Thursday, December 31, 2009

Renewable power in Jackson, Maine, redux

Some of our neighbors here in Jackson, Maine have worked themselves into an incredible tizzy over the proposals of Competitive Energy Service (CES), a regional wind power development company, to place an as-yet unspecified number of turbines on the ridge to the north, shared with the Maine Town of Dixmont. This proposal spurred the drafting of a Jackson wind power planning ordinance, which is sufficiently restrictive to end the company's project. The ordinance has not yet been subjected to a Town vote. The two sides are yelling at one another over whether or not the draft ordinance is subjected alone to an up-or-down vote, or whether the selectors may present an alternative ordinance, less restrictive.

The most recent developments are a pair of competing petitions in favor of the two options above, and some kind of proposal by CES, to share turbine ownership with the Town, possibly employing a Tax Increment Finance District. I haven't yet read this proposal, so I shouldn't write about it. I hope to read it today, since the Town office is open 12 - 5pm, assuming the weather permits.

As I began to write this, there is the small matter of an approaching storm, very large. Even wind turbine debates stop for big snowstorms in Jackson, Maine.

I haven't involved myself much in the Jackson debate since at the most recent count I have five other community-owned wind projects to assist, including the state-owned site at Charleston, Maine that is my current priority. My usual role is to measure the wind and perform the required power production analysis and cost-comparisons, as well as GIS wind mapping and planning. The Jackson anemometry is being performed by CES in any case, and although I did make some GIS maps earlier for the Town, and I made some comments on the draft ordinance, I haven't done anything else.

I don't have time or patience for yelling, in any case. All I can offer is science, and there's no reason to yell about that.

I can't do much science right now, even. I have not been able to see any of the data. I'd like to see data since that would allow me to perform an independent analysis of the company's proposals, to see if the claims made for the value of community ownership are reasonable. According to the anti-wind group's newsletter, the CES proposal suggests revenue of $400,000/year from one GE 1.5 MW turbine on the Town's land. This is in line with the $250,000 to $700,000 that is feasible with these turbines on Class 3 and above sites, depending on the power of the wind and the cost of capital.

This might be a helpful fact to know, that the proposed revenue is within the range of feasibility, or not. It would be necessary to have a full year's wind data from the Common Hill anemometer to know for sure. The company has the data. The fact is, if the data didn't show at least a Class 3 site, a preferably a Class 4, no such deal is possible. A dead duck.

One useful fact. No spin, no shouting at each other. No rude accusations of double dealing or mental aberration. Just a fact.

If my neighbors were willing to listen and be reasonable with one another, there are a number of other facts that I could tell them that would be helpful. Right now they're not willing. In fact, they're still very much in the shouting-at-each-other phase of "conflict resolution," as the pro-turbine side and anti-turbine sides compete to see if their side can end up holding all the cards and calling the shots.

There isn't very much room for science in this debate, so I'm well out of it. But sooner or later the manoeuvrings for absolute power over the proposal will resolve themselves and we'll either have a planning environment where turbines are permissible, or we won't. If we end up with a regime where turbines are viable, then there'll be a useful role for me to play in evaluating the proposals.

Other facts I'd like to evaluate:

1) Because of geography of power lines, the connection to the grid must be made through Dixmont. Another possibility is Thorndike, to the west. Dixmont has already passed a restrictive ordinance. Connection is an expensive part of turbine costs. How does the company propose to make the connection? What is their estimate of cost to the Town?

2) Comments made by the company representative at an earlier meeting in Dixmont indicate that the wind on 1200 foot Mount Harris is Class 4. If Mount Harris is Class 4, Common Hill, at 900 feet, is Class 3 or less. Is there enough wind? I'd like to know.

3) Is a TIF District proposed? If, so, for how much? is it a favorable proposition, based on the finances? I wrote the State of Georgia's Greenspace TIF law, and have some expertise in that regard.

For the time being though, asking these kinds of questions are impossible, mostly because the two sides are at each others' throats and will be for some time to come.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sustainability Activities 2009

Here's a You Tube movie I made out of the best of the year's photographs. We had an action-packed year with a lot of renewable energy, green building, and sustainable agriculture activities.

I threw in a couple of high angle rescue training clips too. This is actually a renewable energy skill, because high angle rescue capability is required by OSHA for work on turbine towers. This is the SAR variant, but the techniques are the same.

Photographers other than me:
Cody Floyd
Hanna Gauvin
Megan McClelland

Friday, December 18, 2009

Career counselling?

What advice would I give to a student looking for a career in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and climate change mitigation?

This is an interesting question, as our Unity College admissions calendar is well in progress and the Admissions Office is assembling next year's entering class. It's also in the news. Each morning, if I have time, I read the New York Times and scan the education section headlines, and lately the paper has been full of articles about admissions.

I encounter the admissions process through visits by high schoolers. I generally meet most of the entering students in our Sustainability Design and Technology Program one or two years before they attend Unity College. They come for a visit, or attend one of our Open Houses, meet me, and we have a conversation.

The conversation that I can have with them at that point is naturally shallow, as are most processes associated with this stage of the choosing-a-college process. I can't tell you how many students have shown up to talk, only to realize that they were looking for something completely different. Students show up thinking that we offer a program in household installation, for instance. Or they somehow arrive believing that they can have a career in energy without doing science or math.

Often the first thing I ask is, "so you want to be an applied scientist working in the energy field" When they're stumped or bemused by this question, that's a bad sign. They hadn't realized that what we offer is a science degree in energy. I don't know how high schoolers show up at my door thinking this, but they do.

Indeed, I'm not sure how high school and college age people think or where they get their information from.

Which is good. That's not really my job.

But every week I have long conversations and/or email correspondence with half a dozen to a dozen different professionals that already work in this field. Sometimes we are talking or writing about students, setting up internships or projects, for instance. But more often than not I'm helping solve real world problems that these professionals encounter, in energy analysis, anemometry, finance, or legislation. They call me up or email me for answers, to stay in touch, to learn how to do new things, or I call them for the same reasons.

So I know what these well paid professionals do for a living, how they or the businesses they work for make money, what the skill sets are that they seek in order to make more money, and how to train students up to the proper standard in those skill sets.

That is my job, isn't it?

Thank heavens I don't have to think like a high schooler, though!

What I have to do instead is put the information needed in the workplace into forms and levels that high school and college-entry age folks can understand.

So, based on that information, what advice do I have for the student seeking a degree program and remunerative employment in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and climate mitigation?

First, up, lay down the iPod, get off Twitter or Facebook, remove all distractions, and settle down for at least a minute.

You're going to need to learn to concentrate.

The modern world is full of distractions for all people, young and old, and the way that the field of energy and climate is evolving is no different. There is all kinds of spin and greenwash. But the great majority of successful professionals I encounter are not this kind of person. They are analysts and engineers, number crunchers and applied scientists who have a natural tendency to want to solve practical problems in making green energy or saving dirty, brown energy and in accounting for the emissions that are reduced when either of the above happen.

This is good, because this is where the money is, that pays their salaries. Energy is valuable, and green energy more valuable than brown, so if you know how to make green energy or save brown energy, then you know how to make or save money. You have to be able to account for making or saving that money if you want to get paid -- you must prove to your employer or the government that you are making or saving this money. But the potential supply of money to pay your salary is quite large. There's an awful lot of wasted energy in this world.

You need to learn to concentrate so you are capable of analyzing the energy problems of whatever organization you are working for, and solving them. Most organizations are complicated and energy can be made or saved in hundreds of different ways. It takes concentration to analyze all the ways and lay them out for study and pick the most cost effective ones and come up with physical improvements.

If you are prone to distraction, you won't do very well at this. So learn to concentrate.

The next thing I would say is, get real. Put away the ego. Stop noticing yourself. The world is not a stage on which you may play out the fantasy of your life. Get used to noticing, identifying, interpreting physical reality instead.

These energy problems are real problems with real physical embodiments. There's either a leak in the building envelope or there isn't. The oil level goes down faster or slower in the tank. The meter turns faster or slower, or if you're really good, backwards. Something physical has happened. You have made a difference or not.

You're in the picture, but you're not the important thing. The machine or the building that is using energy is the thing. Reduce the ego, get outside of yourself, and study the thing, not how you feel about the thing.

This is not a job for folks who enjoy telling fictional stories, for fantasists, or egotists, or grand-standers who like the idea of spinning out their own egos. Good analysts are often quite modest types, with modest dress and modest habits. Sometimes we're downright frumpy.

This is a job for somewhat grumpy Zen masters who can leave their egos at the door to the boiler room. People who are prepared to see things, to notice stuff. People who are more comfortable doing than being.

Pocket protectors, suspenders, toolbelts, sensible shoes, backpacks or handbags that contain useful stuff, these are all signs of the emerging energy master. Who cares what others think about how I look? It's not what I look that counts. It's what I know. My students may not be the most well dressed on campus. (But they will be the most well paid on graduation.) They are not the most gregarious, nor the most popular. Some, like me, tend to the grumpy.

But this is only because what we are interested in most is outside of ourselves, and we don't necessarily like what we see. When we get to the point where the thing we wish to fix is fixed, then we'll be happier.

The next thing I'm going to say is, be patient. Take your time to understand things.

Good news. This is a good area to be in right now. It's probably the best area to be in, from a job security and financial point of view.

Here's a common-enough type of headline about humanities majors who can't find jobs.

Our Sustech students won't have that problem. The energy sector, especially the renewable energy sector, proved relatively recession-proof during this latest business cycle droop.

Wind power in particular was one area where companies continued to hire during even the worst of the recession. And salaries are relatively high. Most of the just-left-college professionals I talk to, with only two or three or four years under their belts, get paid more than I do.

If I didn't love teaching and learning, I'd quit and take one of these jobs myself!

So why can't our Admissions Office find more students who want to work in this relatively recession free and relatively well-paid area? The usual American aversion to science, technology, engineering and math is one reason. There was a time when this country turned out the best scientists and engineers in the world, and in many ways that's still true, but you wouldn't think so sometimes, especially when you're trying to find a high schooler who wants a good career.

I don't know what it is that teachers and parents and pop culture does to scare students away from science and math, but it sure works.

Science and math is hard, but not that hard. One of the things that constantly amazes me in my energy outreach work is how easily people's eyes glaze over or they get confused when you show them a schematic, a spreadsheet, or a GIS map. People lack patience with complicated ideas. We geeks and wonks get paid because we have this patience. The huge STEM salary premium, the extra money you get paid for the rest of your life for being a bit of a wonk, is not so terribly hard to get.

You just have to be a tiny little bit more patient with science and math than the competition. That's all it takes.

Finally, I'd say, be prepared to change your ideas lots of times in life, based on new evidence and the emerging situation. I can't tell you what the price of a barrel of oil or a tonne of carbon will be in even one year's time, let alone for the rest of your career. But everything you want to do, every problem you want to fix, will be more or less easily fixed depending on those two metrics and many others. As the major facts of the energy and climate system change, so will you need to change. And you will need to be able to bootstrap yourself into new areas of expertise. the basic skills and knowledge: analysis and problem solving, physics, ecology, engineering, accounting, business skills, presentation skills, these will remain the same.

But the problem will change. So don't get stuck on one thing. Keep your eyes looking down the track. Read the papers and the blogs, trying to see what's ahead.

And keep your hard hat handy.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My idea of a good time

We took a final, just-for-fun, field trip in our Wind Assessment seminar. This is a one-credit class in our Sustainability Design and Technology program in which students have learned how to measure wind using anemometer systems, how to assess wind measurements statistically and how to use the results to cost out the economics of turbine installations (of any size, small, medium, large), and a little bit about how to study turbine noise and planning problems.

We went to see local turbines spinning in the recent gale. First we saw our own small Air X model, which is hooked in parallel with a solar system, and has a cut-in voltage of 12.5, and so hasn't turned much this fall. A few non-sunny days and a bit of wind were enough to fix that, and it was spinning flat out.

Then we went to see Ervin's Amish wind compressor. It was shut down, having been working all day and the air tank being well above its cut-off pressure, but Ervin bled off some air and we got to see the pressure regulated furling system kick in. It worked beautifully.

As the air bled off, the air piston pressure reduced, allowing the tail vane to spring back into place, turning the turbine into the wind. It then spun up nicely, sounding a bit like a steam engine, only not so loud that you'd hear it from 500 feet away.

There is an Unity College anemometer on Ervin's tower, and we were pleased to see that now his compressor is "broken in," the cut-in speed is 10 mph. His tower was working well, too having survived a recent 45 mph gust, according to the anemometer.

We took pictures for Ervin to use in a sales brochure, and for Eli, another Amishman from the Schwartzentruber sect, who had some well-bred Baskir Curly Horses for sale that he wanted pictures of.

We were having so much fun hanging out at Ervin's farm, we never made it to the next two turbines on our list.

More stuff

More material for last week of class

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Noisy turbines and solutions

Here's a letter to one of our local Maine news sheets about how noisy the Fox Islands Wind project turbines are turning out to be.

I was expecting something like this.

It didn't stand to reason that you could build essentially an identical wind project to the Freedom Ridge one and not have the same kinds of problems.

So, as she says, we need to learn from this. One take-home is that the GE 1.5 MW S and SE models make more noise than expected, and possibly even seem more noisier here in Maine than in other environments. Why?

Two words: Wind shear.

For months now I've been telling anyone who will listen that we have surprisingly high wind shears in Maine.

The wind shear exponent is the number used in the Power Law equation to estimate the power of wind the further off the ground you get.

A high wind shear means more powerful wind further up. A low wind shear means relatively constant winds as you climb up the atmosphere. The standard wind shear tables stop at 0.3, supposedly the highest normally encountered, but in Maine in summer (when there are leaves on the trees and thus more blockage to the ground-level wind) I have measured wind shears (using simultaneous anemometry) at 0.45 and higher. A project in Massachusetts on the coast measured wind shear from one particular direction in summer at 0.57. A project in an area of coniferous trees, such as the one on Vinalhaven, would have constant high wind shears all round the compass and the year. One in an area of deciduous trees, such as the one on Freedom, would have higher wind shears in summer than in winter.

A high wind shear means you can have winds above 12 mph up high, at say 80 meters, one standard height of a GE 1.5 tower (they also come in 65 meter versions), powerful enough to turn a turbine and make noise, and low winds or none at ground level.

Meaning there may be no ground level ambient noise to drown out a turbine.

In Texas, Iowa, Scotland and Samso, other places where turbines have been used, with relatively low wind shears, there will be ground level winds and ground level ambient noise that will drown out the turbines.

In Maine there may not be.

Does this mean we can't have either commercial or community owned wind power plants in Maine? Of course not.

It means we have to plan them more carefully for noise, use more inclusive models of finance, and expect to get some noise.

Using more inclusive models of finance, especially some community ownership, is key. Noise like this is much more of a problem for commercial operations than it is for community ones because there is no reward, or not much of one, for the community sacrifice. If the only community benefit is taxation at around $50,000 per turbine, give or take 50% depending on the mill level, that's not enough.

But a GE turbine in a high electricity cost area, such as Vinalhaven which pays up to 25¢/KWH, may yield power worth $750,000 a year to the community. From which a stream of income comes that is large enough to compensate the community for its sacrifice.

Vinalhaven has three turbines. A couple million dollars a year is a lot of income to a town that may have only a one million dollar/year budget.

Our anti-wind groups will cry foul, that the turbines are providing such large incomes and so "buying" votes. But I would say that this is a community decision, whether or not to have such turbines, and not up to anti-wind advocates unless they are local, in which case they get one vote, and one say, like everyone else.

But there is the noise to consider. Planning projects should be designed to minimize nuisance, but they can't be designed to prevent all nuisance. Should I be permitted to object to State Route 7, which goes right by my house making 50-60 decibels until quite late at night for many Jackson residents who live right on it? Or to the Great Farm Rifle club a couple hundred yards away where my neighbors may shoot machine guns for fun, on Sunday to boot, making 80-plus decibels in my dooryard?

Turbines are quieter than these other nuisances if planned properly.

Does this mean that blanket setbacks, such as the one-mile ones proposed for Dixmont or Jackson are required?

No. In fact, such setbacks are possibly capricious and violate planning standards for that reason. A performance standard is much better. A community or developer that has to meet a performance standard has the option of using a quieter or smaller turbine. The blanket setbacks apply to all turbines above a certain KW rated capacity, usually 100 KW.

If Fox Islands Wind had used Northwind 100s instead of GE 1.5s, I venture to guess that there would have been much less noise. A blanket setback affects smaller turbines as much as it does larger ones, and so is not properly tailored to the particular nuisance it seeks to control.

As I've mentioned here and to anyone who will listen, the Supreme Court standard for planning, since Lucas vs. South Carolina Coastal Commission, is that planning regulations can be used to avoid a public nuisance or "noxious use," even to the extent of a constitutional "taking" of some value from an owner's property. But the Lucas ruling also says that the regulation must promote some clear public interest, clearly identified "background principles of nuisance and property law that prohibit the uses" landowners intend.

This has been generally taken to mean that rational and even scientific systems be used to measure the nuisance and abatement, so that we can positively identify the nuisance, and that regulations be tailored to actually deliver nuisance abatement based on the science.

This, in a nutshell, is why I had to go to Vinalhaven last month to put up an anemometer next to a decibel meter, so the nuisance could be measured, to determine if it did or did not comply with the DEP's noise regulations.

A blanket setback that disallows the use of a quieter turbine to reduce noise from a proposed development does not meet the Lucas standard. The nuisance the blanket setback was intended to control was noise. But the noise can be controlled without the setback. Therefore the regulation has "taken" some value in the owner's property, the value of the right to put up a quieter turbine. It's just a matter of time before a landowner sues to regain this right.

There would have been much less power produced too, though, if Vinalhaven had used smaller turbines. While a GE 1.5 may produce five million KW a year, a Northwind 100 will only produce a couple hundred thousand.

I venture to think that the dust will settle on the Vinalhaven project more by the community buying out the neighbors who have noise than by the community giving up on a couple million dollars a year, widely distributed through cheaper power bills and even through buying out the houses of those most affected. Which houses will no doubt promptly be resold to other buyers who can live with the turbines.

But I guess we'll wait and see.


-----Original Message-----
Subject: FW: Very sad news from Sally Wylie of Vinalhaven

Sent: Wednesday, December 09, 2009 5:50 PM
To: undisclosed recipients:
Subject: Very sad news from Sally Wylie of Vinalhaven

Hard lessons from the Fox Islands Wind Project

by Sally Wylie

North Haven and Vinalhaven Schools were let out for the ribbon cutting ceremony on November 17. Students passed out colorful pinwheels and excitement was in the air. Governor John Baldacci joined the crowd. First District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree flew in from Washington, D.C. to join her daughter Hannah Pingree, Speaker of the House, in order to celebrate the completion of the Fox Islands Wind Project. As one speaker said, this was the largest group of North Haven and Vinalhaven residents together, ever! The turbines were running, the community had pulled together, and with the support of the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative Inc., the Island Institute, and George Baker, CEO of Fox Islands Wind LLC (FIW), remarkably, the dream of community-based wind power on Vinalhaven was a reality!

Amongst the participants were many of us who are neighbors of the turbines. Although our group overwhelmingly supported the project, we now live with the daily presence of turbine noise, 24/7. As one of the Fox Islands Wind Neighbors (FIWN) recently noted, "We support the windmills, but not the noise." The noise is as constant as the wind, building in intensity according to wind speed and direction. It can be a low rumbling, whooshing, grinding background noise that one can just hear above the sound of the trees or it can build to an in-your-face noise, like jet engines roaring combined with a grinding and pulsating sound that echoes in your head, keeps you awake at night, and beats on your house like a drum.

As neighbors of the wind turbines, we find ourselves in the midst of an unexpected, unwanted life crisis. When GE flipped the switch and the turbines began to turn, island life as we knew it evaporated.

As I watched the first rotation of the giant blades from our deck, my sense of wonder was replaced by disbelief and utter shock as the turbine noise revved up and up, past the sound of our babbling brook, to levels unimagined. It was not supposed to be this way!

During informational meetings, on the Fox Islands Wind website, in private conversations, and with personal correspondence, we were all told that ambient noise from the surrounding area would cover the sound of the turbines. This was our expectation. The Fox Islands Wind August 31 cover letter to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) explained, "When the turbines are generating higher sound levels, background noise will be higher as well, masking the sound of the turbines." On the Fox Islands Wind Web site FAQ we read, "The blades passing through the air can make a 'whooshing' sound and mechanical parts or unusual wind currents can produce a steady 'hum' or 'whine.'

However, ambient noise is usually louder than any noise produced by wind turbines and modern wind turbines are significantly quieter than older models." Our immediate experience was the reverse..

Since that moment of realization, we have been on a steep learning curve. Our days are filled with e-mail correspondence with neighbors and George Baker, of Fox Islands Wind, research on the noise pollution and health risks associated with turbine noise, research on the impact of low-frequency noise, research on technological solutions, research on the impact of turbine noise on domestic and wild animals, research on state sound regulations, conversations with the press, neighborhood meetings, meetings with the electric cooperative and FIW, a meeting with the DEP, multiple letters to our State Representative, Hannah Pingree, letters to Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, letters to the Vinalhaven Land Trust board members, e-mails to possible sound consultants, debates with neighbors as to how we will pay for a sound consultant, letters to the DEP where we are beginning to know everyone's name, and the list goes on.

We have been to the town office to copy tax maps and get the addresses of year-round and summer residents who live near the turbines. We have driven all over the island with sound meters, determining that the turbine sound can travel more than a mile in certain areas and noticing whose homes are impacted. We have spoken with people in town to spread the word. We have invited people to our homes to listen for themselves. We have learned and explained under which conditions the turbines are loudest and why. We have developed data sheets so we can keep daily noise observation records. We have worked to find the words and sounds to describe the noise, each perfecting our own imitation, some better than others. We have learned to count windmill rpm and discovered that above 15 rpm the noise is tough to take. We have read lengthy amendments and studied sound protocols. We have learned about state sound regulations and found that the 45 decibel limit that is designated as "quiet" in Maine, is truly a cruel joke. On our quiet cove, we now know that 45 decibels is loud.

We have studied spreadsheets, yearly wind speed records, and have worked to determine how much Fox Islands Wind can slow the turbines down and still cover the cost of the windmills. We are scrambling. We do not want to leave the homes we have built with our own hands, the gardens we have planted, the memories that are so much a part us, and the dreams we hold for the future. We are not looking for financial gain. We are desperate to gain back what has been taken from us.

From where we are sitting, it seems that the industry standard for turbine noise in rural areas is absolutely wrong! I cannot speak for all the Fox Islands Wind Neighbors on this, but my husband and I feel that, on a local level, well-meaning individuals made a critical miscalculation. Depending on wind speed, wind direction, etc., we estimate that households within a mile to a mile-and-a-half radius of the turbines are impacted by the sound. This is a very serious issue that affects many homeowners on Vinalhaven and could also, due to diminishing property values, affect the tax base of the town. In an island community, such as Vinalhaven, where people sincerely care about and support one another, we are in the position where economic gain in the form of reduced electrical rates/wind turbine debt could be pitted against community well-being. How willing will the Fox Islands Wind Cooperative and the community be to share the burden of this major miscalculation? Rather than bringing us together, the noise from the turbines has the potential to tear our community apart..

As I type, a computer is whirring away in our basement, sending wind speed data and noise level data to sound technicians in Boston. FIW is taking sound measurements, as required by the DEP, and it is our joint hope that they will be able to make adjustments to windmills in order to reduce the noise. Along with our neighbors, we are recording daily noise observations which sound specialists can use as a means to determine under which conditions the noise is most disturbing. We are eager participants in doing whatever we can to rectify the situation. We feel fortunate that Fox Islands Wind is controlled by the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative and that they are eager to work with us to find an answer.

However, it is very clear to us, that life as we know it on Vinalhaven has changed irrevocably. We understand that our best hope is to come to a reasonable compromise.

We are working with FIW to find a balance between the level of noise that is tolerable and the turbine speed necessary to produce electricity. This is a far cry from what we were told and what we expected. One has to wonder if wind turbine technology is truly ready to be implemented in rural areas. Community based wind power is a very good idea, a smart answer to our energy dilemma. The numbers actually work. It is just that our life-for us, and for our neighbors-does not. Ironically, for households within earshot of the turbines, the GE windmills fly in the face of island sustainability. Some islanders who lived close to the turbines were given the choice of either selling their homes or land to FIW at the assessed value or living with the turbine noise. Most chose to sell rather than live with the noise.

Others are trying to stay where they are with hopes that GE specialists and FIW sound specialists will find technological solutions. The Island Institute website states, "The Institute's perspective is fundamentally ecological. It understands that all life is intimately linked with its environment; that people are therefore an inextricable part of the ecosystem of the Gulf of Maine, that there is an interdependent web of existence more evident on islands than in other communities and landscapes." As is, there are some year-round families on Vinalhaven who feel their existence is being marginalized and the noise issue minimized.

Before any other island community takes the step towards wind power, come to Vinalhaven and see for yourselves the consequences of those actions. Come to our meetings. Come stand on our porches, listen to the nonstop roaring, thumping, whooshing, grinding sounds of the turbines, and compare it to the quiet you currently experience. Watch how our community struggles with this issue and see how we resolve it. Look at the compromises we make and decide if those trade-offs are worth it for you and your neighbors. For many islanders, a cohesive, caring community and good quality of life are of critical importance. Don't let the wind blow it away.

Sally Wylie lives on Vinalhaven and in Rockland. She is part of the group Fox Island Wind Neighbors.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Best activity pictures of the semester

What did you do with your semester?

This is a cross section of what my students were doing. These are in reverse chronological order.

What these pictures have in common is that they are all "action shots" and unposed, although some of the subjects knew they were being photographed at the time and struck funny or silly poses.

You can click on an image to enlarge. Narrow or widen your browser window to make captions line up with photos.

"Dead-eye Dierdre," ready to shoot.

Snorri, the Womerlippi Farm rental ram, ramming it up for the camera.

Me, working on the decibel-linked anemometer for the Fox Islands Wind project

Ervin, one of our local Amishmen, climbs his turbine. He needs to get a safety harness.

Ervin concentrates on some welding

Kaylee and Heather board some boarding boards

SAR team students on a mock evacuation

Teaching the horizontal lower using the tandem system.

My favorite classroom setting

Getting ready for the lower

Learning to rappel

Spreading "mud" for the barn foundation: a dance choreography

Tough customers: Who you lookin' at?

A trenchant Unity character.

Cody on the tower at our Charleston wind assessment site

Et moi

Worm's eye view of a Freedom turbine

An Aaron in the wet

Friday, December 4, 2009

Boston Globe article on Unity Amish impacts this blog

The main purpose of this blog is to communicate with students and friends of the college, particularly to provide a place where our extended Unity College family of sustainability-minded folks can catch up. A secondary purpose is to create an ongoing record of materials used for teaching in my various classes, a kind of library reserve. It's also helpful to have a place to publish student work and have them get an audience.

A final use is just as an outlet for my frustrated journalistic and publishing "talents." I'm really too busy teaching, building, and working on community renewables and energy efficiency to have much time for writing, let alone serious research (although I would love more time to do both), but having a blog helps me stay in touch with developments in my fields.

So it was only of side interest for me that my Amish friend Ervin, who makes his own wind turbines, was the subject of a Boston Globe article this last Sunday, and that the article was front page news. I took most of a day off from barn-building to help host the reporter, Sarah Schweitzer, although that turned out to be largely unnecessary since she proved quite capable of finding her own way around. It was fun and educational to hear Ervin describe the family and Unity Amish church meeting's beliefs, their ordnung, and their outlook on the world. I learned a few things I didn't know. I was pleased for Ervin, although a little concerned too about the potential result.

But what was almost as interesting to me was the increase in interest in the college and our sustainability programs as a result. The graph is the results from my blog-tracking service for that weekend, and see the spike in hits on Monday. Four times as many as normal.

I hope the folks that visited for the first time went away having found something interesting.

Population offsets

Another pre-Copenhagen headline to make you think:

Rich nations to offset emissions with birth control

Radical plan to cut CO2 argues that paying for family planning is developing world is the best bet

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Jim Hansen pre-emptively bombs Copenhagen

Copenhagen climate conference
Copenhagen climate change talks must fail, says top scientist

Exclusive: World's leading climate change expert says summit talks so flawed that deal would be a disaster

I might have expected this, although I wouldn't have guessed it would make the front page.

I'm not sure Jim is right about the politics.

I am sure he's right about the science.

Including trading. Although I helped pioneer some fairly creative uses of offsets in Maine (bundling Maine Housing energy efficiency improvements to gain offset income), that was perhaps hypocritical on my part because I've never really believed a trading regime would work that well in large scale. The main reason I wanted the offsets was because they were required for us by the ACUPCC, and was durned if I was going to pay for traffic lights in Portland Oregon, which was what another Maine college chose to do.

In this case, though, I think we need to get our first international climate agreement behind us. Climate treaty policy is going to be for the first decades of the 21st century what the General Agreement on Tarrifs and Trades (GATT) was for the last of the 20th century, all high level negotiations that set the terms of the balance of trading power throughout the world, and like the many rounds of the GATT, we need to get in the habit of having one.

There's another article that's interesting, too, an editorial by Sachs, headlined "Time to let the experts lead."

I liked his paragraph summary of what serious climate problem solving looks like:

"Here, then, is a proposal for the post-Copenhagen attempt to square up national and global policies so they add up to something more than more years of empty promises. Let's start by recognising that most of the human-made crisis emerges from a few pivotal human activities: how and what we grow to eat; how we mobilise and distribute energy; how we transport ourselves and our freight; and how we build our buildings and lay out our cities. Each related sector requires its own intensive strategy – to identify the kind of research and development activities, public infrastructure investments and public policy to accompany a positive price on carbon emissions, through permits or taxes. Countries would have a lot to share – for instance in new technological options – and a lot that would distinguish them, according to geography, resource base, development level, and more."


"...Copenhagen should be the end of negotiation by politicians with technical issues kept in the shadows or ignored. Let's get scientists, engineers and ordinary citizens involved in a true discussion about our common future, and especially the tradeoffs, costs and choices. Together we can prove that our world is still capable of reaching long-range agreements when our children's lives and wellbeing hang in the balance."