The Highland Wind Project proposed for St. Croix County would bring over 100 jobs and enough clean renewable energy to power 29,000 homes in Northwest Wisconsin, should it get approved.
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) voted 2-1 today to put the proposed Highland Wind Project in St. Croix County on hold, inviting the developer to reapply for a permit using different sound modeling.
“The PSC’s decision today demonstrates an abundance of caution that delays the application process, but does not kill this project,” said Katie Nekola, attorney for Clean Wisconsin. “Clean Wisconsin continues to support this project that promises to bring clean, renewable energy and jobs to Northwest Wisconsin.”
The PSC is requiring the applicant to provide additional evidence that the wind project will not exceed sound standards set by state law, according to a PSC press release issued today. Despite opponents’ claims that low frequency sound from wind turbines causes adverse impacts, all three commissioners agreed there was no proof linking the two.
“Study after study has proven that wind farms are a clean, safe and economic way to produce energy,” said Nekola.
The project would bring an estimated 100 jobs to St. Croix County and enough clean energy to power 29,000 homes. A bipartisan poll conducted in January 2012 found that 85 percent of Wisconsin voters would like to increase the use of wind energy to meet Wisconsin’s energy needs.
“Clean, renewable wind energy enjoys strong support from residents across the state and can help create thousands of jobs,” said Nekola. “Today’s decision is an unfortunate delay, but we look forward to working with Highland Wind to make this project a reality.”
Focus on Energy is a well-known state-wide program that has helped homeowners and businesses save millions of dollars on energy bills. Clean Wisconsin’s Keith Reopelle joined a panel on WISC’s For the Record this Sunday to discuss this successful program.
Check it out here:
Finally, some good news about public opinion and climate change!
A new poll conducted by Yale and George Mason University shows that a majority of Americans connect extreme weather events with climate change. Of those surveyed, a 2 to 1 majority agree that our warm winter and record-high summer temperatures were most likely made worse by climate change.
The survey also asked about individual experiences with extreme weather – Midwesterners are most likely to report having experienced extreme high winds, rainstorms, snowstorms, and tornadoes. But the most surprising finding was that 35% of respondents said they’d personally been harmed by extreme weather in the last year.
Overall, the results seem to contrast the drop in concern about climate change over the past few years, but perhaps having direct experience of potential consequences of climate change makes us more likely to connect the dots. What do you think?
For the full report: http://environment.yale.edu/climate/files/Extreme-Weather-Climate-Preparedness.pdf
- Post contributed by Katy Walter, clean energy specialist.
The Washington Post recently published an article, Government-subsidized green light bulb carries costly price tag, which is a thinly veiled attack piece on clean energy technologies and policies. It provided incomplete and misleading information on numerous fronts, with the main argument succinctly wrapped up here:
“How the expensive bulb won a $10 million government prize meant to foster energy-efficient affordability is one of the curiosities that arise as the country undergoes a massive, mandated turnover from traditional incandescent lamps to more energy-efficient ones.”
As someone who consulted on emerging energy efficiency technologies for a number of years, and LED lighting in particular, I’d like to chime in.
First, consider the “L Prize” award. The government awarded $10 million to Philips for being the first company to meet their criteria for developing a commercially available, high-quality, long-lived, highly-efficient (and, as it turns out, Wisconsin-made!) light bulb. What the article doesn’t mention is that the $10 million prize leveraged many times that amount in private research from multiple companies throughout the country. The article also doesn’t mention that the prize helped accelerate the development of a technology that has the potential to save Americans billions – with a ‘B’ – of dollars in the future.
The “massive, mandated turnover” that the article talks about is simply an echo of recent attacks on a piece of energy legislation passed by George W. Bush in 2007, which The Washington Post labels a “ban on inefficient incandescent light bulbs.” By claiming that the legislation essentially forces consumers to go out and buy only certain types of lights, the article attempts to play into big-government fears. In reality, that legislation is a performance standard that requires manufacturers to make their lights work better – including new, improved incandescent bulbs. The article doesn’t mention the facts that the “ban” doesn’t actually reduce consumer choice, or that all of the major bulb manufacturers have come out in support of the new requirements.
And that new L-Prize light bulb? Is the cost as absurd as the article makes it out to be? In a word: no.
As stated numerous times, the light will initially cost $50. Yes, it seems like a lot when compared to an old-fashioned 60-watt bulb that costs $1. On that note, it’s certainly worth considering that the bulbs have only been on shelves for a matter of weeks and are the most cutting-edge lights available. Like the latest smartphone, the prices will come down as the technology progresses and more challengers come along.
Putting that aside and using the higher prices that you’ll pay for being the first on the block to own the newest lights, they’re not as expensive as they seem. First, consider the fact that an L Prize bulb will last over 10 years. Since you’d need to buy thirty 60-watt bulbs in that time, that’s $30 in saved replacement costs alone. But the real savings are in energy use: The L Prize bulb cuts energy costs by over 80%. If you use your lights 8 hours a day, that’s annual savings of around $15 per light.
The only mention of this in the article is buried in a graphic that has to be clicked on to be read, in which the Post calculates that over 10 years, using traditional bulbs will cost a total $228, and the L Prize bulb will cost $83 – that’s savings of $145.
(Side note: In case you were someone who gets a hard copy of the Washington Post, the article is even more misleading. In tiny print at the bottom of the graphic is noted “This is a corrected version of a graphic that appeared in the paper on March 9.” As pointed out on the blog ThinkProgress, the original article listed the L Prize bulb as more expensive over time than incandescent lights, because they calculated costs with electricity at one cent per kWh instead of the national average of over ten times that. If anyone knows how to get that deal, let me know!)
We shouldn’t disregard LEDs as too expensive. They can be good, affordable replacements if you can get over the initial investment cost. We need to figure out ways to cut down that up-front expense, which will help people to get over the cost hurdle and start saving money. Incentive programs like those from Focus on Energy could help, as could innovative financial programs that help people spread out the initial cost.
The other take away from this article, at least for me, is that there’s a continuing need to fight to keep cynical politics from getting in the way of technologies, like LEDs, that simultaneously represent environmental and economic progress for our state and our nation.
By Tyson Cook, Staff Scientist
For those of us looking forward to a day when we’re less reliant on dirty, fossil fuel-based power plants, it’s important to know the role they serve in the electricity system, and just what we have to do to replace them. One argument that is starting to be used against renewable energy revolves around that very idea: The claim that renewables may not be able to provide the “baseload” power like large fossil-fuel plants.
Which begs the question, what is this “baseload” power, and why does it matter?
The first thing to realize is that so-called “baseload” is not actually a different kind of power; it’s simply part of an engineering concept to visualize electrical demand. Imagine a line graph of the amount of total electricity used in a region over time. The plot would look like a series of waves, with peaks in the afternoon and early evening when everything is running on high, and dips at night and on the weekends when people are sleeping and offices are closed.
You could divide the line graph a lot of ways, but the idea of “baseload” comes from drawing a horizontal line to represent the minimum amount of electricity that is being used, no matter what time or day. The areas above that line are then labeled “intermediate” and “peak” loads. Kind of like this:
In this way of thinking, the “baseload” power demand is met with big generators like old coal and nuclear plants that don’t turn on and off very well. To accommodate electrical needs above the “baseload,” smaller, more responsive plants are used that can more easily follow the demand. Makes sense, right?
The problem with this idea is that it’s not how the electrical grid actually works. In reality, the grid isn’t one uniform pool of power demand, but a huge, sprawling, interconnected web of transmission lines of various sizes and capacities, dotted with producers and users of power. More like this:
The whole thing is controlled by an “independent system operator,” whose job is to make sure the system works right and everyone gets the power they need as cheaply and reliably as possible. This means constantly turning production up and down at various plants and using various mechanisms to manage flow.
So the idea of “baseload” power? Yes, there is always some minimum level of power being used in a particular region of the grid, but it’s certainly not as simple as that old line graph would indicate. And when trying to meet electrical demand, the power can come from any number of facilities at any time of day. For the system operator, the solution to which plants should be running when (and how much) is clear: Whatever makes electricity cheapest at any given time, considering the constraints of the grid. If that happens to be a large coal plant, so be it. If it’s a wind farm or small solar installation, that’s just as good. Even better.
A new report by the Minnesota Department of Health underscores the importance of making wise choices at the dinner table.
In a recent study of mercury contamination in newborns in the Lake Superior region, fewer Wisconsin newborns are exposed to mercury pollution than Minnesota newborns. A whopping 10 percent of newborns in Minnesota have unsafe levels of mercury in their blood — one in 10 babies are at risk of lower IQs and reduced memory loss. Wisconsin’s Lake Superior region has a much lower exposure, with 3 percent of newborns showing mercury at dangerous levels.
But even that is too many, and this study serves as a good reminder to everyone, especially for women of childbearing age, to limit consumption of fish that are likely to contain mercury.
Mercury is a neurotoxin that is dangerous for the developing brains of children, babies and fetuses, and it only takes small amounts of this chemical to cause big harm. It is estimated that 5,000 and 9,000 children born in Wisconsin each year are at risk of having lower IQs and reduced memory as a result mercury exposure. Humans are exposed to mercury a number of ways; it’s found in many everyday objects, such as electronic waste and old thermostats, and is byproduct of burning coal for electricity. When mercury gets into water it changes to methylmercury, which has unique properties that allow it to build up in the bodies of fish. When larger fish eat smaller fish, mercury can build up to high levels in the tissues of the bigger fish. Because mercury binds to meat of the fish, it cannot be removed by cooking or cleaning and gets into humans when they eat the fish.
This year, the EPA introduced the first-ever national rules that limit mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants, which are the largest source of mercury pollution. Wisconsin has been in leader in mercury reduction with a mercury pollution law on the books since 2008. Go Badgers!
Here are some helpful guidelines; also check out the state of Wisconsin’s “Choose Wisely” guide for fish consumption:
- Choose smaller fish.
- For local fishing, smaller game fish, panfish, stream trout and salmon are good choices. Avoid large walleyes or northerns from northern lakes.
- From the ocean, avoid yellowfin tuna, shark, mackerel or orange roughy.
Contributed by Katy Walter, Organizer & Clean Energy Specialist
There’s a little ditty that goes “Second verse, same as the first…”
It’s been stuck in my head since I first glanced at the new draft of the mining bill Assembly Republicans put out today. This draft is as bad as the first in terms of its implications for the environment and public input. Here’s our initial take on it. Rest assured that our legal staff and government relations director are combing through the 180-page draft.
Assembly Republicans’ Mining Bill Bad for the Environment
New draft much like the first, cutting environmental protections and slashing public input
December 8, 2011
MADISON — Despite public outcry earlier in the year, Assembly Republicans released their draft of a new mining bill today that is very similar to the draft mining bill shelved earlier this spring. The bill introduced today still slashes public input and exempts iron mining from existing environmental laws.
Today, the State Legislative Audit Bureau released the long-awaited audit on the cost-effectiveness of Focus on Energy, the statewide energy efficiency program. You may recall that Gov. Scott Walker cut $320 million from the program when he signed the biennial budget bill this spring.
For those of you interested in reading the 47-page report, it’s available here. If you’re interested in what the audit says and what it means for the program, but don’t feel like doing homework, everything you need to know should be in our 6-paragraph press release below.
Your environmental voice since 1970.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 7, 2011
Audit Confirms Benefits of Focus on Energy
Expanding Focus would help Further Lower Energy Bills, Create More Jobs
MADISON – A long-awaited audit released by the bipartisan Legislative Audit Bureau today confirms that Focus on Energy, the statewide energy program, successfully lowers energy bills and provides benefits that far outweigh the costs of the program.
“The audit released today confirms that Focus on Energy is one of the most cost-effective energy programs in the nation, with benefits more than doubling the costs of the program,” said Keith Reopelle, senior policy director at Clean Wisconsin.
These benefits come in the form of lower energy bills and a cleaner environment. Businesses and homeowners saved over $264 million on their energy bills as a result of the program last year alone, according to the report. Additionally, reduced emissions from power plants resulted in over $17 million in environmental benefits. These benefits do not include job creation and increased business sales resulting from the program, which the audit acknowledges but does not quantify.
“For every dollar spent on Focus on Energy, homeowners and businesses get more than two dollars back in their pocket in the form of lower energy bills,” said Reopelle. “As an added benefit, Focus on Energy helps create a cleaner, healthier environment, reduces the need to build expensive new power plants to meet our energy needs, and creates thousands of jobs in Wisconsin.”
The audit comes after a decision earlier this year by legislative leaders to significantly cut funding to Focus on Energy. When Gov. Walker signed the biennial budget bill this spring, he cut $320 million from the program over the next three years.
“Since the cuts that occurred this spring, public officials have been patiently waiting for the results of this audit to discuss improvements to Focus on Energy,” said Reopelle. “This audit clearly shows that increasing investments in Focus on Energy will lower energy bills, and help homeowners and businesses save money. We hope that our leaders act quickly to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Clean Wisconsin, an environmental advocacy organization, protects Wisconsin’s clean water and air and advocates for clean energy by being an effective voice in the state legislature and by holding elected officials and polluters accountable. Founded in 1970 as Wisconsin’s Environmental Decade, Clean Wisconsin exposes corporate polluters, makes sure existing environmental laws are enforced, and educates citizens and businesses. On behalf of its 10,000 members and its coalition partners, Clean Wisconsin protects the special places that make Wisconsin such a wonderful place to live, work and play. 608-251-7020, email@example.com, www.cleanwisconsin.org.
-Contributed by Sam Weis, Communications Director
Our Tuesday Trivia this week asked about a forthcoming milestone: The world is predicted to hit a population of 7 billion on Halloween.
A growing population affects the environment as every new body to feed, water, clothe and shelter requires natural resources. And those of us in the United States and other rich, First World countries consume double the resources used by the rest of the world. In fact, the UN estimates that if current population and consumption trends continue, we’ll need the equivalent of two Earths to support us by the 2030s. That’s only 20 years away.
As food for thought, here are three quotes from an article that was published in The Guardian earlier this year:
“It is precisely because our population is so large and growing so fast that we must care, ever more with each generation, how much we as individuals are out of sync with environmental sustainability. Our diets, our modes of moving, and our urge to keep interior temperatures close to 70 degrees Fahrenheit no matter what is happening outside — none of these make us awful people. It’s just that collectively, these behaviors are moving basic planetary systems into danger zones.”
“Simultaneously, we need a swift transformation of energy, water, and materials consumption through conservation, efficiency, and green technologies. We shouldn’t think of these as a sequence of efforts — dealing with consumption first, because population dynamics take time to turn around — but as simultaneous work on multiple fronts. It would be naïve to believe we will arrive at sustainability by wrestling shifting technologies and lifestyles while human population grows indefinitely and most people strive to live as comfortably as Americans do…”
“So should we be afraid on the day we gain a 7 billionth living human being, especially considering UN demographers are now projecting anywhere between 6.2 billion and 15.8 billion people at the end of the century? Fear is not a particularly productive response — courage and a determination to act in the face of risk are the answer. And in this case, there is so much to be done to heal and make sustainable a world of 7 billion breathing human beings that cowering would be not just fatalistic but stupid.”
A discussion on population can certainly take many paths, but we’ll keep this one strictly focused on the environment. Clean Wisconsin is working hard on transforming energy and water policies and issues in the state, but shifting our behaviors, individually and collectively, begins at home. We can still be comfortable turning back the thermostat a few degrees. The taste of a tomato picked fresh from a backyard vine is far superior to that of a tomato shipped thousands of miles from warmer climes … and a little fresh air and dirt does a body good. We can’t sit back idly, simply worrying about food shortages, nuclear winter or insert your other favorite apocalyptic event.
That begins today. What’s one behavior you can change in support of a healthy environment that supports clean air, drinkable water and enough natural resources for us all to enjoy?