Friday, February 29, 2008

Lawmakers turn attention to energy

Sun Journal

By Rebekah Metzler , Staff Writer
Friday, February 29, 2008

AUGUSTA - Maine legislators focused on energy conservation and regulation during several public hearings Thursday.

Members of the Natural Resources Committee heard testimony from energy and environmental experts concerning three bills, and members of the Business, Research and Economic Development Committee heard testimony on another energy bill.

The first energy bill heard before the Natural Resources Committee aimed to cap carbon dioxide emissions of new energy plants in Maine.

"Right now, nationwide, carbon dioxide is not regulated," said Steve Hinchman, an attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation of Brunswick, before the Natural Resource Committee.

Hinchman was one of several to testify in favor of a bill that would regulate coal or electric generating facilities to match their level of carbon dioxide emissions to that of natural gas energy plants. Carbon dioxide gas is known to contribute to global warming.

The committee also heard testimony by state Sen. Ethan Strimling, D-Cumberland, on behalf of his controversial bill to ban incandescent light bulbs by 2010. Strimling sought a ban the bulbs because of their contribution to global warming.

"Maine has always been an environmental leader, and now is the time for real leadership," Strimling said.

Opponents of Strimling's bill said fluorescent bulbs, the most popular replacement for incandescents on the market so far, contain mercury and could cause health problems if broken or not disposed of properly.

The final, and least contested, bill heard before the Natural Resources Committee would make minor revisions to laws regulating the regional greenhouse gas initiative.

"They are all fairly minor changes, but necessary," said David Littell, commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Down the hall in another committee room, legislators heard public testimony on a bill seeking to save homeowners money as well as conserve energy.

State Sen. Phil Bartlett, D-Cumberland, presented the bill to the Committee on Business, Research and Economic Development. It would require new residential and commercial buildings be built to higher energy efficiency standards and would also provide a tax credit for homes that reach the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star high-performance rating.

"The cost savings to Maine residents if energy codes are applied are significant," said Sue Inches, the deputy director of the Maine State Planning Office.

Inches said under existing state law towns enforce energy codes on an optional basis, creating a "patchwork quilt" of regulation.

Jeffrey Austin, spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association, said the bill needs additional work and recommended the committee reject it in favor of "forthcoming" legislation.

"Municipal officials understand the goal of the bill and are supportive of an alternative approach to this issue," Austin said.

All four pieces of legislation will be scheduled for work sessions next week before being voted on by their respective committees.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Risk Management and Climate Change

The fine folks at Environ Minute ran a piece on Greg Craven, an Oregon high school science teacher. Greg put together the following video on climate change. He has an interesting way of looking at the controversy surround this issue.

You can obtain more information about Greg and his ideas by visiting The Manpollo Project.

Gas Prices Soar, Posing a Threat to Family Budget

NY Times
February 27, 2008


Gasoline prices, which for months lagged behind the big run-up in the price of oil, are suddenly rising quickly, with some experts saying they could approach $4 a gallon by spring. Diesel is hitting new records daily, and oil settled at a record high of $100.88 a barrel on Tuesday.

The increases could not come at a worse time for the economy. With growth slowing, energy increases that were once easily absorbed by consumers are now more likely to act as a drag on household budgets, leaving people with less money to spend elsewhere. These costs could worsen the nation’s economic woes, piling a fresh energy shock on top of the turmoil in credit and housing.

“The effect of high oil prices today could be the difference between having a recession and not having a recession,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a Harvard economist.

The depth of the nation’s economic problems became clearer Tuesday with the release of figures showing that prices at the producer level rose 1 percent in January from December, driven in large measure by energy costs. Compared with a year ago, prices were up 7.4 percent, the worst producer price inflation in the United States since 1981.

Other new figures showed that home prices around the country are falling at an accelerating pace, suggesting no end is in sight for the housing slump.

As of Tuesday, regular gasoline was selling at a nationwide average of $3.14 a gallon, according to AAA, the automobile club, up from $2.35 a year ago. The price has jumped 19 cents a gallon in two weeks.

Energy specialists predict that, as demand picks up further this spring and summer, retail prices will surpass the high of $3.23 a gallon set last Memorial Day weekend. That high fell short of the inflation-adjusted record of $3.40 in today’s money that was set in 1981.

On Tuesday, diesel prices rose to a record $3.60 a gallon, compared with $2.62 a gallon last year.

For a decade, rising oil prices failed to dent global economic growth. In the United States, consumers absorbed the higher costs because of easy credit and rising prosperity, while in developing countries, government subsidies helped ease the pain. The rise in energy prices was a result of growing demand around the world.

The price of oil has quadrupled in six years, and the close Tuesday was not far below the inflation-adjusted high set in April 1980, after the Iranian revolution. That record, $39.50 a barrel, equals $103.76 in today’s money.

As oil prices spiked last fall, low wintertime gasoline demand helped keep prices in check. But now, experts say, the price of oil is finally showing up at the pump.

For ordinary Americans like Phyllis Berry, a 31-year-old factory worker for General Motors in Cleveland, gasoline costs are starting to hurt.

“I used to fill it up pretty regularly, but now I drive it until the tank is almost empty, looking for the cheapest place to buy gas,” said Ms. Berry, who drives a beat-up Dodge Caravan.

She said that she used to take her four children to the movies four or five times a month. But with the cost of gas, tickets, popcorn and soda adding up to $70, they now go only once a month.

Still, things are not quite as bad as during the 1970s and 1980s oil shocks. In the early 1980s, at the height of the last energy crisis, energy accounted for about 8 percent of household spending. As prices fell and the economy became less energy-intensive, energy costs fell under 4 percent of household spending in the early 1990s.

With the run-up in prices in recent years, economists say energy’s share of disposable income is slowly creeping up again. In December, that figure reached 6.1 percent, the highest level since 1985. The increase of two percentage points — amounting to $200 billion — is a huge sum, a little less than half what Americans spend each year on new cars and automobile parts.

“You’re adding an oil shock on top of a crunch on credit and a housing collapse,” said Nigel Gault, an economist at Global Insight. “Even the U.S. economy cannot withstand all of that at the same time.”

American consumers have responded belatedly by cutting back on their energy use. Oil demand in the United States grew by just 0.4 percent in 2007 and is expected to be flat in 2008.

But global oil demand, the relentless driver behind higher prices, is still expected to increase by 1.4 million barrels a day this year, analysts estimate. That growth, from China and the Middle East, may help keep prices up, whatever happens to the American economy.

According to the latest forecast by the Energy Department, gasoline prices should peak near $3.40 a gallon this spring.

But many analysts consider the government’s forecast conservative, foreseeing a sharper spike as refiners come out of the seasonal maintenance period and start producing summer-grade gasoline in March and April.

“We’ve gone this high without the normal summer dynamics,” said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service. “That’s when I think we will have the big jump — of 50 cents to 75 cents a gallon.”

Mr. Kloza said he expected gasoline to peak around $3.50 to $3.75 a gallon nationwide. Geoff Sundstrom, AAA’s spokesman, echoed that view and added that gas at $4 a gallon is possible this summer. “We’ve gone from a worrying situation for gasoline to one that is quite alarming,” Mr. Sundstrom said.

Oil prices are unlikely to drop anytime soon, analysts said. Barclays Capital recently increased its long-term prediction, saying prices could reach $137 a barrel in 2015, up from a previous target of $93 a barrel.

“The remorseless move up in long-run prices has not yet fully played out,” Barclays analysts said in a note to investors.

While demand keeps growing, producers are struggling to catch up. They are not replacing the oil they are pumping out of the ground fast enough because of restrictions on access to fields, as well as rising costs. Meanwhile, demand in China, India and the Middle East is expected to push oil consumption up by more than one million barrels a day, each year, for the next decade.

“An oil crisis is coming in the next 10 years,” John B. Hess, the chairman of the Hess Corporation, said at a recent conference held by Cambridge Energy Research Associates. “It’s not a matter of demand. It’s not a matter of supplies. It’s both.”

Christopher Maag contributed reporting from Cleveland.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Adding alternative fuel to the fire

Bangor Daily News
February 23, 2008

When you’re paying more than $3,000 a year for heat, it doesn’t seem unrealistic to expect the house to be warm.

So when the Green family found themselves layering on the clothes even as the heating bills piled up, they decided to explore replacing the two propane units in their Bangor home with something more efficient and effective.

Two years later, the Greens are among the growing number of Maine families who have returned to wood, albeit in a more modern form.

David Green said heating with their new wood pellet stove costs two-thirds less than with propane. But more important, Green said, the wood heat makes their spacious home a lot more comfortable during these long Maine winters.

"From my perspective, I can’t think of why more people wouldn’t do it," Green said of the switch. "For us, we will break even in two years."

With heating oil prices consistently hovering around $3.20 to $3.40 a gallon, and propane prices equally high, more and more Maine homeowners are looking for other ways to keep their pipes from freezing without going broke in the process.

Sky-high oil and gas prices are driving a boom in sales of "alternative fuel" technologies that, when you get right down to it, are just modern twists on the old wood stoves still found in many New England homes. Dealers report brisk sales of stoves and furnaces that burn wood pellets, corn and even coal with comparable efficiency to the oil furnaces so common throughout Maine.

While energy experts point out that the best way to reduce heating costs is usually to invest in winterizing one’s home, the growing interest in wood pellets and other renewable resources could provide a welcome boost to Maine’s forestry and agriculture industries.

But the sudden growth of the alternative fuel industry in Maine has outpaced environmental regulations, not to mention the type of fuel delivery system that would be expected in this age of convenience.

"I personally think the solid-fuel option is the way to go," said Terry McAvoy, who sells corn stoves, corn fuel and wood pellets at Carmel Corn Co. "It’s just going to be a matter of making it as user-friendly as possible."

An attractive option

Looking at the numbers, it’s easy to see why alternative fuels are an attractive option these days.

Wood pellets currently cost between $200 and $250 a ton.

Heating oil would have to cost about $2.10 a gallon — which is less than it did a year ago — to get the same bang for the buck from a ton of wood pellets sold for $240 a ton and burned in a high-efficiency boiler, according to information provided by the state’s Office of Energy Independence and Security.

A cord of seasoned firewood — if one can be found in Maine these days — typically runs a homeowner more than $200 and as high as $300. Again, assuming the homeowner was using a clean-burning and efficient wood stove, heating oil would have to cost $2.10 to $2.20 a gallon to offer the same return on investment.

The same goes for coal, which at $2.70 a ton is equivalent to $2.40-a-gallon heating oil, according to figures provided by state officials.

With 17 million acres of forests, Maine hopes to capitalize on growing interest in wood-based alternative fuels.

Ian Burnes, deputy director of policy and planning with the Office of Energy Independence and Security, said replacing 10 percent of the state’s oil consumption with homegrown wood pellets would produce $350 million in economic activity and generate up to 3,700 jobs.

Burnes acknowledges that Maine’s alternative fuels industry as a whole is still young and developing. So the state is looking at ways to help the industry grow as well as make it a more convenient option for homeowners, Burnes said.

"It is not a fully matured fuel source at this point," Burnes said. "But there are a lot of people out there using [wood pellets], and they are saving money."

Corinth Wood Pellets, which began production last year, is one of the highest-profile success stories.

The company, which employs about 20 workers, makes its pellets from leftover wood products from Maine sawmills. Owner Ken Eldridge was reluctant to release figures but acknowledged the facility is not up to full production. Even so, business is growing steadily, and Eldridge said he receives new calls every day from people looking to buy or sell pellets.

Corinth Wood Pellets originally planned to sell much of its product in Europe, where the pellet industry is well-established.

"We decided to keep our product right here," Eldridge said. "We can sell everything we make right here" in New England.

The rush to get away from high-priced oil has even created demand for America’s other major fossil fuel: coal.

Jon Glidden of Glidden Services in Millinocket said most of his customers so far have been looking to replace an old wood stove with a coal-fired stoker stove. But Glidden said he is seeing more interest in the newest generation of large coal-fired furnaces.

Glidden said the anthracite coal he sells is a lot cleaner than the dusty coal of olden days. It also burns almost as cleanly as wood but leaves no ash to clean up. And unlike wood pellets, moisture won’t ruin coal, Glidden said.

Asked if he thought coal would ever catch on again in Maine so far from the coal fields to the south and west, Glidden responded: "We’re a lot farther from the oil fields. And the U.S. is kind of the Saudi Arabia of coal."

Not for everyone

Before you go plopping down $6,000 on a new wood pellet or coal stove, there are a few important things to consider.

Switching to these alternative fuels has drawbacks, especially when it comes to convenience. And even proponents of these fuels warn that they are not for everyone.

Heating oil, propane and natural gas are virtually work-free, except when it comes to writing the check. Homeowners either receive automatic deliveries per their contract or schedule deliveries. In most cases, the homeowner doesn’t even need to be around when the oil truck arrives.

Then it’s just a matter of adjusting the thermostat and making sure the next delivery comes before the tank runs dry.

Heating with wood pellets, corn or coal takes constant effort — some would even say work.

Without access to a widespread delivery system, most pellet users must keep themselves supplied with fuel. That typically means loading up the trunk or pickup with 40-pound bags of fuel and then schlepping the pellets, kernels or coal into the basement. Many users buy their fuel a ton at a time.

For larger units, the fuel is then loaded into the hopper, which must be refilled periodically. Wood pellet and corn burners also contain ash receptacles that must be emptied from time to time.

McAvoy, who runs Carmel Corn Co., said that in his experience, many first-time buyers don’t realize how much of a lifestyle adjustment is entailed in weaning themselves off oil.

McAvoy was surprised two years ago when he began selling stoves capable of burning wood pellets and corn that the fuel delivery system was not in place. He also had problems finding clean, quality fuel at first.

McAvoy is a strong believer in the future of alternative fuels in Maine, especially corn. But he also wants to make sure the homeowners who call him looking to replace or supplement their oil burners understand the work involved with corn and wood pellets.

For those willing to put in a little work, the cost savings will be worth it, he said. But not everyone is willing — or able — to regularly haul and dump dozens of 40-pound bags of corn into the house.

"It’s going to take a certain amount of participation on the user’s part, and that is not what people are used to," he added. "Turning up the thermostat and cutting a check is the norm."

Charles Russell invested in a corn stove for his Carmel house, not necessarily to replace heating oil but instead to reduce his reliance on his thirsty oil furnace. And so far this winter, Russell has gone through half as much oil as this time last year.

Russell said he likes the idea of buying locally grown fuel. The corn that Russell buys from McAvoy is grown by a farmer in Fryeburg.

Russell said it’s all about making stove maintenance a part of your daily routine.

"You have to change your whole way of thinking," he said. "It’s one little step at a time."

But according to Burnes of the state Office of Energy Independence and Security, most analysts insist that improved weatherization is often the most cost-effective way for homeowners to reduce their heating bills.

Over 10 years, many homeowners can save $3 for every $1 spent on winterization, Burnes said.

"There is no kind of fuel system that comes even close to that," he said.

Several projects competing for limited dollars

Portland Press Herald

February 24, 2008

Some big decisions are going to be made this year that will shape transportation options in Greater Portland for decades to come.

State and regional planners want to ease congestion on the I-295 corridor between Portland and Brunswick, possibly by upgrading several interchanges and widening the highway in Portland. Also, state officials must decide how to pay for the operating costs of Amtrak's Downeaster passenger train service and whether it should be extended to Brunswick.

Also in the mix are plans to replace Veterans Bridge, which connects Portland and South Portland.

The decisions are hard because there's not much money available for the foreseeable future, and only a few new transportation projects can move forward.

As automobiles become more fuel efficient, drivers are paying less in federal fuel taxes for every mile they travel. That means there's no longer as much federal money coming to Maine. Meanwhile, the rising cost of road construction projects is outpacing inflation.

As a result, the Maine Department of Transportation for the most part is focused on maintaining the state's current infrastructure rather than adding to it, with a particular focus on fixing and replacing bridges.

However, there is one pot of money --roughly $50 million in congressional earmark funds -- that is likely to become available in 2009 for the Portland area.

A planning committee made up of representatives from 15 municipalities between Biddeford and Freeport will decide which two or three projects should get funded. Some people say the decision comes down to expanding highway capacity or increasing public transportation options.

The top projects under consideration include adding a third lane to both north and southbound lanes of I-295 in Portland, between exits 5 and 7.

Further down the list is extending Downeaster service to Brunswick.

One reason the Downeaster is a low priority is the uncertainty of its long-term funding. The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority is looking for a state commitment to pick up the $7 million to $8 million annual subsidy for the service. The federal government has paid for most of the subsidy since the service started in 2001, but the funding is slated to end in 2009.

If the Downeaster is going to continue, state lawmakers will have to decide how to pay for it. If they can't, then all the talk about extending the service to Brunswick is meaningless.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

Old Town: Red Shield receives $500,000

Bangor Daily News
Saturday, February 23, 2008 -

OLD TOWN, Maine — RSE Pulp & Chemical LLC, a subsidiary of Red Shield Environmental, intends to use grant funds it received from the Maine Technology Institute to continue research and development efforts to integrate the University of Maine’s patent-pending process to create alternative fuels and chemicals from wood chips.

The process has significant technical and commercial advantages over competing technologies because the hemicellulose can be extracted from wood chips using existing pulp facilities infrastructures.

The $500,000 in MTI funding is coupled with $1.1 million in matching funds from the pulp company.

MTI, of Gardiner, was created in 1999 by the Legislature to encourage, promote, stimulate and support research and development activity leading to the commercialization of new products and services in the state’s technology-intensive industrial sectors, according to the organization’s Web site.

The competitive Development Awards are presented three times a year by MTI to support companies in their early activities for product development, commercialization, or business planning and development.

The technology involved in Red Shield’s project to create a biorefinery pilot plant that would use wood chips to create alternative fuels fits into the country’s goal of finding alternative energy sources and reducing its dependency on foreign oil.

In addition to the MTI grant, Red Shield officials said Friday they’re waiting to hear if they’ve been selected to receive a $30 million matching grant from the Department of Energy.

The money would allow for the second phase of biorefinery construction. The first portion of the project already is being funded by a $10 million research grant that previously was awarded to the University of Maine. UM is partnering with Red Shield in creating the biorefinery pilot plant.

"We’re in the short list of companies that have been selected," Red Shield plant manager Dick Arnold said. "From our understanding, there’s about 10 companies in this short list."

Of those 10, four companies already have been selected to receive funding. From the remaining six companies, Arnold said, he believes three will be chosen by the DOE to receive awards. The department is reviewing additional information submitted by each entity and is expected to make its final decision in the near future.

Lincoln: Usage drop blamed for water rate increases

COMMENT: The belong makes no sense. Customers get penalized for doing the right thing, aka conserving water?

Bangor Daily News
Monday, February 25, 2008 -

LINCOLN - Increased conservation and smarter business operation among the Lincoln Water District’s 1,200 customers might be why water rates are slated to increase by 27 percent starting April 1, the district’s superintendent said Sunday.

"I’ve never seen it like this before," Superintendent Ronald Gray said Sunday. "This is the third straight year we have seen a steady drop in usage. People aren’t using as much water as they have in the past. It [the decline] goes right across the board, so we have to increase our rates to compensate."

As planned, the rate hike will increase department revenues by about $140,000. This will offset operating losses of $7,000 for 2006 and a projected loss of $65,000 according to district records.

The overall net loss was $53,000 in 2006, and a net loss of $126,000 is projected for 2007.

Minimum charges for water rate usage will increase $10, from $36 to $46, per 1,200 cubic feet of usage, which is the department’s minimum rate, Gray said.

Another 41 percent increase is planned for customers whose usage exceeds 7,800 cubic feet of water, and a further increase of 25 percent is planned for customers whose water usage exceeds 9,000 cubic feet.

Among the big hits the department’s budget has taken are Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC’s cutting its water usage last year by about $10,000, which Gray called a smart move by LP&T’s management.

"But it’s a loss to us and it’s something that we have to make up," Gray said.

The Water Department is also battling increased fuel, electric and water testing bills while it retires old debt, Gray said. The department also upgraded a pumping station last year.

Howland’s water rate has also grown, by 44 percent, as has Millinocket’s wastewater rate. Millinocket’s original wastewater rate increase of 25 percent was reduced by 11 percent when officials learned a proposed sewer reconstruction project for the town’s north end will cost less than expected.

Water rate increases are also expected to increase in Newport, Hartland and Hampden in 2008, while state voters approved providing $3.4 million in low-interest loans to towns planning to improve or upgrade their drinking water systems as part of a total $18.3 million aid package.

Likely recipients include Newport, Milo, Madawaska, Calais and Presque Isle, and the Passamaquoddy Water District in Eastport, among others.

Gray said he hopes the planned Wal-Mart expansion and planned $4.8 million Health Access Network office building, both on West Broadway, will help defray water costs. Both projects are slated for completion by 2010.

Per the department’s plan, the increase will go into full effect July 1 if the Maine Public Utilities Commission approves the rate increase, Gray said. A public hearing on the rate increase held earlier this month in Lincoln drew two people. The department serves 1,200 accounts, or about 3,000 customers, mostly in Lincoln’s downtown areas.


Other fuels in greater demand

Portland Press Herald

Firewood, wood pellets and coal are now less expensive to use than oil, propane and natural gas.

The Associated Press February 25, 2008

BANGOR — With no relief in sight from rising heating fuel prices, Mainers are looking for alternative ways to stay warm.

Sky-high oil, propane and natural gas prices are driving a boom in sales of stoves and furnaces that burn wood pellets, corn and even coal.

David Green replaced two propane tanks with a wood pellet stove to heat his family's Bangor home. The heating costs of the new stove, which was put in two years ago, are about a third those of propane, he said.

The wood heat also makes their spacious home a lot more comfortable during the long Maine winters, he said.

"From my perspective, I can't think of why more people wouldn't do it," Green said. "For us, we will break even in two years."

From a cost perspective, alternative fuels are an attractive option these days.

Heating oil would have to cost about $2.10 a gallon to get the same bang for the buck from a ton of wood pellets sold for $240 a ton and burned in a high-efficiency boiler, according to information provided by the state's Office of Energy Independence and Security. Wood pellets now sell for $200 to $250 a ton, while the statewide average of heating oil was $3.28 a gallon last week.

A cord of seasoned firewood typically runs a homeowner $200 to $300. With a clean-burning and efficient wood stove, heating oil would have to cost $2.10 to $2.20 a gallon to offer the same return on investment.

The same goes for coal, which at $270 a ton is equivalent to $2.40-a-gallon heating oil, according to state officials.

The growing interest in wood pellets and other renewable resources could provide a boost to Maine's forestry and agriculture industries.

Replacing 10 percent of the state's heating oil consumption with homegrown wood pellets would produce $350 million in economic activity and generate up to 3,700 jobs, said Ian Burnes, deputy director of policy and planning with the Office of Energy Independence and Security.

Maine's alternative fuels industry is still young and developing, Burnes said, so the state is looking at ways to help the industry grow and make it more convenient for homeowners.

"It is not a fully matured fuel source at this point," he said, "but there are a lot of people out there using (wood pellets), and they are saving money."

It's not just wood that people are turning to.

Jon Glidden of Glidden Services in Millinocket said he's seeing growing interest in coal-fired stoves and furnaces.

Glidden said the anthracite coal he sells is a lot cleaner than the dusty coal of olden days. It burns almost as cleanly as wood but leaves no ash, he said.

Switching to alternative fuels isn't for everybody.

Heating with oil, propane or natural gas is virtually worry-free -- except for writing the check -- while heating with wood pellets, coal or corn takes effort and planning.

Without access to a widespread delivery system, people have to keep themselves supplied with fuel. That means loading up the trunk or pickup with 40-pound bags of pellets, kernels or coal and carrying the bags into the basement.

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Earth Policy Institute
Plan B Update
Embargoed for February 14, 2008, 12:00 noon EST


Lester R. Brown

In a report compiled in early 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy listed 151 coal-fired power plants in the planning stages and talked about a resurgence in coal-fired electricity. But during 2007, 59 proposed U.S. coal-fired power plants were either refused licenses by state governments or quietly abandoned. In addition to the 59 plants that were dropped, close to 50 more coal plants are being contested in the courts, and the remaining plants will likely be challenged as they reach the permitting stage.

What began as a few local ripples of resistance to coal-fired power is quickly evolving into a national tidal wave of grassroots opposition from environmental, health, farm, and community organizations and a fast-growing number of state governments. The public at large is turning against coal. In a September 2007 national poll by the Opinion Research Corporation about which electricity source people would prefer, only 3 percent chose coal.

One of the first major coal industry setbacks came in early 2007, when environmental groups convinced Texas-based utility TXU to reduce the number of planned coal-fired power plants in Texas from 11 to 3. And now even those 3 proposed plants may be challenged. Meanwhile, the energy focus within the Texas state government is shifting to wind power. The state is planning 23,000 megawatts of new wind-generating capacity (equal to 23 coal-fired power plants).

In May, Florida’s Public Service Commission refused to license a huge $5.7-billion, 1,960-megawatt coal plant because the utility could not prove that building the plant would be cheaper than investing in conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy sources. This argument by Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental legal group, combined with widely expressed public opposition to any more coal-fired power plants in Florida, led to the quiet withdrawal of four other proposals for coal plants in the state. Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who is keenly aware of Florida’s vulnerability to rising seas, is actively opposing new coal plants and has announced that the state plans to build the world’s largest solar-thermal power plant.

The principal reason for opposing new coal plants is the mounting concern about climate change. Another emerging reason is soaring construction costs. And then there are intensifying health concerns about mercury emissions and the 23,600 U.S. deaths per year from power plant air pollution. (See data at

Utilities have argued that carbon dioxide (CO2) from coal plant smokestacks could be captured and stored underground, thus helping keep hope for the industry alive. But on January 30, 2008, the Bush administration announced that it was pulling the plug on a joint project with 13 utilities and coal companies to build a demonstration coal-fired power plant in Illinois with underground carbon sequestration because of massive cost overruns. The original cost of $950 million when the project was announced in 2003 had climbed beyond $1.5 billion by early 2008, with further rises in prospect. The cancellation effectively moves the date for any coal plants with carbon sequestration so far into the future that this technology has little immediate relevance.

Some utilities are being refused licenses for coal plants because they have not examined alternative methods of satisfying demand, such as increasing the efficiency of electricity use. For example, insulating buildings greatly reduces energy needs for heating and cooling. Shifting to more-efficient light bulbs would save enough electricity to close 80 U.S. coal power plants.

The Sierra Club, the national leader on this issue, is working with hundreds of local groups to mount legal challenges in state after state. Other national groups that are actively involved include the Rainforest Action Network, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Environmental Defense. Information on the grassroots momentum to oppose coal plants is tracked on the Web site Coal Moratorium NOW! (

States that are working to reduce carbon emissions are banding together to discourage other states from building new coal plants simply because it would cancel their own carbon reduction efforts. In late 2006, for instance, the attorneys general of California, Wisconsin, New York, and several other northeastern states wrote to Kansas health officials urging them to deny permits for two new coal power plants of 700 megawatts each. The permits were subsequently denied, citing that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant and should be regulated, as determined in an April 2007 Supreme Court ruling. And in a letter on January 22, 2008, a similar grouping of states urged South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control to refuse a permit for the proposed 600-megawatt Pee Dee coal plant.

Coal’s future is also suffering as Wall Street turns its back on the industry. In July 2007, Citigroup downgraded coal company stocks across the board and recommended that its clients switch to other energy stocks. In January 2008, Merrill Lynch also downgraded coal stocks. In early February 2008, investment banks Morgan Stanley, Citi, and J.P. Morgan Chase announced that any future lending for coal-fired power would be contingent on the utilities demonstrating that the plants would be economically viable with the higher costs associated with future federal restrictions on carbon emissions. On February 13, Bank of America announced it would follow suit.

In August 2007, coal took a heavy political hit when U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who had been opposing three coal-fired power plants in his own state, announced that he was now against building coal-fired power plants anywhere in the world. Investment banks and political leaders are beginning to see what has been obvious for some time to climate scientists, such as NASA’s James Hansen who says that it makes no sense to build coal-fired power plants when we will have to bulldoze them in a few years.

In early November 2007, Representative Henry Waxman of California announced his intention to “introduce legislation that establishes a moratorium on the approval of new coal-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act until EPA finalizes regulations to address the greenhouse gas emissions from these sources.” If a national moratorium is passed by Congress, it will mark the beginning of the end for coal-fired power in the United States.

We may be on the verge of a monumental victory in the worldwide effort to stabilize climate. In our new book, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, I propose cutting carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020. The first step is to stop building any new coal-fired power plants. If the United States imposes a moratorium on such construction, as Denmark and New Zealand have already done, it would send a powerful signal to the rest of the world, bolstering the effort to cut carbon emissions. The next steps are to quickly exploit the vast worldwide potential to raise energy efficiency and to massively develop renewable sources of energy, such as wind, solar, and geothermal, in order to phase out existing coal-fired power plants.

The world is moving toward a political tipping point on the climate issue. If it comes soon enough, we may yet avoid catastrophic climate change.

# # #

Lester R. Brown is President of the Earth Policy Institute.

Move Over, Oil, There’s Money in Texas Wind

NY Times

February 23, 2008
The Energy Challenge


SWEETWATER, Tex. — The wind turbines that recently went up on Louis Brooks’s ranch are twice as high as the Statue of Liberty, with blades that span as wide as the wingspan of a jumbo jet. More important from his point of view, he is paid $500 a month apiece to permit 78 of them on his land, with 76 more on the way.

“That’s just money you’re hearing,” he said as they hummed in a brisk breeze recently.

Texas, once the oil capital of North America, is rapidly turning into the capital of wind power. After breakneck growth the last three years, Texas has reached the point that more than 3 percent of its electricity, enough to supply power to one million homes, comes from wind turbines.

Texans are even turning tapped-out oil fields into wind farms, and no less an oilman than Boone Pickens is getting into alternative energy.

“I have the same feelings about wind,” Mr. Pickens said in an interview, “as I had about the best oil field I ever found.” He is planning to build the biggest wind farm in the world, a $10 billion behemoth that could power a small city by itself.

Wind turbines were once a marginal form of electrical generation. But amid rising concern about greenhouse gases from coal-burning power plants, wind power is booming. Installed wind capacity in the United States grew 45 percent last year, albeit from a small base, and a comparable increase is expected this year.

At growth rates like that, experts said, wind power could eventually make an important contribution to the nation’s electrical supply. It already supplies about 1 percent of American electricity, powering the equivalent of 4.5 million homes. Environmental advocates contend it could eventually hit 20 percent, as has already happened in Denmark. Energy consultants say that 5 to 7 percent is a more realistic goal in this country.

The United States recently overtook Spain as the world’s second-largest wind power market, after Germany, with $9 billion invested last year. A recent study by Emerging Energy Research, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass., projected $65 billion in investment from 2007 to 2015.

Despite the attraction of wind as a nearly pollution-free power source, it does have limitations. Though the gap is closing, electricity from wind remains costlier than that generated from fossil fuels. Moreover, wind power is intermittent and unpredictable, and the hottest days, when electricity is needed most, are usually not windy.

The turbines are getting bigger and their blades can kill birds and bats. Aesthetic and wildlife issues have led to opposition emerging around the country, particularly in coastal areas like Cape Cod. Some opposition in Texas has cropped up as well, including lawsuits to halt wind farms that were thought to be eyesores or harmful to wetlands.

But the opposition has been limited, and has done little to slow the rapid growth of wind power in Texas. Some Texans see the sleek new turbines as a welcome change in the landscape.

“Texas has been looking at oil and gas rigs for 100 years, and frankly, wind turbines look a little nicer,” said Jerry Patterson, the Texas land commissioner, whose responsibilities include leasing state lands for wind energy development. “We’re No. 1 in wind in the United States, and that will never change.”

Texas surpassed California as the top wind farm state in 2006. In January alone, new wind farms representing $700 million of investment went into operation in Texas, supplying power sufficient for 100,000 homes.

Supporters say Texas is ideal for wind-power development, not just because it is windy. It also has sparsely populated land for wind farms, fast-growing cities and a friendly regulatory environment for developers.

“Texas could be a model for the entire nation,” said Patrick Woodson, a senior development executive with E.On, a German utility operating here.

The quaint windmills of old have been replaced by turbines that stand as high as 20-story buildings, with blades longer than a football field and each capable of generating electricity for small communities. Powerful turbines are able to capture power even when the wind is relatively weak, and they help to lower the cost per kilowatt hour.

Much of the boom in the United States is being driven by foreign power companies with experience developing wind projects, including Iberdrola of Spain, Energias de Portugal and Windkraft Nord of Germany. Foreign companies own two-thirds of the wind projects under construction in Texas.

A short-term threat to the growth of wind power is the looming expiration of federal clean-energy tax credits, which Congress has allowed to lapse several times over the years. Advocates have called for extending those credits and eventually enacting a national renewable-power standard that would oblige states to expand their use of clean power sources.

A longer-term problem is potential bottlenecks in getting wind power from the places best equipped to produce it to the populous areas that need electricity. The part of the United States with the highest wind potential is a corridor stretching north from Texas through the middle of the country, including sparsely populated states like Montana and the Dakotas. Power is needed most in the dense cities of the coasts, but building new transmission lines over such long distances is certain to be expensive and controversial.

“We need a national vision for transmission like we have with the national highway system,” said Robert Gramlich, policy director for the American Wind Energy Association. “We have to get over the hump of having a patchwork of electric utility fiefdoms.”

Texas is better equipped to deal with the transmission problems that snarl wind energy in other states because a single agency operates the electrical grid and manages the deregulated utility market in most of the state.

Last July, the Texas Public Utility Commission approved transmission lines across the state capable of delivering as much as 25,000 megawatts of wind energy by 2012, presuming the boom continues. That would be five times the wind power generated in the state today, and it would drive future national growth.

Shell and the TXU Corporation are planning to build a 3,000-megawatt wind farm north of here in the Texas Panhandle, leapfrogging two FPL Energy Texas wind farms to become the biggest in the world.

Not to be outdone, Mr. Pickens is planning his own 150,000-acre Panhandle wind farm of 4,000 megawatts that would be even larger and cost him $10 billion.

“I like wind because it’s renewable and it’s clean and you know you are not going to be dealing with a production decline curve,” Mr. Pickens said. “Decline curves finally wore me out in the oil business.”

At the end of 2007, Texas ranked No. 1 in the nation with installed wind power of 4,356 megawatts (and 1,238 under construction), far outdistancing California’s 2,439 megawatts (and 165 under construction). Minnesota and Iowa came in third and fourth with almost 1,300 megawatts each (and 46 and 116 under construction, respectively).

Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado and Oregon, states with smaller populations than Texas, all get 5 to 8 percent of their power from wind farms, according to estimates by the American Wind Energy Association.

It has dawned on many Texans in recent years that wind power, whatever its other pros and cons, represents a potent new strategy for rural economic development.

Since the wind boom began a few years ago, the total value of property here in Nolan County has doubled, and the county judge, Tim Fambrough, estimated it would increase an additional 25 percent this year. County property taxes are going down, home values are going up and the county has extra funds to remodel the courthouse and improve road maintenance.

“Wind reminds us of the old oil and gas booms,” Mr. Fambrough said.

Teenagers who used to flee small towns like Sweetwater after high school are sticking around to take technical courses in local junior colleges and then work on wind farms. Marginal ranches and cotton farms are worth more with wind turbines on them.

“I mean, even the worst days for wind don’t compare to the busts in the oil business,” said Bobby Clark, a General Electric wind technician who gave up hauling chemicals in the oil fields southwest of here to live and work in Sweetwater. “I saw my daddy go from rags to riches and back in the oil business, and I sleep better.”

Wind companies are remodeling abandoned buildings, and new stores, hotels and restaurants have opened around this old railroad town.

Dandy’s Western Wear, the local cowboy attire shop, cannot keep enough python skin and cowhide boots in stock because of all the Danes and Germans who have come to town to invest and work in the wind fields, then take home Texas souvenirs.

“Wind has invigorated our business like you wouldn’t believe,” said Marty Foust, Dandy’s owner, who recently put in new carpeting and air-conditioning. “When you watch the news you can get depressed about the economy, but we don’t get depressed. We’re now in our own bubble.”

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Byron to consider wind farm plan

Sun Journal

By Terry Karkos , Staff Writer
Thursday, February 21, 2008

BYRON - Following on the heels of Roxbury's public hearing earlier this month regarding a proposed ordinance change to allow wind-farm facilities, Byron will convene a hearing.

Wind farm companies are interested in building towers atop ridges stretching between both Western Maine towns on Route 17.

But unlike Roxbury's proposed land-use ordinance change, which seeks to create a new zone specifically for wind towers, Byron's proposal deals entirely with height requirements in its building ordinance.

Byron's public hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m. today in the Coos Canyon Schoolhouse off Route 17.

Planning Board Chairman Dave Duguay said Wednesday evening that Byron's ordinance limits buildings to 30 feet in height.

That was done to prevent someone from building a 40-foot-tall house, which would require the town to get a firetruck with an extendible ladder capable of reaching the upper story.

However, after learning that wind turbine towers are self-contained and have fire-suppression systems inside, Duguay said planners decided to extend the limit to 450 feet solely for wind towers.

"We're suggesting 450 feet, which includes the turbine blades, which can be 100 to 150 feet long," Duguay said. "If everything goes through, we'll have a better idea. The 30-foot limit would still be applicable to all other structures."

Planners will take feedback and decide whether or not to tweak the ordinance proposal. That would go before voters at town meeting Monday, March 10.

Latest shot at wind farm project left hanging

Kennebec Journal
February 21, 2008

FREEDOM -- A second bid to reinstate a commercial building ordinance has failed.

The board of selectmen took no action Friday on resident Jeff Keating's petition to hold a secret ballot vote at next month's town meeting to reinstate the Commercial Development Review Ordinance.

The delay means there will be no vote at town meeting. It also could mean that Keating has to begin the process anew for the third time.

"It's kind of a big game," Keating said. "It's kind of aggravating. The rules keep changing."

Keating, who owns property on Sibley Lane near the Beaver Ridge site where three electricity-generating wind turbines are to be built later this year, said he closely followed selectmen's instructions when circulating his most recent petition.

An earlier version was rejected after an attorney with Maine Municipal Association advised that the petition was improperly circulated because it did not include a copy of the ordinance Keating sought to reinstate.

The Commercial Development Review Ordinance was developed and adopted in 2006 after Portland-based Competitive Energy Services submitted an application to erect three, 400-foot turbines on Beaver Ridge.

The planning board initially determined that the project met the requirements of the ordinance, but the board of appeals subsequently determined that the turbines would not meet noise standards and Competitive Energy had not met requirements for a decommissioning bond.

Residents at a special town meeting in June that was prompted by a petition drive voted to rescind the ordinance, thus opening the door for Competitive Energy to apply for a permit under the much more lenient building ordinance.

The company was approved to begin construction last summer, though neighbors, including Keating, recently filed notice with the board of appeals arguing that the project's development has not met the pace required by the building code.

The turbines are to be erected later this year.

Keating's second petition was circulated and filed with a copy of the ordinance and it was certified by Town Clerk Cindy Abbott.

But when it went before selectmen Friday, Richard Silkman of Competitive Energy argued that the petition should be rejected because it represented a new vote on an issue residents had already decided.

Silkman cited a 1990 superior court decision that determined selectmen in Vassalboro could reject a petition to revote on a school construction issue.

It was the first case to suggest that town officials can prevent "ping-ponging" referendum issues by dissatisfied voters, according to the Maine Municipal Association manual.

The argument was enough to sway selectman Tim Biggs, who chose not to second selectwoman Lynn Hadyniak's motion to add the ordinance question on the town meeting warrant.

Biggs was unavailable Wednesday for comment.

Because Selectman Ron Price recused himself from the deliberation -- Price owns the Beaver Ridge property where the turbines are to be built -- Hadyniak's motion to approve the petition died for lack of a second and the petition was left in limbo.

Biggs is unable to attend the next two selectmen meetings, which guarantees the ordinance question cannot be placed on the March town meeting warrant.

It is unclear if selectmen can consider the same petition for a later vote, which would most likely take place in June, or if Keating will have to gather a third round of signatures.

Further complicating matters is Hadyniak's decision not to seek re-election. Her term on the board expires with the March town meeting. It is unlikely the board will consider the petition before her departure, which means the new board will have to begin deliberations from the beginning.

"Procedurally, I haven't given it much thought what that means," Hadyniak said. "For the moment, this petition is dead, but that doesn't mean the issue won't be resurrected."

Keating wonders if the board will ever allow residents to vote.

"I'm trying to play by their rules and they keep changing them," Keating said. "They had a way out to try and get rid of this vote, or at least delay it, and that's what they did."

Craig Crosby--487-3288

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Did you know?

Here are some of the figures from the behind-the-scenes research for the latest book from Earth Policy Institute, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, by Lester R. Brown. Complete data sets and charts are now available on-line at

Did you know?:

The eight warmest years on record have all occurred in the last decade.

For seven of the last eight years, the world has consumed more grain than it produced; grain stocks are now at a historic low.

One fifth of the U.S. grain harvest is now being turned into fuel ethanol.

One third of reptile, amphibian, and fish species examined by the World Conservation Union are considered to be threatened with extinction.

Grain yields increased half as fast in the 1990s as they did in the 1960s.

Life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa today is lower than it was in the late 1980s.

Today’s economically recoverable reserves of lead, tin, and copper could be depleted within the next 25 years if their extraction expands at current rates.

Nearly half of the annual global military budget of $1.2 trillion is spent by one country -- the United States.

But not all the news is bad:

South Korea leads the world in paper recycling, recovering an estimated 77 percent of its paper products.

Conservation agriculture is practiced on more than 100 million hectares around the world

Four years after London introduced a fee on motor vehicles entering the city center, average car traffic had fallen by 36 percent while bicycle trips had increased by 49 percent.

The world produces 110 million bicycles a year, more than twice the annual production of 49 million cars.

Fish farming, largely of herbivorous species, is the fastest growing source of animal protein worldwide, increasing by an average of 7 percent each year since 1995.

World soybean production has quadrupled since 1977.

Coal use in Germany has dropped 37 percent since 1990; in the United Kingdom it has fallen by 43 percent.

Solar cell production is doubling every two years, making it the world’s fastest growing energy source.

Electricity used for lighting around the world can be cut by 65 percent through efficiency improvements like switching from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescents.

Finding the Top Ten Polluters in Your State

I just came across a web site called Planet Hazard which uses Google Maps to show you the location of the top ten polluters in your state. The list for Maine can be found at:

Bill calls for cheap loans to fund geothermal systems

Sun Journal

By Eileen M. Adams , Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 20, 2008

BETHEL - Mark Bancroft has seen a huge difference in the amount of oil his office in Paris uses with the installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system.

The owner and president of Bancroft Contracting Corp. had the system installed for his 3,000-square-foot office in 2006.

This year, he hasn't used a drop of $100-a-barrel oil to heat the office. His father and an employee have or will install the new technology that gathers the Earth's heat for their homes.

The clean, fuel-efficient energy is the reason Rep. Timothy Carter, D-Bethel, has sponsored a bill that would provide homeowners with low interest loans for geothermal installation.

"I think geothermal energy is a great idea. Oil is expensive. Geothermal energy is environmentally sound and doesn't pollute the atmosphere," he said.

Last week, Carter's bill was approved by the Legislature's Utilities and Energy Committee. Within the next few weeks, it will go before the full Legislature.

Carter originally submitted a bill that would have granted rebates to businesses and people who installed geothermal systems, but that bill was amended because state money wasn't available.

That's OK with Carter, though.

"This is a good way to get it started. If it's successful, then maybe grants and rebates," he said Tuesday afternoon.

Loans could range from 2 percent to 5 percent interest. Funds needed for the loans for small businesses, nonprofits and municipal buildings would come from the Finance Authority of Maine, and for homeowners, from the Maine State Housing Authority.

"The important thing is to get the program up and running, rather than let it die," Carter said.

The idea for the geothermal bill came from the majority office of the Legislature as a way to save energy and reduce global warming, Carter said.

Bancroft said electricity use in his office has risen 10 to 15 percent as a result of operating the system, but that has been more than offset by not using $3.25 per gallon oil.

He said he expects to recoup his investment in about five years, depending on the cost of fuel oil.

He said the underground loop field, which is what gathers the Earth's heat, averages around $10,000 to build. On top of that are costs to install heating and air conditioning systems.

Dan Everett of New England Geothermal installed the system.

Franklin County seeks tax break for wind farm

Kennebec Journal
February 20, 2008

FARMINGTON -- The northern Franklin County wind farm proposed by Canadian power producer TransCanada will not only significantly reduce the tax rate in the unorganized townships, but it could provide funds for economic development, a state official said Tuesday.

Franklin County commissioners Tuesday voted to engage Eaton Peabody Consulting Group of Augusta to advise, develop and negotiate a tax-break arrangement known as a tax-increment financing district, or TIF, with TransCanada.

According to TransCanada's project manager, Nick DiDomenico, the company will pick up the cost of all of Eaton Peabody's services, estimated at $40,000.

Tom Walker from the Maine Revenue Service, the state office responsible for assessing and collecting property tax in the state's unorganized territory, told commissioners the wind farm project will be a boon to the county.

"There will be quite a drop in the tax rate," he said.

In 2007, the tax rate in Franklin County's unorganized townships was $8.08 per $1,000 of property value, he said. He did not estimate what the new rate would be.

A TIF, a tool of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, captures all or part of the new property and business equipment tax generated by a new or expanding company. The revenues can be used by the municipality for economic development projects within the TIF's geographic district.

The business benefits by being able to retain a portion of its taxes that could go toward the project's development costs.

TransCanada, a Toronto-based power-generating company, proposes to construct a 44-turbine, 132-megawatt wind farm on the mountain range in Kibby and Skinner townships. Maine's Land Use Regulation Commission voted unanimously in January to support rezoning the site to accommodate the project with a final vote expected in June.

According to the company, the project will generate 357 million kilowatt hours per year, equivalent to the electricity needs of about 50,000 average households, taking into account the variability of wind speeds.

All power generated will be used in Maine and New England.

About 250 jobs will be created during construction with 10 to 12 full-time jobs. The company also will provide a community benefits package to the towns of Eustis and Stratton of about $132,000 a year.

Betty Jespersen -- 778-6991

Seeking 100 mpg

Portland Press Herald

A team based in Camden is seeking a $10 million prize for building a production-ready fuel-efficent car.

February 20, 2008

Camden inventor and mechanic Jory Squibb is leading a team of Mainers that hopes to build a 100-mile-per-gallon car and win $10 million.

The money is being offered by the nonprofit X PRIZE foundation to anyone who can design and build a production-ready car that gets 100 miles per gallon.

Squibb's team, "Maine Automotive X," is the only entrant so far from Maine. The Automotive X PRIZE Web site lists around 40 teams, and the Maine team's closest competitors are in New York.

Squibb has some experience building efficient vehicles. A native of Detroit and the son of a General Motors worker, Squibb described himself as the "oddball" of the family.

"My excitement has always been to find something different," he said. In the 1970s, Squibb built and even raced electric Volkswagon Beetles.

A few years ago, he created Moonbeam, a small uniquely shaped three-wheel car that gets between 80 and 100 miles per gallon. The vehicle is around 6 feet long and weighs 300 pounds. It can't go much faster than 45 miles per hour.

Moonbeam is only for the "true believers," said Squibb. If you're not willing to sacrifice a little comfort, Moonbeam "is just too small and too low," he said. "It doesn't have the creature comforts that frankly we're used to."

Squibb sees Moonbeam as a template for the car that Maine Automotive X is now working on.

"It's one thing to make a prototype," he said. "But it's quite another to create a vehicle that's going to change automotive history."

The team's car thus far is "not Moonbeam, but sort of 'Moonbeam-plus,'" said Squibb. The vehicle seats two passengers and rides on three wheels; it's driven by a three-cylinder diesel engine, which is in the rear. The frame incorporates elements of a Kawasaki utility vehicle.

When complete, the car will resemble a teardrop, said Squibb.

Twelve team members make up Maine Automotive X; Squibb found most of them by placing an advertisement in the newspaper. The team comes from throughout the midcoast area, Squibb said.

The group recently became a nonprofit organization, and is now raising money. They need about $107,000, Squibb said. So far, they've secured $45,000 through donations and matching grants.

If all goes well, the vehicle will be on the road next year, when all the teams competing for the prize will race their creations from city to city across the country.

But for now, Squibb is simply happy that a team from Maine is getting involved in the race.

"It's kind of exiting that little old Maine has got an entry in this contest," he said.

News Assistant Isaac Kestenbaum can be contacted at 791-6308 or at:

For information about Moonbeam or Maine Automotive X visit or call Jory Squibb at 236-8962.

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

Supply Fears Push Oil to Triple Digits

NY Times

February 20, 2008


HOUSTON — Crude oil closed above $100 a barrel for the first time Tuesday, vaulting through a longstanding psychological barrier amid persistent concern about whether production can keep up with rising global demand.

The day’s price rise of more than 4 percent capped a week-long run-up that began when President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela threatened to cut off oil exports to the United States over a legal struggle with Exxon Mobil. Crude oil fell from a record $100.10 a barrel in New York on speculation that a U.S. Energy Department report will show stockpiles rose for a sixth week, according to Reuters. Crude oil for March delivery dropped as much as 90 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $99.11 a barrel in after-hours electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Just as Mr. Chávez appeared to back off from his threats, an explosion at a Texas refinery on Monday reminded traders and hedge fund managers of the gasoline shortages and price increases that accompanied similar refinery failures last year. Even though the Alon USA refinery at Big Spring, Tex., was relatively small and American inventories are considered adequate, traders and hedge funds took the explosion as a buying signal.

“With this credit crisis going on, everyone is on edge and the slightest disruption in crude oil or its products takes prices right up,” said Michael Rose, director of the energy trading desk at Angus Jackson in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “Prices are going to go higher before they go lower.”

Energy experts cited numerous underlying causes for the rise in energy prices, which have persisted despite a weakening American economy. American demand for gasoline has slipped about 50,000 barrels a day (out of total daily consumption of more than 20 million barrels) so far this year because of the slowing economy, but consumption in China, in India and in the oil-producing countries themselves continues to rise. Traders are also concerned about possible production cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

World supplies have been trimmed by substantial cutbacks in production in Iraq and Nigeria in recent weeks. Nigeria alone has lost about 10 percent of its daily production since guerrillas stepped up their sabotage and kidnapping of oil workers in the Niger Delta at the end of last year. Some analysts fear that OPEC could cut production further when it meets next month to counter the prospect that a softening world economy may eventually weaken demand and push prices down.

Prices for the benchmark grade of oil, West Texas Intermediate crude, rose $4.51 to close at $100.01 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The price rose as high as $100.10 in trading during the day, at least the third time this year that oil prices crossed the $100 barrier during a trading day. While $100.01 is the first close above $100 a barrel and a record in nominal terms, it is still shy of the inflation-adjusted record of $103.35, set in April 1980. (That number will be recalculated on Wednesday when the government releases new inflation data.)

United States stock prices were dragged down by the record oil close, which helped to reverse a 157-point rally in the Dow Jones industrial average, because investors feared that higher energy costs would further weaken consumer spending.

The average national price for unleaded regular gasoline, according to AAA, the automobile club, and the Oil Price Information Service, stands at $3.03 a gallon, compared with $3.02 a month ago and $2.26 a year ago. It usually takes at least a week for increases in oil prices to be reflected in gasoline prices.

“We’re looking at retail prices for regular unleaded of $3.50 to $3.75 in April and May,” said Tom Kloza, an analyst with Oil Price Information Service. “Those will be records.” The record of $3.22 a gallon was set last May.

Mr. Kloza also predicted record highs for diesel and jet fuel “within the next 90 days.”

Analysts say another factor causing the rise in oil prices is the falling value of the dollar. A depreciating dollar depresses investment by oil companies in developing fields because their salaries and other costs go up in local currencies as their earnings from dollar-denominated oil go down. It also encourages continued global consumption by shielding foreign buyers, whose currencies have been rising in relation to the dollar, from the full effect of price increases.

The falling dollar, along with declining credit and stock markets, also encourages traders to seek a safe haven in oil and other commodities.

“The way the markets look right now, with the dollar being weak against all currencies,” Mr. Rose of Angus Jackson said, “it’s prudent for traders and people in other countries to buy dollar-denominated products like grains and energy.”

The immediate cause that sent prices up today was the fire at the Texas refinery, energy experts said. The run-up, they said, was mostly psychological, since domestic supplies are considered ample to satisfy demand for the next several months.

“It served as a reminder to the market that major refinery mishaps are not necessarily just a memory,” said Adam Robinson, an energy analyst at Lehman Brothers.

The blast at the West Texas refinery, which caused four injuries, will halt processing of about 70,000 barrels a day for probably several weeks at least. The refinery provides gasoline to Fina service stations in Texas and the Southwest. A second refinery in Hawaii suffered a disruption over the weekend, but production was quickly restored.

Oil refineries across the country were plagued last year by a variety of breakdowns, including fires, power failures and leaks, that trimmed production during the spring and summer driving seasons.

The mishaps occurred as refiners were trying to meet a variety of new environmental regulations, add ethanol to their fuel mix and introduce fuels lower in sulfur, a pollutant. Energy experts say the refiners have taken steps to improve their performance this year, but there may be more incidents in the coming weeks as refineries go through routine maintenance and switch from producing winter blends to spring blends.

“It’s kind of like starting up your lawn mower after it’s been inactive for a while,” Mr. Kloza said. “It’s a little tricky.”

Monday, February 18, 2008

Judicial Rebukes on Clean Air

NY Times

February 18, 2008

The federal courts have been a bulwark against the Bush administration’s relentless efforts to weaken 40 years’ worth of environmental law, including statutes protecting the nation’s forests, wetlands and endangered species. The courts have been especially important in resisting the administration’s assault on the 1970 Clean Air Act, which began with Vice President Dick Cheney’s 2001 energy report and continues to this day.

In 2006 and 2007, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the Supreme Court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to follow the law and require utilities to install pollution controls when upgrading power plants. Another Supreme Court decision last year held that the Clean Air Act required the E.P.A. to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, an obligation the agency continues to duck.

This month, the D.C. Circuit ruled that the E.P.A. had once again ignored the law by failing to require deep and timely reductions in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Like most clean air cases, this one was mind-numbingly complex. The gist of it was that the E.P.A. — seeking as usual to please industry — had approved a weak set of regulations that would let many plants off the hook for emissions reductions that would be required under any honest reading of the law.

The D.C. Circuit, by no means a radical group of judges, has become so exasperated that it has taken to quoting Lewis Carroll. In 2006, in a reference to “Through the Looking Glass,” the court said that the E.P.A.’s reading of the law would make sense “only in a Humpty Dumpty world.” This month, invoking “Alice in Wonderland,” the court said the agency’s reasoning recalled “the logic of the Queen of Hearts, substituting the E.P.A.’s desires for the plain text” of the law.

Desire still burns bright at the E.P.A., which reportedly intends to make one last-ditch effort to weaken the rules requiring new pollution controls on upgraded plants. Our advice to the agency would be to take a dispassionate look at its losing streak in the federal courts and, for once, leave the law alone.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Silicon Valley Starts to Turn Its Face to the Sun

NY Times
February 17, 2008


CAN Silicon Valley become a world leader in cheap and ubiquitous solar panels for the masses?

Given the valley’s tremendous success in recent years with such down-to-earth products as search engines and music players, tackling solar power might seem improbable. Yet some of the valley’s best brains are captivated by the challenge, and they hope to put the development of solar technologies onto a faster track.

There is, after all, a precedent for how the valley tries to approach such tasks, and it’s embodied in Moore’s Law, the maxim made famous by the Intel co-founder Gordon Moore. Moore’s Law refers to rapid improvements in computer chips — which would be accompanied by declining prices.

A link between Moore’s Law and solar technology reflects the engineering reality that computer chips and solar cells have a lot in common.

“A solar cell is just a big specialized chip, so everything we’ve learned about making chips applies,” says Paul Saffo, an associate engineering professor at Stanford and a longtime observer of Silicon Valley.

Financial opportunity also drives innovators to exploit the solar field. “This is the biggest market Silicon Valley has ever looked at,” says T. J. Rogers, the chief executive of Cypress Semiconductor, which is part-owner of the SunPower Corporation, a maker of solar cells in San Jose, Calif.

Mr. Rogers, who is also chairman of SunPower, says the global market for new energy sources will ultimately be larger than the computer chip market.

“For entrepreneurs, energy is going to be cool for the next 30 years,” he says.

Optimism about creating a “Solar Valley” in the geographic shadow of computing all-stars like Intel, Apple and Google is widespread among some solar evangelists.

“The solar industry today is like the late 1970s when mainframe computers dominated, and then Steve Jobs and I.B.M. came out with personal computers,” says R. Martin Roscheisen, the chief executive of Nanosolar, a solar company in San Jose, Calif.

Nanosolar shipped its first “thin film” solar panels in December, and the company says it ultimately wants to produce panels that are both more efficient in converting sunlight into electricity and less expensive than today’s versions. Dramatic improvements in computer chips over many years turned the PC and the cellphone into powerful, inexpensive appliances — and the foundation of giant industries. Solar enterprises are hoping for the same outcome.

To be sure, Silicon Valley’s love affair with solar could be short-lived.

“We’ve seen a lot of pipe dreams in the industry over the years, a lot of wild claims never came through,” says Lisa Frantzis, a specialist in renewable energy at Navigant Consulting in Burlington, Mass.

Another brake on the pace of solar innovation might be consumer behavior. It often can be hard to get consumers to change their habits, and homeowners may be slow to swap out expensive water heaters for newfangled solar solutions. Reliability is also an issue: while current solar technologies have proved relatively durable, it’s unknown how resilient the next generation of solar will be.

“We need technologies that can survive on a rooftop for 20 years,” says Barry Cinnamon, chief executive of Akeena Solar Inc. of Los Gatos, Calif., a designer and installer of solar systems.

Affordable solar development is also still dependent on government subsidies.

“Mass adoption requires technological innovations that dramatically lower costs,” says Peter Rive, the chief operations officer of SolarCity in Foster City, Calif., a system designer and installer.

So what does the valley bring to the mix? Expertise in miniaturization and a passion for novelty among its entrepreneurs.

“There are suddenly a lot of new ideas coming into this field,” says Paul Alivisatos, a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, who also has his own solar start-up.

One novel approach is called “solar thermal,” which uses large mirrors to generate steam to run conventional turbines that generate electricity.

In 2006, Vinod Khosla, a veteran venture capitalist best known as a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, discovered an obscure Australian company, Ausra, pursuing solar thermal. He persuaded the management of Ausra to move to Silicon Valley and helped it raise money.

Ausra recently signed a deal with PG&E, the big California utility company, to supply a large solar plant. “The best work in solar is happening in Silicon Valley,” Mr. Khosla says.

Another exciting area is thin-film solar, in which cells are created in roughly the same way that memory is created on dense storage devices like hard-disk drives — allowing the nascent industry to tap into the valley’s expertise.

At Nanosolar, for instance, some of those in top management come directly from Seagate Technology and I.B.M., two traditional titans in computer storage.

The promise of Solar Valley has investors opening their wallets as never before. But some worry that promising technologies of today must be renewed, and quickly, if the logic of Moore’s Law is to define solar.

“There’s a lot of money being thrown at the problem and that’s healthy; it gives it a real chance of succeeding,” Mr. Alivisatos says. “But so much of our effort is going into short-term victories that I worry our pipeline will go dry in 10 years.”

The fear of a solar bubble is legitimate, but after years of stagnation, entrepreneurs say the recent developments in the field are welcome. Long ignored by the most celebrated entrepreneurs in the land and now embraced as one of the next big things, solar energy may gain traction because of a simpler rule than Moore’s Law: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

G. Pascal Zachary teaches journalism at Stanford and writes about technology and economic development. E-mail:

Saturday, February 16, 2008

For ‘EcoMoms,’ Saving Earth Begins at Home

NY Times
February 16, 2008


SAN RAFAEL, Calif. — The women gathered in the airy living room, wine poured and pleasantries exchanged. In no time, the conversation turned lively — not about the literary merits of Geraldine Brooks or Cormac McCarthy but the pitfalls of antibacterial hand sanitizers and how to retool the laundry using only cold water and biodegradable detergent during non-prime-time energy hours (after 7 p.m.).

Move over, Tupperware. The EcoMom party has arrived, with its ever-expanding “to do” list that includes preparing waste-free school lunches; lobbying for green building codes; transforming oneself into a “locovore,” eating locally grown food; and remembering not to idle the car when picking up children from school (if one must drive). Here, the small talk is about the volatile compounds emitted by dry-erase markers at school.

Perhaps not since the days of “dishpan hands” has the household been so all-consuming. But instead of gleaming floors and sparkling dishes, the obsession is on installing compact fluorescent light bulbs, buying in bulk and using “smart” power strips that shut off electricity to the espresso machine, microwave, X-Box, VCR, coffee grinder, television and laptop when not in use.

“It’s like eating too many brownies one day and then jogging extra the next,” said Kimberly Danek Pinkson, 38, the founder of the EcoMom Alliance, speaking to the group of efforts to curb eco-guilt through carbon offsets for air travel.

Part “Hints from Heloise” and part political self-help group, the alliance, which Ms. Pinkson says has 9,000 members across the country, joins a growing subculture dedicated to the “green mom,” with blogs and Web sites like and Web-based organizations like the Center for a New American Dream in Takoma Park, Md., advocate reducing consumption and offer a registry that helps brides “celebrate the less-material wedding of your dreams.”

At an EcoMom circle in Palo Alto, executive mothers whipped out spreadsheets to tally their goals, inspired by a 10-step program that urges using only nontoxic products for cleaning, bathing and make-up, as well as cutting down garbage by 10 percent.

“I used to feel anxiety,” said Kathy Miller, 49, an alliance member, recalling life before she started investigating weather-sensitive irrigation controls for her garden with nine growing zones. “Now I feel I’m doing something.”

The notion of “ecoanxiety” has crept into the culture here. It was the subject of a recent cover story in San Francisco magazine that quotes a Berkeley mother so stressed out about the extravagance of her nightly baths that she started to reuse her daughter’s bath water. Where there is ecoanxiety, of course, there are ecotherapists.

“The truth is, we’re not living very naturally,” said Linda Buzzell, a therapist in Santa Barbara who publishes the quarterly EcoTherapy News and often holds sessions in her backyard permaculture food forest. “We’re in our cars, staring at the computer screen, separated most of the day from the people we love.”

“Activism can help counteract depression,” Ms. Buzzell added. “But if we get caught up in trying to save the world single-handedly, we’re just going to burn out.”

Like many young women, Ms. Pinkson’s motherhood — her son Corbin is now 6 — coincided with Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and the advent of and A favorite online column is “Ask Umbra,” whose author weighs in on whether it is better to buy leather shoes or “pleather” ones that could contain solvents.

Shaina Forsman, a 13-year-old daughter of eco-mother Beth Forsman, said the alliance branch in San Rafael helped her mother take action at home. Her mother turned the thermostat down so low that Shaina sometimes wore a jacket inside, she said proudly. She was also monitoring time spent in the shower, so as not to waste water.

Shaina said she tried to get her mother to compost, but “we got ants.”

One of the country’s wealthiest places, Marin County, is hardly a hub of voluntary simplicity; its global footprint, according to county statistics, is 27 acres per person, a measure of the estimated amount of land it takes to support each person’s lifestyle (24 is the American average).

Members of the EcoMom Alliance “are fighting a values battle,” said Tim Kasser, an associate professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., and the author of “The High Price of Materialism.” “They are surrounded by materialism trying to figure out how to create a life more oriented toward intrinsic values.”

Wendy Murphy, 41, a member of EcoMoms in San Anselmo, became an activist after she noticed that the new tablecloths in her children’s preschool contained polyvinyl chloride. She and a fellow mother, working with the Green Schools Initiative, a nonprofit in Berkeley, developed green guidelines for shopping, like buying chlorine-free cleaning products, low-formaldehyde furniture and toys made of natural materials.

The matter of toys is particularly thorny. At the EcoMom party in San Rafael, women traded ideas about recycled toys for birthday presents and children’s clothing swaps. Then there is the issue of the materials used in imported toys. “It’s ‘Mom, these come from China,’ ” Pam Nessi, 35, said of her daughters’ recent inspection of two of their dolls. “It can be overwhelming. You don’t want them to freak out.”

At last year’s Step It Up rallies, a day of environmental demonstrations across the country, the largest group of organizers were “mothers concerned about the disintegrating environment for their children,” said Bill McKibben, a founder of the event and author of “The End of Nature.”

Women have been instrumental in the environmental movement from the start, including their involvement in campaigns a century ago to save the Palisades along the Hudson River and sequoias in California and, more recently, Lois Gibbs’s fight against toxic waste at Love Canal.

In public opinion surveys, women express significantly higher levels of environmental concern than men, said Riley Dunlap, a professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University.

Lately “local lifestyle activism,” much of it driven by women, has been on the rise and is likely to continue, Dr. Dunlap said. “Just belonging to a national environmental organization, which seemed effective in the 1970s and ’80s, doesn’t work anymore, particularly in an era of government unresponsiveness,” he said.

Ms. Pinkson and her colleagues are well aware of “the mom demographic,” as they call it, in which, according to surveys for the Boston Consulting Group, women say they “influence or control” 80 percent of discretionary household purchases. Thus far, their thrust has been more about being green consumers than taking political action.

The eco life can occasionally spawn domestic strife.

Julie DeFord, a 33-year-old mother in Petaluma, said the high cost of organic produce prompted serious “conversations” between her and her husband, Curt, a lawyer, especially after seven nights of chard.

And ecomotherhood is not always sisterly.

At the EcoMom party recently, some guests took the hostess, Liz Held, to task for her wall-to-wall carpeting (potential off-gassing), her painted walls (unhealthful volatile organic compounds) and the freshly cut flowers that she had set out for the occasion (not organic). Their problems with the S.U.V. in the driveway were self-explanatory.

All the new eco-perfectionism did not seem to faze her. “I look around my house and think, ‘I haven’t changed all my light bulbs,’ ” she said. “But it doesn’t fill me with guilt. I think about all the things I’ve done so far. I just try to focus on the positive.”

Friday, February 15, 2008

Speaker urges energy conservation

Kennebec Journal
February 15, 2008

WATERVILLE -- We hurt the environment, threaten public and economic health, and continue to depend on unfriendly nations as we gobble up costly foreign oil and gas.

Those are three good reasons we need to plan for becoming energy independent, said John Kerry, director of the Governor's Office of Energy Independence and Security.

Kerry spoke Thursday morning at Thomas College about Maine's effort to work toward energy independence while optimizing energy security, economic development and environmental health.

"The state does have an energy policy, but like any other policy, it is evolving," Kerry said.

About 35 people attended the Business Breakfast Meeting, hosted by both Thomas and the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.

Kerry said he agrees with Albert Einstein that everything in the universe is connected and that we are inextricably bound to other nations via air, water and land.

So, it is important that in planning for energy use, we take into account other states, regions and nations, and look out for the elderly, the poor and those who are vulnerable to make sure they are warm and secure, he said.

Maine is 100 percent dependent on petroleum products and that needs to change, Kerry said. Wind, solar, tidal power and forests are sources of alternative power and the state must also focus on using less energy, he said.

"I, for one, do not want my children and their children to be harnessed to petroleum," he said.

Petroleum is located in unfriendly places in the world, making it dangerous for the United States to be so dependent on them, he added.

"Our security is at risk and you cannot have energy independence without security," he warned.

Kerry's office is working to develop public and private partnerships to seek energy independence while using clean, reliable and renewable energy resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

Maine will work to move away from reliance on fossil fuels to create a sustainable energy culture -- especially with young people, according to Kerry.

"We have to create a culture that respects various components of our resources," he said.

Maine's plan includes strengthening energy efficiency and conservation by working with families and businesses; encouraging energy savings in public buildings; and promoting investment in energy conservation through grants and loans.

Fostering renewable energy such as wind, solar, tidal and geo-thermal, supporting use of biofuels, improving energy transportation efficiency and reducing fuel use also are part of the plan. An energy response team would respond to energy emergencies such as a shortage of fuel, national gas or electricity -- or an impending shortage.

Chamber member Doug Carnrick asked if the term "energy independent" is a fallacy.

Kerry said he did not think being energy independent is a fallacy and we should aim for it. But he said it is unrealistic to think we will be energy independent in the near future. Mainers must plan for 100 years into the future, he said.

Kerry is a former state senator and representative. He holds a master's degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, as well as a master's degree in planning from the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work.

Amy Calder -- 861-9247

NRCM Commends Wind Power Task Force


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday February 14, 2008
Contact: Judy Berk, (207) 622-3101 ext 203; Pete Didisheim ext 213

NRCM Commends Wind Power Task Force: Recommendations Would Make Maine a Leader in Wind Power

The Natural Resources Council of Maine today heralded the final report of Governor Baldacci’s Task Force on Wind Power Development. The report calls for at least 2,000 megawatts (MW) of wind power in Maine by 2015 and at least 3,000 MW by 2020, as part of a strategy to increase energy security, provide economic and environmental benefits to Maine people, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This momentous report that could play a major role in helping Maine reduce its dependence on fossil fuels through clean, renewable energy,” said NRCM advocacy director Pete Didisheim, who served as a member of the Task Force.

“Maine people strongly support wind power. They know that we need clean power to improve energy security and reduce pollution. This report responds to that need by proposing a path forward to making Maine a leader in wind power development,” said Didisheim. “The specific recommendations will be ground-breaking for wind power in Maine, but equally significant is the common ground and consensus that was reached among the diverse members of the Task Force.”

The report, titled Finding Common Ground for a Common Purpose, was presented to Governor Baldacci during a State House news conference. The 16-member Task Force included Democrat and Republican state legislators, representatives of wind developers, environmental organizations, state agency officials, and citizens. Legislation to implement the Task Force recommendations is expected to be introduced by the Governor within the next few weeks.

“Climate change is a global problem, but solutions will happen at the state and local levels. Because Maine has a strong wind resource, we can be a leader in wind power development as part of our response to climate change. This report will help us do so, by guiding projects to the right areas, ensuring that the right studies are done, and creating a permitting process that makes sense for wind power,” said Didisheim.

The Task Force recommends specific changes to Maine’s permitting processes to make them more predictable and consistent, and to ensure common regulatory approaches by Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection and Land Use Regulation Commission. The Task Force identified Expedited Permitting Areas comprising nearly two-thirds of the state (14 million acres) where projects would be reviewed through a streamlined permitting process. The report also recommends a new requirement that wind power projects provide tangible economic and environmental benefits for Maine people.

The Task Force evaluated the wind power issue within the larger context of Maine’s energy policies, land use policies, and the need to reduce global warming pollution.

”Wind power is an important strategy for addressing climate change,” said Didisheim, “but the Task Force also believes that Maine and the New England states must implement aggressive efforts to increase energy efficiency and to reduce global warming pollution from all sources.” Progress is needed in all of these areas to reduce global warming emissions to 10% below 1990 levels by 2020. This goal was agreed to by the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG/ECP) in 2001, codified in Maine law in 2003, and the focus of climate action plans adopted across the New England states.

NRCM hired a consultant team, comprised of Massachusetts-based Sustainable Energy Advantage and LaCapra Associates, and New York-based AWS Truewind, to help the Task Force understand how wind power fits within a region-wide energy strategy designed to meet the 2020 climate action goal set by the NEG/ECP. That analysis projects that more than 11,000 MW of wind power may be needed in New England by 2020, in addition to major accomplishments in energy efficiency, significant contributions from solar and tidal energy, and reductions in global warming emissions from transportation sources. Support for the analysis also was provided by Conservation Law Foundation, Union of Concerned Scientists, Environmental Defense, and the Kendall Foundation.

Current and projected technology advances are enabling developers to pursue wind projects at lower elevation sites, and with lower wind speeds, than were considered the cut-off for economically-viable projects even a few years ago.

Presently, a 42 MW wind farm is operating in Mars Hill, a 57 MW project (Stetson Wind Farm) has been approved, and a 132 MW project (Kibby Wind Farm) is expected to receive final permit approvals this spring. New York is expected to have more than 1,000 MW of installed wind power before the end of the year. Within five years, the Task Force envisions that Maine can surpass that milestone on route toward the 2,000 MW mark.

The Task Force recognized that success in building thousands of megawatts of wind power will depend on many factors that are not fully in Maine’s control, including federal energy policies, energy costs, and technology trends. Even so, the Task Force concluded that the goals established for 2015 and 2020 are achievable and will send a clear signal that Maine intends to be a major player in the Northeast in hosting wind power – and securing the economic and environmental benefits provided by such projects.

“This is a balanced approach that will help protect Maine’s quality of place, guide wind power to appropriate sites, provide a predictable permitting process, ensure that proper environmental studies are done for wind projects, and deliver tangible environmental and economic benefits from this emerging clean energy sector,” said Didisheim.

Intern hired as town sustainability coordinator

The Forecaster

By Linda Maule (published: February 14, 2008)

FALMOUTH – After working as an intern during her fall semester at the University of Southern Maine to assess what the town is doing to conserve energy, Barbara DiBiase has been hired on a part-time basis as the town’s sustainability coordinator.

DiBiase is studying environmental sustainability at USM and is active in the community group called Cool Falmouth.

Town Manager Nathan Poore asked her to continue in a part-time, 10-hour-a-week capacity. She began at the end of December. Her internship and work is a result of the Town Council signing the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement last spring.

DiBiase’s current goal and assignment is to continue working on an energy audit of the municipal building. She will pinpoint where most of the energy consumption is and identify how to decrease that consumption, she said.

She will begin by looking at what she called “low hanging fruit” before “looking at more structural things.”

Last fall, DiBiase, with help from Claudia King, who is also active in Cool Falmouth, interviewed department heads to find out and document what the town has done so far to become more energy efficient.

When the Police Department moves to its new building, renovations will be done at the current headquarters in the Town Hall annex to make that part of the building more energy efficient.

DiBiase said Doug Patey, in the fire department, has expertise in facilities management and has worked with her in assessing energy needs and efficiencies.

“Falmouth really is ahead of the curve” in energy efficiency, DiBiase said.

She will take the information from the audit and computer software program called ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiative) using the years 2002, 2005 and 2007. “When this data is compiled by the end of February, the software will spit out recommendations,” she said, using information about what towns of similar size around the country and world have done.

She is also using another software program called Energy Star Portfolio Manager, which rates buildings by energy use. Based on a high of 100, DiBiase is working toward Falmouth’s buildings being between 75 and 80 in efficiency.

Efficiency Maine, a division of the Public Utilities Commission, she said, will do walk-through audits of both the Town Hall and the public works building in the near future.

Also, using Patey’s expertise, DiBiase said, the Winn Road Fire Station will be assessed for energy efficiency. She thinks that building will need new insulation or siding since it hasn’t had any upgrades in years. “There has been a lot of deferred maintenance,” she said, adding that “once we are finished, the energy savings will be very high.”

While DiBiase is working with the town, King is working with the School Department to collect data for an ICLEI software assessment.

DiBiase thinks the timing is perfect since a town facilities committee is assessing how town buildings could be used. “We’ll have this information ready to go,” said DiBiase.

DiBiase recently made a list of all the actions the town has taken “to confront and contain global warming.” Among them are:

• School buses and municipal vehicles that were diesel powered now run on bio-fuel.

• School buses adhere to a “no idling” policy.

• Fire engines use LED (light-emitting diode) lights.

• A Ford Escape hybrid replaced a full-size SUV for code enforcement.

• A Toyota Prius hybrid replaced a Crown Victoria for general use and long distance travel.

• Newly renovated Central Fire Station has state-of-the-art, energy-efficient lighting.

• Energy Star appliances are used by all departments.

• Motion sensor lights were installed at Town Hall to save electricity.

• Electrical use at wastewater treatment plan was reduced because of recent upgrades.

• Recycling has increased at all town offices.

• Town Council began using paperless packets.

• LEED-certified police station will open.

Linda Maule can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or