Renewable Energy Installations in WI

Thursday, December 31, 2009

A safe investment in 2010: Hot water

Though written in 2007, an analysis by RENEW's executive director Michael Vickerman may be even truer today an a few years ago, given the risk involved in "traditional" investments. The analysis shows that an investmnet in a solar hot water system generates a better rate of return than putting money in the bank:

I wrote a column which was highly critical of using payback analysis to figure out whether installing a solar hot water system on one’s house makes economic sense. In almost every example you can imagine, the payback period for today’s solar installations ranges between long and forever. For my system, which started operating in January 2006, payback will be achieved in a mere 19 years using today’s energy prices, though by the time 2025 rolls around, half of Florida might be under water and the rest of the country out of natural gas.

But there’s no reason to let payback length rule one’s ability to invest in sustainable energy for the home or business, especially if there are other approaches to valuing important economic decisions. One way to sidestep the gloomy verdicts of payback analysis is to do what most companies do when contemplating a long-term investment like solar energy -- calculate the internal rate of return (IRR) on the invested capital. The definition of IRR is the annualized effective compounded return rate which can be earned on the invested capital, i.e. the yield on the investment.

By using this familiar capital budgeting method, I’m able to calculate an IRR of 6.1%for my solar water heater if natural gas prices rise a measly 3% per annum. That yield exceeds anything that a bank will offer you today. It will likely outperform the stock market this year, which is due for a substantial downward adjustment to reflect the slow-motion implosion of the housing market now underway. And, unless you live in a gold-rush community like Fort McMurray, Alberta, your house will do well just to hold onto its current valuation, let alone appreciate by six percent.

While all investments pose some degree of risk, the return on a solar energy system is about as safe and predictable as, well, the rising sun. Fortunately for the Earth and its varied inhabitants, the center of our solar system is situated well beyond the reach of humanity’s capacity to tamper with a good thing.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Keep working toward energy independence

From an editorial in the Sheboygan Press:

Gov. Jim Doyle's 2006 campaign promise of having four University of Wisconsin campuses completely "off the grid" by 2012 and get their energy needs from renewable sources was an ambitious one.

Unfortunately, it has turned out to be an impossible task.

Doyle said that campuses at Oshkosh, River Falls, Green Bay and Stevens Point were to work toward energy independence as a way to show that it can be done. Doyle has pushed hard for Wisconsin to research and implement alternative energy sources, especially renewable sources — wind, solar and biomass. The goal is to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, especially oil bought from foreign countries.

The four schools were to start producing their own electricity or buy it from utilities using the renewable sources of energy, Doyle said in 2006. The challenge also would spark energy conservation on the four campuses.

But with just two years to go, the promise far outshines the reality.

Still, there has been significant progress.

UW-Green Bay, which specializes in environmental education, has reduced its energy use by 26 percent since 2005.

UW-River Falls is studying the use of wind turbines on the campus farm to generate electricity. . . .

If the governor deserves any criticism for his promise, it is that he set an unrealistic timetable and did not ensure that there was adequate funding.

But Wisconsin must continue to do the research and find the technology that will not only reduce reliance on fossil fuels, but also ensure that energy in the future will be less costly.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Warming to climate action: Xcel web site promotes green power initiatives, cap-and-trade support

From an article by Bob Geiger, staff writer for Finance & Commerce:

Last week, there was a minor change to the web site of Xcel Energy – an unobtrusive box picturing a wind turbine along with the words, "Learn more about Xcel Energy’s climate action."

But the minor graphic signals a major effort at the Minneapolis-based utility – to promote its renewable energy efforts, as well as its support for a proposed federal policy aimed at limiting greenhouse gases.

The site lays out Xcel Energy’s game plan for dealing with climate change, and includes an endorsement of a uniform federal policy for a cap-and-trade system that is intended to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has started the process to cap carbon dioxide emissions as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, established more than 30 years ago to deal with local and regional pollution.

In posting its support of a cap and trade system that charges polluters for emissions of greenhouse gases, Xcel Energy is taking the corporate position that such a system encourages technological change to lower such emissions.

In the meantime, Xcel itself is "looking to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions in Minnesota by 22 percent from 2005 levels" by 2020, said Betsy Engelking, director of resource planning for the utility.

Monday, December 28, 2009


One of serveral posters from WWF. Click on picture to enlarge.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

'Energy squads’ find and stop waste

From an article by Kristin Tillotson in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

As the biggest storm of the season so far descends on the Twin Cities, some lucky homeowners are getting expert help battening down the hatches and lowering their utility bills. The bonus? It's costing them peanuts.

The Center for Energy and the Environment (CEE) in Minneapolis and Neighborhood Energy Connection (NEC) in St. Paul, both nonprofits dedicated to energy efficiency, began pilot programs in the fall in select neighborhoods. Their crews replace light bulbs, wrap fiberglass blankets around water heaters and weatherstrip doors. All the homeowners receiving these customized services had to do was attend a free workshop, then pay $30. Besides the installed products, they get utility-bill savings averaging $127 a year.

Xcel Energy Inc. and CenterPoint Energy pay both programs' labor costs as part of their efforts to meet state-mandated conservation goals. But in January the two utilities will begin offering Home Energy Squad, their own joint program, to other customers in the seven-county metro area. It will be a limited version of the neighborhood-focused visits offered by NEC and CEE, and will expand over the next three years. You must be a customer of Xcel electric and either Xcel gas or CenterPoint gas to be eligible. This is the first time the utilities have collaborated on such a broad scale, said Todd Berreman, who oversees CenterPoint's conservation programs.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Think Tank Flunks Renewable Energy Analysis

From a news release issued by RENEW Wisconsin:

An Examination of Wisconsin Policy Research Institute’s Bogus Methodology

Madison, WI (December 22, 2009) In response to a recent report from the Wisconsin Public Research Institute (WPRI) concluding that policies to increase renewable energy production would be prohibitively expensive, RENEW Wisconsin, a leading sustainable energy advocacy organization, today issued a critique documenting the faulty assumptions and methodological errors that undermine the credibility of that finding.

WPRI’s report, titled “The Economics of Climate Change Proposals in Wisconsin,” reviewed the proposal in the Governor’s Global Warming Task Force to increase the state’s renewable energy requirements on electric utilities to 25% by 2025, and estimated a total cost in excess $16 billion. RENEW’s analysis uncovered a disturbing pattern of “methodological sleight-of-hand, assumptions from outer space, and selective ignoring of facts” that render WPRI’s cost estimate to be completely unreliable.

“It appears that WPRI’s $16 billion number was pulled out of thin air, and that its analysis is nothing more than a tortured effort at reverse-engineering the numbers to fit the preordained conclusion,” said Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin executive director.

Specifically, RENEW identified four significant errors in WPRI’s analytical approach. The critique says:

+ It relies on a grossly inflated electricity sales forecast that is completely detached from current realities.
+ The final cost estimate includes all the generation built to comply with the current renewable energy standard, a clear-cut case of double-counting.
+ The authors fail to account for existing renewable generation capacity that is not currently being applied to a state renewable energy standard.
+ There is a high likelihood that the savings from the renewable energy standard are undervalued, because the authors fail to model plant retirements in their analysis.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Governor backs off energy goal for 4 UW campuses

From an article by Ryan J. Foley in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Gov. Jim Doyle has backed off a campaign promise that four University of Wisconsin campuses will be energy independent by 2012 after determining it was not practical as proposed.

Weeks before he was re-elected in 2006, Doyle said campuses would "go off the grid" by becoming the first state agencies to purchase or produce as much energy from renewable sources as they consume. He said they would achieve that by replacing fossil fuels with cleaner energy sources like solar, wind and biomass.

The goal has since been changed to require the campuses to sharply reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, instead of ending them altogether or going off the grid entirely, by 2012. The change came into public view this month during a Board of Regents meeting.

Some university officials say the original plan never made much sense because "going off the grid" would have required them to start producing their own electricity instead of buying it from utilities, which was not feasible or cost-effective.

At the same time, they credit the challenge with spurring them to conserve energy, study alternative fuels, and purchase more renewable sources from the utilities that provide their electricity.

Doyle told reporters Wednesday his original vision may have been unrealistic because of the challenges associated with producing energy on campuses, but the program would still motivate students and university employees to reduce pollution.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Join lobby effort at Conservation Lobby Day, January 26

Each year citizens from across Wisconsin descend on the Capitol to share their conservation values with their Legislators. Since the first Conservation Lobby Day in 2005, it has grown from just 100 citizens to more than 600! As we head into the 6th annual Conservation Lobby Day, there is one thing we can guarantee-when citizens come together to make their conservation values known, legislators listen, and conservation victories soon follow!

The reauthorization of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund and the passage of the Strong Great Lakes Compact are two great examples of how citizen lobbying resulted in ground-breaking conservation laws.

Conservation Lobby Day is a unique opportunity to share your conservation stories and experiences with legislators and have a huge impact on conservation policies affecting all of Wisconsin.

This Conservation Lobby Day, you can help to:

* Preserve Groundwater: Wisconsin's Buried Treasure: manage Wisconsin's groundwater resources to preserve lakes, streams, wetlands and drinking water supplies.
* Stop Global Warming in Wisconsin: address the threats of global warming in Wisconsin through clean, renewable energy jobs and energy conservation.
* Restore Conservation Integrity: return Wisconsin to an Independent DNR Secretary and a timely appointment of Natural Resource Board members.
* Protect Wisconsin's Drinking Water: protect Wisconsin's drinking water supplies by making sure we safely spread agricultural, municipal, and industrial waste.

For a 1-page brief on each of these issues and more information about Conservation Lobby Day 2010, go to:

Registration starts at 9:00am on the day of the event, but you MUST REGISTER BEFORE JANUARY 19th by visiting and signing up. There you can learn more about the issues in order to better prepare you for the day's events.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Doyle calls for 15-year phase-in on carbon emission limits

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

Madison — Gov. Jim Doyle said that the United States should move forward with federal cap-and-trade legislation if international climate negotiators meeting in Denmark are unable to reach agreement on it.

In a teleconference from Copenhagen where he is attending the world climate talks, Doyle said that coal-dependent states such as Wisconsin would need a phase-in period to meet limits on carbon emissions such as those included in a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in June.

Doyle suggested a period of about 15 years in which states such as Wisconsin would cut emissions below targeted levels without penalty. Doyle said Wisconsin has identified about 15 companies that emit 25,000 metric tons or more yearly of greenhouse gases that would be affected.

The House bill calls for a reduction of carbon emissions of 17% by 2020 from 2005 levels. By 2050, emissions must be reduced by 80% or more.

A report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in October concluded that Midwestern utilities, which rely more on coal as a source of power than utilities on the East and West coasts, would be penalized more than other states. The Midwest utilities are lobbying for changes in the global warming bill pending in the U.S. Senate. The report was prepared after the Midwest utilities, including Alliant Energy Corp. of Madison and Wisconsin Energy Corp. of Milwaukee, raised concerns about the House proposal, saying the way credits for utilities would be divvied up would penalize the Midwest.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Litany of errors mars analysis of bill to enact recommendations of global warming task force

From a news release issued by the coalition for Clean, Responsible Energy for Wisconsin’s Economy (CREWE):

(MADISON, Wis.)—The coalition for Clean, Responsible Energy for Wisconsin’s Economy (CREWE) on Tuesday released a fact sheet detailing the errors with the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute’s (WPRI) November 12th report on the adverse economic effects of the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming recommendations.

“The WPRI report is so wildly flawed that it has no place in any legislative debate on the task force recommendations,” said Thad Nation, executive director of CREWE. “Not only does the report analyze many policies that aren’t even included in the Clean Energy Jobs Act, but it takes a piecemeal approach, failing to analyze the cumulative effect the policies will have on our state.”

Among the errors included in the report, titled “The Economics of Climate Change Proposals in Wisconsin”:
• 8 of the 13 policies analyzed aren’t included in the Clean Energy Jobs Act
• Models policies that would impact the state’s general fund, despite the fact that the Clean Energy Jobs Act includes no tax increases
• Ignores the fact that low carbon fuels will be produced in Wisconsin and other
Midwestern states, while conventional gasoline is largely imported from overseas
• Fails to take into account decreased electricity demand due to energy efficiency and conservation investments outlined in the recommendations.

In addition, the authors of the report used a “black box” economic model to come to their conclusions – meaning the reader is only given the inputs and outputs, without any knowledge of how the statistical analysis was done. In order to allow others to properly analyze the report’s conclusions, the model that was used should be made publicly available for review.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Report: Wind Turbines Cause No Human Harm

From a news release issued by RENEW Wisconsin:

December 15, 2009

Michael Vickerman
RENEW Wisconsin

Report: Wind Turbines Cause No Human Harm

Consistent with 10-plus years of commercial wind generation operations in Wisconsin, a national report issued today concluded that the sounds produced by wind turbines are not harmful to human health, according to the state’s leading renewable energy advocacy group.

Comprised of medical doctors, audiologists, and acoustical professionals from the United States, Canada, Denmark, and the United Kingdom, the panel of reviewers undertook extensive analysis and discussion of the large body of peer-reviewed literature, specifically with regard to sound coming from wind turbines.

The panel was established by the American Wind Energy Association and the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA).

“This report corroborates testimony that RENEW presented in the ongoing Glacier Hills Wind Park hearings at the Wisconsin Public Service Commission,” according to Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin. In that proceeding, We Energies is seeking approval to construct a 90-turbine 162 megawatt wind park in northeast Columbia County.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Crank up clean energy

From an editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal:

It might be hard to muster concern over global warming after shoveling a foot of snow in freezing temperatures last week across Wisconsin.

But the risk of man-made climate change is real and demands action - even if some scientists have overstated the evidence.

The bottom line is this: Burning less petroleum and coal that produces heat-trapping greenhouse gasses makes sense regardless of climate change fears.

A smart and determined transition to cleaner energy will be good for national security, public health and - if done carefully - Wisconsin's economy.

World leaders are gathering in Copenhagen, Denmark, this week for the United Nation's climate change conference. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle is there with a delegation of governors and Canadian premiers.

A lot of the discussion will center on targets for reducing carbon emissions from smoke stacks and vehicles - and what to do if goals aren't met.

America and China spew more fossil-fuel pollution into the atmosphere than anyone, meaning we have more responsibility to lead toward a solution. . . .

The release of more than 1,000 e-mails between a few prominent climate scientists has stirred controversy in recent weeks. The e-mails suggest some scientists can be rude and dismissive when challenged. The scientists also presented data in slanted ways.

But evidence far beyond the work of those few scientists involved in the flap suggests rising global temperatures pose serious risk of flooding, drought and human misery.

Both sides of the global-warming debate have their extremists. Leaders in Copenhagen and Congress need to work from the middle to craft a thoughtful and cost-conscious approach to cleaner air policy.

Wisconsin and the world need solutions that ease global warming while simultaneously benefiting public health, national defense and jobs.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Legislature releases to enact global warming recommendations

With little fanfare, legislative leaders releases a copy of the bill to implement the recommendations of the Task Force on Global Warming. Use these links to access:

+ Bill draft
+ Index to the bill
+ Short overview
+ Detailed summary

Thursday, December 10, 2009

AESP's 20th National Conference & Expo

From a conference announcement from the Association of Energy Service Professionals (AESP):

AESP's National Conference & Expo is the premier energy industry conference that unites renowned energy experts, stimulating educational sessions, and valuable networking opportunities into one convenient location. You will discover new ideas for your marketing and energy efficiency programs; learn about emerging market trends and technologies; and meet with colleagues to share experiences.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Focus on Energy offers $1 million in opportunity grants

From a news release issued by Focus on Energy:

(December 7, 2009)—Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s statewide resource for energy efficiency and renewable energy, in partnership with Wisconsin Public Service, announced plans to award $1 million in Opportunity Grants through a request for proposal (RFP) process to help eligible WPS customers finance innovative energy-saving project ideas. Potential bidders must submit a RFP by January 7, 2010 to be considered.

The RFP seeks “out-of-the-box” ideas for energy-saving projects and initiatives. Winning proposals will complement existing Focus programs and/or explore and test emerging energyefficiency technologies. Grants will be awarded on a competitive basis, and the number of grant awards will depend on available funding. New and innovative products, technologies, and services that save energy are encouraged.

“At Focus on Energy, we encourage new, innovative ways to save energy and money,” said Kathy Kuntz, Energy Programs Director at Focus on Energy. “This Opportunity Grant provides a real opportunity to do just that. We’re excited to see what residents, businesses, and organizations will come up with!”

The Opportunity Grant is open to all individuals, firms, and organizations that are proposing project ideas and energy-saving initiatives that would serve WPS customers. Efforts can target innovative energy-saving technologies as well as behavioral changes. Projects may target any sector, product, or service eligible for support through Focus on Energy (including residential, business, and renewable energy). Proposals should not duplicate current Focus on Energy efforts.

For more information about Focus on Energy and current efforts, visit

Monday, December 7, 2009

Solar panels rise to Capitol heights

Governor Jim Doyle signals a crane operator to lift the first pallet of solar panels (right) for installation on the West Wing of the State Capitol. Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) President Gary (middle) and Chris Collins (right), a representative of the installer H&H Solar, joined in the liftoff.

The 48 solar panels in the final installation will cover 9,600 square feet on the Capitol roof and produce about 11,700 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, slightly more than a typical Wisconsin home would use annually.The system will be owned and maintained by MGE, which is fully funding the $78,000 project.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

PSC approves settlement between environmental groups and utility

From a news release issued by Clean Wisconsin:

Madison, Wis. – In a decision that will help restore and protect the health of Lake Michigan, The Public Service Commission today voted to approve the terms of a settlement agreement that ended litigation between We Energies and environmental groups regarding the use of a once-through cooling system at the Elm Road Generating Station.

“Today the PSC approved a settlement agreement that begins a 24-year, $96 million dollar initiative for Lake Michigan projects,” said Katie Nekola, Energy Program Director at Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. “We’re very happy that litigation ended in such a way that will benefit all of the people who enjoy one of the world’s most magnificent natural resources.”

The funding will be used to address priority problems such as invasive species, polluted runoff, sewage overflows, and other issues that negatively affect the health of Lake Michigan.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Decision Nears on Glacier Hills Wind Park

From an article in Catching Wind, a newsletter of the Wisconsin Wind Working Group:

The Glacier Hills Wind Park proceeding (6630-CE-302) is entering the home stretch. Hearings on the 90-turbine, 162 MW windpower installation proposed in Columbia County have ended, and parties are now preparing and exchanging post-hearing briefs. The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (“PSCW”) is likely to issue its ruling on the application submitted by Wisconsin Electric Power Company (“WEPCO”) in early January. If approved, project construction would begin in 2010. All 90 turbines should be operational some time in 2011.
As of this moment, Glacier Hills is the only utility-owned windpower facility proposed for development in Wisconsin. In sharp contrast to neighboring states (see table below), there has been no windpower construction activity in Wisconsin since the 54 MW Butler Ridge project was placed in service this past March. No other wind developer with a fully permitted project has announced plans to start construction in 2010.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Clash begins on lifting nuclear construction ban

From a news release issued by The Carbon Free Nuclear Free coalition, which includes Physicians for Social Responsibility, Clean Wisconsin, Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, League of Women Voters Education Fund, Nukewatch, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, Peace Action Wisconsin, Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger, Citizens Utility Board, Coulee Region Progressives, Wisconsin Environment, and the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG):

Repeal of Wisconsin’s restrictions on new nuclear power reactors is “a gift to the dying nuclear industry that Wisconsin residents can’t afford,” a Carbon Free Nuclear Free coalition of 13 environmental, public interest and consumer groups said Tuesday.

At a holiday-themed State Capitol news conference, members of the coalition asked state lawmakers to “be nice, not naughty” by defeating the repeal, Assembly Bill 516, and supporting a state energy policy that would replace coal and nuclear power with renewable energy sources by 2050.

The coalition says that cost, safety, radioactive waste and environmental issues make nuclear power too expensive and too dangerous when renewable energy alternatives are now technically feasible and available.

“Clean renewables and energy efficiency are the gifts that really keep on giving -- clean air, clean water, affordable electricity and reduced carbon emissions,” said Jennifer Nordstrom, national coordinator of the Carbon Free Nuclear Free campaign.

“Wisconsin's nuclear plant law is one of the most sensible laws on the books,” Charlie Higley executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, said. The law requires that, before any new nuclear power plant is built in Wisconsin, a federally-licensed nuclear waste disposal site be operating, and that the cost of building, operating, and decommissioning the nuclear plant and disposing of the nuclear waste is economically advantageous to ratepayers. “Cost is a major concern,” Higley said, “and removing this protection would be a mistake.”

From a news release issued by State Rep. Mike Huebsch:

Madison…State Representative Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) blasted Wisconsin environmental advocacy groups today for walking away from an agreement reached by the Governor’s Global Warming Task Force to repeal the ban on new nuclear power plants.

In a Capitol press conference on Tuesday, the Citizens Utility Board, Clean Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Sierra Club announced their opposition to repealing the ban and modifying the law.

Rep. Huebsch noted that representatives of all three groups voted for the task force
recommendations, including the ban’s repeal, just last year and called their new position “the beginning of the unraveling” of the agreement.

Rep. Huebsch said that the groups’ decision to oppose an integral piece of the global warming legislation being readied for introduction by Governor Doyle and Democrat lawmakers jeopardizes their ability to enact the environmental policy for Wisconsin.

“The legislation isn’t even introduced yet and already members of the task force are reneging on their commitment,” Rep. Huebsch said. “They cannot remove fundamental portions of an agreement and then expect what’s left to be taken seriously.”