Say no to revving up rickety reactors

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

From a column by John LaForge of Nukewatch, a Wisconsin-based organization, in The Capital Times:

The owners of two 40-year-old nuclear reactors at Point Beach, on Lake Michigan north of Two Rivers, want to increase the power output for each unit by 17 percent -- from 1,540 megawatts to 1,800.

The gunning of rickety old nukes is getting a green light all over the region.

The Monticello reactor, 30 miles from Minneapolis, will boost its output to 120 percent of the original licensed limit -- from 613 megawatts to 684. Monticello’s been rattling along since 1971, and it rattles badly. In 2007, a 35,000-pound turbine control box (6 feet by 6 feet and 20 feet long) broke its welds and fell onto a large steam pipe that was cut open, causing the loss of so much pressure that an automatic reactor shutdown was tripped. Decades of intense vibration and poor welding were blamed for the crash. The reactor had been operating at 90 percent power. So why not push the limits to 120 percent?

In 2009 the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission rejected claims that the accident record at the two Prairie Island reactors, south of Minneapolis, is so bad that its license extension should be denied. In May 2006, one of them accidentally spewed radioactive iodine-131 gas over 110 of its own workers, who inhaled it. Internal radiation poisoning is the kind for which there is no decontamination. Even so, the NRC could soon OK letting the Prairie Island jalopies run until 2033 and 2034, respectively, rather than shut them down in 2013 and 2014 as the license now requires.

Back in Wisconsin, Point Beach’s “extended power uprate” (EPU) plan was published in the Federal Register by the NRC Dec. 10. The draft environmental assessment and “finding of no significant impact” are hair-raising. The public has until Jan. 8 to comment.

Should we be skeptical? Point Beach has received two of only four “Red findings” -- the worst failure warning available -- ever issued by the NRC. In 2006, the NRC found that operators had harassed a whistle-blower who documented technical violations. In 2005, Point Beach was fined $60,000 for deliberately giving false information to federal inspectors. In May 1996, it was the site of a potentially catastrophic explosion of hydrogen gas that upended the 3-ton lid on a huge cask filled with high-level radioactive waste. The lid was being robotically welded when the gas exploded.

Gas could hit $5 a gallon in 2012, former oil exec warns

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

From an article by Bill Novak in The Capital Times:

Fueling up on New Year's Eve might be more expensive this year than ever before.

But it could seem cheap compared to what's coming by 2012, according to an industry analyst and a former president of Shell Oil.

Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service, predicted that average national prices for regular will be between $3.25 and $3.75 a gallon this spring in an article in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday.

And John Hofmeister, a former Shell president, told the Platts News Service that consumers should brace for $5 a gallon gas by 2012.

The national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.049 on Tuesday, according to AAA's daily fuel gauge report, only a few tenths of a penny away from the all-time record year-end high of $3.053 a gallon set on Dec. 31, 2007.

In Madison, prices for regular range from $2.98 to $3.12 a gallon on Tuesday, according to

Nationally, prices are 44 cents higher than a year ago.

"We will end the year with the highest prices ever for this week," Kolza told the Times, adding that there will be a break in prices this winter before they rise again in the spring.

After the year-end record in 2007, gas prices kept rising to the all-time record high of $4.11 a gallon nationally in July 2008.

AAA said the average price for regular in Wisconsin was $3.087 a gallon on Tuesday, up nine cents from a week ago.

Illinois forms partnership with Wisconsin's money to develop high-speed rail to St. Louis

Thursday, December 23, 2010

From an article in BizTimes Daily:

Illinois forms partnership to develop high-speed rail to St. Louis
State of Illinois announced today it will use some of the federal funds rejected by Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker to create a public-private partnership that will develop high-speed rail from Chicago to St. Louis, Mo., by 20114.

Illinois Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the signing of the historic cooperative agreement by the federal government, state government, Union Pacific Railroad, and Amtrak as a crucial advance in the development of a planned high-speed passenger rail network that will serve Illinois and the Midwest region.

“ Clearly, the leadership, perseverance and commitment of Governor Quinn, Senator Durbin, and our private sector partners, has vaulted Illinois into the lead on the development of high-speed rail,” Hannig said. “This announcement is about more than just an historic achievement for Illinois and the Midwest. It is a celebration of the kind of partnership and vision that is creating jobs now and providing needed access to a crucial regional transportation alternative.”

In September 2010, Quinn announced that Illinois had become the first state in the nation to begin high-speed rail construction through an initial agreement to upgrade 90 miles of track between Alton and Lincoln. With the full Cooperative Agreement now in place, construction will continue in early spring from just south of Lincoln to Dwight. That phase of work is expected to conclude next fall.

“It’s a wonderful day for Illinoisans as we celebrate a milestone achievement towards becoming the first state in the nation to bring high-speed rail to fruition,” Quinn said. “We applaud the cooperation and hard work of all participating agencies to bring high-speed rail service, thousands of jobs, and economic growth to communities across the state.”

Group releases recommendations to cut pollution

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

From a news release issued by Clean Wisconsin:

Expansion will save homeowners and businesses million

MADISON -- After more than a year of meetings and studies, the Midwestern Governors Association's (MGA) Low Carbon Fuel Advisory Group has released a report detailing a regionally coordinated cleaner fuels policy. These recommendations are designed to lower pollution in transportation fuels.

"The MGA report shows that cleaner fuel policies can be developed in ways that take advantage of our region’s economic and natural resource strengths and move Wisconsin away from the fossil fuels we import to our state at a cost of $13 billion a year," says Keith Reopelle, senior policy director, Clean Wisconsin.

While California and other states have already adopted similar policies, these recommendations differ in key respects. For example, they propose to measure greenhouse gas emissions for transportation fuels in a way that does not penalize the use of food-based crops for fuel, such as corn ethanol. A decision on evaluating potential market effects of food-based crops would be delayed until there is greater scientific consensus.

The Midwest is the leading producer of corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel, both of which can contribute to cuts in carbon pollution. The region is also a leader in the development of next-generation, clean-burning biofuels, from sources like wood waste and biogas, which benefits local economies. Wisconsin leads the country in farm-based biogas energy that turns cow manure, cheese wastewater and other byproducts into a valuable fuel for natural gas vehicles. And, of course, the region is the nation’s leading automotive and automotive components manufacturer. For instance, Wisconsin-based Johnson Controls is building car batteries and electric drivetrains for vehicles such as the Ford Transit electric van. Electricity qualifies as a low-carbon fuel due to the greater efficiency of electric drivetrains.

"Moving to lower carbon fuels not only reduces dependence on imported oil but helps develop new economic opportunities in the advanced biofuel and electric vehicle industries," says Reopelle. "The recent announcement that United Ethanol of Milton will be installing a biogas system to reduce fossil fuel consumption will lower the carbon footprint of ethanol fuel produced in Wisconsin."

Some proposals were recommended for state or region-wide action, but the Advisory Group made recommendations for federal policymakers as well. The Advisory Group included state policymakers, business leaders, including the oil and gas industries, academic researchers and environmental groups.

MGA asked the Advisory Group to develop mutually acceptable recommendations for action to cut the carbon pollution from transportation fuels by 10 percent in 10 years. A technical evaluation found that nearly a 15-percent cut in pollution could be achieved in the same timeframe.

Departing rail money puts freight line in a pinch

Monday, December 20, 2010

From an article in Joe Lunane in The Daily Reporter:

The state and some Wisconsin counties are stuck with the $35 million tab to upgrade a freight line between Madison and Watertown now that federal high-speed train money is gone.

“The state had been waiting nearly a decade for federal money to come to Wisconsin to upgrade this freight line,” said Ken Lucht, manager of community development for Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co., the state-contracted operator of the 33-mile track. “But because it is being redirected to other parts of the country, it’s pretty clear now the state is going to have to rebuild it themselves.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Dec. 9 redirected nearly all of Wisconsin’s $810 million in high-speed rail money to 13 other states. That pushed any potential rail upgrades back at least five years, Lucht said, and requires his company apply for a grant from the state’s rail preservation program.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation grant would cover 80 percent of the upgrade price, while the remaining costs for such projects typically would be divided between Wisconsin & Southern and the Wisconsin River Rail Transit Commission.

The commission represents eight southern Wisconsin counties that pool money to pay for local rail projects. Each county chips in $27,100 for a total of $216,800 per year — far less than the anticipated $3.5 million needed to cover the commission’s required 10 percent for the freight line.

The commission spends all of the money each year.

Van Schwartz, Dane County transit rail commissioner and finance committee chairman, said the commission recently has been unable to match its 10 percent local contribution, forcing Wisconsin & Southern to make up the shortfall for other projects.

“There’s no question work on this rail line needs to be done,” he said. “It’s valuable and will lead to additional jobs and traffic. But the economic reality is that counties don’t have the money to fund schools or roads, let alone any other activities.”

Co. Exec. Falk, farmers help start Dane County “Cow Power” facility

Thursday, December 16, 2010

With the push of a button by Dane County Exec. Falk, the innovative facility north of Waunakee began the process of converting manure into electricity, instead of pollution.

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

Dane County’s first “Cow Power” facility officially started operating today, as County Executive Kathleen Falk, representatives of Clear Horizons (the private operator), and the three farm families partnering on the project pushed a button to start filling the first manure digester tank.

Once this one-million gallon tank is full (in approximately two weeks), the manure will be heated and the process of converting it into electricity for homes and compost for gardens will begin. The facility is expected to begin producing electricity for sale to Alliant Energy in February.

The Dane County “Cow Power” facility will generate about $2-million worth of electricity each year - - enough to run 2,500 Dane County homes. It also includes first-of-its-kind equipment slated to remove much of the algae-producing phosphorous from the manure.

“Today begins the next exciting step in this innovative project - - turning a whole lot of cow manure into a valuable commodity for our homes and businesses and keeping it out of our lakes,” Falk said. “Thanks to the unique design of this one-of-a-kind digester, manure from 2,500 cows will go into powering our homes instead of polluting our waters.”

Dane County and a Wisconsin company, Clear Horizons are partnering on this project with three family farms in the Towns of Vienna and Dane - - the Ripps’, the Endres’ and the Maiers’. This digester is the first in the state to be shared by a cluster of several farmers and one of only a handful in the country to substantially remove pollutants that cause algae and weed growth in local lakes. That primary pollutant is phosphorus which studies have shown is the leading cause of green algae and other weed growth in Dane County’s lakes.

Today’s start of operations culminates years of pioneering work by County Executive Falk, the farm families and Clear Horizons to build this unique digester.

Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin's executive director, attended the ceremony.

Governor Doyle included $6.6 million in the 2009-11 state budget so two new Dane County “Cow Power” facilities would have additional phosphorus removal technology not used in other digesters in the state. To date, private dollars from Clear Horizons has funded the $12 million total project cost. Once the project is fully operational, half of the state funding ($3.3 million) will be used to pay for the phosphorus removal equipment while the other half will go for a second digester. No county dollars were used.

Dems to Walker: Where's the money for other rail projects without the $810 million?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

From an article on the Web site of the Wisconsin State Journal:

Two Democratic state lawmakers are asking Gov.-elect Scott Walker to explain how he'll pay for certain train-related expenses after the Republican refused federal funds that would have covered them.

Walker turned down $810 million to build high-speed rail between Madison and Milwaukee. He said the state could get stuck paying for upkeep.

Mark Pocan in the Assembly and Mark Miller of the Senate told Walker on Wednesday his refusal means Wisconsin taxpayers could now be liable for related projects worth $101 million.

Those include $52 million for a train-maintenance facility and $30 million for freight-rail upgrades.

However, fiscal analyst Jon Dyck of the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau says lawmakers have the option of scaling back the projects to save money.

Madison mayor lashes out at Walker over high-speed rail

Friday, December 10, 2010

From an article by Jessica Vanergeren in The Capital Times:

A visibly angry Mayor Dave Cieslewicz lashed out at incoming Gov. Scott Walker at a news conference Thursday, blaming him for an announcement that federal transportation officials were pulling $810 million in free stimulus money to Wisconsin that could have been used for high-speed rail.

Cieslewicz, joined by Dane County Chair Scott McDonell, Steve Hiniker of 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin and Downtown Madison Inc. President Susan Schmitz, called Walker's decision to campaign on a pledge to kill the high-speed rail project between Milwaukee and Madison a "purely irrational" decision that has led to a "black day for the state."

"He put himself in a ridiculously tight corner during the campaign that he couldn't get himself out of," Cieslewicz said.

Walker has not yet made a public statement on the federal transportation's decision.

The mayor said he repeatedly reached out to Walker to talk over options to keep the project on track.

Cieslewicz said he would have been open to the city contributing to the train's operating cost, an idea he also had discussed with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Barrett, a Democrat and a high-speed rail advocate, was defeated by Walker in the November election. The mayor said he first tried to contact Walker days after Walker was elected. Cieslewicz said his calls and messages were never returned.

"I was met with a blank wall. I was never able to speak with him," the mayor said. "I think it is very telling about a person. He is not getting off to a good start."

U.S. transportation dept. redirects $1.195 billion in high-speed fail funds

Thursday, December 09, 2010

From a news release issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced that $1.195 billion in high-speed rail funds originally designated for Wisconsin and Ohio will be redirected to other states eager to develop high-speed rail corridors across the United States. Wisconsin has suspended work under its existing high-speed rail agreement and the incoming Governors in Wisconsin and Ohio have both indicated that they will not move forward to use high-speed rail money received under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). As a result, $1.195 billion will be redirected to high-speed rail projects already underway in other states.

“High-speed rail will modernize America’s valuable transportation network, while reinvigorating the manufacturing sector and putting people back to work in good-paying jobs,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “I am pleased that so many other states are enthusiastic about the additional support they are receiving to help bring America’s high-speed rail network to life. . . .”

Under the Recovery Act, the Federal Railroad Administration originally announced $810 million for Wisconsin’s Milwaukee-Madison corridor and $400 million for Ohio’s Cincinnati-Columbus-Cleveland “3C” route. The Federal Railroad Administration will redirect $810 million from Wisconsin and $385 million from Ohio, and will work with these states to determine whether they have already spent money under their contracts that should be reimbursed.

The $1.195 billion originally designated for those high-speed rail projects in Wisconsin and Ohio will now be used to support projects in the following states:

California: up to $624 million
Florida: up to $342.3 million
Washington State: up to $161.5 million
Illinois: up to $42.3 million
New York: up to $7.3 million
Maine: up to $3.3 million
Massachusetts: up to $2.8 million
Vermont: up to $2.7 million
Missouri up to $2.2 million
Wisconsin: up to $2 million for the Hiawatha line
Oregon: up to $1.6 million
North Carolina: up to $1.5 million
Iowa: up to $309,080
Indiana: up to $364,980

650 people attend session on Milwaukee-Twin Cities rail plan

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

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

A boisterous crowd of more than 650 couldn't get all the answers it wanted Tuesday night about the impending collision between boosters of a Milwaukee-to-Madison rail line and an incoming governor who plans to stop it.

But that didn't keep people from peppering planners of a Milwaukee-to-Minneapolis passenger rail service with questions for about 90 minutes during a Wisconsin Department of Transportation information meeting at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on East Washington Avenue in Madison.

Many of the queries were loaded, lobbed by critics of Gov.-elect Scott Walker's vow to block a passenger train line through the capital.

"I cannot speak for the governor-elect," Wisconsin passenger rail planning manager Donna Brown replied at one point. "If we have to put (plans) on the shelf, that's something we can do, but then the plan is there if it's needed later."

A Madison route is one of 25 being evaluated based on cost, ridership and dozens of other factors. A Federal Railroad Administration time line calls for narrowing the options to a single proposal sometime in 2012, said Charlie Quandel, a consultant hired by the Minnesota transportation department.

Some routes would take the high-speed line along the existing Amtrak route north of Madison, or along the state's east side, or through Iowa, Quandel said.

Planning is part of a nine-state initiative that started in the mid-1990s and that involves routes across the Midwest.

No evidence of health impacts from wind energy

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

From a column by Robert J. McCunney, Robert Dobie and David M. Lipscomb in The Oregonian, Portland, Oregon:

While opponents of wind energy have attempted to use self-published reports to block projects, the science is clear. Independent studies conducted around the world consistently find that wind farms have no direct impact on physical health. In fact, with no air or water pollution emissions, wind energy is essential to reducing public health impacts from the energy sector.

A minority of residents living near wind projects may sometimes find the turbine sounds annoying and the same is true with any environmental sound. Annoyance is a subjective effect that varies among people and circumstances. Many residents in Oregon and across the United States find wind turbines to be a non-intrusive neighbor.

In 2009, we participated in an international multidisciplinary scientific advisory panel to review current literature on the perceived health effects of wind turbines. The panel found no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects. It is important to note that while this effort was funded by the American and Canadian Wind Energy Associations, we are independent scientists who had no involvement with the wind industry prior to this engagement.

The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council also conducted peer-reviewed research on the issue: Its findings: "There is currently no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects."

Robert J. McCunney is a research scientist in occupational and environmental medicine at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Biological Engineering. Robert Dobie is a clinical professor of otolaryngology at both the University of Texas-San Antonio and the University of California, Davis. David M. Lipscomb is president of Correct Service Inc. in Stanwood, Wash.

The disconnect on connections

Monday, December 06, 2010

From a column by John Gurda in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The state thrived because of previous travel 'connections'

It's not the money, really. In the long run, it's all about connections. Scott Walker has made no secret of his aversion to high-speed trains, but before he goes any further with his plans to derail the planned Milwaukee-Madison line, Walker might consider some earlier chapters in Wisconsin's transportation history. They indicate that the governor-elect could be putting his state in reverse.

As long as there has been a Wisconsin, residents have labored mightily to establish connections with each other and with the world beyond the state's borders. Although disputes often arose in working out the details, the general trend was unmistakable.

Milwaukee, for instance, became the state's commercial capital largely because it had the best harbor on Lake Michigan's western shore, but that harbor did not come without some built-in obstacles. A sandbar at the river mouth made it impossible for large vessels to land downtown, and local leaders besieged Congress with pleas for federal assistance. It was only fair, they argued, for Washington to return some of the money it was collecting from land sales in Wisconsin. When federal help did not arrive, Milwaukeeans taxed themselves for port improvements, creating what the Milwaukee Sentinel (Dec. 18, 1857) called "the safest, most accessible and roomiest Harbor on all these inland seas."

Connections by land were just as important. The first farm-to-market roads turned to muddy ruts in rainy weather, spawning a network of privately built plank roads that eased the journey into town. One of the longest made it possible to cover the 58 miles from Watertown to Milwaukee in a day and a half.

Plank roads were only a stopgap measure until the trains began to roll. Few transportation breakthroughs have been half as influential as railroads, and none have been more ardently pursued. A rail connection could, and frequently did, spell the difference between prosperity and obscurity for towns aspiring to something more than crossroads status. The state's first railroad chugged from Milwaukee to Waukesha in 1851, and dozens more followed. "The present seems to be the age of railroad mania," said F.H. West, president of Milwaukee's Chamber of Commerce in 1872. "Every town of a dozen inhabitants is working up some railroad scheme." The mania became so general that scores of communities, including Milwaukee, issued public bonds on behalf of private railroad companies.

The one connection that Milwaukee resisted was with Chicago. Another Chamber of Commerce official described the Chicago & North Western Railroad, based in the Windy City, as "Milwaukee's most formidable enemy." Local boosters feared that Chicago would divert Wisconsin's trade to the foot of the lake, and they worked diligently to develop a home-grown railroad. It was, in fact, an independent line - the fabled Milwaukee Road - that enabled the city to thrive despite the proximity of Chicago.

Railroads were Wisconsin's prime movers for generations, carrying passengers and freight throughout the state and far beyond, but a new technology began to threaten their primacy after 1900. The number of motor vehicles licensed in Wisconsin soared from 1,492 in 1905 (when a lifetime license cost all of $1) to more than 124,000 in 1916, and the fleet kept growing. On every level - state, county, and town - Wisconsin worked to develop a network of roads that could handle them all. The first state highway system, covering 5,000 miles, was laid out in 1918, and federal aid helped to make it a reality.

Government led the way into the air as well.

Rail meeting changes location

Friday, December 03, 2010

Meeting on high-speed rail study scheduled for Madison - LOCATION CHANGE

Open house meeting to focus on passenger rail between Milwaukee and Twin Cities

The Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Transportation are announcing a change in location of the open house meeting for the Milwaukee to Twin Cities high-speed rail study.

The meeting is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, December 7, 2010. The open house will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 4402 East Washington Avenue, Madison.

Attendees will have the opportunity to share thoughts on possible routes and environmental impacts for high-speed passenger rail between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities.

The Crowne Plaza is accessible to wheelchair. To request an interpreter for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, please contact the Wisconsin Telecommunication Relay System (dial 711). Ask the communication assistant to contact Alyssa Macy of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation at (414) 220-6802.

For more information, contact:
Alyssa Macy, High Speed Rail Program
(414) 220-6802,

Wisconsin Cannot Afford to Ignore Rising Coal Prices

Thursday, December 02, 2010

For immediate release

More information
RENEW Wisconsin
Michael Vickerman

Wisconsin Cannot Afford to Ignore Rising Coal Prices

Long-considered an inexpensive and reliable fuel source, coal has become subject to market and regulatory pressures that threaten to make it an expensive and risky way to generate electricity, according to national news reports and pertinent utility filings with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC).

“The expectation of continued increases in coal prices reinforces the value of relying on Wisconsin’s own energy resources. If there’s an effort to find savings for utility customers, the logical move would be to shutter antiquated coal plants before they become more of a liability,” said Michael Vickerman, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide, nonprofit renewable energy advocacy organization.

A key driver behind coal’s rising cost is China, which has moved from an exporter to an importer of coal. The New York Times (NYT) reported last week that Chinese coal imports will hit all-time highs for November and December of this year. Some of this coal is coming from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, the coal field that also supplies many Wisconsin power plants.1

In the New York Times story, an executive from Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, predicted that his company will send larger and larger quantities of coal to China in the coming years.

Further adding to the upward price pressure on coal is the rising cost of diesel fuel. The PSC has estimated that half of the delivered cost of coal in Wisconsin is attributable to rail shipment, that is highly sensitive to the price of diesel fuel, which sells for 38 cents more per gallon than it did a year ago, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.2 Tom Whipple, editor of the Peak Oil Review, expects diesel fuel supplies to tighten in 2011 as a consequence of flat production volumes and increasing demand from Asia.3 This phenomenon could affect Wisconsin electric utility rates as early as January 2011, according to Vickerman.

We Energies’ coal costs have escalated by $57 million, of which transportation costs account for almost $33 million, according to the utility’s most recent rate filing with the PSC. On top of that, We Energies expects to pay an additional $8 million in oil surcharge costs.4

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300 years of fossil fuel addiction explained in just FIVE MINUTES!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010