Madison, Kenosha County and Milwaukee sewer district join in 25×25 goal

Posted on February 10, 2010. Filed under: Climate change, Economic development, Energy Policy, Vehicles |

From a news release issued by Govenor Doyle:

MADISON – Governor Jim Doyle announced today that the City of Madison, Kenosha County and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) have joined the Wisconsin Energy Independent Community Partnership. They have pledged to work toward Governor Doyle’s “25×25” goal of generating 25 percent of the state’s electricity and transportation fuels from renewable resources by the year 2025. . . .

“I welcome Madison, Kenosha County and MMSD as new partners in working toward energy independence that keeps energy dollars in our state, creates good jobs and cleans our air and water,” Governor Doyle said. “Every year, we send $16 billion out of state to power our homes and businesses and fuel our cars. Building a clean energy economy is not only an enormous opportunity to capture those dollars, but also create good jobs here in Wisconsin.”

Last month, Governor Doyle launched the Clean Energy Jobs Act, a landmark legislative package to accelerate the state’s green economy and create jobs. The package calls for updating renewable portfolio standards to generate 25 percent of Wisconsin’s fuel from renewable sources by 2025 and sets a realistic goal of a 2 percent annual reduction in energy consumption by 2015. A comprehensive economic assessment of the package found that it would directly create at least 15,000 green jobs in Wisconsin by 2025.

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Too popular Cash for Clunkers suspended

Posted on July 31, 2009. Filed under: Climate change, Vehicles |

From an article in the Wisconsin State Journal:

WASHINGTON — The government plans to suspend its popular “cash for clunkers” program amid concerns it could quickly use up the $1 billion in rebates for new car purchases, congressional officials said Thursday.

The Transportation Department called lawmakers’ offices to alert them to the decision to suspend the program at midnight Thursday. The program offers owners of old cars and trucks $3,500 or $4,500 toward a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle. . . .

A White House official said later that officials were assessing the situation facing the popular program but auto dealers and consumers should have confidence that transactions under the program that already have taken place would be honored. . . .

Congress last month approved the Car Allowance Rebate System program, known as CARS, to boost auto sales and remove some inefficient cars and trucks from the roads. The program kicked off July 24 and was heavily publicized by car companies and auto dealers.

Through late Wednesday, 22,782 vehicles had been purchased through the program and nearly $96 million had been spent. But dealers raised concerns about large backlogs in the processing of the deals in the government system, prompting the suspension.

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Cash for Clunkers kicks off

Posted on July 28, 2009. Filed under: Clean Air, Vehicles |

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

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today kicked off a buyer incentive program designed to help consumers purchase new fuel efficient vehicles and boost the economy at the same time. The Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS), commonly referred to as Cash for Clunkers, is a new federal program that gives buyers up to $4,500 towards a new, more environmentally-friendly vehicle when they trade-in their old gas guzzling cars or trucks.

“With this program, we are giving the auto industry a shot in the arm and struggling consumers can get rid of their gas-guzzlers and buy a more reliable, fuel-efficient vehicle,” Secretary LaHood said. “This is good news for our economy, the environment and consumers’ pocketbooks.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also released the final eligibility requirements to participate in the program. Under the CARS program, consumers receive a $3,500 or $4,500 discount from a car dealer when they trade in their old vehicle and purchase or lease a new, qualifying vehicle. In order to be eligible for the program, the trade-in passenger vehicle must: be manufactured less than 25 years before the date it is traded in; have a combined city/highway fuel economy of 18 miles per gallon or less; be in drivable condition; and be continuously insured and registered to the same owner for the full year before the trade-in. Transactions must be made between now and November 1, 2009 or until the money runs out.

The vehicle that is traded in will be scrapped. NHTSA estimates the program could take approximately 250,000 vehicles that are not fuel efficient off the road.

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Palin’s Folly

Posted on October 8, 2008. Filed under: Energy Policy, Peak Oil & the End of Cheap Fossil Fuel, Vehicles |

by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
October 7, 2008

What three things do Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria and Venezuela have in common? The first commonality is that they are among the top 10 leading exporters of petroleum worldwide, which is another way of saying that they are the biggest accumulators of foreign cash on the planet.

Commonality No. 2: Gasoline prices in those nations are lower than they are in the United States. The swollen river of revenues that flows into their national treasuries enables these governments to subsidize the price of motor fuel sold to their citizens. In Iran, the portion of federal revenues spent on maintaining price caps on gasoline approaches an astonishing 40%.

This is worth a moment’s rumination. Under this arrangement, the profits from petroleum exports are immediately distributed to the car-driving public in the form of inexpensive gasoline. However, that kind of share-the-wealth policy presents trade-offs to their governments. Yes, rising oil prices will fatten their treasuries, but the outflows required to hold down domestic gasoline prices will also swell, potentially offsetting the revenue increase.

Moreover, the artificially low price of motor fuel encourages more domestic consumption, which eats into the percentage of petroleum that can be sold to foreign countries. This becomes particularly problematic in nations that are struggling to keep extraction volumes from declining, as with Mexico, whose output peaked in 2004. Since then export volumes have fallen by 15%, due to plummeting yields from Cantarell, which until recently was the world’s most productive oilfield outside Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the combination of declining petroleum exports and subsidized gasoline is guaranteed to result in permanent economic austerity for that nation.

Considering the finite nature of their chief exports, these nations would do well to reinvest their windfalls into domestically developable sources of wind and solar energy, to name two energy sources that do not have decline curves associated with them. However, that brings up Commonality No. 3, which is their shared aversion to all energy sources that have the capacity to displace oil and natural gas in some capacity. Renewable energy sources like wind and solar certainly figure prominently in that category.

It is nothing short of amazing to watch these nations squander their colossal fortunes on ephemeral social control measures that only hasten the drawdown of their most economically valuable resource. Subsidizing gasoline is simply a wealth distribution scheme that discounts the future for the present. Its legacy will be to leave billions of people without the capital to invest in building up a sustainable energy future.

Under more enlightened regimes, these nations would be plowing their retained earnings into technologies that harvest locally available self-replenishing energy sources to serve future citizens. They would make it a point of emulating Germany, a nation bereft of native oil and gas reserves but certainly not lacking in foresight and political will. Cloudy skies and weak winds notwithstanding, Germany is deploying considerable amounts of social and financial capital to retool its energy infrastructure so that it can take full advantage of its modest solar ration.

In contrast to Germany, there is not a single commercial wind turbine operating in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela and Russia. While Mexico and Iran look like go-getters by comparison, their efforts to date amount to less than one-half of Wisconsin’s current wind generating capacity. Moreover, even at this late date, oil-exporting nations have invested only a piddling amount of their capital investments in solar energy.

To demonstrate the aversion that oil-exporting jurisdictions have towards renewable energy, consider the example of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. According to Michael T. Klare, who covers defense and foreign policy for The Nation, Alaska is a “classic petrostate,” featuring a political system that is “geared toward the maximization of oil ‘rents’–royalties and other income derived from energy firms–to the neglect of other economic activities.”

Among the economic activities neglected is renewable energy development. Like Russia, with which Alaska shares a “narrow maritime border,” Alaska does not have a single utility-scale wind turbine in operation, a rather remarkable statistic given its sprawling size and a wind resource that in certain locations can be accurately described as “screaming.” But as long oil revenues are sufficient to allow Alaska to dispense with a state income tax, renewable energy development will remain in a deep freeze.

In a recent article, Klare recounts a talk Palin gave at a February 2008 meeting of the National Governors Association, where she said that “the conventional resources we have can fill the gap between now and when new technologies become economically competitive and don’t require subsidies.”

When asked to elaborate on that point, Palin’s antipathy towards renewable energy was revealed. “I just don’t want things to get out of hand with incentives for renewables, particularly since they imply subsidies, while ignoring the fuels we already have on hand,” Palin said.

Had those words been uttered by the Secretary General of OPEC, they would have been forgotten in a matter of seconds. Coming from someone who could become the next vice president, however, is cause for consternation, in that she is clearly recommending a course of action that would invariably lead to greater dependency on oil.

Certainly, the Palin prescription would reverse the decline in oil revenues propping up Alaska’s state government. But the amount of petroleum that could be extracted in 2020 from Alaska and the Outer Continental Shelf is trifling compared with current U.S. imports of Mexican crude. Even if a mini-surge of petroleum materialized as a result of a McCain-Palin energy policy that put Alaska’s wishes above the best interests of the other 49 states, it wouldn’t even compensate for the declining yields from such aging oilfields as Cantarell or Prudhoe Bay, let alone achieve the chimerical goal of energy independence.

Like the other petrostates of the world, Alaska has no Plan B to fall back on when its endowment of fossil fuels is no longer sufficient to support a state government in the style to which it is accustomed. Let us hope and pray that the voters of the other 49 states see the “drill, baby, drill” mantra for the folly it is, and reject it out of hand in favor of an energy policy that stresses energy security through conservation and renewable energy development.


“Palin’s Petropolitics.” Klare, Michael T., The Nation, September 17, 2008.

“Gas Subsidies and Iran.” Cohen, Dave, Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas – USA, July 5, 2007.


Michael Vickerman is executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a sustainable energy advocacy organization. For more information on the global and national petroleum and natural gas supply picture, visit “The End of Cheap Oil” section in RENEW Wisconsin’s web site: These commentaries also posted on RENEW’s blog:, and Madison Peak Oil Group’s blog:

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Wind-Powered Cars

Posted on September 2, 2008. Filed under: Vehicles, Vehicles - Hybrid, Wind |

From an article by Jeff Anthony, American Wind Energy Association and RENEW board member:

. . . While wind energy is becoming a mainstream source of electricity in the U.S., with a realistic potential of powering 20% of our electric needs by 2030, its ability to play a key role in powering PHEVs [plug-in hybrid electric vehicle] makes for an even brighter future for the clean, renewable energy source. . . .

With widespread deployment, the impact of PHEVs on the transportation sector and the nation would be massive. A study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that replacing 73% of the U.S. light-duty vehicle fleet with PHEVs would result in a reduction in oil consumption of 6.2 million barrels a day, cutting the need for imported oil by about 50%.

But what would such a heavy reliance on electricity generation for transportation purposes do to aggregate power plant emissions? A joint study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Natural Resources Defense Council found that if 60% of light vehicles in the U.S. were replaced by plug-in vehicles by 2050, electricity consumption would rise only about 8%. The net gain from significantly reducing oil use for transportation—while only marginally increasing the use of fossil fuels to produce electricity—would translate into net carbon dioxide reductions of 450 million metric tons annually—equivalent to taking 82 million cars off the road. And when you bring wind power into the equation, the news gets even better: if the renewable energy resource contributes a greater share to the electricity supply mix that ultimately would recharge the PHEV fleet, any increase in emissions from greater electricity usage can be cut dramatically, making the net emissions reduction even lower.

The primary reason PHEVs result in significant net emissions reductions is that electric motors are several times more efficient than gasoline internal combustion engines. EPRI estimates that while charging, PHEVs will draw only 1.4 kW-2 kW—about the same as a dishwasher. Moreover, in a transportation world that includes many PHEVs, electric rates are likely to be designed to ensure that vehicle charging occurs almost exclusively at night, guaranteeing that PHEVs will use low-cost electricity—while not imposing additional strain on the electric grid during daytime hours of peak electricity usage. And wind energy fits ideally into that part of the equation for another reason as well: wind power output is typically highest at night in many parts of the country. . . .

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Clean Energy Car Show, June 20-22, Custer, WI

Posted on June 6, 2008. Filed under: Vehicles, Vehicles - Ethanol, Vehicles - Hybrid, Vehicles - Vegetable oil |

From the just-released program for The Energy Fair in Custer, Wisconsin (just outside of Stevens Point), June 20-22:

Clean Energy Car Show
A popular part of the Energy Fair, the Clean Energy Car Show will be back for its fourth year. The Car Show, sponsored by Toyota, will feature sustainable transportation options though exhibits, workshops and demonstration vehicles. Example workshops include Sustainable Transportation Technologies, Biofuels 101, and Reacquaint Yourself with Your Bike.

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Gas Tax Pain

Posted on May 19, 2008. Filed under: Peak Oil & the End of Cheap Fossil Fuel, Vehicles |

Fossil Fuel Watch
by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
May 19, 2008

Could there be more convincing proof of America’s debilitating addiction to oil than the recent calls to institute a gasoline tax holiday issued by two of the three presidential aspirants still in the race?

Imagine what would happen if a candidate for public office endorsed a repeal of cigarette taxes. Articulating such a position would instantly disqualify that candidate from serious consideration by rank and file voters. Indeed, it would stop a candidacy faster than you can say “macaca.”

Yet, while Sens. John McCain or Hillary Clinton, both advocates of suspending the 18.4 cents/gallon gasoline tax, have been excoriated in editorials for espousing such patent flimflam, they don’t seem to have lost any ground with the voting public.

Though the McCain-Clinton gas tax suspension proposal set a new low in the public discussion of energy, it can’t be dismissed as mere election-year pandering. Instead, this proposal reveals a dark truth about ourselves: we Americans are psychologically unprepared to accept the energy reality we now inhabit, which is that oil is neither cheap nor plentiful (relative to demand). The same holds true for natural gas.

The factors converging to create global energy insecurity—diminishing output from supergiant fields, rapid demand growth in the world’s most populous nations, civil unrest in oil-exporting nations, etc.—cannot be held at bay with political stunts.

Whether its citizens like it or not, the United States will, going forward, consume a smaller portion of the Earth’s remaining petroleum than at any time during the Automobile Age.

But before the federal government takes action to address supply uncertainties and price volatility, our leaders have to tell the nation in no uncertain terms that continued dependency on oil and natural gas will hasten our economic decline and lead us into future resource wars.

Certainly, Senators McCain and Clinton aren’t up to the challenge. Fortunately for the nation, both are powerless to push their intellectually dishonest tax holiday proposal past Congress and the White House.

The White House predicts that this year’s budget deficit will reach $410 million, a sum that excludes the cost of our continuing military misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States can hardly afford to forgo $9 billion in hard revenues just to manufacture the illusion that every motorist will have $28 extra dollars to spend on items other than gasoline.

Savings in excess of $28 can easily be achieved with one less fill-up at the gas station. And how can that be accomplished? By driving less aggressively, turning off the engine while standing, keeping your tires fully inflated, and organizing your errands to reduce miles traveled.

These are simple and practical suggestions that don’t involve sacrifice or hardship. All that is required is the will to take responsibility over your driving habits.

Each time we leave a light bulb burning in an unoccupied room, each time we leave the engine running in the drive-up lane, we dig ourselves a deeper hole. Of course, we must stop what we’re doing, but we’ve become so accustomed to cheap and abundantly available sources of fossil energy that wasting it has become second nature.

So who’s going to throw the bucket of cold water on our national energy fiesta and tell the people that thrift and responsibility are in and energy profligacy is out. Senators Clinton and McCain have disqualified themselves in spectacular fashion. Is Obama our only hope here?


Michael Vickerman is the executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a Madison-based nonprofit organization that acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives. These commentaries also posted on RENEW’s Web and the site
of the Madison Peak Oil Group’s blog:

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Driving away from the oil economy

Posted on April 3, 2008. Filed under: Vehicles |

From a presentation by Michael Vickerman at the Green Vehicles Workshop sponsored by the Milwaukee Area Technical College:

“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” – Kenneth BouldingHow effective will magical thinking [in unending growth] be in dealing with these world-transforming problems?

Magical thinking rests on the following assumptions, according to Vickerman:

+ We don’t need to change our driving habits
+ We can find convenient substitutes for oil
+ We don’t have to worry about mobilizing the capital needed to invest in successor energy sources
+ We can support complex societies with less energetic fuel sources
+ We don’t need to re-engineer the built environment

Vickerman argues that “renewable electricity is a superior alternative to biofuels for transporting people” for the following reasons:

“+ Higher EROEI, creating more wealth
+ Cheaper: 50 miles/two gallons gasoline – $6.60 50 miles/12 kWh windpower – $1.60
+ Less price volatility – electricity is a regulated product – in contrast, diesel prices have increased 33% over the last 12 months – $2.60 to $3.90/gallon
+ Easy to access – plug in your vehicle
+ Energy storage (battery lifespan and expense) remains an issue, limiting mobility and convenience

Vickerman concludes by asking:

[C]an we change our current habits and attitudes to transition into a less mobile but more sustainable future relying on renewable energy flows and low-EROEI energy stores?

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Suggested comments on Global Warming Task Force proposals

Posted on December 7, 2007. Filed under: Carbon, Energy Policy, Global Warming, Nuclear, Solar, Vehicles, Wind |

Ryan Schryver from Clean Wisconsin drafted suggestions for comments on the proposals made by the workgroups of the Govenor’s Global Warming Task Force. Comments can be made online at through December 14.

Work group: Electric Generation and Supply Policies

Enhanced Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard
This draft policy calls for between 15% by 2020 and 25% by 2025 renewable electricity. The electricity would come from imported renewable electricity as well as Wisconsin-produced electricity.

• Comments should focus on supporting renewable electricity goals of 20% by 2020 and 25% by 2025, which would agree with the goals in the “Energy Security and Climate Stewardship Platform for the Midwest” (“Midwest Energy Platform”), signed by Gov. Doyle and other Midwest Governors on Nov. 15.

• The renewable electricity goals should be achieved without reliance on hydro electricity from dams larger than 60 megawatts, which would exclude large Canadian hydro power.

Incentives for Combined Heat & Power
This draft policy encourages replacement of old, non-utility steam boilers with combined heat & power systems.

• Comments should encourage the strengthening of this policy to include replacement or repowering of utility power plants into combined heat and power plants. This option was deemed infeasible by the utilities, although it has been suggested for study in the “Policy Forum” policy proposal.

Relax Restrictions on Construction of New Nuclear Power Plants
This draft policy would repeal §196.493, Wis. Stats., the so-called “nuclear moratorium law,” which states that the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) may not authorize the construction of a nuclear plant unless it finds that a facility will be available for the disposal of high-level waste from all Wisconsin nuclear plants, and that the proposed plant is economically advantageous to ratepayers based on specified factors.

This law should not be repealed. Comments on this policy could include the following concerns:

Cost: A new nuclear plant would be extremely expensive. Standard & Poor’s recently estimated the cost of a new nuclear plant at $4000 per kW; and Moody’s recently suggested $6,000 per kW. Nuclear plants currently being built in other countries continue to experience massive cost overruns and delays in completing the projects.

Safety: New nuclear plants would increase the risk of a serious reactor accident, which could threaten thousands of people and cost billions to deal with.

Nuclear Waste: For the foreseeable future, there remains no safe means of disposal for nuclear waste. Building additional nuclear plants in Wisconsin would only add to the problem in which thousands of tons of waste are sitting on the shores of Lake Michigan and along the Mississippi River.

Wisconsin as a Nuclear Waste Dump: The failure of the federal government to open Yucca Mt. in a timely fashion, if ever, increases pressure to find an alternate site for disposal of nuclear waste. The Wolf River area was studied in the past, and could be studied in the future as a disposal site for the nation’s nuclear waste.

Nuclear Does Not Help with Global Warming Pollution: While the operation of a nuclear plant may not directly produce GHG emissions, GHG emissions are released at various points throughout a plant’s lifecycle (construction, uranium mining and enrichment, spent fuel disposal, decommissioning, etc). According to MIT researchers, it could take nearly 1,000 additional nuclear plants to make a significant contribution toward reducing global warming pollution, whereas other strategies such as energy efficiency and renewable energy would be much less costly.


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