtually everything in the "innovative technology" space.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

High-speed rail open houses set

From an article in the La Crosse Tribune:

Wisconsin Gov.-elect Scott Walker has said he will halt the state's participation in the high-speed rail project.

But open houses for the environmental impact study on the proposed Milwaukee-Twin Cities high-speed passenger rail corridor remain set for Nov. 30 in La Crosse, Nov. 29 in St. Paul, Minn., and Dec. 6 in Rochester, Minn., the Minnesota Department of Transportation said Wednesday.

The study, which began in March, will analyze all possible routes for high-speed passenger rail between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities, MnDOT said. La Crosse- and Winona-area leaders have sought to have the high-speed corridor follow Amtrak's Empire Builder route through the region.

The Wisconsin DOT will host the La Crosse open house from 5 to 7 p.m., with a brief presentation at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at the Best Western Riverfront Hotel, 1835 Rose St. Public comments will be accepted at the open houses and through the Minnesota DOT's website beginning Nov. 29.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Permitting Turbines in Wisconsin: What We've Learned in 12 Years

From a presentation by RENEW executive director Michael Vickerman at the November 15-16, 2010, in St. Paul, MN:

•Understand that demographics matter – there is a deep cultural divide between farm households and commuter households
•Developers who operate in a transparent, above-board, even-handed manner will eventually earn the community’s trust
•Maintain an active presence in the community – figure out a way to support youth groups and local charities
•How one responds to complaints in the first year of project operation will make a lasting impression
•While it not possible to please all the people all the time, strive to stay on the good side of the most influential residents
•Eventually, wind turbines will become an accepted part of the landscape
•Good neighbor payments are helpful, but they’re no panacea
45 dBa sound thresholds are here to stay
•Sensitivities to environmental impacts vary widely – how individuals may respond to environmental changes can’t be predicted accurately
•Opposition to wind energy capture is as old as Don Quixote
•Some individuals are intrinsically put off by tall structures and continuous motion
•Public acceptance of WI’s smallest projects has been very high

Rally for trains this Saturday! Noon, Nov. 20, Intermodal Station

Join us as we tell Scott Walker that Wisconsin can't afford to say NO over $800 million dollars in federal grant funds for this project, 9,570 permanent jobs, and increased property values.

When: Saturday, November 20th, 12:00 - 12:45 p.m

Where: Milwaukee Intermodal Station, 433 West St. Paul Ave

Who: Congresswoman Gwen Moore (invited); Sen. Spencer Coggs, SD 6; Robert Craig, Citizen Action; Rosemary Wehnes, Sierra Club; Phil Neuenfeldt, AFL CIO (invited), and You. More details.

If we want to save this train, we need to speak up now! Join us as we tell Scott Walker that Wisconsin can't afford to say NO over $800 million dollars in federal grant funds for this project, 9,570 permanent jobs, and increased property values. Let's extend the popular Hiawatha service connecting Chicago and Milwaukee. Let's create a safe, convenient efficient way to travel throughout the Midwest. We can make a difference, IF we stand together. Please attend and bring a friend!

Rally for trains this Saturday! Noon, La Crosse Amtrack Station

Join us as we tell Scott Walker that Wisconsin can't afford to say NO over $800 million dollars in federal grant funds for this project, 9,570 permanent jobs, and increased property values.

When: Saturday, November 20th, 12:00-12:45 p.m

Where: La Crosse Amtrak Station, 610 St. Andrews St

Who: Representative Jennifer Shilling, AD 95; Jennifer Dausey, UW La Crosse / Sierra Student Coalition; Marilyn Pedretti, Sierra Club - Coulee Region Group (invited)and You. More details.

If we want to save this train, we need to speak up now! Join us as we tell Scott Walker that Wisconsin can't afford to say NO over $800 million dollars in federal grant funds for this project, 9,570 permanent jobs, and increased property values. Let's extend the popular Hiawatha service connecting Chicago and Milwaukee. Let's create a safe, convenient efficient way to travel throughout the Midwest. We can make a difference, IF we stand together. Please attend and bring a friend!

Rally for Trains, Saturday, Nov. 20, Eau Claire

Join us as we tell Scott Walker that Wisconsin can't afford to say NO over $800 million dollars in federal grant funds for this project, 9,570 permanent jobs, and increased property values.

WHEN: Saturday, November 20, NOON

WHERE: Phoenix Park, Riverfront Terrace & S. Barstow St, Eau Claire, WI

Speakers include Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (invited); Jeremy Gragert (UW Eau Claire graduate); Representative, West Central Rail Coalition (invited). More details.

If we want to save this train, we need to speak up now! Join us as we tell Scott Walker that Wisconsin can't afford to say NO over $800 million dollars in federal grant funds for this project, 9,570 permanent jobs, and increased property values. Let's extend the popular Hiawatha service connecting Chicago and Milwaukee. Let's create a safe, convenient efficient way to travel throughout the Midwest. We can make a difference, IF we stand together. Please attend and bring a friend!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Green Drinks Eau Claire, Nov. 17

Tom Stolp
November 16, 2010 at 12:46pm

Subject: November's Green Drinks - Thanksgiving Edition - Tomorrow at 5:00pm

Hi All,

I hope to see you tomorrow (WED) at 5:00PM at Harmony Corner Cafe for drinks and conversation. We'll be joined by Nik Novak from Just Local Food Cooperative who will be sharing some ideas on making our Holidays greener.

Bring your ideas on greener gifts, sustainable recipes, and earth-friendly activities for this year's holiday season.

Please send me a quick RSVP if you plan on attending.

See you tomorrow at 5:00pm

-Tom

LaHood says high-speed rail funds will be quickly reallocated to other states

From an article in BizTimes Daily:

The Obama administration plans to quickly reallocate money designated for high-speed rail if states granted the funds reject them, according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

LaHood made the announcement Monday night to hundreds of politicians, businesspeople, urban planners and rail enthusiasts gathered in New York City to assess the state of high-speed rail in the United States. The three-day conference was presented by the U.S. High Speed Rail Association (USHSR).

Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker, a Republican, has called a planned $810 million high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison a “boondoggle” and is vowing to stop the project.

Ohio Governor-elect John Kasich, also a Republican, has called a planned $400 million high-speed rail line to connect Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland a “dead train.”

LaHood said Wisconsin and Ohio will forfeit those federal funds if their governors reject the rail lines.

When the state funds are rejected, LaHood said Monday night, they will be redistributed "in a professional way in places where the money can be well spent,” according to The Washington Post.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Arguments against rail just don't measure up

From an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

We need jobs; this would provide some. We need economic development; this would link the state to those networks. Think of it as state money coming home.


Governor-elect Scott Walker wants to stop a fast rail line from Milwaukee to Madison essentially because he thinks it would be a waste of taxpayer money. But what's really in danger of being wasted here is opportunity: opportunity for jobs, for economic growth, for a modern balanced transportation system.

Walker ran on a campaign that emphasized the need for jobs, jobs and more jobs. He has promised to call a special session as soon as he's sworn into office aimed at creating a more business-friendly atmosphere in Wisconsin. He has promised to create 250,000 jobs in his first term. His approach is right on target.

What he and other critics of rail miss is that creating a network of fast trains to connect Midwestern cities can play an essential role in helping businesses connect and in creating jobs. Providing another option to traffic-jammed freeways and hassle-plagued airports could attract new companies and young workers who prefer working on a train to sitting in traffic or being body-scanned in an airport. Add in gas prices that are bound to go up and Wisconsin's occasionally traffic-killing weather, and traveling by rail becomes even more attractive.

Fast rail probably works best for medium-range traveling, say in the 100- to 400-mile range, which is exactly what's being discussed here. And while speeds won't reach the true high-speed standards of Europe and Japan, they are expected to be up to 110 mph by 2015 and will still provide a convenient service that avoids the hassles of driving and flying and allows passengers to rest or work while they're traveling. Using rail to connect business centers and research parks in Chicago to such centers in Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis could help those centers interact and feed off each other for growth.

If that network isn't built here, companies and young workers will go to places such as Denver, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle and Salt Lake City that embrace transit, as Steve Hiniker of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin told us.

A report released earlier this year by the U.S. Conference of Mayors looked at the potential benefits of high-speed rail for four "hub" cities: Albany, Chicago, Orlando and Los Angeles. Chicago would be the center of a network that would connect the city to St. Louis, Detroit and Minneapolis (with stops in Milwaukee and Madison). The report projected "as much as $6.1 billion a year in new business sales, producing up to 42,000 jobs and $2.5 billion in new wages."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Amherst's Artha Bed and Breakfast earns green recognition from state

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

AMHERST -- Since 1971, Marguerite Ramlow and her husband, Bob, have renovated their rural property seven miles south of the village of Amherst, making it more sustainable and eco-friendly with every step.

And since they opened Artha Bed and Breakfast almost four years ago, that process has accelerated.

Solar panels provide electricity and heat water. The wood paneling comes from maple trees felled in a windstorm. Even the sheets, towels and cleaning products are organic.

"We want to show people they can live sustainably and be very comfortable," said Marguerite, who, along with Bob, runs the Artha Sustainable Living Center, which includes the bed and breakfast.

This week, the couple were rewarded for their commitment. Artha, 9784 County Road K, was named honorable mention on a list of the top "eco-elegant" B&Bs by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

The department's Travel Green program showcases top destinations for ecotourism, and being featured so prominently should be a boon to an already sound business.

"Just having our name out there will make people aware there is a place like this nearby," Marguerite said.

A blurb by Travel Green describing the center mentioned the renovated farmhouse, solar heat and other information the center offers B&B guests.

"Guests come for the hands-on workshops and retreats on solar water heating, gardening and yoga," the blurb states.

Solar jobs census ranks Wisconsin fifth in nation

From a blog post by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Wisconsin's leadership in installing solar power compared with other Midwest states has made this source of alternative energy a bright spot on the employment front.

That's the finding of the National Solar Jobs Census report, which ranks fifth in the nation in the number of jobs linked to solar energy.

The census was conducted by The Solar Foundation and Green LMI Consulting with technical assistance from Cornell University.

The census found Wisconsin has 2,885 solar jobs at contractors installing solar panels, as well as wholesalers and manufacturers. Wisconsin trails California, Pennsylvania, Texas and Michigan.

The census is also forecasting job growth of 9%, or about 250 jobs, at Wisconsin solar employers, in 2011.

"Over the next 12 months, over 50% of solar firms expect to add jobs, while only 2% expect to cut workers," the report said.

“This is the first time anyone has tried to quantify solar jobs along the entire value chain by speaking directly with employers or projected with any certainty solar job growth over the next 12 months,” said Andrea Luecke, acting executive director of The Solar Foundation. “The fact that a national census is needed to examine the size and nature of the workforce signals that the solar industry is having a substantial and positive impact on the U.S. Economy.”

Luecke joined the Solar Foundation this year after serving as program manager for the Milwaukee Shines solar initiative. The report was released locally by the environmental group Wisconsin Environment and Planet Earth Solar of La Crosse.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Talgo might move plant to Illinois if Walker kills train project

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

A Spanish-owned train company would seriously consider moving its plant from Milwaukee to Illinois in 2012 if Governor-elect Scott Walker follows through on his vow to kill a planned high-speed rail line, a company executive said Wednesday night.

Also Wednesday, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn sent Talgo Inc. a letter inviting the company to move to his state and promising to do whatever he could to lure it there.

Talgo has built a manufacturing plant at the former Tower Automotive property on Milwaukee's north side, with employment projected to reach 125 by next year. It has initial contracts to build two trains for Amtrak's existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha line and two trains for Oregon. Fulfilling those contracts will keep the plant in business through the spring of 2012.

The company also was hoping to build trains for a new Hiawatha extension from Milwaukee to Madison. But Walker, the Milwaukee County executive, has promised to halt work on the federally financed $810 million high-speed rail line, saying he doesn't want Wisconsin taxpayers to pick up $7.5 million a year in operating costs.

"If Wisconsin is losing its enthusiasm for its rail program and others are not, we could go to Illinois and manufacture world-class trains there," said Nora Friend, Talgo vice president for public affairs and business development. "We certainly appreciate Gov. Quinn reaching out to us. We will consider very seriously states that want to grow their rail program."

Friend emphasized that Talgo had no plans to move immediately and hopes it can stay in Milwaukee. But Walker's transition office issued a statement Wednesday reiterating the Republican governor-elect's determination to end the rail project.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Shirley Wind: An Auspicious Debut for Emerging Energies

Commentary
by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
November 10, 2010

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending a celebration of Shirley Wind, Wisconsin’s newest commercial wind installation. Located in the Brown County township of Glenmore, a mere 15 miles southeast of Lambeau Field, the project consists of eight Nordex N100 turbines rated at 2.5 megawatts (MW) apiece. All eight turbines are fully erected and will be turned on individually as part of the commissioning process. Commercial operation should begin in a few weeks.

There are many features of this project that stand out. The most obvious one is the turbines themselves, which are the tallest in Wisconsin and are among the tallest in North America. The nacelle is perched on a 100-meter tower (330 feet). Attached to the rotor are three blades extending 50 meters (165 feet). For comparison purposes, the tower is more than 60 feet taller than the next largest turbine in Wisconsin, the Vestas V82, and the blades are about 30 feet longer. According to Michels Wind, the general contractor for Shirley Wind, the spread foundations supporting these turbines are the largest in North America.

Between their height and blade length, Shirley Wind’s eight turbines will be the most productive wind generators in the state. The power conversion zone of a Nordex N100 is one-third larger than those of the Vestas and GE turbines located in Fond du Lac and Dodge counties. The turbine’s productivity is enhanced by the favorable wind resource that flows over the relatively flat terrain in southeast Brown County. All told, Shirley Wind’s turbines should produce about 64 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, which will exceed the annual output from the 20 turbines at the 30 MW Montfort installation in Iowa County, now in its 10th year of operation.

Another praiseworthy feature of Shirley Wind is the degree of local participation in the manufacturing and construction of the project. The towers were fabricated in Manitowoc by Tower Tech Systems. Manitowoc Crane supplied the giant crane that assembled the turbines. Brownsville-based Michels Wind Energy, which was also the general contractor for the 86-turbine Forward Energy Center surrounding its headquarters, organized and oversaw all facets of project construction. Numerous Wisconsin-based subcontractors, consulting engineers and natural resource professionals also made significant contributions to Shirley Wind. And Emerging Energies, the enterprising developer that started prospecting in this area in 2004 and drove the project forward across the finish line six years, is a Wisconsin corporation whose principals have deep roots in the Badger State.

It is no accident that the Shirley Wind project sets a new standard for Wisconsin content and participation. From its inception, Emerging Energies sought to maximize the benefits of windpower development to two important constituencies: Wisconsin businesses and the local community. As it turned out, its decision to partner with Tower Tech was a money-saving proposition, due to the very short distances needed to haul 80-ton tower sections from Manitowoc to the project site 25 miles away.

To build support among local officials, Emerging Energies agreed to set aside a portion of their receipts for compensating local governments and project neighbors, even though such payments are not required on power plants under 50 MW. The developer devised an innovative arrangement that allocates one-third of this revenue pool to the Town of Glenmore, one-third to Brown County, and one-third to project neighbors living within a certain distance of a wind turbine. This commitment to equitable distribution of revenues was no doubt instrumental in helping Emerging Energies secure a conditional use permit from the township in March 2007. This was no mean feat for a seasoned wind developer, let alone a relative newcomer to the industry.

With permit in hand, Emerging Energies set out to find an entity with an appetite for renewable energy. Initially, the developer approached Wisconsin utilities, which are required under 2005 Act 141 to increase the renewable energy content of the electricity they sell. However, by the time Emerging Energies started knocking on their doors, the utilities were already moving forward with their own acquisition plans, which emphasized owning and operating renewable generation sources over purchasing renewable electricity from third parties.

However, the same state law created another entity that needed to acquire renewable energy, namely, the State of Wisconsin. Under Act 141, which was signed into law in March of 2006, the State is obligated to source, by 2011, 20% of the electricity it consumes, or 184 million kilowatt-hours per year, from renewable resources. For state government officials, the purchasing requirement presented an opportunity to back an in-state wind project that could showcase Wisconsin’s prowess in manufacturing and construction as well as bolster the local economy. As a modest-sized project that had assembled a highly capable project development team, Shirley Wind shaped up to be an ideal fit for the State’s aspirations.

Because only utilities can legally sell electricity at retail, the State of Wisconsin and Emerging Energies needed to engage Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, the local utility, in a purchasing agreement that could allow the project to move forward. This was accomplished under a novel arrangement that allows Wisconsin Public Service to purchase both electricity and renewable energy credits from Shirley Wind under a 20-year contract and resell the credits to the State of Wisconsin.

With this three-way arrangement in place, Emerging Energies then sold a 90% stake in Shirley Wind in late 2009 to an outside investor, Central Hudson Enterprise Corporation, a Poughkeepsie, N.Y.-based company. The other 10% of the project remains with Emerging Energies. Having consummated that investment, Shirley Wind cleared the last remaining preconstruction hurdle. Project construction commenced in April.

When fully operational, Shirley Wind will produce enough electricity to equal the annual consumption of approximately 8,000 households without discharging so much as an ounce of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. At the same time, the project as well as generate thousands of dollars each year in supplemental income to host landowners and their neighbors. At every step of this six-year endeavor, Emerging Energies pursued its vision of locally beneficial renewable energy development in a patient and transparent manner, which eventually bore fruit when the State of Wisconsin decided to apply the power of the public purse to seal the deal for Shirley Wind. Shirley Wind represents an auspicious debut for Emerging Energies. Hopefully, there will be more projects coming through that particular pipeline.

Michael Vickerman is executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a sustainable energy advocacy organization. RENEW Wisconsin hosts and updates the on-line Wisconsin Wind Information Center (http://www.wiwindinfo.net) and facilitates the Wisconsin Wind Working Group. These commentaries also posted on RENEW’s blog: http://renewwisconsinblog.org.

Business leaders in Milwaukee, Madison differ on train

From an article by Jason Stein in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Madison - Milwaukee business leaders are showing little public opposition to Governor-elect Scott Walker's plans to stop a Milwaukee to Madison passenger rail line while some business leaders in Madison are trying to revive the $810 million federally funded project.

One reason for that difference: Milwaukee already has the successful Amtrak Hiawatha line connecting the city to the Midwest business powerhouse of Chicago while Madison residents would need the Milwaukee line to have a rail connection to the Windy City.

Tim Sheehy, president of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce, said that his members are much more focused on seeing what Walker can do to balance the state budget, lower or hold down taxes and refocus Wisconsin's strategy to grow businesses. Supporting the passenger rail line - or actively opposing the newly elected governor on the issue - just isn't a priority, he said.

"Quite frankly, our focus was on ensuring that we had that (Hiawatha) connection to Chicago for lots of reasons. (The Madison line has) been more of a nice-to-have discussion than a need-to-have discussion in the business community in southeastern Wisconsin," Sheehy said Wednesday. "In a sense, why beat a dead train?"

But in Madison, business leaders do see more of a benefit to the connection to Chicago. The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce has gone on record supporting the project.

Kevin Conroy, president and chief executive officer of the Madison biotech company Exact Sciences Corp., has been seeking to revive support for the passenger rail line. Conroy is no stranger to politics - he briefly considered running for governor last year as a Democrat before bowing out to let Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett run unopposed.

Our view: Walker must trust rail project

From an editorial in the La Crosse Tribune:

The Tribune’s endorsement of Scott Walker for governor included this sentence: “We think Walker is absolutely wrong about high-speed rail … and he needs to understand that he’ll be the governor of the entire state, not just Milwaukee County.”

Gov.-elect Walker, we still think you’re absolutely wrong.

You said Monday that you don’t anticipate anything that will change your mind, but we suggest an overriding issue that should serve as the tipping point: If money leaves the pockets of Wisconsin taxpayers and goes to the state of New York to build high-speed rail and create jobs and commerce, it’s a lousy deal for Wisconsin.

During the campaign, Walker assured everyone that Wisconsin could take the federal money designated for extending high-speed rail from Milwaukee to Madison — more than $800 million — and use it for other infrastructure improvements, such as road and bridge repair and construction.

While we think that approach is short-sighted, at least it would have kept money earmarked for the Badger State here.

On Monday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — a former Republican congressman from Illinois — said that if Walker persists at halting the high-speed rail project, Wisconsin will lose that money to another state.

“None of the money provided to Wisconsin may be used for road or highway projects, or anything other than high-speed rail,” LaHood said. “Consequently, unless you change your position, we plan to engage in an orderly transition to wind down Wisconsin’s project so we do not waste taxpayers’ money.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Illinois: We'll take Wisconsin's $810M for Chicago-St. Louis route

From an article by Mary Wisniewski in the Chicago Sun Times:

Illinois wants the $810 million in federal high-speed rail money that Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker has promised to reject.

“We’d love to have it,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig. He said Illinois, which has already received $1.2 billion in high-speed rail funding, could spend Wisconsin’s money making further improvements to the Chicago-St. Louis corridor to add more passenger runs.

The money also could be used to build stations in Joliet and Rockford, Hannig said.

Walker, a Republican, made opposing a high-speed train line from Milwaukee to Madison a key part of his campaign against Democrat Tom Barrett. Walker objected to the state having to pay up to $7.5 million a year in ongoing operational costs.

State Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg (D-Evanston) said he would work with other lawmakers to persuade the U.S. Department of Transportation to transfer the money to Illinois. He also would like to see trainmaker Talgo, Inc. move here. Talgo has said it can’t promise to stay in Milwaukee if the state rejects the rail project.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Walker asks Talgo to stay; says rail decision isn't final

From an article by Jason Stein and Tom Heldin the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Madison — Governor-elect Scott Walker reached out to a Milwaukee train manufacturer Friday, seeking to keep its operations in the state long-term as he advocates for stopping a passenger rail project involving the company.

"Governor-elect Walker is reaching out to leadership at Talgo to encourage them to stay in Wisconsin," Walker spokeswoman Jill Bader said Friday.

A spokeswoman for Talgo, the U.S. unit of the Spanish firm Patentes Talgo, said that Walker told company officials that his decision to stop a proposed Madison-to-Milwaukee passenger rail line is "not final."

Walker, a Republican, campaigned on an unambiguous promise to end the passenger rail line, funded with $810 million in federal stimulus money, which he has called a boondoggle. Bader said Walker was not backing away from that promise.

This week, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, a supporter of the project, halted work on that line temporarily after Walker's election.

That has thrown some doubt over jobs at Talgo, which is building two trains for an existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago rail service and had plans to build two more for the proposed Milwaukee-to-Madison line. The company has a site at the former Tower Automotive property.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore said Friday during a briefing in her Milwaukee office that other states are clearly in line to take the funds if Wisconsin turns them down. A lack of public transportation is a significant cause of the high unemployment in the central city because residents there can't reach jobs in the suburbs, she said.

"Walker has a record of being anathema to public transportation," Moore said.

New York Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo made a pitch for the rail money that the governors-elect in Wisconsin and Ohio have pledged to reject. He sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood asking that the roughly $1.26 billion be redirected to pay for a rail project that would connect New York City, upstate New York, Toronto and Montreal.

"High-speed rail is critical to building the foundation for future economic growth, especially upstate," Cuomo said in a statement. "If these governors-elect follow through on their promises to cancel these projects, a Cuomo administration would move quickly to put the billions in rejected stimulus funding toward projects that would create thousands of good jobs for New Yorkers."

Friday, November 5, 2010

DNR schedules hearing on Valley plant permit

From a blog post by Tom Content on JSonline:

An air emissions permit to operate the Valley power plant in Milwaukee should be renewed, the state Department of Natural Resources has concluded.

That finding, concerning an air emissions permit first issued in 1998, will be the subject of a DNR public hearing Thursday in Milwaukee.

Environmental groups sued the DNR this summer in Dane County Circuit Court because it had not issued an updated permit for the project.

That suit is now on hold while DNR proceeds with work on the air permit.

The Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin, joined by several other groups, are seeking that DNR become more aggressive in requiring less pollution to be emitted by the We Energies plant, located in the Menomonee River Valley.

The Journal Sentinel reported this summer that the plant is allowed to operate under more lenient standards in part because of its age and in part because it wasn’t required to install modern pollution controls at a time when We Energies was moving forward to install those controls at other, larger power plants.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Walker says he will stop train project to Milwaukee

From an article by Clay Barbour in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Some $800 million in contracts, a series of difficult legal hurdles and a struggling economy will not stop Governor-elect Scott Walker from doing what he promised on the campaign trail — stopping the train.

Walker, a Republican, soundly defeated Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett for the right to replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. He takes power Jan. 1.

The Milwaukee County executive ran a strong campaign on a series of checkbook issues, vowing to cut government spending by $300 million, bring 250,000 jobs to Wisconsin and roll back $1.8 billion in tax increases approved last year.

But few issues so caught the public's attention as Walker's promise to stop the $810 million Milwaukee-to-Madison passenger rail project, a project officials hope one day will link the Midwest, from Chicago to Minneapolis.

Wisconsin transportation officials earlier this week signed a deal to commit the state to spending all of the $810 million in federal stimulus money on rail project, a significant move because it makes it harder for rail opponents like Walker to stop it.

Many political experts felt Walker was simply using the train to gin up voters, never truly intending to bring a halt to the project — a move that could end up costing the state millions of dollars and thousands of jobs. Some assumed Doyle rushed the contracts through in an effort to tie the governor-elect's hands.

But on Wednesday, Walker reiterated his intention to stop the train and said he believed there was a way to do it without the state losing its shirt.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Wind farm proximity and property values

From a study by Jennifer L. Hinman, graduate student, Illinois State University, Department of Economics:

The estimation results provide evidence that a location effect exists such that before the wind farm was even approved, properties located near the eventual wind farm area were devalued in comparison to other areas. Additionally, the results show that property value impacts vary based on the different stages of wind farm development. These stages of wind farm development roughly correspond to the different levels of risk as perceived by local residents and potential homebuyers. Some of the estimation results support the existence of wind farm anticipation stigma theory, meaning that property values may have diminished due to a fear of the unknown: a general uncertainty surrounding a wind farm project regarding the aesthetic impacts on the landscape, the actual noise impacts from the wind turbines, and just how disruptive the wind farm will actually be.

However, during the operational stage of the wind farm project, as property owners, living in close proximity to Twin Groves I and II wind turbines, acquired additional information on the aesthetic impacts on the landscape and actual noise impacts of the wind turbines to see if any of their concerns materialized, property values rebounded and soared higher in real terms than they were even before wind farm approval. Thus, this study presents evidence that demonstrates close proximity to an operating wind farm does not necessarily negatively influence property value appreciation rates or property value levels (in percentage terms). The estimation results strongly reject the existence of wind farm area stigma theory for the area surrounding Twin Groves I and II.

Wisconsin, feds sign high-speed rail deal

From an article in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Transportation officials have confirmed that Wisconsin and federal administrators have signed a deal to commit the state to spending all $810 million of its federal stimulus cash on a proposed Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail line.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on its website Monday night the agreement was reached just days before today's election.

The deal is significant because it could make it harder for opponents to stop the controversial project, which officials originally hoped would one day connect the Midwest, from Chicago to Minneapolis.

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, the Republican nominee and gubernatorial frontrunner, has said repeatedly that he wanted to stop the rail project, even if it meant repaying hundreds of millions of dollars to the federal government. On Monday, he called the deal "raw political power at its worst."

But Cari Anne Renlund, executive assistant to state Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi, said Gov. Jim Doyle's administration was only following its original plan for the project to create construction jobs as soon as possible.

"Essentially what this means is that we've satisfied the federal government that we are ready to start the construction phase," Renlund, the No. 3 official at the state Department of Transportation, told the State Journal. "We can put people on the job and pay them."