Make a few changes in your driving habits to save money

Friday, August 27, 2010

From Madison Gas & Electric:

A few changes in your driving habits could save you money and gasoline. Hypermilers say it's easy... and anyone can do it.You don't have to drive an electric car or hybrid to drive more sustainably. In this story, we hit the road with an expert hypermiler to learn what it takes to go the extra

Utilities building dozens of old-style coal plants

Thursday, August 26, 2010

From an Associated Press article by Matthew Brown published in The Washington Post:

WYODAK, Wyo. -- Utilities across the country are building dozens of old-style coal plants that will cement the industry's standing as the largest industrial source of climate-changing gases for years to come.

An Associated Press examination of U.S. Department of Energy records and information provided by utilities and trade groups shows that more than 30 traditional coal plants have been built since 2008 or are under construction.

The construction wave stretches from Arizona to Illinois and South Carolina to Washington, and comes despite growing public wariness over the high environmental and social costs of fossil fuels, demonstrated by tragic mine disasters in West Virginia, the Gulf oil spill and wars in the Middle East.

The expansion, the industry's largest in two decades, represents an acknowledgment that highly touted "clean coal" technology is still a long ways from becoming a reality and underscores a renewed confidence among utilities that proposals to regulate carbon emissions will fail. The Senate last month scrapped the leading bill to curb carbon emissions following opposition from Republicans and coal-state Democrats.

"Building a coal-fired power plant today is betting that we are not going to put a serious financial cost on emitting carbon dioxide," said Severin Borenstein, director of the Energy Institute at the University of California-Berkeley. "That may be true, but unless most of the scientists are way off the mark, that's pretty bad public policy."

Federal officials have long struggled to balance coal's hidden costs against its more conspicuous role in providing half the nation's electricity.

Hoping for a technological solution, the Obama administration devoted $3.4 billion in stimulus spending to foster "clean-coal" plants that can capture and store greenhouse gases. Yet new investments in traditional coal plants total at least 10 times that amount - more than $35 billion.

No county rail tax referendum this fall

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

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

The last chance for a countywide commuter rail sales tax referendum in November died in committee Tuesday despite calls from rail opponents to let the public be heard.

About 30 people spoke at the County Board’s Public Works and Transportation Committee meeting, all of them supporting a proposal to ask voters whether they supported a half-cent sales tax for commuter rail between Middleton and the town of Burke.

Expressing a common criticism, Colleen Curtin, a single mother from Madison’s West Side, said she wouldn’t take the commuter train to work in McFarland because it would be too difficult to pick up her child from daycare. She said it felt like the $250 million commuter rail proposal was being “shoved down our throats.”

“We feel hopeless, that we have no voice,” Curtin said. “And you guys are demonstrating that even more by pushing off this referendum.”

The committee’s 2-2 vote prevented the resolution from advancing to the County Board. Committee chairman Sup. Matt Veldran, of Madison, said the Regional Transit Authority is working on a transit plan that must be completed before a vote can be taken.

“I fully believe there will be a vote,” Veldran said. “I understand the frustration, but I believe the RTA is what I approved and I would like them to come up with a complete question.”

State speeds train spending

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

From an article by Jason Stein and Patrick Marleyin the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

$300 million in contracts projected this year, far above $50 million announced earlier

Madison — The state is steaming ahead with establishing a federal high-speed rail line, projecting it will commit $300 million this year - far more than the roughly $50 million in spending previously announced.

The project's price tag isn't changing. Instead, Gov. Jim Doyle's administration is hustling to move forward with the planned passenger rail line between Milwaukee and Madison, which Republicans say is an attempt to make it harder for the next governor to cancel.

GOP gubernatorial candidates Scott Walker and Mark Neumann have said they would stop the train line regardless of how much the state spends in the next few months because of concerns about taxpayer subsidies to operate the system. Calling the accelerated spending a bluff, Walker said Monday that a new governor could get the state out of contracts entered into by the Doyle administration.

"By the end of the year it is anticipated we will have expended $300 million," state Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi said Sunday in an interview on "UpFront with Mike Gousha."

Busalacchi aide Cari Anne Renlund clarified Monday that the state will have spent or entered into contracts for roughly that amount by the end of the year but won't necessarily have spent that much. The construction of the $810 million line is being paid for by the federal government, but the state could be on the hook for both the spending and possibly the contracts signed on it so far if the state doesn't finish the construction.

Walker, the Milwaukee County executive, said he did not believe Busalacchi's new figure of $300 million. He said the state may sign contracts worth $100 million or so before the end of the year, but he believes as governor he would be able to break those contracts and pay only for the work that has actually been performed.

"I think this is all just part of the political rhetoric to try to intimidate people into thinking this is a done deal, and I just don't think people are going to buy it," Walker said. "I think in the end this is more a bluff on their part."

The route, which is supported by Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and previously had the backing of then GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson, would be an extension of Amtrak's existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha line and eventually could be extended to the Twin Cities. It would start service in 2013 at a top speed of 79 mph, increasing to 110 mph by the end of 2015.

Wisconsin high-speed rail - Madison rail station discussion, Aug. 31

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010
4:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Wisconsin Department of Administration
101 E. Wilson Street
Open house meeting – stop by anytime!

This is an opportunity for the public to provide input on the station design and to learn about station preliminary cost estimates, conceptual site layout and platform layouts.

For more information visit

Community workshops for high-speed rail project scheduled in Sun Prairie and Waterloo

Friday, August 20, 2010

From a news release issued by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation:

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is announcing two community workshops to discuss the design process for the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail project. The workshops are scheduled from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. on August 25, 2010 and August 30, 2010. The August 25 workshop will be held at the Sun Prairie Municipal Building, 300 E. Main Street, Sun Prairie, WI. The August 30 workshop will be held at the Waterloo High School at 865 N. Monroe Street, Waterloo, WI.

At the workshop WisDOT and consultant staff will be available to discuss design activities in the Milwaukee-Madison rail corridor. Staff is also interested in hearing from the community on issues of concern to them as design continues to get underway. The team preparing the planning and environmental studies for rail stations in the corridor will also be on hand to answer questions about the station development process.

The public is encouraged to attend the meeting, provide input and ask questions concerning this project. Maps showing project corridor and potential station sites will be on display.

If you are unable to attend the meeting, or would like more information, contact Alyssa Macy at (414) 550-9407. Written comments regarding the project can be mailed to Alyssa Macy, Wisconsin Department of Transportation, High-Speed Passenger Rail Program Management Team, 433 W. St. Paul Avenue, Suite 300, Milwaukee, WI 53203-3007. To request an interpreter for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, please call 711, the Wisconsin Telecommunication Relay System, at least three working days prior to the meeting. Ask the communication assistant to contact Alyssa Macy of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation at (414) 550-9407.

For more information, contact:
Alyssa Macy, High Speed Rail Program
(414) 550-9407,

Doyle announces Interstate 39-90 expansion

Thursday, August 19, 2010

From an article by Barry Adams in the Wisconsin State Journal:

A plan to spend an estimated $1 billion to expand Interstate 39-90 between the Illinois border and Madison is moving forward.

Gov. Jim Doyle has announced that he will convene the Transportation Projects Commission this fall to review the proposed project that would replace existing pavement along the 45-mile corridor, add a third lane in each direction, replace two bridges over the Rock River and reconstruct 11 interchanges.

Economic development leaders in Rock County have pushed for the project because they say it would make the highway safer, the area more attractive for business development, and aid the state's tourism industry, which draws many of its visitors from south of the border.

"The single most important thing government can do is set the table for economic growth, and that includes infrastructure improvements," said John Beckord, president of Forward Janesville. "We look forward to the project being enumerated and scheduled for construction."

The Department of Transportation is required to submit its proposal to the TPC by Sept. 15 with the TPC meeting in December to make a recommendation to the governor or governor-elect, the Legislature and Joint Committee on Finance.

Perhaps sprawl cost us after all

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

From a commentary by Mike Ivey in The Capital Times:

Old Madison fave Richard Florida is back with a good piece in the New Republic titled Roadmap to a High Speed Recovery.

There, Florida opines that America needs to stop subsidizing what he calls the "auto-housing-suburban complex." Think McMansion, Kwik-Oil, Strip Mall Takeout and the rest of it.

Florida -- who gave Madison raves for its gays, music and urban tech scene in his 2002 "Rise of the Creative Class" -- wants to end government subsidy of the sprawl housing industry.

That means eliminating the mortgage interest tax deduction along with federal backing of the secondary mortgage market.

"Federal policy needs to encourage less home ownership and a greater density of development, along with the construction of smaller and more low-energy houses," he says.

That's not just green -- but it frees up capital to invest in technology development for a future economy.

Florida's reasoning is that homeownership worked well for a nation whose workers had secure, long-term careers like in the days before NAFTA and 401(k)s. But now, he says, being tied to a mortgage impedes the flexibility of a labor market that requires people to move around and change jobs several times.

Instead of new housing, Florida says the government should be promoting things like high-speed rail. He says modern rail can help create inter-connected mega-regions, like the Boston-Washington corridor and the Char-lanta region (Atlanta, Charlotte, and Raleigh Durham).

GreenMax Home completed in Stoughton

Friday, August 13, 2010

John and Rebecca Scheller built one of the region's first net zero energy homes that can be reasonably and affordably replicated in a cold-climate region.

Mass transit just a matter of time

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

From a column by Dave Zweifel in The Capital Times:

The times they keep a-changin’.

For the first time ever, the venerable Chicago Tribune/WGN poll shows that a majority of residents in the suburbs have joined their city brethren in believing that expanding mass transit is preferable to spending more on roads and highways.

For 30 years now, the poll has been asking the question: “Which should have greater priority, improving/adding to expressways and tollways, or to the public transit system?”

This year, 76 percent of city residents, most of whom forgo cars to ride commuter rail or the buses, answered “public transportation,” while 15 percent picked roads. (The remainder weren’t sure.)

What surprised the pollsters this year, though, is that suburban dwellers, who have typically relied on cars to get back and forth to work, also said they favored investing in public transportation over roads, although by a closer margin, 52 percent to 32 percent. In the past, suburbanites have strenuously objected to having their tax dollars go for improving what was once thought to be an expensive perk only for city residents.

Many of the respondents who would put public transit ahead of highways pointed to the growing stress that comes from highway congestion and high gasoline prices. Some identified the impact on the environment and health. The poll indicated that more and more people are concerned that sitting in traffic breathing exhaust fumes isn’t conducive to one’s well-being. Some 17 percent of the people polled said they had switched this past year from driving to using public transit.

According to the Tribune, the director of a Chicagoland civic organization called the results “phenomenal.”

“People are seeing that a car-oriented culture is limiting economic development and quality of life in the region,” said Frank Beal, executive director of Chicago Metropolis 2020.

County Clerk Bob Ohlsen: Why all-RTA vote nearly impossible this fall

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

From a column by Dane Co. Clerk Bob Ohlsen in The Capital Times:

There has been a great deal of talk, including in The Capital Times, about why the RTA referendum question will more than likely not be on the November ballot, mostly pointing at me, the county clerk, for saying it was nearly impossible to do so. Here is my response:

Only the RTA board has the authority to call for a binding referendum at a regularly scheduled election. Two conversations with the chair of the RTA board, one in February and one in July, indicated that the question would probably not be ready for the November election. With the difficulty in making sure only the people within the RTA boundaries could vote, work had been started to set up the voting boundaries. For the cities, towns and villages entirely within the RTA district, that wasn’t a problem -- everyone could vote on the issue. The concern lay in the municipalities that are only partially within the district.

Meetings were held with each of the local clerks, going over maps to identify those addresses that are in the district. Because the RTA boundaries do not follow political boundaries, the district combos for the voters (combinations of the political districts: Senate/Assembly, county supervisory, school, utility districts, wards) would be affected, along with the address ranges (addresses on each street within the district combos) set up in the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS). Many of the current address ranges would have to be changed, taking voters out of one range and putting them in another.

When the SVRS system was created, RTA districts were not included, so there were changes to the system that would be necessary. Because it is essential for election inspectors to correctly identify the voters who are allowed to vote on the referendum, it was felt that a different set of numbers should appear on the poll list. By adding a dash and an extra number, the voter’s district combo would appear differently, and at first glance, the inspector would be absolutely sure the voter was getting the correct ballot. The SVRS staff was skeptical whether this change would work in the system. After some preliminary testing, however, it was determined that it was possible and they began to write scripts for the system and do the extensive testing that was necessary. The hope was to get it done by July 1, giving the clerk’s staff time to verify the information and make all the necessary changes (a time-consuming, complex process) in the system, along with the SVRS staff, to be ready just in case a November referendum was called.

Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. The go-ahead has yet to be received. The July 1 date would have made it difficult to get the necessary work done, but at this late date, it is truly nearly impossible.

UW-Madison's Charter Street coal plant embarks on its transition to cleaner fuels

Friday, August 06, 2010

From an article by Ron Seely in the Wisconsin State Journal:

It's not easy going green.

Just ask John Harrod Jr., who is helping guide the $250 million green makeover of UW-Madison's Charter Street Heating Plant.

The coal-burning plant will be converted so that it burns natural gas and cleaner, farm-grown fuels such as switchgrass. The changeover that has won praise from the plant's many critics, including the Sierra Club, which sued the university for violating the Clean Air Act. Gone will be the giant, dust-generating pile of coal that has become a symbol of the plant and its grimy history.

But Harrod, director of the UW-Madison Physical Plant, said getting rid of that coal pile and moving to cleaner biofuels has brought its own set of problems to solve — accommodating longer and more frequent trains, for example, or expanding the plant's footprint in its already squeezed urban setting, or figuring out new air standards for burning biofuels when even environmental regulators aren't quite sure what those final standards will be.

Those issues and others will be up for discussion Wednesday when UW-Madison hosts a hearing on the final version of the environmental impact statement for the project. The hearing is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in Room 1106 of the Mechanical Engineering Building, 1513 University Ave.

Cow Power project breaks ground

Thursday, August 05, 2010

From a news release issued by Governor Doyle:

WAUNAKEE – Governor Jim Doyle today broke ground on a $12 million community digester project that will help clean Dane County air and lakes, and generate enough clean energy to power 2,500 homes. Governor Doyle joined Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk for the groundbreaking of the “Cow Power” project at the Ripp’s Dairy Valley farm in Waunakee.

“The Dane County Digester demonstrates the best of our past and future in agriculture – putting to work three local farms to power our homes and clean our environment,” Governor Doyle said.

"With the turn of these forks today, we begin new, exciting work to clean up our lakes and turn a big problem into a valuable commodity," County Executive Kathleen Falk said. "Thanks to the help of the Governor, the courage and willingness of these farmers to be good stewards of the lakes and lands we love, and the ingenuity of Clear Horizons, we're pioneering an innovative solution to generate green energy and curtail an environmental problem."

In March 2009, Governor Doyle announced his support for the project. The state is providing $3.3 million in assistance for the first of two Dane County Digesters. The community digester is the first of its kind in the state – involving three family farms: Ripp’s Dairy Valley, White Gold Dairy and Richard Endres Farm.

Construction is expected to be completed later this year. Once operational, the facility will convert manure from the farms into nearly $2 million worth of electricity per year. Electricity generated by the digester will be enough to run 2,500 Dane County homes annually.

The community digester will create construction jobs and full-time jobs to run the digester. The project will also help local farms expand their operations.

County clerk calls commuter rail tax referendums a 'huge waste' of money

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

From an article by Mathew DeFour in The Capital Times:

Opponents of Dane County commuter rail are urging municipalities to place an advisory sales tax referendum on their November ballots, but County Clerk Bob Ohlsen is warning that would be a "huge waste" of taxpayer dollars.

County Board Sup. Eileen Bruskewitz, of Waunakee, said she would urge her village board to put the question to local voters because the County Board won't likely approve a proposal she supports that would put the question to all county voters.

The recently created Regional Transit Authority has said it will hold an advisory referendum within its boundaries before imposing a half-cent sales tax for local transit. But it's unlikely the referendum will be held this November because Ohlsen said his office won't be ready to divide ballots in municipalities split by the RTA boundary.

"We need to guarantee some way that the public is going to have a chance to vote on whether a sales tax should be used on commuter rail," Bruskewitz said. "The RTA is moving forward on that assumption. Before they get too far ahead, it's time to give them a reality check."

Ohlsen sent a memo to local clerks Tuesday reminding them that his office charges a local government $300 per polling place and about five cents per ballot for local referenda. Besides school referendums, for which the clerk charges school districts, local referendums aren't held very often, he said.

"Should your municipality vote to put it on, please (be) aware that it isn't going to make one bit of difference," Ohlsen wrote. "The RTA commission will call for a referendum at some point and only the people in the RTA district will be allowed to vote."

Trains - for the future

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

From an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Scott Walker and Mark Neumann shouldn't stand in the way of a future that includes a balanced transportation network and a fast rail line connecting key cities.

Gov. Jim Doyle and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last week that a fast rail project linking Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and eventually Minneapolis can't be stopped. GOP gubernatorial candidates Scott Walker and Mark Neumann say that if elected they will stop it.

We're not sure that they can stop it; what we do know is that they shouldn't. And not just because the state would have to repay the money already spent on the line before the change of administration next year.

Rail can serve as a valuable economic development tool. We're not talking about old choo-choos here any more than expanded freeway advocates talk about the Model A; we're talking about modern rail that would provide convenient and fast service between major cities in the Midwest; service that would provide wireless Internet for busy business travelers who don't like to be tied up in traffic on highways that represent an older technology.

We have some questions about placement of the stops on the route and some about finances, especially on whether there would be federal money for operating costs, as LaHood suggested last week, and just how operating costs will be met. But in general, we believe that if it's done right, fast rail could provide a vital link for businesses and families in the Midwest and should be a strong transportation option.

Field trip to growing power in Milwaukee, Aug. 7

Monday, August 02, 2010

There’s still some room for you to come along on Saturday’s field trip to Growing Power.

What’s Growing Power? It is a non-profit organization that runs urban farms that are pretty darned amazing. Growing Power teaches about and promotes a high-yield, environmentally-sustainable system for urban agriculture developed by Will Allen, a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" awardee. The Growing Power Vision: Inspiring communities to build sustainable food systems that are equitable and ecologically sound, creating a just world, one food-secure community at a time.

(Growing Power's Will Allen - One of Time Magazine's 100 people who most affect our world)

When: THIS Saturday, August 7. The tour starts at 2:30 p.m. We should leave Monona by 12:30-ish.

Where: Milwaukee Headquarters and Urban Farm, 5500 W. Silver Spring Drive, Milwaukee, WI 53218

Who: We have space for 15 more people in the tour.

How much: The tour is $10 per person, payable to Growing Power when we take the tour.

How to sign up: Send an email to, and since we'll arrange carpools, please let me know if you would like to offer to drive or need a ride. It would be helpful to also have a phone number, just in case.

How to get there: We’re carpooling. (Total Travel Estimate: 1 hour 29 minutes / 80.52 miles / Roundtrip Fuel Cost: $16.30 at 27 MPG)