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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Solar energy makes gains, but policy puts future in question

From an article by in the La Crosse Tribune:

When the sun shines, Al Schultz makes money. Specifically, the 32 photovoltaic panels on his roof turn the sun's rays into electricity that powers his home in Ebner Coulee. If he doesn't need the power, he sells it to Xcel Energy.

"There is a certain peace of mind," said the self-employed contractor. "It's kind of a nice thought to think all your power is paid for."

Schultz is one of a small but growing number of area homeowners who've taken advantage of new, cheaper solar technology, which coupled with state and federal incentives have brought residential solar electric systems within reach of more regular folks looking to lessen their dependence on fossil fuels, lower their utility bills and even make some money.

But changes on the horizon have cast a shadow over the solar industry's future in Wisconsin. . . .

"Right now it's out of reach for 90 percent of the home-owning population," said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit that promotes economically and environmentally sustainable energy in Wisconsin. . . .

Money from Focus on Energy is still available this year, but rebates will be frozen in January as FOE implements new formulas used to evaluate cost effectiveness and rebalances its portfolio of energy savings and renewables.

Program administrator William Haas said next year's renewable incentives won't be decided until early spring.

Solar advocates like Vickerman say the energy policy hierarchy, which values efficiency - use reduction - over renewables in terms of cost effectiveness, is misguided.

"However much efficiency is injected, it doesn't have any change in the resource mix," he said. "Diversifying resource mix has value."

Solar panels may reduce dependence on fossil fuels, but dollar for dollar, Haas said, high-efficiency lighting delivers better savings.

Dearing points out that his customers have already weatherized and bought high-efficiency appliances.

"Our customers call us after they've done the low-hanging fruit," he said. "We're expensive. This is big dollar stuff. This is the future."

Vickerman says the future of the solar industry depends on policy.

"If we proceed without any policy changes there won't be much happening," he said. "You'll see a number of solar installers go out of business."

Monday, November 28, 2011

Small projects have wind in their sails

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

Companies working toward energy independence

The stalled state of wind farm development in Wisconsin has led to little development activity for large wind farms.

But on a much smaller scale, wind projects are moving ahead as companies fulfill commitments to environmental and energy independence.

In western Wisconsin, Organic Valley Cooperative and Gundersen Lutheran Health System have broken ground on a two-turbine wind project that will generate enough power to offset the energy use for Organic Valley's corporate headquarters and distribution center, as well as meet 5% of Gundersen Lutheran's energy needs.

In southeastern Wisconsin, S.C. Johnson & Son has proposed building two or three turbines that would generate 1.5 megawatts of power each. If the plans proceed on schedule, the turbines would be erected next year.

The co-op and health care system project, Cashton Greens, calls for roads and foundations for the $9.9 million project to be completed this fall, with the turbines scheduled for installation in spring 2012, said Cecil Wright, Organic Valley's director of sustainability.

When completed, the turbines will generate about 12 million kilowatt-hours a year.

It's a boost to a brand that has the word "organic" in its name, but this is about more than conveying a green image, Wright said.

"One of the main reasons we did is that it'll help manage and fix our costs," Wright said. "We're not just doing it because it's a nice thing to do. The higher the price of electricity goes up, the better we'll do at paying off our project quicker, and that'll be a profit center for us," he said.

"In addition to providing renewable energy to Cashton and Organic Valley, the wind turbines will serve as a 'living lab' for research and education for students at Western Technical College," Wright said.

Windmills and more
At S.C. Johnson, the wind proposal is the latest in a string of distributed generation and renewable energy initiatives for the company, which uses landfill methane gas to generate energy for the factory. The Waxdale factory will be able to produce 100% of its electricity on-site, with 60% of it from renewable sources, said Christopher Beard, S.C. Johnson spokesman.

The reasons for the projects are many - everything from a desire for energy security to a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions linked to energy use and a platform to showcase their brands as environmentally friendly.

"Both of those projects show that customers are demanding and making clean energy happen," said Lee Cullen, a Madison energy lawyer who has been working with clients in the wind-energy sector. "There's a groundswell of renewable energy production that's happening because people understand its importance."

Beard said the S.C. Johnson wind project "helps us address the fact that consumers are asking for products that are green and products that have been produced in a sustainable way. Manufacturing our products using on-site sustainable energy helps meet that consumer demand," Beard said.

Projects to erect wind turbines and solar panels needs to be complemented with efforts to slash energy waste from a company's buildings and production processes, said Tom Eggert, who runs the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council.

Small projects have wind in their sails

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

Companies working toward energy independence

The stalled state of wind farm development in Wisconsin has led to little development activity for large wind farms.

But on a much smaller scale, wind projects are moving ahead as companies fulfill commitments to environmental and energy independence.

In western Wisconsin, Organic Valley Cooperative and Gundersen Lutheran Health System have broken ground on a two-turbine wind project that will generate enough power to offset the energy use for Organic Valley's corporate headquarters and distribution center, as well as meet 5% of Gundersen Lutheran's energy needs.

In southeastern Wisconsin, S.C. Johnson & Son has proposed building two or three turbines that would generate 1.5 megawatts of power each. If the plans proceed on schedule, the turbines would be erected next year.

The co-op and health care system project, Cashton Greens, calls for roads and foundations for the $9.9 million project to be completed this fall, with the turbines scheduled for installation in spring 2012, said Cecil Wright, Organic Valley's director of sustainability.

When completed, the turbines will generate about 12 million kilowatt-hours a year.

It's a boost to a brand that has the word "organic" in its name, but this is about more than conveying a green image, Wright said.

"One of the main reasons we did is that it'll help manage and fix our costs," Wright said. "We're not just doing it because it's a nice thing to do. The higher the price of electricity goes up, the better we'll do at paying off our project quicker, and that'll be a profit center for us," he said.

"In addition to providing renewable energy to Cashton and Organic Valley, the wind turbines will serve as a 'living lab' for research and education for students at Western Technical College," Wright said.

Windmills and more
At S.C. Johnson, the wind proposal is the latest in a string of distributed generation and renewable energy initiatives for the company, which uses landfill methane gas to generate energy for the factory. The Waxdale factory will be able to produce 100% of its electricity on-site, with 60% of it from renewable sources, said Christopher Beard, S.C. Johnson spokesman.

The reasons for the projects are many - everything from a desire for energy security to a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions linked to energy use and a platform to showcase their brands as environmentally friendly.

"Both of those projects show that customers are demanding and making clean energy happen," said Lee Cullen, a Madison energy lawyer who has been working with clients in the wind-energy sector. "There's a groundswell of renewable energy production that's happening because people understand its importance."

Beard said the S.C. Johnson wind project "helps us address the fact that consumers are asking for products that are green and products that have been produced in a sustainable way. Manufacturing our products using on-site sustainable energy helps meet that consumer demand," Beard said.

Projects to erect wind turbines and solar panels needs to be complemented with efforts to slash energy waste from a company's buildings and production processes, said Tom Eggert, who runs the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council.

Friday, November 25, 2011

RENEW Wisconsin hosts Renewable Energy Policy Summit, Jan. 13, 2012

REtaking Initiative - REframing Message REvitalizing Economy
8:30 am - 4:00 pm
Pyle Center, UW-Madison Campus
702 Langdon Street
Madison, WI 53703
Wisconsin's renewable energy marketplace is going through a tumultuous period. We need to chart a new course for 2012 to address the ongoing policy uncertainties and emerging marketplace realities.

RENEW WI invites stakeholders from around the state to join us in shaping the renewable energy community’s 2012 policy agenda.

If you want to build or buy any part of today's energy economy, this is a conversation you want to be part of. Join RENEW members, businesses, energy customers, and legislators to craft a robust policy platform for renewable energy in Wisconsin.

Breakout Groups will discuss strategies for:
Expanding Market Access for Customers and Generators;
Economics of Renewable Production;
Regulatory Environment for Renewable Production ;
How do we choose who we want to be customers of?

Summit Outcomes
Summit Statement for enacting an Energy Economy that works for Wisconsin, with RENEW Wisconsin facilitating working groups throughout 2012.

More information and registration at
RENEW Wisconsin Renewable Energy Policy Summit.

RENEW Wisconsin hosts Renewable Energy Policy Summit, Jan. 13, 2012

REtaking Initiative - REframing Message - REvitalizing Economy
8:30 am - 4:00 pm
Pyle Center, UW-Madison Campus
702 Langdon Street
Madison, WI 53703
Wisconsin's renewable energy marketplace is going through a tumultuous period. We need to chart a new course for 2012 to address the ongoing policy uncertainties and emerging marketplace realities.

RENEW WI invites stakeholders from around the state to join us in shaping the renewable energy community’s 2012 policy agenda.

If you want to build or buy any part of today's energy economy, this is a conversation you want to be part of. Join RENEW members, businesses, energy customers, and legislators to craft a robust policy platform for renewable energy in Wisconsin.


Breakout Groups will discuss strategies for:
Expanding Market Access for Customers and Generators;
Economics of Renewable Production;
Regulatory Environment for Renewable Production ;
How do we choose who we want to be customers of?

Summit Outcomes
Summit Statement for enacting an Energy Economy that works for Wisconsin, with RENEW Wisconsin facilitating working groups throughout 2012.

More information and registration at
RENEW Wisconsin Renewable Energy Policy Summit.

RENEW Wisconsin hosts Renewable Energy Policy Summit, Jan. 13, 2012

REtaking Initiative - REframing Message REvitalizing Economy
8:30 am - 4:00 pm
Pyle Center, UW-Madison Campus
702 Langdon Street
Madison, WI 53703
Wisconsin's renewable energy marketplace is going through a tumultuous period. We need to chart a new course for 2012 to address the ongoing policy uncertainties and emerging marketplace realities.

RENEW WI invites stakeholders from around the state to join us in shaping the renewable energy community’s 2012 policy agenda.

If you want to build or buy any part of today's energy economy, this is a conversation you want to be part of. Join RENEW members, businesses, energy customers, and legislators to craft a robust policy platform for renewable energy in Wisconsin.


Breakout Groups will discuss strategies for:
Expanding Market Access for Customers and Generators;
Economics of Renewable Production;
Regulatory Environment for Renewable Production ;
How do we choose who we want to be customers of?

Summit Outcomes
Summit Statement for enacting an Energy Economy that works for Wisconsin, with RENEW Wisconsin facilitating working groups throughout 2012.

More information and registration at
RENEW Wisconsin Renewable Energy Policy Summit.

RENEW Wisconsin hosts Renewable Energy Policy Summit, Jan. 13, 2012

REtaking Initiative - REframing Message REvitalizing Economy
8:30 am - 4:00 pm
Pyle Center, UW-Madison Campus
702 Langdon Street
Madison, WI 53703
Wisconsin's renewable energy marketplace is going through a tumultuous period. We need to chart a new course for 2012 to address the ongoing policy uncertainties and emerging marketplace realities.

RENEW WI invites stakeholders from around the state to join us in shaping the renewable energy community’s 2012 policy agenda.

If you want to build or buy any part of today's energy economy, this is a conversation you want to be part of. Join RENEW members, businesses, energy customers, and legislators to craft a robust policy platform for renewable energy in Wisconsin.


Breakout Groups will discuss strategies for:
Expanding Market Access for Customers and Generators;
Economics of Renewable Production;
Regulatory Environment for Renewable Production ;
How do we choose who we want to be customers of?

Summit Outcomes
Summit Statement for enacting an Energy Economy that works for Wisconsin, with RENEW Wisconsin facilitating working groups throughout 2012.

More information and registration at
RENEW Wisconsin Renewable Energy Policy Summit.

Friday, November 18, 2011

La Crosse picked over Eau Claire for commuter train route

From an article in The Chippewa Herald:

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Federal Railroad Administration says a route running along the Mississippi River is the most feasible and reasonable for a proposed high-speed commuter train between the Twin Cities and Chicago.

That puts an end to another option that would have sent the route along the I-94 corridor through Eau Claire.

However, not only is the preferred route in the earliest planning stages, but fixing the existing track for the entire high-speed line could cost as much $3 billion — and such funding isn't visible on the horizon.

But advocates hailed Tuesday's announcement as an important step in getting more money for faster passenger rail service.

"We're pleased that we're able to find a path to move forward and continue to develop the project ... if nothing else," said Dan Krom, director of the passenger rail office for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

“If we can get to Chicago in 5-1/2 hours, we can compete with autos,” Krom told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Wisconsin regulators question CapX2020 power-line proposal

From an article by Mary Juhl in the La Crosse Tribune:

WINONA, Minn. - The Wisconsin Public Service Commission isn't convinced the La Crosse-area population will increase enough to justify a proposed $450 million, 345-kilovolt transmission line.

The proposed CapX2020 line would extend about 150 miles from Hampton, Minn., to the La Crosse area, crossing the Mississippi River at Alma and ending at a new substation near Holmen. Construction would begin in 2013, with the line in service by 2015.

The Public Service Commission, a state regulatory agency, released a preliminary review of the project this week that questioned some CapX2020 projections.

"The applicants state that the growing demand for electricity in the La Crosse/Winona area would exceed the capabilities of the existing electrical system to deliver power reliably under contingency conditions," the agency stated in its report. "At this time, that conclusion is still being questioned."

CapX2020 officials have projected the demand for electricity in the Winona and La Crosse area to increase significantly over the next 20 years, by 1.7 percent annually. Referencing its own data, the Public Service Commission says that estimate is high because projected population growth has slowed.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

RENEW applauds Organic Valley & Gundersen for first community wind project in Wisconsin

A news release from RENEW:

Construction is now proceeding on the Cashton Greens Wind Project, Wisconsin’s first community wind project. Consisting of two 2.5 megawatt turbines, this innovative installation will serve two well-known western Wisconsin organizations – Organic Valley, La Farge, and Gundersen Health System, La Crosse. The two organizations are partnering in the development and ownership of this project.

“We at RENEW salute Organic Valley and Gundersen for demonstrating the viability of a large-scale wind turbine project in Wisconsin as a strategy for controlling their energy expenses and reducing their reliance on fossil fuels, said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide sustainable energy advocacy organization headquartered in Madison.

According to the two companies, the generated electricity will account for five percent of Gundersen’s energy independence goal and more than offset the electricity usage at both Organic Valley’s distribution center in Cashton and its headquarters facilities in La Farge.

“This is leadership by example at its finest. In this case, two economic linchpins in their region have joined forces to incorporate on-site renewable energy production into their base operations,” said Vickerman.

“Organic Valley and Gundersen join a group of farsighted Wisconsin businesses that are taking great strides toward energy independence and sustainability, among them Epic Systems (Verona), Johnson Controls (Milwaukee), and Montchevré, a goat cheese producer in Belmont.”

Erecting wind turbines using in-state contractors, in this case Michels Corporation (Brownsville), will generate jobs for workers and business for local suppliers and subcontractors.

This project was supported with incentives from Focus on Energy, the statewide energy efficiency and renewables program funded by Wisconsin’s utility ratepayers.

“Ironically, this project occurs at a time when our state government is back-pedaling on policies and incentives to boost renewable energy as a means of moving toward energy independence. In contrast to Wisconsin’s elected officials, leading Wisconsin companies certainly ʽget it’ when it comes to the economic and environmental values of renewable energy,” said Vickerman.

For more information about this project and its owners/developers visit Organic Valley’s news room at http://www.organicvalley.coop/newsroom.

RENEW applauds Organic Valley & Gundersen for first community wind project in Wisconsin

A news release from RENEW:

Construction is now proceeding on the Cashton Greens Wind Project, Wisconsin’s first community wind project. Consisting of two 2.5 megawatt turbines, this innovative installation will serve two well-known western Wisconsin organizations – Organic Valley, La Farge, and Gundersen Health System, La Crosse. The two organizations are partnering in the development and ownership of this project.

“We at RENEW salute Organic Valley and Gundersen for demonstrating the viability of a large-scale wind turbine project in Wisconsin as a strategy for controlling their energy expenses and reducing their reliance on fossil fuels, said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide sustainable energy advocacy organization headquartered in Madison.

According to the two companies, the generated electricity will account for five percent of Gundersen’s energy independence goal and more than offset the electricity usage at both Organic Valley’s distribution center in Cashton and its headquarters facilities in La Farge.

“This is leadership by example at its finest. In this case, two economic linchpins in their region have joined forces to incorporate on-site renewable energy production into their base operations,” said Vickerman.

“Organic Valley and Gundersen join a group of farsighted Wisconsin businesses that are taking great strides toward energy independence and sustainability, among them Epic Systems (Verona), Johnson Controls (Milwaukee), and Montchevré, a goat cheese producer in Belmont.”

Erecting wind turbines using in-state contractors, in this case Michels Corporation (Brownsville), will generate jobs for workers and business for local suppliers and subcontractors.

This project was supported with incentives from Focus on Energy, the statewide energy efficiency and renewables program funded by Wisconsin’s utility ratepayers.

“Ironically, this project occurs at a time when our state government is back-pedaling on policies and incentives to boost renewable energy as a means of moving toward energy independence. In contrast to Wisconsin’s elected officials, leading Wisconsin companies certainly ʽget it’ when it comes to the economic and environmental values of renewable energy,” said Vickerman.

For more information about this project and its owners/developers visit Organic Valley’s news room at http://www.organicvalley.coop/newsroom.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Organic Valley and Gundersen Health System break ground on Cashton Greens Wind Farm

From a news release from Organic Valley issued on November 14:

Organic Valley, the nation’s largest cooperative of organic farmers and a leading organic brand, and Gundersen Health System today announced construction has begun on the Cashton Greens Wind Farm, Wisconsin’s first community wind project. This collaborative project will feature two wind turbines expected to generate nearly 5 megawatts of energy for Cashton’s power grid—enough to power 1,000 homes each year. The energy produced will more than offset electricity used at Organic Valley’s Cashton Distribution Center and its La Farge headquarters facilities, and represents about five percent of Gundersen’s energy independence goal.

“Fostering strong, sustainable rural communities is key to who we are,” said George Siemon, founding farmer and C-E-I-E-I-O of Organic Valley. “We’re particularly proud to establish a long-term renewable energy source right here in the Cashton area, which is not only a sustainable solution for our community, but hopefully also an example for other communities.”

The Cashton Greens Wind Farm is the first commercial scale project of its kind in Wisconsin. Wind farms typically are owned by utility or wind development companies, but as developers and owners of the Cashton Greens Wind Farm, Organic Valley and Gundersen will receive income per kilowatt hour (kWh) generated. Organic Valley will buy back its portion of energy to offset its footprint through a renewable energy contract with the villages of Cashton and La Farge.

“Gundersen Health System is pleased to be entering into this partnership with Organic Valley,” says Jeff Rich, executive director, GL Envision, LLC. “The wind farm project is a great thing for our patients and for the community. By reducing our energy costs, we can eventually pass the savings on to our patients in the form of lower healthcare costs. In addition, the project creates local construction jobs and has a positive impact on the health of the environment, too. It is a win-win all around.”

Roads, foundations, the electrical collection system, and an operation and maintenance facility for the Cashton Greens Wind Farm will be completed this year, and the turbines are scheduled for installation in spring 2012 by Michels Corporation, a Brownsville, Wis.-based utility, engineering, design and construction contractor.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Interest in energy-efficiency program picks up

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

Maybe the cash rebates are responsible for the uptick in interest in a City of Milwaukee program designed to help consumers pay for energy-saving home improvements.

Or maybe it was just a cold snap.

In any case, the number of city residents signing up for the Milwaukee Energy Efficiency program, known as Me2, is picking up after a slow start. The program, financed by a federal stimulus grant, has a goal of getting at least 4,500 buildings retrofitted with insulation, more efficient furnaces and other green improvements over the next two years.

So far about a tenth of that number of homeowners - 444 - have paid for the $100 energy assessments that are required for the program since it launched early this year. Ninety-three homeowners have completed the recommended upgrades or are making them.

"Nothing is as fast as you'd like it to be, of course, but we're getting some pickup," said Dan Milbrandt, the chief lending officer for Summit Credit Union.

The credit union, which is providing low-interest loans for the home improvements, has a potential lending pool of $30 million for the program. So far, the credit union has signed off on $260,000 in loans, a figure Milbrandt said bank officials expected to hit this summer.

Since then, the partners in the program - the city, Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp. and Summit - have better coordinated their efforts, Milbrandt said. And the program has added incentives.

Now, anyone who invests at least $2,500 in energy improvements gets a $500 rebate from Me2. Those who make at least $5,000 in improvements get $1,000 back. To get in on the deal, participants have to sign up with a participating contractor and commit to making the improvements by the end of the year, said Erick Shambarger of the City of Milwaukee's Office of Environmental Sustainability.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Farmers can save money, help environment with renewable energy

From a a story by Tim Morrissey of Public News Service:

SPRING VALLEY, Wis. - Increasing numbers of Wisconsin farmers are cutting their power bills and reducing their carbon footprints by switching to alternative sources of energy.

Harriet Behar, an organic specialist with the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), says farmers use a lot of energy in producing food.

"From grinding feed to heating hot water in a milk-house to just cleaning grain, fixing machinery - all kinds of things that are done on farms that use energy, and they pay pretty hefty electric bills."

A typical monthly electric bill for the average farm can run $300 to $400. Behar says she is seeing a trend of farmers using several forms of alternative energy.

"Solar photovoltaics for electricity; wind for electricity; and then solar hot-water heating, and biodiesel, where they grow a crop and use that as fuel."

MOSES, Behar says, is involved in helping farmers make the transition to cleaner forms of energy.

"We've had workshops at our Organic University and also at the Organic Farming Conference, both on looking at alternative sources of energy."

Some state and federal grants and programs are available to help farmers develop alternative energy sources, but Behar says many decide to do it on their own.

"Even without government funding, they have participated more in this, because they like making that investment in their infrastructure on the farm, for a kind of long-term sustainability."

Illinois town aims to make electric cars … Normal

From an article by Kari Lydersenin Midwest Energy News:

Normal, Illinois, is home to Mitsubishi’s only U.S. manufacturing plant, and residents of the town 130 miles southwest of Chicago are known for embracing sustainability and renewable energy. Many families have two incomes and two cars, and “are very educated and early adopters of technology,” in the words of Mayor Chris Koos.

So about a year ago, Koos and other civic leaders decided to dub Normal and its adjacent “sister city,” Bloomington, “EVTown” and ask Mitsubishi to make it among the early destinations for its new all-electric car, the i-MiEV.

As typically happens with electric and hybrid cars, Mistubishi will roll out the i-MiEV in larger coastal markets first. Drivers in smaller towns, especially in the Midwest, will have to wait many months longer than urbanites to buy an electric vehicle or hybrid from their local dealer. Normal town planner Mercy Davison said locals were disappointed in how long they had to wait for the Nissan Leaf.

So Mitsubishi agreed to dedicate up to 1,000 i-MiEVs for Bloomington-Normal drivers. With a combined population of about 130,000, that would mean a considerably high proportion of families buying new i-MiEVs.

“It’s a big goal, but we think it’s doable,” said Koos.

A bright idea from Milwaukee

From an article by Dan Haugen in Midwest Energy News:

A mobile app that helps people perform their own home lighting audits is the winner of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “Apps for the Environment” challenge.

Light Bulb Finder was created by a Milwaukee, Wisc., app developer called Eco Hatchery. Co-founders Adam Borut and Andrea Nylund learned they won the challenge last week, and on Tuesday they’ll be in Washington, D.C., to accept the recognition. . . .

The app was released for iPhone and Android in late 2010. It lets people walk around their home and use icons to identify the type of bulb currently used in each light fixture. After entering a zip code and the estimated daily hours of use for each bulb, the app suggests more efficient replacement bulbs, as well as a detailed projection of savings, in dollars and carbon emissions.

“We want to provide people with meaningful, individualized feedback so that they can make the smartest decision based on their priorities,” Borut said.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sierra Club issues notice of intent to sue We Energies for coal ash spill

A news release from the Sierra Club:

Madison, Wisconsin - Today, the Sierra Club issued a Notice of Intent to sue We Energies for the October 31 flood of coal ash into Lake Michigan when an old landfill located on the bluff collapsed at a construction site at the company’s Oak Creek coal plant.

“We Energies must be held responsible for the toxic mess at the bottom of Lake Michigan,” explained Jennifer Feyerherm of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “We Energies has essentially turned Lake Michigan, a national treasure that supplies drinking water to over 10 million people, into a coal ash dump. We Energies filled a ravine next to Lake Michigan with coal ash, and it is that ash that now lies at the bottom of the lake. This was a predicted and preventable disaster.”

A biologist from the Southeastern Wisconsin Planning Commission raised concerns about the structural stability of the bluff when We Energies was planning to develop the site. As construction proceeded, the bluff collapsed, covering the shoreline with an estimated 25,000 cubic yards of coal ash and soil and dumping 2,500 cubic yards of coal ash and soil into the lake.

The Notice of Intent to sue alleges that the pollutants in the coal ash at the bottom of Lake Michigan “pose an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment.”

Coal ash is the toxic byproduct of burning coal. Heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, chromium, and molybdenum remain in the ash after coal is burned. These toxic metals are linked to many health effects including cancer, birth defects, kidney damage, and nerve damage. In fact, studies have likened the risk of living near a coal ash site to smoking a pack of cigarettes each day. These toxic metals also put our fragile Great Lakes ecosystem at risk, threatening aquatic habitat and building up in the food chain.

“There are more than 2,000 toxic coal ash sites in the U.S. polluting our air and water, and now there is a new one on the bottom of Lake Michigan,” noted Melissa Warner, a volunteer leader with the Sierra Club that lives south of the coal ash dump. “My family’s drinking water comes from the lake. We Energies must clean up its mess and prevent any disaster like this from happening again.”

To date, there has been little information available to the local community about where the coal ash in the lake is going, what it will take to clean it up, and when the cleanup might be completed. Today’s Notice of Intent to sue is the first step in legal action against We Energies to force the company to clean up the toxic coal ash.

Ever since the TVA coal ash disaster in 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency has been trying to enact national protections to stop this kind of disastrous spill from happening.

“Communities here in Wisconsin and across the nation remain at risk and unprotected,” concluded Feyerherm. “The burning of coal is a public health menace. This spill is yet another illustration that as long as we are still mining and burning coal, our families and communities are paying the price.”

More posts on the spill and utilities.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Facts on wind installations trump myths

Michael Vickerman's letter-to-the-editor of the Racine Journal Times:

Dear Editor:

In his November 3rd letter opposing S.C. Johnson’s proposed wind development in Mt. Pleasant, Tom Joy rattles off a number of myths about wind turbines that populate the Internet. However, the facts on the ground paint a very different picture of wind generation than what Mr. Joy represents.

First, there is no medically credible study out there that concludes or suggests that wind generation is a threat to human health. According to Dr. Jevon McFadden, a public health professional serving on Wisconsin’s Wind Siting Council, “Evidence does not support the conclusion that wind turbines cause or are associated with adverse health outcomes.”

If the experience elsewhere in Wisconsin is any guide, the proposed wind turbines will have no discernible effect on neighboring property values. But don’t just take RENEW’s word for it. Ask any and all assessors in townships that host large wind turbines, and to a person they will confirm that finding. Moreover, in Kewaunee County, home to the oldest commercial wind projects in Wisconsin, new homes are going up within sight of the 31 turbines operating there.

S.C. Johnson’s proposed project has been carefully designed to meet the strict performance standards specified in Wisconsin’s wind siting rule. We have little doubt that this project, once placed in service, will very quickly become a source of pride for the surrounding community.

Sincerely,

Michael Vickerman
Executive Director
RENEW Wisconsin

Facts on wind installations trump myths

Michael Vickerman's letter-to-the-editor of the Racine Journal Times:

Dear Editor:

In his November 3rd letter opposing S.C. Johnson’s proposed wind development in Mt. Pleasant, Tom Joy rattles off a number of myths about wind turbines that populate the Internet. However, the facts on the ground paint a very different picture of wind generation than what Mr. Joy represents.

First, there is no medically credible study out there that concludes or suggests that wind generation is a threat to human health. According to Dr. Jevon McFadden, a public health professional serving on Wisconsin’s Wind Siting Council, “Evidence does not support the conclusion that wind turbines cause or are associated with adverse health outcomes.”

If the experience elsewhere in Wisconsin is any guide, the proposed wind turbines will have no discernible effect on neighboring property values. But don’t just take RENEW’s word for it. Ask any and all assessors in townships that host large wind turbines, and to a person they will confirm that finding. Moreover, in Kewaunee County, home to the oldest commercial wind projects in Wisconsin, new homes are going up within sight of the 31 turbines operating there.

S.C. Johnson’s proposed project has been carefully designed to meet the strict performance standards specified in Wisconsin’s wind siting rule. We have little doubt that this project, once placed in service, will very quickly become a source of pride for the surrounding community.

Sincerely,

Michael Vickerman
Executive Director
RENEW Wisconsin

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

We Energies' coal ash spill dumps toxins into Lake Michigan

A news release issued by Clean Wisconsin:

November 1, 2011

Contact:
Katie Nekola
Clean Wisconsin
608.212.8751(cell)

MILWAUKEE — Monday’s bluff collapse at We Energies’ Oak Creek coal plant sent a substantial amount of coal ash into Lake Michigan. Coal ash is a dangerous byproduct of burning coal to make electricity, yet has potentially toxic health effects if it enters our groundwater.

“We Energies said in an update on its website today that coal ash is ‘not a hazardous material,’” says Katie Nekola, attorney for Clean Wisconsin, “but that is far from true. The fact is, coal ash contains chemicals and compounds that are dangerous to human health. This disaster proves that we need better regulation of coal ash and that the public deserves the right to know what’s in their drinking water.”

Coal ash contains 24 known pollutants, some of which, according to the National Resource Council, are toxic even in minuscule quantities. Those toxins include: arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, hexavalent chromium, lead, mercury, and dioxins, along with other chemicals and compounds.

These toxins can cause serious health problems including cancers, central nervous system damage, and blood and kidney disorders. Coal ash dump ponds and landfills are often unlined, and arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium can leach into local drinking water. One Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study found that residents living near unlined ash ponds run a risk of cancer from arsenic contamination that is 2,000 times greater than the EPA's threshold for acceptable risk. At Oak Creek, the coal ash came from a decades-old, closed coal ash landfill. This spill comes at a time when Congress is considering limiting EPA's authority to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste.

“This landslide poured toxic materials directly into Lake Michigan, which 10 million people rely on for drinking water,” said Nekola. “Area residents should insist that We Energies and state regulators ensure the safety of their water supplies as soon as possible.”

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Solar farm, alternative fueling station, composting set for O'Hare & Midway

From an article by Jon Hilkevitch in the Chicago Tribune:

Solar energy collectors will be installed on up to 60 acres at O'Hare International Airport, and a service station selling alternative fuels for private and commercial vehicles will open near the airport, Chicago's aviation chief announced Monday.

"The solar panels will provide a substantial renewable energy source to help power O'Hare, and the alternative fueling station will promote the use of clean fuels and electricity to power vehicles," city Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino said at the 2011 Airports Going Green conference, which runs through Wednesday in downtown Chicago and at O'Hare.

At Midway airport, a composting program will be launched to handle food waste from its 13 restaurants, Andolino said.
private waste hauler will collect compostable materials at Midway, ranging from leftover food to cardboard boxes, and deliver them to an off-site composting facility, said Amy Malick, deputy commissioner of sustainability at the Chicago Department of Aviation.

The Midway project follows a pilot composting program at O'Hare. A total of 200 tons of compostable waste at both airports will be diverted from landfills each year, Malick said.

The service station selling alternative fuels will be located on a 2.25-acre parcel at Patton Drive and Higgins Road (near the intersection of Mannheim Road and Higgins) just outside the airport, Andolino said.

"The fueling station will be able to provide alternative fuels like bio-diesel, ethanol, electric charging as well as traditional fuel'' to commercial vehicles and private passenger vehicles, Andolino said. Construction of the facility is expected to begin in about a year, she said.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bluff collapse at power plant sends dirt, coal ash into Lake Michigan

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

Oak Creek - A large section of bluff collapsed Monday next to the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant, sending dirt, coal ash and mud cascading into the shoreline next to Lake Michigan and dumping a pickup truck, dredging equipment, soil and other debris into the lake.

There were no injuries, and the incident did not affect power output from the plant.

When the section of bluff collapsed and slid from a terraced area at the top of a hill down to the lake, Oak Creek Acting Fire Chief Tom Rosandich said, it left behind a debris field that stretched 120 yards long and 50 to 80 yards wide at the bottom.

Aerial images show a trailer and storage units holding construction equipment tumbled like Tonka toy trucks and were swept along with the falling bluff in a river of dirt that ended in the water.

"This is definitely a freak accident," U.S. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Brian Dykenssaid.

As a company hired by We Energies began cleanup in Lake Michigan, the utility confirmed that coal ash was part of the debris.

"Based on our land use records it is probable that some of the material that washed into the lake is coal ash," We Energies spokesman Barry McNulty said. "We believe that was something that was used to fill the ravine area in that site during the 1950s. That's a practice that was discontinued several decades ago."

The Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of developing stricter regulations of coal ash following a 2008 Tennessee coal ash pond washout that created a devastating environmental disaster.