In our backyard: Oil spill fouls the Kalamazoo River and threatens Lake Michigan

Friday, July 30, 2010

From an editorial by in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

In a heartbreakingly familiar scene, workers are slogging into swollen waters to rescue wildlife and skim oil after a massive spill.

Only this time it's happening in Michigan, and this time the oil threatens not the Gulf of Mexico, but Lake Michigan. The oil must not be allowed into the lake. Federal and state officials should do everything they can to see to that.

The oil - about 1 million gallons of it - leaked from a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners before the breach was discovered and the pipeline shut down on Monday, federal officials say.

The oil quickly ran into the fast-moving Kalamazoo River and by late Thursday was 35 miles downstream, though still 80 miles from Lake Michigan. The oil slick so far has killed fish, coated wildlife and forced several evacuations. Part of a shift at Kellogg Co., the Battle Creek, Mich., maker of Frosted Flakes and other popular cereals, was halted because of the strong petroleum odor on Tuesday.

In what may be a sign that certain lessons still haven't been learned, a frustrated Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm called the response from Enbridge and the federal Environmental Protection Agency "wholly inadequate." Both EPA and Enbridge promised to do whatever it takes to clean up the spill. . . .

Oil remains the nation's lifeblood. Pipelines occasionally have problems; this pipeline was built in 1969 and may have shown signs of wear, if early reports are to be believed.

But if we've learned anything from the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, it's that vigilance is virtue. Regulations must be tough and enforced. Companies must understand their responsibility. We urge officials to examine both the company's actions and inspection regimens.

But first, stop the spill and protect the lake.

Transportation secretary: High-speed rail is 'here to stay'

Thursday, July 29, 2010

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

WATERTOWN - Responding to critics of a passenger rail line between Madison and Milwaukee - including the leading Republican candidates for governor who are vowing to stop the project - U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Thursday the plan is going forward.

"High-speed rail is happening and it's here to stay," LaHood said here in announcing the second installment of an $810 million federal grant for the project.

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, who are seeking the GOP nomination for governor, have called the project a boondoggle and waste of taxpayer money.

Both have said they would halt the project if elected, despite the fact that by the time the new governor takes office, the state will have already spent between $60 million to $100 million on contracts, designs, locomotives and rail cars. That does not include money spent by the four cities along the route on train stations.

Although the federal government has said the stimulus money can only be spent on rail projects, Walker said he would push Congress to let the state use the money for roads and bridges instead.

High-voltage power line would link Madison, La Crosse

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

From a blog post by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

American Transmission Co. announced Monday that it will seek to build a 345,000-volt power line linking Madison and La Crosse, with the cost of the project tentatively pegged at $425 million.

The Pewaukee-based power company says two years of study have shown that a 150-mile line would boost electric system reliability, savings for utilities buying power in the Midwest wholesale power market and improve access to wind power generated west of Wisconsin.

No route has yet been selected and the company will spend the next two years exploring routing alternatives in the corridor shown above. A detailed cost estimate will be available once potential routes for the line are selected, said ATC spokeswoman Anne Spaltholz.

The company will host open houses with the public and stakeholders beginning this fall to explore routing choices, she said.

The line, which has been given the name Badger Coulee Transmission Line, is expected to offset the need for about $140 million in lower-voltage upgrades in western Wisconsin communities, ATC said, citing its own studies.

ATC is a transmission-line company that is owned primarily by the local electric utilities in eastern Wisconsin.

Details about the location and cost of the line will be announced when ATC submits a formal application for the line to the state Public Service Commission in 2013. At that time, the company will submit detailed routing information about two alternatives for the commission to consider.

If approved, the line would be built by 2018.

7th Annual Kickapoo Country Fair, July 24-25, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Now in its seventh year, the Kickapoo Country Fair is the Midwest's largest organic food and sustainability festival. In La Farge, Wisconsin, nestled among the ancient hills of the Kickapoo Valley, the fair serves up a generous helping of fun for all in celebration of family, culture, and community, all the while looking toward a healthy, sustainable future.

Held July 24-25, 2010, on the grounds of Organic Valley headquarters Kickapoo Country Fair will bring together thousands of attendees for two fun-packed days of food, music, bike and farm tours, cooking demonstrations, theater, kids' activities, dancing, author readings, and speakers—all offered at an affordable price for families.

*Authors, activists and innovators including Temple Grandin, author of Animals Make Us Human
*Live music all weekend on two stages
*Musical headliner Miles Nielsen — Good ol' heartland rock 'n' roll, main stage, Saturday night
*Wisconsin Author Michael Perry reading from his latest book Coop and performing with his band, the Long Beds
*"Green Village," green building and lifestyle workshops
*Delicious local and organic food
*Farmers market
*Farm tours and exhibits
*Vendors and artisans
*Fourth-annual Butter Churn Bike Tour
*Children’s activities
*Stiltwalkers and other surprises!

Renewable Energy for International Development with Madison Area Technical College - Winter break 2011

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Would you like to start off 2011 traveling in Costa Rica, while learning about renewable energy? Would you like to help residents of developing countries to meet their energy needs by implementing low cost and environmentally sustainable renewable energy projects? Would you like to provide solar lighting to families so they can work and study at night after sundown? Would you like to earn college credit for this experience? If you answered yes to any of these questions, please read on…

Madison Area Technical College is once again offering the popular course Renewable Energy for International Development, in January 2011. This is a 3-credit course that will combine 9 days of field work in Costa Rica with 8 weeks of additional online instruction. The course credits may be applied to meet the requirements for the MATC/CERET renewable energy certificate.

Additional details on the course including a Fact Sheet, Frequently Asked Questions, and examples of projects from previous classes are available on the course webpage at:

Application materials to join the January 2011 class can be obtained from the Madison Area Technical College International Education Office at:

NOTE: The College is currently accepting applications for the 2011 course, and participation is limited to 11 individuals. Registration for the course is first come first serve, and we encourage interested individuals to submit the application paperwork and financial deposit quickly to reserve their space. For additional assistance with application and registration paperwork contact:

Kirsten Holdwick
Program Specialist
Center for International Education
Madison Area Technical College

Let’s have real debate about transportation fund

Monday, July 19, 2010

From a column by Bill Berry in The Capital Times:

STEVENS POINT — A chorus of voices, orchestrated by the transportation lobby in Wisconsin, is calling for amending the state constitution to prevent raids on the sacred state transportation fund.

Several counties are dancing like good, little puppets, passing resolutions for advisory referendums this fall to pressure legislative candidates. Newspapers have fallen in step with pseudo-patriotic editorials tut-tutting about raids on the transportation fund to support a wobbly state economy.

OK, so let’s have a discussion about the transportation fund. Maybe a constitutional amendment is in order, especially if it addresses the real costs of our transportation system and how to pay for them.

Fortunately, we have new information. The American Public Health Association released a report in May, "The Hidden Health Costs of Transportation.” It addresses how our transportation system contributes to soaring health costs and prevents progress toward improving public health.

Among other things, it notes that U.S. traffic fatalities and injuries remain unacceptably high, about 40,000 a year. Meanwhile, the American Automobile Association says traffic crashes in 85 urban areas cost $164.2 billion a year, roughly $1,051 per person, in 2008.

Jonathan Patz, director of global environmental health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has conducted research that found cutting down on the number of short car trips and reducing the number of miles driven by about 20 percent would save hundreds of lives, avoid hundreds of thousands of hospital admissions, and save billions of dollars in health care costs in the Midwest alone.

Many other costs are often referred to as “hidden,” but they’re really quite visible. They include the toll of physical inactivity, rising asthma and obesity rates in both adults and children, and degraded air quality. In the end, we’re all helping to pay some of those bills.

Who should vote on commuter rail sales tax?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

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

Some Dane County Board members are pushing to hold a countywide referendum this November asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax to pay for commuter rail.

The proposal, which board Chairman Scott McDonell said will not be able to get enough support to move forward, comes after County Clerk Bob Ohlsen said his office won’t be ready to hold a Regional Transit Authority referendum this fall.

Madison and county officials have long promised to hold an advisory referendum before raising taxes in the Regional Transit Authority area to pay for local transit. But holding a referendum is not easy because any RTA referendum would only appear on ballots within the RTA area, which includes seven cities (except a small part of Fitchburg), five villages, four entire towns and parts of 11 other towns.

That means the state’s Government Accountability Board has to create a new voting district, and after that the county clerk’s office must compile the names of eligible voters and prepare additional ballots, while making regular election preparations.

“From what I’m hearing from the clerk’s office it would be very difficult if not impossible to have the voter file ready by the fall election,” RTA board Chairman Dick Wagner said.

MGE needs help to plan for future with electric cars

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Oil Spill and You

Monday, July 12, 2010

From a commentary by Michael Vickerman:

by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
July 12, 2010

About 100 people gathered in downtown Madison in early July to take part in “Hands Across the Sands,” an internationally organized protest against continued oil drilling in and along the world’s coastal waters. Against the backdrop of the weed-choked waters of Lake Monona, they joined hands for 15 minutes to express their fervent desire to see a cleaner, less destructive energy future emerge from the liquid melanoma spreading across the Gulf of Mexico.

No doubt the protestors would like to do more, much more, than simply engage in ritualized protest in front of a few camera crews. But we live in a society that is organized around the expectation of a limitless supply of nonrenewable hydrocarbons feeding concentrated energy into our economic bloodstream. Most of us have not bothered to comprehend the yawning gulf that lies between our best intentions and our abject dependence on the wealth-producing properties of petroleum. Nor how this addiction fills us with delusions of godlike mastery over our environment while blinding us to the reality that we humans have grossly overshot our planet’s carrying capacity.

For those who read and still remember the science fiction classic Dune, the “spice” on Arrakis remains the quintessential literary analogy to the reality of Earth’s oil. Like our oil, the spice held a special place in that world as the ultimate prize worth waging wars and plundering hostile environments for. . . .

Need I mention that once you begin to appreciate the finitude of the Earth’s endowment of petroleum, there’s nothing to stop you from taking immediate steps to curb your personal consumption of this irreplaceable fuel. Whatever you do to lessen your dependence on petroleum will turn out to be a much more satisfying and meaningful response to our energy predicament than any canned protest promoted through Facebook.

As for myself, I made two resolutions since the Macondo well erupted. The first is to go through this summer without activating the household air-conditioner. So far, so good, I can report. (Luckily, we were spared the triple-digit temperature swelterfest that gripped the East Coast last week). It wasn’t that long ago that life without air-conditioning was the norm rather than the exception. If we all resolved not to turn on air-conditioners, we could force the retirement of two to three coal-fired plants in this state.

The other change was to ratchet up my reliance on my bicycle and make it the default vehicle for all my local travels, irrespective of weather conditions. I have been a fair-weather bicycle commuter for many years, but after watching everyone on TV blame someone else for the catastrophe, I felt the need to push myself a little harder. My objective here is to regard my car as a luxury that one day I might do without.

Though the extra perspiration and the occasional dodging of raindrops may take some getting used to, you are going to sleep better at night. Trust me on this.

If the oil spill has prompted a similar response from you, feel free to describe them and send them to the moderator of our Peak Oil blog or post them in a response.

Manitowoc wind tower maker plans to hire 60 workers

Friday, July 09, 2010

From an article by Charlie Mathews in the Manitow Hearld Times Reporter:

MANITOWOC — Paul Smith is excited to hang a "Jobs Open" sign at Tower Tech's manufacturing plant on the Manitowoc River peninsula.

With two major new contracts, the wind tower company's chief operating officer said about 60 people will be hired in the next month, increasing the work force to more than 200.

"It feels pretty good to bring some individuals back from layoff, as well as hire new to do welding, painting, blasting and assembling," said Smith.

The recession hit the wind industry hard, but contracts awarded in late June and this week to supply 265-foot, 200-ton towers for Danish-based Vestas and Spanish firm Gamesa Technology Corp. will keep the Manitowoc plant operating at full capacity for the next year.

"Our people have a work ethic combined with basic fabrication and welding knowledge that enable us to build some of the heaviest towers in the industry better than anybody," Smith said.

It also helps that Milwaukee-based We Energies was looking for Wisconsin suppliers for its $367 million Glacier Hills Wind Park to be erected in 2011 in Columbia County. Tower Tech will build 90 towers for the project.

Wind stakeholders cite uniformity as key to more projects

Thursday, July 08, 2010

From a news release issued by RENEW Wisconsin:

Collectively drawing upon the individual roadblocks that developers experienced in permitting wind energy projects in Wisconsin, a group of renewable energy stakeholders urged the Public Service Commission to adopt standards that can’t be undermined by additional restrictions imposed by local governments.

The comments, submitted on behalf of 38 signatories, addressed the draft siting rule published by the Commission in mid-May. The draft rule proposed standards applicable to all wind energy systems -- large and small -- erected in Wisconsin. In the next phase of this proceeding, the Commission will review the public comments before issuing a final rule in August.

The rule will specify, among other things, setback distances from neighbors, sound limits, shadow flicker durations, procedures for decommissioning inoperable turbines, and mitigating electronic signal interference.

Noting that local governments would have discretionary authority going beyond the legislation’s intentions, renewable energy supporters recommended specific changes to give developers a greater sense of certainty in the permitting process.

“We are willing to work collaboratively and cooperatively with political subdivisions to establish mutually agreeable provisions beyond the requirements of the rules,” the stakeholders said in their joint comments. “However, we cannot develop wind projects in Wisconsin if current uncertainty regarding political subdivision requirements continues.”

Will we create a grid smart enough for the 21st century?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

As daylight fades, Manhattan continues to gorge on power. New York City is tied to fuels like natural gas, with less than one percent of its electricity coming from wind or solar.

From an article by Joel Achenbach in National Geographic, with photos by Joe McNally

Can we fix the infrastructure that powers our lives?

We are creatures of the grid. We are embedded in it and empowered by it. The sun used to govern our lives, but now, thanks to the grid, darkness falls at our con­venience. During the Depression, when power lines first electrified rural America, a farmer in Tennessee rose in church one Sunday and said—power companies love this story—"The greatest thing on earth is to have the love of God in your heart, and the next greatest thing is to have electricity in your house." He was talking about a few lightbulbs and maybe a radio. He had no idea.

Juice from the grid now penetrates every corner of our lives, and we pay no more attention to it than to the oxygen in the air. Until something goes wrong, that is, and we're suddenly in the dark, fumbling for flashlights and candles, worrying about the frozen food in what used to be called (in pre-grid days) the icebox. Or until the batteries run dry in our laptops or smart phones, and we find ourselves scouring the dusty corners of airports for an outlet, desperate for the magical power of electrons.

The grid is wondrous. And yet—in part because we've paid so little attention to it, engineers tell us—it's not the grid we need for the 21st century. It's too old. It's reliable but not reliable enough, especially in the United States, especially for our mushrooming population of finicky digital devices. Blackouts, brownouts, and other power outs cost Americans an estimated $80 billion a year. And at the same time that it needs to become more reliable, the grid needs dramatic upgrading to handle a different kind of power, a greener kind. That means, among other things, more transmission lines to carry wind power and solar power from remote places to big cities.

Most important, the grid must get smarter. . . .

Milwaukee support for new rail transit systems dips below 50%

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

From an article by Larry Sandler of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

But expansion of I-94 finds increased support

Support for new rail transit systems has dipped below 50% in the Milwaukee area, while I-94 expansion receives stronger backing but still falls just short of a majority, according to a recent poll.

At the same time, The People Speak Poll found majority support throughout the four-county area for a new half-cent sales tax in Milwaukee County only to fund the county's transit system, despite skepticism about empowering a regional transit authority to levy a broader sales tax.

The Public Policy Forum's People Speak Poll is a tracking poll, designed to follow changes in public opinion on key local issues over time. The latest telephone poll of 386 residents in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties focused on transportation issues and was the third such poll in a year to ask about plans for high-speed trains, commuter rail and streetcars.

Last fall, 57% backed plans for high-speed trains linking Milwaukee to Madison and Chicago. Narrower majorities supported plans for commuter trains from Milwaukee to Kenosha and Racine and modern streetcars in downtown Milwaukee. Those results didn't change much in the spring.

But when the latest poll was conducted June 1-4, support had dropped to 41% for high-speed rail and 42% each for downtown streetcars and commuter rail, the Public Policy Forum reported.

By contrast, a new question about adding lanes to I-94 between Milwaukee and Waukesha drew 49% in favor to 39% opposed, with the rest voicing no opinion.

Those results reflect inroads by vocal rail transit opponents, as well as public concern about the economy and strained government budgets, Public Policy Forum President Rob Henken said.

Communities can reach 25×25

Friday, July 02, 2010

From a news release issued by Governor Jim Doyle on the success of the ten communities in Energy Independent (EI) Pilot -- Brown County; Chequamegon Bay (including the cities of Ashland, Bayfield and Washburn, the towns of Bayfield and La Pointe, the counties of Ashland and Bayfield, the Red Cliff tribe and the Bay Area Regional Transit authority); Columbus; Evansville; Fairfield; Marshfield; Oconomowoc; Osceola, including the school district; Platteville and Lancaster; Spring Green, including the school district:

MADISON – Governor Jim Doyle today announced ten Energy Independent (EI) Pilot Communities are well on their way toward achieving “25 x 25” – getting 25 percent of their electricity and 25 percent of their transportation fuels from renewable sources by 2025.

“Through the EI Pilot program communities have found ways to reduce their overall 2025 fossil fuel-based energy consumption by 30 percent,” said Governor Doyle. “This is significant considering we spend $16 billion on fossil fuel energy every year in Wisconsin, and all those dollars go outside of our state. We are finding ways to reduce our dependence
and generate jobs in Wisconsin.”

Two independent reports released by the Office of Energy Independence revealed how the ten EI Pilot Communities were able to accomplish 98 percent of their collective 25 x 25 goal.

The communities reduced their overall 2025 fossil fuel-based energy consumption by 30 percent and reduced their 2025 carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent.

The information gathered by the EI Pilot Communities will assist Wisconsin local units of government including the 140 EI Communities to decide which strategies will work best with their unique assets and capitalize on the diversity of their resources.

The reports were conducted by two non-partisan research and policy organizations: the Local Government Institute and the Energy Center of Wisconsin.

Madison rail station will be at 101 E. Wilson

Thursday, July 01, 2010

From an announcement by Governor Jim Doyle:

MADISON – Governor Jim Doyle announced today that Madison’s high speed rail station will be located at the Wisconsin Department of Administration building at 101 E. Wilson St in downtown Madison. Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz joined Governor Doyle for the announcement. . . .

“For Madison, this location not only means a successful high speed rail line downtown, but it also means an exciting redevelopment of the surrounding blocks,” Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said. “This site brings tremendous potential for an intermodal station as well as economic development. I want to thank Governor Doyle and DOT for considering public input in their decision. We are excited to continue working with the state to make this station successful and to capitalize on the potential it creates.”

About 200 people attended public workshops hosted by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to discuss the location of the rail station. According to public comments regarding the location, people are looking the station to provide good intermodal connections for buses, taxis, bicyclists, and pedestrians. People commenting also said that design of the station is important and the station design should focus on overall customer experience.