RENEW's winter newsletter goes online

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Wisconsin Renewable Quarterly, RENEW Wisconsin's newsletter, features these articles:

+ Rest in Peace: Cassville Coal Plant
+ Mississippi River Bird and Bat Study
+ Osceola School Heats Pools with Solar
+ Bob Ramlow: Solar Pioneer
+ Focus on Energy Issues Biogas Profiles
+ Focus on Energy Earns National Honor
+ State Plugs into Renewable Energy

Support Green-Powered businesses in Madison

Thursday, January 29, 2009

From Madison Gas and Electric:

Companies that support green power are investing in cleaner energy for our community. We rely on these business partners to grow MGE's Green Power Tomorrow program. And, they do make a difference.

Together, the following companies offset more than 76,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. They help our community:

+ Reduce global climate change
+ Reduce the environmental impacts of developing fossil fuel resources
+ Reduce our dependence on scarce energy sources
+ Reduce our dependence on foreign energy resources
See the list of Green Powered Businesses and support them by using their products and services.

State keeps working on Milwaukee-Madison railroad

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

From an article by in The Daily Reporter:
Wisconsin does not have enough money to pay for the estimated $500 million Milwaukee-Madison high-speed rail line, but the state might kick off the project anyway.

“I keep going back to the fact that this is a multiyear project,” said Randall Wade, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s passenger rail manager. “There are things we can do immediately, and I think we should start as soon as possible.”

But before focusing on the Milwaukee-Madison line, WisDOT must consider capacity upgrades to its Milwaukee-Chicago service, which Wade said sets ridership records every month.

Gov. Jim Doyle put $80 million in the state budget to spark Wisconsin involvement in the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, a multistate effort to coordinate and expand high-speed rail use. WisDOT, Wade said, will use that money for upgrades to the Chicago-Milwaukee line and the Milwaukee-Watertown portion of the line to Madison.

The state agency also asked for $137 million in federal stimulus money for high-speed rail projects. Although Wade said that money could pay for track and signal improvements along the Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison route, the combined $217 million would only be enough to establish a passenger-ready line as far as Watertown.

“(Finishing it) is still going to be dependent upon federal funding,” he said.

If finishing the high-speed rail line between Watertown and Madison takes several years, it could test the patience of people in the capital region.

You have to drive to the movies. Marcus won't include bus, bike facilities in far east side complex

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

From an article by Mike Ivey in The Capital Times:

Marcus Corp. won't have to include special bike and bus facilities at its proposed 16-screen movie theater complex on vacant land at U.S. 151 and Nelson Road.

The Madison Plan Commission Monday night OK'd a rezoning to allow development of a 47-acre parcel on the city's far eastern fringe.

Milwaukee-based Marcus hopes to have the entertainment complex, including 12 lanes of bowling and a sports bar, open for the Christmas season of 2009.

The project includes 900 surface parking spaces. There also is no transit service to the theater, which would employ 10 full-time and 250 part-time staff members.

City planners had raised red flags over parking, traffic and layout of the development -- which was once eyed as a pedestrian-oriented "lifestyle" residential, office and shopping complex.

Some members of the city Urban Design Commission have also been critical of the plan, saying the one-story theater building is "not even a good example of a suburban retail center."

But Marcus told the city it would drop the plan if forced to include additional bike and bus amenities, including a $1.5 million pedestrian/bicycle overpass at Nelson Road.

An engineering master piece in Dubai

Monday, January 26, 2009

During the construction phase......
Dubai , United Arab Emirates

All finished. Notice the palm trees outside..........

Remember, this is in the middle of the desert.... The very HOT desert where temperatures get up to 120 degrees.....


But true.....

Of course, we'd never do anything like this in Wisconsin. (Oh, wait a minute . . . tropical water slide parks in the Dells.) Never mind.

Energy Center of Wisconsin requires offsite venues to meet environmental standards

Friday, January 23, 2009

From a news release issued by the Energy Center of Wisconsin:

MADISON, Wisconsin (January 22, 2009)—Beginning this month, only green venues will be used for offsite events coordinated by the Energy Center of Wisconsin.

The Energy Center hosts more than 75 educational seminars and meetings each year, contracting with 25 different hotels, conference centers and other facilities. They also coordinate an annual three-day conference with 55 individual workshops. These events were attended by nearly 3,000 participants in 2008. Attendance could increase significantly in 2009 with the growing need for skills and knowledge in energy efficiency and sustainability.

"Our educational programs helps professionals in the Midwest prepare for a more sustainable economy," said Marge Anderson, associate director. "We want our events to demonstrate emerging green meeting and event management practices."

For the past two years, the Energy Center has been connecting venues in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota with technical support, incentives and ideas to reduce their environmental footprint.

"We help venues go green and they're better prepared for meeting planners who ask for greener meetings. Everybody wins," Anderson said.

New business group will back Global Warming Task Force proposals

Thursday, January 22, 2009

From a media release issued by CREWE:
(MADISON, Wis.) – Leading Wisconsin companies are joining forces to advocate for the meaningful global warming policy changes proposed by the Governor’s Global Warming Task Force (GWTF).

The business coalition named Clean, Responsible Energy for Wisconsin’s Economy (CREWE) looks forward to working with other members of the GWTF, the Doyle Administration and other companies and organizations to push for the adoption of policies that effectively and responsibly address global warming and capture the economic development and environmental opportunities in Wisconsin, said CREWE Board Chairman Dan Ebert.

“Wisconsin is poised for a transition to a sound economy powered by good, new, green jobs,” Ebert said. “CREWE was formed around the belief that a sustained and shared partnership of government, business and citizens is needed to build a clean energy and reliable future that will benefit all Wisconsin residents and businesses.”

Coalition members include Wisconsin Energy Corp., Madison Gas & Electric, Orion Energy Systems, American Transmission Co., Johnson Controls, MillerCoors, WPPI Energy, Potawatomi Tribe and C5-6 Technologies.

CREWE is dedicated to joining forces with other supporters to promote responsible policies that address climate change, create jobs, promote energy efficiency, reliability and independence, and mitigate the economic impacts of rising energy costs, Ebert added.

Oconomowoc supports high-speed commuter rail

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

An article by By Scott Williams of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Elected leaders here have thrown their support behind a proposed network of high-speed commuter trains linking Milwaukee and Madison.

The Oconomowoc Common Council voted Tuesday to support the Midwest Regional Rail System, which would pass through Oconomowoc.

Gov. Jim Doyle and other proponents of the system envision it as part of a 3,000-mile network linking Milwaukee and Chicago to many other Midwestern cities.

The mayor of Winona, Minn., has been soliciting support from communities along the route between the Twin Cities and Chicago.

In addition to Oconomowoc, those communities include Milwaukee, Watertown and Wisconsin Dells.

Where the roofing hits the road

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

From an article by in The Daily Reporter:

It is up to manufacturers and road builders to capitalize on Wisconsin’s decision to allow recycled roofing shingles in asphalt mixes for state road projects.

Prompted by rising oil prices, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation instituted the change Jan. 1 -- in time for the first round of 2009 project bids, said Tom Brokaw, WisDOT materials lab supervisor. Asphalt made from shingles saves money because the recycled shingles replace petroleum.

Brokaw estimated reusing shingles could cut $5 from the cost of a ton of asphalt.

"One of the reasons we worked through this quickly was we could see the savings we could get," Brokaw said.

But realizing those savings could take time, according to manufacturers. The new technology requires new equipment and a new market. It also means collecting shingles to convert into asphalt, though shingles certainly are available.

"Right now, I wouldn't say there's automatically going to be savings," said Scot Schwandt, executive director of the Wisconsin Asphalt Pavement Association.

Some asphalt contractors and manufacturers — including Elkhorn-based B. R. Amon & Sons Inc. and Payne & Dolan Inc., Waukesha — are developing processes to grind shingles into half-inch pieces added to asphalt mixes that meet state standards, Schwandt said.

Roadbuilders want new roads, not repairs

Monday, January 19, 2009

From an article by Paul Snyder in The Daily Reporter about the road builders' response to the call from the Coalition for Wisconsin’s Green Economy, which includes RENEW Wisconsin, to repair existing roads:
Road builders dispute an environmental coalition’s claim that the best way to fix state highways is to repair what’s there and avoid expansion.

The Coalition for Wisconsin’s Green Economy on Tuesday issued a blueprint for the best way to spend federal stimulus money. In terms of transportation, the coalition argues the state should put maintenance and repair ahead of new construction.

“We’re having trouble keeping our existing infrastructure up to date,” said Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin and a member of the coalition. “The more we build, the more we have to maintain. Should we do that when we’ve already shown we can’t maintain what we have?”

Hiniker, echoing the coalition’s blueprint, said by fixing existing roads, the state will retain jobs and avoid inefficient development that promotes sprawl, increases fuel consumption and releases climate-change emissions.

Hiniker said he considers highway expansion work new construction.

And that’s where road builders take issue with the coalition’s “fix it first” plan.

There are several highway expansion projects on the state’s federal stimulus wish list, and that work on the interstate system times out well with the need for repairs, said Craig Thompson, executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin.

“Why would we simply tear it up and fix what’s already there?” he said. “That would be short-sighted and foolish. We can look at increasing capacity at the same time we’re tearing it up.”

Terry McGowan, business manager for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139, agreed.

“If you’re going to fix something, fix it right,” he said. “When I hear ‘repairs,’ I think of patching potholes, and, frankly, there are only so many patches you can put on an old tire.

“When (the American Society of Civil Engineers) rates our transportation infrastructure at a ‘D,’ what is there to repair? You have to overhaul the whole system.”

Robert Kraig, program director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin and a spokesman for the coalition, said most of the $630.7 million of work, which includes repairs and expansion, the state says it could turn around within 120 days for federal stimulus money is the kind of work the coalition wants.

U.S. spent $19.3 billion on overseas oil in December

Friday, January 16, 2009

From an Associated Press article by Andrew Miga posted in The Daily Reporter:
Washington — Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens is adding a new wrinkle to his push for U.S. energy independence: monthly updates to remind Americans how much money they're paying for foreign oil.

Pickens, a billionaire who is spending $60 million on a high-profile campaign to boost the use of wind power and natural gas, said Tuesday the updates would be a yardstick for measuring the incoming Obama administration's progress on its goal of eliminating Middle East oil imports within a decade.

"You watch, we will elevate the interest in this," he said.

Pickens and environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. said oil-rich Middle East nations are using billions of U.S. energy dollars to build new schools, roads and airports while America's infrastructure crumbles. They made the comments during a briefing at the Capitol.

Americans in December sent $19.3 billion overseas to foreign governments for their oil, said Pickens, citing government figures.

"It is outrageous that we are sending billions of dollars — $432,000 per minute — overseas to foreign countries while domestic programs at home remain severely underfunded," said Pickens, who plans to highlight the monthly figures on his Web site.

U-Haul car-sharing service expands in Madison

Thursday, January 15, 2009

From an article by Judy Newman in the Wisconsin State Journal:

A car-sharing service run by U-Haul is beefing up its presence in Madison.

U Car Share began a year ago as a pilot program in Madison and 12 other cities.

Six PT Cruisers are available at the U-Haul center at 602 W. Washington Ave. but three will be moved later this month to parking lots along Regent Street, through contracts with Budget Bicycle Center.

"Our goal is to be directly on campus as well as Downtown. We want to expand into parking ramps around the Capitol Square," said Cassandra Allen, program manager for U Car Share, at U-Haul headquarters in Phoenix.

She said another six cars are expected to be added here over the next few months, most likely hybrids and compact cars, replacing the PT Cruisers.

Allen said U Car Share is not trying to take on Community Car, a locally owned, 5-year-old operation that now has more than 1,000 members using 17 vehicles from 16 Madison locations.

"We’re not like the other for-profit businesses. We really want to become part of an organization of car-sharing companies," Allen said. "We’ve contacted Community Car; we want to share members, be friendly and have everybody feel they’ve got a larger network."

Sonya Newenhouse, president of Community Car, said she welcomes the "friendly competition."

"It creates a culture of driving less and sharing. It augments the possibilities for people to drive less and share more," she said.

Bus fare increase of 25 cents approved

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Despite little public support and opposition from the Madison Peak Oil Group, bus fares well rise, as reported by Kristin Czubkowski in The Capital Times:

The Madison Transit and Parking Commission for the second time voted down a proposal to increase Metro Transit bus cash fares by 50 cents Tuesday but tried to compromise with the mayor by approving a 25 cent increase.

TPC Chairman Carl Durocher made the point that Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said he would appeal the rejection of the 50 cent fare increase to the full City Council, and that a 25 cent increase, to $1.75, might prevent that.

"It could be a bridge to get us to a different economic climate locally, congressionally and nationally, and I don't think it will be the bridge to nowhere," Durocher said.

Despite the addition of a low-income fare option at the suggestion of Cieslewicz, members of the commission, who voted 5-4 against the 50 cent increase, repeated concerns about what a higher fare would do to the health of Metro Transit, particularly in a bad economy.

"Gas prices are very low right now and we're going to make it hard for Metro to compete with that," commission member Amanda White said.

White argued that after a record 6 percent increase in ridership in 2008, a fare increase would cause ridership to stagnate.

Metro Transit staff predicted a 1 percent increase in ridership in 2009, but other models presented by commission members suggested ridership could drop.

Peak Oil Group opposes Madison bus fare increase

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A statement from the Madison Peak Oil Group delivered to the City of Madison Parking and Transportation Commission on January 13, 2009:

Madison Peak Oil Group
222 S. Hamilton St., Madison, WI 53703


The Madison Peak Oil group opposes the proposed Madison bus fare increase based on considerations of national energy policy and our community viability. Seemingly small issues like bus fares could well prove crucial in shaping our future locally and nationally.

The Madison Peak Oil Group was formed to educate the public about the limits of fossil fuel resources and the implications of this limitation for our society. It is well established that oil production in the U.S. has been inexorably declining since its peak in 1974. A consensus of responsible experts expects that world oil production will peak somewhere between the present moment and no later than the 2020s. The spike in gas prices last summer gave us a vision of the world to come. The sharpest economic collapse since the 1930s has only postponed this reality. It is inevitable that prices will soar again as the world's insatiable appetite oil-based transportation fuels collides with the difficulties of expanding world oil production. Without substantial energy conservation, we are guaranteed punishingly high fuel prices, the risk of supply shortages—not to mention the potentially disastrous effects of global warming.

Here in the Madison area, what President Bush called our "addiction to oil" manifests itself in our ingrained preference for car driving, and development patterns structured for oil-dependent, inefficient, environmentally-destructive cars. The bus fare issue is the key to ensuring full utilization of transportation alternatives and receiving full economic benefit from the investment.

Transit riders should be considered a valued resource to avoid added demand for roadway capacity and parking. Since the vehicle occupancy rate for people commuting to jobs is only 1.1 persons per car, every person riding the bus reduces road congestion and parking demand by 0.9 vehicles. Without a thriving transit system, automobile congestion would overwhelm the grid. Moreover, reducing traffic through increased bus ridership could help Madison end its current violation of air pollution standards. Everyone--particularly motorists--benefits from mass transit, and it should be supported as a key public service like police, fire, and sanitation.

In this context, we oppose the fare increase to $2.00 not only for its negative effect on low and moderate income people, but for the threat it poses to current ridership. In fact, we need stronger incentives for the economic and environmentally desirable behavior of using the bus. Most of us have become accustomed to the comforts of riding in our warm private cars. Current low gas prices and stagnant parking fees do not diminish the attraction. Neither has the quality of bus service been a draw since it has not significantly improved in the last decade, while patrons have absorbed several rounds of fare increases and route cuts.

Many other medium-sized cities have grasped the importance of affordable bus fares. Of eleven comparable cities which we surveyed, ten had a base fare of $1.50 and one had a fare of $1.75. We understand that Charlotte, North Carolina has adopted a zero-option fare to realize all the benefits of capacity utilization. The proposed fare increase would put Madison ahead or behind these cities depending on your point of view.

Avoiding a fare increase, discouraging car use, and promoting more bus and bike riding are vital objectives for the city. Unfortunately, our outmoded tax system has put the burden of alternative transportation on our city's hard-pressed tax base. This is not a reason to follow the dangerous path of greater dependence on cars and less conservation. We must now set sound local priorities and aggressively pursue more appropriate sources of long term financing such as the state highway fund or the Federal economic stimulus package.

Prepared by David Knuti, Barabara Smith, and Hans Noeldner. January 12, 2009

Dane County, MGE increase methane power

From an article in The Capital Times:

Dane County plans to substantially increase the amount of electrical power generated by methane created at its landfill.

A 10-year contract signed Monday by county and Madison Gas & Electric officials will provide more non-fossil-fuel energy for the power grid while removing the pollutant methane produced by the dump.

MGE will now purchase 26,000 megawatt hours of electricity generated at the Dane County landfill for about $3 million per year. That is enough electricity to power about 4,000 Dane County homes annually.

The utility has been buying electricity from the landfill since 1997, when the county installed two generators. Another generator was added in 2004, and another will be installed this year to produce the extra power.

County Executive Kathleen Falk and MGE Chief Executive Gary Wolter announced the agreement.

The additional income will help the county to cover services otherwise paid for by property taxes, Falk said.

Mt. Horeb discussion group begins Jan. 14

Monday, January 12, 2009

From a post on the Sustain Dane listserve:

If you live in Mt Horeb, surely there could be nothing more meaningful and stimulating than attending this start up discussion group!

Discussion Group to Begin Wednesday, January 14

Several Mount Horeb residents are organizing a discussion group using the book The Natural Step for Communities to gain an understanding of the Natural Step process, a scientifically based framework for economic, environmental and social viability.

Used in over 70 countries, it guides individuals, organizations and communities toward sustainability through proven steps that allow for self-determined, situation-appropriate paths that are systemic, long-term and flexible in regard to future actions.

Municipalities and businesses use The Natural Step process to create economic gains along with social and environmental ones.

Eleven Wisconsin communities have officially adopted The Natural Step eco-municipality resolutions and dozens of other communities have active groups.
Companies like IKEA, Electrolux, Starbucks and Nike actively use The Natural Step principles.

The first organizational meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, January 14 at the Mount Horeb Community Center at 102 N. Grove Street.

For more information, contact Marcia Hartwig at 437-7811.

Learn how you can be part of a process of creating a Mount Horeb that not only survives in the future, but thrives in the future.

We need you! Please join us!

Are we approaching peak coal? Part 1

Friday, January 09, 2009

From a post on Climate Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization:

The imminent reality of peak oil production should be clear to all by now (see “Normally staid IEA says oil will peak in 2020“).

Now some very serious people are suggesting that there is a lot less accessible coal out there than most folks believe. If we are nearing peak coal (and peak oil), then we would need to embrace the rapid transition to a clean energy economy almost as urgently as we need to embrace it to avoid destroying the climate.
The post continues with an analysis of various reports on coal reserves.

Benefits of transit construction outweigh highway construction

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Comments from Susan De Voss, Madison Area Bus Advocates, on the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's assertion that road building stimulates economic development, while DOT makes no mention of the economic development value of transit construction:

. . . transit can provide more good long-term jobs than highway construction. . . . There are two other more recent studies that make a similar point. One is a US DOT study made in 2004. There is a lot of good material at

The other is a 2006 Wis DOT study for those who are most interested in the Wisconsin situation -- and

The first is a summary of the research project and says, among other things, "A 2002 Wisconsin DOT study of the socioeconomic benefits of transit learned that public transit use saves the stateʼs riders and taxpayers an estimated $730.2 million annually, contributes to the overall quality of life in communities, and mitigates traffic congestion and pollution levels.

And then from the more recent study: "Investigators summarized the results of their cost-benefit analysis under three state funding scenarios: no annual increase in state funding over the next 20 years, a 2.5% annual increase, and a 2.5% annual decrease. . . . Under all three scenarios, transit benefits outweigh transit costs in Wisconsin: the net present value (benefits minus costs) of transit is always positive. A 2.5% annual increase in state funding would produce a net present value of $8.2 billion by 2024, for a return of $3.61 on each dollar spent on transit. A 0% change in funding would produce a net present value of $6.9 billion and a return of $3.44 per dollar invested. A 2.5% annual decrease in funding would produce a $6 billion net present value and a $3.32 return."

The latter gives a more detailed report of everything. Wis DOT keeps moving the location of this report around, so if the current address does not work, search the data base. The title of the study is called "The Socio-Economic Benefits of Transit in Wisconsin" and the author is Robert Russell.

This suggests that WisDOT could be actively promoting economic development by funding transit better. The idea of simply relying on the existence of Regional Transportation Authorities to collect extra tax for that purpose, if my reading of the 2030 Plan is correct, is wrong.

Drilling begins on UW-Madison geothermal system

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

From a story by Janet Kelly on the UW-Madison news site:

Deep drilling begins this week to place 75 bore holes approximately 300 feet below the site of the future Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, marking another first for the interdisciplinary research building project.

It is the first research facility on campus to be constructed with a geothermal heating and cooling system. Once the facility opens in fall 2010, the unseen holes sunk deep below the earth's surface will provide an annual 10 percent savings on energy use.

DOT needs to hear about peak oil

Friday, January 02, 2009

From the Wisconsin Department of Public Transportation:

WisDOT has scheduled a series of public meetings in numerous locations throughout the state. All meetings will be held from 5:00 to 8:00 pm. Residents are invited to attend to learn about Connections 2030, ask questions, and submit comments.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Alliant Energy Center, Mendota Room
1919 Alliant Energy Center Way, Madison, WI
People concerned about "business as usual" from the Department might want to attend to explain the consequences of peak oil and the need to begin preparing for the day when petroleum will be neither as cheap nor as plentiful.