Thursday, December 29, 2011

Great new emissions calculator

This one, an official UK Government project, was produced under the supervision of David McKay, whose excellent e-book Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air we use in class.

Both book and calculator are recommended. Both are free.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

La Nina

For those of you tracking this winter's "double-dip" La Nina, NOAA has a great article on last springs Missouri River flooding headlining on its Climate Portal.

There's also an article on this fall's resumption of ENSO-negative conditions.

Finally, when you want to understand Maine's winter weather under ENSO influence, there's nothing like the Jet Stream tracker map at

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Great NYT article on the "methane timebomb"

"Takings" issues with fracking wells too

Last month I heard about a bill that may (or may not) yet appear for debate in our Maine legislature limiting the amount of value in land property that can be reduced by state and presumably local environmental regulation to 50%. This constitutional "takings" measure would dramatically affect all our state's many local restrictive ordinances on wind turbines.

It seems a similar question has arisen in areas where shale gas development has taken place or been threatened.

You might expect me to be in favor of a bill that would allow more rapid development of Maine's wind power resources, but I'm not. The "takings" bill opens a Pandora's box of environmental regulatory questions, and if it passes will require reconsideration of every hard-won environmental protection from shoreline zoning to water and air quality regulation.

It might have been better had the anti-wind activists who passed these local ordinances thought through the measures properly, instead of passing suspect "boilerplate" from town to town, badgering the various planning boards to accept these flawed texts, and then passing the ordinances in special town meetings at which only a minority of townsfolk ever show up. Some of these ordinances require sound limits for wind turbines that are actually below the ambient sound level of ordinary Maine woods. Others require setbacks that are impossible to achieve anywhere in the town.

Impossible to measure, impossible to regulate. And, as we have begun to see with this takings bill, likely to stimulate an almost-as-irrational backlash.

Now we have that very backlash in the "Takings" bill, with conservative activists using the constitution as a massive wrecking bar to undo not only the anti-wind ordinances, but also our many other environmental protections.

An interesting dialectic, isn't it. And entirely predictable.

Interesting too, that our difficulty with siting energy facilities extends in much the same way to natural gas wells on the Marcellus shale.

Everybody wants energy. Few wish for intrusive energy developments in their own back yard.

But some kind of energy facility has to go somewhere.

You pays your money, and you takes your choice:

Wind turbines in Maine....
Hydropower plants in Quebec
Fracking in PA, NY, and ND
Mountaintop removal coal mines in KN and WV
Nuclear plants in NY and elsewhere
Albertan tar sands
Solar power plants in the western desert

Each has its own, very effective protest movement.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rooting for Unity

Here's Adjunct Professor Jim Merkel (in red) and his class of students, who built this fine root cellar for the college and the Unity Food Pantry to use to store food that we grow here on campus.

UC President Stephen Mulkey is helping to cut the "ribbon" -- appropriately a dried bean string.

There was some speechifying, including a very heartfelt thank you from the head of the food pantry board.

All very cool.

Well done to Jim and the students.

Friday, December 9, 2011


Yesterday I collected an award, including a nice plaque, for our wind research project from Maine Rural Partners.

I say "I collected" for "our project" because in reality a major part of the work wasn't done by me at all. We have numerous employees and students and external partners involved.

Here's a short list of those that deserve credit for this award:

All the student Wind Crew members over the years, including (off the top of my head), Jason Reynolds, Kiera Shepherd, Peter Knipper, Jake McGinley, Jennifer McClain, Cody Floyd, Dale Pitre, Ari Leach, Chris Froehly, Steve Swartz, Amanda DeBais, Jamie Nemecek, Heidi Kowalski, Rachel Mestas, Mary Bowers, Jay Pendleton, and probably quite a few others whose names have escaped me.

One the UC side, we couldn't function without the help of Doug Fox, Jan McInnes, Jennifer Whelan, the entire Maintenance Crew, the Business Office, especially Kathryn Hickson, and Human Resources.

And of course, the funding came from Efficiency Maine, the federal Departments of Energy and Agriculture, while expert help has come from NRG Systems and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Then there are the several wind power companies that have supplied equipment, especially NRG Systems, Competitive Energy Services, and RA Wind Power Inc.

Last but not least, there's my partner anemometer loan operator, Paul Villeneuve of UMaine School of Engineering Technology, without whose data the wind shear part of the project would not have been possible.

So thanks, Maine Rural Partners, for the award, but thanks also to all the folks who made the award possible.

It's been a privilege working with you.


PS: For those new readers, or those who haven't yet heard about the wind survey, here's the movie Jacob and Rachel made earlier this year. Click once to start and then click on the screen again, to see the full screen.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Buffet goes solar

Warren Buffet, the "sage of Omaha," whose previous renewable energy acquisitions have been wind-related, has bought into a major solar PV power plant in California.

Friday, December 2, 2011

NCSE conference in DC, Jan 17th to 22nd

Dear students:

With the generous support of the President’s and VPAA’s offices, Unity College is offering a conference field trip to Washington DC for up to six students in early January 2012, 17th to 22nd.

The purpose is to attend and participate in the National Council for Science and Environment’s 2012 conference “Energy and Security.”

Read on for application instructions. (Applications that do not conform to the instructions will not be considered.)

Why would you want to go to this conference? Well, because you’re a serious student of environmental issues and concerns. Read on:

The National Council for Science and Environment (motto: “Improving the scientific basis for environmental decision-making”) is a non-profit environmental organization representing scientists and students of the environment in Washington, DC. It advises the federal government and engages in lobbying and advocacy work for science solutions to environmental problems. Unity College is an affiliate organization, and we are regular participants in several NCSE activities, including programs in curriculum design for climate and sustainability, as well as a program of support for college leaders in climate and sustainability education (CEDD)

Every year there’s a national conference. NCSE conferences are very hands-on in the sense that students are participants, not mere audience members. At NCSE conferences you get to talk, present, make points, and influence the final proceedings, which are widely circulated (in full glossy format) to policy makers and scientists around the country. Past highlights have included a Unity College student asking a pointed question of former Science magazine editor Dr. Donald Kennedy, in full plenary session, at the microphone, with an packed auditorium of roughly 400 scientists and policy makers, a private, conference-room held discussion with the World Bank’s Environment staff in the World Bank building itself (one of DC’s modernist architectural wonders), a night out with dinner and conversation (partially) en le fran├žais de Belgique in a DC mansion on “Embassy Row” and so on, in addition to the routine (for NCSE) student participation in break-out and workshop sessions with everyone from congresswomen and men to senior federal agency managers. Unity students have met and shaken hands with environmental science greats such as E.O. Wilson, Herman Daly, Peter Raven, and so on.

An important tradition for this field trip is the final Museum Day, in which students get a full day in, as Forest Gump so memorably stated, “Our Nation’s Capitol,” with free time to explore museums and monuments and/or the National Zoo (which some feel is at its best in winter when tourists are absent). At least one fiendishly hot ethnic dinner is also on the cards, de rigueur, no pepper wimps allowed, a rite of passage.

Routinely this college provides one of the largest and most visible undergraduate student delegations. Student visibility like this, when combined with obvious high academic ability, improves the value of each and every Unity College degree by helping make our name as a college where finding smart solutions to difficult 21st century environmental problems is the curriculum.

Obviously, we’re looking for good intellectual ambassadors for the college.

Students will stay with the two conference faculty (Dr’s Ongley and Womersley) in the Capital Hill Presbyterian Church seminar center, which is youth-hostel style accommodation, men’s and women’s separate dorms and bathrooms, a sitting room, and a catering kitchen. We will partly self-cater, primarily breakfasts and some dinners. A sleeping bag is required, as is suitable clothing for a professional conference. You will also need, at minimum, a few tens of dollars of pocket money. The Presidents Office and the conference faculty will work to get you out of class for that period so you may freely attend. A required pre-trip meeting will be arranged if possible, before the end of this semester, to answer any further questions you may have.

There is a student fee of $50. All other expenses of several hundred dollars per student will be met by the college. We seek student volunteers to be “lent” to the conference to act as staff for short shifts, to help keep our expenses down.

The dates for the trip are as follows:

Tuesday January 17th Leave campus early (7am!), drive to DC, arriving late at night at the Capital Hill Presbyterian Church seminar center
Wednesday January 18th: Moderately slow start, recover, conference registration, attend opening keynote Session (by sustainable energy guru Amory Lovins)
Thursday, Friday, attend conference
Saturday: Museum Day
Sunday: Return to Unity College, arriving back late at night.

To apply, send a paragraph addressing the following prompt to and

  1. Go to the conference agenda page
  2. View the choices for Symposia “A” and “B” and the Thursday afternoon “Breakout Workshops”
  3. Choose which of the many Symposia A and B sessions and which Breakout Workshop Session you wish to attend (three choices total)
  4. Write a short application essay (one to three paragraphs) explaining why these choices are interesting to you. You may also include why any particular plenary sessions are interesting. (Hint: Be specific, or Lois and I may think you just want a field trip to DC, or are looking for a way to get out of class for a week.)
  5. Submit by email to and

If accepted, you will be required to pay the $50 conference deposit at the Business Office before that office closes on the last day of Fall Term (December 16th, 2011)


Dr. Michael W. “Mick” Womersley
Center for Global Change and Sustainability
Sustainable Energy Management Program
Unity College
90 Quaker Hill Road,
Unity, Maine 04988

207 948 3131 ext 259

Phew. Thanks Pew

Major news on the climate communications front: Pew says the numbers are now growing again, a serious failure for the "Merchants of Doubt."


Texas and tornadoes, is my immediate guess.

Here in Maine, we just had the warmest November on record.

Yellowstone wolves and climate

An interesting article: