Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Household prices will rise less than 5%, still much higher than inflation
By Thomas Content of the Journal Sentinel
We Energies customers will see their electric bills rise Jan. 1, with double-digit increases projected for the utility's biggest ratepayers.
The utility's largest energy-users - factories and other large businesses -can expect their bills to jump about 13% on average, said Brian Manthey, utility spokesman. Most other business customers can expect electric bills to rise 8% to 10%.
Residential customers can expect an increase of less than 5%.
By comparison, the rate of inflation increased 1.1% from a year ago, according to the latest report from the U.S. Labor Department.
The culprit behind the Jan. 1 increase is the loss of credits that were linked to the sale of the Point Beach nuclear power plant several years ago. Those credits, which have expired, helped mask a substantial rate increase in 2008.
Since 2008, We Energies has refunded more than $700 million to Wisconsin customers from the $1 billion sale of the Point Beach nuclear plant to NextEra Energy Resources, a subsidiary of FPL Group Inc. of Juno Beach, Fla.
For business customers in particular, the credits have helped offset increases on their bills, even as the utility has received approval to raise rates to compensate for higher fuel costs and power plant construction.
Todd Stuart, executive director of the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, said his members who are We Energies customers face increases in the range of 12% to 15%, although one energy-intensive firm faces a 20% increase.
"Most of our members have been aware of it for some time, but that doesn't mean it's not going to hurt when those credits come off," he said. "There's going to be a sting; there's no doubt about it."
Stuart was lobbying the state Public Service Commission to reject a big rate increase three years ago when the commission also authorized the credits to start flowing back to customers.
"That's truly the underlying problem, that the increase in 2008 was 17%," Stuart said. "And the credits have been masking that, until now."
Thursday, December 23, 2010
State of Illinois announced today it will use some of the federal funds rejected by Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker to create a public-private partnership that will develop high-speed rail from Chicago to St. Louis, Mo., by 20114.
Illinois Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the signing of the historic cooperative agreement by the federal government, state government, Union Pacific Railroad, and Amtrak as a crucial advance in the development of a planned high-speed passenger rail network that will serve Illinois and the Midwest region.
“ Clearly, the leadership, perseverance and commitment of Governor Quinn, Senator Durbin, and our private sector partners, has vaulted Illinois into the lead on the development of high-speed rail,” Hannig said. “This announcement is about more than just an historic achievement for Illinois and the Midwest. It is a celebration of the kind of partnership and vision that is creating jobs now and providing needed access to a crucial regional transportation alternative.”
In September 2010, Quinn announced that Illinois had become the first state in the nation to begin high-speed rail construction through an initial agreement to upgrade 90 miles of track between Alton and Lincoln. With the full Cooperative Agreement now in place, construction will continue in early spring from just south of Lincoln to Dwight. That phase of work is expected to conclude next fall.
“It’s a wonderful day for Illinoisans as we celebrate a milestone achievement towards becoming the first state in the nation to bring high-speed rail to fruition,” Quinn said. “We applaud the cooperation and hard work of all participating agencies to bring high-speed rail service, thousands of jobs, and economic growth to communities across the state.”
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
MADISON – Two reports released today by the Public Service commission of Wisconsin (PSC) indicate that Wisconsin’s electric utilities and cooperatives continue to make steady progress in adding renewable energy to the state’s energy supplies. All of the electric providers meet or exceed state requirements and many offer incentives to customers who want to generate their own renewable electricity.
Renewable Portfolio Standard Compliance
Wisconsiin’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) law requires retail electric providers to produce 66 percent of the state’s eelectricity from renewable resources by the year 2010, and 110 percent by 2015. each year, Wisconsin utilities and cooperatives are required to report to the PSC their progress in meeting thee renewable milestones. Today the PSC released the 2009 RPS compliance Report which indicates:
+ All 118 Wisconsin electric providers met their RPS requirement for 2009;
+ 113 providers exceeded their requirements for the year, creating excess renewable resource credits that can be banked and used for compliance in future years; and,
+ In 2009, 6.29 percent of the electricity sold by the state’s utilities and cooperatives was generated from renewable resources, up from 4.90 percent in 2008.
Distributed Renewable Generation
PSC also released a status report on its investigation into “advanced a term renewable tariffs,” a term used to describe long-term contracts whereby utilities and cooperatives offer to purchase electricity at premium prices from customers who generate electricity from small, renewable systems such as solar panels. Highlights of the status report include:
+ More than 300 of Wisconssin’s electric providers, representing about 90% of the state’ s electricity market, have voluntarily offered this kind of incentive;
+ Customers have responded by installing more than 10 MW of small, distributed capacity utilizing biogas (from manure digesters on farms), solar panels, and wind turbines; and,
+ An additional 8.2 MW off generation capacity, mostly from biogas projects, is under construction and will soon be generating electricity.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Urban Permaculture For a Hopeful Future
Workshop Description: How can we create resilient, regenerative cities and suburbs? Permaculture, an ecological approach to design, shows us how. Though land may be limited, cities are rich in other resources, especially social capital. This workshop will show how to find, harvest, and integrate the many resources in our cities in sustainable ways, including getting access to land for gardening, creating business guilds and networks, working with local government and policy makers, learning the pattern language of the city, creating public space in neighborhoods, and building urban ecovillages. This workshop will offer specific techniques and strategies for food, energy, and community security in metropolitan areas. We'll learn how permaculture's principles and design methods apply to the challenging yet rich environments of our cities as well as the sprawling, car-requiring spaces in suburbia, and will provide ways to leverage the special opportunities that cities and suburbs provide.
Who he is: Toby Hemenway is the author of Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, which for the past seven years has been the world’s best-selling book on permaculture, a design approach based on ecology for creating sustainable landscapes, homes, communities, and workplaces. He is an adjunct professor in the School of Graduate Education at Portland State University, Scholar-in-Residence at Pacific University, and a biologist consultant for the Biomimicry Guild. He teaches, consults, and lectures on permaculture and ecological design throughout the US and other countries. His writing has appeared in magazines such as Natural Home, Whole Earth Review, and American Gardener. He and his wife divide their time between western Montana and northern Arizona.
His website: http://patternliteracy.com
What: Basic Energy Literacy (and Numeracy)
When: Jan 22nd, 10:30 to 12:30
Where: Urban Ecology Center
I have been given the honor of teaching a basic energy literacy and numeracy class at the urban ecology center this January.
The class will cover all the basic energy information and assessment tools that inform Transition. We will talk about Peak Oil, current American and world-wide energy usage, world-wide fossil fuel reserves, the capacity of alternative energy to replace fossil fuels, energy and the economyh, and our energy prospects for the future.
After the class you will also have the tools to asses government and advertising claims about their programs and products. When you hear of a new oil-field discovery, you will be able to assess how big it really is. When someone announces a 1000 megawatt solar installationi, you will know how much power that produces. When you hear someone chant, "drill, baby, drill," you will understand what they can actually hope to find.
I hope to see many of you there!
Friday, December 17, 2010
Washington, D.C. -- In typical fashion, the U.S. Congress passed a suite of last-minute tax laws last night, including an extension of the Treasury Grant Program (TGP) for renewable energy project developers.
Trade groups in Washington have been pushing hard for an extension of the program, which provides a cash payment of up to 30% of equipment costs in place of the Investment Tax Credit. The grant program was responsible for a large portion of the renewable energy projects built throughout the U.S. in 2010. Originally passed as part of the 2009 stimulus package, the TGP was supposed to expire at the end of December.
Because there are still a limited number of financial institutions able to finance projects by taking advantage of tax credits, the TGP has opened up new sources of capital for project developers. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the grant program spurred over 1,100 solar projects and $18 billion dollars of investment in 2010.
“This program has successfully created thousands of jobs and opportunity in all 50 states for construction workers, electricians, plumbers, contractors that have struggled in this harsh economic climate,” said SEIA President Rhone Resch in a statement.
While the wind industry saw a significant drop in installations compared to 2009, the grant program helped keep thousands of MW on the table for 2010 and 2011. American Wind Energy Association CEO Denise Bode projected a loss of tens of thousands of wind jobs in 2011 without an extension of the TGP.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
The last oceangoing ship of the year steams out of the Port of Milwaukee this week, bound for Morocco with a load of soybeans, ending what's been a good shipping season - with total tonnage down but steel shipments surging from a year ago.
The port handled about 1.9 million metric tons of cargo through Nov. 1, compared with 2.4 million a year earlier.
Most of the decline was blamed on fewer road-salt shipments, one of the port's largest commodities.
About 32% less salt was brought into the port this year, largely because of a surplus from 2009, said Eric Reinelt, Port of Milwaukee director.
The port had strong exports of grain and mining equipment and high imports of steel, according to Reinelt.
It's had visits from 207 ships, up from 191 at this time last year.
"The good news is that anything related to the overall economic cycle did fairly well," Reinelt said. "Purchases of specialty steel products through the port, mostly from Europe, are up a whopping 50% over last year. . . ."
The port has made room for storage of wind-turbine blades, hoping to get more of that cargo business.
Earlier, Milwaukee's port and terminal operators lost millions in revenue and about 25 jobs because of state rules that clamped down on the shipment of wind-turbine components on Wisconsin highways.
Caravans of the huge turbine parts were shipped through Duluth, Minn., and Beaumont, Texas, rather than Milwaukee.
But Wisconsin's highway rules have been relaxed, Reinelt said.
"Next year, our big marketing effort is going to be in wind-power products. I think next year, and in 2012, we should see that business come back," he said.
Also, the entrance ramp to Interstate-794 was widened this year so that trucks could get on the highway easier and not have to use city streets. That move was a huge improvement for the port and its terminal operators, Reinelt said.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Lawmaker calls for audit; business groups against added funds
With a decision possible Tuesday on an increase in funding for the state Focus on Energy program, a lawmaker called for an audit of the energy efficiency initiative and several business groups came out against what they criticized as "a $340 million energy tax hike."
Business groups including Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, the Wisconsin Paper Council, Midwest Food Processors Association and the Wisconsin chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses issued a letter opposing increased funding for energy efficiency.
"Energy conservation and efficiency is a great idea, which is why so many businesses, like paper companies, already do it," said Ed Wilusz, vice president of government relations for the Wisconsin Paper Council, in a statement. "But the existing state program appears to be working well. We doubt that the massive spending increase called for in this proposal is necessary or would be effective."
Supporters of energy efficiency say it's the least-cost alternative to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and a way to help the state postpone costlier expenses like investments in power plants.
The opposition by business groups comes even though large manufacturers in Wisconsin are exempt under state law from paying more to the Focus on Energy program.
The Focus on Energy program is funded through a surcharge on most customers' electric bills. Under the PSC proposal, funding would ramp up over the next four years, raising $20 million more than current levels in 2011 and $60 million more in 2012. The increase would result in an average rate increase of 0.2% in 2011 for utility customers, and 0.7% in 2012.
Increases in funding are also proposed for 2013 and 2014 under the PSC proposal that will be reviewed Tuesday by the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee.
Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Allouez) said Monday he wants the Legislative Audit Bureau to conduct an audit of Focus on Energy before lawmakers agree to an increase in funding.
"Our economy is still in bad shape, and families and businesses in our state are hurting," he said in a statement. "We need to make sure that this program is providing the benefits that it claims it is before we agree to add more funding."
Although not audited by the Legislative Audit Bureau, the Focus on Energy program is audited regularly by independent consulting firms.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
No money is available to build a train shed at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station even though the project is required to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
The money for the station improvements had been included as part of the $810 million Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail project that was rescinded by the federal government last week in light of opposition by Gov.-elect Scott Walker.
The Intermodal Station project was to construct a storage and maintenance building for new trains that run between Chicago and Milwaukee. It also included construction of platforms and an ADA-compliant connection to the station.
Steve Kulm, a spokesman for Amtrak in Chicago, said Amtrak has spent more than $109 million to bring some 200 stations around the U.S. into compliance and is working to bring all the nation’s train stations into compliance. However, he said, he does not know if money for the Milwaukee project is available.
“Where the money might come from, I don’t know,” Kulm said. “I can’t say that we’ve identified a funding source.”
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation project was supposed to begin in the spring.
“There are no other sources of funding for the project,” said Peg Schmitt, a WisDOT spokeswoman. “In terms of what we do next, I don’t know.”
Despite the lack of money, the state could be forced to come up with $18 million to complete the project if a lawsuit is threatened. The ADA requires public places be accessible to those with disabilities.
Diana Sullivan, disability rights and access specialist with Milwaukee-based Independence First Inc., said her organization will meet this week to discuss whether to file a complaint if the state project is not completed. Independence First, a nonprofit advocacy agency, has successfully used the federal law to improve accessibility elsewhere.
“We were up in arms over the Riverwalk and Summerfest,” Sullivan said. “We talked to the U.S. Attorney and reached a settlement.”
The Intermodal Station in Milwaukee could face the same type of action, she said.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
What: High Speed Train and Milwaukee Jobs Crisis Rally
Where: Milwaukee City Hall Rotunda
When: Monday, December 13, 12 Noon
Who: Good Jobs & Livable Neighborhoods project of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, and coalition partners.
In addition, on Thursday December 16th at 7 PM there will be a major town hall meeting in the neighborhood that would be directly affected by closing the Talgo high speed rail plant. The meeting will be held at the New Hope Baptist Church, 2433 W. Roosevelt Dr., Milwaukee. The meeting will be led by Reverend Willie Brisco and State Senator Spencer Coggs.
Friday, December 10, 2010
The governor-elect's insistence on killing the Milwaukee-to-Madison rail line seems to have paid off for him. But not for the rest of the state.
And Wisconsin stands still. Thanks to the opposition of Governor-elect Scott Walker and an apparent majority of state residents, federal transportation officials announced Thursday that the state won't get the money needed to build a fast rail link from Milwaukee to Madison. Walker called the decision a victory, and, in one sense, he's right. Those like Walker who thought the rail line was a waste of money won.
But in a larger sense, the state lost. The opposition of Walker and others was shortsighted. The money the Obama administration was willing to invest in Wisconsin would have brought jobs and an improved transportation system. It could have served as an economic development tool and an attraction to new industries.
And it still can if rail advocates continue to fight for creating a modern and balanced transportation system in Wisconsin. Clearly, their work is cut out for them, and, clearly, they failed to make their case to most residents and to Republicans this time around. It's time to start again - because the case still makes sense.
The line would have been part of a network of fast trains connecting major cities in the Midwest, bypassing roads and air travel that are hit harder by weather and, in the case of airlines, by long lines and delays caused by security measures. Roads and cars, meanwhile, will be hit hard by rising gasoline prices and the need to improve a crumbling infrastructure.
A modern rail network offers a sound travel alternative, convenient, comfortable and business-friendly, a fact that other countries and states have long recognized. Furthermore, making Madison one stop on a Midwest network and linking its university, research parks and innovative companies to Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Chicago made all the sense in the world.
This was never about just a Milwaukee-to-Madison link; it was about linking economic centers throughout the Midwest so that they can better compete in a global economy.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
December 9, 2010
Final Wind Siting Rule Improves Clean Energy Outlook
With the changes made at the Public Service Commission’s (PSC) open meeting today, wind developers in Wisconsin can look forward to a set of workable statewide permitting standards that will facilitate the development of well-designed wind projects.
At the meeting, the Commission adjusted the requirements on two issues of critical importance to the wind industry: set back distances and compensation to neighboring residents.
“Today’s decisions culminate a four-year effort to set Wisconsin’s permitting house in order,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide renewable energy advocacy organization.
“The final rules strike a reasonable balance between protecting public health and safety and advancing wind energy generation, a proven pathway for creating well-paying jobs and increasing revenues to local governments,” Vickerman said.
Initially, the rule did not specify a definite setback distance between turbines and residences and community buildings neighboring the host property.
“By setting a maximum setback distance of 1,250 feet, the rule would not impose economic burdens on wind developers seeking to install newer and larger wind turbines now available in the market, such as the 2.5 megawatt turbines being erected at the Shirley Wind Farm in Brown County,” according to Vickerman.
Regarding compensation to non-participating residences, the commission decided to uncouple the annual compensation level instead of linking the size of the payments to the payment received by the host landowner. The commission’s move resolved the most problematic feature that had been in the rule.
“We thank the Commissioners for their hard work and their willingness to work through a number of very complicated and thorny issues that do not lend themselves to easy resolution,” Vickerman added.
The rules promulgated by the PSC are a product of landmark legislation adopted in 2009 to establish statewide siting standards for wind energy siting. Legislative committees will have 10 days to review the rules after formally receiving them. If they take no action, the rules take effect on January 1, 2011.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission voted Monday to shut six aging Front Range coal-fired power units and allow Xcel Energy to replace them with a new $530 million gas-fired plant.
Pollution controls, with a $340 million price tag, also were approved for the coal-burning Pawnee plant near Brush and the Hayden plant.
The commission still must decide what to do with the largest coal-burning plant in the Denver area — the Cherokee 4 unit.
"Cherokee 4 is the largest source of air pollution in the Denver area, and it needs to be shut," said John Nielson, energy-program director for the environmental-policy group Western Resource Advocates.
The closures, which will occur between 2011 and 2017, are part of Xcel's proposal to meet the state Clean Air- Clean Jobs Act, which seeks to cut nitrogen-oxide pollution by 70 to 80 percent.
Xcel would receive accelerated cost recovery for the investments in a comprehensive plan to cut pollution under the law.
The state is out of compliance with federal clean-air health standards and has to submit a plan next year to the Environmental Protection Agency showing steps to cut pollution.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
While opponents of wind energy have attempted to use self-published reports to block projects, the science is clear. Independent studies conducted around the world consistently find that wind farms have no direct impact on physical health. In fact, with no air or water pollution emissions, wind energy is essential to reducing public health impacts from the energy sector.
A minority of residents living near wind projects may sometimes find the turbine sounds annoying and the same is true with any environmental sound. Annoyance is a subjective effect that varies among people and circumstances. Many residents in Oregon and across the United States find wind turbines to be a non-intrusive neighbor.
In 2009, we participated in an international multidisciplinary scientific advisory panel to review current literature on the perceived health effects of wind turbines. The panel found no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects. It is important to note that while this effort was funded by the American and Canadian Wind Energy Associations, we are independent scientists who had no involvement with the wind industry prior to this engagement.
The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council also conducted peer-reviewed research on the issue: Its findings: "There is currently no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects."
Robert J. McCunney is a research scientist in occupational and environmental medicine at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Biological Engineering. Robert Dobie is a clinical professor of otolaryngology at both the University of Texas-San Antonio and the University of California, Davis. David M. Lipscomb is president of Correct Service Inc. in Stanwood, Wash.
Monday, December 6, 2010
631 N. 19th Street Milwaukee, WI 53233
Sun. Dec. 12 - Living Activism Night presents a benefit for URBAN AGRICULTURE hosted by Godsil and friends featuring music from the wonderful band EMBEDDED REPORTER. Free-will donation with all door $ going to the benefited org. Be generous! 7pm
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
December 1, 2010
Wisconsin Cannot Afford to Ignore Rising Coal Prices
Long-considered an inexpensive and reliable fuel source, coal has become subject to market and regulatory pressures that threaten to make it an expensive and risky way to generate electricity, according to national news reports and pertinent utility filings with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC).
“The expectation of continued increases in coal prices reinforces the value of relying on Wisconsin’s own energy resources. If there’s an effort to find savings for utility customers, the logical move would be to shutter antiquated coal plants before they become more of a liability,” said Michael Vickerman, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide, nonprofit renewable energy advocacy organization.
A key driver behind coal’s rising cost is China, which has moved from an exporter to an importer of coal. The New York Times (NYT) reported last week that Chinese coal imports will hit all-time highs for November and December of this year. Some of this coal is coming from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, the coal field that also supplies many Wisconsin power plants.1
In the New York Times story, an executive from Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, predicted that his company will send larger and larger quantities of coal to China in the coming years.
Further adding to the upward price pressure on coal is the rising cost of diesel fuel. The PSC has estimated that half of the delivered cost of coal in Wisconsin is attributable to rail shipment, that is highly sensitive to the price of diesel fuel, which sells for 38 cents more per gallon than it did a year ago, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.2 Tom Whipple, editor of the Peak Oil Review, expects diesel fuel supplies to tighten in 2011 as a consequence of flat production volumes and increasing demand from Asia.3 This phenomenon could affect Wisconsin electric utility rates as early as January 2011, according to Vickerman.
We Energies’ coal costs have escalated by $57 million, of which transportation costs account for almost $33 million, according to the utility’s most recent rate filing with the PSC. On top of that, We Energies expects to pay an additional $8 million in oil surcharge costs.4
Click to continue