Sunday, May 31, 2009

Old Dumps and ATVs, In Our Back Yard

(Via Stef at the DEP...)

Spring and warm weather is here, and many of you will be hopping onto an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) to enjoy the outside and maybe “boldly go where you’ve never gone before”. Remember to obtain landowner permission before straying from established and marked trails, and be on the lookout for small, lush, green hills that look a little too perfect, a little too symmetrical than what you are used to seeing. There is a good chance that a hill like this is an old dump with a protective covering on top of it, and the wheels of your ATV - even if you don’t mean to - can do a lot of damage to this hill and unleash buried pollutants.

Here is why the hill is there in the first place, and how the wheels of an ATV can damage it.

One big problem with old dumps is rain falling on them. The rain falls on top of the old dump, seeps down through the soil and old garbage and washes the nasty chemicals and other pollutants from the garbage into the ground and surface water. This process is called “leaching”, and old dumps are “capped” to minimize this problem.

The dump (or landfill) is typically covered with a “cap” to keep as much rainwater and melting snow as possible from reaching the old garbage. This cap usually consists of a thick layer of soil (clay) that has a “low permeability” (does not let much water get through). Sometimes the cap included a “geosynthetic (flexible plastic) membrane” over the clay, which was then covered by a layer of gravel, and then a layer of soil planted with grass seed. The geosynthetic membrane is impermeable (rain water does not go through it), while the gravel directs water away from the impermeable geosynthetic membrane and toward the outer edges of the “cap”. The soil and grass, the top layer, evaporate water back into the atmosphere and keeps the gravel layer in place, which - in turn - keeps the geosynthetic membrane in place.

A capped dump or landfill with a healthy covering of long grass in the spring and summer may look durable, but looks can be deceiving. The cap is actually quite fragile and the tires of ATVs and dirt bikes can easily do a number on it and damage it. The layer of topsoil and grass seed is typically only 6 inches thick. A spinning tire from a stuck ATV can go through this thin layer in no time, especially after a rain. Also, repeated travel on the same trail destroys the protective grass. Once the protective layer of soil and grass is gone, the gravel layer is quickly washed away by erosion, which then exposes the fragile clay layer or geosynthetic membrane. The geosynthetic membrane is no match for a rainstorm and is quickly dislodged, allowing rain into the old dump and leaching of the old pollutants to occur.

So avoid those hills that are often right next to the transfer station and keep pollutants out of our back yard and under a “cap”, which is where they belong.

This column was submitted by Peter Moulton, an Environmental Engineer with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management. In Our Back Yard is a weekly column of the DEP.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Question and response on wind turbine planning ordinances

Dear Dr. Womersley,

I found your email address at your Unity webpage. I am writing because a developer has proposed to build three wind turbines approximately 1,500 from my residence in XXXX, Maine. Currently, our town has no ordinance to regulate such development.

You mentioned on your webpage that some towns in Maine have passed ordinances to regulate this development. Could you provide me with a list of such towns, as well as some example ordinances? I have asked our town manager to contact the Maine Municipal Association, but I hoped that you might be able to help as well.

Thank you.

Kind regards,

Dear XXXX,

The State Planning Office now has a model ordinance, which although still in draft form, has been released to some towns and folks with situations not unlike yours already.

I copied Mr. Phil Carey on this email. He is the person at the Planning Office that I have been in contact with. I expect he can send you a copy too. I could just send you the one I have, but Mr. Carey would have the latest version.

A far more restrictive draft ordinance is also available for viewing, at the web site of the Jackson Wind Power Subcommittee (of the Jackson Planning Board). I do not believe this particular draft will be enacted as written, as my take on it is that it is too restrictive for the majority of Jackson voters and will be modified by the Planning Board or amended in Town Meeting, but it is another model to study.

The default regulation, already in force for all development affecting a certain amount of acreage in Maine, currently 20 acres, is the DEP's Site Location of Development Law. That is available here:

In general, I think ordinances are only part of the problem towns and residents face. No matter what the ordinances say, it's still possible to site wind turbines poorly, and so proper planning is important. In the current climate of high interest in turbines, Maine towns are definitely outgunned in this department by the companies and their representatives, and expertise for the towns to use is hard to come by. Most consulting engineers and planners in Maine do not have experience or training in turbine planning and siting. I've seen some pretty basic mistakes made by otherwise very competent people. I would recommend that your town proceed slowly. A moratorium for a period of time while an ordinance is studied is not unreasonable. The language for such a moratorium is right there on the Jackson webpage.

One important set of facts that no planning regulation has yet taken into account and that engineers and planners routinely ignore or do not know, is that noise impacts from turbines are somewhat predictable, and periodically much more severe in some locations regularly downwind of the turbine than others.

One reason is that most turbines have a cut-in speed of 4 to 5 meters per second. The turbine makes little or no noise when it is not turning. Another is that the sound of a turbine travels on the wind. Also, the turbine runs only a fraction of the time. More noise may be heard from wind playing in leaves and trees and buildings than from the turbine, particularly if the listener is upwind. Finally, and counter-intuitively, the average wind that is actually strong enough to turn the turbine may come from a different direction than the so-called "prevailing wind."

My feeling is that the worst disamenity a residence or residents receive when a turbine is constructed is when the regular, metronomic swooshing noise of the turbine blades are heard very often for long periods at the residence at a fairly audible level.

Put all these together and you have considerably and unexpectedly more noise at some sites and less at others. But these impacts are somewhat predictable, based on the wind direction of the site and the acoustic characteristics of a particular turbine make and model. A competent planner can predict the impacts and avoid them.

So, for instance, at a site where I measured the wind for two years in Waldo County, the majority of wind strong enough to turn most turbines, about 70% of the total, came out of the northeast quadrant. The remainder came out of the southeast quadrant. A negligible amount came from the other compass points.

This would mean that the majority of sound impacts on residents at this site would occur to the southwest of any eventual turbine, with a minority to the northeast. A turbine on this particular site would be very quiet or virtually inaudible at 1500 feet most of the time in any other direction, except for the occasional period of random wind.

This would also mean that this town, even if it had a setback regulation of 1500 feet, or even more, might allow a turbine to be sited such that a residence or residences in the southwest quadrant downwind of the turbine receive a very severe disamenity, while other residences get off very lightly.

(Please understand that the directionality in this example applies only to the site I measured.)

For this reason, I would recommend that towns legally require companies or individuals wishing to construct turbines to provide their anemometry data, which can be used to double-check company claims about noise. Generally the companies prefer to keep their data secret for reasons of competition. Acoustic data is often available from the turbine manufacturers.

I also recommend more reliance on planning technique and noise performance standards, and less on setbacks. So if your town enacts a noise performance standard of say 43 or 40 dBA (considerably less than the 45 dBA in the state's Site Location Law) then the onus is on the turbine owners to live up to the standard. They can't turn around and say "it's outside of the setback so we have no responsibility."

I expect this is more information than you were expecting, but these thoughts have been on my mind lately. I am going to be away on business all next week, but if you email me any questions you may have, I will eventually get back to you.



Mick Womersley, PhD
Associate Professor
Unity College

Global warming causes 300,000 deaths a year, says Kofi Annan thinktank

Climate change is greatest humanitarian challenge facing the world, as heatwaves, floods and forest fires become more severe

(From the Guardian)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Brave new world -- if you can keep up, that is...

Above, a must-see item. Britain's Prince Charles had this video made to publicize the rainforest's importance in climate change, ahead of the Copenhagen Conference.

My visit earlier this year to a DC meeting where a hundred senior university scientists got to hear from the heads of the various national science foundations and federal agency science shops, confirmed for me that the various Holdren's, Chu's, Lubchenko's, and Jackson's, et al, of this brave nation were determined to do exactly what they should...

...which is to stop climate change by investing billions of dollars of public money in renewable energy, energy efficiency, cleaner sources of conventional energy, and even, the elusive silver bullet, some kind of "transformational" technology, such as nuclear fusion.

This is the WW2-style mobilization of American industry that I've been talking about in class for years now. The theory, which isn't mine but is quite popular in the climate wonk world, is that despite what people think, it is actually possible to turn the global economy around, to switch from fossil fuel to clean energy. All you need to do is apply the same principles that were applied during WW2, when 50% of US industry was switched from production of peacetime goods to war materiel in less than 100 weeks.

There's a scene in "Band of Brothers" episode eight, where one of the characters, "Webster," is yelling at foot-sore captured German prisoners from the back of an Army truck. "What were you thinking," he yells. "General Motors!" "Ford!" How did you expect to win, taking on the world's foremost industrial power with a largely horse-powered army?

I was convinced, at that meeting in DC, that this would happen now, if it could be made to happen at all. The science heads seemed very serious. Regular readers may remember how I was able to question Pat Dehmer, head of science at DOE, about what they intended to do about the various nay-sayers, denialists, NIMBYs and BANANAs they would encounter. Dehmer's answer was essentially that she thought the new generation of Americans coming up would think very differently about all this. I was skeptical, mostly because I see nay-saying almost every working day, both in the more conservative of my students and in the community groups I work with on community-owned wind power projects.

But I was also interested and pleased, if challenged, by what she had to say.

Fast forward to now. Today's Guardian Environment section (my regular over-coffee morning fare) is filled with articles highlighting intitatives that are the result, or a partial result, of the new theory of the economy that this team of science wonks is putting into action.

Here's Steve Chu visiting with Prince Charles and a hundred other luminaries for an invitation-only "what do we do about the future"-ama. I hope they get to see the video, a special screening courtesy of HRH.

While China, since Holdren's secret climate policy visit, just announced a major solar retrofit campaign of massive scale.

Then there's an energy retrofit for public housing worth four billion.

In PA, steelworkers are becoming wind plant workers to enthusiastic union applause.

Finally, a whole herd of famous western actors were rounded up to make the video above, which highlights the importance of rainforest conservation in climate change. Americans may not understand that one role of the British monarchy is this troop-rallying, consensus-forming role. When a government policy is beyond political debate, the monarchy is used as a national figurehead for that policy. This may mean leading from the front, as when the future Elizabeth II drove an ambulance in WW2 London, or when Andrew flew Sea Kings during the Falklands War. Charles is not risking much more than ridicule for this video, but the sly, self-depracating humor works quite well for me.

The totality of this, even the stupid frog thing, is definitely the work of some very brave and visionary people.

The west is rallying. When this happens, we usually win.

All of this, I believe, will make for a very different reception for Obama and the Obamites at the Copenhagen conference coming up, than the Bushies had in their time.

There are always a few Father Coughlins, though. Rush, as always, comes to mind.

Even in my home town of Jackson, Maine, we have some folks who would say pretty much anything, true or not, in context or out, to end the community discussion of a wind power plant. Accusations of corruption, of double dealing, dramatic embellishment of the negative impacts, statements taken out of context, the whole armament of the propagandist is being put to work in a planning battle in a small town in Maine. We've become a microcosm for the NIMBY debate, and the nay-sayers, everywhere.

I find this very sad. In particular, I feel sorry for the Planning Board who are definitely right in the firing line. But the Planning Board has to make the best decision for the whole Town, not just a small group.

Despite this, community discussion is beginning slowly to shift from talk of what to do about a very commercial and somewhat exploitative proposal, to whether or not the community should own it's own wind turbines.

I wonder what Pat Dehmer would advise.

After all, if the Town goes for turbines, especially if they are well planned and sized to match both the local environment, power demand and distribution, and locally owned, a true "Smart Grid" project, then we will be doing pretty much what the administration wants us to do.

Maybe she should come here and lead a transactive planning process to help us get out of the mess we're in.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Interesting new book alert

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Green technology historical photo spread

This was taken in the UK in 1941. It's published as part of a great sequence of green power historical shots in the Guardian:

Friday, May 22, 2009

In our Backyard

From Stef at the DEP:

Take Your Kids Outside, In Our Back Yard

It’s that time of year when dandelions change from golden suns studding the lawn, to white puffballs. While these seed heads may be the bane of fussy lawn manicurists, they are wondrous—even magical—objects to small children. I have yet to see one of my kids walk past a fat, round dandelion puff without picking it and blowing away the seeds, as if the two—children and dandelions—had co-evolved a kind of symbiotic relationship: children spread the dandelion’s seeds; dandelions give the children a moment of pure joy.
Now is the perfect time of year, with dandelions puffing, lilacs blooming and frogs and birds singing, to get in the habit of taking children outdoors every day. According to the National Wildlife Federation, time spent outdoors in nature improves children’s performance in school, ability to concentrate, balance, coordination and self-esteem, as well as stimulating a child’s imagination and reducing symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Perhaps more importantly, children who spend time in nature are more likely to love and care for nature into their adult years.

The National Wildlife Federation recommends that children spend at least one hour a day in unstructured play and exploration in the natural world. Don’t worry if you don’t have Acadia National Park out your back door—children are often more interested in the up-close things, like bugs, dirt and yes, dandelions, than the grand vistas that adults are drawn to. Here are some ideas for activities to get you started:

Find a Rainbow—look for one (or more) natural object in each color of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple). This is easier in the spring with colorful flowers in bloom and bright song birds flitting in the trees, but take it on as a fun challenge in all seasons of the year—you’d be surprised what colors you can find in the winter.

One Yard of Nature—use a length of string or a hula hoop to randomly make a circle on the ground. Get down on your hands and knees and see how many different kinds of plants and animals you can find in your hoop. Move it to another location—are there different plants or animals in different parts of the yard?

Get Wet—don’t let “bad” weather keep you indoors. Put on rain coats, rubber boots and warm sweaters and socks and go out to splash in puddles, look for frogs or migrating salamanders, rescue worms.

To make sure your Green Hour is fun and successful for you and your child, start small and close to home—your back yard or a nearby park, tailor your activities to your child’s age and abilities, be flexible and follow your child’s lead—if you plan on looking at birds, but your child is more interested in a mud puddle, go with the mud—and most of all, have fun.
To learn more about how and why to spend time outdoors with your kids, check out and Maine’s program,

This column was submitted by Andrea Lani, an Environmental Specialist with the Maine DEP's Bureau of Air Quality. In Our Back Yard is a weekly column of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

More Maine wind maps

This week is the week for preliminary site visits to community and government-owned potential wind power sites. I have been to three sites already, with three more to go by Friday.

The preliminary visit is mostly about communities and community groups learning about wind measurements and modeling, about studying the sites for locations for anemometer towers, and about delivering these wind maps.

I have a set of five maps now available as a PowerPoint download at wind maps.ppt

These are the communities covered:

Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield
MDI area
Blue Hill, Sedgewick, Booksville and Brooklin
Jackson, Thorndike and Dixmont

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The real work

Although I have community wind power consulting to do every single day next week, that's still not work like teaching, writing reports, and especially attending committee meetings is work, and so this was the first real weekend of our professorial summer break, and it was also the start of our official Maine growing season.

As celebration, and because it's raining this Sunday morning, and because I'm stiff from digging much of yesterday, I thought I'd post some pictures of our homestead life from our blog at This is what I would call, borrowing from Gary Snyder, "the real work" of teaching sustainability. I see it as foundational. How can you teach ecological sustainability if you don't know how to live it?

Don't get the wrong idea. We're not purists. It's not as if we live entirely without fossil fuels. We still use some, mostly for transportation to and from work, and on trips for work. We also still use some to run the house and to run farm equipment. But through fairly careful planning, and quite a bit of not-so-careful trial and error, we have eliminated most wasteful use of fossil fuels from our home life. That would be the point. We also know how to eliminate most of the rest of our fossil fuel use, and have a kind of personal "climate action plan" to do so as time and money permit.

There are other benefits. We get lots of healthful exercise in the outdoors working on jobs around the farm. We are entertained by the relationships with animals and neighbors our lifestyle engenders. And we get the full income benefit of most of our efforts tax-free, a real Yankee "wise investment" policy.

First lesson: the growing season: Here's our garden after the first day of planting. We grow enough food to feed ourselves and then some, although we limit ourselves to the most productive varieties that grow well in our garden. We don't try to grow everything we need. Here we planted all the "earlies": peas, onions, potatoes. The goal is to get enough potatoes for our own use and for seed and a little trade, to get most of the onions we need, and to supplement our salads with snap peas.

Mean last frost around Unity/MOFGA area is usually given as May 18th or thereabouts, but we're a good deal higher at our farm in Jackson twelve miles to the east, 525 feet to be exact, in our dooryard. I expect June 1 was the standard date used by gardeners and farmers for generations in Jackson.

Then there's ewes and lambs mowing lawn. We hate to mow lawns. Mowing uses gas, which makes carbon emissions. Sheep are so much better at mowing than humans, and they make only fleece and meat, which we humans get to use. The white electric fence permits sheep to be placed temporarily around the farm on both lawns and brushy spots, where they work to control grass length and brush without the need for equipment or gas. We only use equipment for really heavy brush removal, and for an occasional tidy-up mow because the sheep don't leave such a nice finish. For comparison's sake, we know folks who spend about 6-7 hours a week in midsummer mowing away.

Then there's the firewood operation, about 1/6 done. We grow and harvest all our own wood, which is most of our winter heat. This is an example of an operation where we use some fossil fuel: gas for the chainsaw and gas and/or diesel for the tractors. We might use as much as five gallons total for the whole firewood operation each year. We also fix and maintain all our own equipment, and cannibalize parts and improvise to keep things working without spending a lot of money on it. This causes occasional frustration and hilarity. Aimee thinks my use of this old Bolens mower-trailer combo to haul firewood out of the woods half a cord at a time is pretty silly because I'm such a big fat guy on such a little tractor, and so it looks like a clown tractor. I think if she wants to carry 6 cords of wood 100 yards uphill one armful at a time, she's welcome to try! We also get a lot of flat tires, and have perfected the "spray foam insulation" technique for last ditch repairs of pneumatic tires for farm equipment.

Then an example of how we dicker and trade with other local farmers and gardeners. This is our silly ram lamb that has perfected the rear approach to nursing. It works fine except his face is rather poopy. All the time. Aimee christened him "Pongo," which, since that's UK service slang for a soldier, is fine by me since I was in one of the other two UK service arms, although don't write me nasty emails about it if you are a UK soldier. I didn't invent the nickname!

His mom is tired of him, and we want him cleaned up because this is obviously not a great situation, so we sold him on to our MOFGA buddies John Mac and Nancy. He'll be going soon, along with one of the other ram lambs. Because of college work pressures, we were too late with our spring jobs to castrate or "knacker" this year, so it will be good to thin out the rams early. Less knuckle-headed-ness when the time comes. Un-castrated ram lambs get rambunctious in the fall, and compete with each other to breed ewes if any are around.

Then there's a shot of a chicken inspecting Aimee's cedar shingling work on the barn. We do all our own building, wiring, and plumbing where permitting and other codes allow. We built this barn three years ago, but shingling takes a lot of time to do well, and Aimee is a perfectionist about it. We like the shingled effect, but we also like that it's a local product, that the waste makes good kindling, and that shingled siding lasts for 20-25 years or more. Aimee's next job will be to replace the ugly green vinyl siding on the farm house with these. We'll strip it off one wall at a time, blow some more insulation in the walls and fit more foam board insulation to the outside while we're at it, seal it up tight, then cover the whole shebang with cedar shingles. Part of the "climate action plan."

Then there's Vincent (Van Gogh), our new piglet which is a gilt or female and so should perhaps have a girl's name, but we already have hens named George and Harry so why worry? We raise pigs for food in the summer season. She's "Van Gogh" because she has lost her ears. She's a runt. We do well with runts. We get them from some of the fairly horrific local informal pig-rearing operations, where conditions are often pretty bad and runts get culled, so it's a bit of a rescue operation. They're usually a few bucks cheaper, and Aimee babies them so, they soon catch up, and get much friendlier to boot than non-runts. They get a whole new lease on life. This little girl is still afraid of us. She was in a yard with big pigs, as well as turkeys and chickens, getting picked on constantly. They even ate her ears off! Now she sleeps and eats and plays all day, and is starting to relate to us without fear. Here she is enjoying a heat lamp.

Finally, our new greenhouse. Built from local lumber and recycled glass over the winter as Aimee's Christmas gift, this is a great addition to the farm and the farm lifestyle. It permits the extension of the growing season. Aimee has all our plant starts in here right now. As soon as it dries up so I can finish tilling, some of these will be going in the ground, specifically the brassicas. When those are done most of the tomatoes and peppers will also go into the ground, but a minority will be "potted on" to big pots just for the greenhouse, to make early and late tomatoes and peppers for the table.

So that's how we live when we're not teaching about biodiversity and sustainability.

The rest of our "climate action plan" we hope to implement in the next few years. Transportation is the big bugbear. As we wear out our current vehicles we hope to replace them with the new battery electric and plug-in hybrid ones now coming on the market.

The next is household energy. This is where we have made the biggest inroad, but there's more to do. We already purchase 100% Maine-made renewable power for the house. That shingling/better insulation project for the main house walls, which is really just the next element in the constant house energy retrofit begun in 2005 when we bought it, will eliminate the last 100-150 gallons of # 2 heat oil consumption currently needed to supplement wood heat inside the house. A solar hot water system with electric back-up is another big part of the plan. We currently heat our water with propane.

All that will be left then will be propane for cooking, whatever fossil fuel our plug-in hybrid car might use for long trips, tractor fuel, some chainsaw gas, and travel fuel for freight. I hope to make our pick-up last for many years to come, and so there'll be some gas for that, but we really only need it for picking up grain and big items.

My ideal would be to get our total petroleum product consumption down below 200 gallons a year by 2020. It's do-able. That would be far more than the 80% needed by 2050 to reduce the possibility of dangerous climate change.

Why not do it all right away?

Not enough money. We have to phase the expenses in over time.

Plan B? What if the rest of the country and world doesn't come up with a program of emissions reductions to match ours?

I will be very disappointed, of course. I moved to Maine partly because I liked the climate.

But then I'll go out and plant a vineyard. By then the growing season on our south facing well-drained Maine hillside will be perfect for premium white wine grapes.

Coasian caps and trinitarian trades

The NYT has an environmental-economically-literate article on cap-and-trade. It warmed the cockles of my dismal economist's heart.

It even mentioned Ronald Coase and The Problem of Social Cost! Oh, the canon!

Can we have Steady State Economics next, please?

I wonder how many of the students I've introduced to Coase over the years will read it and remember?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

One for the locals

Scottish villagers stun developers by demanding extra turbine

Fintry in Scotland claims to be first community in UK to run its own wind turbine to cut carbon emissions and energy bills

Science geeks at work

The Guardian has a great photo gallery of pictures of climate scientists at work all around the world.

Very, very cool.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

GIS wind maps for Maine towns

Pictured is a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) map for the Waterville/Winslow/Fairfield area. This particular map was produced in support of the Waterville sustainability project begun just recently, in which two of our Sustainability Design and Technology (Sustech) degree program students are interns this summer. Click on the map to enlarge it as a .jpeg image.

The map shows the US Geological Survey 20 foot contours (brown), the 911 roads system data (black), the wetlands zoning areas (blue), and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) 50 meter Above Ground Level (AGL) wind contours (red) for the state of Maine. These are GIS overlays that anyone who can use a GIS program can get for free from the Maine State GIS Library and the NREL. On this particular map, the only wind contour seen is the 5 to 5.5 meter per second mean annual wind speed contour. The next contour up, the 5.5 to 6 m/s one, marks the lower bound of the range for commercially-viable net-metered turbine sites, the one after that, 6 to 6.5 m/s, is the lower bound of the range for commercial wholesale-power turbines.

I can put this map up here without fear of igniting any local controversy or panic, because the map demonstrates that any commercial scale wind power scheme in this area would be more or less doomed to failure! There are no sites in any of these towns that have those other two contours, and thus no sites that I would particularly wish to take to the next level of testing and data collection, which is anemometry.

(The NREL wind data, even at this high resolution, is not recommended for use in anemometric or econometric modeling of wind turbine power output. Our experiences, and those of many other wind resource assessment folks, is that on actual measurement the margin of error can be found to be as much as 1 to 1.5 meters per second of mean annual wind speed. But this data is very good for figuring out which sites might support wind power development.)

If you are part of a community that is considering a wind power scheme, you probably should have us make you one of these maps for your town, or, if you are only mildly technogeeky, you can make one for yourself.

Communities can get such a map without making it for themselves in Microsoft PowerPoint or Word or .jpeg format by emailing Mick Womersley (the blogmeister) at

We can also print the maps in poster format, but there will be a small fee for that service. I haven't had time to figure out how much yet.

You can find out about our Unity College Community Wind Assessment program, a community service learning program affiliated with our Sustech degree in which students help communities with wind power planning questions by using anemometry, econometrics, and GIS and other computer modeling, by visiting this web page here:

If you are reading this and are a high school student or community member in the state of Maine who doesn't have a GIS program but would like to learn how to use one, you can now download the new full-service, but open source platform, Quantum GIS or Q-GIS for free at

Mainers involved in any local planning effort can now access or use this innovative software by themselves. Up to this point the Maine State GIS office has done a great job of making data available, but they simply don't have the resources to do custom GIS maps for local planning efforts, as many town officials have found out upon requesting such services.

Q-GIS can help us get past this bottleneck.

Unlike other GIS platforms, Q-GIS runs on Unix, Linux, Macintosh and IBM-compatible machines. It comes with full instructions, which although not exactly super user-friendly, don't take a rocket scientist to figure out. And unlike other popular platforms, which are usually expensive, this one is absolutely free.

(I may be an applied scientist, but I'm definitely not a rocket scientist in the usual meaning of the phrase. I failed my first college statistics class, although not for lack of math ability: It was taught by an adjunct with a heavy accent and I couldn't understand a work he said. He also got mad whenever he was asked a question. But just in case this makes you nervous, I did later pass the class, and then went on to take stats, quantitative analysis, modeling and econometrics at the PhD level. Ever since then I've been circumspect about inexperienced college teachers, and more than usually interested in seemingly poor-performing students. A lot of ordinary kids mistakenly thought stupid are more often just the product of poor and arrogant teachers.)

If you are in the Maine State High School Laptop Program you already have GIS software on your Macintosh computer called My World. Your geography teacher should be able to help you figure out how to use this software, which is also a full-service GIS application. Not all the geography teachers have figured out how to use the software, but you should ask around for help. If all else fails, email us.

The various layers are available from the State of Maine GIS Library and the NREL data pages.

Now before I get any more argumentative emails from anti-wind power types, let me point out that this is just good information, which should be helpful to every wind power controversy in the state, and should hurt no one. In fact, as should be pretty clear from the example above, getting a good GIS wind map can help rule out large areas very quickly. GIS can also be used to rationally test out setbacks, noise, view shed, and other important considerations, in order to scientifically determine what the impacts of a given proposal are.

Those Maine communities struggling with the question of whether to permit large commercial schemes would also benefit from GIS studies which could be used to find out if companies are accurately representing the environmental impacts of the turbines they propose.

Up until now, Maine communities, who as individual and community landowners actually own the resource legally (and in my book morally), have definitely been outgunned by the commercial firms, who of course have all of these technical services available to them, the anemometry which they tend to keep as a commercial secret, the econometrics, and the GIS.

As a result, Maine towns become economic colonies for commercial wind power companies to exploit.

Our publication of, and assistance with, this new open source GIS system will help to redress this imbalance.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Chinese emissions deal

According to the Guardian, the Chinese are ready for a deal on emissions. UK Foreign Secretary Ed. Milliband, formerly the environment secretary, is there right now.

Now that's a sea change. Who would have thought it, even two-three years ago?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Maplewood and Unity House

Sent: Fri 5/1/2009 4:04 PM
To: Mick Womersley
Subject: Greening Help

You probably don't remember me.My name is XXXXXXX and two years ago I came to Unity and were fortunate enough to get a green tour by yourself. I am now a full time student at XXXXX State College and a group of us here, being the environmentalist that we are, are writing a grant s o that XXXXXX can become a great green campus. I was wondering if you could send me information about your green dorms there things like price to build, how its green, what was used, square footage etc. Any information you provide could be of great help to us as we try to build a greener community here on campus. Thank you for your help in advance.



member of the green solution club and Eco rep at XXXXX State College


Our new Maplewood dorm finished about two years ago built for $200/square foot, is a wood frame building with the new efficient stud walls, 2 by 6, 24 on-center, with efficient corner stud placement to reduce thermal bridging, and used straightforward and fairly conventional technology to create a very efficient building. The main features are: an "Alaska" or floating slab floor, heated by hot water, insulated from the ground, which heats the building, blown-in-blanket insulation, which is of very high quality and structural integrity and provides R 26 in the walls, with R 50-60 recycled cellulose in the ceiling crawl space. High quality insulated glass windows, an airlock front door, and solar tubes and skylights for day-lighting complete the picture. It runs, like all Unity College buildings on 100% Maine-made renewable power.

It uses around 0.2 gallons of # 2 heat oil per square foot per year. This means that, while it is a 6,000 square foot building, it may use less heat oil than many 2,000 square foot homes.

We have considered switching the heat source to a renewable fuel, either air-to-air heat pumps run on green power, or a biomass boiler.

Our new Unity House president's residence will be the next standard for green buildings at UC. Right now it's in the first year's "field test" stage. We hope at the end of the year that the building will make more energy than it uses. You can read about the Unity House and the Open Prototype Initiative online in much better detail than I can explain it. Google "Unity House" "Unity College" together with quotes, or "Open Prototype Initiative"

If everyone in North America could, in 20-30 years time, live in a house as energy efficient as the Unity House, and if we were able to save the extra energy made to drive plug-in hybrid cars, we might be well on our way to reducing climate emissions 80% by 2050, as most climate scientists say we must.

I'm copying this to Jesse Pyles, our Sustainability Director, so he can follow this correspondence.

Hope this helps.



Mick Womersley, PhD
Associate Professor
Unity College

Sustainable Energy

David MacKay's book Sustainable Energy is reviewed by Leo Hickman in the Guardian here.

It's available on-line here.

Highly recommended.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Last day of classes

I've had a relatively easy week, one in fact, where my level of tiredness after a very long hard semester has punched through the wall, and I've come out the other side. Although I'm punchy and my naturally high level of British working class cynicism and sarcasm has ballooned, I feel like a marathon runner who finished the course, albeit in the middle of the pack.

My semester days were spent alternately...

1) trying to teach as well as I could considering that I teach few courses where the student actually believes he or she wants to learn the material,

2) trying to keep up with the service component of my job which, frankly, could be a full time job for about three or four folks with my particular expertise right about now in the great State of Maine,

3) trying to keep up with the rapidly deploying green research and green stimulus efforts of the federal government, which have already transformed the field of climate change and energy sustainability dramatically,

and 4) assisting as best I could with the curriculum renewal effort at Unity College, which promises to release some of the latent promise that I see in this small Maine school.

If this sounds like an energy reformer's dream come true, it was, but it has been hard work, and having to jump from one area to another and multitask well has defeated me at times.

Some of this was rewarding. Some of it was merely frustrating. Some was pure murder.

High on my list of rewarding outcomes:

My guess is that a little more than half of my probationers class will fly right off academic probation with much higher GPAs of 2.25 or above. These are students who failed their first semester primarily becuase they couldn't summon up motivation to perform in college once they were cut loose from parents and from high school. Of the other half, two young men have dropped out to try other careers in the military -- a successful outcome as far as I'm concerned since they will both thrive in that environment, while they were failing college due to testosterone poisoning. So around a 70% positive outcome, maybe 80% when a couple of students who are at the margin try their chances on appeal. This is a pretty good overall result, since these students were at high risk for a very challenging early-life failure: getting kicked out of college. I don't take much credit for it, since I was just their drill sergeant, but I am very glad to see it.

Meanwhile, my regular students in my three other courses seem to have grasped the primary concepts of environmental sustainability and environmental leadership that we were trying to grasp. The junior-level environmental sustainability courses are always difficult simply because a large number of the male students in the several land management and protection majors go into it with a bad attitude, gained primarily I think from listening to conservative talk drivel and the general anti-green buzz among young male rural hunters, fishermen, gun nuts and so on. It takes a lot of good-tempered study of hard facts about climate and energy to overcome this attitude problem, which material these guys have no patience to learn properly in the first place because they are generally not very academic.

I tell them I don't care what they think on their own time, and I am not out to take their guns and pick-up trucks away, but in my class they are responsible for learning the material. Most of them pull out a C or B and a couple even get A's.

Luckily, the overall federal science push on climate and energy these last three-four years has become much more focused and coherent, and now the Obama administration has pushed it to the fore, the general package of theory in energy related to stabilization wedges is now well worked out and logical and satisfying to most students who are willing to put in the effort to learn it, however conservative.

For an overview, check out US Department of Energy Patricia Dehmer's slideshow available here:

As for my outreach and service work, the high points included completing my first full scale community wind assessment for our local high school. This is the culmination of two-three years effort to learn the basic and applied science of wind assessment, and very satisfying. Just recently I was able to add another string to that bow with a new application in open-source Geographical Information Systems for wind analysis using the freebie Q-GIS platform. I now have an excellent GIS database for wind sites in the state of Maine, sufficient that, combined with my standard Excel wind analysis spreadsheets, I can get a basic wind power production estimate using the NREL's 200 meter resolution data set for any site in the state and any turbine make and model in less than an hour's work. Since the Q-GIS system is free, any amateur planner or Town official in the state with time and patience and a fast computer connection could do the same. One new service project I plan to do soon is work up a web page with links and instructions for using Q-GIS in wind and other community planning efforts in-state, or elsewhere in the country.

I tried desperately to keep up with the stimulus package and other longer-lasting federal policy change efforts on climate change and energy, and although it defeated me at times because it was moving too fast, I think I have a good idea of the main thrusts and where the best spots are for Unity College to assist. Although as a small private we are not quite as likely as other colleges to get large amounts of stimulus, we can still get some for our energy education and service work, and we need to know what the policy thrust is to serve students best in their education. And we will likely get more students, especially for our Sustainability Design and Technology degree.

Again, I recommend Pat Dehmer's slide show.

Last but not least, I was required by my status as a committee member of a couple of important curriculum and planning committees to contribute to a major curriculum renewal effort now underway at Unity College. Like most colleges that teach environmental stuff, we desperately need to update ourselves. The pace of change out there in the world, particularly in climate change and biodiversity, has gotten away from a lot of college professors and degree programs.

One of the great joys of my life right now as a 40-something academic at Unity College is to have all the very up-to-date new colleagues I have in the 30-something age class around. I enjoyed the mental challenge of graduate school, especially the interaction with other students and mentors. I'm still in touch and still exchange news and thoughts regularly with many of the academics I worked with in graduate school, but that by itself isn't enough to keep you current. Most of our young new professors are just a few years out of graduate school and very up-to-date and fresh. We now have a quite wonderful group at UC, and it promises to be a good few years ahead for us all, especially if we can change the curriculum where it is outdated and dry to take advantage of their energy and expertise.

So, all in all, a good semester and academic year, and one doing pretty much exactly what I should have been doing considering the external events. It's nice to be able to make a contribution, however small. maybe we'll avoid "lareg scale discontinuities" after all. I remain optimistic.

But boy, am I tired and punchy! And last week, I was particularly bad-tempered. I need about a week's sleep, some good food, and a bit more time to exercise.

I also have a fairly large backlog of farm work to catch up on. That starts the week after next, with the official start of summer scheduling. My contract gives me the summer to do my own thing, and although I keep up with my service and research, as well as prepare for classes and help out with sustainability stuff at college, most of what I do in summer is farm this small farm here.

I generally enjoy a good days firewood-cutting, or sheep-shearing, or potato-planting, much more than I do sitting in committee meetings or in front of the computer. My college work seems to age me, while my farm work rejuvenates me. It's nice to get good food and healthy exercise while saving climate emissions and rejuvenating a small plot of land.