Archive for December, 2010

Say no to revving up rickety reactors

Posted on December 29, 2010. Filed under: Nuclear |

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.

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A few turbine installations in northeastern Wisconsin

Posted on December 28, 2010. Filed under: Wind |

RENEW’s executive director Michael Vickerman did more than attend the Packer’s victory over the New York Giants last Sunday. He also toured a few of the area’s turbine installations.Turbines in the 129 megawatt Forward Wind Project, near Brownsville, stand behind a Christmas-decorated home.

A rural cemetary frames the two tubrines of We Energies in the Town of Byron, just south of Fond du Lac.
The Menasha Corporation gets electricity from five Wisconsin-built turbines next to one of the company’s packaging facilities.

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Wind siting rules clear legislature

Posted on December 27, 2010. Filed under: Economic development, Wind | Tags: , |

The legislative review period is over; the wind siting rule survived Wednesday’s ambush and emerged unscathed. The rule now proceeds to the revisor’s office for publication, and will appear on the books in time for January 1, 2011.

Come the new year, some 3 1/2 half years after we started rolling this particular boulder up the hill, there will be a statewide rule in place for permitting wind generators.

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Wisconsin utilities continue progress toward renewable energy standar

Posted on December 22, 2010. Filed under: Digesters, Energy Policy, Renewable energy - generally, Solar, Wind | Tags: , , , |

From a news release issued by the Public Service Commissiion of Wisconsin:

MADISON – Two reports released today by the Public Service commission of Wisconsin (PSC) indicate that Wisconsin’s electric utilities and cooperatives continue to make steady progress in adding renewable energy to the state’s energy supplies. All of the electric providers meet or exceed state requirements and many offer incentives to customers who want to generate their own renewable electricity.

Renewable Portfolio Standard Compliance

Wisconsiin’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) law requires retail electric providers to produce 66 percent of the state’s eelectricity from renewable resources by the year 2010, and 110 percent by 2015. each year, Wisconsin utilities and cooperatives are required to report to the PSC their progress in meeting thee renewable milestones.  Today the PSC released the 2009 RPS compliance Report which indicates:

+  All 118 Wisconsin electric providers met their RPS requirement for 2009;
+ 113 providers exceeded their requirements for the year, creating excess renewable resource credits that can be banked and used for compliance in future years; and,
+ In 2009, 6.29 percent of the electricity sold by the state’s utilities and cooperatives was generated from renewable resources, up from 4.90 percent in 2008.

Distributed Renewable Generation

PSC also released a status report on its investigation into “advanced a term renewable tariffs,” a term used to describe long-term contracts whereby utilities and cooperatives offer to purchase electricity at premium prices from customers who generate electricity from small, renewable systems such as solar panels.  Highlights of the status report include:

+ More than 300 of Wisconssin’s electric providers, representing about 90% of the state’ s electricity market, have voluntarily offered this kind of incentive;
+ Customers have responded by installing more than 10 MW of small, distributed capacity utilizing biogas (from manure digesters on farms), solar panels, and wind turbines; and,
+ An additional 8.2 MW off generation capacity, mostly from biogas projects, is under construction and will soon be generating electricity.

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Grant program passed, thousands of renewable energy jobs saved

Posted on December 21, 2010. Filed under: Biomass, Digesters, Economic development, Energy Policy, Solar, Wind | Tags: , , , |

From an article in Renewable Energy World:

Washington, D.C. — In typical fashion, the U.S. Congress passed a suite of last-minute tax laws last night, including an extension of the Treasury Grant Program (TGP) for renewable energy project developers.

Trade groups in Washington have been pushing hard for an extension of the program, which provides a cash payment of up to 30% of equipment costs in place of the Investment Tax Credit. The grant program was responsible for a large portion of the renewable energy projects built throughout the U.S. in 2010. Originally passed as part of the 2009 stimulus package, the TGP was supposed to expire at the end of December.

Because there are still a limited number of financial institutions able to finance projects by taking advantage of tax credits, the TGP has opened up new sources of capital for project developers. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the grant program spurred over 1,100 solar projects and $18 billion dollars of investment in 2010.

“This program has successfully created thousands of jobs and opportunity in all 50 states for construction workers, electricians, plumbers, contractors that have struggled in this harsh economic climate,” said SEIA President Rhone Resch in a statement.

While the wind industry saw a significant drop in installations compared to 2009, the grant program helped keep thousands of MW on the table for 2010 and 2011. American Wind Energy Association CEO Denise Bode projected a loss of tens of thousands of wind jobs in 2011 without an extension of the TGP.

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WPS will buy electricity from landfill-gas-to-energy project

Posted on December 20, 2010. Filed under: Biomass, Energy Policy, Landfill Gas |

From a news release issued by Veolia Energy North America:

HILBERT, Wis.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Veolia Energy North America, a leading operator and developer of sustainable energy systems, announced its first landfill gas-to-energy project (LFGTE) in the United States at the Veolia Environmental Services North America Hickory Meadows landfill, located in eastern Wisconsin. The project, slated to commence operation in early summer 2011, will have the initial capacity to generate 42,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity per year, enough to power 2,800 homes.

“We are delighted to begin construction of our first renewable energy facility in North America”

Once complete, the 4.8-megawatt (MW) electrical generation facility will include three landfill reciprocating engine generator sets with a capacity of 1.6 MW each, fueled exclusively by the landfill gas. Landfill gas, which is normally burned off, will be captured and sent via the landfill’s existing gas collection system to the facility, where it will be transformed into electricity.

“We are delighted to begin construction of our first renewable energy facility in North America,” said Stewart A. Wood, President and CEO of Veolia Energy North America. “Veolia Energy is committed to maximizing environmental sustainability through a reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels and the introduction of renewable resources into the energy mix, and I am pleased that this project will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the people of Wisconsin.”

Veolia Energy has entered into a power purchase agreement with Wisconsin Public Service (WPS), the primary electricity and gas provider for northeastern Wisconsin residents. Upon completion, WPS will purchase all of the power generated by the plant, along with the Renewable Energy Credits associated with the energy output.

As part of the 2005 Wisconsin Act 141, Wisconsin established a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), requiring utilities to meet a gradually increasing percentage of retail sales with qualified renewable sources with the goal of providing 10% of the state’s retail energy needs from renewable resources by 2015. In addition to its environmental benefits, landfill gas qualifies as an eligible resource under Wisconsin’s RPS. The Hickory Meadow landfill gas-to-energy project will help WPS meet its RPS requirements.

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

Posted on December 17, 2010. Filed under: Biomass, Digesters | Tags: , |

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.

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Focus on Energy feels the heat

Posted on December 16, 2010. Filed under: Economic development, Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy | Tags: , , , , |

Though the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance approved funding for Focus on Energy, an article by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel describes Republican reservations about the program:

Lawmaker calls for audit; business groups against added funds
With a decision possible Tuesday [December 14] on an increase in funding for the state Focus on Energy program, a lawmaker called for an audit of the energy efficiency initiative and several business groups came out against what they criticized as “a $340 million energy tax hike.”

Business groups including Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, the Wisconsin Paper Council, Midwest Food Processors Association and the Wisconsin chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses issued a letter opposing increased funding for energy efficiency.

“Energy conservation and efficiency is a great idea, which is why so many businesses, like paper companies, already do it,” said Ed Wilusz, vice president of government relations for the Wisconsin Paper Council, in a statement. “But the existing state program appears to be working well. We doubt that the massive spending increase called for in this proposal is necessary or would be effective.”

Supporters of energy efficiency say it’s the least-cost alternative to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and a way to help the state postpone costlier expenses like investments in power plants.

The opposition by business groups comes even though large manufacturers in Wisconsin are exempt under state law from paying more to the Focus on Energy program.

The Focus on Energy program is funded through a surcharge on most customers’ electric bills. Under the PSC proposal, funding would ramp up over the next four years, raising $20 million more than current levels in 2011 and $60 million more in 2012. The increase would result in an average rate increase of 0.2% in 2011 for utility customers, and 0.7% in 2012.

Increases in funding are also proposed for 2013 and 2014 under the PSC proposal that will be reviewed Tuesday by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Allouez) said Monday he wants the Legislative Audit Bureau to conduct an audit of Focus on Energy before lawmakers agree to an increase in funding.

“Our economy is still in bad shape, and families and businesses in our state are hurting,” he said in a statement. “We need to make sure that this program is providing the benefits that it claims it is before we agree to add more funding.”

Although not audited by the Legislative Audit Bureau, the Focus on Energy program is audited regularly by independent consulting firms.

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Lawmakers back plan to scale up energy efficiency

Posted on December 15, 2010. Filed under: Economic development, Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy | Tags: , , , , |

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

In a vote along party lines, the Joint Finance Committee adopted a proposal on Tuesday to collect more money from utility ratepayers in order to expand the incentives to make businesses and homes more energy efficient.

The higher spending is projected to deliver savings to utility customers as they take advantage of stepped-up incentives to reduce energy waste, according to projections by the state Public Service Commission and the energy-efficiency research group Energy Center of Wisconsin.

The proposal will enable the PSC to collect more money on electricity bills beginning in 2011. The $20 million increase in 2011 will raise $120 million for the state’s Focus on Energy program. Further increases would boost that to $160 million in 2012, $204 million in 2013 and $256 million in 2014.

The PSC projected the increase would result in a 0.2% increase in electric bills in 2011, and that by 2013 bills would be 0.6% higher than current levels. The forecast assumes the average customer would then start to see savings on electricity bills that would drop the average customer’s bill by 1% from today’s levels by 2016.

For a typical We Energies customer now paying $99.53 a month, that would mean an increase of 20 cents a month in 2011 and another 40 cents a month in 2012, but bills on average would fall by nearly $1 a month by 2016 as homeowners take advantage of bigger efficiency incentives.

Rates for large factories and paper mills would not rise. They are exempt from paying more into the Focus on Energy program under state law.

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Sierra Club urges Joint Finance Committee to support increased energy efficiency investments

Posted on December 14, 2010. Filed under: Economic development, Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Focus on Energy/Public Benefits, General, Utility rates | Tags: , , |

From a news release issued by the Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter:

Madison: The Joint Finance Committee will consider the Public Service Commission’s (PSC) recent recommendation to increase Focus On Energy Funding today in the State Capitol. The PSC recently voted to
increase investment in Focus on Energy (FOE) and set new goals that together would decrease energy use 1.5 percent annually by 2014.

The Sierra Club strongly supports this common-sense investment in energy efficiency that will create thousands of jobs and save customers money on their utility bills. For every dollar invested in energy efficiency, homeowners and businesses have saved around $3. FOE has created over 16,000 jobs and saved homeowners and businesses over $275,000,000 since its inception in 2000.

Under the proposed Focus on Energy investment, ratepayers can expect to save about $15 per month on their energy bills over the next 4 years. Increasing Wisconsin’s commitment to energy efficiency programs will also create at least 4,000 jobs each year. Approving goal-based increases in energy efficiency will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

“Creating goal-based energy efficiency funding for Focus on Energy will create thousands of jobs and decrease the $16 billion we sent to other states to fuel our energy needs in 2008,” said Shahla M. Werner, PhD, Director, Sierra Club John Muir Chapter. “Supporting the Public Service Commission’s ecommendations will clean up Wisconsin’s air and create thousands of jobs at a time when our economy most needs this type of forward-thinking invest investment,” said Caryl Terrell, Energy Efficiency Team Chair, Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter.

The Sierra Club strongly disputes the negative claims by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. There is a key provision for industrial users that caps contributions at 2005 levels, and investing in efficient equipment protects industries from price spikes. Independent analysis also shows that although rates may go up with increased energy
efficiency investment, bills go down. The Sierra Club urges the media to check the claims of the opposition.

“Examining their shaky claims will reveal that the facts related to real Wisconsin jobs, real energy savings, and real reduced operating costs are with us,” added Werner.

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