What I Do: Working for clean energy

Thursday, May 27, 2010

From an article in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Name: Carlie Forsythe

Age: 25

Occupation: Writer for the Wisconsin Office of Energy Independence, 201 W. Washington Ave.

Web: http://www.energyindependence.wi.gov

Length of time on the job: 4 months

This is my first job since graduating from UW-Whitewater with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in August 2008. After a year of searching for a job, I was hired by the Office of Energy Independence (OEI) through the Department of Workforce Development’s on-the-job training program.

I’m excited to be able to work in an industry that promotes green energy and to have a career in which I’m able to utilize the skills I learned in school. I write articles and newsletters that focus on business owners who produce products that promote energy independence. I also interview community members involved in renewable energy strategies. I compose a weekly article on bio-products and am responsible for writing the content on the OEI website.

In July 2006, Gov. Jim Doyle announced the declaration of energy independence to chart a new course for clean energy in Wisconsin. The OEI was created in April 2007 by the governor as the agency that would lead the state’s effort to advance clean energy and bio-products.

This was the beginning of an effort for Wisconsin to become the nation’s leader in the drive toward energy independence. The OEI helps to support Wisconsin’s goal of generating 25 percent of its electric power and transportation fuels from renewable resources by 2025. We also want to capture 10 percent of the emerging bio-industry and renewable energy market by 2030 and lead the nation in innovative research to make clean energy more affordable and in-turn create good paying Wisconsin jobs.

Madison looks at innovative strategies to promote solar energy

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

From an article by Steven Verburg in the Wisconsin State Journal:

The solar array installed on Patty Prime’s home on Madison’s East Side cost $44,000 and has a 5.8-kilowatt capacity. A typical system for a Madison home costs $15,000 and has a capacity of one or two kilowatts, said the city’s solar consultant Larry Walker. Prime’s system started working around Jan. 1 and recently began generating more energy than she uses. She said her MG&E bills, which last year cost her up to $300 a month, came bearing credits of $46 in March and $96 in April. “We’re still a month away from the solstice,” she said.

The $44,000 solar panel array on Patty Prime’s roof started turning sunbeams into voltage Jan. 1, and within weeks it set her electric meter spinning backwards.

“It reduced our bills right away,” said Prime, who lives on Sidney Street in the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood on Madison’s East Side. “The last two months we’ve had a credit. So they are paying us.”

But Prime is one of fewer than a dozen homeowners who have installed systems with the help of a city consultant who has evaluated nearly 200 properties since 2008.

So solar advocates are looking at new strategies, including working through the city’s network of neighborhood associations to lower costs and provide technical assistance, said city Facilities and Sustainability Manager Jeanne Hoffman.

By August, a website will go live allowing residents to view aerial images of their homes to see how trees and other factors affect their suitability for solar power. “You’ll be able to draw onto that a solar array and be able see how much energy that solar array will draw,” Hoffman said.

The city will redouble efforts at persuading businesses to install solar arrays.

And several groups are examining the recent successes in Portland, Ore., which worked through neighborhood associations and is seeing solar installed in hundreds of homes, Hoffman said.

“We’re really looking for neighborhoods who can partner with the city,” Hoffman said.

Bulk buying can lower the average price of $8,500 per home after state and federal financial incentives, said Larry Walker, the city’s solar consultant.

It’s not clear what sorts of mechanisms will be funded, but professional assistance in designing rooftop solar arrays and negotiating with vendors will be important, Hoffman said.

In some cases, technical assistants could help create systems in which solar panels are placed both on homes and public property, with the electrical output shared by a group of homeowners, including those whose homes have little exposure to the sun, she said.

“We have a tough time in Madison sometimes because we have these really beautiful tree-lined neighborhoods, and it’s brutal for solar power,” Walker said.

For a free solar energy assessment of property in Madison, call 608-243-0586.

For more information about Madison's solar energy program, go to www.cityofmadison.com/sustainability/city/madisun.

Biomass suppliers line up for Charter Street project

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

From an article in the The Daily Reporter:

Gov. Jim Doyle announced Monday that 59 Wisconsin businesses responded to a request for information to supply biomass fuel for the Charter Street Heating Plant in Madison.

“The message is clear, we have biomass businesses right here in our own state that want to grow,” Doyle said in a press release. “This is an enormous economic opportunity for our state to keep the money we spend on energy in the local economy and create green jobs in the area.”

The Charter Street Heating Plant on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus later this year will undergo a major conversion project that will switch the plant from coal-fired to buring a mixture of biomass, such as wood waste and agricultural residues, and natural gas.

Looming east side rail corridor upgrade poses challenges

Monday, May 24, 2010

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

Like many Madison east siders, Leslie Schroeder enjoys the "livability" of her neighborhood - the safety, the quiet, the close-knit community and the easily walkable connections to nearby schools, cafes and other businesses.

So when the state recently announced passenger rail would come into Downtown Madison, Schroeder had concerns.

"Almost everybody in this neighborhood wants high-speed rail from Madison to Milwaukee, but some neighbors will bear the burden of it, while others will not," Schroeder said. "We need to do what we can to mitigate the noise or divisive impacts."

Just like with the creation of a Downtown Madison train station, the state and city face several challenges in upgrading the east side rail corridor.

With six passenger trains coming and going each day starting in early 2013, the amount of rail traffic on the east side rail corridor will quadruple.

The stretch of track from Interstate 39/90/94 to Monona Terrace includes more than twice as many street crossings than on the East Coast's entire Boston to Washington high-speed rail line.

How fast the trains will travel within city limits remains unknown, though Tom Running, a state rail safety analyst, estimated it could be 30 mph, triple the current limit on freight trains.

State Department of Transportation executive assistant Chris Klein said the department will support closing at least two streets on the east side to facilitate the train. Wisconsin and Southern Railroad had already asked the Office of the Commissioner of Railroads to close Blount, Livingston and Brearly streets but the city is opposed to any closings. A hearing on those closings was postponed once it was known the passenger rail line could come Downtown.

The city also wants to add a new pedestrian crossing at Few Street to access the planned Central Park.

The city had previously looked into relocating a stretch of track that cuts through Central Park, but found it would be too expensive. Janet Piraino, chief of staff for Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, said it would be nice if the state moved the tracks as part of the upgrade to high-speed rail compatible tracks, but it's unclear if that will be possible.

The Central Park project is temporarily on hold until the state determines what kind of fencing will be installed along the route through Madison, said Joe Sensenbrenner, chairman of the Central Park task force.

Residents worry that fencing could cut off some backyards, pedestrian walkways and community gardens. There are also questions about litter collection and the safety of anyone who trespasses into the corridor from one of the many street crossings, said Peng Her, executive director of the East Isthmus Neighborhoods Planning Council.

Alliant says no more coal plants ... for now and no nukes

Friday, May 21, 2010

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

Alliant Energy is giving up on the idea of building more coal-fired power plants "for the time being," Alliant chairman, president and chief executive Bill Harvey said Thursday.

In an interview after the Madison utility holding company's annual shareholders meeting, Harvey said Alliant subsidiary Wisconsin Power & Light will not ask for a new coal-fueled power plant to replace one proposed for Cassville that state regulators rejected in late 2008.

"I think it's politically ... too risky to think about building coal plants until climate legislation gets in place," Harvey said. "There's got to be substantial technological improvements before the country returns to building coal plants. That's certainly true for us," he said.

Thanks to adequate power available to buy on the electric transmission grid, Harvey said it will likely be two or three years before Alliant proposes building another natural-gas-fired power plant. That could happen sooner, though, if the economy recovers quickly or if climate change rules force the company to abandon its older coal-fired power plants sooner than expected.

As for nuclear power, Harvey said Alliant is not big enough to consider spending up to $10 billion to build a nuclear plant but it might buy part of a new one, if one is built. "We have to consider that. We have to consider all possibilities," he said.

Don’t switch to BP's tar sands and other dirty fuels

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

From a guest column in The Capital Times by Bruce Nilles and Kate Colarulli of the Sierra Club:

As we’ve watched the Gulf Coast clean up from the massive BP oil disaster, besides BP picking up its own PR mission to improve its image, we’ve also noticed another disturbing PR campaign: The coal industry and the tar sands industry are both starting to use this disaster to tout the supposed “cleanliness” of their respective energy sources.

There are more and more “clean” coal ads appearing alongside oil cleanup articles, and the tar sands (also known as oil sands) industry has already made the outrageous claim that it is “safer” than offshore drilling. One executive said “that while there can be failures with conventional oil and oil sands projects, the damage would be much smaller and more modest than with offshore spills.”

This could not be farther from the truth, of course. One could compare the tar sands industry in Canada to a massive and permanent oil spill on land. When the tar sands industry destroys the environment from the get-go, who needs a spill?

Here’s a fact for you: The Canadian tar sands operations are intending to expand to the size of Florida (and have already destroyed 200 square miles).

The mining and production of oil from tar sands creates three times the carbon emissions as that of conventional oil. As if its global warming pollution were not bad enough, tar sands mining also results in the destruction of the Canadian boreal forest, a vital carbon reservoir for 11 percent of the world’s carbon and a global nesting ground for 166 million birds. In other words, not only does tar sands development create vast quantities of new carbon emissions, it destroys the Earth’s natural ability to capture carbon through the forest.

Think BP’s bad behavior only crops up in oil? Think again -- BP is actively involved in the tar sands industry and has recently been cited for cutting corners on a tar sands project that would have impacted the drinking water for the 8 million people residing in the Chicago area.

In October, BP was caught trying to undercount the pollution that would result from a proposed expansion of its Whiting refinery in order to process tar sands. The tar sands expansion would increase the refinery’s discharges of ammonia into Lake Michigan by 54 percent and its discharges of suspended solids -- the byproducts of making gasoline -- by 35 percent. Surely the people of Chicago would thank BP for adding byproducts of making gasoline to their drinking water.

If that incident doesn’t scare you, one of BP’s tar sands operations, ironically named Sunrise, is situated above Canada’s biggest freshwater aquifer. Rick Boucher, vice president of the Metis Nation of Alberta, Region One, fears that “it’s just a matter of time before an accident causes injury or death, and pollution of this massive underground freshwater system.”

Wisconsin 5th most dependent state on imported coal

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

From a news release issued by Clean Wisconsin:

State Spends $853 Million Every Year on Imported Coal

MADISON -- Wisconsin is the fifth most dependent state on imported coal, spending $853 million to import the fuel in 2008, according to a national report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

"Despite having no in-state coal supplies, Wisconsin relies on coal for nearly two-thirds of the electricity it produces," reads Burning Coal, Burning Cash, a report released today by UCS that ranks the states that import the most coal. "Compared with other states, Wisconsin is the fifth most dependent on net imports as a share of total power use."

In 2008, Wisconsin spent $152 for every man, woman and child importing coal from nine different states. According to the report, the state spent $25 million on coal from Montana, $94 million on Colorado coal, and over $700 million on coal from Wyoming.

"Relying on coal in a non-coal-mining state is a costly and dangerous addiction," said Ryan Schryver, clean energy advocate at Clean Wisconsin. "We not only pay $152 for every man, woman and child to import coal into the state every year, we also pay the high price of coal polluting our waters, diminishing the quality of our air, and threatening our health."

Beyond showing the high costs of imported coal, the report also highlights solutions that will help Wisconsin reduce its heavy dependence on the fossil fuel. "Investing in energy efficiency is one of the quickest and most affordable ways to replace coal-fired power while boosting the local economy," it reads. It later continues, "The state has the technical potential to generate 4.2 times its 2008 electricity needs from renewable energy."

Metro ridership up over 2009 even with fare hike

Monday, May 17, 2010

From an article by Dean Mosiman in The Capital Times:

A controversial Metro Transit bus fare hike hasn’t had the dramatic negative impact on ridership and revenues that some feared.

In April 2009, the City Council increased Metro Transit cash bus fares from $1.50 to $2 and raised the price of passes and ticket packages.

Yet Metro ridership still rose 1.4 percent to 13.58 million in 2009, the highest ridership in 30 years, the bus system reported. The ridership is about what Metro anticipated with the fare increase, but far less than the 6 percent projected increase if there had been no fare hike.

In the first three months of 2010, ridership rose 1.5 percent compared to the first three months of 2009, Metro reported.

One thing helping ridership is Metro’s new Commute Card program, an unlimited ride pass for small businesses and employers, Metro spokesman Mick Rusch said.

Monona Grove Energy and Sustainability Fair, Saturday, May 22

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Monona Grove Energy and Sustainability Fair will heat up the high school with fun exhibits and eye-opening presentations from a mix of students and experts. This free fair is for parents, families, students, and community members of all ages.

Enjoy and learn from students' art and educational posters, booths and demonstrations, poetry, a musical performance, and more. (The Global Impact Class will even put the proper air in your tires while you're at the event!)

Community nonprofits, energy providers, and sustainability experts of all stripes will provide a wide range of materials, information, and opportunities for you to join your friends, neighbors, and the students of the Monona Grove School District in creating a sustainable future.

Exhibits/exhibitors include: Geothermal at Glacial Drumlin, Vermiculture, The Natural Step Monona, Energy Upgrades in the School District, Energy savings tips from Alliant Energy and MG&E, MG&E Solar Trailer and Energy Bike, Focus on Energy, Climate Change: 101, Reduce/reuse/recycle tips, Food and Sustainability, LED Lighting, The End of Cheap Stuff, Alternative Energy, Carbon-o-meter, Environmental Library Items, What's green in your kitchen, Solar oven, EnAct: Steps to greener living, Community Car, Tire Inflation Booth, Aldo Leopold Nature Center, and What's your carbon footprint?

Enjoy environmental art projects, poetry, and at 1:00 a performance by Winnequah third and fourth graders: "Assignment Earth: What Kids Can Do to Save the Planet."

Monona Terrace train station makes sense

Thursday, May 13, 2010

From an editorial in The Capital Times:

Real cities are served by trains, and those trains stop in their vibrant downtowns.

As such, the signal from state officials — led by Gov. Jim Doyle — that Madison’s new Amtrak station should be located at or near Monona Terrace is a sound one.

There are still details to be worked out. The Department of Transportation must choose an exact location to recommend. Three state-owned office buildings — at 101 E. Wilson St., 121 E. Wilson St. and 1 W. Wilson St. — are in the running. And the plans to retrofit the existing structures as stations are innovative and intriguing.

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz responded with appropriate enthusiasm, declaring that Gov. Doyle “made absolutely the right decision, and in some ways a courageous decision, and one that is going to benefit the city of Madison for generations to come.”

Replacing Charter St. coal plant not coming cheaply

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Coal at the UW-Madison’s Charter Street Heating Plant will soon be replaced by wood and natural gas.

From an article by Mike Ivey in The Capital Times:

Converting the aging coal-burning Charter Street Heating Plant into one of the greenest facilities of its kind is coming at a price.

The new facility, which received initial approval from the city Plan Commission Monday night, will have the capacity to burn wood chips, corn stalks, switchgrass pellets or other biomass.

But including biomass in the fuel mix has added at least $50 million in cost to the estimated $250 million power plant, the most expensive single project in UW-Madison history. . . .

Just one of four boilers in the new power plant will burn biomass as part of a demonstration project ordered by Gov. Doyle to help the state's fledgling bioenergy industry. The balance of the facility will be fired by natural gas, which is piped into the facility.

Using biomass at full capacity, however, could require bringing 2 to 3 freight trains each day into the heart of campus to deliver enough fuel. Currently, one train every other day is used to bring coal into the plant.

To accommodate that level of rail activity, the UW is proposing additional sidings along the corridor running behind the Kohl Center. It will also need to construct new RR bridges across North Park Street and East Campus Mall.

In addition, the work will require moving the so-called "Missing Link" bike trail to the south, closing one of the most-used bicycle routes on campus while the work is completed.

The cost of fossil fuels is far too high

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

From an opinion piece by Keith Reopelle of Clean Wisconsin in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The scale of the environmental and economic disaster caused by the recent explosion of BP's deepwater horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico is nearly too great to comprehend. This oil spill, however, is just one example of the unacceptably high cost of continuing to depend on dirty fossil fuels and the urgent need to begin transitioning toward clean, renewable energy.

The April 20 oil rig explosion killed 11 workers, releasing nearly 2 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf and covering an area seven times the size of Waukesha County in a thick, black oil slick. We all watched helplessly as oil entered coastal waters, contaminating fragile ecosystems that provide vital habitat for sea birds, turtles, marine mammals, fish and many endangered species.

The spill crippled the Gulf Coast seafood industry, where fishing and shrimp boats now remain moored to piers. The environmental catastrophe will exact a heavy toll on the area's tourism industry for years.

The heavy cost of this spill will spread well beyond the Gulf Coast region. It will increase the price and decrease the availability of seafood nationally. It also will likely cause price increases in many common items like coffee, bananas and tires by disrupting major shipping lanes.

The scale and reach of this disaster illustrate the unacceptably high risks of expanding offshore oil exploration, and former proponents of offshore exploration - including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger - are now withdrawing their support.

Unfortunately, the oil spill is not the only catastrophe in recent weeks resulting from our dependence on fossil fuels. People across the nation recently mourned the loss of life after an accident at a Kentucky coal mine killed two miners only weeks after a tragic mine explosion in West Virginia killed 29.

The Gulf oil spill and the recent coal mining tragedies make it impossible to ignore the high costs of our continued reliance on fossil fuels. However, these are far from being the only costs brought by our dependence on fossil fuels.

The environmental, economic and health costs of burning coal in power plants and petroleum in cars are enormous. Here in Wisconsin, the costs are less visible than a massive oil slick, but staggering nonetheless.

GOP gubernatorial candidates would kill Madison-Milwaukee rail plan

Monday, May 10, 2010

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

Madison-to-Milwaukee Amtrak service is planned to begin in 2013, but a major junction in that process is coming in November.

Republican gubernatorial candidate and Milwaukee County executive Scott Walker immediately responded to Thursday's announcement about a Madison station location with a promise to derail the whole project.

"As governor, I will stop this misguided and wasteful project," Walker said. "Every announcement by Governor Doyle and (Milwaukee) Mayor (Tom) Barrett on their controversial train boondoggle further commits our state to their pet project that taxpayers literally cannot afford."

Walker's Republican opponent, small-business owner and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, also voiced opposition to the train.

"In tough times we have to cut spending, not take on hugely expensive projects that analysis has shown are not self-sustainable," Neumann said. "It is that kind of thinking that has left Wisconsin with a huge deficit, rising taxes and fees, and wasteful spending across the board."

Phil Walzak, spokesman for Barrett, the Democratic candidate, said the reason Democrats and Republicans, including former Gov. Tommy Thompson, support the train is because it's about "construction jobs, manufacturing jobs and the economic corridor."

"Just saying ‘no' to everything is not going to move Wisconsin forward," Walzak said. "What Wisconsin needs is adult leadership that's going to create jobs."

Doyle says Monona Terrace is 'correct choice' for Amtrak station

Friday, May 07, 2010

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

In an announcement that Madison officials hailed as a boon for Downtown, Gov. Jim Doyle said Thursday that the “obvious, correct choice” for an Amtrak station is near Monona Terrace.

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz pledged to expand by 400 spaces a planned parking ramp reconstruction in the next two years to accommodate what he said should be called “Gov. Jim Doyle/Monona Terrace Station.”

The governor, Cieslewicz said, “made absolutely the right decision, and in some ways a courageous decision, and one that is going to benefit the city of Madison for generations to come.”

Both leaders emphasized that a lot of work still needs to be done, including selecting the exact location of the station. Department of Transportation Executive Assistant Chris Klein confirmed the state is looking at three state-owned buildings along Wilson Street where the station would be housed and vertical access to a platform would need to be built.

The $810 million federal stimulus grant to develop intercity rail between Madison and Milwaukee has $24 million earmarked for station development. Part of that would be used for the Madison station, Doyle said, but “the station is not going to be a Taj Mahal.”

Cieslewicz said that if the city wants to make the station “a more significant entrance to the city, then obviously the city is going to have to think about stepping up and paying for that.”

Site near Monona Terrace picked for rail station

Thursday, May 06, 2010

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

Madison’s Amtrak station will be located Downtown near Monona Terrace, Gov. Jim Doyle announced Thursday.

“The Monona Terrace station will maximize ridership to and from Madison and will provide easy access to other forms of transportation, the State Capitol, the convention center, businesses and hotels,” Doyle said. “There were several other very good potential locations in Madison, but when considering all the factors, the Monona Terrace is clearly the best option.”

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who also spoke at the announcement, said he hoped the station would be named after Doyle. Cieslewicz added that he did not consult with governor on that matter.

“Bringing high-speed rail to the heart of downtown Madison creates tremendous potential for economic development, regional transportation and a successful rail line for years to come,” Cieslewicz said. “I want to thank Governor Doyle for his incredible leadership in bringing high-speed rail to Madison and bringing the station to the Monona Terrace.”

To accommodate the station in an already dense area, the city plans to speed up the planned demolition and replacement of the Government East parking ramp with a 1,200-space underground ramp. The previous plan for that ramp had been for 800 parking spaces, but another level was added to accommodate the estimated 400 to 600 spaces needed for the train station.

The state had previously said it was analyzing four sites in Madison for a station, including Monona Terrace, the Kohl Center, the Dane County Regional Airport and the corner of First Street and East Washington Avenue, known as Yahara Station.

Although the exact site has not been chosen, the station will be along Wilson Street, east or west of the convention center. Possible options include the State Office Building, 1 W. Wilson St., and 121 E. Wilson St.

Will mayor's European trip inspire changes for Madison cyclists?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

From an article by Kristin Czubkowski in The Capital Times:

For the average person, spending a week biking in Europe sounds pretty much like a vacation — a more active one than resting on a tropical beach, but a vacation nonetheless. But when the mayor of the second-biggest city in Wisconsin takes several staff members to visit Amsterdam and four other European cities to study biking for a week, it sends a message that improving Madison’s biking culture is a big deal.

Now, two weeks after touching back down in Madison, city bicyclists and bicycle advocates are ready to hear what changes and investment Mayor Dave Cieslewicz is ready to make back home. While some are still skeptical of the need to go abroad to study bike culture when Madison itself has a wealth of resources, nearly all agree that now that the trip has been done, they’re not giving Cieslewicz a pass on making changes.

Does he feel that pressure?

“Oh gosh, yes. It was a big investment of time and resources,” he says in an interview last week, noting that his chief of staff and two high-ranking members of the engineering and traffic engineering departments all traveled with him. “It was a substantial commitment.”

As for what Madison may see in the short term, Cieslewicz says there are a few elements of biking infrastructure on his trip that could be started at least on a trial basis within the next few weeks and months.

Petroleum vs. renewable resources

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

BREAKING NEWS--Large air spill at wind farm--no threats reported. Some claim to enjoy the breeze. (Came from moveron.org.)

MORE BREAKING NEWS -- Sun continues to spill on Madison resident's home. No injuries! Resident enjoys free electricity and hot water. Neighbors never noticed "funny things" on roof. (Came from Joshua Clements, a connection on LinkedIn, and tweaked by Ed Blume.)

Solar is hot! If you can't install it, get it from MGE!

Monday, May 03, 2010

When it comes to clean power, solar is hot! It commands the most interest with consumers, and supporters of renewable energy can share solar through MGE's Solar Clean Power Partners.

In this story, meet the families and businesses harnessing the power of the sun and learn how the Green Power community is making that possible.