Juneau, Alaska, shows how to conserve electricity

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

From an Associated Press story by Anne Sutton:

JUNEAU, Alaska - First, there was a run on energy-efficient light bulbs. When those ran out, people began asking for lamp oil. But when they started demanding clothespins in this land of mist and rain, it was clear Alaska's capital city was caught in a serious energy crunch.

"We sold all our clothespins the first day," said Doug White, general manager at Don Abel Building Supplies. "I don't think kids even knew what they were for, but they're learning now."

Avalanches earlier this month knocked down transmission lines and cut off Juneau's source of low-cost hydroelectric power. Threatened with a fivefold increase in utility bills, Juneau quickly powered down.

Stores, though open, went partially dark. Neon signs were switched off and vending machines unplugged. At home, residents of this former Gold Rush town began living a little bit like pioneers, dusting the snow off the grill, stringing clotheslines in the backyard and flicking off their TV sets. Within a week, electrical usage across town was down as much as 30 percent.

Energy conservation is a hard sell in much of the U.S., but Juneau has proved that people will change their ways if the financial incentives are big enough.

"Turn off, turn down, unplug," said Sarah Lewis, chairwoman of the Juneau Commission on Sustainability. "That's what everyone is doing and being vigilant about and commenting when others are not. . . ."

Energy from the earth: Interest in geothermal heating, cooling systems is growing

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

From an article by Michael Burke in The Journal Times (Racine):

The earth heats and cools John Schroeder’s home in Madison — and he’s not sitting on a volcano or a glacier.

Schroeder is one of a growing number of people who are turning to geothermal systems to slash their utility bills and reduce their impact on the planet.

That interest promises to usher in a new industry and new kinds of jobs as more people look for ways to limit their fossil fuel addictions.

Bill Furbish, a water systems specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, says interest in geothermal systems is growing, and for good reason.

"Geothermal is definitely taking off,” said the specialist with the Bureau of Drinking Water and Ground Water. “It has very strong advantages to conventional heating and cooling. It offers great energy efficiencies.”

A geothermal system operates on the same principle that runs a refrigerator, using heat naturally stored in soil or water to heat and cool homes, businesses and factories.

For an average new house, choosing geothermal over a conventional, 90 percent-efficient furnace and central air-conditioning would raise the cost by $5,000 to $6,000, said Tom Niesen, Gateway Technical College’s lead instructor for Gateway’s lead instructor for heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and refrigeration.

The payback in lower utility bills would be about five years.

Visit Madison Peak Oil Group at Isthmus' Green Day

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Look for the display of the Madison Peak Oil Group at the Isthmus' Green Day event on April 26 at the Monona Terrace.

Local leaders: New report supports public transportation

Friday, April 18, 2008

From a press release issued by the Wisconsin Policy Research Group:

Madison, WI - Efforts to promote investment in public transportation in Wisconsin received a boost as civic leaders held an event in Madison highlighting a major new report on oil savings and other benefits from public transportation across the country. The WISPIRG report, A Better Way to Go: Meeting America’s 21st Century Transportation Challenges with Modern Public Transit, examines the challenges faced by America’s transportation system and the benefits of existing rail and bus projects in Wisconsin and other states.

According to the report, transit in Madison and Milwaukee is responsible for 1.2 million gallons of oil saved and over $3 million dollars saved that would have otherwise been spent on gas. With rising gas prices, the report underscored the value and need for lawmakers to invest in transit. Around the country transit saves 3.4 billion gallons of oil each year, prevents 541 million hours of traffic delay and reduces global warming pollution by 26 million tons. Demand for public transportation is booming nationally, with transit trips far outpacing the growth of auto miles or population since 1995.

Challenge the Wisconsin Governor's Task Force on Global Warming

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

From Hans Noeldner:


Let's challenge the Wisconsin Governor's Task Force on Global Warming to take its own medicine! Please contact the co-chairs and urge them to:

(1) Determine the "Carbon Footprint" of the Task Force's upcoming
meeting on Thursday, April 18

(2) Establish specific greenhouse gas reduction targets for
subsequent Task Force meetings

(3) Announce the Task Force's April 18 "Footprint" and its reduction
targets (via press conference or press release)

(4) Measure "Carbon Footprints" for all subsequent meetings

(5) Provide the public with a final report

Email your request to:

Tia Nelson, co-chair tia.nelson@wisconsin.gov

Roy Thilly, co-chair rthilly@wppisys.org


(1) The job of the Task Force on Global Warming is to design policies
that will slash Wisconsin's greenhouse gas emissions 60 to 80% below
1990 levels by the year 2050.

(2) Unfortunately, preliminary calculations indicate that the Task
Force's current policy recommendations fail to even reduce emissions
below current levels. Clearly there is MUCH MORE work to do!

(3) Why should the Task Force measure its own Carbon Footprint and
establish its own reduction goals? Because when Task Force members
begin to "walk the talk", they will make an essential shift in their
THINKING – from the abstract and hypothetical to specific ACTIONS
here and now – for example, on their way to and from Task Force

(4) Is this a tall order? No. Here is what needs to happen:

a. Task Force members who drive to meetings would either record
actual fuel consumption or estimate fuel consumption based on
distance traveled and MPG for their vehicle

b. In lieu of recording actual travel distances, driving members
could use Google Maps to compute their totals

c. Wisconsin Public Power Inc. would measure/estimate/prorate heating
and electrical consumption in facilities used by the Task Force

d. Task Force support staff would compute the totals

Grant Helps Wisconsin Company Turn Wood Byproduct into Energy

Monday, April 14, 2008

From a press release issued by Focus on Energy:

MONTELLO, Wis. – Glen Oak Lumber & Milling, Inc. of Montello, Wis., one of the nation’s largest hardwood lumber and millwork manufacturers, recently established a new company dedicated to reducing wood waste. The newly formed Wood Residuals Solutions is not only using wood waste to develop new product lines, with the help of a $20,000 Implementation Grant from Focus on Energy’s Renewable Energy Program, the company is using its byproduct to fuel a woodfired boiler.

Wood Residuals Solutions is using its large supply of wood byproducts such as shavings, sawdust, ground knots and scraps to develop and produce Densified BioTech Fuel™, a product that can be used as fuel for energy production. While the company markets its fuel pellets primarily to large coal-burning plants, it considers businesses wanting to replace natural gas heating with a renewable fuel to be a strong secondary market.

An additional profitable opportunity has been the company’s initiative to screen, process and package wood shavings for animal bedding, to produce wood flour for the wood/plastics composite industry and to someday provide mulch for landscaping applications.

Insulation cuts
fossil-fuel dependence

Friday, April 11, 2008

Julie Kennedy, a technician with
A-A Exteriors, pours cellulose
insulation into a blower.

From the blower the insullation travels
through a hose that carries it into the
house and up into the attic.

A second technician sprays the insulation
over the less-effective fiberglass
insulation that was already in the attic.

Renewable energy financing workshops set, April 18 & April 25

Thursday, April 10, 2008

From the Office of Energy Independence:

MADISON – The Wisconsin Department of Commerce (Commerce) and the Office of Energy Independence will host two free renewable energy financing workshops for industry businesses and researchers. The workshops will provide information about the new Wisconsin Energy Independence Fund (WEIF), a renewable energy loan and grant program administered by Commerce, as well as other available renewable energy resources.

“I am pleased that Commerce is able to offer these free workshops as another step toward Wisconsin’s energy independence,” said Commerce Secretary Jack L. Fischer, AIA. “Governor Doyle’s Clean Energy Wisconsin plan calls for $15 million annually in grants and loans for research and development, commercialization or adoption of new technologies, and supply chain development.”

Information about how to apply for the WEIF program, eligibility, and program requirements will be explained at the meeting.

The workshops will be held in:

Madison: Friday, April 18 from 9 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Commerce, 201 W. Washington Avenue.

Stevens Point: Friday, April 25, 9 a.m. - 11:30 a.m., UW-Stevens Point, Legacy Room, Dreyfus University Center, 1015 Reserve Street.

The application period for the first round of funding will run from April 1 to June 2, 2008. For application materials and more information about the program and a program fact sheet, visit the Department of Commerce.

The Office of Energy Independence (OEI) has additional information on other state programs, federal grants, and private funds available for clean energy and fuel-related projects. Contact David Jenkins, OEI, (608) 264-7651, DavidJ.Jenkins@Wisconsin.gov

Geothermal workshops in May

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A workshop announcement from the Energy Center of Wisconsin:

This training is designed to give you information that will help you assess whether a geoexchange system is right for your next project, be it a home, school or business. Discover the right way to plan and evaluate your next successful geoexchange project!

We are facing a number of energy challenges in the next decade. The comfort system in our buildings is one of the most important choices we will make regarding a building’s performance. Facing rising energy prices, residential and commercial customers are seeking ways to manage their energy use and costs. The growing importance architects and builders are placing on environmental sustainability without sacrificing economic considerations makes geoexchange systems (geothermal heat pump technology) an efficient and cost effective solution.

Dates & locations
Tuesday, May 6, 2008 – Hudson, WI
Wednesday, May 7, 2008 – Madison, WI
Thursday, May 8, 2008 – Green Bay, WI

Solar experiences its day in the sun

Monday, April 07, 2008

From an article by Dustin Block in The Daily Reporter:

Domenico Santilli shyly added a caveat to the fact that his company seen a 500 percent increase in sales of solar power systems this year.

“We’re basically growing from zero,” said the owner of Power Control LLC in New Berlin.

That said, 500 percent is 500 percent.

Solar power is “exploding in the Milwaukee area,” said Santilli, who started working with solar power systems two years ago in an effort to help the environment.

“I think we have to cut pollution,” he said. “Being in the business of electrical contracting, I’m working to try and do something.”

Santilli and other solar power contractors around the state are learning that switching to so-called “clean” electricity pays off with more than good feelings. The solar industry is booming in the state.

Solar power generation in Wisconsin has increased 80 percent per year over the past five years, according to Focus on Energy, a public-private program that works to promote energy-efficient homes and businesses in Wisconsin.

The annual growth is turning solar power into a significant player in the state’s energy market, said Niels Wolter, solar electric program manager with Focus on Energy.

Import Canadian oil sands? Pro and con

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Wisconsin State Journal ran a pro and a con article on whether the U.S. should import Canadian oil sands.

Wayne Madsen, a Washington-based author and columnist and a contributing writer to the liberal Online Journal (www.onlinejournal.com), wrote the con:

WASHINGTON -- Anything that allows America to continue its narcotic-like dependence on carbon fossil fuels -- whether the sprawling tar sands of Canada or the petroleum pools under Alaska 's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- completely misses the point about shifting to alternative energy sources.

Alternative sources should be real energy alternatives like wind, solar and geothermal power rather than alternative fossil fuel sources that often give off more greenhouse gases than conventional crude oil.

Without making that crucial distinction we will continue to stoke the boilers of global warming that are destroying our planet 's all-too fragile environment at an ever-increasing rate.

Congress was wise to ban oil drilling in ANWR, one of the most pristine areas on Earth, and it would be equally wise to ban the import of oil from the tar sands of Alberta in Canada. Our Congress also should support efforts by far-sighted Canadians, who are pushing for a moratorium on the further development of Alberta 's tar sands.
Robert Fink, a petroleum geologist living in Cleveland, Wisconsin, wrote the pro:
At a time when Congress and the states are trying to come up with solutions to the nation 's energy problems, it is vital that decisions be made on the basis of fact, not fiction.

U.S. Senate opposition to legislation that would speed up the permitting process for oil refineries, for example, comes in part from an impression that oil companies aren 't interested in increasing refinery capacity in the United States.

Worse, some members of Congress want to prohibit Midwest refineries from using Canadian tar-sands oil in the mistaken belief our refineries have easy access to crude-oil supplies from other countries that can fill the gap. . . .

The United States consumes about 21 million barrels of gasoline, diesel and other oil products daily, according to the Energy Information Administration, but only 17 million barrels are refined in this country. The rest is produced at refineries in other countries, some as far away as Europe and the Near East, and with growing demand for petroleum products, imports from foreign refineries are projected to more than double within 20 years.

"We 're going to become dependent on foreign refineries, " Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, warned recently. "If we can 't refine oil, others will do it for us, and it 's foolish if we don 't wean ourselves off imports. "

Showrooms gearing up for green vehicles

Saturday, April 05, 2008

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

Michael Vickerman, executive director of the renewable energy advocacy group Renew Wisconsin, called on the public to become more informed about the energy challenges the nation faces.

Bradlee Fons, co-founder of the Milwaukee Hybrid Group, agreed.

"We're an energy illiterate country. We don't know where it comes from or how much we use."

To Vickerman, it is concern about future oil supplies, not global warming, that will force policy-makers to attempt to boost supply of renewable energy and alternative fuels, he said. It's been three years since the major oil company Chevron announced, "One thing is clear. The era of easy oil is over."

Keep driving ethanol forward

Thursday, April 03, 2008

From an editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal:

In the debate over whether Wisconsin should encourage the development of ethanol, it 's time to pay attention to one of ethanol 's most prominent critics.
Because he has changed his mind.

Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, who once scoffed at ethanol, recently told the CNBC financial news network that he now supports increased production of the homegrown, renewable fuel.

Pickens cited the $1 billion a day that America spends on imported oil.

"I 'd rather have ethanol and recirculate the money in the country than to have it go out the back door on us, " said Pickens, who is also promoting wind energy.

Pickens ' about-face should enlighten Wisconsin policymakers and the state 's private industry as they confront a continuing campaign to put the brakes on ethanol.

While biofuels are likely to hit a few potholes in the marketplace, the state should keep its foot on the accelerator to take the lead in biofuel development.

At stake is not only economic gain for Wisconsin but also a better fuel for the future.

Wind opposition pollutes climate policy

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

by Michael Vickerman
Executive Director, RENEW Wisconsin

Almost two decades have elapsed since Dr. James Hansen, a scientist with NASA Goddard Space Institute, injected global climate change into the political bloodstream. “It’s time to stop waffling,” Hansen told a Congressional panel. “The greenhouse effect is here.”

Yet the United States is no closer to adopting an overarching policy to curb greenhouse gas emissions than it was in the summer of 1988. Much of this inaction can be attributed to the successful disinformation campaign underwritten by fossil energy interests like Exxon Mobil and the Western Fuels Association.

Aiding and abetting this campaign was a handful of contrarian scientists who publicly challenged the existence of a scientific consensus on global climate change.

Because these so-called “climate skeptics” possessed scientific credentials, reporters and commentators gave them equal time without performing any due diligence to ferret out the political agenda that lurked behind their public statements. Given nearly unlimited access to the media, climate skeptics successfully sowed doubt and confusion in the minds of decision-makers and ordinary citizens about the severity of the problem and the urgency for action.

While the climate change denial effort has lost steam in recent years, the disinformation tactics used in that campaign haven’t gone away. Instead, they are being retooled and redeployed to challenge the most visible manifestation of carbon reduction policies: windpower installations.

Wind generating capacity is increasing dramatically as more states adopt requirements on utilities to increase their supplies of renewable energy. But not everyone is welcoming this change, and those who don’t want to live near wind turbines are fighting back. In recent years, an Internet-based disinformation campaign has sprung up to both oppose individual wind projects and challenge windpower’s effectiveness in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

An example of this lamentable trend is the Industrial Wind Action Group (www.windaction.org), which serves as a bulletin board for antiwind commentary and articles highlighting grass-roots resistance to specific windpower proposals. Among the myths this web site and others like it propagate is the contention that, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, zero-emission energy sources like wind actually create more carbon dioxide when their impact on the electric grid is taken into account.

The argument goes like this: the wind doesn’t blow all the time, therefore utilities have to build new coal and gas plants to provide back-up power whenever demand for electricity is high and the turbines aren’t spinning.

This is pure mendacity, but it’s also easily disprovable mendacity. As anyone who works at a utility can testify, wind projects do not require dedicated back-up power sources. That’s because utilities are required for reliability purposes to have enough capacity on reserve to accommodate record-breaking levels of demand, even when large power stations are off-line. And in Wisconsin, the reserve margin today is 18% above the highest peak recorded.

That margin is more than sufficient to accommodate all the wind generation that will be built to satisfy Wisconsin’s renewable energy requirements through 2015. Put another way, there is enough reserve capacity to back up We Energies’ 88-turbine project in Fond du Lac County and 11 others of similar size without any effect on system reliability.

According to another oft-repeated Internet myth, wind turbines do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions even when they are producing at full power. This preposterous assertion assumes that grid operators have no control over their generating units, and are unable to redispatch their plants to respond to fluctuating output from wind turbines. In reality, whenever wind is available to displace a fossil generator, a grid operator will shut it down. To do otherwise would add unnecessary costs to the electric system.

Outfits like the Industrial Wind Action Group don’t care if their arguments can’t stand up to scrutiny from energy professionals. That’s because they understand that very few people in state legislatures, county boards, and media outlets know how an electric utility systems works. Lacking the specialized knowledge that would help them filter out fantasy from facts, these decision-makers and opinion-shapers tend to deal with their confusion by giving wind opponents equal time. And when they do, they give the antiwind groups a platform that allows them to pollute with impunity the public discourse on clean, renewable energy.

As Dr. Hansen went on to discover, successful disinformation campaigns are the price we pay for living in a country with a low energy IQ.

Michael Vickerman is the executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, an organization advocating for a sustainable energy future. Michael Vickerman’s commentaries also posted on RENEW’s web site, RENEW’s blog, and the Madison Peak Oil Group’s blog.

Pellet stoves gain popularity in Wisconsin

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

From a story by Tim Damos in the Capital Newspapers:

BARABOO — With fuel oil and natural gas prices putting a hurt on consumers' wallets, wood is making a comeback.

"A lot of people tell me about their gas prices, the cost of LP and natural gas," said Amber Jay, office manager at Kosak Chimney & Stove in Reedsburg.

She said sales of pellet stoves have increased significantly since last year. The stoves burn compressed pellets of biomass such as wood, and are cleaner than old-fashioned outdoor wood-fired boilers.

Consumers have seen dramatic natural gas price increases in the last decade. And gas suppliers are hitting utilities with rates about three times the levels of the 1990s, according to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

At the same time, yearly shipments of pellet appliances nearly quadrupled between 1998 and 2006, according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association.

Bruce Stewart of Baraboo spent about $1,800 on an indoor pellet stove in 2005 because he liked the idea of heating with a renewable resource.

"It was kind of a compromise," Stewart said. "I wanted to put in a conventional wood-burning stove, but my wife didn't want me cutting wood six months out of the year and hauling wood and all that business."

He still uses natural gas to heat his home overnight, but likes having alternatives. With current utility rates, using the gas costs about 16 percent more per unit of heat than pellets, he said.

This winter, he spent about $406 for 120 bags of wood pellets. In 2006, about 2 percent of American households used wood as their primary heat source, according U.S. Census estimates. About 51 percent used utility gas, 33 percent used electricity, 8 percent used fuel oil and 6 percent used bottled, tank, or LP gas.