Energy efficiency fails to cut consumption: study

Friday, November 30, 2007

From a Reuters story by Sharon Ho and Frank McGurty posted on

TORONTO (Reuters) - American consumers are driving bigger gas-guzzling cars and buying more air conditioners and refrigerators as the overall energy efficiency of such products improves, a report released on Tuesday found.

In what the study calls "the efficiency paradox," consumers have taken money saved from greater energy efficiency and spent it on more and bigger appliances and vehicles, consuming even more energy in the process.

This irony isn't just restricted to the United States, though. "The paradox is true for every developed country," said Benjamin Tal, senior economist at CIBC World Markets, which conducted the study.

The study concludes that stricter energy efficiency regulations aren't the answer to concerns over climate change and the depletion of oil supplies because consumers treat greater energy efficiencies as a tax cut. "Because you get a 'tax cut,' you drive more," Tal said.

Going Green? Easy Doesn't Do It

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A commentary by Michael Maniates in the Washington Post seems to ring true for many people concerned about energy issues. Here's a excerpt from his column:

The hard facts are these: If we sum up the easy, cost-effective, eco-efficiency measures we should all embrace, the best we get is a slowing of the growth of environmental damage. That's hardly enough: Avoiding the worst risks of climate change, for instance, may require reducing U.S. carbon emissions by 80 percent in the next 30 years while invoking the moral authority such reductions would confer to persuade China, India and other booming nations to embrace similar restraint. Obsessing over recycling and installing a few special light bulbs won't cut it. We need to be looking at fundamental change in our energy, transportation and agricultural systems rather than technological tweaking on the margins, and this means changes and costs that our current and would-be leaders seem afraid to discuss. Which is a pity, since Americans are at their best when they're struggling together, and sometimes with one another, toward difficult goals.

Upcoming energy events at UW-Madison

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Parameterization of Wind Turbines: Effects on Local Meteorology

Tuesday, November 27
Technology Innovation in the Electric Power Industry

Thursday, November 29
Commuter Rail

Tuesday, December 4
The Case for Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles

Wednesday, December 5
Squeezing More Financial and Mechanical Power From Motors

Charter Street plant required to reduce coal burning

Monday, November 26, 2007

From a story by Kevin Murphy in The Capital Times:

An agreement finalized today requires the University of Wisconsin's Charter Street heating plant to reduce its coal burning to 85 percent of past levels and eventually be replaced.

In addition, the consent decree reached between the Sierra Club and Department of Administration, which manages the aging Charter Street plant, will be used as a blueprint for reducing sulphur dioxide and mercury emissions not only at the Charter Street and Capitol Heating plants, but at all state-owned coal burning plants around Wisconsin.

The settlement approved today by District Judge John Shabaz follows his ruling in October that UW was operating the Charter Street plant in violation of the Clean Air Act after making major modifications to the plant's coal boilers without seeking pollution permits.

The settlement calls for the annual reduction of 25,000 to 30,000 tons of coal burned at the Charter Street plant, equal to 225 railcars. It also requires a comprehensive study of how to bring the Charter Street and Capitol Heating plants into federal air quality standards by July 31, 2008, and requires the state to open its emission records for 16 coal fired power plants around the state for possible clean-up actions.

"This is really a statewide solution to bringing the state into the 21st century with how it powers its power plants," said Bruce Nilles, a Sierra Club attorney.

Rep. Bartlett explains why oil and gas are so expensive

Friday, November 23, 2007

Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, the leader of the House peak oil caucus, explains why oil and gas are SO expensive and why energy is the biggest challenge of the 21st century in this one-hour Special Order speech to Congress recorded on November 1, 2007.

Rep. Bartlett reviews the history of energy and its connections to human civilization. In particular, he discusses the contributions of fossil fuels, coal, oil and natural gas and their link to population growth and quality of life. He reviews the rate of oil discoveries and production and consumption and finite and renewable alternatives to oil to explain why energy is the most important challenge of the 21st century.

From military might to wind power

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

From an article by Avrum D. Lank in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Manitowoc - A mammoth building that once produced deadly machines of war is now being used to make peaceful machines of conservation.

Doors that sent submarines off to sink the ships of America's enemies now admit sheets of steel to be fabricated into towers to hold the electric windmills dotting America's countryside.

The activity is part of Tower Tech Holdings Inc., a young Wisconsin company poised to cash in on the green energy boom. The increasing price of oil and concern over global warming provided the initial impetus for the wind power boom, and tax credits have provided additional fuel.

To the approximately 20,000 turbines in use in the U.S. at the start of the year, 2,500 more are being added in 2007, and at least that many again next year, according to estimates from the American Wind Energy Association in Washington. The turbines are poised on towers such as those being made in Manitowoc.

Wisconsin is well positioned to profit by all the activity, said Jerry Murphy, executive director of The New North, the regional development agency for northeastern Wisconsin based in De Pere.

Conservation, not coal

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A letter to the editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Gov. Jim Doyle supports carbon capture and sequestration at coal plants to help alleviate global warming (Doyle backs clean coal plant in Illinois, Nov. 14). It sounds easy, but is it?

The process, never tried, is extremely expensive in money and energy, and far from being "clean," it emits more of other kinds of air pollution and perpetuates the same old dirty, earth-destroying, thirsty process of coal strip mining, robbing neighboring farms and ranches and wild areas of much-needed water.

The article neglected to point out that coal miners in Appalachia are blowing up mountains and tossing the earth into streams, thus poisoning the drinking water of both local people and flora and fauna and leaving behind what look like huge expanses of desert. The carbon capture and sequestration idea simply comes too late. Global warming is happening much too fast for this new process to be useful.

Our best hope is conservation. Through good conservation planning, including smart growth, mass transit, building efficiency and a carbon tax in place of the income tax, we can make a national effort to significantly lower our carbon dioxide emissions. The average Western European produces half as much carbon dioxide as the average American. I think Americans can do even better. Let's try.

Anne Epstein

Global warming task force proposals now online

Saturday, November 17, 2007

From Mike Neuman, author of "Conserve, NOW!: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Other Environmental Costs by Offering Financial Incentives that Reward Less Driving, Flying and Home Energy Use", November 1, 2000

The public has an opportunity to review and comment on Draft Policy Templates prepared by work groups of the Governor's Task Force on Global Warming on: Transportation; Conservation and Energy Efficiency; Industry; Electric Generation and Supply; and Carbon Tax/Cap and Trade. The draft templates are now posted and available on the DNR's web site.

Each Task Force work group prepared a series of templates containing various policy options which the DNR says "may" reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Wisconsin.

Comments on the templates are due to the corresponding work group contact by either November 27th, December 1st, December 6th or December 8th, depending on which policy templates you are submitting comments on.

The DNR site says the Work Groups will revise their policies after considering comments they received from the public. They are to submit their final policy templates to the Governor's Task Force "around the end of the year", according to the DNR.

Governors sign energy pact to cut use, build new resources

Thursday, November 15, 2007

From an Associated Press story by Emily Fedrix in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- The region's governors signed an agreement Thursday to work together to reduce energy consumption, focus more on renewable energy and limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The noon signing was part of a regional summit on energy and climate change hosted by the Midwestern Governors Association.

The office of Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, chairman of the 12-member group, said the Midwest can lead the nation in renewable energy.

"Our strong manufacturing base and rich agricultural industries, along with the wealth of resources in our vast northern forests and our world-leading research universities, position the Midwest to become the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy," he said in a statement released by his office.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, co-host of the summit, said the agreement could serve as a national model.

"We're a little bit smaller and more nimble than the federal government," Pawlenty said.

The plan calls for a reduction in carbon emissions of between 60 percent and 80 percent. The group will work together to determine limits for each state, Canter said. . . .

The agreement calls for a number of other changes by 2015, including:

- Reducing energy consumption by 2 percent, with a 2 percent reduction each year after that.

- Offering the ethanol-based gasoline known as E-85 at 15 percent of gas stations, up from the current 3 percent.

- Generating 10 percent of the region's electricity from renewable resources. By 2030, that portion should be 30 percent.

Doyle calls for less reliance on Middle East

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An Associated Press article in the Wausau Daily Herald:

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle says Americans should depend more on the Midwest than the Middle East for their energy.

Doyle spoke Wednesday at the opening of a two-day summit with governors from throughout the region on energy and climate change.

Doyle says with the region’s farms, manufacturing base and research institutes, it can become the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy.

Governors from throughout the region and Canada are expected to sign an agreement Thursday pledging cooperation in developing renewable energy and addressing climate change. Goals will include reducing energy consumption and finding ways to store carbon dioxide.

Doyle says these efforts will not only help the environment but create new businesses and jobs.

Liquid coal: Don't buy it!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

From the Natural Resources Defence Council:

The coal industry is touting a plan to transform millions of tons of coal into diesel and other liquid fuels - an expensive, inefficient process that releases large quantities of carbon dioxide, the worst global warming pollutant, into the air. Instead of offering viable answers to the critical problem of global warming, this senseless industry "solution" would exacerbate the problem: Relying on coal-derived liquid as an alternative to oil-based fuels could nearly double global warming pollution for every gallon of transportation fuel that is produced and used.
A cartoon humorously highlights the faults of liquid coal.

Evansville biodiesel plant put on hold

From a story by Marv Balousek in the Wisconsin State Journal:
High soybean oil prices have halted construction of the North Prairie Productions biodiesel plant in Evansville, making the end product too expensive compared with the pump price for regular diesel.

The going rate for soybean oil, the raw material for biodiesel, is about 45 cents a pound or $3.60 a gallon, more than double the price when the plant was proposed, said John Sheehy of Sun Prairie, board chairman of North Prairie Productions.

He said biodiesel would have to sell for $4.50 a gallon to justify the current price of soybean oil. Regular diesel fuel was selling for $3.49 a gallon Monday in the Madison area, according to A gallon of soybean oil makes a gallon of biodiesel, Sheehy said.

The $42 million plant would have been the largest in the state, producing an estimated 45 million gallons of biodiesel a year. Biodiesel is a substitute for diesel fuel used by farm tractors and some trucks and cars.

Sheehy said if soybean oil prices go down or diesel fuel prices look like they're going up for an extended period, construction could resume, possibly as early as next spring.

Dealers report Madison area hotbed for hybrid vehicles

Friday, November 09, 2007

From a report on WISC-TV, Channel 3, Madison:

The sales of hybrid vehicles are higher here in Madison than anywhere else in the Midwest.

At one local dealership, hybrid sales make up nearly 28 percent of all new vehicle sales, including trucks and nearly 45 percent of car sales. Compare that figure to 114 Toyota dealers in the Upper Midwest region, which includes Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana and Michigan, whose hybrid sales make up less than 15 percent of total new vehicle sales, according to Smart Motors.

But why are the hybrids becoming such a popular choice in Madison? Many said it has to do with the city's history of environmentalism.

Judge: UW coal plant is illegal

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

From a story by Ron Seely in the Wisconsin State Journal:

The state is in violation of federal clean air laws for failing to install modern pollution controls on the coal-burning Charter Street power plant on the UW-Madison campus, U.S. District Court Judge John Shabaz ruled Wednesday in Madison.

The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed in May by the Sierra Club against UW-Madison and the state Department of Administration in which the environmental organization accused the state of violating clean air laws by not installing pollution controls after several major construction projects at the facility between 1999 and 2004.

In his ruling, Shabaz said the changes at the plant were so substantial that the university will have to apply for a new operating permit from the state Department of Natural Resources and install modern pollution control equipment, which could cost millions of dollars.

Pollutants generated by the burning coal that heats the plant's boilers include nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide. Both contribute to ozone pollution, which can worsen respiratory illnesses.

We must reconfigure

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A few comments and observations from Hans Noeldner:

From "Running on Fumes", an excellent article in the New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert:

"Were China and India to increase their rates of car ownership to the point where per-capita oil consumption reached just half of American levels, the two countries would burn through a hundred million additional barrels a day. (Currently, total global oil use is eighty-six million barrels a day.) Were they to match U.S. consumption levels, they would require an extra two hundred million barrels a day. It’s difficult to imagine how such enormous quantities of oil could be found, but, if they could, the result would be catastrophe."

Several things are obvious:

(1) We must reconfigure our spatial arrangements in these United States so that far less motorized motion is necessary.

(2) Thus we must redirect our behaviors and municipal redevelopment toward proximity, access, and higher levels of local interdependence.

(3) Where cars are still necessary and useful (and they will continue to be an essential transportation mode for many people), we must deploy vehicles appropriately scaled for the job at hand. Right now we very often use multi-ton, fifteen- to twenty-foot-long behemoths as single- and double-occupancy passenger vehicles. Continuing to do so is insane and unconscionable.

(4) If the human animal is to choose these things proactively, we must VERY QUICKLY learn to separate our sense of identity, power, virility, and self-worth from our motor vehicles.

(5) Then we will have earned the right to suggest how China, India, and other developing nations might do their "fair share" to fight global warming and help wean civilization off fossil fuels.

(6) But of course we-the-people don't HAVE to reconfigure our way of life to accomplish any of these things. We can choose to ignore the problems or delay or do nothing substantial instead (merely issuing noble proclamations, for example). Then resource scarcities plus the desire of 6.2 billion other human beings for a more equitable distribution of wealth will do the reconfiguring for us.

The fuel of the future? Say 'cheese'

Monday, November 05, 2007

From a story in the Oshkosh Northwestern:

STRATFORD — What will the fuel of the future look like and where will it come from?

Prepare for a variety of fuels from many sources, says Wisconsin entrepreneur Joe Van Groll whose start-up renewable energy company produces both ethanol and bio-diesel without a single corn kernel or soybean in sight.

The Grand Meadow Energy LLC near Stratford trucks in waste from surrounding cheese plants and raw canola oil from a nearby farm.

"There is no one silver bullet," Van Groll said in a press release. "The silver bullets are already out there — taking waste streams and turning them into profit centers."

Van Groll bought the Grand Meadow Coop cheese plant when it closed more than three years ago, converted it and with $29,000 from the state's Agricultural Development and Diversification grant program, began testing what is now a trade secret. Today, customers buy a license to use the yeast-based technology he developed with help from the grant.

As concerns about the environmental and societal impact of corn-based ethanol rise, he lists the advantages of his method.

"I don't use energy; I put it back on the grid. I don't slurp up water; I purify and recycle it. I don't push up food costs; I dispose of waste," he said.

Van Groll is a 13-year veteran of the state's cheese industry, and his process focuses on permeate, a by-product of cheese making. But Van Groll says the technology can be used on a variety of waste streams and he sees no end in sight to its application.

Step It Up rallies pressures for change at UW coal plant

Sunday, November 04, 2007

From Step It Up:

Last night [November 2] Bill [McKibben] was in town, and spoke at a film festival and got the troops rallied up.

Over 100 people rallied outside of this ugly little eye sore of a coal plant, conveniently located in the heart of the University campus. People wrote a whole lot of postcards to the board of regents, the Chancellor, and the Governor, urging them to take action (this plant is currently the subject of a lawsuit by the Sierra Club, so some urging is needed).

Longer daylight time may save energy -- but stats are stale

Saturday, November 03, 2007

From a story by Carl Bialik in the Wall Street Journal:

Americans are turning their clocks back this Sunday -- one week later than last year. With the earlier start this past March, that translates into four extra weeks of daylight-saving time.

The extra hour of primetime daylight is supposed to save energy, but the decision to make the extension was based on some questionable numbers. And any subsequent statistical support is a long way off. "The jury is still out on the potential national energy savings," says U.S. energy department spokeswoman Megan Barnett.

Congressional sponsors of the bill in 2005 argued that starting daylight time the second Sunday in March and ending it the first Sunday in November would cut electricity usage. Natural light would substitute for electric lights and people would participate in electricity-free outdoor activities instead of heading home to use appliances and watch television.

When Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, introduced the bill, they said the extension could save Americans the equivalent of 100,000 barrels of oil a day -- an estimate repeated frequently in the media. But that statistic relied on figures from 1974, when President Nixon sprung clocks forward early, in January, during an energy crisis.

Wind project photo gallery

Friday, November 02, 2007

Fond du Lac Reporter photographer Patrick Flood documents progress on the Forward Wind Energy Project in a gallery posted on the paper's Web site.

One of the photo captions highlights the short-term economics of renewable energy for Wisconsin:

Rodney Borkenhagen of Appleton, a union iron worker for White Construction, checks over the very tip of one of the blades of a wind turbine about to be raised near Leroy Wisconsin Thursday afternoon. The wind tower os one of 66 locations in Dodge and Fond du Lac counties being built by Michels corporation of Brownsville as part of the Forward Wind Energy Project. The towers will be 262 feet high, with 122 foot blades, each blade weighing 14,000 lbs.

Some energy alternatives too expensive to produce

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A letter to the editor from the Appleton Post-Crescent:
Kurt Williamsen is at it again. In a letter published Oct. 19, he claims that wind and solar aren't practical because there is a whole array of vast, untapped energy alternatives available.

The resources he mentions are untapped for a very good reason: they are all difficult and expensive to produce.

For example, recently the capital cost to set up one barrel per day of production from tar sands has risen well in excess of $130,000, causing many producers to scale back or cancel projects.

As for shale, Shell Oil recently scaled back its experimental shale oil production project due to — you guessed it — rapidly escalating costs.

Despite the mind-boggling potential size of the reserves Mr. Williamsen trots out, it's not the size of the resource that matters. What matters is the rate at which it can be produced and whether or not the energy produced exceeds the energy expended to extract it. Most unconventional natural gas sources suffer from both to these problems.

As for methane hydrates, don't hold your breath. The history of energy production is littered with schemes that looked good on paper but failed to ever reach meaningful levels of production. And besides, do we truly need yet another method to pump carbon dioxide into our atmosphere?

Both wind and solar are proven energy sources that can be developed in meaningful scales in the relatively near future.

Joe Gregg,