Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Turkel on offshore wind

This is a good article to read for Environmental Sustainability, especially the final exam question: Can human society become ecologically sustainable?

Oil dealers: Offshore wind plan a mistake
They oppose a bill to speed up ocean energy projects, which they say
will kill their industry and cost many jobs.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@mainetoday.com, [ 3-12-10]
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — A bold plan that would switch homes and cars from oil heat
and gasoline to offshore electricity is coming under fire in the
John Baldacci

In 2008, Maine Gov. John Baldacci set up the 22-member Ocean Energy
Task Force to make recommendations focused on offshore wind power.
The idea is to cut Maine's dependence on petroleum by using renewable
energy, largely from giant wind turbines far off the coast, to power
an expected surge of electric vehicles and high-efficiency space

But the futuristic plan is running into present-day opposition.

Oil dealers say it would kill their industry and cost thousands of
jobs. They and other critics also say the electricity from offshore
wind would be very expensive, and note that customers would have to
pay higher electricity bills to make it possible. That's what happened
in the 1990s, they point out, when the state forced utilities to buy
more costly power from biomass boilers and hydro dams.

"It's voodoo economics," said Ned Bulmer, an Irving Oil executive,
speaking on behalf of the Maine Energy Marketers Association. "Don't
make that mistake again. Learn from history."

Proponents agree that subsidies will be needed for Maine to start a
transition from volatile, imported petroleum to massive, clean
resources just off our shores. But they point to the summer of 2008,
when heating oil and gasoline prices jumped above $4 a gallon and fell
only when a deep recession took hold.

"We dodged a bullet that time," said Republican Kevin Raye, the Senate
minority leader. "It would be foolhardy to think it couldn't happen

Raye noted that a tidal-energy demonstration project placed last week
off Eastport, near his hometown, is a model for an ocean energy
industry that could eventually create thousands of jobs.

Such contrasting views were voiced Thursday in response to a bill that
would carry out the recommendations of the Governor's Ocean Energy
Task Force. The bill got a public hearing before the committee that
handles energy issues, drawing an overflow crowd.

The task force spent a year fashioning its suggestions, but the bill,
which is considered emergency legislation, wasn't printed until recent
days. As the short legislative session approaches its final weeks,
some lawmakers are asking for more time to digest the details. A
committee work session on the bill is planned for next week.

The bill would put into law the broad recommendations of the task
force set up by Gov. John Baldacci to encourage and speed up
development of ocean energy resources, with a focus on offshore wind
power. The 22-member task force included state officials, lawmakers,
energy developers and interest groups, including lobstermen and

The law would establish a state goal of installing 8,000 megawatts of
wind capacity by 2030, including 5,000 from offshore turbines. That's
the equivalent of six nuclear power plants the size of Seabrook
Station in New Hampshire.

Some of that power would help Maine move away from using oil and
gasoline for heating and transportation. Electricity generated from
renewable resources would charge efficient heat pumps, thermal storage
heaters and plug-in electric cars, for instance.

Details in the bill ask state agencies to come up with an incentive
program by January to entice Mainers to switch from oil heat to
new-generation electric heat. That program would include an added
charge on monthly electricity bills to defer the cost.

Oil dealers oppose that approach. They packed the hearing room
Thursday and spilled into the hallway.

Let the market decide how people should heat their homes, not the
state, said Robert Moore, president of Dead River Co. The task force's
plan would put dealers out of business and saddle Mainers with more
costly electricity, he said.

Since Maine already has an elaborate system to store and deliver
liquid fuels, it makes more sense to weatherize buildings and
encourage development of biofuels, Moore said.

No one wants to put people out of business, said Sen. Barry Hobbins,
D-Saco, who co-chairs the Utilities and Energy Committee. The oil
spike of 2008 highlighted the state's over-dependence on oil and
gasoline, he said, and the state needs a long-term plan to develop

But even an executive who has spent most of his adult life selling
electricity said the ocean wind alternatives are too expensive.

Carroll Lee, former president of Bangor Hydro-Electric Co., estimated
that offshore wind power would cost 25 cents per kilowatt hour, well
above what residential customers now pay. It would make more sense to
generate power in Maine from natural gas, he said, and install
efficient heat pumps.

That led Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, the committee's House chair, to
note that the nuclear power industry was subsidized in its infancy. He
asked Lee whether he thinks offshore wind serves as an analogy.

Lee disagreed, but general debate over the cost of offshore wind power
and how to pay for it got a bit more real when Chuck Digate stepped up
to testify. Digate is managing general partner of Neptune Wind LLC, a
Massachusetts company that is interested in developing an ocean wind
farm in Maine.

It will cost an estimated $1.5 billion to build a 250-megawatt ocean
wind project, he said. Its power would cost 22 cents a kilowatt hour,
and with no state support to help financing debt, he said, it would
add $8 a month to the average household's electricity bill.

The financial benefit for Maine: $585 million spent during
construction and $112 million a year over 25 years of operation.

Digate posed a question that may be the core of what lawmakers will
have to decide over the next few weeks: How do you encourage a
half-dozen developers to come to Maine and each spend $500 million on
construction and $100 million or so a year?

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Energy Star Slammed

The federal government years ago established several linked schemes to promote energy efficiency and renewable power, the two most important being Energy Star and Green Power Partners. I've been somewhat critical of Green Power Partners in the past, writing long letters to staffers complaining that the scheme provides a disproportionate amount of free federal government advertisement to the biggest buyers of green power in the market, at the expense of smaller buyers who may however purchase a larger percentage of their power from renewable sources.

Full disclosure: Unity College, a small purchaser, buys 700 MWH/year of renewable power, 100% of our total, and gets close to zero credit or PR from Green Power Partners, while other colleges may buy 20 or 30 or 40% and get beaucoup PR because they buy 30 or 40% of a bigger total. I suppose I'm partisan and over anxious for UC to get some credit for all our hard work. But then, it has been and continues to be a lot of hard work, on a tight budget, and we deserve credit. Other colleges can throw money at the problem. We can't. And this kind of bias makes it harder for us to attract donors and help that we need and deserve.

And after all, we were probably one of the first colleges in the country to buy 100% green power.

I had more than sour grapes in mind, though. I wanted the programs to send the right message to consumers. I wanted the goals to be set higher, and the playing field to be fairer. The whole thing just chipped away at my shoulder.

I got exactly nowhere with my protests, though, and eventually gave up. And recognition for our work began to flow from other, more solidly sensible sources, such as Rocky Mountain Institute, or the ACUPCC, settings where spin is less important and actual performance more so.

Now we hear that the other flagship energy program is also weak and possibly corrupt, based on the results of an energy audit "sting" operation.

No big surprise to me.

So will Obama and Congress clean up both of these programs and establish a more serious scheme of incentives and aid?

The answer might be found in what gets packaged in the climate bill. Apparently our own Senator Collins, who gave what I thought was a very sensible graduation address on climate change at Unity College last year, is reported to be deeply involved, promoting what I interpret as a form of Jim Hansen's idea of a "Cap and Dividend" carbon tax, along with a freshened up scheme of incentives and aid.

So maybe congressional bipartisanship is not quite dead. Go Susan!

And while you're at it, take a look at these programs.

They don't need to be thrown out, just made more reasonable and fairer.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Calera in NYT

This is the Si Valley company that uses seawater to capture carbon dioxide from power stations.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

A busman's holiday

I like it best when all of the bits of my life work together as well as they can, especially when I can unite my two homelands. These last two weeks have been that way.

In the English English of the 1960s and 70s that I grew up with, the phrase "busman's holiday" means that when a fellow goes away for a break, he does the same things he does at home. So a busman would ride a bus on his holiday. It's one of those things that makes no sense in American English.

But I just got back from a very creditable example of a busman's holiday.

Accordingly, this post is published on three blogs, the Sustainability Blog, the Womerlippi Farm Blog, and the reflective blog I made for the students on the trip.

This trip will only come as news to regular readers of the farm blog. I hadn't published that I was going anywhere on the farm blog because I didn't necessarily feel the need to advertise the fact that the Womerlippi Farmhouse would be emptier more than usual. Although I doubt that would have led to any insecurity for Aimee, I'm often careful like that. Belt and braces, we say in Yorkshire. In American, belt and suspenders to hold your pants up.

Back-up for back-up, in other words.

Enough with the American-English, English-American dictionary already. Oy!

I took eleven students with me on this field trip. Two were from my own Sustainability Design and Technology program, but the others were from many different programs so we made it as much of a cultural exchange as it was a tech-happy field camp. It was a bit of both, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope the students did too.

It certainly seems to have been that way.

The first picture above shows Amber and Alicia touring the Whole Home exhibit at CAT, an example of a very low energy consumption house, conceptually not unlike our own Unity House project.

The second and last of the three pictures above show one of our projects, the repair, re-mantling and erection of a 600W Marlec wind turbine.

This was of course exactly the kind of thing we do all the time in our Sustech program, but to do it on a breezy Welsh mountainside was a very nice experience. The turbine was connected to the building it powered, and turned on, so as soon as it was up it began to make power. Very fun.

Students got to tour sustainability exhibits and Welsh towns and a castle and the like, but they also were able to experience British countryside life quietly and directly, with rain showers, lambs in spring, bus trips to town on market day, and walks to the pub. They got to live a little slower for a few days, a very good thing that all of us should try. Even the five-hour train and bus ride back to the airport was slow and patient in a very British way, and relaxing rather than stressful. In very stark contrast to the speeded pace and ridiculous commercialism of the airport itself, especially the Terminal Three department lounge, which needs to take a tranquilizer.

They also got to eat black pudding, if they were very brave, or lamb, or cheese of many different kinds rarely seen in the US. One or three even got to see England draw 15-15 with Scotland in the Six Nations rugby tournament, in the very loud "pigs bar" of a Welsh country pub.

We deliberately had an unpacked schedule with a lot of quiet time and opportunity for unscheduled activities. The British propensity for inclusivity, all "mucking in together", and preference for last minute improvisation over planning helped. Our hosts on the CAT Education and MSc programs came up with new activities they wanted to include us in nearly every day and we took full advantage. It worked better to include the MSc module material for our Sustech specialist students as well as the regular CAT Education department discussions because, well, our specialists are more where the MSc students are, really, if a little younger.

I got to give two lectures in the CAT MSc program, which were well received. Despite the increasing importance of many of the ideas, academics with a Dalian ecological economics training are still quite rare, it seems, and so a good lecture on the basics of this point of view puts many things in clearer perspective, which is what I seem to have managed to do.

At least that's what the MSc students said. It was nice to teach advanced students again.

So good. Maybe we can go back again some day.

Back at base, Aimee has been doing the night checks for our several very pregnant ewes, but of course now I'm home again that's my job, since I'm the somnambulist of the Womerlippi family, if not also the human "black sheep".

We saw lots of English and Welsh lambs on our trip and our students were of course charmed by them. The British countryside is kept in tidy trim by literally millions of sheep, and lamb and wool products are much more popular there. We even saw wool used for house insulation.

Sheep make for an excellent livestock choice in the UK because of the climate, but the fact that they can live outside on grass nearly all year also reduces the carbon emissions from supplementary feed and from equipment use. As I mentioned to students, you don't see nearly as much tonnage of agricultural equipment rusting away around an English or Welsh mixed farm as you do an American one. The main reason is that you need far less winter feed, especially for sheep, and so hay cropping is less important.

Our own Womerlippi Farm sheep are hugely pregnant and will drop around 6 or seven lambs (total) very shortly. I'm looking forward to having lambs at home. Aimee and I will of course try to get some of our students involved in this educational and seasonal operation too.

Because everything works best when it works together.

A few acknowledgements are in order:

Many thanks to CAT staff and faculty for being so welcoming and flexible, especially Rennie, Kara, Arthur from Engineering, Jo, Deidre, Christine, Julie, Mike from the CHP Plant, Sue and Liz and all the others from the restaurant, Meg and Kat from Information and all the MSc faculty, staff and students who allowed us to muck in together for a very enjoyable and educational experience.

Back at Unity Base, thanks are due to Carol Palmer first and foremost, for organizing our finances and our air travel. Amy Knisley, and Doug Fox also helped a good deal, especially Doug who went above and beyond to get the students to the airport and on the plane.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wales hunting

I should have mentioned that I'm in Wales with a group of Unity College students. For a look at our course blog, go here:


Friday, March 12, 2010

Smart mover? An urban turbine

Here's a very large, very urban turbine on the side of the British M4 freeway, close to the town of Reading. It seems to stand in the grounds of a conventional power generating station or a factory. There are houses and farms very close by, within a few hundred feet. The blades were turning in a very mild ground-level breeze.

Here are details I found on Wikipedia:

"A wind generator at Junction 11 of the M4 motorway, at Greenpark industrial estate, near Reading, Berkshire, England. Construction finished in November 2005. The turbine supplies up to 1,500 local homes and businesses.

The turbine on top of the 85 m m (279 ft) tower is the German-made Enercon E-70. The three fibreglass blades are each 33m (108 ft) long, rotating at 6 to 21 rpm depending on wind speed. Maximum power output of 2.05 MW is reached at a wind speed of 14 m/s (31 mph) then remains constant with increasing wind speed. The hub is kept facing into wind.

At a pre-determined high wind speed the blades cease rotation."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

NOAA Climate Portal page -- recommended

I may well be biased, since this is the federal agency that paid for much of my own education in climate mitigation ideas, but I thought that this new climate science and mitigation portal was very well put together. I bookmarked it and will check in on a regular basis to see what's new.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Green jobs for Vets

An ex-serviceman myself, I was pleased to see this new program.


Thanks to Don Foster (former Col. Foster of the US Army to you!) for sending it on.

For question 3

These articles might help with question 3 on the take-home exam paper: