Open house at net-zero-energy home, June 4, Waupaca

Thursday, May 31, 2007

You are Invited to the Open House & Press Conference to come and see
Wisconsin’s First Net Zero Energy & Zero Emissions Home.
Free Admission! Open to the Public.
Monday June 4, 2007 @ 10 a.m.
N2575 Orchard Way
Waupaca, WI

· A-A Exteriors will be producing 100% of the energy we use every year

· 10 kw photovoltaic solar system; producing 12,297 kilowatt hours per year

· A-A Exteriors will receive $100 cash every month from the power company.

A-A exteriors will be buying electricity off peak for .05365 cents per kilowatt and selling it on peak for .2026 cents per kilowatt

2,183 S.F Home 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, bonus room, 2 car attached garage

Features Include:

Ø Huntington Vinyl windows, R-25 Frames, R-9.09 glass
NFRC rating U-.2 (lower the number the better)

Ø Attic insulation R-50

Ø Wall Insulation R-25

Ø Insulated foundation R-15

Ø Geothermal heating and cooling system, (3 zone)

Ø Green Built

Ø Certified Aging in Place Home

Ø Low Volatile Organic Compounds

Learn how you can let the sun power your home in Wisconsin!

Focus on Energy
Speaker: Niels Wolter: Board Member of Midwest Renewable Energy Association will tell you how you can get Focus on Energy rewards from on your investment in solar energy and speaking about the future of homes in the Midwest- and how A-A Exteriors building fits into the future.

Midwest Renewable Energy Association
Speaker: Tehri Parker, Executive Director of Midwest Renewable Energy Association will speak on opportunities for home and business owners to learn more about renewable energy resources and systems, so they will be smart consumers.

Midwest Renewable Energy Association
Speaker: Jeff Knutson Board Member of Midwest Renewable Energy Association and President of A-A Exteriors Inc. will speak about Net Zero Energy & Zero Emissions Buildings.

Telephone: Toll Free (866) 582-4320 or 715-256-0406

$6 billion Murphy Oil expansion plan inches forward

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

From a story by Wayne Nelson on the Web site of Business North:

Murphy Oil is talking with potential partners to develop oil sands deposits in Western Canada, and has hired an environmental design and permitting consultant to help plan a major expansion at its Superior Refinery.

That international environmental engineering and consulting firm is ENSR, a unit of Los Angeles-based AECOM (NYSE: AECOM).

David Podratz, general manager, stressed the Arkansas-based company (NYSE:MUR) is only “considering” a nearly seven-fold expansion at Wisconsin’s sole oil refinery to 235,000 barrels per day. Nevertheless, Murphy Oil senior executives are actively looking for a partner that can guarantee a much larger, stable and reasonably priced supply of crude oil from northern Alberta’s oil sands, he said. “We would build the downstream piece,” Podratz said. “We talk about it regularly . . . it’s off the back burner.”

The implications for this region are huge. The company estimates the price for the refinery expansion alone at more than $6 billion. Its payroll would more than double with an additional 300-400 fulltime employees and its regional network of vendors would expand. The expansion also would generate more than 3,000 construction jobs over two years.

Automakers fight for right to build gas guzzlers

Monday, May 28, 2007

From an article by Moira Herbst on the Web site of Business Week:

It's an all-American scene: Two men discussing buying a new pickup truck, presumably somewhere in the heartland. After a little chit-chat, talk turns to government regulations. "[Congress] wants to set the same fuel economy standards for pickup trucks as they use for cars," says a male voice in the radio advertisement, following the sound of a truck engine and clucking chickens. "When you buy that new pickup it's gonna really jack up the price."

The ad is part of a campaign by the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers (AAM), an automakers trade group, to win popular support in their battle against tighter government regulations over fuel efficiency. The radio spots, which kicked off Memorial Day weekend, are designed to appeal to SUV- and truck-loving consumers, warning that possible new laws could raise prices for trucks and make it harder for safety-obsessed families to get bigger cars. The ads come as Congress is considering a bill calling for the first major boost to car fuel economy since 1975.

The $1 million-plus campaign was launched with little fanfare this weekend by the AAM, the trade association that represents General Motors (GM), Ford Motor (F), DaimlerChrysler (DCX), Toyota Motor (TM), BMW (BMWG), and four other automakers. The radio and print advertisements—running in 10 states with high percentages of light truck and SUV owners—urge people to call their representatives in Congress to oppose "extreme fuel mandates." The states are Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Community Car's popularity zooms

Friday, May 25, 2007

Community Car continues to grow, according to a story by Katie Dean in The Capital Times:

As development has pushed Madison's growing population further beyond the boundaries of the city proper, it might seem unlikely that a carsharing service with the bulk of its vehicles parked downtown could succeed.

But Madison's locally owned Community Car service is thriving. Started in October 2003 with 20 charter members and three vehicles, the service has ballooned to 575 members and now boasts 11 vehicles. The company is planning to bring two more cars to the University of Wisconsin campus in the fall, and by the end of the year the total fleet should reach 15, Executive Director Amanda White said.

Reporter bumps into Peak-Oil-Man for man-on-the-street interview

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The interview posted on Whiskey & Gunpowder dispells current conventional "wisdom" on the cost of gasoline:

PEOPLE MAY COMPLAIN about the rising price of gasoline, but there was no lack of drivers or gasoline-fueled automobiles in downtown Pittsburgh yesterday. The place was jammed and every parking lot had the “Full -- Leases Only” sign at the entrance. And here begins the tale. . . .

". . . in the past decade, refinery upgrades and expansions in the U.S. have added the equivalent of 10 ‘new’ refineries to the total base, and there is something like the equivalent of eight more refineries being ‘built’ via upgrades to existing facilities. This is why U.S. refinery output is at a record high. . . .”

The reporter knew by now that he was talking about oil and refined product with someone who knows something about the business. He paused and thought for a moment. Then he asked, “So why is the price of gas rising?”

“The price of gas is rising,” said the Peak Oil correspondent, “because there are more people buying it than there are selling it. And there will be, for the rest of your life.”

Thus ended a random interview with a man in the street.

Until we meet again…
Byron W. King

Wisconsin public transit options lacking

From a story by Vikki Kratz on Isthmus' Daily Page:

If you need to get from Green Bay to Madison via public transportation, your only option is to take an Indian Trails bus to Milwaukee (with stops in Manitowoc and Sheboygan), then transfer to a Greyhound bus that goes from Milwaukee to Madison. All told, the trip takes between six to eight hours, including a two-hour layover in Milwaukee.

Back when I lived in Green Bay, sans car, I made that trip a couple of times. It sucked. Particularly because I had just moved to Wisconsin from Washington, D.C., where I had been spoiled by the delightful fact that you could hop an Amtrak train and be in New York City in less than three hours.

Wisconsin has a lousy public transportation system. . . .

Some economics on wood as fuel

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

From Simon Robinson's Big Biofuels Blog:

I've come across some economics about using wood biomas as energy on a US forest products document. The document by the USDA's Forest Products Laboratories pretty pro wood, but that said, the economics of using wood to generate energy seem to show that the cost of producing 1m British Thermal Units (BTU) of heat was about $2.50 in Wisconsin in 2003 compared with $24.90 for electricity.

Fast track to war?

From Hans Noeldner on an article by Tamira Madsen in The Capital Times:

Please contact the Cap Times regarding an obnoxious article they just ran - Fast Track to the Fast Lane. The story is about a ten year old who is learning to amuse himself by driving in circles at top speed in fuel-guzzling half-scale NASCAR racers. In truth his behavior is no more reprehensible or oblivious to the predicament of Earth than that of millions of nominal adults who play with fossil-
fueled toys, but it is especially galling to see it glorified in a "progressive" newspaper.

WE CANNOT BE AGAINST WARS FOR OIL WHILE ACCEPTING SUCH NONESENSE. We cannot fight Bush and corporate ownership of government with one hand behind our back - a hand that is shovelling billions of dollars to Cheney's chums as it frantically pumps gasoline into the thousand-and-one gadgets that comprise our addiction.

My letter to the editor follows - I hope it inspires you to act!

Dear Editor:

"Fast Track to the Fast Lane"? Fast Track Towards Addiction to Oil and Motor Vehicles would have been a more appropriate name for this article. And "...need for speed"? Give me a break! What planet Earth, the future of humanity, and US Armed Forces "need" is for YOU and ME to learn how to amuse ourselves without gasoline. God help our heirs if we-the-people can't manage to find recreation that
doesn't WreckCreation!

Yesterday evening at the Memorial Union, John Nichols gave a splendid speech on impeaching the Bush administration and withdrawing from Iraq. Meanwhile everybody with a functioning brain now realizes that this "occupation" is all about controlling access to Mideast and Central Asian oil supplies. But when it comes to stopping profligate consumption RIGHT HERE, the Cap Times puts on blinders. Can't you folks connect the dots?

WAKE UP! Not only do we need to impeach Bush & Co., we-the-people need to start BEHAVING like we oppose wars for oil. That means cobwebs on gasoline pump handles, folks - no waiting, no excuses.

It's time for little Morgan - and millions of nominal adults - to find nice ways to play.

URGENT: Act NOW on KRM Commuter Rail

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

From the Sierra Club:

Your e-mail, call, fax, or letter is very important by Wednesday, May 23

WI State Budget is the key to Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee Commuter Rail (KRM) success.

This is it—the moment in the state budget that we have been waiting for. The powerful Joint Finance Committee will begin discussing transportation issues next week. It is important that they vote to approve a local funding source for KRM–the $13 rental fee increase. It is critical that the KRM local funding proposal gets approved in the budget soon in order to submit the federal funding and project approval application within the federal timeline in June (see below for background information). If the Joint Finance Committee successfully passes the rental car fee, the KRM will have moved from a “project status” to “this may actually happen” status.

Please contact the following 3 Joint Finance Committee members and tell them:

1. Why KRM is a priority for you. (Pick one of your own, or see key benefits below, and commentary attached)

2. To please support the $13 rental car fee increase to support local operating and capital costs of KRM

3. If a local funding source is not included in the budget now, KRM's viability will be in serious question.

Senator Russ Decker
State Capitol
Room 122 South
P.O. Box 7882
Madison, WI 53707-7882

Senator Lena Taylor
State Capitol
Room 415 South
P.O. Box 7882
Madison, WI 53707-7882

Senator Alberta Darling
State Capitol
131 South
P.O. Box 7882
Madison, WI 53707-7882

Click here for more information.

Tips for Hybrid-Electric Driving

Monday, May 21, 2007

From John Frantz, RENEW board member, physician, and member of the National Association of Science Writers:

The first tip for getting good gas mileage applies to all vehicles: slow down gradually in anticipation of stopping to minimize the use of the brakes—any heat produced in the brakes is wasted energy. The friction of engine braking, as in down-shifting for steep downhill runs, is also wasted energy, but the brakes are spared wear and overheating. . . .

Now to understand the most subtle point in achieving the very best fuel economy in hybrid vehicles: imagine traveling through rolling hills on cruise control driving one of these cars. The cruise control will maintain speed uphill with gasoline power; relatively little electric power will be used because maximum gasoline power is greater than maximum electric power. The result will be a nearly fully charged 200 volt battery at hilltops preventing recovery of a maximum amount of electrical energy on the downhill portions. This problem can be overcome by using more electrical energy on the uphill by permitting loss of speed as the top of the hill is approached (turn the cruise control off). One’s overall progress can be nearly normal by gradually speeding up on the downhill portions (if the speed limit permits). Remember, if electrical motor power is sufficient for any assigned task for the hybrid system, the gasoline engine will not be invoked. Rather exact monitoring of this procedure is possible by keeping the instantaneous gas mileage readout at or only slightly above the expected consumption (experience will soon be close enough). . . .

As you learn more by experience, I will appreciate hearing from you so I can add your new discoveries to these tips (after I test them out for myself).

John Frantz, NASW, April 26, 2007

You can read the complete article at

Top 12 list of the least dirty automobiles

Thursday, May 17, 2007 highlights the 12 greenest automobiles:

It's green month here at CNET Car Tech. That means a focus on alternative-fuel vehicles and emissions-reducing technologies, as well as a peek at how the automotive world will look in the post-petroleum age. Here in the present, a number of car makers are already doing a pretty good job of making low-polluting, fuel-efficient models. Each year, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) puts out its list of the 12 "greenest cars," taking into account tailpipe emissions, gas mileage, and curb weight. Here's our round-up of this year's least dirty dozen.
From the ACEEE:
Claiming the prize as the greenest model year 2007 vehicle is Honda's natural gas-powered Civic GX. The Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid, stalwarts on the annual "Greenest Vehicles" list, claim spots two and three, while the Nissan Altima Hybrid and Toyota Yaris, market newcomers for model year 2007, round out the top five. Others in the list include conventional and hybrid-electric vehicles from Honda, Hyundai, Kia, and Toyota. Domestic automakers were shut out of the top-twelve list.
The Electric Vehicle Company offers completely electric transportation.

Of course, walking and biking top the list of green transportation modes.

Aphorisms on energy

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

On these aphorisms, Hans Noeldner says, "Did "I" write them? Actually it would be more precise to say they sprang into my head this morning - unbidden and largely complete - as I steamed milk for my latte. Which is typical of many of "my" rantings."

The fact that most of us in the United States are waiting for external forces to suppress our unsustainable and seemingly insatiable levels of resource consumption tells us everything we need to know about the suitability of a consumer-oriented market economy for strategic long-range planning and proactive implementation of appropriate policy measures. It utterly astonishes me that we accept conversations of the sort, “Well, maybe people will conserve gas when prices go up,” and “Until the market starts to run out of oil it won’t signal investors to develop alternative energy technology.” Are these the deliberations of homo sapiens or the terminal generation of yeast cells in beer wort?


The term “demand destruction” has become quite popular in Peak Oil circles. It would be prudent to give “supply destruction” equal consideration - if not more. Why? Because the latter establishes a much better framework for a species which seeks comprehension of the long view. Roughly speaking, destruction of demand for a non-renewable resource does not manifest itself until a peak in extraction has occurred. Destruction of supply, however, begins as soon as the first barrel is pumped, as the first ton of ore is dug from Earth.

Open house at state's first vegetable oil recycling and distribution center

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

From the Coulee Region Bio-Fuels LLC:

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 – 10:00 AM

Coulee Region Bio-Fuels Collection and Distribution Center
509 4th St., Blair, Wisconsin
(At the intersection of Highways 53 and 95)

The landmark Coulee Region Biofuels Recycling and Distribution Center in Blair, Wisconsin will hold an Open House and Product Demonstration on Wednesday, May 23, 2007. This open house will reveal a collaboration of three of the region’s leaders in biofuel technology. Taavi McMahon and David Dudley of the PrairieFire Biofuels Co-op and John Feyen of Arcade Pumping have formed an LLC named Coulee Region Biofuels. Matt Fisher, Project Manager at INOV8 International, has been instrumental in the development of the project because of INOV8’s role as a leader in alternate fuels combustion technology.

John Feyen of Coulee Region Bio-Fuels is pleased to show the Coulee Region this new facility that will have the ability to collect, recycle and distribute an environmentally friendly alternate fuel source for businesses in the Coulee Region. . . .
Get more information from:

Matthew Fisher

Amy Gehrke

It's NOT worth the drive

Hans Noelder recounts his "worthy" drive:

18 April 2007 - Last night at an environmental lecture in Madison I met a sincere young man who is very concerned about global warming and “peak oil”. Although he opposes expansions in electrical transmission lines, he thinks improvements to the Verona Road/Beltline interchange are needed to reduce congestion. No doubt his contrasting attitudes toward highlines versus highways can be explained in part by his 40+40 mile commute to & from work every day via car. “It’s worth the drive” to take advantage of lower housing prices in one of Madison’s bedroom suburbs.

Today a couple at the preschool about 1/2 mile from my house told me that for four years they have been chauffeuring their children to the Village of Oregon from their city about 14 miles away. I asked why they did not take their kids to a nearby preschool. They replied they were not satisfied with the quality – “It’s worth the drive” to bring them here.

This weekend my sister and I will drive a total of 360 miles to visit our 90-year-old dad at his assisted living center. In the process we will generate approximately 257 pounds of CO2. Our presence on local, State, and Federal highways will confirm assertions from local, State, and Federal officials that these highways must be maintained and expanded to “meet demand”. We will say, “It’s worth the drive” to see our Dad.

But clearly all of our driving in the United States IS NOT “worth the drive”! The overwhelming consensus among climate scientists is that climate change is real; that mankind is causing it; that current trends will make Earth a far less habitable Habit for Humanity; and that automobiles are a leading emitter of greenhouse gasses.

So if we are truly serious about climate change – and wars for oil, for that matter – we must begin to DENY ourselves these “worthy” drives. Where to begin? Densifying our communities, establishing mass transportation, and reconfiguring our lifestyles to match will take time, but meanwhile we can start with entirely discretionary travel – i.e. for recreation, amusement, and extracurricular activities.

“It’s NOT worth the drive to go up north to relax and play. Let’s find things to do nearby instead – activities that don’t take any gasoline!”

“It’s NOT worth the drive to go to a restaurant somewhere else. Let’s WALK to one of our local eateries – and visit with neighbors out for a stroll on our way!”

“It’s NOT worth the drive for our son to drive to high school; he can walk or bike or take the bus – and that includes extracurricular activities too. Living in the country has consequences, and because we chose a house here, we’ll help him to find creative activities here as well. Let’s start by setting an example ourselves!”

If we forgo the discretionary motoring, then maybe planet Earth can “afford” our occasional drives to visit Dad. Even better, after we’ve convinced our political leaders to REALLY support public transit, let’s get on board instead!

Gasoline Picture Looking Grim for Dog Days of Summer

Monday, May 14, 2007

More than a month ago, RENEW's Michael Vickerman foresaw the problems in gasoline supplies. In the Peak Oil Review, a weekly bulletin of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil-USA (ASPO-USA), an independent investment banker and oil analyst Matthew Simmons confirms Vickerman's conderns:

by Matthew R. Simmons

Here is a quick run down on the possible disaster we face this summer as we head into Memorial Day with the lowest beginning-of-driving-season stocks in US history. It would have been convenient had someone found out exactly what Minimum Operating Levels* really have become. I suspect we will answer this riddle this summer.

Minimum Operating Levels of petroleum inventories are when all cushions have been used up and the system is now starting to “rob Peter to pay Paul." At this stage, the risk of shortages starting to crop up is Red Alert. Sadly, the last serious study of where this invisible line of minimum stocks is was a NPC study done in 1988.

The reality of gasoline demand is that it will rise during July and August unless we have some roads blocked off to stem demand. Rising late-summer demand has happened almost every year, even as prices rose from $1/gallon to over $3!

To supply this market, several things have to work in unison.

1. Refineries need to crank up to over 16 million b/d instead of current 15 as they struggle to get into compliance from too little maintenance for too long.

2. Imports need to average well over 1 million b/d, and probably need to hit 1.5 million b/d, matching the all-time record set last year.

3. No hurricanes can hit the Gulf producing region.

4. Stock draws are the last plug in the dike.

From the looks of things as we view Memorial Day weekend starting in just over a week, we fail on all four counts.

The burning question is how much lower stocks can drop before shortages sweep our fragile gasoline supply system. Historically, it has been critically important that we build up gasoline stocks during the spring shoulder season (April-May) so that they can be liquidated during peak demand to prevent shortages. We seem to have run out the clock to fix the problem this summer.

I did some quick inventory numbers this morning [May 10]. At the end of February which is the latest data we have on the location within five PAD districts) we had 116 million barrels of finished product and 99 million barrels of blending stocks (that are now far trickier to blend than when we had RFG) in inventory.

In the course of the next 10 weeks to May 4, we dropped 13.5 million barrels of finished stock and 10.3 million barrels of blending components.

But almost all of the drop probably came from Bulk Terminals as stocks at refineries are essentially works in process and stocks in pipelines and barges are steady flows.

If this is the case, bulk terminal drops were 30% for blending components and 27% for finished products. The painful last 13 weeks ran out our USA gasoline clock. We must be right at the edge of genuine "minimum operating supplies" in at least a handful of states.

I am certainly glad I drive a diesel where the stock pool or inventory is tight but not nearly as tight as MOGAS [motor gasoline].

This could get really ugly real fast.

On that cheery note.... Matthew R. Simmons is founder and currently Chairman of Simmons & Company International, an independent investment bank specializing in the entire spectrum of the energy industry.

*Editor’s note: A description of this Minimum Operating level clipped from an EIA publication follows. “…maintaining minimum operating levels (e.g., gasoline must be present in the pipeline at all times to push product further through the pipe. When actual inventories drop below minimum operating levels, the system effectively may be running on empty. EIA reported that PADD II inventory levels in May and June 2000 were at or near minimum operating levels.

Another Editor's note: Commentaries do not necessarily represent ASPO-USA's positions; they are personal statements and observations by informed commentators.

Personal responsibility

Hans Noeldner provides a Conservation Conversation:

(ring) (ring) Hello?…

…Hey John! Ya, it’s me…

…Yup, we’re OK. Say, did you hear what happened to Deb? She was backing her little Subaru out of a diagonal parking stall downtown by the bowling alley. Huge 4WD pickup truck on either side, she couldn’t see a darn thing…

…Ya I know, here in Oregon Wisconsin, a real man has to drive a three ton pickup to get a few beers, and if he really wants to impress his friends it had better have dual wheels…

…Uh huh. Anyway, Deb was backing out and this guy in an Escalade bangs into her – believe it or not he was actually pulling into the stall! Didn’t even know she was there…

…Just a tail light and crumpled rear quarter panel. Oh, and Deb is OK. No thanks to that moron!…

…Ya, white Cadillac Escalade SUV, huge thing, ’FUN TOY’ plates…

…Ya, you’re right! Billy Fourwheeler is his name…

…Yes, he’ll drive even when he’s going only two or three blocks…

…I’ll say he’s a lazy jerk!…

…No, other than being pretty overweight, there’s no reason why he couldn’t walk or something…

…Aha! So it makes you mad too…

…What to do? Well I say “The Market” should make guys like him knock off driving such gas hogs!…

…Fine, I don’t know, but we’ll run out sooner or later, the Earth ain’t made of oil…

…Hmmm – you’re right, global warming might get us first. Let’s hope gas prices go up a lot sooner than that…

…Whatever it takes to get Billy’s attention, damnit!…

…Well there’s that problem - high gas prices are gonna hurt low-income people the most…

…Ok, you have a better idea…

…Yes, John, I agree. Congress should tax carbon emissions…

…You bet! That would wake up our friend Mr. Bozo!…

…Ya, who ever knows about Congress. Let’s cross our fingers and hope they get their butts in gear…

…And I say the EPA should increase mileage standards, get rid of the ridiculous loopholes for SUVs and pickup trucks…

…No, not the pigmobile Billy has now, but at least he wouldn’t buy another one!…

…What? Me say something to his face?…

…Yes I’ve talked with him, I’m pretty sure he knows who I am…

…You want ME to tell guys like Billy to change? Why is it my job?…

…Hey, it’s a free country, people are free to drive whatever they want. Besides, if I tell him he shouldn’t be driving a huge SUV, he’ll nail me for driving up to northern Wisconsin every other weekend…

…Yes, I have a Camry, but given how much I drive, I probably actually burn more gas than he does…

…Ah! NOW you see! If I get on HIS case, he’ll criticize ME, and where will THAT get us? Pissing contest with a…

…Uh huh, government should take care of it, make people do the right thing…

…Ya, for me to say something, well that’s personal. Changing other folks ain’t none of our business…

…This weekend? Think I’ll tool up to Door County and do some hiking. Love it up there, go whenever I can…

…Ya, the traffic sucks and it’s a long drive…

…Well, traffic is traffic, you just live with it. By the way, the following weekend Deb and I are driving up to Minneapolis for the big Global Warming protest rally…

…You’ve been thinking of going too? COOL! Wanna carpool?…

…Really, it wouldn’t be a problem for us, it’s hardly out of the way…

…OK, it’s always handy to have your own car, then you aren’t tied to someone else’s schedule…

…Uh huh, I gotta go too. Maybe see you in Minneapolis at the rally!


Rising Fears of an Ethanol Bust

Thursday, May 10, 2007

From an article by Moira Herbst on the Web site of Business Week:

President George W. Bush's January, 2006, declaration that the U.S. is "addicted to oil" marked the beginning of a gold rush for corn growers: The government policies the comment helped spur have been a boon for the producers of corn-based ethanol, the all-American fuel that now displaces about 4% of U.S. gasoline supply. Over the past 18 months, farmers have rushed to plant more corn—and are set to produce a record crop this year—while small-time entrepreneurs and agricultural giants alike have built plants to expand capacity. A handful of initial public offerings have fed investors' desire to get in on the action.

But while farmers and producers remain bullish on corn ethanol's prospects, a once-enthusiastic Wall Street is growing skeptical. On May 1, the largest U.S. ethanol producer, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), reported quarterly earnings that fell short of analyst expectations, citing higher corn costs as a problem. ADM shares tumbled 5.4% that day to close at $36.60 as investor disappointment spread throughout the sector. Shares of U.S. Bioenergy (USBE), Pacific Ethanol (PEIX), Andersons (ANDE), Aventine Renewable Energy (AVR), and VeraSun Energy (VSE) dipped 1% to 2%.

Lurking behind ADM's gloomy news are doubts about the future of corn ethanol. A growing number of analysts, once bullish on the product, are warning that an oversupply may be coming as soon as this year. On Apr. 27, a Lehman Brothers (LEH) report projected that production will outstrip demand in the second half of 2007, measuring the domestic thirst for corn ethanol at 420,000 barrels per day but supply at 445,000 barrels a day, mainly because the U.S. lacks the infrastructure to move the product to market.

Local utility touts plug-in hybrids

From a story by Mike Ivey in The Capital Times:

Wisconsin Public Power Inc. on Wednesday rolled out a converted Toyota Prius that can be plugged into a standard 120-volt outlet and recharged overnight at home.

This Toyota Prius has been converted to run on both a traditional hybrid gasoline engine and a rechargeable electic battery.
The plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, or PHEV, can travel up to 30 miles on a charge. Once the lithium-ion battery runs down, the regular hybrid system kicks into operation.

As a result, the PHEV can get up to 100 miles on a gallon of gasoline. It costs about 80 cents based on current electric rates to recharge for a 30-mile trip.

Get more details from WPPI's Web site.

RENEW urges budget panel support for energy initiatives

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

RENEW Wisconsin joined with the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, Apollo Alliance, WISPIRG, Clean Wisconsin, and the Sierra Club in expressing its support to the Joint Committee on Finance for Governor Doyle's budget proposal on renewable energy grants:

Wisconsin’s energy mix is currently very heavily weighted towards oil, coal, and nuclear power, which is not only harmful to our environment, but sends $12 billion annually out-of state and overseas to fuel our energy needs. Additionally, impacts from global warming threaten Wisconsin’s way of life. Cutting-edge, clean energy technologies will fuel the twenty-first century. We must ensure that our tax dollars go to the projects and programs that protect our natural resources, leverage our economic opportunities to the best advantage, and ensure that local communities and Wisconsin businesses and institutions benefit from our tremendous goal of making Wisconsin energy independent. To make the best use of this money the Department of Commerce should be left to decide where to fund projects based on the following considerations:

1. Encouraging the use of products in which Wisconsin has a competitive advantage,
2. Technologies that reduce global warming emissions and maintain or improve air, water, and soil quality, and
3. Some form of job quality standards ensuring we're capturing the good jobs of the future.

Charter St. plant must go

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

An editorial from The Capital Times:

The state of Wisconsin and its flagship university -- UW-Madison -- ought to be in the forefront in meeting at least the spirit of the nation's Clean Air Act.

Instead, according to a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club last week, greenhouse gas emissions in Wisconsin have increased 26 percent during the 1990s while the national average has been 20 percent.

Part of the reason is that 70 percent of the electricity we use is generated by coal-fired power plants and even more are slated to come on line within the next few years, which will only add to the problem.

Further, right here in Madison, the UW and the state's Department of Administration jointly operate one of the oldest and worst polluting plants -- the more than 50-year-old coal-fired Charter Street plant just south of campus.

The Sierra Club, after working for more than a year to get the state and the UW to close the plant and pointing out that the new gas-fired "cogen" plant on the west end of campus can meet the needs of the UW, has now filed a lawsuit to have the UW and the state found in violation of the Clean Air Act.

That's a sad state of affairs. But we understand the Sierra Club's decision to take these governmental units to court. The Charter plant, after all, has been cited as one of Dane County's largest single sources of soot, smog, mercury, arsenic and global warming pollution, according to the suit.

While Madison Gas & Electric has agreed to either shut or convert the old Blount Street plant by 2011, the state and UW have continued to stonewall the Sierra Club. That's unacceptable, and the Sierra Club is well within its rights to proceed with a lawsuit.

Sierra Club files suit vs. aging UW coal plant

Monday, May 07, 2007

From an article by Mike Ivey in The Capital Times:

The aging Charter Street Power Plant in the heart of the UW-Madison campus has become a lightning rod for environmentalists looking to reduce the state's reliance on coal-burning and its growing global warming footprint.

Wisconsin's greenhouse gas emissions grew at a faster rate than the national average during the 1990s, jumping 26 percent compared to 20 percent nationally. About 70 percent of the state's electricity is generated by coal burning, with at least three new coal-fired power plants in the works here.

To address the pollution issue, the Sierra Club on Thursday filed a lawsuit accusing the university and state of violating the Federal Clean Air Act. The complaint maintains the UW repeatedly violated the law over the past decade as it patched and repaired the Charter Street facility.

Agrichar to reduce global warming?

From Kelpie Wilson, the environmental editor and writer for truthout:

Terrigal, New South Wales, Australia - As delegates met in Bangkok this week to debate climate change solutions contained in the IPCC's latest report, one technology not mentioned in the draft report was being closely examined at a conference in Australia in the beach town of Terrigal, just north of Sydney.

The first meeting of the International Agrichar Initiative convened about 100 scientists, policymakers, farmers and investors with the goal of birthing an entire new industry to produce a biofuel that goes beyond carbon neutral and is actually carbon negative. The industry could provide a "wedge" of carbon reduction amounting to a minimum of ten percent of world emissions and possibly much more.

Agrichar is the term not for the biomass fuel, but for what is left over after the energy is removed: a charcoal-based soil amendment. In simple terms, the agrichar process takes dry biomass of any kind and bakes it in a kiln to produce charcoal. The process is called pyrolysis. Various gases and bio-oils are driven off the material and collected to use in heat or power generation. The charcoal is buried in the ground, sequestering the carbon that the growing plants had pulled out of the atmosphere. The end result is increased soil fertility and an energy source with negative carbon emissions.

Continue reading here.

Green car?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Another insightful analysis from Hans Noeldner:

Development efforts at “green” car design studios like Aptera Motors
look very promising - especially in the all-important virtual-reality/venture-capital-raising realm. But take care! Wildly optimistic public expectations for "green" cars are severely impeding humanity's faltering steps towards creating a sustainable society. The species homo automobilicus would much rather wait for technological silver bullets than adopt lifestyle changes - especially as regards unlimited personal motorized mobility.

But transportation systems based on moving human beings one-at-a-time or two-at-a-time in sixteen foot, two-ton metal boxes is itself fatally flawed. Even 100% “green” cars live on 100% DEAD pavement – and we are rapidly suffocating Earth beneath highways, streets, and parking lots. The sooner we-the-people get over our obsessive-destructive love affair with the automobile, the better.

That said, should mankind manage to continue the project of civilization, greatly reduced levels of driving in far more modest and efficient vehicles will play a important transportation role. The issue is not whether we will continue to use cars, it is whether we will choose the degree of enlightened self-restraint that is essential for a sustainable balance. Regrettably, new tech automophilia seduces many into believing that behavioral restraints are unnecessary.

Everything becomes clear when promising vehicular advances are evaluated using the following "Green Car Checklist". Here is the scoring for “Aptera” – but note that the composite results differ little from scores for the “Prius” and “VW TDI New Beetle”.

YES - reduces direct CO2 emissions from vehicle
YES - reduces dependence on fossil fuels
YES - reduces material usage in vehicle
YES - less intimidating to non-motorists
??? - fewer deaths and injuries to non-motorists in accidents
(probably not if driven at >30 MPH)
NO - reduces obesity by increasing physical activity
NO - fosters infill and compact development
NO - fosters walking and bicycling
NO - fosters use of public transportation
NO - reduces demand for Earth-suffocating roadways
(unless lanes could be made much narrower)
NO - reduces demand for Earth-suffocating parking
(unless TWO or more will fit in ONE conventional parking stall)
NO - reduces destruction of watersheds and aquifers
NO - reduces displacement of wildlife habitat
NO - reduces loss of farmlands
NO - increases civic interconnections via shared public spaces
NO - fosters local interdependence

Winner? Looser?

RESULTS: Very promising engineering step
Wrong focus for the automobile-addicted public

Hydro provision waters down state’s renewable policy

Thursday, May 03, 2007

May 3, 2007

Michael Vickerman
RENEW Wisconsin

An amendment adopted by the legislature’s budget-writing committee immediately drew the ire of leading renewable energy groups in the state.

The action by the Joint Committee on Finance would allow utilities to purchase renewable energy credits from hydroelectric plants larger than 60 megawatts (MW). This would reduce the environmental and economic benefits to Wisconsin, while providing an economic windfall to energy generators outside of the state.

“Wisconsin doesn’t have a hydroelectric facility that would benefit from the elimination of the 60 MW ceiling. Those that could benefit are in Manitoba and beyond,” according to Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide group that promotes renewable energy.

“Swamping the renewable standard with imported electricity from existing hydro plants would reduce the development of new renewable generation in Wisconsin,” said Chris Deisinger, a spokesperson for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“This measure exports wealth and denies Wisconsin's citizens and businesses opportunities to build sustainable energy enterprises,” he added.

The groups vowed to keep the pressure on the legislature and the governor to strip the “objectionable” provision from the budget bill.

Continue reading here.

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters also issued a statement, calling the action a "surprising and highly disappointing move."

UW-Madison dorm shows power of conservation

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

From a story by Nick Penzenstadler in The Badger Herald:

In an attempt to continue the University of Wisconsin’s efforts to reduce energy consumption, residence halls competed this month to conserve the most electricity and the winner was announced Monday.

The Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group helped organize the competition between 10 residence halls located near Lake Mendota. Adams Hall was declared the winner with an estimated 38-percent energy reduction over the 13-day competition.

“We focused on the little things because they don’t have a lot of control over other things in residence halls,” WISPIRG organizer Tony Uhl said. “Whether they leave their computer on all night can add up quickly.”

Fossil Fuel Watch: De-Fossilizing Ethanol

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Petroleum and Natural Gas Watch
by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
April 30, 2007, Vol. 6, Number 7

Discussions of the net energy balance of grain ethanol tend to gravitate toward the fossil fuels used for growing and shipping corn. Somewhat overlooked in the net energy return debate are the quantities of natural gas and electricity consumed at ethanol refineries, which are substantial.

An ethanol refinery that produces 50 million gallons a year burns about 50,000 therms of non-renewable natural gas a day for process heat. This is no trivial expense. Using today’s prices, a refinery operator would need to budget at least $15 million over the next 12 months to secure enough fuel to keep that plant running nearly every hour of the year. After corn, natural gas is the second-largest cost component of ethanol production.

That plant also exerts, on average, a 5 megawatt load on the electrical grid. The quantity of electricity consumed at that plant could support nearly 6,000 households in Madison, Wisconsin. About 75% of the electricity from Wisconsin’s power grid comes from coal combustion.

Whether the goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or enhance energy security, it makes little sense to pin our hopes on an agricultural commodity that has such an outsized appetite for fossil fuel-derived energy. When all is said and done, what this biofuel represents is the repackaging of stored energy (coal, petroleum and natural gas) into a land-intensive flow product (corn). Even though several months’ worth of sunshine goes into the production of corn, the amount of usable energy contained in ethanol is barely higher than would have been available from using the fossil energy directly.

Continue reading here.