Rules of downtown development

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hans Noeldner submitted another tongue-in-cheek look at our four-wheeled world:

I am a trustee in the village of Oregon, Wisconsin, a rapidly growing bedroom community of about 8,300 near Madison, Wisconsin. Like small downtowns everywhere in the United States, ours nearly collapsed in recent decades. During the past few months another trustee and I, along with help from some citizens, have been working on plans to revitalize our downtown. We held four listening sessions and a public forum. It was after that public forum I finally comprehended the rules of the game I have been trying to play.

And here they are - the rules of a game called, “Let’s Revitalize Downtown Oregon!” Some of the rules consist of objections that have been raised against wasting valuable downtown parking space on a “square” or “plaza” – i.e. a large contiguous pedestrian area for public gatherings and events. Some pertain to smooth flow of motor vehicle traffic. Other rules comprise underlying assumptions that everyone knows but no one speaks aloud. The axiomatic rules are at the end of the list.

Tonight (Sept. 27) - Moving toward community energy independence

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Local Living Communities
Featuring Kelley Rajala
7:00pm, Wednesday September 27, 2006
UW-Arboretum (1207 Seminole Highway, Madison)
Free and Open to the Public

As individuals and communities are making a conscious shift towards healthier places, the Livability Project has used innovative methodologies to help them evolve towards renewable energy independence and to develop customized solutions appropriate for their community. Kelley Rajala, Executive Director of the Livability Project will give at free presentation open to the public on Wednesday, September 27th at 7:00pm at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum (1207 Seminole Highway, Madison). Kelley will provide insights into the local living economies movement and cover the intersection of a diverse range of subjects including energy, personal health, urban planning and biomimicry.

This free event is sponsored by Sustain Dane, Madison Peak Oil Group and Dane County Buy Local Initiative and hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Arboretum.

Focus on Energy funds solar testing lab

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Focus on Energy supplied the funds for the $20,000 grant announced by Governor Doyle to the Madison Area Technical College (MATC) to cover start-up costs associated with the development of the Northern Solar Testing and Certification Facility, only the second testing lab in the country.

Don with check.jpg
Don Wichert, Focus on Energy Renewable Energy Program Director, stands with the ceremonial check from Focus on Energy.

Doyle Proposes Public, Private Investments to Develop Renewable Energy

Monday, September 25, 2006

Doyle for blogs.jpg

From a media release issued by Governor Doyle's office when he announced his plans at the Madison Area Technical College on Monday, September 25:

Part of Broad Effort to Create 17,000 High End Jobs in Wisconsin

Governor Jim Doyle today unveiled plans to grow Bioindustry and Renewable Energy in Wisconsin through a $450 million public and private investment strategy – including nearly $80 million from the state - in renewable fuel sources to help the nation achieve energy independence. The Governor’s proposal, which will be included in his budget next year, is part of a broad effort to make Wisconsin the nation’s leader in energy independence and create 17,000 jobs in our state.

“Here in Wisconsin, we’re doing our part and setting an example for the nation in energy independence,” Governor Doyle said. “This new state funding will encourage innovative new energy technologies across our state that will help the nation kick its addiction to oil. As I’ve always said, when it comes to our energy future, we should be more dependent on the Midwest, and less dependent on the Mideast.”

Read the full release RENEW's blog.

Turbine open house - Byron, Wisconsin

Friday, September 22, 2006

Take a tour of the We Energies Byron wind turbines Saturday, Sept. 23. The guided tours take about 30 minutes and begin every half hour between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. Visitors will have an opportunity to enter the tower base and watch the wind turbine shut down and be restarted.

Constructed in 1999, the two wind turbines feature 75-foot blades mounted on 215-foot steel towers, for a total height of 290 feet. Depending on wind speed, each turbine can generate 660 kilowatts of electricity for a total output of 1.3 megawatts. The output supplies power to customers of the We Energies Energy for Tomorrow renewable energy program (

Attend a tour or visit our Web site to learn more about wind turbines, the importance of wind and other renewable energy sources to generate power, and We Energies' plans for future renewable energy projects.

Representatives from RENEW Wisconsin, Focus on Energy and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association also will be on site to answer questions about customer-owned wind turbines and solar installations.

Tour reservations are not needed for individuals or small groups, but groups of 10 or more should call (414) 221-4264 to reserve a specific tour time.

The wind turbines are located at 5656 County Road F in Byron, Wis.

From the south:
• Take Hwy 41 north to Hwy 49 (Waupun exit).
• Go west on Hwy 49 one-half mile to stop sign.
• Turn north on Hwy 175.
• Follow Hwy 175 north for three miles.
• Turn east on CT Hwy F and follow one-half mile to turbine site.

From the north:
• Take Hwy 41 south to CT Hwy B exit.
• Turn west on CT Hwy B and follow for one-half mile.
• Turn south on Hwy 175.
• Go south on Hwy 175 for two miles.
• Turn east on CT Hwy F and follow for one-half mile to turbine site.

$3 billion pledged to fight warming, wean ourselves from oil

Thursday, September 21, 2006

In pledging $3 billion to fight global warming, Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson said, "We have to wean ourselves off our dependence on coal and fossil fuels. Our generation has the knowledge, it has the financial resources and as importantly it has the will power to do so."

"We are very pleased today to be making a commitment to invest 100 percent of all future proceeds to the Virgin Group from our transportation interest, both our trains and airline businesses, into tackling global warming," Branson told a news conference at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York.

Read the full story at CNN Money.

Public transit to outskirts needed for fewer villagers on roads

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Capital Times on September 20 ran the following letter to the editor from frequent blog contibutor Hans Noeldner:

Dear Editor: When it comes to motor vehicle "runoff," Fitchburg is "downhill" from Oregon. Many Oregonians frequently drive on Fitchburg's roads and highways, but few Fitchburg residents reciprocate. The burden is almost entirely one-sided, so Oregonians may not care to think much about the effects of their vehicle travel.

And what about Madison? With few exceptions (Middleton), the bedroom communities and towns surrounding Madison impose far more traffic on Madison than vice versa. We arrive from our suburbs and exurbs and formerly independent villages, and Madison had better make room for us to drive and park. Too bad if people in the neighborhoods through which we drive don't welcome the pollution, hazards, and unpleasant side effects.

Do the municipalities that surround Madison have any obligation to restrain our generation of Madison-bound traffic? We have grudgingly formed a Capital Area Regional Planning Commission to limit storm water runoff, but we reject any limits on the motor vehicle runoff we generate by driving wherever, whenever, and as much as we please. Not that the county, state and federal government are doing anything significant to restrain us.

The whole situation among municipalities is grossly unfair and unjust. Even worse, our fierce determination to drive at all costs is exacerbating our addiction to oil, morally and economically bankrupting our nation to import the stuff, accelerating climate change, and rapidly suffocating a once-verdant Dane County under asphalt.

Leaders in smaller municipalities need not do a damn thing.

We can dismiss the worsening impacts of our driving: "Growth is progress, and more traffic is inevitable!"

We can justify the status quo: "People want to drive and we're just giving them what they want."

We can plead impotence: "Traffic problems must be dealt with at the county, state and federal levels."

Or we can point to vague promises: "Our new comprehensive plan includes our goal to 'minimize absolute reliance on the automobile.'"

Truthfully, we have scarcely begun. Even within this village itself, a tiny fraction of Oregon residents walk or bicycle for day-to-day errands, while at least 98 percent still drive.

The percentage of children who walk or bicycle to school has plummeted (nationwide, from over 66 percent in 1970 to 10 percent in 2003.) Streets near our schools and playing fields are so clogged with motorists that youngsters who still walk or bike are often endangered.

And month after month, more single-occupancy commuter vehicles head north from Oregon to Fitchburg and Madison every morning.

We must do far better - we must lead! Establishing public transit in the Oregon-Stoughton-Evansville area will be an excellent start.

Hans Noeldner
Oregon trustee

Don’t be fooled by oil-based fuel ‘savings’

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Country Today, which covers more renewable energy news than any other state newspaper, carried an editorial comment by Scott Schultz:

Ah, the difference a couple of weeks and a few pennies can make. People have started to smile again as they fill up their automobiles and farm gas and fuel tanks; the gas and diesel fuel prices have been dropping, after all.

Sounds of rejoicing can sometimes be heard within gas station walls as people celebrate $2.64 per gallon gasoline — still far more expensive than it was a few years ago, but lower than it was even a year ago. . . .

Stop the rejoicing. It's a trap, if we let it be. . . .

The bottom line: The savings seen in recent days aren’t real, and put into perspective, aren’t really even savings. The only real savings will be the day
when there is a plethora of energy sources fueling our society.

The rural world will be a better place the day foreign oil is but a memory and when the only oils come out of farmers’ fields.

To read the complete commentary go to The Country Today, and click on page 8A in the edition dated September 13, 2006.

Utility exec wants state goal of reducing electric use by 10%

Friday, September 15, 2006

A story by Thomas Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports on the stockholders' meeting of Wisconsin Public Power Incorporated:

A state utility leader called on Wisconsin to move further to encourage energy conservation as a way to reduce electricity prices.

"Wisconsin's energy policy doesn't go far enough in advancing the state as a leader in conservation and energy efficiency," said Roy Thilly, president and chief executive of Wisconsin Public Power Inc.

"Now is the time for Wisconsin to establish strong and aggressive policies that lower electric bills and delay the need for new power plants," he said.

Thilly issued his call for greater attention to conservation during the annual meeting of the Sun Prairie-based power company that represents municipal utilities across the state, including Cedarburg, Hartford, Oconomowoc and Slinger.

The company is proposing that the state establish a statewide goal to reduce electric use by existing customers by 10% and to reduce overall annual growth in demand to 1% within 10 years.

Electricity demand is growing at a pace of about 2% per year, according to state Public Service Commission estimates.

Muscoda company lights wood-fired boiler

Thursday, September 14, 2006

From Wisconins' Small Business Times:

Muscoda Protein Products has completed construction of a new state-of-the-art, wood-fired boiler that will reduce the company's natural gas purchases by an estimated 600,000 therms each year, enough to heat more than 650 Wisconsin homes.

An open house to unveil the new burner will take place Friday, Sept. 22, at 10:30 a.m. in the company's plant at 960 Industrial Ave. in Muscoda's Industrial Park.

The bulk of the company's wood supply will come from the nearby Nelson hardwoods in the industrial park.

Scott Meister, a co-owner of the company, said, "This project will help assure the financial health of MPP at a time when skyrocketing natural gas prices are hurting our industry. It represents an additional commitment by MPP to the growth of our business and the Muscoda community."

Funding for the project came from internal funds, a loan from Community First Bank of Wisconsin, a $350,000 subordinated loan from CleanTech Partners Inc. and a $35,000 grant from Focus on Energy, Wisconsin's energy efficiency and renewable energy program.

Founded in 1981, Muscoda Protein Products buys whey from local cheese factories and processes it into whey protein concentrate and lactose.

Editorial: Lessons from the pump

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

An editorial from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Despite a year of soaring gas prices, we're no further along at developing a national plan for weaning ourselves from foreign oil. Despite the welcome news of a vast new oil field, the reality is even that only buys us more time. It's not a fix. The United States is importing two-thirds of its oil, and much of it is coming from thuggish nations that don't particularly like us, don't share our values and don't mind wagging the dog by threatening supplies. As for global warming, there's little question among most reputable scientists that climate change is taking place and that human activity is a significant factor. . . .

It's time to take conservation and development of new technologies seriously. It's time for a national commitment, led by the president.

Canadian crude oil production dropped in 2005

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A CBC story by James Stevenson reports:

Canada's oil production dropped in 2005 for the first in six years as conventional supplies wane, but that should change as oilsands operations continue their rapid ramp-up.

According to a Statistics Canada report released Monday, companies pumped out 858 million barrels of crude last year, down 2.3 per cent from the year before. One of the key reasons for this drop was a major fire at Suncor Energy (TSX:SU), which cut production at Canada's second largest oilsands operation in half for three-quarters of the year.

"In general, this occurred mostly because of lower output from the conventional sector as well as unplanned interruptions in the non-conventional sector," the statistics agency said.

With Suncor's operations repaired and producing more than pre-fire levels, Canada's oilsands production hit a record 1.2 million daily barrels earlier this year, said Greg Stringham, vice-president of markets for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

A major expansion at the Syncrude joint venture, Canada's largest oilsands producer, has been slow coming on line due to odour emissions. But when up and running, the $8.4 billion expansion is expected to push Syncrude's production to about 350,000 barrels per day.

Any increase in overall Canadian oil production will have to come from greater oilsands output, Stringham said, as "conventional oil has been on a mild and extended decline since about 1997."

Lessons for Madison from Sustainable Sweden Tour

Friday, September 08, 2006

Report on the
2006 Sustainable Sweden Tour
Monday, September 11
Monona Terrace, Madison
7:00 p.m.

Participants in the tour will highlight sustainability activities by municipalities, businesses and non-profits in communities throughout Sweden.

Featuring Sherrie Gruder, City of Madison Sustainable Design and Energy Committee; Lisa MacKinnon, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin; Robbie Webber, City of Madison alderperson; Chuck Erickson, Dane County supervisor; Susan Schmitz, Downtown Madison Inc.

Sponsored by Sustain Dane and Madison Peak Oil Group.

More information at Sustain Dane.

Lessons for Madison from Sustainable Sweden Tour

Report on the
2006 Sustainable Sweden Tour
Monona Terrace, Madison
7:00 p.m.

Participants in the tour will highlight sustainability activities by municipalities, businesses and non-profits in communities throughout Sweden.

Featuring Sherrie Gruder, City of Madison Sustainable Design and Energy Committee; Lisa MacKinnon, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin; Robbie Webber, City of Madison alderperson; Chuck Erickson, Dane County supervisor; Susan Schmitz, Downtown Madison Inc.

Sponsored by Sustain Dane and Madison Peak Oil Group.

More information at article by John Myers in the Duluth News Tribure:

The Sierra Club has criticized large-scale biomass projects because they encourage public land managers to cut even more trees from forests already heavily logged for mills, said Clyde Hanson of Tofte, Sierra Club activist.

"All biomass has an ecological function. Removing it takes nutrients and organic material out of the land. Do it long enough and the biological productivity of the soil falls," Hanson said.

Hanson said Minnesota taxpayers and electricity customers will end up paying more as biomass projects are subsidized. Because of the impact on the forest, Hanson said biomass shouldn't be considered "green" energy.

But Mike Demchik, a forestry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point who is studying the test plots before and after biomass harvesting, said more than enough woody debris is left behind at biomass harvesting sites.

"We're trying to figure out what we can take out and not have a negative impact," Demchik said. "But they're never going to take everything off a site. There's always some material left behind."

The key, Demchik said, is the fertility of the soil. And most forest soil in Minnesota is up to the task.

"I'm really excited about this," Demchik said. "It can help reduce fire danger in some spots where there's no interest from traditional markets. This won't work everywhere. But it should work at enough locations to make it viable."

New Gulf of Mexico oil find isn't much

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Despite the the excitement of news headline writers, the reported discovery of a new Gulf of Mexico oil field will, at best, only slow the decline in annual U.S. production in coming years.

According to various news stories:

It could be the biggest domestic oil find in 38 years, but production is years away, and even then it won't reverse the nation's growing reliance on imports or have any meaningful effect at the gasoline pump.

A group led by Chevron has tapped a petroleum pool that lies 270 miles south of New Orleans in a region that could hold up to 15 billion barrels of oil — more than Alaska's Prudhoe Bay.

Experts predicted Chevron's successful test drill in its Walker Ridge area some 5.3 miles below the gulf waters may lead to 750,000 barrels of new daily U.S. crude-oil production within six years.

However, according to The Seattle Times version of the news:

Some analysts urged caution in inferring too much, too soon.

"One well doesn't tell you a lot of information," said Matthew Simmons, a Houston investment banker and author of "Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the Global Economy."

The Associated Press story also dampened the significance of the find:

``It's a nice positive, but the US still has a big difference between its consumption and indigenous production," said Art Smith, chief executive of energy consultant John S. Herold. ``We'll still be importing more than 50 percent of our oil needs."

End of cheap oil will trump teens' freedom

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Hans Noeldner sent the following letter to the editor in response to a story titled For Teens, Freedom:

Dear Editor:

The Wisconsin State Journal stubbornly refuses to connect the dots.

To see what I mean, read the September 1, 2006 lead story “For Teens, Freedom; For Parents, Worry”, and try to find any of the following words: “addiction”, “oil”, “Iraq”, “sprawl”, “global”, or “warming”. No luck? Isn’t it astonishing that Madison’s largest newspaper fails to discern any noteworthy relationship between these looming crises and that most important milestone in the life of adolescents - their transition from addiction to being driven everywhere by Mom and Dad into addiction to driving themselves?

Nor will you find any recognition that fifty years of sprawling, low-density suburban and exurban development has destroyed the practicality of walking and bicycling for most contemporary youth. We-the-boomers have hijacked a precious freedom - to move between the “A”s and “B”s in one’s community without a two-ton motorized exoskeleton.

How is such mind-numbing denial possible? How absurd to write “For Teens, Freedom…”, when it has become crystal clear that freedom which flows from oil wells is tyranny! If I didn’t suspect that at least one person at the Wisconsin State Journal is beginning to see the light (your Prius-driving curmudgeon Bill Weineke), I would cease reading your paper altogether.


Hans Noeldner
133 West Lincoln Street
Oregon, WI 53575

Stats of Confusion

Friday, September 01, 2006

Petroleum and Natural Gas Watch
Vol. 5, Number 3
August 31, 2006
by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin

One of the hazards involved in energy analysis is placing too much emphasis on raw data, like the kind one finds in the U.S. Energy Information Agency’s weekly and monthly reports. While rawness may be a desirable attribute in certain meats and vegetables, it is less desirable in statistical information that is susceptible to errors requiring a correction at some later point. It is even more exasperating when the changes are significant enough to warrant junking a hypothesis that explained the earlier results well but doesn’t fit at all with the newly redrawn picture.

The latest example of this recurring pattern occurred this week when EIA released a compilation of supply and consumption data from January through June this year. In that statistical summary, EIA reported that demand for gasoline inched up by 0.6% from the year-earlier period. But in the weekly reports, EIA’s estimates of increased demand had been ranging between 1.5% and 2%.

Notwithstanding that contradictory finding, EIA reported yesterday that demand for gasoline in the four-week period ending August 25 was 1.6% higher than the same four-week period last year. Evidently, EIA is in no hurry to recalibrate the dials and instruments it uses for compiling its status reports. Analysts and traders, take note!

The difference between these numbers—a full percentage point—is not trivial. Considering that population is growing at a 1% clip annually, the higher number suggests that motorists are not at all fazed by $2.50 to $3.00 per gallon gasoline, while the lower figure indicates that these prices are having some impact on driving habits. That a modest cutback in discretionary driving is underway would make sense given declining consumer confidence and the slowdown in the housing sector. Actual per capita reductions in gasoline consumption are bound to take some of the fizz out of energy markets, at least in the short term.

But this incident raises a disturbing question: if the gasoline demand numbers are unreliable, how much trust can we place in other data reported in EIA’s weekly and monthly bulletins? Or, put another way, how does one know that a significant trend is emerging given the probabilities of a statistical revision later on?

Let us illustrate this dilemma by looking at the question of net export capacity. There has been some discussion in various Peak Oil circles suggesting that the amount of global petroleum available for export to other nations may have peaked late last year. But you’d never know that moment had passed from looking at EIA’s data. Imports of crude and refined products to the U.S. are running 1% above 2005’s totals, and last year’s import volumes were 3% higher than in 2004.

Furthermore, the most recent bulletin reported that crude oil imports averaged 11.2 million barrels per day. That total, according to EIA, is “the second highest volume of crude oil imports ever.” In the effort to ensure a continuous expansion of petroleum supplies available for the motoring public, increases in import volumes must exceed the decrease in domestic output.

But the United States is not the only country that is lapping up more oil from overseas sources. Imports are on the rise in China, India, Indonesia (now the only OPEC nation that imports more oil than it exports) and the United Kingdom, which may have become a net importer of oil this year.

Does this mean that those who contend that net global export capacity has peaked have got it wrong? Not necessarily. Perhaps EIA’s current estimates of petroleum imports will be revised downward in a subsequent report. Perhaps there is more ethanol circulating around the world than is revealed through present statistical measures. Maybe the fuel shortages cropping up in such oil-rich hot spots as Iraq and Iran will trigger policy changes that will take a larger share of their output out of the global marketplace. And perhaps more countries will follow Zimbabwe’s descent into wholesale economic ruin and become, for all intents and purposes, oil-free zones.

Trying to determine where we are along the petroleum extraction curve is a little like driving through the countryside at night to get to an unfamiliar destination. No matter how intently we peer out of the windshield searching for clues indicating its whereabouts, we’re liable to pass it and keep on going until we encounter signposts warning us of a steep downslope ahead.


Energy Information Administration, Weekly Petroleum Status Report, week ending August 25 2006.

Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review August 2006, Table 3.1a


Petroleum and Natural Gas Watch is a RENEW Wisconsin initiative tracking the
supply demand equation for these fossil fuels, and analyzing its effects on prices,
consumption levels, and the development of energy conservation strategies and renewable energy alternatives. For more information on the global and national petroleum and natural gas supply picture, visit "The End of Cheap Oil" section in RENEW Wisconsin's web site. These commentaries also posted on RENEW’s blog
and Madison Peak Oil Group’s blog.