Clean Air

Small projects have wind in their sails

Posted on November 28, 2011. Filed under: Clean Air, Climate change, Energy independence, Wind | Tags: , , |

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

Companies working toward energy independence

The stalled state of wind farm development in Wisconsin has led to little development activity for large wind farms.

But on a much smaller scale, wind projects are moving ahead as companies fulfill commitments to environmental and energy independence.

In western Wisconsin, Organic Valley Cooperative and Gundersen Lutheran Health System have broken ground on a two-turbine wind project that will generate enough power to offset the energy use for Organic Valley’s corporate headquarters and distribution center, as well as meet 5% of Gundersen Lutheran’s energy needs.

In southeastern Wisconsin, S.C. Johnson & Son has proposed building two or three turbines that would generate 1.5 megawatts of power each. If the plans proceed on schedule, the turbines would be erected next year.

The co-op and health care system project, Cashton Greens, calls for roads and foundations for the $9.9 million project to be completed this fall, with the turbines scheduled for installation in spring 2012, said Cecil Wright, Organic Valley’s director of sustainability.

When completed, the turbines will generate about 12 million kilowatt-hours a year.

It’s a boost to a brand that has the word “organic” in its name, but this is about more than conveying a green image, Wright said.

“One of the main reasons we did is that it’ll help manage and fix our costs,” Wright said. “We’re not just doing it because it’s a nice thing to do. The higher the price of electricity goes up, the better we’ll do at paying off our project quicker, and that’ll be a profit center for us,” he said.

“In addition to providing renewable energy to Cashton and Organic Valley, the wind turbines will serve as a ‘living lab’ for research and education for students at Western Technical College,” Wright said.

Windmills and more
At S.C. Johnson, the wind proposal is the latest in a string of distributed generation and renewable energy initiatives for the company, which uses landfill methane gas to generate energy for the factory. The Waxdale factory will be able to produce 100% of its electricity on-site, with 60% of it from renewable sources, said Christopher Beard, S.C. Johnson spokesman.

The reasons for the projects are many – everything from a desire for energy security to a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions linked to energy use and a platform to showcase their brands as environmentally friendly.

“Both of those projects show that customers are demanding and making clean energy happen,” said Lee Cullen, a Madison energy lawyer who has been working with clients in the wind-energy sector. “There’s a groundswell of renewable energy production that’s happening because people understand its importance.”

Beard said the S.C. Johnson wind project “helps us address the fact that consumers are asking for products that are green and products that have been produced in a sustainable way. Manufacturing our products using on-site sustainable energy helps meet that consumer demand,” Beard said.

Projects to erect wind turbines and solar panels needs to be complemented with efforts to slash energy waste from a company’s buildings and production processes, said Tom Eggert, who runs the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council.

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Utilities warn of higher rates because of pollution rules

Posted on August 24, 2011. Filed under: Carbon, Clean Air, Climate change, Coal, Utility rates |

From an article by Tom Content published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on August 19:

Two state utilities said this week new federal pollution rules will lead to higher electricity costs come January.

Wisconsin Public Service Corp. of Green Bay said its residential customers can expect an increase of more than $4 a month next year, including about $2 linked to the new rules designed to limit air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The utility said it would see higher costs of about $32.6 million in 2012 from the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule that was finalized recently by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That will result in rates going up by 6.8% instead of 3.4%, the utility said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month finalized stronger regulations for Wisconsin and 26 other states aimed at curbing air pollution from long-distance sources.

Environmental groups praised the new rule because it would reduce acid rain and air pollution as well as help curb health effects from dirty air linked to coal plants. The EPA projected the rule will save up to 34,000 lives a year and prevent more than 400,000 asthma attacks as well as 19,000 admissions to hospitals. . .

The new rule has been in development for several years but the first phase of compliance hits utilities in 2012. WPS said it won’t have time to install pollution controls by next year at its plants, but will be able to comply by purchasing credits from other utilities that have cut emissions.

The utility also said it plans to operate its coal plants less next year than it otherwise would have, and will buy more power from the Midwest wholesale power market as a result, a move that it said is also a factor in higher costs for customers. . . .

On Thursday [August 18], Wisconsin Power & Light Co. [Alliant] of Madison said it would face an additional $9 million in costs linked to the air pollution rule. With the change, the utility is now seeking an increase in 2012 of $20 million, or 2%, utility finance manager Martin Seitz said in a filing with state regulators.

Todd Stuart, executive director of the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, criticized the increases, and he noted that large energy users like paper mills will see higher than average increases, compared with homeowners and small businesses. Paper mills served by WPS could see a 9% hike, he said. . . .

“Industry always cries wolf whenever EPA tries to reduce air pollution,” said Katie Nekola, lawyer with the conservation group Clean Wisconsin. “The fact is, the new rule will affect old, inefficient, unnecessary coal plants that should have been shut down long ago. The continued operation of those old units is costing ratepayers money, but you don’t hear industry complaining about that.”

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Colorado regulators vote for Xcel to shut 6 coal-fired plants

Posted on December 8, 2010. Filed under: Clean Air, Coal, Generation Plants |

From an article by Mark Jaffe in the Denver Post:

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission voted Monday to shut six aging Front Range coal-fired power units and allow Xcel Energy to replace them with a new $530 million gas-fired plant.

Pollution controls, with a $340 million price tag, also were approved for the coal-burning Pawnee plant near Brush and the Hayden plant.

The commission still must decide what to do with the largest coal-burning plant in the Denver area — the Cherokee 4 unit.

“Cherokee 4 is the largest source of air pollution in the Denver area, and it needs to be shut,” said John Nielson, energy-program director for the environmental-policy group Western Resource Advocates.

The closures, which will occur between 2011 and 2017, are part of Xcel’s proposal to meet the state Clean Air- Clean Jobs Act, which seeks to cut nitrogen-oxide pollution by 70 to 80 percent.

Xcel would receive accelerated cost recovery for the investments in a comprehensive plan to cut pollution under the law.

The state is out of compliance with federal clean-air health standards and has to submit a plan next year to the Environmental Protection Agency showing steps to cut pollution.

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Utilities building dozens of old-style coal plants

Posted on August 26, 2010. Filed under: Clean Air, Climate change, Coal | Tags: , , |

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wood chips may pose problems when Charter Street plant converts to biomass

Posted on August 9, 2010. Filed under: Biomass, Clean Air, Coal, Wood |

From an article by Jessica VanEgeren in The Capital Times:

For decades, pollution spewed from factories and power plants across Wisconsin.

As a result, air and water became polluted. Now it seems, so did the trees.

At a time when state-owned power plants are ditching coal and going green by including biomass such as switch grass, compost, and wood chips into the fuel mix, it is becoming evident that even trees may release harmful chemicals when burned for energy.

“We have so much mercury in our air that you do see mercury in the wood from our trees,” says Jennifer Feyerherm of the Sierra Club’s Midwest office and its national Beyond Coal Campaign. “The air was polluted for so long that our ecosystem has absorbed the pollution. When wood is burned, the mercury is going to come out.”

Burning anything but coal or other fossil fuels appears to be such a new concept that the Environmental Protection Agency is only beginning to catch up. Earlier this summer, the EPA began efforts to update the Clean Air Act by releasing preliminary, first-of-a-kind numbers on what sort of pollution, if any, is emitted from burning biofuels. An early finding: Burning too many wood chips can release too much mercury into the air.

With construction soon to begin to convert the Charter Street Heating Plant, the largest state-owned power plant, from a coal-fired power facility to one that primarily burns biomass, state officials are paying attention to what is happening in Washington.

“To ignore what is going on (at the EPA) … is to do so at our own peril,” says John Melby, air management bureau director with the Department of Natural Resources. “After spending $250 million on the Charter Street facility, we don’t want to be violating EPA rules.”

While Melby says he “does know that mercury may be an issue with tree bark,” he and other state officials question the thoroughness of the EPA’s methods. In short, Melby and others believe different sizes of boilers need to be tested along with varying amounts of wood chips and other wood products before the EPA updates the Clean Air Act.

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

Posted on August 6, 2010. Filed under: Biomass, Carbon, Clean Air, Climate change, Coal, Wood |

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

It’s not easy going green.

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

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

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

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

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Babies and cats want Clean Energy Jobs Act passed; 25% renewables by 2025

Posted on April 21, 2010. Filed under: Clean Air, Climate change, Economic development, Energy Policy |

The video is one of eight in Wisconsin Environment’s Clean Energy Jobs Act Video Contest.

From a news release issued by Wisconsin Environment:

Vote for your favorite in the Clean Energy Jobs Act Video Contest

Madison – As the legislature considers the Clean Energy Jobs Act, citizens from across Wisconsin have created short videos to show why our state should pursue a clean energy future. The video submissions were entered into a contest sponsored by Wisconsin Environment.

“Wisconsin’s citizens know we can achieve a clean energy future,” said Dan Kohler, Wisconsin Environment Director. “Legislators should watch these videos to get a sense of the passion people have for getting off our dependence on fossil fuels and harnessing clean technologies to clean our air.”

The video contest will be decided through online voting happening through April 21st at the Wisconsin Environment website. The winner will be announced on Earth Day, April 22nd.

Vote now for the winner:

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UW biomass power plant a gamble for state

Posted on January 19, 2010. Filed under: Biomass, Clean Air, Coal |

From an article by Lee Bergquist and Thomas Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

A state-funded, $250 million project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison aims to convert a coal-fired power plant on campus to one that primarily burns biomass such as tree trimmings and crops, ideally becoming a model for how the state can reduce its carbon output and its dependence on fossil fuels.

But the massive venture – accounting for nearly one-fifth of the state’s capital budget during the 2009-’11 budget period – faces considerable hurdles. Among them:

• Upfront construction costs will be higher than other alternatives that were considered.

• No infrastructure exists to process the eclectic mix of fuels the plant would burn.

• The plant’s surplus electricity will be sold into a regional market already awash in excess power.

The plant, built in the 1950s, is being converted in response to a Sierra Club lawsuit over air pollution, which prompted an agreement by state officials to limit coal use at the facility. In 2008, Gov. Jim Doyle pledged to stop burning coal there altogether. In its place, beginning in 2013 the state plans to rely heavily on biomass, collected from local sources, to generate electricity and steam to heat and cool much of the 42,000-student campus.

But in betting on biomass, officials rejected the two cheapest construction alternatives.

A 2008 consultant’s report concluded that construction costs for either coal or natural gas were roughly half the cost of biomass.

The least-expensive option would have been to continue to burn coal by installing state-of-the-art pollution-control equipment.

Natural gas would have been the next cheapest option. It scored the highest overall when judged on environmental, economic and reliability grounds.

Instead, officials picked a two-fuel strategy of biomass and natural gas, with 60% of the power on an average day expected to come from biomass.

The project’s supporters see biomass as Wisconsin’s most promising source of renewable power. It can be burned continuously, making it more reliable than wind and solar. And because of the economic benefits that will accrue to farmers and other local suppliers, state officials believe biomass power plants can help stimulate the market for homegrown fuels.

“We are not just building a power plant,” said David Helbach, a former utility executive and administrator of the Division of State Facilities. “We are trying to jump-start the biofuels market.”

The project, still in the planning stages, will be funded by taxpayers and with student fees. The Doyle administration’s decision to go with a more expensive technology comes as state government is facing a deficit of more than $2 billion in the next two-year budget starting in mid-2011, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

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Doyle launches Clean Energy Jobs initiative

Posted on January 8, 2010. Filed under: Biomass, Carbon, Clean Air, Climate change, Digesters, Economic development, Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Solar, Wind, Wood |

From a news release issued by Governor Jim Doyle:

MADISON – Governor Jim Doyle today was joined by business leaders, labor, legislators and environmental organizations as he launched the Clean Energy Jobs Act, a landmark legislative package to accelerate the state’s green economy and create jobs. New industry-recognized research shows the package will directly create at least 15,000 green jobs in Wisconsin by 2025.

“Addressing climate change is not just an environmental issue, it’s about creating green jobs,” Governor Doyle said.

“The Clean Energy Jobs Act offers new standards to help accelerate Wisconsin’s green economy. I am calling on the Legislature to update renewable portfolio standards to generate 25 percent of our fuel from renewable sources by 2025 and set a realistic goal of a 2 percent annual reduction in energy consumption by 2015.”

The Clean Energy Jobs Act, State Senate Bill 450 and State Assembly Bill 649, implements the recommendations of Governor Doyle’s Global Warming Task Force to address climate change and grow the state’s green economy through several key measures:
• Enhanced renewable portfolio standards – A new 20 percent standard would be set for 2020 and a 25 percent standard would be set for 2025. The current 10 percent standard would be accelerated from 2015 to 2013. By advancing our current renewable portfolio standards, and setting new standards, we will ensure more of our energy dollars stay in the state, creating thousands of jobs for Wisconsin families in fields like construction, manufacturing, and agriculture.
• Enhanced energy efficiency and conservation efforts – Graduated statewide electricity savings goals would be set, leading up to a 2 percent reduction by 2015 and annual reductions thereafter. The cheapest way to lower carbon emissions is through energy conservation. By setting achievable conservation goals, this bill will help reduce energy costs in businesses and homes across the state.

A comprehensive economic assessment of the Clean Energy Jobs Act found that the package would directly create at least 15,000 green jobs in Wisconsin by 2025. More than 1,800 jobs would be created in the first year alone. The assessment also found that between 800 and 1,800 construction jobs would be created each year from 2011-2025, and more than 2,000 manufacturing jobs would be created once the laws are fully implemented.

Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin’s executive director said:

Wisconsin’s existing 10% Renewable Energy Standard has driven significant investment in rural, forestry and agriculture markets by encouraging the construction of large wind, biogas, biomass and solar projects. Increasing the Renewable Energy Standard to 25% in 2025 would continue to generate more of the lucrative payments to landowners and biofuel / biomass providers as well as create more jobs constructing and maintaining the additional projects are built to meet the new standards.

The bills also include three of the proposals backed by the Homegrown Renewable Energy Campaign:
• Renewable Energy Buyback Rates, also called an Advanced Renewable Tariffs, would set utility payments for small renewable energy producers who want to “feed energy” into the electric grid, enabling farmers and rural businesses to help Wisconsin become more energy independent with biopower, wind and solar.
• The Biomass Crop Reserve Program would award contracts to farmers to plant native perennial plants, which the farmer can then sell for bioenergy production, helping to solve the chicken-and-egg problem of jumpstarting the homegrown fuels market.
• A Low-Carbon Fuel Standard would be a market-based approach to promoting the cleanest, low-carbon fuels for Wisconsin, and would put Wisconsin in a position to capture the rapidly-developing clean energy market by using Wisconsin’s abundant natural resources like switchgrass.

Statements of support for the legislation came from Customers First!, WPPI Energy, CREWE, Clean Wisconsin, ACRE, MEUW, Sierra Club, and others.

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The cost of clean air

Posted on October 14, 2009. Filed under: Clean Air, Coal, Generation Plants, Wind |

From an article by Mike Ivey in The Capital Times:

For more than a decade, customers at Madison Gas & Electric have voted with their pocketbooks for cleaner energy.

Under the voluntary “Green Power Tomorrow” program, more than 12,000 MGE customers – nearly 10 percent of its total customer base – pay on average a premium of about $6 per month to get their electricity from such nonpolluting sources as wind.

“It’s been a very reasonable way to reduce our carbon footprint,” says Tom Yager, 37, a stay-at-home father of two who lives in Seminole Forest. “It’s also helped us track how much electricity we’re using and find ways to cut back.”

MGE’s program has been so successful, in fact, that the company was recently honored by the U.S. Department of Energy with its Utility Green Power Program of the Year Award.

But the bigger question facing all utility customers across Wisconsin is whether they are willing to pay more for their electricity – by some accounts 30 percent more – in the name of saving the planet. Proposed federal rules aimed at curbing such greenhouse gas emissions as carbon dioxide (CO2) would fall most heavily on such states as Wisconsin that rely on fossil fuels to generate most of their
electricity. . . .

And with the state economy already struggling with manufacturing job losses, [Scott Manley, who heads environmental programs for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business lobbying group,] is concerned that additional mandates or tougher limits on emissions will further hamstring business efforts. He estimates it could cost $15 billion to reach the 25 percent renewable goal within the next 15 years.

“The fact is, these things are not free, they are tremendously expensive,” he says.

WMC has even come out with a survey showing that while Wisconsin residents are concerned about global warming and clean energy, most aren’t ready to pay more to address it. The survey of likely voters found that 73 percent are opposed to any increased fees on utility bills to pay for energy conservation. Those polled were, by a 3-1 margin, also against paying as little as $25 a month to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

But clean energy advocates say this is exactly the time to be pushing energy alternatives.

They point to a competing survey from the Forest County Potawatomi showing widespread support for reductions in greenhouse gases like CO2. The poll found support for climate change legislation crossing party lines, with 53 percent of Republicans, 67 percent of independents and 87 percent of Democrats favoring action at the state level.

Michael Vickerman, executive director of Renew Wisconsin, thinks the state should set ambitious goals and send a signal it’s serious about wind, solar and other clean energy alternatives.

“Even if we reach 10 percent (renewables) by 2015 it doesn’t mean you just stop there,” he says.

To that end, Gov. Doyle last month signed legislation to allow uniform rules for the development of small wind farms. Vickerman calls it the most significant piece of clean energy legislation ever passed in Wisconsin, crediting WMC for helping to make it happen. “They really helped us line up Republican votes, otherwise I don’t think it would have passed,” says Vickerman.

The new law requires the PSC to issue standardized rules for the entire state. Local units of government would then apply these standards as they consider small wind farms of under 100 megawatts.

Vickerman is optimistic that wind power will continue to gain support in the state. He says a project to watch is the proposed Glacier Hills wind project in Columbia County from We Energies that would add 90 turbines producing up to 162 megawatts of electricity.

While Wisconsin doesn’t have the ideal landscape for wind power as does Minnesota, Vickerman says that’s no reason to stand pat.

“Our wind resources are robust enough,” he says. “If we were fully committed, we could accommodate another 1,000 megawatts.”

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