This blog’s primary purpose is to help people learn about events and initiatives related to sustainability in Central Wisconsin. On a regular basis we post great stories in recent sustainability news, including topics of interest on the local, Wisconsin, national, and international level. In addition, we work with the many organizations and individuals working on sustainability issues in Central Wisconsin to gather and post a calendar of events. Follow our blog on an ongoing basis, and/or sign up for a monthly reminder.
From the Energy On Wisconsin newsletter, February/March 2014
The City of Monona is a recent Wisconsin case study of a successful third-party solar installation. The city, at no up- front cost, just installed 156 kW of solar PV arrays on roofs of 4 municipal buildings, reported Janine Glaeser, Monona’s Facilities Manager, at the Energy On Wisconsin meeting February 26. “These systems generate approximately 30% of the buildings’ electricity use and are estimated to save the city $9,000 a year in utility bills. This puts the city half way to its 25 by ’25 energy independent community goal by producing 217,700 kWh of renewable energy annually and eliminating 187 tons of carbon dioxide a year” she said.
The city worked with Solar Connections, a Madison-based company, to put the project together. The city entered into a solar service partnership agreement and leased it roofs to Falcon Energy Systems (FES) for 6 years. FES, out of Denver, CO, is the investor and gets the federal tax credits. Monona buys renewable energy credits (RECs) from Falcon rather than electricity at a cost less than MGE’s current electricity rate. Full Spectrum Solar of Madison, WI did the installation and will service the equipment. The panels came from the Minnesota firm TenKsolar. The systems are interconnected by Madison Gas and Electric. According to Jeff Ford, Senior Market Analyst at MGE, who spoke at the meeting, MGE monitors the energy use and electricity output of those buildings every 15 minutes and shows the balance of amount generated over amount consumed on the monthly bill.
Wisconsin’s interconnection rule (PSC 119), which sets forth the terms and procedures for connecting customer-sited electric generation equipment to the utility grid, does not address the issue of third-party ownership of renewable energy systems. In more than 20 states in the U.S, consumers and businesses are allowed to enter into arrangements that allow third-party companies to install solar systems on customers’ property and sell electricity generated by these systems back to the customer. Customer-sited installations in those states have grown as a result increasing clean energy generation and creating jobs.
Solar energy systems require an initial investment to purchase and install. Nonprofit entities such as local governments and schools are not eligible for the federal tax incentives that are available to businesses as system owners. With third-party ownership, the business, not the consumer, finances the cost of the system and takes the tax advantage, lowering the cost of the system; and, the consumer purchases the power at a contract ed rate, often lower than the local utility rate.
From Sustainable City Network, March 3, 2014
The U.S. Department of Energy issued a final rule for strong new efficiency standards that will take a big bite out of the energy consumption of the refrigerators and freezers used in supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurants, and commercial kitchens. The significant reductions in energy use that will be seen with the new standards are made possible by the availability of technologies including LED lighting and occupancy sensors, high-performance glass doors, and high-efficiency motors, which all provide big efficiency gains.
DOE estimates that commercial refrigerators and freezers meeting the new standards sold over thirty years will reduce U.S. electricity consumption by about 340 billion kWh and save businesses $12 billion. The new standards will also reduce CO2 emissions by 142 million metric tons, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of 30 million cars. Read the full article.
By Krista Engelhardt, Central Rivers Farmshed, March 3, 2014
Central Rivers Farmshed is proud to announce the release of the 2014 Central Wisconsin Farm Fresh Atlas™, a free year-round local food guide listing farms, businesses, organizations and farmers’ markets in Adams, Clark, Juneau, Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon, Monroe, Portage, Taylor, Waupaca, Waushara, and Wood Counties. Atlas listees pledge to promote sustainable, regional food systems and operate in ways that protect the region’s land and water resources.
This guide helps consumers find a wide range of fresh, sustainably produced products including eggs, fiber, flowers, fruit, honey, maple syrup, meat, mushrooms, pumpkins, and vegables, and is also a great resource for finding CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms, pick-you-own operations, and roadside stands. The community resources section includes information about community gardens, as well as events and workshops in the area. The farmers’ market section lists local markets and also contains information about which markets accept EBT/FoodShare payments (Wisconsin’s food stamp program).
Each year 30,000 copies of the Central Wisconsin Farm Fresh Atlas are distributed free of charge at farmers’ markets, participating farms and businesses, tourism and convention bureaus, and public libraries. Pick up a copy at a location near year! The atlas can also be viewed online at farmshed.org. To help distribute Atlases, pick up bundles to display at your business, or to find out how to list your farm or business in the 2015 Atlas, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-544-6154.
Snow has always been a large part of a Wisconsin winter and this year is no different. Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowman making: many outdoor winter activities rely on a snow season. The picture on the right shows that the minimum amount of snowfall in Wisconsin from 1981-2010 was 30 inches or more everywhere in the state, enough snow for any winter activity. However, there is often the need for more snow on the slopes.
The overall rising temperatures throughout the globe have become a major threat to a snow season. With the average amount of snowfall decreasing annually, the artificial production of snow has increased. This trend will continue to increase based on the threat of a shortened snow season and the subsequent income loss to recreational businesses.
In order to combat a shortened snow season, ski resorts have employed the use of snow machines. These machines lengthen the time of a snow season as well as continue a major seasonal income. Although snow making may sound like the perfect resolution for a snow season, it has its negatives. Snow making takes up a lot of energy as well as consumes water and air. The process of snow making can only solve economic and snowfall concerns for so long. It is important for the 5.8 billion dollar ski resort industry to adopt new and energy efficient ways to save their snow.
The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) developed the Sustainable Slopes program in 2009 to provide cash and in-kind funding to support sustainability projects at NSAA member ski areas. Ski areas that endorse the sustainable slopes 21 principles can be awarded grants for projects to improve their overall sustainability. In 2013, 189 ski areas participated and endorsed the 21 principles (Environmental Charter). Out of the 189 ski areas participated, 19 are located in the Midwest with four in Wisconsin.
To improve the Sustainable Slopes program, the NSAA has developed the Climate Challenge to “keep winter cool.” The Climate Challenge is a “voluntary program dedicated to helping participating ski areas reduce greenhouse gas emissions and obtain other benefits in their operations, such as reducing costs for energy use.” The program is going into its third year with a total of 15 ski areas participating in 2013. The resorts are required to report on two scopes: (1) the direct emissions at the ski area, and (2) indirect emissions from purchasing energy. Nationally 18 ski areas participated in the Climate Challenge in 2012-2013. Out of those 18, six participated for their second year. The six ski resorts that participated for a second year in the program had an average emission decrease of 12 percent from the first to the second year of participation. These resorts reduced their emissions in a number of ways: lighting upgrades, reduced emission snowmaking guns, wildlife habitat restoration, waste management, and many others.
Wisconsin has 17 ski resorts, of which four endorsed the Sustainable Slopes principals and zero participated in the Climate Challenge. In order to reduce emissions, these ski resorts may want to participate in the Climate Challenge in the future. For more information on the Climate Challenge and the Sustainable Slopes program visit NSAA.org.
By Brian Clark Howard, National Geographic, February 24, 2014
Las Vegas-based Caesars realized a double payoff when it gambled on saving water. By cutting back on washing, lawn-sprinkling, and plain old waste, the hotel and gaming conglomerate saved both water and energy.
But as is usually the case with casinos, Caesars knew the odds were in its favor. “I don’t think we appreciate the value of water as much in our country as in much of the world,” said Eric Dominguez, corporate director of engineering, utilities, and environmental affairs for the company, which owns Harrah’s, Planet Hollywood, Bally’s, Showboat, Rio, Flamingo, and Caesar’s Palace. “Because the pricing of water here does not reflect its true value, we are spoiled here.”
In the United States, households typically pay about $2 for every 1,000 gallons of water (53 cents per cubic meter). That’s a cheap rate among developed nations, about 40 percent less than in Germany and 30 percent less than in Japan. Read the full article.
From Portage County Land Conservation Department, February 2014
For 2014, the Portage County Land Conservation Division (LCD) has received grant funding from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for two programs. Landowners interested in participating in either program should contact Randy Slagg, Conservation Technician at 715 346-1334 or email@example.com as soon as possible.
First, the Portage County LCD has received funding to offer (limited to the first 50 requests) Portage County lake shoreland owners’ free tree and shrub packets. Eligible shoreland owners will be offered 10 trees and 40 shrubs to plant within their shoreland zone to restore or create a lakeshore conservation buffer area. The free tree and shrub seeding packets typically consist of five (2-3 year old) white pines, five (1-2 year old) red oaks, 20 silky dogwood shrubs, and 20 American hazelnut shrubs. These plants were selected for their high wildlife habitat value and proven survivability in dry sand and gravel soil conditions common on many Portage County lakes. The deadline for shoreland owner request sign-up for the free tree and shrub packets is March 29, 2014.
Second, the Portage County LCD has received a grant from the Wisconsin DNR to install lake shoreland habitat restoration projects on Portage County lakes in 2014. Eligible landowners may be offered cost share funds at a rate up to 75 percent for approved project costs such as: native plant plugs and seed, native shrubs, native trees, shoreland site planting preparation, planting labor, Mulching materials and labor, Runoff detention within shoreland zone, Roof runoff control – materials and labor, Shoreline erosion control stabilization – materials and labor. Landowners interested in participating in the program are required to have their lake shoreland property evaluated by LCD staff to determine project eligibility and ranking. Final selection of project sites will be done by LCD staff. The deadline for landowner requests for an on-site lake shoreland property evaluation is March 29, 2014 (this date may be extended if not enough interest is generated).
From Center for American Progress website, February 2014
“Cities at Work: Progressive Local Policies to Rebuild the Middle Class” is COWS’s (or the Center on Wisconsin Strategy’s) local government companion to the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s “States at Work: Progressive State Policies to Rebuild the Middle Class” report. Our report is based on the practical experience and struggle of elected officials and advocates from around the country in moving their communities onto the “high road” of shared prosperity, environmental sustainability, and efficient democratic government. Its goal is to arm progressive local elected leaders and advocates with a range of effective policies that, if adopted, would make a significant difference in getting on that high road.
Read the full report.
CLUE Note: Several land use policy recommendations are mentioned on p. 16 of the introduction and summary section including:
• Rewrite zoning codes and comprehensive plans to require a mixture of uses and densities that foster travel by foot, bike, and transit.
• Reduce or eliminate minimum parking requirements, allow multiple sites to share parking spaces, and impose parking maximums.
• Plan land use and transportation together, so that they support and reinforce each other.
• Carefully examine areas vulnerable to flooding and regulate new construction in them.
From Wisconsin Master Naturalist website, February 2014
The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, College of Natural Resources (Schmeeckle Reserve, Central Wisconsin Environmental Station, and Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education), along with the Boston School Forest will host a week-long WI Master Naturalist volunteer training program. Local and regional field experiences will be incorporated into each day of the training. This schedule provides flexibility for university students and out-of-town participants who would like to take the WIMN training in a short time-frame.
Visit the website to learn more and register.
By Steven Nadel, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, February 25, 2014
U.S. electricity sales peaked in 2007 and have been declining modestly since then. Sales in 2012 were 1.9% lower than 2007 sales, and sales in the first ten months of 2013 are below the same period in 2012. While the economic recession is an obvious explanation for the decline in sales in 2008 and 2009, it is much less clear why sales have continued to decline since then, even as the economy began to recover. While some observers have attributed this stalled growth to the ongoing effects of the “Great Recession,” other observers suggest other factors may have played a role, such as erosion of manufacturing, more efficient buildings, lighting and appliances and increased use of on-site generation.
ACEEE has just completed an analysis on electricity-use trends since 1993 and we looked at changes in sales over the 2007-2012 period in particular. We found that no single factor can explain the change in electricity use over the 1993-2012 period. The factors that appear most significant were energy efficiency programs and policies, warmer weather, changes in gross domestic product (GDP), changes in electricity prices, and long-term trends.
Read the full article.
From CLUE’s Land Use Tracker, Winter 2013-14
The city of Appleton, Wisconsin recently joined the ranks of cities across the country that are experimenting with urban agriculture. With a population of just over 73,000, Appleton has numerous community assets. But it is also experiencing increased rates of homelessness, unemployment, and use of food share benefits.
When a private country club and golf course came up for sale in December 2011, Community Outreach Temporary Services (COTS) saw an opportunity. COTS is a nonprofit organization that provides transitional housing to people experiencing poverty. They bought the 72-acre golf course for $2.6 million and established a socially innovative nonprofit organization called Riverview Gardens. Riverview Gardens is constructing a market garden, park, trails, community center, and job training program on the site. They hope to build as many as thirty greenhouses and obtain organic certification by 2015.
In order to put their dreams into action, Riverview Gardens worked with the city of Appleton to address planning and zoning issues related to urban farms. Read the full article. Learn more about activities at the Village Hive on their Facebook page.
From CLUE’s Land Use Tracker, Winter 2013-14
Shoreland areas are important for lake health, clean water and wildlife habitat, yet most shorelines don’t have healthy shoreland vegetation. Can educational messages about the importance of shoreland vegetation improve this situation? UW-Extension staff and local partners working with property owners from two lakes in northwest Wisconsin conducted surveys, interviews and focus groups to better understand property owners’ attitudes and knowledge of shoreland buffers. Insight from the research was used to create various promotional and outreach materials to encourage more natural shorelines.
Read the full article.
Chinese authorities have pledged to shut polluting factories and limit the number of cars in response to growing public concern that dirty air is damaging people’s health.
By Stuart Levenworth, The Seattle Times, February 24, 2014
China’s capital region remained swathed Monday in a cloud of choking smog, prompting a rise in hospital visits and sales of indoor air purifiers and reports of rare industry shutdowns. China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection on Sunday dispatched inspection teams to fine and shut down polluting industries in the region, and there were reports that regulators had idled a major concrete kiln and other factories outside Beijing.
On Friday, Beijing raised its pollution alert to the second-highest level for the first time, which meant some manufacturing plants had to suspend or reduce production, and that demolition work, barbecues and fireworks were banned. Trucks were spraying Beijing’s roads, including in the financial district, as part of an increase in road cleaning, and more people than usual were wearing masks. Read the full article.
By Mike Ives, The New York Times, January 7, 2014
When Intel went about setting up its chip factory in Vietnam, it found an oddity: Local laws did not govern every aspect of the building. The government had no comprehensive standards, for instance, on refrigerant chemicals, which in the United States are typically regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, officials asked Intel whether the company had any ideas on the subject that might be useful to other manufacturers operating in the country.
Yet today, Intel’s $1 billion plant, about 10 miles from downtown Ho Chi Minh City, embraces environmental and sustainability measures far beyond those required by Vietnam’s laws. Opened in 2010, the complex has the country’s largest operating solar array. Company officers say a new water-reclamation system could soon help it reduce water consumption as much as 68 percent. It is also vying for certification by the U.S. Green Building Council
Intel didn’t have to go to these lengths, but the motivation for these measures is simple, said the complex’s general manager, Sherry Boger: “It turns out, what’s good for the environment is also good for business.” Read the full article.
By Rachel Pukall, The Pointer, February 21, 2014
For the third year in a row, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point was placed on the Princeton Review’s Green College Honor Roll. The Princeton Green College Honor Roll, which is known for its education services in helping students select and get accepted into colleges, is a measure of a how environmentally aware and responsible an institution is on a scale of 60–99. [....]
Specifically, the honor roll considers whether students have a campus quality of life that is both healthy and sustainable, how well a school is preparing students not only for employment in the clean energy economy of the 21st century, but also for citizenship in a world now defined by environmental challenges, and how environmentally responsible a school’s policies are.
UWSP is among 22 colleges in the United States that has received a Green Rating of 99, the highest score possible, and it is the only college in Wisconsin to make the list. Read the full article.
By Julianne Couch, Sustainable Cities Network, February 19, 2014
By 2020, the University of Iowa aims to get 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources, including from biomass feedstocks grown locally. To move it toward that goal, the university has developed a set of eight targets ranging from conserving energy to decreasing waste and developing sustainability partnerships. Meanwhile, Iowa State University is making important discoveries as it investigates the use of biorenewable resources as sustainable feedstocks for producing chemicals, fuels, materials and electric power.
The two universities are in a state that produces virtually no oil or coal, so developing biomass energy provides an economic boon along with a variety of ecologic advantages. UI is pursuing renewable energy strategy that consider both supply and price, and also keeps the door open to new fuel sources. The university plans to transition from fossil fuels gradually, by increasing its use of biomass, geothermal, solar, wind, landfill gas, gasification and other emerging energy alternatives.
Read the full article.
By Holly Neumann, Waupaca Now, October 17, 2013
A new business in Amherst provides space and equipment to help other local entrepreneurs launch their own food-related endeavors. Formerly known as the New Village Bakery, The Village Hive is the first shared-use kitchen in Portage County. The licensed commercial kitchen is for rent, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Shared-use kitchens are certified, fully equipped, and can be used by growers, pizza makers, wedding and birthday cakes designers, food processors, bakers, caterers, restaurants, chefs, special food vendors and groups.
The Village Hive is located at 127 Main St. It is currently open to retail customers from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Hours will change as the business grows.
Read the full article.
By Nathan Vine, Stevens Point Journal, February 13, 2014
Ross Ferkett’s journey as a farmer in Wisconsin is just beginning, while Chris Malek’s is coming to a close, making them a perfect pair for a seed swap. Just such an exchange was made possible during the 2014 Local Food Fair, hosted by Central Rivers Farmshed on Thursday night at Stevens Point Area Senior High. The seed swap offered an opportunity to trade, give or take seeds to share different plant varieties throughout the gardens or farms of central Wisconsin.
Ferkett, along with his wife, Brigid, just completed his first full year of farming at Gravel Road Farm in Waupaca in 2013, growing potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, onions and herbs. On Thursday, Ferkett picked up packets of seeds for lettuce and various melons, such as galia and honeydew. Malek, who has been farming organically for 13 years at Malek Family Stewardship Farm in Stevens Point, plans to move to Colorado and had two boxes of seeds for Ferkett to choose from.
Read the full article.
By David Cay Johnston, Newsweek, February 13, 2014
Coming soon to a grocery store near you: higher food prices, because California, which grows more half of the nation’s fresh fruits and vegetables, is in its third consecutive year of getting only about one-eighth the usual amount of water from snow melting in the High Sierras. California is called the Golden State not because of the gold found at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, but because winter rains make the hills green until the dry air of summer turns them a golden hue. This winter, many of those hills remain brown and gray as even weeds died from lack of moisture.
The worst drought the state has endured in more than 500 years is forcing farmers to let fields lie fallow, send half-grown steers to the slaughterhouse and trim back vines and trees in the hope they can get just enough water to keep their expensive plants alive. Cutting production because of water shortages this year will translate into higher prices for almonds, beef, cauliflower, table grapes, oranges, walnuts and even wines. California supplies America with more than 90 percent of its almonds, broccoli, celery, kiwis, lemons, nectarines, pistachios and plums, and is also the leading state in the very water-intensive dairy business.
Read the full article.
By Coral Davenport, The New York Times, February 13, 2014
The sign is ubiquitous on city buses around the country: “This bus runs on clean burning natural gas.” But a surprising new report, to be published Friday in the journal Science, concludes that switching buses and trucks from traditional diesel fuel to natural gas could actually harm the planet’s climate.
Although burning natural gas as a transportation fuel produces 30 percent less planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions than burning diesel, the drilling and production of natural gas can lead to leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Those methane leaks negate the climate change benefits of using natural gas as a transportation fuel, according to the study, which was conducted by scientists at Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Read the full article.
By CLUE, February 2014
Entrepreneurs working to start a food-related venture based in the local food eco-system may be interested in attending the Thriving Local Business Training Series at Fox Valley Technical College. Andrew Sell, Entrepreneur & Co-Founder of Gourmet Grassfed, will teach the course, which includes 10 sessions.
Learn more about the series here.
Organic Processing Institute Press Release, November 2013
The Organic Processing Institute, a nonprofit focused on expanding the organic business sector in the upper Midwest, is launching a School for Organic Processing Entrepreneurs. The School will be offered for the first time in 2014, beginning January 14. Fifteen weekly sessions will cover topics relevant to small food processing start-ups and current processors interested in adding an organic line of products. Sessions will be held in Madison, Wisconsin, or students can attend remotely via real time, interactive streaming video. Class size is limited to allow for optimum discussion and interaction among students and instructors.
By Pat Peckham, City Pages, January 30-February 6, 2014 issue
Critics of the $268 million biomass power plant next to the Domtar paper mill in Rothschild are still critics, but other than the new visual presence of a 10-story, 200-foot windowless boiler building and even taller smokestack, it can be hard to tell it went into full production mode nearly three months ago.
Rothschild Village President George Peterson is at the village office directly across Business Hwy. 51 almost daily, and says he’s reserving judgment until this summer. So far he hasn’t noticed any real issues with the operation and is hearing few complaints about some of the dire predictions –that it would be noisy, smelly and result in a troublesome increase in truck traffic as loads of logging “waste” is brought in, burned, and converted into energy for the paper mill and the electrical grid. [....]
For a copy of the full article, contact the City Pages.
By Michael Moss, The New York Times, February 4, 2014
John D. Jackson lives in the heart of the Corn Belt, where most of the corn has nothing to do with sweet kernels on the cob. His farm in Southern Illinois typically grows field corn, the high-starch variety that is turned into ethanol and cattle feed. He also works as a logistics manager for Archer Daniels Midland, the agricultural giant that produces the other big artifact of this crop: high fructose corn syrup.
But on 10 of his 700 acres, Mr. Jackson broke from this culture of corn last fall by planting something people can sink their teeth into. With a tractor and an auger, he drilled four-foot holes in his soil, added fertilizer and put in 48 apple trees bearing Gold Rush, Jonagold, Enterprise and the sweet-tart blushing globe called the Crimson Crisp. This year he plans to add more apple trees, blackberry bushes and possibly some vegetables.
Mr. Jackson is part of a small but eager cadre of corn farmers who are starting to switch sides, as it were, lured by a little-appreciated fact of farm economics: There is vastly more money to be made in growing other vegetables and fruits.
Read the full article.
From National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition blog, January 31, 2014
At the start of this long and twisted farm bill reauthorization process, NSAC released an ambitious farm bill platform with the goal of expanding opportunities for family farmers to produce good food, sustain the environment, and contribute to vibrant communities. Reflecting input from sustainable and organic farmers, rural and urban communities, and food entrepreneurs, the platform contained proposals that fell into two overarching categories: fund and grow innovative sustainable farm and food programs that build an alternative food system, and reform farm subsidies to level the playing field and make much-needed systemic transformation in our farm policy.