Monday, September 28, 2009

Framing fiercely

(This post mirrored from our Barn Blog at

Our concrete set up well and was ready for stress by last Monday, and so we fired up a college truck and trailer, ran up the road to the old Grange hall the college uses for storage, and pulled out those fine frame sections that last year's class spent so many hours preparing.

All that careful preparation paid off and the frames flew up in record time, so much so that by Friday at noon the main frame of the building was up and the plates and wind braces all in place.

Pictured are Meghan, Kaley, Rory, Matt and myself all engaged in framing tasks.

Now it's time for heavy timbers.

A 30' wide building needs either an expensive truss system, or interior framing, to hold up its roof. Trusses are also used to hold up the ceiling between the first and second floor.

But we will need to put hay in the second floor or attic space, and so trusses can't be used because they will make the hay storage space inaccessible.

Old fashioned rafters must therefore hold up our roof, and so posts must hold up the hay floor. This means we must use post and beam construction techniques for the next few weeks to create that hay floor. This interior post system will also penetrate the hay floor and hold up a rafter beam, which will reduce the necessary weight of the rafters themselves.

This is all an excellent opportunity to learn a few things. Carpentry, physics, math, teamwork, leadership, and coordination: all will be needed to get these frames up and the roof on the building before snow flies.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wooden wedding and fair weather fair

Today marks the date that Aimee and I were married, five years ago. Our wooden wedding, according to the system by which weddings were marked that I grew up with -- but was it too invented by Hallmark and am I just hallucinating?

Either way, it's a good thing. We were married in front of family, friends, students and other professors at Quaker Hill Church in Unity, under the care of Belfast Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, or the Quakers. As far as we know, ours was the first proper Quaker wedding in Unity for eighty years or so, the original, 1827 meeting house in which we were married having been sold to the Baptists for a church in 1927. The joke of the day was there were more Quakers in the graveyard than in the meeting-house. Our guests signed the traditional home-made wedding certificate, which Aimee had painstakingly hand-drawn herself. We had a reception at the Unity Community Center with contra dancing, my home-made carrot cake, wine, and potluck dishes.

An older Unity student, Bob, still around, who had been injured on Army service in Iraq, but was demobbed and looking for work, was our caterer for the day. He did a sterling job.

One snotty mainline, birthright Quaker guest distinguished herself by saying "you wouldn't have wine at a real Quaker wedding."

Actually, it wouldn't be a real wedding without a guest or two like that!

We never had a honeymoon. Fall is teaching season at Unity, and we are definitely serious teachers, working many long hours, especially Aimee who constitutionally cannot even occasionally do something half-way. (I can!)

But instead we did as we always do the last weekend in September and went to the Fair.

Aimee's mom and dad, and my sister, represented the two families, and also went to the fair. It was fun to see them all wandering around. My parents were already too frail to attend, but their forty-fifth wedding anniversary was two weeks prior to our wedding. I just went to see them for their fiftieth. Aimee's dad is battling leukemia from his wartime service in Vietnam, and his health comes and goes with the chemotherapy, but he was well enough to come to the wedding and to walk around the fair a little. He is still battling leukemia, but he will almost certainly read this post.

And all was well in the world for one sunny September day, and as much as it should be as it possibly could be. Which, I tend to think, is the art of a family event such as a wedding.

Now we are tired as usual from teaching and from faculty work. Aimee is more tired than I am because I get to work outdoors a lot this particular fall. No honeymoon for us. But we will be at the fair all afternoon on Saturday, and if you're looking for us you can find us at the Unity College table in the afternoon.

And all will be well in the world and as much as it should be as it possibly could day, for one sunny September day in Maine at least.

We are very lucky to have our health and meaningful work and good neighbors and a pretty and productive place to live. This came home to me this week when I got some letters from an old buddy I had served with in the RAF, who had a motorcycle accident and was badly hurt and paralyzed.

A long time ago we used to run and hike and climb and drink together. He was very, very good at all four.

But I'm the one who can now still walk, even if I can't run any more.

I choose to walk through it all with Aimee.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Farm for the Future

For class today, we will watch this short documentary from the BBC and discuss.

All students in Environmental Sustainability must watch all of this film. There are several parts, five or six. Make sure to watch all the parts.

Pay special attention to the landscape images as well as the agricultural narrative.

Carbon sequestration begins

No-one really knows yet how well it will work, but it's a serious first. I'm generally not a huge fan of the idea, seeing it as another form of geo-engineering with all the "law of unintended consequences" possibilities that such projects may have. Neither do I like mountaintop removal mining and sponsored an internship this year for one of our Sustech students to go work for a group opposing this obscene method. But I'm also not a great fan of our current dependence on Russian, Sa'udi, and fill-in-the-blank petro-state oil dependency. At the very least, I'm prepared to withhold judgment until data is in.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pouring with people power

Here's the Day of the Pour on our college animal barn project. This is without much doubt going to prove to have been our biggest hump-day of all. All the rest of our barn work can be broken into bite-sized chunks, if not one board at one time, or at least less than ten at a time.

But a monolithic slab is just that, one ruddy great big piece of artificial rock.

All our troops pitched in with gusto, and I had to issue surprisingly few of my distinctive ex-NCO's reminders that standing around resting on a rake while others were raking was perhaps not the most productive use of one's time.

By the end of the morning, we had become experienced concrete crew, and when the third truckload showed, all the professor really had to do was watch the crew.

Then it became a matter of weather watching.

It was supposed to be a 30% chance of rain. Light rain is helpful if it arrives right at the moment of bull-floating, unhelpful if it gets heavy enough to wash cement away from sand in the slump and cause weakness, or if it spatters the surface and spoils the finish. By 5 pm we'd had three minor showers and the surface was a little spattered, but enough only to break up the smoothness a little and make for better friction underfoot. This will be a detriment for future mucking-out of the barn, but a distinct safety feature otherwise, so I was not unhappy with the effect.

By 5.30 pm when last I checked, the slab had begun to cure and was already proof against written notes and paw-prints. By Monday we'll be able to hold a dance.

I was overall very pleased. The crew worked well and in good heart, the job got done, and I went home for my weekend feeling like I was "over the hump."

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Investors shoulder the wheel

This is not an unexpected event, but I still think it very important. It might be unexpected for some of our politicians who have been in the habit of equating climate change policy with left-liberal activism.

Of course, as long as climate policy opponents and conservative talk-hosts are willing to continue to pander to, or even generate, the modern version of "know-nothing"-ism in America, they may not even care that big business is against them.

Despite frequent popular opinion to the contrary, the closet racist, libertarian, populist and evangelical protestant elements in American street conservatism have never much cared for international business. The current Republican Party, which seems to aim to unite anti-science protestant evangelists, grass-roots libertarian populists, Catholic pro-life elements, and big business, and panders at least some of the time to closet racists, is having a hard enough time sticking together as it is.

'Twas ever thus, as most academics who have had a decent dose of American political analysis since The American Voter came out know. Of course, the Democrats have their own unity issues, but climate change is not so obviously one of them.

From today's Guardian.

Investors call for action on global warming

More than 180 of world's biggest investors aim to overcome opposition in US and elsewhere to climate change legislation

*, Wednesday 16 September 2009 21.16 BST

More than 180 of the world's largest investors, with collective assets of $13tn, put their combined weight behind a passionate call for strong US and international action on global warming in New York today.

"We cannot drag our feet on the issue of global climate change," said Thomas DiNapoli, who heads the $116.5bn New York state pension fund. "I am deeply concerned about the investor risks climate change presents, and the human cost of inaction is unthinkable."

The summit drew together managers of the world's leading investment funds, including those from HSBC, Henderson, Schroders, Société Générale and Scottish Widows, and pensions funds from California public employees to the BBC and Church of England. It was aimed at overcoming entrenched opposition within the US and elsewhere to climate change legislation, by showcasing the scale of investor support for climate change action and the potential for mobilisation of private capital.

"For anybody who suggests that regulating carbon or acting on climate change is impractical, here is appropriate contradiction," said Mindy Lubber, the president of Ceres, the green investor network that helped organise the conference. However, she warned: "Investors are ready to put money into green tech, but they are not going to act until the government acts and makes clear that the right incentives are in the right place."

The investors' endorsement for action on climate change comes amid signs of a loss of momentum in the final stretch of negotiations towards a deal to tackle global warming in Copenhagen in December. The group warned that failure to act effectively would have disastrous consequences in human and economic terms.

In contrast to inaction, Lord Nicholas Stern, author of the 2006 Stern report on the economics of climate change, said: "Building a low carbon economy creates opportunities for investment in new technologies that promise to transform our society in the same way as ... electricity or railways did in the past." He added: "Unmitigated climate change poses a threat to the global economy."

In their joint statement the investors supported the tougher targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions put forward for negotiation at Copenhagen, including cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries of 25-40% by 2020.The conference was held amid rising frustration that the US Congress and the international negotiations are faltering in the final days before Copenhagen. Stern, in his remarks, said it was time to move away from the "quarrelsome stupid politics" surrounding climate change.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Wisconsin court rules on wind

For 2 cents and a cup of coffee, I am in the habit of providing advice to Maine's burgeoning community wind power groups. I also advise on municipal wind power ordinances.

Wind ordinances are a class of regular planning ordinances and are subject to both explicit constitutional restrictions, which although written down in court precedent for anyone to read, are often poorly defined; and implicit restrictions that emanate from the right of all groups affected to sue in civil court, which as you can probably guess are also poorly defined.

Most frequently an ordinance is found wanting through the civil court process.

Occasionally, as in key cases like Lucas versus South Carolina Coastal Commission, which planning and policy wonks like me are required to study in grad school, the Supreme Court intervenes. In either case, the effect is most often to throw out badly written restrictive ordinances.

Lucas cases involve situations where landowners sue to remove local, county, or state restrictions on property development. The constitution protects economic rights in private property, and the Lucas precedent establishes that any restrictions that jurisdictions implement have to be capable of proving a clear pubic interest in avoiding a public nuisance, and must not be capricious in any way, so evenly applied to all landowners. Here's the money extract from the Supreme Court of the United States:

"A review of the relevant decisions demonstrates that the "harmful or noxious use" principle was merely this Court's early formulation of the police power justification necessary to sustain (without compensation) any regulatory diminution in value; that the distinction between regulation that "prevents harmful use" and that which "confers benefits" is difficult, if not impossible, to discern on an objective, value-free basis; and that, therefore, noxious-use logic cannot be the basis for departing from this Court's categorical rule that total regulatory takings must be compensated....Although it seems unlikely that common-law principles would have prevented the erection of any habitable or productive improvements on Lucas's land, this state-law question must be dealt with on remand. To win its case, respondent cannot simply proffer the legislature's declaration that the uses Lucas desires are inconsistent with the public interest, or the conclusory assertion that they violate a common-law maxim such as sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas, but must identify background principles of nuisance and property law that prohibit the uses Lucas now intends in the property's present circumstances."

(Citation: LUCAS v. SOUTH CAROLINA COASTAL COUNCIL, 505 U.S. 1003 (1992))

In other words, you had better write a pretty good ordinance, carefully identifying the nuisance and showing how the regulation works to prevent it, if you want your ordinance to stick. The State Planning Office now has a model wind energy ordinance available, written by a team of experts. You can find it here. (Scroll down to find the ordinance.)

However, other Maine jurisdictions, including my own home town of Jackson, have anti-wind groups seeking more restrictive ordinances. In some cases these involve blanket restrictions, or blanket restrictions embedded, perhaps secretively, in setbacks (as in the Wisconsin case).

Blanket restrictions are a problem under the Lucas and related precedents. The underlying issue on which to base any restriction must be a clearly defined public nuisance, and jurisdictions have a responsibility to consider scientific evidence as to whether or not a nuisance such as sound or ice throw would exist, or actually be avoided by a restriction. If they don't the landowner or developer may sue. In some cases a blanket restriction will be found unlawful if it can be proved that the nuisance would have been present in some cases and not in others.

The Wisconsin courts just ruled on a case in that state, a ruling which we may find can also apply to Maine municipal ordinances in the case of a court test, albeit modified by Maine's "Home Rule" law, which makes clear the priority of local jurisdictions in most planning law.

(Home Rule doesn't abrogate the Lucas standard: Even Home Rule planning regulations may not be capricious, and must serve a clear public interest.)

Here's the news article on the Wisconsin matter:

Wisconsin Court Confirms Wind Farm Siting is Not a County Issue

In a decision that erases several local restrictive ordinances that
attempted to regulate wind energy at a time when the state legislature
is preparing to tackle siting standards itself, a court of appeals ruled
that local units of government (e.g., counties) do not have the power to
adopt such standards of general applicability for wind energy.

The case, Ecker Brothers v. Calumet County, involved two farmers who
challenged the county's right to pass more restrictive ordinances that
would prevent them from adding more wind turbines on their farm. The
court effectively ruled that the county's role is limited to considering
wind installations on an individual basis based on whether they are
legal under state health-and-safety regulations. The decision comes at a
time when the state legislature is working to come up with a policy for
the whole state.

"The ruling casts substantial uncertainty about wind energy regulation
in Wisconsin," said Curt Pawlisch, an attorney for RENEW Wisconsin. "In
order for the state to move forward with a balanced approach to
renewable energy growth, the legislature must pass uniform siting
standards. We urge the legislature to act quickly and pass uniform
siting standards when it returns in September."

SB 185/AB 256 directs the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW)
to initiate an administrative rulemaking process to establish statewide
siting standards for wind energy projects. The bill draft requires the
PSCW to establish an advisory committee of diverse interests to advise
it on the rules. AB 256 was voted out of the Assembly Committee on
Energy & Utilities on a 10-2 vote last month and, like its Senate
companion, has strong bipartisan support, according to RENEW Wisconsin.
Moreover, it appears that the recent court decision strengthens the
bill's case.

"I think the [court decision] gives the bill even more momentum for
passage," said state Senator Jeff Plale.

"The court did more than simply declare Calumet County's wind ordinance
be unlawful," said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW
"The court's decision also stripped away the legal foundation supporting
Wisconsin ordinances that contain blanket restrictions on wind projects.
The decision erases unreasonable local ordinances that effectively
prohibited any new wind development in this state for projects under 100

Vickerman said that SB 185/AB 256 would make the state "more attractive
to manufacturing and other supply chain businesses that create state
jobs. By establishing statewide standards for siting small and medium
sized wind farms, legislators can provide enduring economic opportunity
for Wisconsin."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Food studies

Here's the pictures from our cider-pressing, homegrown lamb and pork smoke-out, greet-the-new-students, early fall barbeque thang Thursday. Click on the snaps to enlarge. feel free to download for your Facebook page or whatever.

It occurs to me that it's good to be part of the Center for Global Change and Sustainability because we're in charge of studying the food supply!


Friday, September 11, 2009

Working on the slab

Here's students from Environmental Citizen class working on our animal barn project. We are raking Maine's native gravel, about 28 yards of it, into a hard-compacted pad for the concrete slab that will be laid next week.

I thought the group shot, which I don't believe I took myself -- I'm in the habit of handing the camera to odd students when my hands are too full to take pictures myself -- has a nice gangland atmosphere to it. Tough customers.

The other shots are of Kaylee raking, and Ryan using the rented 350 pound compactor.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wales watching and grid goals

I just returned from a very brief trip to the yUKe to celebrate my parents golden wedding. On the way back to Heathrow, I detoured to the Centre for Alternative Technology in Mychynthleth, west Wales (pronounced Muck-cunth-luth), where I have relatives in large proportion both alive and in the graveyards, this area being my grandmother's birthplace.

CAT was a quiet refuge, as always, from the road and the 21st century madness of urban Britain. It always seems to me to be one of those very few places in the world where everything is exactly as it should be. It also is the most publicly accessible renewable energy research and demonstration facility I know, and one of the most important. I visit regularly, for new knowledge, but not the least for the bookstore, where I can peruse more new books and pamphlets in one place related to my academic specialty than anywhere else I've ever encountered. I always spend as much as I can afford.

It helps that it's just a few hours from my family.

Photos to come. I left my digital camera on a work bench at the barn site. It was none the worst for wear, but I was forced to use a disposable camera for the trip.

I hope to take students to CAT on a field trip next spring, to study the hundreds of renewable energy and energy efficiency demonstrators. I want to have lots more such demonstrators on campus, but there is only me making them right now, so I need students to make some, hopefully learning as they go. Making displays and interpretive demonstrators is a skill we teach here at UC, but we rarely put it into action on our own campus, which is becoming a renewable technology demonstration center in its own right, and needs more signage and displays.

I missed the biggest news story at CAT while I was there: The Center has become it's own micro-grid. I hope one day to make such a micro-grid at Unity College. Micro-grids are one important key to reducing climate emissions, by reducing the huge transmissions losses with on-site generation. Think of it as net metering writ large.

Here's what I found in my morning paper:

UK's first 'island' micro grid goes live in Wales

From the Ecologist, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Renewable energy created on-site can now be used instead of being exported to the national grid.

The UK's first "island" micro grid system is up and running at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales.

It will allow the centre to use the power it generates itself instead of relying on national grid supplies and help them reduce their carbon footprint.

Centralised electricity systems like the national grid waste around 65% of energy through heat loss in power stations and transmission lines before reaching our homes.

Previously, any power generated by the centre's wind turbines or solar panels was exported to the national grid. Now the power will be used around the Centre, with only the excess exported to the national grid.

"Even if you've got a wind turbine on the roof, if the grid goes down you're in the dark like everyone else," said Alex Randall from CAT.

"We can be on or off grid whenever we like now. At quiet times, our island grid sends any excess to the national grid and at peak times it imports any extra required," said Randall.


And here's the much more lengthy CAT bulletin. It seems to me that Fox Islands, Peaks island, and many other Maine Islands considering wind power, should investigate this new development. It would be nice not to have to cut the power off the next time CMP's lines go down in an ice storm.

Maybe some "civilian" representatives from these Maine communities should accompany the UC students next year on our trip. Write me an email if this interests you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Krugman on corrections

The new Paul Krugman essay, How did economists get it so wrong, from the NYT, is recommended for my students in Introduction to Economics and Economic Criticism.

Read Heilbronner, then Krugman.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

School in the swing

Unity College has started up, hale and hearty despite the recession, and we're nearly done with the first week. It's been incredibly busy, and I haven't had much time to catch my breath. My schedule is packed because of several practical projects I'm doing with students, including the building of a barn for the college's farm/garden/local food program, a good deal of community wind power planning and related GIS mapping for various Maine towns, and developing several sites for full scale wind assessments. There's also the training of the SAR Team with large numbers of new students to get oriented to emergency search and rescue.

The schedule is better by far to deal with than last fall's, however, because of some tweaking of my responsibilities. I've shed quite a few items that used to lead to large amounts of paperwork, which has freed me up to actually concentrate on teaching and learning with students as we do these practical and experimental projects.

Just naturally, however, the postings on the Sustainability Blog, and the Womerlippi Farm Blog, may decrease a little. I hope to get some more students posting on the Sustainability blog as the semester goes on, making up for my own reductions.

The Farm Blog waxes and wanes with the seasons. I notice I post much more regularly in winter. Which is reasonable because that is when I have time.

Fall is Maine's best building and outdoor season, though. Summer is hot and sweaty and high humidity and bugs and rolling thunder, and hard to deal with. Fall is cool especially in the mornings, clear, dry, sunny, and above all productive, and I plan to be outdoors with students much of the time until the bad weather comes.

I can hear Aimee's alarm going off up in our bedroom, so it's time to get on with the day, although I've been up for a while. I enjoy the calm of the early morning when I have time to think and let my mind wander a little, which is how I tend to solve problems and catch up with myself and otherwise keep sane.

Today's day will start with sheep and pig feeding on our own farm. There will be some barn work, spreading gravel on the foundation pad and raking it to level, starting with students at 8am prompt. There will be a class to teach at 9.30, in which we will take a short field trip, more of a countryside walk, to talk about human ecology in Maine and reading the Unity landscape for signs of past human uses. A faculty meeting will interrupt an otherwise decent morning at 11 am. This afternoon we will get back to work on the barn. This evening I will be on hand at a Town Meeting in Jackson, Maine to answer technical questions about wind power planning. Hopefully the anti-wind power versus pro-wind power factions, which are vociferous, do not attempt to machine-gun each other with me in the middle.

Democracy: Love it or leave it.

And that, dear readers, is a typical day in the life of this particular college sustainability professor in Fall 2009.