Archive for April, 2010

MGE: The Rustbelt Mindset

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Word has it that Madison Gas & Electric was the lead lobbyist in scuttling the state’s green energy plan during the state’s recent budget deliberations.

One major component of the plan: 25% of state’s total energy was to come from renewables. It also included a massive conservation push. There were significant provisions for reeling in cars. It was a multi-frontal assault on gluttony. It was a good plan.

Kristine Euclid, Gary Wolter & Co. should be ashamed of themselves.

As many readers know, I’m a major doubter about renewables. For now. I believe that there is so much low hanging fruit in terms of conservation that it would be unwise to dive into renewables until we have reduced our overall burn to the point that renewables could actually make a dent. As it stands, we burn so much that even a massive, Manhattan Project-scale investment in renewables wouldn’t make a hill of beans difference. We’ve got to burn less — a lot less — in order for renewables to be more than decorative. That said, this plan was so comprehensive, and so, so, just plain good on so many levels — especially conservation — that I think the 25% was a good, achievable target for renewables. I believe we would have been forced to burn a lot less in order to achieve that target number. We could never in a million years gotten to that number trying to build up to it assuming current consumption. We would first have to reduce, reduce, and reduce some more to make that number a reality. A good thing.

But the old, gray industrialists at MGE didn’t like it. Why? For one, by forcing reductions in the total burn of coal in the state, the bill probably would have reduced the value of their recent investment in 19th century coal technology at the Oak Creek power plant (or Elm Road, or whatever the latest euphemism for that rusting relic is).

It gets worse. Not only did they scuttle a visionary, 21st century green energy policy, they now want to hammer their green power paying customers with the cost of keeping their coal fired power plants.

More below….


April 27, 2010


Michael Vickerman

RENEW Wisconsin


RENEW: Renewable Energy Not Responsible for MGE Rate Increase

Higher costs associated with fossil fuel generation are driving Madison Gas & Electric’s costs higher, according to testimony submitted by company witnesses. The utility filed an application last week with the Public Service Commission (PSC) to collect an additional $32.2 million through a 9% increase in electric rates starting January 2011.

The bulk of the rate increase can be attributed to expenses associated with burning coal to generate electricity. A 22% owner of the 1,020-megawatt (MW) Columbia Generating Station near Portage, Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) and the owner plant owners plan to retrofit the 35-year-old facility to reduce airborne emissions. The cost of Columbia’s environmental retrofit is expected to total $640 million, of which MGE’s share is about $140 million.

MGE also owns an 8% share of the state’s newest coal-fired station, the 1,230-MW Elm Road Generating Station located in Oak Creek. A portion of the proposed rate hike would cover lease payments and other expenses at that plant.

MGE’s application does not attribute any portion of its proposed rate hike to renewable energy sources. However, MGE plans to increase the premium associated with its voluntary Green Power Tomorrow program from 1.25 cents per kilowatt-hour to 2 cents. RENEW estimates that the premium hike will collect more than $1 million in 2011 from the approximately 10,000 customers participating in the program.

According to the utility’s web site, 10% of MGE’s electric customers purchase some or all of their electricity from renewable resources. Moreover, Green Power Tomorrow has the second highest participation rate of all investor-owned utilities in the country according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Not surprisingly, MGE anticipates subscribership in Green Power Tomorrow to decrease if the PSC approves the higher premium. Currently, the program accounts for about 5% of total electric sales. Program subscribers include the City of Madison, State of Wisconsin, Dane County Regional Airport, Madison West High School, Goodman Community Center and Home Savings Bank.

According to MGE, sinking fossil fuel prices have widened the difference between wholesale power costs and the cost of supplying customers with renewable energy. However, it is worth remembering that the cost of supplying power from MGE’s renewable energy assets, such as its Rosiere installation in Kewaunee County and Top of Iowa project, did not increase last year and will not increase in the foreseeable future.

“Even though the cost of MGE’s windpower supplies is not going up, Green Power Tomorrow customers will take a double hit if the PSC approves this rate increase and request for higher premiums,” said RENEW Wisconsin executive Director Michael Vickerman. “It’s a ‘heads-I-win-tails-you-lose’ proposition that will wind up rewarding customers who drop out of the renewable energy program because coal is cheaper.”

“It would be short-sighted to penalize renewable energy purchasers just because fossil fuel prices are in a temporary slump,” Vickerman said. “But if MGE is allowed to institute this penalty at the same time it imposes the cost of cleaning up an older coal-fired generator on all of its customers, including its Green Power Tomorrow subscribers, it would have a profoundly negative impact on the renewable energy marketplace going forward.”

“This is the wrong time to be throwing up barriers to renewable energy development. We at RENEW will fight proposals that reward fossil fuel use and penalize renewable energy,” Vickerman added.


RENEW Wisconsin (HUwww.renewwisconsin.orgUH) is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives.

Green Collar Job Symposium, Saturday May 1 — Tomorrow

Friday, April 30th, 2010

I will be a panelist at the May Day shindig tomorrow (newsrelease below). Robbie Webber may be a panelist with me as well. Our session will be around 11:30.

Hope to see you there!




Green Collar Job Symposium, Saturday May 1, Madison Labor Temple, 1602 South Park Street, 9:30 – 5:30.

The Green Collar Alliance will be holding the first annual Green Collar Symposium and networking event Saturday, May 1 at the Madison Labor Temple.  The purpose of the event is to create a model which if implemented in local communities can create sustainable 100% employment.  The Symposium will feature a presentation by the Natural Step Organization and three panel discussions as well as a musical performance by the Raging Grannies.  Admission is free and everyone is welcome.

Na’avi Kickin’ Some Ass & Takin’ Some Names

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Ok, so let’s see, the best equipped, best trained most ferociously powerful army ever fielded in the history of the world seeks to subdue a medieval country equipped with nothing better than WW I equipment, and virtually no formal military training….sounds like the makings of a rout, eh?

But sometimes, hollywood fantasies turn out to be more accurate predictors of the future than the Pentagon’s macho-man plans. Indeed, it looks like the greatest army is tucking tail and slinking back to base after getting its ass kicked by third world (barely) villagers.

The abovelinked NYT article ends with this:

Looking back, soldiers say the effort shows how choices made from a lack of understanding or consultation with local people can drive them into the arms of the insurgents.

“We had the best intentions, but when you don’t fully understand the culture” it is impossible to make the right choices, said Major Fussell.

Gee, ya think?

For a little insider perspective, consider this: back when I was in the Green Machine (mid-late 80s), I was constantly derided by my fellow officers for doing wacky — and extremely un-manly — things like learning the language of the place we were stationed or training in (fluent in Italian, pretty good with German, and even picked up a little Turkish). Actually engaging the locals — which I had a very bad habit of doing — was particularly horrifying for them. I was obviously not destined to last long in that environment. But at least I was able to inflict maximum irritation upon the manly-men while serving. (Can you tell I’m a Holden Caulfield fan?!)

I’d like to think that maybe they will learn a lesson from their travails in Iraq & Afghanistan, but I doubt it. I’ve talked with enough of those who stayed in. They don’t get it. My generation of officers came up in the shadows of Viet Nam. Our training, by officers who had served there, was meant to help us avoid the mistakes of that war. The manly-men who got promoted from my generation are the ones in charge now, making the exact same mistakes as their predecessors in Viet Nam.

They really don’t get it.

But it isn’t their job to get it, really. They are trained to do what they do and that’s it. A big part of what they do is taking orders from civilians in charge. That’s us. We appoint, through a vote, the people who give them their marching orders.

So as you recoil in horror to the latest gruesome videotaped slaughter, keep in mind, the dogs of war have been loosed for one and only one reason: to satisfy gluttonous, deathmobiling lifestyle Americans insist on maintaining. Lust for the Unobtainium-based lifestyle as it were. Expect more slaughter of the Na’avi in the pursuit of it. But remember the karmic ending.

And here’s another good description of the karmic process at work as Jesus H. Obama’s drone strikes obliterate international law and shred our own constitution.

How Bad Planning Reduces IQ…and Pay

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Mayor Pave and his minions are always lamenting the loss of economically successful people to the ‘burbs or complaining about ‘those people’ who do settle here. I’ve long maintained that if he & his developer buddies were to begin building the city in a more urban form, thus conducive to urban social interactions, we would see an invigorated economy, higher incomes and other good tidings. And we wouldn’t have to resort to racist/classist/scapegoating rhetoric. In fact, it was that promise — a cool city — that got this mayor elected in the first place. But somewhere along the line he got derailed onto the track bound for Rockford (the perennial worst city in the country).

Meanwhile, the research is rolling in that justifies the will of the people ca. 2003….

This NYT article delves into the latest research on the power of cities to generate higher incomes than low-density places. It all comes down to good old fashioned face-to-face communication.

Robbie Webber provides a marvelous illustration as to how this works in day to day life. She’s a geographer, so of course she gets how proximity & design empowers us as it convivializes our urban landscape!

So not only is Mayor Pave saddling us with low-density, car-friendly, cul-de-sac & strip mall development fit for a successful 1950s economy, he is also laying the groundwork for another rust-belt disaster in terms of personal income decimation.

We need a new mayor who understands the power of place for our well-being. And we definitely don’t need an Orange County Republican running our economic development planning.

P.s. I’m working on a post of how Green Kathleen is doing Mayor Pave one better in her constant rubberstamping of sprawl across the county.

A Sure Sign of the Apocolypse

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

“Detroit to put 30 miles of bicycle lanes on streets”

RELEASE THE HIPSTERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

City of Verona Set to Destroy Class II Trout Fishery

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Once again, the Western Dane County Coalition for Smart Growth and Environment has an excellent analysis of how yet another new sprawl development will harm our water resources.


To: Capital Area Regional Planning Commission (CARPC) Members

From: Western Dane Coalition for Smart Growth and Environment (WDC/SGE)

Re: City of Verona Urban Service Area (USA) amendment request

The CARPC staff report on the City of Verona USA amendment request issued on June 11, 2009 concludes with eleven specific recommendations to be imposed on Verona as conditions for the requested approval. These recommendations were put in place in order to minimize water quality impacts of the proposed development on the extremely sensitive exceptional Upper Sugar River and Group 1 wetlands located in the State Natural Area, coldwater Badger Mill Creek and other minor wetlands present in the area. Because the City of Verona deemed some of the CARPC staff recommendations as “unreasonable restrictions”, the decision on the request was postponed and the case was sent to the Environmental Resources Technical Advisory Committee (ERTAC or TAC) to be resolved.

The newly-emerged set of recommendations (CARPC staff report 4-8-10), resultant from TAC’s involvement, represent a weakened version of what was originally offered by the CARPC staff in June 2009. These new recommendations if approved, undoubtedly will have an additional negative water quality impact on the affected resources.

Here is a description of how the two sets of recommendations differ and what is missing in recommendations.

Control of runoff volumes and peak rates

Although both versions of recommendations offer control of peak rates of runoff to pre-settlement levels in all storms, they largely differ in volume control standard. While the old version insists on maintaining the pre-development runoff volumes, which is the same as 100% volume control to pre-development levels, the new version calls for the post-development volume control of only 90%. This particular difference in runoff volume control is significant.

According to the CARPC staff report of 6-11-09 (p 37), even if peak runoff rates from sites are controlled, increases in runoff volume from a site can lead to increases in flood peaks at downstream locations. Increased runoff volumes lead to other unwanted consequences, such as stream bank erosion, stream bank destabilization, sedimentation, increased water temperatures and degradation of biotic communities. The report goes on to say that even relatively small amounts of urban land use in a watershed can lead to major changes in biotic communities and that there is a relatively low threshold point for these changes to take root, beyond which there is no recovery of lost water quality (p 40).

A 10% difference in volume control standard between the two sets of recommendations might appear as unimportant at the first glance. Nevertheless it is significant. The event based modeling for Shady Woods Residential Development  (CARPC 12-15-09) demonstrates that 90% volume control standard will lead to runoff volume increase anywhere, between 38% to 156%, depending on the type of vegetation and soil conditions present at the pre-development level. At any rate, the CARPC staff report of 6-11-09 (p 48), expresses the opinion that all new development in Badger Mill Creek and Sugar River sub-watersheds should uphold no increase in runoff volume standard. It calls it “the only practicable approach that would prevent further degradation of these sensitive cold fisheries.”

And the following statement is what the same CARPC staff report (p 41) had to say in reference to Verona’s proposal to recommend for 90% runoff volume control to predevelopment level, 100% peak runoff rate control to pre-settlement level and 80% reduction of suspended sediments – all three measures now a part of the current proposed recommendations:

Although these measures and standards are above current minimum standards, and will reduce the likely impact of the proposed development, they do not completely address the current state of the receiving waters. To address the potential adverse impact of increased runoff volumes in the Badger Mill Creek and the Sugar River downstream of the confluence, it is important to maintain post-development runoff volumes equal to predevelopment volumes up to the 100-year storm event for all new development (100% pre-development stay-on volume). This will promote the goal of maintaining existing hydrology, which is critically important to maintaining the health of Badger Mill Creek, Sugar River, and the biological communities that they support.”

TAC recognized the benefits of runoff volume control to 100% of pre-development volumes. However, it has decided that concerns over additional costs are more important than the full water quality benefit such measure would produce. But this is an unacceptable argument when proposed by a committee serving a regional planning commission responsible for protecting the environmental quality of the county’s land and water resources.

Caps on the extent of the infiltration areas

The original CARPC staff recommendations ask for maintaining the pre-development recharge rates with no caps on the extent of infiltration areas. The 4-8-10 CARPC Executive Summary (p 4) continues to support this position in the body of the text:

“Allowing a cap has the potential for reducing the volume control and recharge required to well below the recommended standard and could result in inconsistency in the effectiveness of the standard between amendments.”

It views pre-development recharge rate caps as “a large loophole, where the developer is allowed to maximize the development beyond the carrying capacity of the site and insists on limited mitigation because of their development choices.” (pp 4 & 5).

However, the specific new recommendations omit all reference to the “no-cap” rule. Therefore in spite  of what is stated elsewhere in the document, the lack of reference to “no cap” rule in recommendations reserves the option for the City of Verona to use the much weaker Dane County ordinance, which allows such caps on 1% or 2% of the total site area to be used for infiltration, dependant on type of proposed development.

Limitation of the size of the infiltration area affects the amount of water that gets infiltrated and eventually recharged to groundwater. It is especially important in this case because of the sensitivity of the water resources involved, and because of very difficult soil and terrain conditions which do not lend themselves to easy infiltration.

Water temperature control

Both the original and new sets of recommendations require thermal impact mitigation. Nowhere in any CARPC reports is there any mention of how this goal would be met. Both Badger Mill Creek and the Sugar River are classified as coldwater communities. In an earlier CARPC case involving a proposed USA amendment affecting Black Earth Creek, lack of demonstrable assurance that coldwater temperatures in that creek would be protected against the proposed development, played a role in CARPC denying that application. By contrast, in the case of the City of Verona, a proposed development affecting two coldwater creeks, one of them exceptional water resources, absence of any concern about how thermal impact mitigation would be met noticeably stands out.

An excellent recommendation, of total runoff peak control rate to pre-settlement levels in all storms, should be followed by an explanation of how it is expected to work in conjunction with thermal mitigation. The standard in peak flow rate control is extended detention for 1-year, 24-hour storm to be gradually released over 12 hours in cold watersheds (CARPC staff report 6-11-09, p 42), and over 24 hours in warm watersheds. But what will happen with larger volumes of water in larger water storms? Is the runoff allowed to warm up during longer retention, in order to control peak flow? Or will it be released quicker in larger volumes in order to avoid warming? These are the types of questions that any reasonably coherent, although not necessarily complete stormwater management plan should have been able to provide the answers for.

What is the enforceability in Wisconsin of Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources 2006 criteria?

One of the more curious new recommendations is that the criteria for maintenance of wetland water levels provided by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources 2006 be used by Verona. Although these criteria might be the best ones in existence, it is highly questionable how either CARPC or DNR would ever be able to legally compel a Wisconsin municipality that it failed to follow Minnesota’s regulations, if the need to sue over water quality should ever rise.

Delineation of environmental corridors

Both recommendation sets call for delineation of environmental corridors based on wetland, stream and floodplain delineations, as well as on CARPC requirements. However, the new recommendations have dropped all reference to a 300 ft vegetative buffer for the commercial area east of STH 69. This buffer, described in the original staff recommendations, is needed to protect the lower portion of Badger Mill Creek and associated wetlands. Similarly, a recommendation that the western portion of Area W be designated as environmental corridor in order to protect the shallow groundwater in that area was also eliminated. These sacrifices of water quality protection obviously were done for the convenience and monetary benefit of the would-be developers of these areas and their municipal partner.

Area W

Most part of Area W is unsuitable for infiltration because it contains sub-areas where such infiltration is inhibited either by fine-grained soils or by shallow, fractured limestone or by high water table. The original staff report suggested several alternative approaches to address this problem. CARPC Executive Summary of April 8, 2010 reports that the resolution of the infiltration problems in this area would not be a part of the conditions for the approval of this amendment. According to the summary (p 4),

“The City prefers to maintain its flexibility”.

But flexibility in environmental protection almost always generates environmental degeneration.

Will the recommended water quality standards deliver the intended performance?

The CARPC Executive summary quotes a DNR letter which states, that without performance measurement of infiltration practices there can be no assurances that the infiltration practices are working as intended and that water quality is protected (p 3).

In the City of Verona’s USA amendment request, performance measurements of infiltration practices are not the only unknown variable. The amendment area is a large mosaic that comprises challenging terrains and difficult infiltration conditions that include steep slopes, shallow and in many places fractured bedrock, high water tables and deep fine grain sands. Nothing even approaching a stormwater management plan has been submitted to CARPC for review, let alone submitted to “performance measurement”.  And yet CARPC staff, in spite of its earlier more cautious approach expressed in the 6-11-09 report now seems to be all too ready to gamble with water quality of not just one coldwater stream, but of two, one of which happens to be an “exceptional water resource”. What will happen if Verona’s request gets the needed approval now and its still unknown eventual stormwater management plan gets implemented and fails to work as promised? Who will ever undo the damage to the Upper Sugar River, Badger Mill Creek, the wetlands, the State Natural Area?

The City of Verona and Stormwater Management

Many of Verona’s best management practices (BMPs) date to the1980’s when water quality mitigation standards were lower. Now those facilities need retrofitting to improve their performance. Any such work on BMPs requires large sums of money, which are not easily allocated for these purposes.

As of 6-1-09, the City of Verona had 61 detention basins, two infiltration basins and one bioinfiltration basin. 47 of these facilities are public, 15 private and three are of unknown ownership. The City inspects them on irregular basis and repairs them as need arises, usually after reported flooding.

As of December 2008, Verona was under watch for total suspended soils (TSS), the only pollutant under formal reduction regulations by DNR. In order to reach its goal of 40% TSS reduction the City needed to reduce its base load by 139 tons per year. At that time the City was reducing TSS by 83 tons or 24%. The estimate for 40% TSS reduction was  $2.7 million.

All municipalities, including the City of Verona are mostly concerned with expanding their tax bases. Regardless of their public propaganda to the contrary, water quality is never their primary focus. It is unwise of the CARPC to ignore their own responsibility as a watchdog agency for water quality, and turn over these watchdog responsibilities to a municipality and its private developers, letting them dictate terms and conditions under which the CARPC’s recommendation of the amendment approval would be issued to DNR.

It is equally unwise to contemplate recommending anything for approval before a detailed stormwater management plan has been produced and shared with the public. When it comes to water quality protection, no municipality should ever be allowed to do its “own thing” in an environmental area that is difficult to mitigate, with high potential to harm sensitive water resources, such as suggested that the City of Verona should be allowed to do in Area W.

Backed by NR 121.05 (1) (g) 2. c., which based on considerations of water quality, allows for exclusion from a USA of  steep slope, highly erosion-prone soils, limiting soil types, recharge areas and other physical constraints, the proposed amendment area should be rejected. As long as such is done for solid water quality reasons, expressed in open deliberations, DNR will have the means of proving that it backs a CARPC decision.

Stefi Harris and Arnold Harris


3427 County Rd P

Mt Horeb WI 53572

Western Dane Coalition for Smart Growth and Environment Endorsements

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Vote TUESDAY!!!!!!!

Western Dane County Coalition for Smart Growth and Environment has their endorsements out for the county board races. It is imporatant for all of the reasons they cite….

Best Dane County Board election choices for smart growth and environment

We strongly recommend for re-election to the Dane County Board incumbent supervisors in ten contested elections. These county leaders have played significant roles in supporting smart growth, as opposed to urban sprawl that destroys Dane’s remaining farmlands and open spaces; a rational public transportation and transit system; protection of the environment of our land and water resources; and comprehensive planning for a sustainable Dane future.

Our top choices and their district numbers:  Elaine Desmidt (3); Brett Hulsey (4); Matt Veldran (7); Paul Rusk (12); Dave De Felice (16); Robin Schmidt (24); Kyle Richmond (27); Pat Downing (30); Patrick Miles (34); Denise Duranczyk (35).

We also endorse the following seven newcomer candidates, whom we think will also support sustainable policies for Dane County, and who are running in contested county board elections: Michael Johnson (5); Barbara McKinney (15); Melissa Sargent (18); Bill Clausius (19); Gordon Shea (20); Sharon Corrigan (26); Sam Cooke (33).

Finally, we look forward another two years of quality public service from eight county board candidates with proven leadership and support records, who are running in uncontested districts: Chairman Scott McDonell (1); Barbara Vedder (2); 1st vice chair John Hendrick (6); Carousel Andrea Bayrd (8); Dianne H Hesselbein (9); Jeremy Levin (10); Al Matano (11); Chuck Erickson (13); Tom Stoebig (17); 2nd vice chair Shelia Stubbs (23).


Arnold Harris


Stefi Harris;


Co-founders of the Western Dane Coalition for Smart Growth and Environment

3427 County Rd P

Mount Horeb WI 53572

Americans Ditching Deathmobiles in Droves

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Highest & Best Use

For the first time in history, Americans scrapped more cars than they bought.


Meanwhile, liberals anguish. And Detroit is more worried than ever.

Of course, they tried to put a brave face on it: “It foreshadows what may be pentup demand.” Yeah, that’s it, pentup demand! They’ll be back in the showrooms in no time! Willy Loman would be proud.

While the article may be partially right in that any rebound in employment will result in more cars bought, I seriously doubt it will ever go back to the levels of the years just before the bust. There has been a growing awareness across the generations that the car-oriented lifestyle just isn’t sustainable on any level. People of all ages have discovered biking, transit & walking. Mature families are happily letting their 2nd car die, scrapping it, and not replacing it. Younger people are going without a car altogether and loving the economic freedom. Car sharing is booming (both formal & informal). And a growing number of people across the generations & socio-economic divides are determined to simply not own a car at all. No way. No how.

It’s over Detroit. Retool to build buses, streetcars & trains. Embrace the hipster entrepreneurs struggling to gain a toehold in your city. Establish urban farmsteading on those empty lots. Cherish your ruins and foster industrial ruins tourism. Let go of the dreams of the glory days of Motown. The days of mega-industry anchoring the economy of your city are over. Deal with it.

And if places like Madison, Wisconsin don’t get a handle on their car-mandatory development patterns (to the detriment of our schools and economic future, I might add), it too will suffer the fate of every other rust belt city of its size.