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face of a widespread concern over rising gas prices in December 2005, Doyle and the Republican-controlled Legislature repealed the yearly increases in the state's gas tax, the second-highest in the nation.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.
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