Archive for October, 2008

MG&E adds wind power, expands Green Power Tomorrow program

Posted on October 31, 2008. Filed under: Wind |

From a media release issued by MG&E:

Madison, Wis., Oct. 31, 2008—Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) increased wind power capacity by more than 12 times in 2008 as four new wind farms in Wisconsin and Iowa began production. The most recent addition to MGE’s renewable energy portfolio is a 10-year agreement with Osceola Wind Power II, LLC, a subsidiary of FPL Energy, to purchase 50 megawatts of wind energy.

“With strong customer support, MGE increased wind capacity from 11 to 137 megawatts this year alone,” said Gary J. Wolter, MGE chairman, president and CEO. “This exceeds the goal in our Energy 2015 plan, which set out to increase renewable energy up to ten fold.”

The latest green power comes from FPL Energy’s Endeavor II Wind Energy Center in northwest Iowa (Osceola and Dickinson counties), an area with some of the most robust wind resources in the Midwest. The new facility started operation this week.

Renewable energy is expected to account for more than 12% of MGE’s total energy supply in 2009, up from 1.6% in 2007. The additional wind energy allows continued expansion of MGE’s Green Power Tomorrow program. About 10% of MGE’s residential customers participate in the program, the highest rate of all investor-owned utilities in the United States.

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Wind projects proposed in Wisconsin

Posted on October 30, 2008. Filed under: Wind |

Click on either image to enlarge.

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Madison approves renewable energy ordinance

Posted on October 29, 2008. Filed under: General |

RENEW’s Michael Vickerman spoke in favor of an ordinance making wind and solar installations permitted uses in the city of Madison. A media release issued by Satya Rhodes-Conway confirms a yes vote by the Council:

Yesterday, Madison’s City Council passed an ordinance amendment, sponsored by Alders Satya Rhodes-Conway, Marsha Rummel and Brian Solomon, that makes solar and wind energy systems “permitted accessory uses” under Madison’s Zoning Code. The change will also update City codes to reflect current technology and practices.

“Madison residents are really creative and dedicated when it comes to sustainability and preserving our environment,” said Ald. Rhodes-Conway, the lead sponsor of the amendment. “This is a small, but important, change that will make it easier to install renewable energy systems.”

Under this ordinance amendment, residents will be able to install solar and wind energy systems on their homes just like they can put in a storage shed or garage.

“Many Madisonians choose to install solar systems to lower their utility bills,” said Ald. Rummel. “We want to encourage them to do so.”

All solar and wind projects will still need to comply with existing City rules – for example, they will need building and other applicable permits. Projects incorporating solar or wind as one component of the project will still be subject to all the normal reviews.

“This is just one small way for the City to support renewable energy,” said Ald. Solomon. “I hope that it will lead to more solar systems in Madison.”

The ordinance includes restrictions on the height of wind turbines on
towers: They must be set back from lot lines at least as much as their height or have an easement from the adjoining property.

After the vote, Vickerman said:

The City Attorney’s office started working on the amendments in May, drafts of which were then reviewed and revised over the summer by a host of city committees (Sustainable Design and Energy, Planning, Urban Design and Landmarks). Over the course of committee review, the definition of wind energy was changed to incorporate the recommended dimensions and setbacks in the Focus on Energy model ordinance for small wind systems. With last night’s vote those recommendations became official in the City of Madison. So the passage of this ordinance amendment represents a real step forward for the Focus on Energy renewable energy program.

Cerainly this victory could not have happened but for the strong support of Mayor Cieslewicz. But there were a number of individuals who deserve credit for shaping this zoning amendment, shepherding it through the committee review process, and steering it through the shoals of the City Council, which, as last night’s discussion and debate showed, can be treacherous waters. They include Jeanne Hoffman, Kitty Noonan, and Kay Schindel from the City, the sponsors on the City Council (Satya Rhodes-Conway, Marsha Rummel and Brian Solomon), and the Sustainable Design and Energy committee members who showed up last night to speak in support of this initiative (Sherrie Gruder, Pete Taglia and myself). Everyone’s contribution counted.

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Energy efficient renewable homes: Cheaper to build, sell higher

Posted on October 28, 2008. Filed under: Green Building, Solar |

From a paper published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory:

The data support the conclusion that SheaHomes [the builder of the zero energy home] was able to deliver highly energy-efficient homes equipped with solar water heating systems, 39% of which also included a GPV [grid-tied photovoltaic] system at a competitive price. In fact, despite their quality and amenities, the SheaHomes cost less per square foot than their competitors’. . . .

The increase in value for the SheaHomes averaged $227,592. The highest resale price was $930,000 for a home with a 1.2 kW PV system owned for 23 months. The increase in SheaHomes resale prices were proportionally higher than were those of nearby 6 comparison homes resold in the same time period.

And from an article by Michael Copeland on

Home systems are still rare, so their value is difficult to assess, but home appraisers follow this general rule of thumb: Half the gross cost can be recouped in the home sales price as soon as it is installed. True, that’s well below the recovery rates for kitchens and bathrooms (which range from 70 to 90 percent), but your kitchen doesn’t pay the power bills.

And solar’s ability to lower energy costs also adds value. A study in Appraisal Journal found that for every utility-bill dollar saved annually because of an improvement, you gain $10 to $20 in property value. So if you can zero out a $1,000 annual electric tab by installing solar, you’ll get back $10,000 to $20,000 in home value.

And one more article by Adam Aston in Business Week:

The appeal of solar homes could grow as the economic outlook worsens. The more utility bills cut into household reserves, “the more consumers recognize the value of efficiency,” says Robert W. Hammon, principal of ConSol, a green building consulting firm. And there’s growing consumer awareness that solar homes appreciate faster than ordinary dwellings. They also resell for a premium of up to 5%.

According to Ben Hoen, a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who studies the effects of eco-features on real estate values, more homeowners now see solar panels as a long-term asset . . . .

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A new gold rush for Wisconsin wood?

Posted on October 25, 2008. Filed under: Biomass |

From an article by Chad Dally in The Daily Press (Ashland):

While the Industrial Revolution changed the foundations of the United States’ economy, the dependence on fossil fuels to spur it along created the need a century later for what some have dubbed a “bio-based revolution” emphasizing the use of alternative and renewable energy as the foundation of the future.

Within Wisconsin’s 16 million acres of public and private forest land there lies a key piece of that renewable energy future in woody biomass collecting throughout the forest floor. The tops of trees, branches and other dispersed, gnarly bunches of slash that loggers previously left in the woods is attracting more and more commercial attention for its possible usage as wood pellets for heat and power, and fuel for utility company boilers.

But is there enough? Consider some of the competitors for the resource:

• There are at least seven pellet plants in the state and Superior Wood Products is hopeful it will receive permits needed to construct its own pellet plant in Ino, located in Bayfield County. The company aims to produce 100,000 oven-dried tons of pellets each year, which could generate up to 4,775 kilowatt hours (kWh), according to the company’s Web site.

To produce the pellets – and the heat to dry wood that becomes a pellet – the company will need about 200,000 tons of green wood, said Don Peterson of Renewable Resource Solutions, a consulting firm assisting Superior Wood Products.

• Northern States Power’s Bay Front plant in Ashland will convert a coal-fired boiler to one using wood waste to create synthetic gas. If the plant comes online in 2012 as expected, the plant will nearly double its use of woody biomass, from 200,000 tons to between 330,000 and 360,000, said Dave Donovan, Xcel’s manager of regulatory policy.

• Flambeau River Biofuels in Park Falls obtained a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy toward a plant that will convert 1,900 tons of forest residue into 40 million gallons of fuel and 2 trillion Btu of heat and power.

• Even schools like Glidden in Ashland County have installed wood-fired boilers to help offset their energy needs with renewable fuel.

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Both McCain, Obama encourage use of renewable fuels

Posted on October 24, 2008. Filed under: Energy Policy, General |

From a story by Jason Stein in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Michael Vickerman sees a strong reason why Wisconsin residents ought to want alternatives to fuels like oil, coal and natural gas.

Every dollar spent on those traditional fuels leaves the state, said Vickerman, executive director of the clean energy group Renew Wisconsin in Madison. By switching to abundant local sources like wind and solar energy or products such as papermaking waste, manure, grasses and grains, that money could stay here, he said.

“We’ve built up a system that’s fed from outside Wisconsin, not from within,” he said. With renewables, “we’d have more control over our energy and economic destiny.”

Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain both say they want to help the economy and guard against climate change by encouraging the use of more renewables as well as finding more domestic sources and cleaner uses of traditional fuels. But falling oil and natural gas prices in recent weeks could add to that challenge by making it more difficult for alternatives to compete economically.

McCain supports an “all of the above” energy policy that emphasizes more renewables along with building 45 nuclear plants nationwide by 2030 and investing $2 billion a year in clean coal technology. He opposed a federal ban on offshore oil drilling that recently expired.

Obama wants to invest $150 billion over 10 years in renewables, clean coal and other green alternatives, a strategy he said would lead to the creation of millions of jobs. He said he’s open to nuclear energy as well as allowing offshore oil drilling as part of a comprehensive energy package.

The candidates’ stances could make a difference in Wisconsin’s economy and environment.

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Cassville power plant gets new foe

Posted on October 22, 2008. Filed under: Biomass, Generation Plants, Wind | Tags: , , |

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

A manufacturers group that has supported construction of coal-fired power plants said Friday that it objects to construction of a coal-fired plant in southwestern Wisconsin.

AdvertisementConstruction costs have been rising for the project, which Alliant Energy Corp. estimates at $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion.

That’s too costly for ratepayers, the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group said.

The power plant “is not needed today (or tomorrow), and it is much, much too expensive,” the group said in a filing late Friday with state regulators.

But Alliant, in its filing, said the economic benefits — including construction jobs and the establishment of a biofuels market and economy in southwest Wisconsin — would bring value to the state.

“These are challenging economic times. So now, more than ever, this is the right plant for Wisconsin and WPL’s customers,” Alliant subsidiary Wisconsin Power & Light Co. said.

The Public Service Commission is expected to decide the fate of the plant in November.

Alliant was not surprised that the manufacturers group came out against the plant, given the questions it had posed, spokesman Rob Crain said.

“Obviously, we would rather have had their support,” Crain said, “but I don’t think that’s going to make or break the case.”

One key manufacturer that belongs to the group, Mercury Marine of Fond du Lac, has endorsed the Alliant plan, Crain said.

The plant is controversial because it represents a new coal-fired power plant and more emissions of carbon dioxide — the leading greenhouse gas — at a time of growing concern about global warming. The environmental group Clean Wisconsin and the ratepayer group Citizens Utility Board have opposed the plant since it was announced.

Alliant has won support from farm and some wildlife groups for its plan to use wood, switchgrass and other forms of biomass for up to 20% of the plant’s production.

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The Cost of Lost Opportunities: The Bailout, the War, and Renewable Energy

Posted on October 20, 2008. Filed under: General |

From an article by Paul Gipe:

While the renewable energy industry in the U.S. celebrates a rare victory — winning an eight-year extension of its federal tax subsidies — no one should forget what we’ve lost.

Forget for a moment the recurring costs of an inflated defense budget. Chalmers Johnson has tallied those. Let’s look at the two biggest items, the ones that stand out so strikingly: the war in Iraq and the recent financial bailout.

Much has been written about the lost opportunities from the enormous expense of the Iraq war. But few yet have tallied what we’re missing when combining the cost of both the war and the recent bailout. At last count, the direct costs of the war in Iraq passed $550 billion. The bank bailout is budgeted at $700 billion. We’re on the hook for nearly $1.3 trillion!

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Ten year forecast: 700 turbines, 1,000 MW

Posted on October 20, 2008. Filed under: General |

From an article by Brian Clark posted on

Wisconsin has a long history of using wind-energy to pump water on the state’s plentiful farms and dairies — but not to produce electricity for the grid.

That changed a decade ago, when two big wind turbines were installed by four utilities near Green Bay as a demonstration project for the state’s Public Service Commission.

The following year, 33 turbines went up in Fond du Lac and Kewaunee counties. And two years later, the Montfort project was built on land owned by several farmers west of Dodgeville. The project featured 20 GE wind turbines, producing 30 megawatts of energy.

When the blades of these tall machines are all spinning, they produce 52 MW – enough to supply electricity to roughly 10,000 homes – said Michael Vickerman, head of RENEW Wisconsin, a 17-year-old group based in Madison that lobbies for wind, solar and other forms of clean energy.

For seven years, no new commercial wind farms were built. Energy companies paused, Vickerman said, to work out the bugs, see what legislators would do to promote their efforts and determine if their turbines would make money.

The state now has two more wind farms in Fond du Lac and Dodge counties that opened just this year. They are the 145-MW Blue Sky Green Field We Energies project and the 86-MW Forward Wind Energy Center near Horicon Marsh. Together, they can supply electricity to at least 50,000 homes.

Two more are under construction that will add another 122 MW this year for a total of 449 MW in the state. The industry is continuing to pick up speed with another 10 Wisconsin projects having received permits from state, local and federal agencies. And a recent PSC report looked into the possibility of off-shore wind farms, finding them to be potentially feasible down the road.

Some of these new turbines stand nearly 400 feet tall when their blades are included. Set in fields of corn, they look like giants marching across the landscape.

“They have to be big in order to produce volumes of electricity that matter to utilities,” said Vickerman, who called wind a “remarkable resource… that produces a very impressive amount of energy.”

Vickerman said the big push is due to increases in the state’s renewable standard, which now calls for Wisconsin to get 10 percent of its energy from alternative energy sources. And the governor’s Global Warming Task Force is pushing for an increase to 25 percent by 2025.

Though there have been hitches in recent years, he lauded utilities for investing in wind energy. More wind farms — which he said produce electricity for a price that is competitive with new coal-fired plants — will be added, he predicted, thanks in part to the recent congressional renewal of tax credits for turbines.

Vickerman forecasts that Wisconsin will have a total of 700 wind turbines, producing 1,000 MW of power, in a decade.

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Madeline Island looks to energy independence

Posted on October 17, 2008. Filed under: Wind |

From an article by Chad Dally in The Daily Press (Ashland, WI):

As the two presidential candidates posit who has the best plan to steer the United States away from foreign oil and toward alternative energy, Madeline Island residents aren’t waiting to find out.

What started as discussion about energy independence will take another step forward next month with the installation of a meteorological tower designed to determine the island’s capacity for producing wind power.

The roughly 160-foot tower, which is on track to be up and running Nov. 1 within Big Bay State Park, will remain standing for one year to give stakeholders enough data to pass along to potential developers interested in making the investment. Generating wind power on the island could conceivably offset increasing future costs of fossil fuel-based power, which is one reason to explore the island’s wind potential, said Alan Fischlowitz, vice-chairman of the island’s ad hoc Alternative Energy Committee.

But Fischlowitz said another part of the committee’s mission is to investigate and make available to residents, business owners or potential developers the technology on a smaller scale — technology that “could function for a homeowner to replace his dependence on Xcel Energy with his own wind machine,” he said.

The committee already completed the first phase of the project, examining four sites — two near the shoreline and two farther inland — through the use of computer modeling compiled by Focus on Energy and other agencies.

The problem, said committee chair Burke Henry, is that the computer modeling was largely based on extrapolations from two other modeling sites in Cornucopia and Hurley. Plus, those assessments were completed five or six years ago. Both factors contribute to possible errors, or at least amount to incomplete information about wind potential specifically on the island.

Erecting its own meteorological tower “is really necessary to show what the errors might be in that model,” Henry said.

Funding for the tower, which is the second phase of the project, came from sources like Focus on Energy, a $2,500 grant from the state Office of Energy Independence, anonymous donors, the Apostle Islands Area Community Fund, and others.

Fischlowitz also said they were able to partner with the Bad River Tribe to use a tower the Tribe is decommissioning after its own feasibility studies into wind power.

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