MG&E hangs ten on energy wave

Thursday, December 31, 2009

From a commentary by Ken Harwood, a writer for online Capital Region Business Journal, where this column first appeared:

Now for the positive side of the energy dilemma. One Wisconsin firm has seen the tidal wave and decided to grab a surfboard and ride it in. I sat down with Scott Neitzel of Madison Gas and Electric and asked about the future of energy production in Wisconsin. Scott shared an MGE initiative, the Energy 2015 Plan, to create economic and environmentally responsible energy. The plan outlines that the company will discontinue burning coal at the downtown Madison Blount Generating Station by 2011, increase its use of wind tenfold, involve the customer in energy efficiency efforts, and secure a cleaner more reliable and affordable product across the board.

To date MGE has made good on the promise. The Blount facility will soon no longer rely on coal, MGE has increased its wind generation from 11 to 137 megawatts, and the company has incorporated new cleaner technologies into its generation facilities portfolio. In addition, MGE has educated the consumer and offers a Green Power Tomorrow program, which allows customers to voluntarily purchase renewable energy for a penny per kilowatt-hour and sell solar energy back to MGE for $0.25 per kilowatt-hour.

Neitzel suggests, “Renewable energy is a part of our corporate culture from the top down.” In describing how they got here he used a sports metaphor from Wayne Gretzky: “You skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it is.”

The most interesting observation I can make is that MGE was not motivated by current policy or the looming cap and trade initiative. In fact the 2015 Plan was adopted in January of 2006, a full two years before the new administration or current legislative agendas. I learned a lot about balancing good business with good policy from Scott and MGE. I hope this lesson will be shared on Capitol Hill before legislation is drafted. We must remember that energy, the environment and good business is, like surfing, a balancing act. If we are really going to ride the wave to shore, we need to see it coming.

Keep working toward energy independence

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

From an editorial in the Sheboygan Press:

Gov. Jim Doyle's 2006 campaign promise of having four University of Wisconsin campuses completely "off the grid" by 2012 and get their energy needs from renewable sources was an ambitious one.

Unfortunately, it has turned out to be an impossible task.

Doyle said that campuses at Oshkosh, River Falls, Green Bay and Stevens Point were to work toward energy independence as a way to show that it can be done. Doyle has pushed hard for Wisconsin to research and implement alternative energy sources, especially renewable sources — wind, solar and biomass. The goal is to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, especially oil bought from foreign countries.

The four schools were to start producing their own electricity or buy it from utilities using the renewable sources of energy, Doyle said in 2006. The challenge also would spark energy conservation on the four campuses.
But with just two years to go, the promise far outshines the reality.

Still, there has been significant progress.

UW-Green Bay, which specializes in environmental education, has reduced its energy use by 26 percent since 2005.

UW-River Falls is studying the use of wind turbines on the campus farm to generate electricity. . . .

If the governor deserves any criticism for his promise, it is that he set an unrealistic timetable and did not ensure that there was adequate funding.

But Wisconsin must continue to do the research and find the technology that will not only reduce reliance on fossil fuels, but also ensure that energy in the future will be less costly.

Four New Year's resolutions on driving

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

From an article Jim Motavalli on the Mother Nature Network:

Now here a few worthy year-end resolutions from EcoCAR:

Drive smart. Planning trips to avoid traffic and stop lights, maintaining steady and legal speeds, slowly accelerating, limiting use of air conditioning, heated seats, and rear window defoggers, and avoiding unnecessary heavy loads can all improve fuel economy.

Set car-free goals. Whether it is biking to work or running errands on foot, it’s easier to stick to a greener transportation plan if you set goals. University of Wisconsin EcoCAR team member Dan Grice set an ambitious goal for 2010: 3,000 commuter miles by bike. He says, “Bike commuting is my goal. I want to average four days a week which would eliminate 3,000 miles of driving in 2010.”

Try sharing. Car pooling may have been an invention of necessity to dodge traffic, but it’s greener than ever even if it’s still not the most popular option – 77 percent of Americans drive to work alone. Car sharing programs such as Zipcar are worth investigating.

Drop mileage from your food. Country-of-origin labels, wait lists for CSAs and the overcrowded farmer’s market scene add up to one thing: Americans are paying more attention to where their food comes from. A good resolution would be buying local as much as possible and setting a goal, such as resolving to incorporate one local food product into your meals every day.

Dinosaur oil

Monday, December 28, 2009

One of serveral posters from WWF. Click on the picture to enlarge.

Another brewery adds renewable solar power

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Along with City Brewing in La Crosse the Grumpy Troll added a solar electric system, as described in an article by Gena Kittner in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Photovoltaic panels installed last week on the roof of Mount Horeb's Grumpy Troll will soon enable the bar and restaurant to harness solar power to fuel everything from beer-brewing to pizza-making.

"A lot of the energy will be used for the brewery, as well as everything else that we do," said owner Doug Welshinger, adding the beer mash itself will still be boiled using natural gas.

Once the switch is flipped , probably by the end of the month, Welshinger said the business will use about 95 percent of the electricity generated by the solar panels. "We do consume a lot of energy, there's no question about it," he said.

The Mount Horeb Utilities will purchase all of the energy generated by the 38 solar electric panels - most at 30 cents a kilowatt hour - about three times the rate that a business customer would pay for the same electricity.

The Grumpy Troll, at 105 S. Second St., will continue to purchase all of its electricity from the local utility at the normal rate, but will receive a monthly bill credit for the green power generated by the panels, helping to offset its total energy costs.

The higher rate for sending electricity to the utility is part of an incentive program offered by Sun Prairie-based WPPI Energy, which includes Mount Horeb Utilities as a member. The higher rate will last about 10 years, said Ann Rodriguez, spokeswoman with WPPI Energy.

Brewery digester powers healthcare network

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An article by Diane Greer in BioCycle gives a detailed description of the biodigester at Gunderson Lutheran:

Gundersen Lutheran Health Systems and City Brewing Company, both based in La Crosse, Wisconsin, are partnering on an innovative cogeneration project fueled by biogas from the brewery’s waste treatment process. The system, which started operating in October, is expected to generate 3 million kilowatt hours (kWh) per year of electricity, equivalent to 8 to 10 percent of the power used on Gundersen Lutheran’s La Crosse and Onlaska campuses. City Brewing will employ waste heat from the system, estimated at 17,000 mmBtus/year, to warm its anaerobic digesters producing the biogas. . . .

Increasing Transportation Choices and Cutting Foreign Oil Use with the RTA

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

222 S. Hamilton Street, Lower level conference room
January 7, 2010

An informal brown bag lunch and discussion at the Madison Peak Oil Group's monthly meeting with energy consultant and county board Supervisor Brett Hulsey who will update the Group on the status of the regional transportation authority (RTA) and other transportation plans in Dane County and Madison, including the multi-modal station option at First and Gorham Streets, called the Yahara Station.

Invite friends, relatives, co-workers, and anyone else with an interest to the brown bag lunch at noon in the lower level conference room at 222 S. Hamilton Street, Madison.

Marketing the benefits of green real estate

Monday, December 21, 2009

From an article by Kren RIvedal in the Wisconsin State Journal:

You won’t find a glossy folder in Sara Alvarado’s Near East Side real estate office, or a pen, pad, envelope or sheet of printer paper that isn’t made of recycled material.

Alvarado, who co-owns the seven-member company with her husband, Carlos, doesn’t even have a fax machine.

In an industry buried in contracts and fliers, the Alvarado Real Estate Group works as paper-free as possible, using E-Fax and a scanner to send and receive documents electronically, printing out pages only when and if they have to.

The office itself, a smallish space at less than 1,000 square feet on South Livingston Street, boasts other “green” or eco-friendly and sustainable features. Among other things, it has a low-flow toilet, an air-cleaning system, formaldehyde-free furniture, a used wooden conference table, a concrete floor finished with a non-toxic sealant, and a reception counter made of Dakota Burl, a composite material that looks like wood but consists of pressed sunflower seeds.

Clearly, no one can say that Sara Alvarado doesn’t practice what she preaches. For the past five years, she has focused much of her effort on advancing the cause of green building and remodeling, a practice that conserves energy and materials, encourages recycling and sustainability, and aims to cut costs while improving health and safety.

“I think people look for meaning and purpose in life and this is something we tapped into that just feels right,” Alvarado said. “It’s an opportunity to make a difference in the world on a global level.”

Join lobby effort at Conservation Lobby Day, January 26

Friday, December 18, 2009

Each year citizens from across Wisconsin descend on the Capitol to share their conservation values with their Legislators. Since the first Conservation Lobby Day in 2005, it has grown from just 100 citizens to more than 600! As we head into the 6th annual Conservation Lobby Day, there is one thing we can guarantee-when citizens come together to make their conservation values known, legislators listen, and conservation victories soon follow!

The reauthorization of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund and the passage of the Strong Great Lakes Compact are two great examples of how citizen lobbying resulted in ground-breaking conservation laws.

Conservation Lobby Day is a unique opportunity to share your conservation stories and experiences with legislators and have a huge impact on conservation policies affecting all of Wisconsin.

This Conservation Lobby Day, you can help to:

* Preserve Groundwater: Wisconsin's Buried Treasure: manage Wisconsin's groundwater resources to preserve lakes, streams, wetlands and drinking water supplies.
* Stop Global Warming in Wisconsin: address the threats of global warming in Wisconsin through clean, renewable energy jobs and energy conservation.
* Restore Conservation Integrity: return Wisconsin to an Independent DNR Secretary and a timely appointment of Natural Resource Board members.
* Protect Wisconsin's Drinking Water: protect Wisconsin's drinking water supplies by making sure we safely spread agricultural, municipal, and industrial waste.

For a 1-page brief on each of these issues and more information about Conservation Lobby Day 2010, go to:

Registration starts at 9:00am on the day of the event, but you MUST REGISTER BEFORE JANUARY 19th by visiting and signing up. There you can learn more about the issues in order to better prepare you for the day's events.

Litany of errors mars analysis of bill to enact recommendations of global warming task force

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

From a news release issued by the coalition for Clean, Responsible Energy for Wisconsin’s Economy (CREWE):

(MADISON, Wis.)—The coalition for Clean, Responsible Energy for Wisconsin’s Economy (CREWE) on Tuesday released a fact sheet detailing the errors with the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute’s (WPRI) November 12th report on the adverse economic effects of the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming recommendations.

“The WPRI report is so wildly flawed that it has no place in any legislative debate on the task force recommendations,” said Thad Nation, executive director of CREWE. “Not only does the report analyze many policies that aren’t even included in the Clean Energy Jobs Act, but it takes a piecemeal approach, failing to analyze the cumulative effect the policies will have on our state.”

Among the errors included in the report, titled “The Economics of Climate Change Proposals in Wisconsin”:
• 8 of the 13 policies analyzed aren’t included in the Clean Energy Jobs Act
• Models policies that would impact the state’s general fund, despite the fact that the Clean Energy Jobs Act includes no tax increases
• Ignores the fact that low carbon fuels will be produced in Wisconsin and other
Midwestern states, while conventional gasoline is largely imported from overseas
• Fails to take into account decreased electricity demand due to energy efficiency and conservation investments outlined in the recommendations.

In addition, the authors of the report used a “black box” economic model to come to their conclusions – meaning the reader is only given the inputs and outputs, without any knowledge of how the statistical analysis was done. In order to allow others to properly analyze the report’s conclusions, the model that was used should be made publicly available for review.

Wisconsin's first Training For Transition (T4T)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

From Transition Wisconsin:

Trainers: Becky and Bill Wilson of Transition US and Midwest Permaculture

When: Saturday and Sunday, January 30 and 31, 2010
Saturday 9am – 5pm
*Saturday Evening Movie (Polycultures), "Show & Tell" and Networking: 6:30-11pm
(If your group is already working on Transition, feel free to bring along
photos, slides, video, or just talk about your activities, successes,
challenges, and plans.)
Sunday 9am – 5pm

Where: The Fish Hatchery in Delafield, WI
417 Main Street, Delafield, WI 53018
Just off of Interstate 94

Cost: $125
Snacks, Coffee, Tea, and Saturday evening pizza & movie included.
(Bring a bag lunch or eat at one of many restaurants within walking distance of
the Hatchery.)

*To request financial assistance, contact Kate Heiber-Cobb at seventhheaven(at) or call 608-213-2230.

Pre-Requisite Reading: Transition Primer (free online at
Suggested Reading: The Transition Handbook (available from Chelsea Green Publishers, or order when you register)

Click Here to Register On-line:
or call Kate Heiber-Cobb (608-213-2230).

Crank up clean energy

Monday, December 14, 2009

From an editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal:

It might be hard to muster concern over global warming after shoveling a foot of snow in freezing temperatures last week across Wisconsin.

But the risk of man-made climate change is real and demands action - even if some scientists have overstated the evidence.

The bottom line is this: Burning less petroleum and coal that produces heat-trapping greenhouse gasses makes sense regardless of climate change fears.

A smart and determined transition to cleaner energy will be good for national security, public health and - if done carefully - Wisconsin's economy.

World leaders are gathering in Copenhagen, Denmark, this week for the United Nation's climate change conference. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle is there with a delegation of governors and Canadian premiers.

A lot of the discussion will center on targets for reducing carbon emissions from smoke stacks and vehicles - and what to do if goals aren't met.

America and China spew more fossil-fuel pollution into the atmosphere than anyone, meaning we have more responsibility to lead toward a solution. . . .

The release of more than 1,000 e-mails between a few prominent climate scientists has stirred controversy in recent weeks. The e-mails suggest some scientists can be rude and dismissive when challenged. The scientists also presented data in slanted ways.

But evidence far beyond the work of those few scientists involved in the flap suggests rising global temperatures pose serious risk of flooding, drought and human misery.

Both sides of the global-warming debate have their extremists. Leaders in Copenhagen and Congress need to work from the middle to craft a thoughtful and cost-conscious approach to cleaner air policy.

Wisconsin and the world need solutions that ease global warming while simultaneously benefiting public health, national defense and jobs.

Global warming bill sets stage for debate

Friday, December 11, 2009

From an article by Tom Content and Lee Bergquist in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

A draft of major legislation released Thursday calls for greater use of renewable power, opens the door to construction of nuclear power plants and lays the groundwork for how Wisconsin addresses global warming.

The legislation sets the stage for a major debate in Madison, with proponents touting the promise of thousands of new jobs and opponents warning that new controls will damage the state's already weak manufacturing sector.

The bill would dramatically change the state's sources of energy, mandating that 25% of electricity come from wind, solar, biomass and other renewable sources by 2025.

Wisconsin is heavily dependent on coal, a key source of greenhouse gases that most climate scientists say is a leading contributor to rising global temperatures.

The legislation also would tighten building codes to increase energy efficiency, impose restrictions on engine idling of freight trucks and adopt vehicle emissions standards similar to California and other states.

These link connect to:
+ Index to the bill

+ Short overview

+ Detailed summary

Take off the transportation blinders

Thursday, December 10, 2009

From a commentary by Dave Zweifel in The Capital Times:

It’s long been a myth that the streets, highways and bridges that accommodate our love affair with the automobile are all paid for by highway taxes.

Far from it. Just check your local city and county budgets and see how much general purpose tax revenue is siphoned into street repair every year. Property taxes help fund a lot of those orange trucks you always see on the roads.

Or how about the $8 billion that the Bush administration funneled into the highway trust fund in 2008 and the $7 billion that the Obama administration ponied up in 2009 because the gas tax money is falling short? And that’s not counting the $3 billion of taxpayers’ funds that went into the “cash for clunkers” automobile fix or the $81 billion in federal aid to GM and Chrysler.

So it’s always with some amusement that I hear politicians insist that — come hell or high water — passenger rail improvements need to pay for themselves. They’re demanding from rail what they don’t demand from every other mode of transportation, airlines included.

It’s a primary reason that America’s public transportation systems lags the rest of the developed world’s.

Cancelled -- Biofuels group seeks help on steering & governing a foundation

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Due to the winter weather warning today and this evening, we are cancelling tonight's Education Foundation meeting. Stay tuned for a re-scheduling of this event soon! email to: for more information.

From an invitation issued by the PrairieFire BioFuel Education Foundation:

We at the PrairieFire BioFuels Education Foundation would like to invite you to become active in the steering and governance of our organization. Our next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, December 8th, at 6:00 p.m. at the home of Luke Matthews, at 4710 Camden Rd. Madison. . . .

Mission Statement:
To encourage environmental stewardship and empower the public with education about the availability and potential of non-petroleum-based fuels.

Brief History:

The Education Foundation grew out of the need to seek donations from the public and from grant-makers in order to provide education and outreach services to support our sister PrairieFire BioFuels Cooperative. Given that the cooperative is focused on providing biodiesel and waste vegetable oil, as well as a service shop to help those whose vehicles can support these alternative fuels, it became necessary to create a separate entity to handle the education and outreach portions of our shared missions. Also, the spirit of the Education Foundation is to move beyond biodiesel and waste vegetable oil and to expand and explore other non-petroleum fuels as well.

What We've Done So Far:• Successfully established 501(c)(3) status
• Established a logo for the Education Foundation and created business cards
• Launched PFEF Web site at
• Held documentary film screening and silent auction fundraisers
• Staffed outreach events (local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, MREA Fair, Earth Day events this spring, Green Drive Expo / HybridFest, etc.) . . .

Please email Kurt Reinhold (current Vice President of the board) if you plan on attending, or if you would like to be considered for the board of directors (all seats are open). You can email Kurt at: or call 576-1024. Check us out!

Rail opponents want spring referendum

From an article by Paul Snyder in The Daily Reporter:

Dane County Supervisor Eileen Bruskewitz has introduced a resolution to the County Board for an advisory referendum in spring 2010 asking whether Dane County should have commuter rail.

She said she was prompted to ask for the referendum after hearing from many residents upset about the county’s creation last month of an RTA.

“People are furious they haven’t been given a voice in this yet,” Bruskewitz said.

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and four RTA-area mayors last week announced their appointments to the newly created RTA.

One of the appointments, Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, said any referendum at this early point is irresponsible.

“We’re going to be making decisions on allocating money for bus systems, and perhaps how commuter rail fits into that equation,” he said. “But I wouldn’t go in tomorrow or in spring saying we need a referendum.”

Colleges, including the UW-Madison, take advantage of geothermal heating, cooling

From an Associated Press article by Dinesh Ramde published in the Appleton Post-Crescent:

MILWAUKEE — While solar and wind power get most of the headlines, geothermal power is quietly gaining traction on college campuses where energy costs can siphon millions each year from the budget.

Schools from Wisconsin to New Mexico have geothermal projects in the works. There are 46 schools divvying up millions in federal stimulus dollars to advance technology that uses the temperature of the earth, rather than coal-fired power plants, to heat and cool buildings.

So far this year, the Department of Energy has announced $400 million in grants to advance geothermal projects like those under way on a handful of campuses.
Geothermal technology has been around for decades, it works and it is increasingly affordable. At colleges that must maintain dozens of large buildings, the savings are magnified.

Those involved in the decision to pursue geothermal technology say they wanted to use less coal-fired power, although the schools also had to save money to justify the move.

The technology is a natural fit for schools like Boise State that sit atop geothermal springs. The school recently announced it expects to save as much as $80,000 per year in heating costs by doing so, and even more as the project expands. Yet schools in the Midwest and East are also turning to geothermal power using a different type of technology.

A typical geothermal system works like this:
On a warm day, the system draws heat from a hot building and pumps it underground where the soil absorbs it. On a cold day the process reverses — the system extracts heat from the earth and returns it to the building.

The process is so efficient that even though the underground temperature remains about a constant 55 degrees, the system can be used to chill water to 45 degrees or heat it to 170 degrees.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison, which spends about $50 million in climate-control costs per year, is incorporating a geothermal system in a building that opens next fall. The school should recover the $1.25 million cost in 15 to 20 years, said George Austin, the building project manager.

"If energy costs rise at a rapid rate, the payback (time) may be less than that," he said.

Mayors, county executive make appointments to Dane County RTA

Monday, December 07, 2009

From a news release issued by Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk:

Mayors Dave Cieslewicz, Joe Chase, Jay Allen and Kurt Sonnentag and County Executive Kathleen Falk announced their appointments to the Dane County Regional Transit Authority (RTA) today. . . .

Appointments to the RTA Board are as follows:
County Executive:
Kristine Euclide, Vice President and General Counsel of MG&E
Dick Wagner, Former Chairperson, Dane County Board of Supervisors

Mayor Cieslewicz:
Steve Hiniker, Executive Director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin
Susan Schmitz, President of Downtown Madison Incorporated

Mayor Sonnentag:
Mark Opitz, City of Middleton Assistant Planning Director and Dane County Board Supervisor for District 26

Mayor Chase:
Donald A. Esposito, Vice President of Land Acquisition & Development/ Executive Vice President for Veridian Homes, LLC.

Mayor Allen:
Kimberly Warkentin, State Director of America Votes

Solar panels rise to Capitol heights

Friday, December 04, 2009

Governor Jim Doyle signals a crane operator to lift the first pallet of solar panels (below) for installation on the West Wing of the State Capitol. Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) President Gary (middle) and Chris Collins (right), a representative of the installer H&H Solar, joined in the liftoff. The 48 solar panels in the final installation will cover 9,600 square feet on the Capitol roof and produce about 11,700 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, slightly more than a typical Wisconsin home would use annually.The system will be owned and maintained by MGE, which is fully funding the $78,000 project.

MGE issues neighborhood Green Power challenge

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

An announcement issued by Madison Gas & Electric:

As Madison's community energy company, MGE supports local efforts to improve our environment. To encourage these efforts, MGE is offering a challenge to neighborhoods to go beyond the current levels of green power participation to help significantly reduce environmental impacts of energy use and make Madison a green power champion. Under this challenge, the neighborhood with the largest percent increase in participants of MGE's Green Power Tomorrow will receive $1,000. The neighborhood with the second highest increase will be awarded $500. To participate, your neighborhood must register with MGE by December 31, 2009.

For details and registration information, please see the attached fact sheet. Please contact Bob Stoffs at or 252-7906 with any questions or for more information.

UW-Madison cooks up energy savings

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

From a post by Todd Finkelmeyeron The Capital Times:

A boiler in Gordon Commons -- a dining hall on the UW-Madison campus -- uses most of the cafeteria's used vegetable oil to heat much of the building's hot water supply.

Officials with the Division of University Housing used a federal grant of nearly $25,000 from the Wisconsin Office of Energy Independence to help install the boiler nearly three months ago.

According to a UW-Madison press release, "between 75 and 100 gallons of spent cooking oil is pumped into a tank adjacent to the boiler. The boiler draws the oil into the boiler with a pump and burns the oil at a rate of a little more than 1.5 gallons of oil per hour. One gallon of oil is enough to heat about 225-250 gallons of hot water in the facility."

The university says the boiler requires little attention from the staff and is relatively cheap to maintain.