Doyle supports return of cash cow for highway construction

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

From an article by Jason Stein and Mark Pitsch in the Wisconsin State Journal:

The state should consider returning to automatic increases in its gas tax, Gov. Jim Doyle said Tuesday.

A return to the so-called "indexing" of the tax would represent a reversal for the Democratic governor. In the face of a widespread concern over rising gas prices in December 2005, Doyle and the Republican-controlled Legislature repealed the yearly increases in the state's gas tax, the second-highest in the nation.

But the state is now facing a $5.4 billion projected budget shortfall as well as challenges for the state road fund, which uses gas tax money to pay for highways and bridges. And some business groups have signaled a willingness to return to the automatic increases.

"The simple fact is that where Wisconsin went, where Republicans took us, is unsustainable for transportation (infrastructure), where you say, that's basically it on the gas tax, regardless of what the costs are and what the needs are," Doyle said in a year-end interview with the Wisconsin State Journal. "I think that indexing had served us pretty well for a long period of time."

U.S. edges out Germany as world wind power leader

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

From an article posted on Environmental News Service:
WASHINGTON, DC, December 26, 2008 (ENS) - The national trade association of America's wind industry says in 2008 the industry had another record growth year - the third record year in a row and generated more than $18 billion in revenues.

This year, the United States passed Germany to become the world leader in wind generation, said the American Wind Energy Association in its year-end report.

AWEA says that this summer, the U.S. wind industry reached the 20,000-megawatt installed capacity milestone, doubling installed wind power generating capacity since 2006.

By the end of September, the U.S. had over 21,000 megawatts of wind capacity up and running. Germany had 22,300 megawatts, but U.S. windpower developers sprinted to the end of the year while German wind development slowed.

"With additional projects coming on line every week since, the wind industry is on its way to charting another record-shattering year of growth," AWEA said in its report.

That 21,000 megawatts of capacity are expected to generate over 60 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2009, enough to serve over 5.5 million American homes.

Energy efficiency and transit stations on mayor's wish list

Monday, December 29, 2008

From a media release issued by May Dave Cieslewicz:

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, this week sent off his list of infrastructure projects that might be made possible by an economic stimulus package being developed by President-Elect Barack Obama's transition team. The mayor's list was sent to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Governor Jim Doyle and the state's congressional delegation.

"In order for this to work as the President-Elect intends it, the investments have to be made quickly, with a minimum amount of bureaucracy and overhead," Cieslewicz said. "That argues for a program that makes dollars available directly to local governments so they can meet pressing needs without going through layers of federal and state bureaucracy."

Cieslewicz said that he had the following priorities:

1. Fix it first. The mayor's list includes the street rebuilding and Water Utility projects that he and the City Council have already made a priority in the 2009 Capital budget. This year, the Mayor launched a five-year effort to step up the pace of rebuilding City streets to avoid the pothole problems that have become all too familiar each spring. He, and the Council also dramatically increased the funding for water main replacements, new wells and water filters. "Our first priority in any stimulus package needs to be the basics," Cieslewicz said.

2. Create green jobs. The list also includes projects to make the City even greener, including a one million dollar program to help homeowners make their houses more energy efficient, which is estimated to create 300 jobs. He would also buy 12 more diesel electric hybrid busses. "Economic development and helping the environment go hand-in-hand," Cieslewicz said. "Every dollar we invest in making ourselves more energy independent makes our economy stronger in the long run because it will be less vulnerable to outside forces."

3. Make ambitious projects a reality. After addressing basic infrastructure needs and economic development, the Mayor would use stimulus money to build some of the City's most ambitious projects, including a new downtown library, the proposed Central Park, train stations for a high speed rail line connecting Madison to Milwaukee and Chicago, a north side swimming pool, a Public Market and a refurbished the Garver Feed Mill arts incubator.

Air fix could break bank for builders

Friday, December 26, 2008

From an article by Paul Snyder in The Daily Reporter:

If Dane County does not clean up its air, area builders could pay the price when federal and local governments tighten the clamps on construction equipment.

“We have improving air quality,” said Topf Wells, chief of staff for Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. “But federal standards are only going to get tougher, and we’re going to have to continue to make sure we’re keeping up. We can’t let up at a local level.”

Wells said he expects the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday to announce violations of fine-particle pollution standards in several Midwestern counties, including Dane County. The particles come from, among other things, coal-fired plants and emissions from diesel engines.

“This is an instance of necessary regulation,” Wells said. “Particles are a health hazard, and we were found with compliance issues.”

Wells said cleaner air is on the way with Madison Gas & Electric promising to take its Blount Street plant off coal in 2011 and Gov. Jim Doyle earlier this year promising to convert state-owned, coal-fired plants to cleaner energy sources.

But Jennifer Feyerherm, associate regional representative for the Sierra Club, said Dane County still has more work to do. Although one plant will be off coal in 2011, she said, Doyle has yet to set a timeline for converting the state’s plants.

Wells said the solution might be in tighter emissions standards. If it comes to that, he said, construction and development might take a hit because many companies use diesel-fueled vehicles and machines.

But Feyerherm waved off the concern.

“Southeastern Wisconsin has been a nonattainment area for several years,” she said. “Development has not collapsed there. If we get a handle on the problem here, really, it’s only going to help us that much more.”

Five reasons leaders steering via rear-view mirror on transit issues

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

From a letter to the editor by Hans Noeldner in The Capital Times:

As the Obama administration prepares for vast public spending on infrastructure projects, why isn't Gov. Doyle pushing for walkable communities and energy-efficient transit rather than emphasizing more highways? Why aren't Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl and Rep. Tammy Baldwin, for that matter?

1. Because transit and other sprawl-avoiding interests don't have powerful lobbies that make big-time political contributions.

2. Because there is very little manufacturing of transit equipment or infrastructure in Wisconsin. Contrast that with GM Janesville (Feingold's home town), Harley Davidson and Johnson Controls in Milwaukee, Cummins in Stoughton, and other automobile- and highway-related businesses throughout the state.

3. Because it has probably been many years since Doyle walked to the grocery store, pedaled a bicycle to a game, or rode a bus to work. But this dearth of practical experience is true for nearly all of our elected representatives! Consequently they have no VISCERAL comprehension of the "magic quarter-mile" . . . nor the many other on-the-ground factors that make communities walkable and dense enough to support transit.

4. Because outside the urban cores of a handful of municipalities such as Madison and Milwaukee, adults in Wisconsin drive or ride in a car virtually everywhere: Nearly all walking, jogging, bicycling, etc., are done for recreation or exercise, not to get from "a" to "b." Intentionally or not, the motorist quite literally "rules the road" . . . and thus frightens non-motorists off publicly owned thoroughfares.

5. Because the "psychology of previous investment" in automobile-addicted lifestyles makes us loath to imagine anything else. . . .
Hans maintains his own blog Entropic Journal.

EPA targets Dane County over bad air quality

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

From an article by Anita Weier in The Capital Times:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to declare Dane County out of compliance with air quality standards for fine particle pollution on Thursday, according to Dave Merritt of the Dane County Clean Air Coalition.

The designation means that the county could lose federal funding for road projects and face strict pollution controls for new or expanded businesses, but Merritt is hopeful that the decision can be reversed before it actually goes into effect in April.

Fine particles are extremely tiny pollutants — about one-30th the diameter of a human hair — that can easily be inhaled and accumulate in the lungs, where they can worsen breathing and heart problems.

The particles, which typically consist of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, are produced by coal-burning power plants, some industrial processes, motor vehicles and wood burning.

The designation was based on three years of pollution data, from 2005 through 2007, but Merritt says the EPA now plans to consider data from 2006 through 2008, when Dane County had a much better record.

"Because we have had relatively clean air for fine particle pollution in 2008, we are hopeful that we will be in compliance," he said.

Antitrust rules needed for freight railroads

Monday, December 22, 2008

From an editorial in The Capital Times:
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, is making progress on her effort to once again bring the nation's freight railroads under antitrust regulations.

Through the years and because of their deteriorating business and infrastructure, the railroads were exempted from many provisions of the antitrust laws dealing with pricing and service.

But in the past two decades and thanks to 1980 legislation that removed much of the regulatory oversight, there has been a huge consolidation of railroad corporations. Now just four major railroad companies carry 90 percent of the rail freight in the country and all four are quite profitable, a complete turnaround of where rail was in the mid-1900s.

The downside of all this consolidation, however, has been to leave many parts of the country with as little as one railroad serving them. The lack of competition has allowed them to charge virtually whatever they can to, for instance, haul coal to coal-fired utilities or pick up grain and other commodities at rural collecting points.

Wisconsin's Dairyland Power Co-Op, whose three coal-fired power plants deliver electricity to 575,000 people in southwest Wisconsin and parts of Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota, has experienced huge rate increases on the coal it gets from Wyoming. The co-op is now paying $75 million in freight costs to get $30 million of coal delivered.

PSC will study more utility-deployed solar

Friday, December 19, 2008

From an Associated Press story in the Appleton Post-Crescent:

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- State regulators say they are launching a statewide effort to explore how utilities could distribute more solar panels across Wisconsin to take advantage of that renewable energy source.

The Public Service Commission said its solar collaborative will study ways to dramatically accelerate the deployment of the panels by utilities.

The announcement came Thursday as the commission ordered that there be no increase in electric rates and a slight decrease in natural gas rates for customers of Wisconsin Public Service Corporation and Wisconsin Power and Light next year.

Local officials, labor leaders endorse energy blueprint for new president and Congress

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bret Hulsey speaks while County Executive Kathleen Falk (on his left) listens.

From a media release issued by Dane County Supervisor Brett Hulsey:

Madison, WI – At a Dane County landfill producing green electricity and $1.4 million each year, Dane County and Madison officials joined labor leaders and scientists today to urge President-elect Obama and the incoming Congress to invest stimulus dollars in local clean energy actions to quickly create new green jobs, revitalize the economy and promote energy independence.

“By using ‘cow-power’ and new technology we will turn old problems into money making
opportunities and good paying jobs,” County Executive Kathleen Falk said. “With support from President-elect Obama and the new Congress on these kind of clean energy projects we’ll continue to reduce dependence on foreign oil and cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

Economists are promoting green jobs as key to the country’s economic recovery and long-term growth. Dane County is considering a $28 million regional manure digester to help farmers manage manure, produce green energy and reduce water and air pollution. Madison will ask for more hybrid buses that will create jobs, cleaner air, and save fuel.

“We look forward to working with President-elect Obama and Congress to ensure that federal policies give local communities the tools and resources we need to get the job done,” said Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. “We are working with Climate Communities, ICLEI USA, and city and county leaders from across America to make sure that federal decision makers support local governments to reduce energy use and address climate change.”

Local government actions can dramatically reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and save taxpayers money. According to the Energy Information Administration, more than 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions come from residential and commercial buildings and one-third is generated by the transportation sector.

“Supporting local government actions should be a top priority as Washington develops new economic stimulus, climate and energy policies,” said Dane County Supervisor Brett Hulsey, chair of the Personnel and Finance Committee. “Our efforts in Dane County have saved taxpayers almost $750,000 and reduced greenhouse emissions by over 25 million pounds. Local governments can save $3 billion more with more efficiency, according to the Department of Energy.”

Dane County and Madison officials joined more than 40 other cities and counties nationwide and Climate Communities and ICLEI USA this week to endorse Empowering Local Government Climate Action: Blueprint for the New President and 111th Congress.

Large oil projects put in jeopardy by price fall

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

From an article by Jad Mouawad in The New York Times:

From the plains of North Dakota to the deep waters of Brazil, dozens of major oil and gas projects have been suspended or canceled in recent weeks as companies scramble to adjust to the collapse in energy markets.

In the short run, falling oil prices are leading to welcome relief at the pump for American families ahead of the holidays, with gasoline down from its summer record of just over $4 to an average of $1.66 a gallon, and still falling.

But the project delays are likely to reduce future energy supplies — and analysts believe they may set the stage for another surge in oil prices once the global economy recovers.

Oil markets have had their sharpest-ever spikes and their steepest drops this year, all within a few months. Now, with a global recession at hand and oil consumption falling, the market’s extreme volatility is making it harder for energy executives to plan ahead. As a result, exploration spending, which had risen to a record this year, is being slashed.

County to withdraw application for commuter rail project - for now

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

From an article by Matthew DeFour in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Dane County leaders plan to withdraw their federal application for a commuter rail project because a local funding source has yet to materialize.

Dane County Board Chairman Scott McDonell said he will recommend resubmitting the application once the state gives local governments the ability to create regional transportation authorities, which could operate rail and bus systems and raise a sales tax to fund them.

In June, Dane County, Madison and state officials submitted an application with the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program for a $255 million commuter rail system between Middleton and Sun Prairie that would cost $10 million a year to operate.

Last week, FTA officials indicated the Dane County project wouldn't make the cut of projects submitted this year, McDonell said. The federal agency, which rates projects in several areas, wanted more details in the governance and financing category.

"We don't have the ability to point to how we're going to pay for this," McDonell said. "We're going to have to wait for the legislation to pass and see what it allows us to do."
The Madison Peak Oil Group supports passage of legislation to allow formation of a regional transit authority.

Dane County sets long agenda for energy & sustainability

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dane County Supervisor Brett Hulsey summarized the Dane County Energy Independence and Sustainability Initiatives from the recently adopted county budget:

• Goals: 10% by 2010 (10X10) and 25% by 2025 (25X25) Plan

Reduce/replace current energy use by at least 10% by 2010 with energy efficiency improvements and renewable resources

Reduce/replace current energy use by at least 25% by 2025 with energy efficiency improvements and renewable resources

• Energy Independence and Sustainability Projects (Executive Recommended Budget)

1. Manure Digester Project ($1,370,000 - Land and Water Resources)
- Implementation of feasibility study and business plan

2. City-County Building Solar Energy Project ($187,300 - Administration)
- Installation of solar hot water system to provide 75% of daily hot water

3. Bike/Pedestrian Trails ($292,500 – Land and Water Resources)
- Lower Yahara River
- North Mendota
- Rockdale to Cambridge

4. Zoo Energy Efficiency Projects ($100,000 – Zoo)
- Zoo Administration Building energy efficiency improvements

5. Gas Extraction System ($250,000 – Solid Waste)
- Rodefeld landfill gas to energy recovery system

6. Bio-Reactor Retrofit ($500,000 – Solid Waste)
- Application of bio-reactor technology to increase facility life creating potential additional revenue of $5,000,000

7. Transfer Station ($4,000,000 – Solid Waste)
- Transfer out construction and demolition material to slow down filling rate and control landfilling price

8. Electric Utility and Hybrid Vehicles ($52,000 – Land and Water Resources)
- Purchase of two electric utility vehicles and hybrid SUV

• Energy and Independence and Sustainability Projects (Budget Amendments)

1. Badger Prairie Health Care Center Renewable Energy Project ($1,750,000)
- Funding to implement a geothermal heating and cooling system, install solar hot water system and construct “green” roof.

2. Green Energy/Green Jobs Project Fund ($100,000)
- Funding for departments to implement energy efficiency, alternative energy,
and sustainability initiatives recommended by feasibility studies to increase the county’s energy independence, save tax dollars and reduce pollution.

a. Energy Efficiency Feasibility Study
Inventory energy uses, assess the operating performance and energy efficiency of county facilities and identify potential cost-savings and areas for improvement.
b. Create Energy Independence and Sustainability subcommittee (Public
Works and Transportation Committee) comprised of supervisors,
department heads, Wisconsin Focus on Energy staff and staffed by the Recycling Manager
c. Grant Funding Applications -- Feasibility, Audit and Strategic Planning
i. Apply for Wisconsin Energy Independent Community Partnership grant available through the Wisconsin Office of Energy Independence
ii. Apply for Wisconsin Focus on Energy funds available through the Schools and Local Government and Renewable Energy programs

3. Energy Independence & Sustainability Plan Training & Development ($10,000)
Initial decision-making framework will utilize the Natural Step, ICLEI and other appropriate criteria.

4. Airport Alternative Energy Purchase ($18,691)
Purchase an additional 22.4% of its electricity from alternative energy sources.

5. Renewable Energy and Alternative Fuels Feasibility Study ($35,000)
Assess the feasibility of wind, biomass (including switch grass, waste wood, and lake weeds), alternative fuels and solar energy sources, and develop a strategic action plan for implementation.

6. (Non-budget item) Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory and Reduction Plan
($2,750: ICLEI membership - Solid Waste Recycling Fund/Public Education)
Conduct GHG emission inventory, set targets, evaluate strategies and develop action plan to reduce emissions.

Superior at center of great debate -- water and oil

Friday, December 12, 2008

From an article by Dan Eagan in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Superior - U.S. dependence on foreign oil conjures images of derricks pecking at Saudi Arabian sands or supertankers steaming for coastal refineries.

But here is a more apt icon for our future reliance on other nations' fossil fuels: fields just south of Lake Superior pocked with gymnasium-sized tanks of oil that's been piped 1,000 miles from tar sands in Alberta - one of the largest proven "unconventional" oil reserves in the world.

Very quietly, little Superior has emerged as a mainline for the nation's energy infrastructure. About 9% of the country's imported oil, roughly 1.2 million barrels a day, already flows into this city of 27,000 at the headwaters of the world's largest freshwater system.

And that figure is about to balloon with the opening of a $3 billion "Alberta Clipper" pipeline that could ultimately deliver some 800,000 barrels a day of the gooey tar sands oil, called bitumen, to an existing tank farm just outside downtown Superior, before it is shipped to refineries around the region.

The black stew won't arrive from Canada refinery-ready. That means billions of dollars must be pumped into retrofitting the regional refineries so they are able to strip away the bitumen impurities.

Oil prices have plummeted in recent months, and some refinery upgrade plans have been put on hold, but the pressure to add refining capacity in the region won't disappear.

This year alone, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers predicts $20 billion will be spent in Alberta developing the tar sands, which cover an area the size of Florida. The industry group also projects that the volume of Canadian oil processed in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio and North Dakota will nearly double from 2007 to 2015.

It's going to mean a lot more locally refined fuel in a region that must now import it from faraway places such as the Gulf Coast.

It's going to mean an alternative to American reliance on unfriendly parts of the world for its energy lifeblood.

It's going to mean an economic boost tied to refinery expansions.

And it could mean more pollution for the Great Lakes, the source of water for 40 million people.

Oil may lose rank as cheapest energy

Thursday, December 11, 2008

From an Associated Press article by posted in The Daily Reporter:

The Woodlands, TX (AP) — Over the next 20 years or so, oil and natural gas will lose top ranking as the world's most affordable energy sources, according to a survey of energy executives released Wednesday.

Deeper wells in more inhospitable places, both political and geological, have altered presumptions of doing business in the oil patch.

Nearly three out of four executives and managers of 52 surveyed last month by Deloitte LLP said oil and gas are the cheapest available energy sources for now, though only 23 percent believe that will be the case in 25 years.

The sampling revealed a growing concern about the sustainability of oil and natural gas in the coming years.

"Clearly, the oil and gas professionals involved in our survey are starting to think about the nation's transition to renewable energy and other alternative fuels," said Gary Adams, vice chairman of Deloitte's oil and gas practice.

Madison Metro won't raise bus fares

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

From an article by Kristin Czubkowski in The Capital Times:

In a somewhat surprising move, the city's Transit and Parking Commission voted 7-2 to reject a bus fare increase for Madison Metro Wednesday night, citing a lack of information on what a 50-cent increase would do to ridership as well as fears about the long-term health of the Metro system.

The fare increase, which would have raised adult cash fares from $1.50 to $2 and other discount and multiride fares proportionally, was championed by Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and accounted for in the 2009 operating budget passed by the City Council last month.

Transit and Parking Commission members questioned in particular the $682,000 projected revenue Metro budget analysts said would result from a fare increase. Metro uses its own formula for analyzing the effect of fare increases on ridership but has not until recently been able to separate the unlimited ride passes, such as those given to University of Wisconsin-Madison and Madison Area Technical College students, from single and multiride passes.

Unlimited ride passes have consistently increased Metro bus ridership in recent years but have also been criticized for masking declines in other forms of ridership. Metro has begun to track the different forms of ridership in the last three years, but there has not been a fare increase since to study the effects of an increase on ridership.

Ald. Brian Solomon, who led the move to reject the fare increase, cited in particular numbers from a four-year American Public Transportation Association study of more than 50 bus systems that suggested revenues might not be as high as predicted by Madison Metro employees. Using the APTA formula, he said revenues could be about half of what Metro projected, leaving the system to deal with service cuts even with the fare increase.

"My point here is not to say that Metro's numbers are wrong," Solomon said. "My point is to show that we have a very highly regarded study that shows a different conclusion, and we have other current studies that show other different conclusions, some of which are even less conservative than this. I took the most conservative one I could find."

Metro manager Chuck Kamp and proponents of the bus fare increase questioned the applicability of the APTA study to Madison Metro, however, which consistently performed differently from metro systems in cities close to Madison's size.

Transit construction creates more jobs than highways

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

From a fact sheet of the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership:

Transportation policy has a strong, positive relationship with job creation and access. The transportation system should support job creation and grant all people access to good jobs. Unlike past transportation decisions that have focused on short-term solutions and have ignored large sections of the population, modern transportation investments must expand opportunities and improve quality of life. . . .

In recent years, proponents of increased investment in new highway capacity have used job-creation as a rallying cry for their cause, saying that money spent on these new roads will lead to a surge in new jobs. While transportation investment should not be seen as primarily a jobs program, economic studies indicate that transit capital investments and operations funding are even better sources of long-term job creation.

According to a recent study by Cambridge Systematics, 314 jobs and a $30 million gain in sales for businesses are created for each $10 million invested in transit capital funding, and over 570 jobs are created for each $10 million in the short run. While new highway construction does lead to an increase in employment, these jobs are mostly for non-local workers: road engineers and other specialists who come in to an area for a specific job and then leave when it has been completed. On the other hand, transit investments create a wealth of employment opportunities in the short and the long run. Transit system construction leads to an impressive level of short-term job creation, and once the systems are finished, a long-term source of high-quality jobs. Of the 350,000 people directly employed by public transportation systems, more than 50 percent are operators or conductors. In addition, 10,000 to 20,000 professionals work under contract to public transportation systems or are employed by companies and government offices that support these systems. Thousands of others are employed in related services (i.e. engineering, manufacturing, construction, retail, etc.). . . .

Peak oil still relevant? More than ever.

Monday, December 08, 2008

From an article on the Web site of the Post Carbon Institute:

Before the Thanksgiving holiday we got an email from William M., a reader of our newsletter, asking, "Why if oil supply is decreasing and demand is increasing is the price collapsing? What is happening? Is Peak Oil therefore a myth?"

I addressed parts of this question in an October blog post but there's more to dig in to, particularly regarding some common misconceptions about what's happening with supply and demand. I'll take William's question as a framework for addressing some of these issues:

Strictly speaking, the global oil supply has been decreasing since we started drilling in the mid-1800s. What we really care about is the ever-increasing flow of oil from underground reservoirs to markets because that's what feeds ever-increasing global demand. The oil industry generally talks about 'production' (i.e., extracting oil out of the ground and 'producing' it into a usable barrel), so this part of the question is more accurately stated, "If global oil production is declining..."

But, production isn't necessarily declining right now. To explain why, we first need to pick apart what we really mean by the word "oil" -- which isn't as clear-cut as most people think. . . .

Rail efficiencies aren't great, could be improved

Friday, December 05, 2008

From a post by Hans Noeldner on his blog Entropic Journal:

Having recently traveled from my home near Madison, Wisconsin to Pontiac, Michigan using rail as much as possible (Metra commuter rail from Harvard, Illinois to Chicago and thence Amtrak to Pontiac) it is clear to me that investments in rail-based transportation could yield substantial environmental and social benefits in this region of the United States – primary among them a massive reduction in automobile-centric sprawl. The synergy between rail transit and dense, pedestrian-oriented urban habitat is especially clear in the Chicago heartland. Her leaders – God bless them! – never allowed their transit system to collapse, much less be systematically dismantled by transit-averse business interests.

However, I am troubled by the various claims I've seen over the years regarding energy consumption and CO2 emissions per passenger-mile for trains/streetcars versus automobiles versus airplanes. Environmental organizations and sustainability advocates routinely assert that energy consumption for passenger rail is much "greener" than driving or flying. But Tables 2.13 and 2.14 in the Department of Energy's Transportation Energy Data Book #27 indicate that existing Amtrak intercity passenger rail is only 25% more efficient than the fleet average for cars; furthermore, Amtrak is only 18% more efficient than air travel!

Given the greater-than 80% reductions in GHG emissions we need to achieve in the coming decades, and given the fact that new CAFÉ standards mandate a 40% improvement in the mileage of cars and SUVs by 2020, efficiency gains from passenger rail of 18% to 25% seem paltry. Moreover, due to basic laws of aerodynamics, the efficiency of high speed rail (i.e. trains moving at 150-300 mph) will inevitably be less than trains moving at 50-100 mph. While I cannot recall the source at present, I am quite sure I have seen credible data within the last five years which indicated that Bullet Trains in Japan were no more energy-efficient on a passenger-mile basis than airplanes.

Of course the real issue vis a vis energy and CO2 is the practical potential for these transportation modes in the future, not the existing efficiencies of each as currently deployed. During the past half-century, aerospace companies (with lavish financial support from the Department of Defense) have pursued the most ambitious research and development programs by far of any “transportation” industry in the United States. Along the way, improvements in engines, aerospace materials, and aircraft designs have yielded astonishing increases in the efficiency of air transport (almost ten-fold). And even though they vigorously marketed absurdly inefficient cars in the '60's and then gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks more recently, automobile companies also made notable investments in R&D during the same time period; consequently the energy efficiency of engines and transmissions were substantially improved (it is the sheer size and weight of SUVs and pickup trucks which make them gas hogs, not their drive-trains).

Meanwhile, passenger rail locomotives and rolling stock in our nation changed very little even as ridership plummeted (until recently) and domestic engineering activity all but ground to a halt. Thus we must ask how efficient our passenger trains could be if they were constructed with aerospace materials, up-to-date engineering, etc. What if hybrid drives and regenerative braking were widely deployed? What if more trains were electrified? What if the expansion of electrified rail were coordinated with upgrading the national electrical grid? Having languished for so long, surely our passenger railroads are ripe for major improvements!

UW-Rock County gets Alliant grant for solar installation

Thursday, December 04, 2008

From a media release issued by Alliant Energy:

MADISON, WI – December 2, 2008 – A photovoltaic solar installation project at the University of Wisconsin-Rock County will generate at least 5,000 kilowatt hours annually and at the same time, be utilized for a variety of educational activities. The installation of the solar electric system was made possible in part, thanks to a $15,000 grant from Alliant Energy’s Second Nature program.

The photovoltaic system will utilize between 20 and 40 solar panels to generate between five and ten kilowatts of electricity. The solar panels will be located on the site of the Engineering Center and will produce electricity for classrooms while providing educational opportunities for the students to learn about renewable energy. The addition of the solar panels will provide the school with the ability to directly use small amounts of solar DC power in the engineering lab.

“The purpose of the Second Nature Solar Grant Program is to promote the use of solar energy, increase awareness of solar as a renewable resource, and create educational opportunities,” said Barbara Siehr-Vice President of Energy Delivery-Customer Service. The program provides grants to qualifying organizations to support new solar energy installations.

“We’re grateful to Alliant Energy and the Second Nature program for their support of this project”, commented Diane Pillard, Campus Executive Officer and Dean. “We will not only save on our energy costs and reduce our carbon footprint, but provide educational opportunities year after year for our students in a variety of science disciplines.”

Oil pipeline backers to make case for permit across Minnesota

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

From a business brief in The Dialy Reporter:

St. Paul, MN (AP) - The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission meets Tuesday to consider a proposal for a new oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.

Enbridge Energy is seeking permits to build the pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Superior.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy opposes the project.

The group said the process of extracting the oil from Canadian tar sands is too energy-intensive and runs counter to Minnesota's energy efficiency goals.

Enbridge said the project has cleared an extensive environmental permitting process, and the pipeline is the only matter before the Minnesota commission.

The PUC must sign off for the project to go forward. A hearing is slated for Tuesday.
Related story: Wisconsin's only oil refinery still seeking supply partner

Regional transit bill dead for now

Monday, December 01, 2008

From a story Paul Snyder in The Daily Reporter:

The special legislative committee charged with creating a regional transit authority bill is dead.

State Rep. Alvin Ott, chairman of the Legislative Council Special Committee on Regional Transportation Authority, on Tuesday informed the Joint Legislative Council by letter that he would not convene any more committee meetings.

Citing changes in political leadership, economic conditions and the projected $5.4 billion state budget deficit, Ott said it would not be prudent to set up a new taxing authority until the economy improves.

But Len Brandrup, a committee member and director of Kenosha’s Transportation Department, said the state can’t afford to wait any longer for an RTA bill.

“We have no choice but to get a bill this session,” he said. “We can’t fail. If we’re to remain competitive in terms of attracting business and economic development, the state puts itself at a distinct disadvantage by not acting.”

Brandrup said his biggest concern is that the committee was terminated for partisan reasons, and Ott’s letter confirms the concern.

“With the pending change in party control of the Assembly, the Committee no longer has the ‘built-in’ balance that I feel is necessary to cultivate an appropriate compromise on the policy questions the committee has been charged with addressing,” according to the letter attributed to Ott.

Such comments echoed remarks made by state Rep. Robin Vos, the Racine Republican who last week said he doubts bipartisan discussions of RTAs could proceed with Democrats in control of the Legislature.

Neither Ott, Vos nor state Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale -- the committee’s three GOP legislative members -- was available for comment Wednesday.

“We need all sides at the table,” Brandrup said. “To make this a partisan issue is a shortsighted approach. It’s not a wedge issue.”

Despite the conflict, other committee members said the committee’s demise doesn’t mean the end of an RTA bill.
Read other stories on regional transit authorities.

Mpowering Madison looking for busines ChaMpions

Saturday, November 29, 2008

From the montly update issued by M powering Madison:

Mpower Business ChaMpions is a new program to help businesses tackle climate change challenges that impact their bottom line and our quality of life. Businesses that demonstrate a serious commitment to sustainability will be selected to participate and will receive one-on-one assistance to take significant steps towards reducing their carbon footprint including:

+ Participation in Mpowering Business ChaMpion Peer Learning Sessions to engage, learn and share with other select business
+ Participation in sustainability business practices training program on topics including green building, environmentally preferable purchasing, energy and water conservation
+ On-site walk-through energy assessment including a findings and recommendations report
+ A wide array of technical, financial and policy information related to solar energy options
+ Use of the Energy Stewards software program for tracking energy use history, action performance tracking, and access to online forums to learn from others
+ Opportunity to be featured by Mpower Madison media partner WKOW-TV and in web-based case studies
+ Assistance with developing a transportation demand management program to provide commuter and other alternative transportation options.

A variety of business will be chosen to participate in the Mpower ChaMpion program - no business is too large or small and non-profit organizations will be considered. Business do not need a track record of sustainability, only to demonstrate a commitment to actively partipate. Business seeking to apply can visit to download an application form. Completed applications are due by December 31st and the selection of Mpower Business ChaMpions particpants will be completed in early Janurary.

GM must remake the mass transit system it murdered

From a column by Harvey Wasserman in The Capital Times:

Bail out General Motors? The people who murdered our mass transit system?

First let them remake what they destroyed.

GM responded to the 1970s gas crisis by handing over the American market to energy-efficient Toyota and Honda.

GM met the rise of the hybrids with "light trucks."

GM built a small electric car, leased a pilot fleet to consumers who loved it, and then forcibly confiscated and trashed them all.

GM now wants to market a $40,000 electric Volt that looks like a cross between a Hummer and a Cadillac and will do nothing to meet the Solartopian needs of a green-powered Earth.

For this alone, GM's managers should never be allowed to make another car, let alone take our tax money to stay in business.

But there is also a trillion-dollar skeleton in GM's closet.

This is the company that murdered our mass transit system.

The assertion comes from Bradford Snell, a government researcher whose definitive report damning GM has been a vehicular lightening rod since its 1974 debut. Its attackers and defenders are legion. But some facts are irrefutable:

In a 1922 memo that will live in infamy, GM President Alfred P. Sloan established a unit aimed at dumping electrified mass transit in favor of gas-burning cars, trucks and buses.

Just one American family in 10 then owned an automobile. Instead, we loved our 44,000 miles of passenger rail routes managed by 1,200 companies employing 300,000 Americans who ran 15 billion annual trips generating an income of $1 billion. According to Snell, "Virtually every city and town in America of more than 2,500 people had its own electric rail system."

But GM lost $65 million in 1921. So Sloan enlisted Standard Oil (now Exxon), Philips Petroleum, glass and rubber companies and an army of financiers and politicians to kill mass transit. . . .

GM's special role in history must now evolve into using its infrastructure to restore the mass transit system -- and ecological balance -- it has helped destroy.

Should be talking regional transit

Friday, November 28, 2008

An editorial from WISC-TV:

The discussion over bus fares has put this city in a tough spot -- and frankly it shouldn't be there.

We understand the arguments on both sides, and this editorial board has long argued that affordable, accessible public transportation is a basic service that cities provide, much like police protection and garbage pickup. It's really hard for us to justify a two dollar bus fare.

But what really irks us is we're in this position because of a lack of civic leadership and will on a coordinated, multi-modal, regional transportation system. We need a good bus system. Period. But a bus system with no support from rail, trains, street cars, trolleys, people movers in some combination isn't going to cut it. Yet we continue to insist on cars and an inefficient Metro service that now requires two-dollar bus rides.

Two bucks hurts those who can afford it least. We shouldn't be taking about two dollar bus rides. We should be talking about a regional transit system and the fares and operation needed to sustain it.

Campaign aims to turn out nonessential lights

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

From an article by Anita Weier in The Capital Times:

At the risk of being called a party pooper, a new group in town is proposing that the winter holidays be celebrated a little differently this year -- by turning out the lights.

It's a radical proposal indeed, coming at the start of the Christmas lighting season.

But Jennifer Sather, a leader of the recently formed Madison Lights Out team, says the group doesn't want to end holiday traditions, just develop some new ones.

The 17-member team, whose mission is to reduce electrical power use through community participation and "mindful living," is asking Madison homeowners to turn off nonessential lights and unplug unused electronic equipment during December and July, two months of heavy electrical use.

"The point of the holidays is to be with your family and create good memories with people you love, not to outdo your neighbors by having the biggest light display," said fellow team member Dan Agne, who works for Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp., but joined Lights Out as a private citizen. "In some neighborhoods, this has become a competitive thing."

Merely using timers for lights, so they are not shining at 2 a.m. when no one will see them, is a good step, as is installing energy-efficient LED (light emitting diode) lights, said Agne.

Residents voice pros, cons of Metro fare increase

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

From an article by Kristin Czubkowski in The Capital Times:

Nearly 100 people came to the Transit and Parking Commission meeting Monday night to give their thoughts on a proposed Madison Metro bus fare increase, with opinions ranging from outright opposition to those favoring a fare increase over service cuts.

The commission will face a decision on raising bus fares at its Dec. 9 meeting after Madison's City Council voted this month to pass on a deficit of more than $600,0000 in the Madison Metro budget. Under the model originally suggested by Metro manager Chuck Kamp, cash fares would increase 50 cents and other fares would increase proportionally, most by 20 to 30 percent.

Several attendees asked the commission to seek a new model that would help low-income riders, who could be disproportionately affected by a fare increase. Lisa Subeck of the YWCA suggested introducing a low-income fare similar to the senior and disabled cash fare, currently set at 75 cents and proposed to increase to $1. According to data from a 2000 rider survey, Subeck said more than 50 percent of Metro riders have household incomes under $25,000, with 31 percent of families using the cash-fare option having incomes below $15,000, making retaining low-income ridership a priority.

"We all love older people, we all love disabled people, but the reality is, we don't charge them a lower fare because we love them," she said. "We charge them a lower fare because we know that they can't afford the same fares as some of our higher-income folks. I'm asking that you do the same for all low-income people."

A few speakers at the meeting supported a fare increase because of the potential for the budget deficit to lead to service cuts, which they said would be more damaging to Metro than a fare increase.

Michelle Beasley, a Madison resident who moved recently from Tempe, Ariz., said a reluctance to raise fares in Tempe led to massive weekend cuts and limited service, essentially crippling their transit system.
And a letter by Dan Seball to the editor of The Capital Times:
Dear Editor: I can attest to Mike Barrett's statement that Madison's transportation woes are all of its own making.

When I lived in Madison the last time bus fare hikes and route cuts came to the table at the City Council, there was a large turnout for the public testimony period, and I can't recall a single citizen testifying in favor of such measures.

The relationship between land use and transportation has come up time and again at meetings over recent years, so there is no pleading ignorance on the part of the council or mayor. Although the City Council would spend countless hours debating an issue giving the illusion of cogitation, the prevailing vote was a rubber stamp of the city planners' desires.

An efficient city is one which prioritizes its transportation spending inverse to energy consumption: first pedestrian (mixed use and walkable communities), next bicycle (once all the rage in America, it can work), followed by mass transit, and lastly the automobile/motorcycle/moped.

Charge your I-Pod with an onion?

A little humor from a story by Andrew Williams on

Music fan Owen Louis was so concerned about the amount of energy used up by his iPod, that he figured out a way of charging it up … with nothing more than an onion.

Louis, 21, from Portsmouth in the UK, makes two holes in an onion, before soaking it in an everyday energy drink and connecting it to his MP3 via a standard USB cable. Incredibly, the technique (video) enables him to charge his iPod for a full hour. According to Louis, “A friend showed me the experiment as a laugh but I thought it was the greatest thing I have ever seen, and do it religiously every day.”
Various responses to the article raised a number of issues about the onion charger:
Umm, I’m pretty sure this is a hoax.
And another response:
…the only other problem is that it uses far more energy to create the energy drink and grow the onion than you get out of it to charge your iPod. Interesting experiment, though, that I have seen many times.

Run cars on green electricity, not natural gas

Monday, November 24, 2008

From an analysis of natural gas for vehicle fuel by Jonathan G. Dorn posted on Earth Island Institute:

On economics, driving with electricity is far cheaper than driving with gasoline or natural gas. The average new U.S. car can travel roughly 30 miles on a gallon of gasoline, which cost $3.91 in July 2008 (the latest date for which comparable price data for natural gas is available). Traveling the same distance with natural gas cost around $2.51, while with electricity, using the existing electrical generation mix, it cost around 73¢. . . .

Just like oil, natural gas is a finite, nonrenewable resource. This means that switching to a fleet of NGVs would be at best a short-term fix. As natural gas becomes more difficult to obtain and more costly, a fleet of NGVs and the 20,000 or so natural gas refueling stations that would be required to support them would simply be abandoned. . . .

Choosing natural gas to power our vehicles would send the United States down the same expensive and inefficient path that created our addiction to foreign oil and our dependence on a resource that will ultimately run out. Choosing green electricity can take us in a new direction—one that leads to improved energy security and a stabilizing climate.

Web site helps area energy users determine carbon footprint

Friday, November 21, 2008

From a story by Anita Weier in The Capital Times:

Want to know your carbon footprint?

It just got a lot easier for Madison-area residents to calculate exactly how much heat-trapping carbon dioxide they produce.

Madison Gas & Electric partnered with the University of Wisconsin Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE) and 1000 Friends of Wisconsin to create, which was to be launched at 4 p.m. Thursday.

The site can be used to find exactly how much of the greenhouse gas has been produced by an individual or a household using electricity, natural gas and motor vehicle fuel. Users can calculate information for a year, and then follow up after making any changes to the way they use energy.

Visitors to the site can enter energy and transportation data, and charts are created to track use over time.

The site is especially easy for MGE customers to use, because they can get consumption history directly from MGE. Customers of the utility can sign in with the same user ID and password as they use on the MGE Web site.

Users of can also create a personal journal of actions they have taken to reduce energy use and participate in discussion groups.

"The Web site shows how much CO2 you save when you take action, for example -- turn the furnace down, car pool or buy Energy Star applicances," said Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.

Four new conservation priorities for Lobby Day, Feb. 25, 2009

From an announcement issued by the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters:

With a new legislative session comes new opportunities AND new Conservation Priorities! At the 11 Listening Sessions held around the state, local groups and citizens like YOU had a lot to say about which issues should be top priorities. In the end, only 4 can rise to the top.

In 2009-2010, the conservation community will be fighting to make sure:

+ Wisconsin adopts a strong statewide plan to tackle global warming.
+ Wisconsin returns to an Independent DNR Secretary and has timely DNR Board Appointments by the Senate.
+ Wisconsin develops a statewide plan to protect our drinking water.
+ Wisconsin creates standards for safe agricultural, industrial and municipal waste-spreading. . . .

On February 25th, 2009, join citizens from across Wisconsin at the state Capitol to tell legislators that you expect them to vote well on natural resource issues.

RSVP TODAY for Conservation Lobby Day on February 25th, 2009!

Lights Out Madison launches new camaign

Thursday, November 20, 2008

From the new Web site of Lights Out Madison:

December of 2008 marks the first of the semi-annual Madison Lights Out (MLO)!

MLO is a citywide energy conservation and awareness campaign, which will run every December and July. The sole purpose is to encourage behavior change in Madison residents resulting in turning OFF all non-essential lighting/energy products. Imagine how contagious this could be, if we as a community are successful in achieving measurable results.

Today, we have a choice in how we utilize energy. If we act now, we may be able to keep that choice. Everyone and every switch can help. You can. You count.

We are asking you, the community members of Madison to participate in the MLO awareness campaign by:

+ Being an example! Turn off non-essential lighting/energy products
+ Download, print, and hang a poster
+ Planting a yard sign in December (and July)*
+ Be a yard-sign distribution center in your neighborhood
+ Passing the word and emailing this announcement to your friends

To take more steps towards sustainability . . . take the Mpower pledge!

Protest the Bus Fare Increase - RALLY, Nov. 24

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Monona Terrace Walkway
Monday, November 24th

“Buses for the People!”
“Affordable Transit for All!”

Public Hearing begins at 6:00pm
City Transit & Parking Commission

Sponsored by the Madison Area Bus Advocates
Questions: 242-9232

En Espanol

Manifestacion en Contra del Alsa del Pasaje
Lunes, Noviembre 5:30pm

enfrentede Monona Terrace

Audencia Publica en Alsa del Pasaje
Comision del Transporte Publico y Estacionamiento
Comenza a la seis p.m.

Obama's secret door to peak oil

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

From an article by Julian Darley posted on the site of the Post Carbon Institute:

President-elect Obama has a lot on his plate at the moment, and much of it is probably quite unpalatable. The last thing he needs then, is a goblet of seeming hemlock to wash it all down. But sometimes some bitter medicine is necessary to alert the system to a serious new threat.

If his team does not get a hefty dose of energy reality, they are likely to make very poor strategic decisions. For instance, in the light of peak oil, is bailing out the dinosaur US auto makers the right thing to do?

Members of Obama's team have heard about peak oil and there is even a picture of Obama with Heinberg's Party's Over in his hand. The donor of the book asked him to read it after he was elected. Well, obviously he won't have time. Or will he? What if something prompts him to think about oil going into decline?

Could it be the ripping new IEA report "World Energy Outlook 2008"? Given the minuscule media coverage of this long awaited report, one might doubt it. Also, the report does not clearly say we are in the oil peak-plateau zone, rather that oil depletion is still an investment problem.

Nor is the staggering fall in the price of petroleum likely to prompt him to think about peak oil. But there is one thing that might: within minutes of receiving the call from McCain conceding defeat, Obama was thrust into a security briefing. And he will go on getting these briefings till he leaves office.

Why might this illuminate US energy policy? There are at least two groups of people who have known and worried about peak oil for a long time - the CIA and the US military. So, perhaps Obama will start getting frequent prods to delve into the complex supply-side of energy, not just the sink-side of carbon emissions.

Obama's energy challenge

Monday, November 17, 2008

From an article by Michael T. Klare from The Nation:
Of all the challenges facing President Barack Obama next January, none is likely to prove as daunting, or important to the future of this nation, as that of energy. After all, energy policy--so totally mishandled by the outgoing Bush-Cheney administration--figures in each of the other major challenges facing the new president, including the economy, the environment, foreign policy and our Middle Eastern wars. Most of all, it will prove a monumental challenge because the United States faces an energy crisis of unprecedented magnitude that is getting worse by the day.

The US needs energy--lots of it. Day in and day out, this country, with only 5 percent of the world's population, consumes one quarter of the world's total energy supply. About 40 percent of our energy comes from oil: some twenty million barrels, or 840 million gallons a day. Another 23 percent comes from coal, and a like percentage from natural gas. Providing all this energy to American consumers and businesses, even in an economic downturn, remains a Herculean task, and will only grow more so in the years ahead. Addressing the environmental consequences of consuming fossil fuels at such levels, all emitting climate-altering greenhouse gases, only makes this equation more intimidating.

As President Obama faces our energy problem, he will have to address three overarching challenges:

1. The United States relies excessively on oil to supply its energy needs at a time when the future availability of petroleum is increasingly in question.

2. Our most abundant domestic source of fuel, coal, is the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases when consumed in the current manner.

3. No other source of energy, including natural gas, nuclear power, biofuels, wind power and solar power is currently capable of supplanting our oil and coal consumption, even if a decision is made to reduce their importance in our energy mix.

This, then, is the essence of Obama's energy dilemma. Let's take a closer look at each of its key components. . . .

Eligibility relaxed for energy-efficiency assistance

Friday, November 14, 2008

From a media release issued by Focus on Energy:

More Wisconsin residents may now be eligible for Focus on Energy's assistance program which offers limited-income homeowners low-cost efficiency improvements to improve the comfort, safety and affordability of their homes. The assistance program called Targeted Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®, is now seeking applications from homeowners with incomes between 150-250 percent of the poverty level, which is a significant increase from the past maximum of 200 percent. To put the new maximum into perspective, a family of four's maximum eligible annual income increased to $53,000 from the previous $42,400. . . .

Targeted Home Performance with ENERGY STAR, is part of Focus on Energy, Wisconsin's energy efficiency and renewable energy program. Targeted Home Performance with ENERGY STAR offers qualifying homeowners a no-cost energy evaluation performed by a qualified program provider. Depending on the results of the evaluation, the home may receive energy efficiency improvements, such as adding insulation, finding and eliminating drafts, replacing an inefficient heating system, installing compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and more. Targeted Home Performance with ENERGY STAR will pay 90 percent of the costs of the energy efficiency improvements - the homeowner pays just 10 percent.

Energy efficient homes save energy and money all year long. In summer, a home that's properly sealed and insulated stays cooler and more comfortable, reducing the need for fans and air conditioners during hot daylight hours. In winter, energy efficient homes keep warm air inside, improving comfort and reducing heating costs during Wisconsin's coldest months.

Homeowners wishing to apply for Targeted Home Performance with ENERGY STAR are encouraged to call Focus on Energy at (800) 762-7077 or visit to download an application.

City Council OKs bus fare increase

Thursday, November 13, 2008

From a story by Kristin Czubkowski in The Capital Times:

The Madison City Council finished the entire city budget a day ahead of schedule, passing its 2009 operating budget -- which included funding for a Madison Metro bus fare increase -- just after 2 a.m. Thursday. . . .

The council debated 45 amendments put forth by council members Wednesday night into Thursday morning, the most controversial being an effort to keep Madison Metro bus fares at their same prices that received widespread support at Wednesday's public hearing on the budget.

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz included plans for a fare increase in his operating budget that would translate to $2 instead of $1.50 for cash fares, with other multi-ride and discounted fares adjusted proportionally. These increases were paired with service enhancements for Metro, including route expansions, transfer point security, a new marketing position for Metro, and doubling the funding in the city's Transfer for Jobs program for low-income bus riders.

While the city's quasi-independent Transit and Parking Commission will make the final decision on whether fares are changed in coming weeks, the city budgeting for an increase in fare revenues -- estimated at $682,000 -- was controversial among City Council members.

The council eventually voted 12-8 in favor of the mayor's plan for Metro, with one amendment that would move funds from the free bus ride program on Clean Air Action days to the Metro reserves, request a report on how the fare increase has affected ridership and work to find additional ways beyond Transit for Jobs to help low-income riders.

Two critics of the potential fare increase, Ald. Brian Solomon and Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, drafted an amendment that was never voted on. It would have kept fares the same while maintaining many of the service enhancements proposed by the mayor, resulting in a $242,000 impact on the tax levy.

Solomon criticized the process for determining how much money a fare increase would result in, saying the decreased ridership from riders either choosing not to or being no longer able to afford the bus could completely offset any revenue enhancements.

Madison alders preserve City's solar program

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lost under the avalanche of comment and discussion about bus fares, Madison’s city council preserved $100,000 in the capital budget to continue the City’s solar energy program.

Earlier in the month, RENEW sent out the following action alert:

A proposed amendment to the pending City budget would remove funds for continuation of the City’s impressive commitment to solar energy – the number one priority in the City of Madison's sustainability to-do list for 2008. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz’s 2009 budget would support the priority with an allocation of $100,000.

Regrettably, Alders Sanborn, Compton, and Pham-Remmele have offered Amendment No. 6 to the 2009 Capital Budget to delete the funding, even though Madison and its citizens use the existing program extensively and the need for renewable energy grows each day as concern about climate-changing pollution increases and the world’s fossil fuel supplies decline.

The headline of a recent newspaper story tells of solar energy’s success: Homeowners, businesses, city of Madison embracing renewable energy systems. The story says:

Another sign that demand is high for solar power in Madison: About 270 people have requested free solar power consultations for their homes or businesses since the city hired consultant Larry Walker in early June. Walker advises property owners on whether it would be to their advantage to install solar panels to provide electricity or hot water.
In response to climate changing pollution, Madison Gas and Electric (MGE), University of Wisconsin, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, Dane County United, Citizens Utility Board, RENEW Wisconsin, Clean Wisconsin, Sierra Club, Madison Area Clean Energy Coalition, and Sustain Dane joined together to will seek ways through Mpowering Madison to reduce citywide emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 100,000 tons by 2011.

Finally, the world has most likely passed the point of maximum production of petroleum (sometimes called peak oil). Our energy needs in the future will come from renewable sources, not because it’s the nice thing to do, it will be the only thing to do. We will only inflict pain and disruption on ourselves during the energy transition if we wait until the big bad wolf of supply decline huffs and puffs and topples our flimsy economy built on the myth of limitless and inexpensive petroleum.

Please contact Madison’s alders to ask them to reject the amendment. The following e-mail address will get your message to all alders at once:

Please contact the alders BEFORE they begin budget deliberations next Tuesday evening.

PSC rejects Cassville coal plant

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

From a story by Anita Weier in The Capital Times:

The state Public Service Commission on Tuesday unanimously rejected a proposed 300-megawatt mostly coal-fired power plant proposed by Wisconsin Power & Light at Cassville.

In justifying their decision, commissioners cited the cost, inefficiency and carbon dioxide emissions of the plant.

"Based on the evidence, I find this particular project is not in the public interest," said PSC Chairman Eric Callisto.

"Public comment was really significant," said Commissioner Mark Meyer, praising the extent of public participation after he stated that he could not support the application because it did not meet fundamental requirements.

Commissioner Lauren Azar said the proposal would lock the state into a coal technology that may soon be obsolete.

Clean Technology, Renewable Energy, and Sustainability as Sound Engines for Economic Growth

From an email to promote the conference:

BANGALORE, November 5, 2008 -- Don't wait for a bailout. There is none. This deepening understanding is bringing together leading green energy experts, heads of state, top government officials, heads of large international organisations, policy makers, sustainability experts, environmentalists and global investors at Green Energy Summit 2009 (GES 2009), March 4-7, 2009 to be held at the Palace Grounds, Bangalore, India.

Going green is both a corporate advantage and an opportunity for humanity to enable change. GES 2009 ( will bring together the government, civil society and private business leaders in a bid to develop and drive new initiatives, provide insights, showcase sustainable product development and green business opportunities, and facilitate interaction between entities from all over the world and India. The summit will also address policy options and practical applications that have proven successful in ramping up development of environmentally and economically sound solutions that truly benefit all stakeholders.

Don't bail out the unsustainable auto industry

Monday, November 10, 2008

A letter by Han Noeldner to Rep. Baldwin and Senators Feingold and Kohl:

I am contacting you to express my strong opposition to a bail-out of the US automobile industry. Our nation made a tragic mistake in becoming so dependent on motor vehicles in the first place. It is delusional and futile to attempt to prop up automobile manufacturing now that millions of Americans are finally waking up to the fact that we will never overcome our suicidal "addiction to oil" if we do not break free of our addiction to driving everywhere.

If the US government is going to engage in deficit spending to boost jobs, then that money (which we are extorting from our children's future) must be directed towards projects which make our economy and way of life SUSTAINABLE. After all, the greatest challenge before us is not the current financial crisis, it is our duty as stewards of Earth to shrink our economic metabolism to fit the planet we have. And topping the list should be restoring and enlarging our railroad network, vastly expanding energy-efficient mass transit, and the conversion of our automobile-scaled, motorist-dominated cities and suburbs into pedestrian-oriented, bicycle-friendly, transit
supportive urban habitat. Never forget that walking and bicycling are lower in cost, healthier, and much more energy efficient than any other forms of land transportation.

As Earth's finite supplies of fossil fuels dwindle in the decades ahead, America will have its hands full providing for the basic material needs of 300-400 million human citizens. It would be insane to try to keep on "feeding" several hundred million automobiles too. Please remember which "species" matters! (Hint: it ain't the one with four wheels.)

Ask Madison alders to support renewable energy, reject budget amendment

Friday, November 07, 2008

A proposed amendment to the pending City budget would remove funds for continuation of the City’s impressive commitment to solar energy – the number one priority in the City of Madison's sustainability to-do list for 2008. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz’s 2009 budget would support the priority with an allocation of $100,000.

Regrettably, Alders Sanborn, Compton, and Pham-Remmele have offered Amendment No. 6 to the 2009 Capital Budget to delete the funding, even though Madison and its citizens use the existing program extensively and the need for renewable energy grows each day as concern about climate-changing pollution increases and the world’s fossil fuel supplies decline.

The headline of a recent newspaper story tells of solar energy’s success: Homeowners, businesses, city of Madison embracing renewable energy systems. The story says:

Another sign that demand is high for solar power in Madison: About 270 people have requested free solar power consultations for their homes or businesses since the city hired consultant Larry Walker in early June. Walker advises property owners on whether it would be to their advantage to install solar panels to provide electricity or hot water.

In response to climate changing pollution, Madison Gas and Electric (MGE), University of Wisconsin, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, Dane County United, Citizens Utility Board, RENEW Wisconsin, Clean Wisconsin, Sierra Club, Madison Area Clean Energy Coalition, and Sustain Dane joined together to will seek ways through Mpowering Madison to reduce citywide emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 100,000 tons by 2011.

Finally, the world has most likely passed the point of maximum production of petroleum (sometimes called peak oil). Our energy needs in the future will come from renewable sources, not because it’s the nice thing to do, it will be the only thing to do. We will only inflict pain and disruption on ourselves during the energy transition if we wait until the big bad wolf of supply decline huffs and puffs and topples our flimsy economy built on the myth of limitless and inexpensive petroleum.

Please contact Madison’s alders to ask them to reject the amendment. The following e-mail address will get your message to all alders at once:

Please contact the alders BEFORE they begin budget deliberations next Tuesday evening.

MG&E launches renewable energy Web channel

MG&E's site now includes a page called Green View with videos and photos about its efforts on renewable energy generation of electricity:

It has been a year of tremendous growth for wind energy at MGE, thanks to strong support by Green Power Tomorrow customers.

A new wind contract with Endeavor II Wind Energy Center will double MGE's wind power capacity. Combined with expansion in January, total wind capacity increased twelve times this year alone. That exceeds the goal of MGE's Energy 2015 plan. What happened in 2008 proves that consumers have the power to drive change!

Watch this story for details on the new wind addition. And please continue to flex your consumer muscle by encouraging family and friends to sign up for Green Power Tomorrow!

Ottawa wants exemption for oil sands from any U.S. climate-change regs

From an article by Shawn McCarthy and Campbell Clark in the Globe and Mail(Toronto):

Less than 24 hours after the election of Barack Obama, Canadian cabinet ministers begin calling for a pact that would keep emissions down while protecting Alberta's oil sands projects . . .

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is proposing to strike a joint climate-change pact with president-elect Barack Obama, an initiative that would seek to protect Alberta's oil sands projects from potentially tough new U.S. climate-change rules by offering a secure North American energy supply.

Key federal ministers issued the call for a climate-change pact yesterday, less than 24 hours after Mr. Obama won his historic election victory, in a clear bid by Ottawa to carve out a key place for Canada on the new administration's agenda.

Energy security has been a major issue in the U.S. election, and Mr. Obama campaigned heavily on eliminating dependence on Middle East and Venezuelan oil. But he has also condemned the United States's reliance on "dirty oil" - his advisers have specifically criticized the oil sands - and has promised tougher climate-change action.

A Canada-U.S. climate-change pact could tie those issues together by adopting common standards and mechanisms such as a market-based emission trading system, while acknowledging the important contribution the oil sands make to North American supplies and the need to adopt technologies that would reduce oil sands emissions.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice said Ottawa is looking for a joint approach that would protect both the environment and the economy.

"When you're talking about the environment, you're also talking about energy, and when you're talking about energy, you're also talking about the economy," Mr. Prentice said in an interview.

"The election of president Obama, when one looks at the speeches and the commitments he's talked about in terms of the environment, presents really exciting opportunities for us, as Canadians."

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said the proposed pact would provide uniformity and supplant the patchwork of plans that are being implemented in various states and provinces.

The proposed climate-change deal would also offer Mr. Harper's government a means to engage Mr. Obama on the president-elect's own priorities at a time when the U.S. recession and the resurgence of the Democrats in Washington have fuelled fears of rising protectionism.

"The broader importance, I think, is huge," said Tom d'Aquino, president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, a big-business lobby group.

"How important is energy independence to the United States? It's a top priority for them. And where does Canada fit into this top priority? Bingo - we are essential."

Unlike George W. Bush, who set no medium-term climate-change targets, Mr. Obama has pledged to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to bring them back to 1990 levels by 2020, a reduction of about 15 to 20 per cent. Mr. Harper's government is promising a cut of 20 per cent by 2020, though critics argue his policies are insufficient to meet that target.

The Canadian government is soon expected to release its regulations for large industrial emitters that will take effect in 2010.

Mr. Obama and congressional leaders have promised to pass national emission limits that were long opposed by Mr. Bush, and some Democrats have been highly critical of the oil sands as a troubling source of new emissions.

U.S. environmentalists argue that Ottawa's approach to climate change is inconsistent with a serious effort to reduce emissions, and insist the oil sands represent the kind of dirty sources of crude oil that a new administration should be most worried about.

Some cities, utilities work to conserve electricity

Thursday, November 06, 2008

From an article by Gena Kittner in the Wisconsin State Journal:
Communities and the utility companies that distribute electricity are taking steps to conserve energy, in part by changing the way they get around.

In Dane County, a Toyota Prius used by Stoughton Utilities has been converted to a plug-in hybrid and is the first municipal utility in the state to do the transformation.

The same conversion is anticipated in Columbus where the parking lot at City Hall has been equipped with electrical outlets to encourage residents to use electric cars.

Columbus, about 30 miles northeast of Madison, also could become the first city in Wisconsin to convert its street lighting to energy-saving LED lighting.

These energy-saving steps, including upcoming hybrid conversions in Sturgeon Bay, Plymouth and Waupun made possible through grants from Wisconsin Public Power Inc., are examples of utilities trying to conserve the power they're putting out.

"It's our goal to get 25 percent of our electrical energy and fuel by green renewable resources by 2025," said Steven Sobiek, director of economic development and energy sustainability for Columbus.

The proposal in Columbus is to convert a quarter of the 500 conventional street lights to light-emitting diode fixtures, or LEDs. It's a feasible project because Columbus is a smaller city, Sobiek said.

Solar becomes attainable

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

From an article by Jeremiah Tucker in The Sauk Prairie Eagle:

The primary reason Stan Temple is installing a large solar-panel unit outside his home is environmental.

"It's the right thing to do," Temple said.

But after that, it's all about the green — and he doesn't mean energy.

Originally, Temple and his wife, Jane Rundell, were going to install the panels before Dec. 31 when a federal tax credit for solar energy was scheduled to expire.

But when Congress passed the Wall Street bailout package last month a rider was added that extended the 30 percent tax credit for eight years and removed its $2,000 cap.

"If your tax burden don't exceed that amount, you'll get a refund," Temple said.

Now Temple is waiting to activate his solar panels until Jan. 1 in order to take advantage of the new legislation.

After the federal tax credit, Temple also will receive a credit from Wisconsin's Focus on Energy program that provides financial incentives for installing renewable energy sources.

And because of a deal he struck with Alliant Energy, he won't even be using the panels to power his home.

"Alliant will buy my solar power for 25 cents per kilowatt hour, and I pay 11," Temple said.
Alliant now joins MG&E and We Energies in paying a premium rate for customer-generated solar electricity.

Peak Oil meeting, November 6

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Madison Peak Oil Group has two important activities to discuss at its next brown-bag lunch:

Bus far increase --

Zoning rewrite --

We’ll meet at noon on Thursday, November 6, in the lower level conference room at 222 S. Hamilton Street.

Everyone is welcome!

MG&E adds wind power, expands Green Power Tomorrow program

Friday, October 31, 2008

From a media release issued by MG&E:

Madison, Wis., Oct. 31, 2008—Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) increased wind power capacity by more than 12 times in 2008 as four new wind farms in Wisconsin and Iowa began production. The most recent addition to MGE's renewable energy portfolio is a 10-year agreement with Osceola Wind Power II, LLC, a subsidiary of FPL Energy, to purchase 50 megawatts of wind energy.

"With strong customer support, MGE increased wind capacity from 11 to 137 megawatts this year alone," said Gary J. Wolter, MGE chairman, president and CEO. "This exceeds the goal in our Energy 2015 plan, which set out to increase renewable energy up to ten fold."

The latest green power comes from FPL Energy's Endeavor II Wind Energy Center in northwest Iowa (Osceola and Dickinson counties), an area with some of the most robust wind resources in the Midwest. The new facility started operation this week.

Renewable energy is expected to account for more than 12% of MGE's total energy supply in 2009, up from 1.6% in 2007. The additional wind energy allows continued expansion of MGE's Green Power Tomorrow program. About 10% of MGE's residential customers participate in the program, the highest rate of all investor-owned utilities in the United States.

UW-Baraboo/Sauk Campus gets support for new green dorm

Thursday, October 30, 2008

From an article by Tim Damos in the Baraboo News Republic:
A commission lent its support Friday to a campus master plan expected to cost $30.25 million over the next decade.

University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County officials hope to fund the first phase of the plan — a $15.5 million environmentally sound dorm and conference hall — through private donations and grants. But Sauk County and the City of Baraboo would be asked to share in the remaining costs, which include upgrades to facilities over the next 11 years.

The UW Campus Commission members present at Friday's meeting voted unanimously to support the plan, though the commission's president expressed caution in the face of today's slumping economy.

"I think you've got the support of the county and the city," said Phil Wedekind, campus commission president and city alderman. "But when they start hearing about the money, the support kind of dwindles a little bit."

The university will have to tap into the expertise of local marketing and environmental professionals to raise funds for the first phase, the Living and Learning Center, said Nicole Thompson, director of university relations. Fundraising efforts for the 96-bed green dorm and conference center will be aimed at a "target audience," she said.

That facility is slated to include state-of-the-art sustainable construction methods and will seek a green certification from a nonprofit group. The goal is to have zero annual net energy operations.

Council votes YES for renewable energy

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Madison Peak Oil Group asked for a yes vote on an ordinance making wind and solar installations permitted uses in the city of Madison. A media release issued by Satya Rhodes-Conway confirms a yes vote by the Council:

Yesterday, Madison's City Council passed an ordinance amendment, sponsored by Alders Satya Rhodes-Conway, Marsha Rummel and Brian Solomon, that makes solar and wind energy systems "permitted accessory uses" under Madison's Zoning Code. The change will also update City codes to reflect current technology and practices.

"Madison residents are really creative and dedicated when it comes to sustainability and preserving our environment," said Ald. Rhodes-Conway, the lead sponsor of the amendment. "This is a small, but important, change that will make it easier to install renewable energy systems."

Under this ordinance amendment, residents will be able to install solar and wind energy systems on their homes just like they can put in a storage shed or garage.

"Many Madisonians choose to install solar systems to lower their utility bills," said Ald. Rummel. "We want to encourage them to do so."

All solar and wind projects will still need to comply with existing City rules - for example, they will need building and other applicable permits. Projects incorporating solar or wind as one component of the project will still be subject to all the normal reviews.

"This is just one small way for the City to support renewable energy," said Ald. Solomon. "I hope that it will lead to more solar systems in Madison."

The ordinance includes restrictions on the height of wind turbines on
towers: They must be set back from lot lines at least as much as their height or have an easement from the adjoining property.
After the vote, RENEW's Michael Vickerman said:
The City Attorney's office started working on the amendments in May, drafts of which were then reviewed and revised over the summer by a host of city committees (Sustainable Design and Energy, Planning, Urban Design and Landmarks). Over the course of committee review, the definition of wind energy was changed to incorporate the recommended dimensions and setbacks in the Focus on Energy model ordinance for small wind systems. With last night's vote those recommendations became official in the City of Madison. So the passage of this ordinance amendment represents a real step forward for the Focus on Energy renewable energy program.

Cerainly this victory could not have happened but for the strong support of Mayor Cieslewicz. But there were a number of individuals who deserve credit for shaping this zoning amendment, shepherding it through the committee review process, and steering it through the shoals of the City Council, which, as last night's discussion and debate showed, can be treacherous waters. They include Jeanne Hoffman, Kitty Noonan, and Kay Schindel from the City, the sponsors on the City Council (Satya Rhodes-Conway, Marsha Rummel and Brian Solomon), and the Sustainable Design and Energy committee members who showed up last night to speak in support of this initiative (Sherrie Gruder, Pete Taglia and myself). Everyone's contribution counted.

Group asks for YES vote on allowing wind & solar in Madison

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Madison Peak Oil Group submitted the following statement to all members of the Madison City Council:

The Madison Peak Oil Group and its members ask all alders to vote YES on the renewable energy ordinance. The chart below clearly shows the reason: the inevitable decline of cheap, abundant petroleum products. We must act on the urgency of retooling our energy economy around non-depleting, locally available, and cleaner fuels.

Among energy analysts, the only point of contention is whether world production peaked in 2005 or whether it will peak at some future date in the not-to-distant future. The exact date amounts to a trivial detail. We must begin to prepare well before the date, if it hasn’t already passed.

Cost of oil raises asphalt concerns

Monday, October 27, 2008

From a story by Darryl Enriquez in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

In his 30 years as a Waukesha city planner and community developer, Steve Crandell says he has never seen the price of asphalt exceed the cost of concrete, a turn of events that forced the city to resort to extra borrowing this month.

Throughout the Milwaukee area, municipal officials are bracing for a continued upward swing in asphalt prices that threatens to create potholes in already tight road budgets.

Those soaring costs were blamed for adding about $1.4 million of the $2 million in unanticipated borrowing costs to complete roads and other work for the new Shoppes at Fox River, a shopping center project in western Waukesha, Crandell said.

Oil is a major ingredient in asphalt. Even though oil costs have come down recently, the price reduction has not trickled down to the asphalt industry, said Jim Purko, operations director for the Milwaukee Department of Public Works.

"The cost of raw materials and the cost of transportation are certainly driving up the cost of road projects here," Purko said.

Permaculture for Urban and Suburban Gardeners

Friday, October 24, 2008

From a post from Olbrich Gardens on the Sustain Dane listserve:

Permaculture for Urban and Suburban Gardeners
Tuesday, October 28, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.
$11 Olbrich Botanical Society member / $13 public
Walk-ins are welcome. Please pay at the door.

Permaculture is about landscape designs based on the relationships between people, plants, animals, soil, and water. It emphasizes improving soil and optimizing water use, while incorporating food plants such as fruits, nuts, and perennial vegetables. It even means designing animal raising - such as chickens and other poultry - into the landscape! Join Permaculturist Kate Heiber-Cobb for a talk on sustainable permaculture philosophies for urban and suburban landscapes. Heiber-Cobb will address simple ways that gardeners can maximize natural ecological relationships.

Walk-ins are welcome. Please pay at the door. The cost of the class is $11 for Olbrich Botanical Society members and $13 for the general public. For more information please call 608-246-4550. Visit for more information about upcoming classes and workshops.

The workshop will be held at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, 3330 Atwood Avenue, Madison, WI 53704.

We Energies plans Columbia County wind farm

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

From a description of the project on the We Energies Web site:

The proposed Glacier Hills Wind Park is located in the towns of Randolph and Scott in Columbia County.

Project Size
The wind project is being designed to accommodate up to 90 wind turbines and is expected to generate between 100 and 200 megawatts (MW) of electricity. The final size and capacity of the project will depend on permit requirements, the turbine model installed and the configuration of the turbines. The project is anticipated to produce enough energy to power between 30,000 and 45,000 homes annually.

The Need
We are pursuing additional wind energy to meet customer demand and the state of Wisconsin’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. Our customers are demanding more renewable energy through our Energy for Tomorrow program, which allows customers – residential, commercial and industrial – to purchase all or a portion of their energy from renewable sources.

Additionally, the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard requires Wisconsin utilities to generate 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2015. Currently, We Energies’ supply portfolio includes approximately 3 percent from renewable energy.

Approvals and Timeline
As a regulated utility, We Energies is required to obtain authorization from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to construct the project. We expect to file the necessary applications for regulatory permits later this year.

In addition, we work with the local communities and numerous other agencies including: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Federal Aviation adinistration, Wisconsin Department of Transportation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Federation, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Wisconsin State Historical Society and National Heritage Inventory.

Construction is anticipated to be completed within one year from the start of activities. Approximately six months will be needed for site preparation and the installation of turbine foundations and cabling. An additional six months is needed for turbine erection. If permitting moves along as expected, construction is anticipated to begin in late 2009 or 2010 with operation in 2011.