Posts Tagged ‘Energy Efficiency’

Like Water for Oil

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Though it is about energy, this article is highly relevant to managing our water resources as well:

Just substitute the word water for “energy”/”natural gas”/”electricity” wherever they appear in the article. The following tract gets at the conundrum the Madison Water Utility seems particularly stymied by:

“In addition, state regulators should reward utilities for helping residential, business and industrial customers use energy more efficiently, and stop the widespread practice of penalizing utilities when their sales level off or decline because customers are using less energy. When regulators set rates, they establish targets for utilities’ allowable revenues, and this unintentionally links the companies’ financial health to robust sales of electricity and natural gas. The problem can be solved if regulators allow modest annual rate adjustments that correct for any unexpected changes in utility sales.

“Half the states have instituted such “decoupling” systems for at least some of their investor-owned natural gas and electric utilities, but the process is taking too long and only one publicly owned utility, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, has adopted these reforms. The rest should step up.”

Indeed. And this a model for conservation that has been promoted by citizens in the past. Unfortunately, this is an economic model (Econ 101-level) that seems to be alien to MWU management. Instead, they perform their incantation rituals for more drought to fill the utility’s coffers:

It will be more than three years since water rates have gone up for Madison Water Utility customers. The Water Utility had planned to file for a 12% increase in 2013, but officials say it was not needed because of high water use during last summer’s drought.

A forward-looking lot over at Olin Ave…..

Clean Energy? Not So Much.

Monday, April 11th, 2011

It seems that every couple of years another big time enviro of one stripe or another starts hawking some messianic fuel source or another. I’ve gotten into flame wars with “pragmatic progressive” policy wonks over bio-fuels (um, dear, the net gain over fossils? Zero. But I’ve got a machine for sale that runs off of its own momentum forever. Sell it to ya cheap.), argued with professors about nukes (um, where do you think that uranium comes from?), and entrepreneurs seeking to make cash out of cow crap (um, why are we piling up so much of that stuff in one place anyway?).

It’s always the same, we’ll be saved by the next miracle fuel.

Natural gas seems to be the latest darling, viewed by enviros as the next “bridge fuel.”

I’d suggest just burning the bridge before we even get there: Just use less. A lot less. I’ve been successful at slashing my family’s electric and natural gas energy use by 2/3. With a little institutioal cooperation, I think we could get down to using 1/10 the nation’s current per capita use. No hairshirt required.

Because, as we see here, the latest darling fuel ain’t so darling.

Update 1: More on the nuclear power pollution — and no, it ain’t about theoretical dangers of catastrophes. We’re talking about “routine” exposure here.

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.

Pay No Attention to the Trainwreck on the Left

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Reluctantly, very reluctantly, and after much pleading from the organizers, I agreed to show up to a meeting entitled, “What’s Up With The Left in Madison.”

My reluctance was based in my long involvement with Progressive Dane from its inception (’93?) until a couple of years ago. For all of those years I tried to get the party’s leadership as well as elected officials to understand the economic & environmental trainwreck around the bend if they didn’t start applying the brakes to all of that car-mandatory development out in the ‘burbs. I even worked hard for countless candidates — many of whom won — who promised to do something about all of the bad planning.

All of those efforts were to no avail.

Not only did they not listen, but PD alders & county supervisors actively accelerated the paving at an alarming rate.

The result:   An economic and environmental policy trainwreck with one train piling into the next in a fog of bad decisionmaking.

Trainwreck #1: Foreclosures. Housing in Madison’s ‘burbs, extending out into rural subdivisions and horsey-doggie sprawl, is now so far flung and anti-pedestrian and anti-transit that the poor, the young, the elderly and the conscientiously carless cannot access it. And for those who just value a human-scaled place (regardless of their socio-economic demographic pigeonhole), it has no value. This destruction of value was brought about by a widely recognized lack of universal access planned into these developments. Walls of distance and speeding car traffic as it were.

In a sense, cosmic justice prevailed as the foreclosure crisis hit car-mandatory places the hardest. Unfortunately, however, it is hurting us all, as the cratering real estate values out there are devastating Madison & Dane County’s tax base.

These economically unsustainable development patterns were heartily supported by elected progressives with nary a peep from party membership (yours truly excepted, of course).

Did the price crash have to happen, given the national foreclosure crisis? Nope. Most of our walking/biking/transit-friendly ‘hoods have either a) maintained their value or b) actually increased in value. This same trend has occurred across the country with human-scaled neighborhoods holding their value while cul-de-sacs tank in the same region. Instead of seeing the foreclosure crisis for what it is — a disaster for all — progressives see it as an opportunity to…squat! (Yes, this is the next direct action actually proposed at the meeting.) So ok, it will make for great theater. And I like theater. But then what? Do we sit there all self-satisfied that we have stuck-it-to-the-man while continuing to support policies that continually drive down our tax base?! What sort of vicious cycle of insanity is this?

Trainwreck #2: The abovedescribed tax base destruction (developers churning out soulless subdivisions -> 1960s-educated planners collaborating -> ‘progressive’ elected officials wielding rubber stamps approving every car-mandatory subdivision ->  gullible homebuyers (or, perhaps more likely, homebuyers given no choice) -> crazy bankers -> (soon) crazy squatters) is now squeezing every city & county department, including those departments forming the social safety net advocated for by the good progressives. At today’s meeting, progressives at first stood stunned, then started casting about for scapegoats. People, only one department has continued to receive double digit year-over-year budget increases, and it is the very people who brought the housing crisis to you in the first place: The highway department! Pavement expansion is raging at 10 times population growth + inflation. TEN times! That’s good money chasing after bad, folks. We’ve been there, done that…and crashed. Yet we keep piling the people’s cash into the same bad land use patterns. It’s not a goat you’re looking for, it’s a hog; and the hog sits in the chief of highways seat. And your endorsed ‘progressive’ elected officials continue to slop that hog.

The car-mandatory nature of our elected leaders’ policies has created trainwreck #3: Increasingly filthy air, thanks to city-mandated driving (a direct result of car-mandatory places). The air is getting so filthy, in fact, that Madison is soon to be designated a dirty air zone by the EPA (‘non-attainment’ in the jargon). This will seriously damage Madison’s ability to attract & retain good jobs, as potential employers will recoil at the extra hoops mandated by the feds when air pollution exceeds the allowable levels.

And while progressives perseverate mightily about the need for good, family-supporting jobs, they fail to see the environment as anything but a white environmentalist/elitist/hobbyist’s concern. (Emphasis on white; there was much hand-wringing about the overwhelming whiteness of the progressive community.). Folks, dirty air is bad for everybody. But the poor — disproportionately non-white — will be disproportionately hit. Those jobs the poor need? Gone thanks to dirty air. (Milwaukee and other rustbelt cities, perpetually under the EPA’s thumb have been hemorrhaging jobs since the inception of the Clean Air Act. Coincidence? Me thinks not. And no, it isn’t the Act’s fault, it is the fault of short-sighted local & state leaders who worship cars more than their constituents’ economic and physical health.)

Then there are the children of the poor. We know that they will suffer disproportionately from air pollution-induced asthma (do I need to go into how bad this is for the developmental progress of a child?).

Fighting against dirty air is not a hobby. Nor is it only a concern of only white enviros.

Trainwreck #4: Dirty drinking water. So much land is paved over that our aquifers are no longer recharging as they should, thus rendering increasingly contaminated water. Combine the paving with constant leaking of petrochemicals onto that pavement (tire & brake grit, exhaust that settles on soil & pavement, oil leaks, etc.); then, after a rain, that filth rushes across that pavement, to sewers, then directly to our surface waters (which now feed the aquifer thanks to paving over of infiltration zones) and you’ve got a recipe for hydrologic disaster…. Case in point: the combination described here has put the kibosh on developing a well for the industrial southeast side, perhaps imperiling hundreds of jobs. Jobs, people!

The biggest trainwreck of all is upcoming: energy. The $4/gallon summers of 2007 & 2008 were the first dominos to set in motion the housing market catastrophe. (In car-mandatory places families faced 2 choices: fill the SUV or pay the mortgage; in the end, neither was economically sustainable.)

But that is nothing compared to what we will be facing soon.

So far, the military has been able to keep the oil supplies open, but the endless wars over oil are proving to be costly in lives, treasure, constitutional rights and basic justice. Social justice advocates often bemoan the de-facto military draft (crushing economic necessity forcing individuals to ‘volunteer’ for the military, etc.), but they typically fail to see first causes: Most of our military is now dedicated to fighting for oil. The world’s #1 consumer of oil? The military. For what? Fighting for oil. The snake is eating its tail.

That is to say, expect even more of the above.

Unless. Unless, we get a handle on our resource consumption and the fouling of our own nests. Because folks, if we don’t, there won’t be any justice left to attain. For anyone.

But this was entirely too mind-blowing for the good progressives to grasp at the meeting Saturday. When we were asked to write down our vision for the city if we achieved a progressive majority on the city council, most people dreamed their dreams as the exercise intended. Affordable housing for all. Racial harmony. Family supporting jobs. Full funding for social services. A strong Regional Transit Authority. And on & on, the same litany we’ve come to know & love about the progressive vision. (And yes, I do love it. As far as it goes. Which isn’t far enough to do any of the above….)

My response to what Madison would look like with a progressive majority? Massively increased paving over of rich, precious, Dane County farmland. Dirtier air. Filthier water. More car traffic. Poor people cut off from jobs due to walls of distance. Planning that plans universal access out of our urban landscape.

Face it, our ‘progressive’ elected officials voted for all of the above in the past and continue to do so. There is no evidence it would change with a majority.

Thus, many of us have simply quit working for any candidates. (At least until we see some evidence of real change.) With the loss of key electoral volunteers, progressives have continued to lose strength on the council.

For no amount of pressure from organized groups seems to have any bearing on their decisions. Neither 20 hours a week of volunteer labor….Nor being a ward captain turning out margins of victories….Nor cold hard progressive cash…Nothing seems to work with these people. (This was, thankfully, alluded to by several other participants).

Many at the meeting lamented the high level of apathy in Madison. I strongly disagree. This city is so organized around mutually supporting — and countless — progressive causes that it should be clear to our elected officials that we do, in fact, want progress. Not Detroit’s vision of a city-enforced car mandate. Not the Teabaggers’ vision of an unstable, grindingly impoverished and violent future. We have stated over & over that we want something better. In fact, I view Madison’s strong civic culture much like a venerable Roman arch, with each organization forming the arch & wall (each brick in the pillar or stone in the arch representing an organization) mutually reinforcing neighboring, allied organizations.

We all hang together or....

But when the keystone element at the top is missing/weak/lacking in conviction, the whole edifice falls apart. In this metaphor, the keystone element is each of our elected officials. Given that they are universally AWOL with regard to the desires of their constituents, the whole edifice falls apart, just as a Roman arch would.

In the case of Madison, the people are doing a yeoman’s job of holding things together, pulling together the increasingly tight resources they have in their non-profits to make things work as best they can for those who have very little. Yet there was a lot of self-flaggelation/blaming ourselves for this sorry situation. Again, I vehemently disagree; the hardworking, civically-engaged people of Madison are not to blame. What is missing is that strong keystone element, starting with the out-of-touch mayor, but including every alder — yes, the ‘progressive’ ones inclusive.

There is no hope of getting through to the current crop of elected officials. In their hands, our destiny lies in gluttonous energy use, car-mandatory land use patterns, transportation only for the well-wheeled, dirtier & dirtier air  and filthier & filthier water.

They simply do not have the capacity to get it.

Of Smart People, Global Warming, Gluttony and Bombing Villages to Save Them

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

Oh hey look, the really important people are finally figuring out that our gluttony really does endanger our national security. Even the Pentagon–USDOD being the single largest user of oil in the world–is finally getting it. Face it folks, Afghanistan & Iraq are to future oil wars what the Spanish Civil War was to WW II–just a warm up. A sampling of what’s to come:

At first the military’s concern was for its bases. Advice was sought on the effects of tidal surges and rising ocean levels. More recently, the long-range dangers of droughts, food shortages, floods and the perils of mass migrations of hungry peoples 20 to 30 years from now have been studied.

The Pentagon foresees situations resulting in political instability and unrest that might require American military intervention in the worst cases, and big humanitarian rescue efforts at best. “It gets real complicated real quickly,” said the deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy, Amanda Dory, throwing grammar to the wind.

Sounds like self-induced Apocolypse to me. Sayyyyyyyy, speaking of biblical prophesies, since I’ve been all Noah-like in my screaming & yelling on this energy conservation thing since I was, oh, 11 years old–and actually reducing my household’s energy consumption by more than 2/3 compared to the national average– I’m wondering if maybe I’ll get rapted (is that a word?), thus leaving all y’all to deal with the disasters foretold by Pentagon planners!

And those smart guys at the Pentagon are finally figuring out that, no, you can’t save a village by bombing it:

As General Stanley McChrystal’s 60-day strategic assessment is wrapping up, he [is?] poised to recommend a new approach for Afghanistan, one grounded in counterinsurgency’s strategy of protecting the population.

Who says military intelligence is an oxymoron?!!!! What’s that you say? Why didn’t they figure this out after Viet Nam? Welllllllll, we’ll call that the $64,000,000 toilet seat question that someone from the military can answer for me!

Speaking of really smart people in the military, this is all quite amusing to me (in a dark humor sort of way) because I remember back in my days as a 2nd lieutenant serving under then-Major John Abizaid in the 3/325 (ABN) in Vicenza, Italy, and having that rising star lecture us junior officers on how bad the commanders in Viet Nam were, and how he would have done everything differently than the generals back then. And that basically, he could have won it because he would have been a better commander.

Flash forward 16-18 years and the Major is a General. He commands all operations in the Middle East, including the Iraq War. The smart guy has a chance to prove that he could do better. Does he bring us a just peace? Nope, he brings us more of the mindless, senseless brutality that marked our murderous excursion in Viet Nam. Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo. Bagram Prison. Wanton wrecking of the cultural patrimony of Iraq (more here, here and here). Basically, Abizaid commanded the same brutal tactics that drove the success of the Viet Cong back in the day. He orchestrated so much senseless brutality on the part of the US forces that they actually generated more enemies and more danger than they had before. He practically drove Iraq into a civil war. It was South Viet Nam all over again. They didn’t pull out of the tailspin until Bush canned him.

Yet that Wikipedia article about him is nothing more than despicable sycophancy. It reads like something his publicist put out. But hey, it got him a spot at that rightist think tank at Stanford! Smart guy indeed.’s Excellent Analysis of Rail Station Siting in MSN

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Probably the best analysis and summary of all of the commentary out there regarding the potential siting of a train station in Madison, Wisconsin. Sometimes it takes a furriner’s perspective to get it right! ( is is definitely a blog to watch.)

Trains only work when they connect downtowns to downtowns. Thus, the airport site sucks. The Yahara site is the perfect one for connecting urban Madison to the rest of the upper-midwest’s urban places. Unfortunately, the “smart” growth mayor just doesn’t get it.

Babes + Bikes + Beer

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Their words, not mine! Found a flyer at Cafe Zoma with the above title announcing the “Greasy Gears” a new all-girls mini-bike dance troupe. Meet & Greet @ Weary Traveler, 1201 Willy St., August 18 (Tues) @ 8:30 PM.

I assume this is inspired by the recent visit of the Sprockettes, those witty & creative ladies from Portland, OR who performed out behind Revolution Cycles last month. Photies below….

Organized Labor Wakes Up to Transit

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Hmmm. Maybe I’ll have to change my opinion of organized labor’s resistance to enlightened thinking…..This just in from South Central Federation of Labor’s (AFL-CIO) Union Labor News (August 2009):

Regional Transit Authorities. The Wisconsin State AFL-CIO supported the creation of regional transit authorities to help facilitate a more modern transportation infrastructure for our state. In addition, we wanted to ensure that construction-related work done by any newly-created transit authority would be subject to the state prevailing wage law, and that protection was included the budget bill. We were also concerned that the collective bargaining rights of public employees who are absorbed into a new transit authority would be protected, and that language is included in the state budget as well.


Now if we can just get our elected leaders to set up an RTA that is just and equitable. The current proposed configuration transfers all of the power out to the ‘burbs. That means, Madison will get screwed and our bus service would be eviscerated for long-distance sprawl commuters. More on that to come….

Setting the Bar Low…

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

…on energy efficiency. Pitiful. In fact, it is no better than we’ve done since the dawn of time. We’ve always been able to increase efficiency by 1% a year. So this report says absolutely nothing.

We could easily cut energy use by 90% if we set up the right incentives. Start with a tax that starts low and ramps up over a few years. Then, just sit back & watch the gluttons scramble to invest in energy efficiency.

But no. Instead of going on a crash program to implement basic, fun energy saving measures like these, we’ve got to do cap & trade giveaways for wasteful, gray, old industries (with the help of the enviros). And we’ll continue to subsidize wasteful land use & transportation patterns with “shovel ready” pork (with the help of enviros). And then pay people to buy more cars (with the help of the enviros).

Silicon Valley’s Smart $ Finally Gets It Re: Energy Efficiency

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

It looks like the smart money in Silicon Valley is getting religion on energy efficiency.

Now to see if they can circumvent Jevon’s Paradox…… Doubtful. Enough is never enough for these people.