In divisive times, a love of Wisconsin unites

After months and months of battles in the Capitol, recall elections, and political attack ads, Wisconsin has become known as a state bruised by deep political divides where neighbors and friends are pitted against one another.

Unfortunately, this perception is all too accurate. For more than a year, we have focused on a few things that bitterly divide us as Wisconsinites, while forgetting about the many things that unite us. With the recall election behind us, we now have the opportunity to step back and rediscover those things that bring us together instead of tear us apart.

It is not being a political battleground state that makes Wisconsin special, it is the celebration of cheese, beer, bratwurst and the Green Bay Packers. It is getting out to enjoy a fish fry with friends, and knowing your neighbor is always there to reach out a helping hand. It is a love of all of the things that make our state such a wonderful place to live – the beautiful forests, beaches, state parks, and thousands of lakes, rivers and streams.

At Clean Wisconsin, we have fought for over four decades to protect Wisconsin’s wonderful environment. We do this work so that we can catch fish that are safe to eat, our families can enjoy a day on a beach that’s not closed, we can swim in clean lakes, drink clean water, and breathe clean, fresh air when we step outside or go for a hike.

And these are things that almost all of us can agree are important. A bipartisan poll taken in January of this year found that nearly 9 out of 10 Wisconsin voters want our state to increase investments in solar and wind energy, and 4 out of 5 would like our state to require that 30 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources.

Now is the time to stop focusing on our differences and and let our collective love of Wisconsin unite us. At Clean Wisconsin, that means fighting to protect the wonderful places that are special to all of us, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum.

-Post contributed by Sam Weis, communications director

’80s Throwback: Acid rain law made Wisconsin a leader

Bavaria, Germany, high-altitude forest damaged by acid rain. Photo by Spitzbergler. From AccuWeather.

Wisconsin passed one of the first and strongest state acid rain control laws in the nation in 1986, making the state a leader in acid rain policy; Clean Wisconsin had an active role in getting that law passed.

Acid rain results from sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides entering the atmosphere. These two pollutants are mainly produced by human activities; sulfur dioxide is a common emission from coal-fired power plants and factories, while nitrogen oxides come from vehicles, engines, coal-fired power plants, factories, even home furnaces.

The Acid Rain Law required Wisconsin’s major electric utility companies to reduce their sulfur dioxide emissions by 50 percent from 1980 emission levels by 1993. It was a great success: By 1990, three years earlier than specified in the law, overall annual sulfur dioxide emissions from Wisconsin electric utility companies had fallen 46 percent, and in 1992, all were in compliance.

The law also sought to raise the pH of Wisconsin’s rain; the pH scale is a measure of a material’s acidity or alkalinity and the lower the number, the more acidic something is on a scale of 0 to 14. Battery acid, for instance, has a relative pH of 1, while milk of magnesia, which helps quell an upset stomach, has a pH factor of 10 to 11. Rain uncontaminated by any pollutants has a pH of 5.0 to 6.0; rain with pH less than 5.0 to be “acid rain.

The higher level of acidity in acid rain makes it a threat to plants, fish and to some manmade materials and structures. Acid rain (or snow or fog or smog) can overwhelm the neutralizing capacity of some soils and lake water, leaving the environment unable to defend itself against the effects of these acids. Look at photos of Germany’s Black Forest and New York’s Adirondack Mountains to see the devastating effects acid rain can have on the natural landscape.

In addition to state law, Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, which contained strong acid rain control measures. This federal law required electric utility companies nationwide to reduce their collective sulfur dioxide emissions by 10 million tons per year (which is a 40-percent reduction) from 1980 emission levels by the year 2000, as well as a reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions of about two million tons per year.

Moving to cleaner, renewable energy sources and increasing energy-efficiency measures would have massive impacts on acid rain in Wisconsin, and Clean Wisconsin continues to work for these policies in the state. You can play a role as well. In addition to supporting our work, reduce your energy consumption with easy actions such as switching to CFLs, turning back your thermostat and purchasing energy-efficient appliances when you need to upgrade to reduce your reliance of coal-powered energy.

7 Boo-illion and Counting

Our Tuesday Trivia this week asked about a forthcoming milestone: The world is predicted to hit a population of 7 billion on Halloween.

Scary, huh?

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?

On a side note, here’s a fun online tool from BBC to determine, roughly, how you fit in the grand scheme of 7 billion people.

How Much of U.S. Electricity Comes from Renewable Sources?

Yesterday’s Tuesday Trivia question stumped our thousands of Facebook fans.  The question read:

21% of the electricity used by Germany in the first half of this year was produced by renewable resources. What percentage of U.S. electricity came from renewable resources in the first half of this year? 


Despite many enthusiastic contenders guessing between .5% and 24%, no one stumbled upon the right answer. So, drum roll please…

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, hydroelectricity accounted for 9 percent of U.S. electricity generation from January through May of 2011 with other renewable energy sources accounting for 5.5 percent of our electricity needs*.  That brings the grand total, and correct answer to 14.5 percent (We would have accepted either 14 or 15 percent)!

Now, the good news is that 14.5 percent is well above the vast majority of the answers — so we’re producing more renewable energy than you might think! The bad news is that 14.5 percent is inflated by an unusually high amount of hydroelectricity produced this year (31.6 % increase from last year). This large increase resulted from above average snowpack in the Rockies and wet conditions this Spring — conditions we can’t expect to occur every year.

Even with higher-than-average numbers, 14.5 percent is still well behind Germany’s 21 percent, and well behind where we could be today. By increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency and passing policies that encourage to growth of both industries, we can reduce our reliance on expensive, dirty fossil fuels and boost our economy. There are many, many ways to produce renewable energy, and the more renewable energy we produce, the more energy independent, environmentally sustainable and economically secure we will be.

A big thanks goes out to all of our Facebook fans who ventured guesses this week. Please check back next Tuesday for the next Tuesday Trivia competition!

*The federal government classifies hydroelectric power as a renewable resource. Clean Wisconsin does oppose including out-of-state hydroelectricity in Wisoconsin’s renewable electricity standards.

Contributed by Sam Weis, communications director.




From fryers to fuel — Reducing our need for fossil fuels

Man captures used cooking oil to convert to biodiesel

Photo from; credit Benny Sieu

Something special is happening in Milwaukee. A new company called Cream City Grecycling is hard at work collecting used cooking oil from restaurants, schools, and cafeterias across the city, paying them for what was once waste they had to pay to get rid of. After collecting the waste, they process it in local refineries to turn it into clean, renewable biodiesel that can power cars and trucks.

That’s pretty cool, and beyond being good for the environment, it helps create jobs, keep money flowing in the local economy, and reduces our dependence on fossil fuels.

You see, Wisconsin has a very costly addiction to dirty fossil fuels. Every year, we spend  billions of dollars purchasing coal, oil, and natural gas from out-of-state. In 2009, we spent over $12 billion for these fuels. If you include electricity that we buy from other states that is generated from fossil fuels, that number jumps to over $18 billion.

That’s a lot of money, and, once it leaves our economy it never comes back. In return for the billions and billions of dollars we spend, we’re left with polluted air and water, contaminated by the pollution that burning fossil fuels leaves behind.

Luckily, we already have the technology we need to substantially reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Companies like Cream City Grecycling use resources that Wisconsin already has to produce the energy we need to power our economy. In doing so, they create jobs and invest in Wisconsin instead of sending money out of state.

While collecting used cooking oil to make biodiesel won’t solve our problem alone, there are many other ways that we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels today.

Wind, solar and bioenergy can all help reduce our dependence on expensive, dirty coal to produce electricity. These technologies are effective, time-tested methods of producing energy and they can be manufactured and produce energy right here in Wisconsin. All we need to make these energy solutions a reality is to pass policies that encourage their growth.

We also have the opportunity to use other waste streams to meet our energy needs. Here in the dairy state, we can use manure from our 1,266,000 cows to produce electricity using manure digesters. Many manure digesters have the added environmental benefit of removing large amounts of phosphorus — the nutrient responsible for harmful algae blooms in Wisconsin lakes — from water.

There is no silver bullet solution, but by investing in an array of time-tested clean energy solutions, we can substantially reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Companies like Cream City Grecycling are blazing the path forward.  Following their lead will help clean our air and water, create jobs, and strengthen our economy.

-Contributed by Sam Weis, communications director.

Student highlights the benefits of clean energy, cost of fossil fuels

A few months ago, a high school student who was conducting academic research on renewable energy interviewed me.  Her work was published last week in the Janesville Gazette, and it is quite impressive:

“One of the biggest concerns about renewable energy is its higher cost; however, renewables are not necessarily more expensive than fossil fuels. The costs of fossil fuels are spread out, from transportation, to the burning of the fuel, to the disposal of its waste. Of course, there are also environmental costs that we might not pay now but will burden future generations. In contrast, renewable energy expenses are concentrated in start-up costs. Once a renewable resource plant or wind farm is established, costs are fewer and pollution is less than that of a coal-burning plant.

“Other benefits of renewable energy exist, as well. Clean energy has a lot of potential to create jobs and boost the economy in Wisconsin. The many shuttered factories throughout Wisconsin could be transitioned to creating renewable energy technology. Already companies in our state are manufacturing wind turbine parts; many other factories could provide thousands of jobs by manufacturing other green technology.”

It’s remarkable that a high school student could so clearly and succinctly lay out the arguments for investing in clean energy.  To read the full article, you can click here. I certainly hope that our leaders are listening.

Contributed by Katy Walter, clean energy specialist

Green jobs growing fast, Wisconsin falling behind

Green jobs represent some of the nation’s fastest growing industries with no reason to believe they will slow down anytime soon, according to a recent report released by Ibisworld.

The report, “Top ten fastest growing industries,” lists the fastest growing sectors in the United States by percentage of revenue and includes wind power (#3), environmental consulting (#7) and solar power (#10). These industries are growing fast and will likely continue to grow for years: the solar industry can expect to grow another 7.9 percent by 2016, and wind can expect to grow 11.2 percent, according to the report.

Green jobs represent a bright spot in today’s troubled economic times. With forecasts of solid growth on the horizon, it would only make sense to invest in clean energy and harness its job-creating potential.

Unfortunately, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction as a state. Early this year, the legislature made it more difficult to construct safe wind farms in Wisconsin, killing proposed wind projects and hundreds of jobs they were set to create.

In May, the Joint Finance Committee voted to cut funding for Focus on Energy, our statewide energy efficiency and renewable energy program. Unless undone by the legislature as a whole, or vetoed by Gov. Walker, this move promises to result in higher energy bills and lost jobs.

These measures serve to entrench our state’s reliance on expensive, out-of-state fossil fuels — a dirty habit that costs our state 17 billion dollars every year.

Wisconsin has the potential to boost our economy and create thousands of jobs by becoming a clean energy leader, but we will miss this opportunity unless our leaders recognize the power of clean energy.

You can help ensure that Wisconsin becomes a leader in the clean energy economy by writing a letter supporting Focus on Energy, or by making a donation to Clean Wisconsin today.

Green jobs are growing fast, and to keep Wisconsin open for clean energy businesses, we need to act today!

-Contributed by Sam Weis, media specialist

New Solar Plant Gives Wisconsin a Brighter Future

Late last month, I attended the grand opening for Helios USA, a manufacturer of solar panels in Milwaukee.  In my opinion, Helios USA is a great example of what Wisconsin needs.

Helios explains itself on its company’s website:  “We are an American manufacturer headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We founded our company here, we are based here, and we build here.”

Helios USA is a new manufacturer, creating family-supporting jobs right here in Wisconsin.  I had the pleasure of chatting with one of their employees who has three kids of similar age to mine. His kiddos were running around the plant, happy as could be.

Watching the kids run around served as an easy reminder of why I work at Clean Wisconsin and why we, as a community, need to transition to clean energy.  For me, it’s all for my kids…my three beautiful girls who are 4, 2, and just 7 months.  As a mom, I protect them day in and day out and I am grateful to have a career dedicated to protecting the world that they will soon inherit. It’s inconceivable to me to leave our children with the burden of a spoiled environment.

The author with her three children

I am grateful to companies like Helios USA, who are recognizing the economic opportunity in producing the technology we need to protect Wisconsin’s future.

Watching the kids run around also reminded me of visiting the small, family-owned factory my dad worked at while I was growing up.  My sister, brother and I loved to visit the factory with my dad on weekends when he had a bit of work to finish-up. I was so proud to be there, thinking “My dad made that!”

The kids running around Helios USA undoubtedly feel the same pride that I did as a child. In addition, they should feel proud to know that their dad is working to protect their future by making parts that produce clean, renewable energy.

Contributed by Becky Bains, Development Director