Monday, March 31, 2008

Tax credit could spark stove upgrades

Portland Press Herald
March 31, 2008

People who switch to new, more efficient models would save $500 under Susan Collins' plan.

By JONATHAN E. KAPLAN, Washington D.C. correspondent March 30, 2008

WASHINGTON — Congress is considering a $500 tax credit to entice owners of older wood-burning stoves to buy new, cleaner stoves. The idea is to combat rising energy prices in an environmentally friendly way.

About 80 percent of homes in Maine use heating oil for warmth, making consumers susceptible to price fluctuations, and about 40,000 Mainers own wood-burning stoves, according to data from the Maine Office of Energy Independence and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who proposed the tax credit in the Senate, and the Environmental Protection Agency want owners of older wood stoves to switch to newer, government certified stoves. They say newer stoves emit 60 percent to 80 percent less pollution and they are 50 percent more efficient.

"Unfortunately, many of the wood stoves purchased decades ago are outdated, inefficient, and are contributing to both indoor and outdoor air pollution," Collins said. "The emissions from these old wood burning stoves present a serious health concern, contributing to such respiratory ailments as asthma and bronchitis."

Ian Burnes, the deputy director of policy and planning at the Maine Office of Energy Independence, said, "The more we can rely on indigenous resources, the more stable it will be for our economy and ultimately good for the environment as well."

The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, a Washington, D.C., lobbying group that represents wood-stove manufacturers, estimates that replacing 20 stoves would remove one ton of particulate from the air, said spokeswoman Leslie Wheeler.

Despite the environmental benefits, the agency has had a difficult time persuading owners of older stoves to replace them – in part because it can be expensive.

The EPA in 1988 began requiring wood stoves to emit less pollution because of concerns about unhealthy air quality.

Smoke from wood stoves and fireplaces contributes about 6 percent of total air pollution, mostly during the winter months, according to the EPA. The particulate matter in smoke can lead to and exacerbate chronic lung and heart diseases.

The EPA has awarded $600,000 in grants during the past two years to communities across the country to help them entice owners of the older stoves to replace them with new stoves.

In Libby County, Montana, in 2005, a congressional "earmark" provided $1 million, manufacturers chipped in $1 million and the EPA awarded $100,000 to help stove owners defray the costs of buying a new stove.

Under Collins' plan, a consumer who buys a new wood-, pellet- or biomass-burning stove and gives back his older stove could claim the $500 tax credit. Pellet stoves rely on sawdust or wood chips and biomass stoves can burn nutshells, corn kernels, barley, dried cherry pits and soybeans, according to the Department of Energy.

Manufacturers of wood stoves are having a good year as consumers looked to lower their energy bills during this never-ending winter.

Business has "picked up tremendously," since 2007, when winter was followed by a quick rise in temperatures, said Wheeler, the spokeswoman for the industry association.

There is "a boom" in the sales of wood stoves, said Bret Watson, the president of Jotul North America, which is based in Gorham. The company now has 82 employees, a record for company employment in North America, Watson said.

He added that the industry favors financial incentives rather than government enforcement measures to get people to make the change, arguing that a tax credit helps lower- and middle-income consumers and that the new stoves pose less of a fire risk than the older ones.

The new stoves are more efficient and emit less pollution, but the stoves hold less wood than the older ones did so they need to be replenished more frequently, said Richard Hill, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Maine in Orono.

The tax credit would have a "significant impact on the industry," Wheeler said, noting that the least expensive stoves start at $1,500.

The credit must make its way through the budget process before it becomes law.

Although the Senate adopted Collins' proposal, the House of Representatives did not include a similar provision in its budget resolution. Rep. Tom Allen, a Democrat, and Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Republican, would support such a tax credit, said spokesmen for both lawmakers. Rep. Michael Michaud, a Democrat, has co-sponsored similar legislation in the House.

"Stoves are an important heating source for many Mainers," Michaud said in a statement. "I support this legislation because it would support cleaner air, healthier homes, and greater fuel efficiency."

The House and Senate must reconcile the differences before April 15 and the chairmen of the House and Senate tax-writing committees must agree to it as well before it is included in the 2009 budget.

A similar tax credit was included in the Senate version of a massive energy bill that passed in 2003, but it was not included in the final measure. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the tax credit would cost $7 million over a five-year period.

The office has not reviewed Collins' proposal.

Washington D.C. Correspondent Jonathan E. Kaplan can be contacted at (202) 488-1119 or at:

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

Friday, March 28, 2008

Broken Ice in Antarctica

NY Times

March 28, 2008

Winter is coming to Antarctica, and that may be the only thing that keeps another of its major ice shelves from collapsing. On Tuesday, scientists from the British Antarctic Survey announced that there had been an enormous fracture on the edge of the Wilkins ice shelf, which started breaking last month.

That province of ice, a body of permanent floating ice about the size of Connecticut, lies on the western edge of the Antarctic Peninsula, the part of the continent regarded as most vulnerable to climate change. Scientists flew over the break — itself covering some 160 square miles — and what they saw is remarkable: huge, geometrically fractured slabs of ice and, among them, the rubble of a catastrophic breach. A great swath of the ice shelf is being held in place by a thin band of ice.

What matters isn’t just the scale of this breakout. Changes in wind patterns and water temperatures related to global warming have begun to erode the ice sheets of western Antarctica at a faster rate than previously detected, and the total collapse of the Wilkins ice shelf is now within the realm of possibility.

It also comes as a reminder that the warming of Earth’s surface is occurring much faster at the poles than it is in more temperate regions. It is easy to think of ice as somehow temporary, but scientists say that the Wilkins ice shelf may have been in place for at least several hundred years.

Nothing dramatizes the urgency of global warming quite like a fracture of this scale. There is nothing to be done about a collapsing polar ice sheet except to witness it. It may be too late to stop the warming decay at the boundaries of Antarctic ice, yet there is everything to be done. Humans can radically change the way they live and do business, knowing that it is the one chance to find a possible limit to radical change in the natural world around us.

What will power Maine?

Bangor Daily News
March 28, 2008

As Maine weighs its future electricity needs, a debate has emerged over which sources will truly generate significant amounts of power and fulfill their promise of being environmentally friendly.

Gov. John Baldacci, members of the Legislature and the Maine Public Utilities Commission frequently voice optimism about Maine’s numerous wind power projects, as well as developments in tidal and solar power, but some experts predict that the majority of electricity will continue to come from nuclear and natural gas-powered facilities.

"There’s no question we need to shift away from fossil fuels. Beyond the environmental reasons, the volatility in the prices is really hurting our economy," said Sen. Philip Bartlett, D-Gorham, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on Utilities and Energy.

At peak demand in the summer months, the entire state of Maine uses 2,200 megawatts of electricity, according to the PUC. A megawatt is equal to 1 million watts, and the megawatt measurement represents the amount of electricity being used or put out at any given moment in time.

New England’s annual peak demand is 28,100 megawatts.

In the course of a year, the state’s total energy usage is 12,600 gigawatt hours. New England’s annual energy usage is 132,700 gigawatt hours, according to the PUC. A gigawatt is 1 billion watts.

Maine law requires that 30 percent of electric energy supplied to consumers come from a renewable fuel or an efficient process, and last year the Legislature voted to increase that requirement by 10 percent by 2017.Renewable energy is the term for electricity that is created by sunlight, wind, moving water and geothermal heat, or heat from the ground, resources that naturally replenish themselves.

In 2006, the year for which the most recent figures were available, electricity flowing to Maine consumers was made up of the following resources: 25 percent natural gas, 22.5 percent nuclear power, 17.5 percent hydroelectric turbines, 12 percent coal, 4 percent oil, 3.5 percent municipal solid waste, 10.5 percent biomass and 5 percent from other sources, according to the PUC.

Wind, tidal and solar power did not contribute to the electricity grid in 2006, and today only the Mars Hill wind power project has come online. That facility is now contributing about 25 megawatts to the ISO New England power grid at any given time, according to the PUC.

And not everyone agrees on the definition of green power. Strict environmentalists include only solar, wind and geothermal heat in their list of green power sources.

The state and utility companies include hydroelectric power in their list of environmentally friendly options, but some environmental groups believe hydroelectric dams should be dismantled because they prevent salmon and other migrating fish from traveling upriver.

Biomass plants, which burn wood and corn, are sometimes criticized for pollution and burning trees, although it is in the form of waste wood.

Wind raises concerns from residents and environmental groups who protest wind turbines’ noise, hazards to winged creatures and intrusion on scenic views.

Wind power’s potential

Even though wind power barely registers on the list of Maine’s current sources of electricity, the state is aggressively pursuing its development.

Maine has now issued more permits for wind generation than all other New England states combined, according to the PUC. State officials and the PUC believe Maine holds an advantage over other New England states in terms of siting, cost and availability of wind.

"The private sector’s been investing a tremendous amount of money in making these technologies commercially viable, and they have succeeded with wind," PUC Chairman Kurt Adams said in a recent interview. "Fifteen years ago, wind was really speculative and experimental, but because of the technological innovations that have occurred, it’s one of the highest-growth sectors of electricity generation."

There are more than 1,000 megawatts of wind generation in Maine on the drawing board or in some phase of development, including Mars Hill, Kibby Mountain, two projects at Stetson, two projects in western Maine involving former Gov. Angus King and a Horizon project in Aroostook County.

The Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power Development in Maine released a report last month that called for the state to host at least 2,000 megawatts of wind power by 2015, and at least 3,000 megawatts by 2020. The task force believes that at least 300 megawatts of the 2020 goal could be achieved with projects built offshore.

Because of its size and geography, Maine has as much wind resource potential onshore as the rest of New England combined, according to the task force, but its members believe there may be a limit to how much wind power development Maine people will accept, especially if other New England states are not addressing climate change and reducing energy consumption.

Gerry Chasse, manager of transmission development at Bangor Hydro-Electric Co., said he believes wind power is commercially viable, but is concerned about its technical limitations.

"The intermittency of wind creates problems for the electric system. Wind is here today and gone tomorrow," Chasse said. "In order to supplement that, you need complementary types of generation like hydro. You can store water to generate energy when there’s no wind."

Richard Hill, retired professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Maine, believes that wind power represents just a drop in the bucket of the needs of New England — and he worries about the long-term viability of natural gas."The major focus of energy concern must be on the 10,000 megawatts of New England generation capacity that is locked into natural gas," Hill said in a recent interview. "The gas to supply these units is derived from the U.S. Gulf Coast, Atlantic Canada, Sable Island and the Canadian great plains. But Sable Island is in steep decline. Hence the drive to locate LNG terminals, where gas can be imported from those same countries from which we are importing petroleum. Is it time to reconsider the nuclear option?"

Despite New England’s still substantial reliance on nuclear power, a new plant in Maine is unlikely because of political barriers and cost, according to Sen. Bartlett. He said he hopes Canada will go through with plans to construct a second nuclear plant at Point Lepreau.

"Hopefully we will have a strong relationship with Canada," Bartlett said. He said that power sharing with the United States’ northern neighbor remains very important and hopes that wind projects in Maine will help meet
Canada’s demands.

Despite Hill’s concerns about the future of natural gas, it remains a vital source for Maine’s electric power.

For example, Maine’s co-generation plants, such as the one in Bucksport owned by Bucksport Energy and Verso Paper Mill, rely heavily on natural gas.

Co-generation plants burn natural gas, oil and other products are considered efficient because the process yields both electricity and heat or steam.

The Bucksport plant owners rely on the Sable Offshore Energy Project, near Sable Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia, and are closely following the progress of Canaport LNG in St. John, New Brunswick, and Deep Panuke, 15
1/2 miles offshore Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"We certainly welcome this [natural] gas coming in," said Bucksport Energy President Richard Lizotte.

Glenn Poole, manufacturing support manager at Verso Paper, said he and Bucksport Energy pay a lot more for natural gas than other states. He said he also is in favor of the LNG terminals proposed in Washington County.

"We’ve got serious concerns about the ability of Sable Island to feed us gas," Poole said. "Supply is just not there. There are more and more outages."

There are currently three proposed LNG projects in Washington County: Downeast LNG, Quoddy Bay LNG and Calais LNG.

The PUC, along with LNG project developers, noted that in the past decade, Maine has seen a substantial increase in the demand for natural gas, because of the construction of new co-generation plants.Dean Girdis, president of Downeast LNG, said an increased supply of natural gas is the easiest short-term response to energy demands. Regional demand for natural gas is the major reason for his decision to propose a terminal in Robbinston, he said.

Biomass, hydro and tidal

Job creation and economic development are cited by legislators and the PUC as additional reasons to consider new generation facilities, especially in the area of biomass.

Kevin Crossman, vice president of Ridgewood Power Management, which has biomass plants in Enfield and Jonesboro, is uncertain but hopeful about the future of biomass in Maine. The cost to transport waste wood from mills to his plants continues to rise, especially with the steeply escalating price of diesel, and because he sells his power to the grid based on market prices, he often absorbs those rising costs.

"The cost of fuel and the market price of electricity is a concern of ours all the time," Crossman said.

The two forms of water-based generation, hydroelectric and tidal power, are in opposite phases of development. Hydro has been in place for more than a century, and opportunities continue to exist for increased hydroelectric generation, according to Scott Hall, manager of environmental services for PPL Maine’s hydroelectric sites in Veazie and Milford.

Tidal generation, on the other hand, is largely undeveloped. The Gulf of Maine appears to have a strong potential for tidal power, matched by few other areas in the U.S.

"Tidal is probably the next most substantial piece of technological innovation," Adams said. "There are over 40 types of technologies for tidal energy. Investors are looking at understanding which of these are going to be successful, … but I believe that in three to five years they’ll be where wind is in Maine [now]."

In its analyses, the PUC identifies wind, biomass and tidal generation, along with additional natural gas and liquefied natural gas facilities, as the future of the region’s electricity generation.

John Kerry, director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security, believes the average consumer plays an important role.

"Reducing our dependence on energy would reduce our dependence on all fossil fuels," Kerry said. "The best kilowatt is the kilowatt we don’t utilize."


Reusable bags urged for Maine shoppers

Portland Press Herald
March 28, 2008

State House: Lawmakers join the effort to cut down on plastic, but it's still just voluntary.

By GLENN ADAMS The Associated Press March 28, 2008

AUGUSTA — Maine lawmakers are urging consumers to do their bit to help the environment by bringing reusable shopping bags when they go to the grocery store.

The Senate passed a nonbinding order Thursday, a day after the House took similar action. Sponsors said it's modeled after a request in New Hampshire and that a similar effort is catching on in Vermont.

By environmentalists' estimate, 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are produced annually worldwide. In the United States alone, millions of barrels of oil are consumed each year making and transporting the bags, yet millions end up in landfills, lakes, streams and along roadsides.

Some cities have passed or are considering bans on plastic bags and some European countries charge fees for them, as an earlier proposal in Maine sought. The order that's been approved by the Legislature instead takes a voluntary approach, said its chief sponsor, Rep. Theodore Koffman.

"It's not just a token thing," said Koffman, D-Bar Harbor, who co-chairs the Natural Resources Committee. "There are a thousand little things that can add up to significant change."

The message isn't lost on the Maine Grocers Association, which has been keeping its member stores updated on the issue and what steps are being taken elsewhere, said its director, Amie Joseph.

While the grocers favor a non-regulatory, voluntary approach, they are also aware the issue "is not going away," Joseph said. Reusable bags are now available in many stores, including the state's largest chains, with prices below $5 for many of the bags made out of recycled plastic or cloth.

The order comes in advance of Earth Day. The April 22 observance sets a goal of having at least half of the state's grocery store customers bring their own reusable shopping bags. That represents an increase from the one out of 20 in Maine who bring their own shopping bags now.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Officials briefed on w ind farm TIF

Sun Journal

By Ann Bryant , Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 26, 2008

FARMINGTON - Franklin County commissioners took a first look Tuesday at aspects of a tax increment finance district for TransCanada's proposed Kibby wind power project.

Committed to a public process for a TIF, Commissioner Gary McGrane told a packed commission meeting room that "the county is only at the beginning stages and no decisions have been made."

Commissioners, along with several town managers and others, were there to learn more about the proposal. The meeting was part of a tentative timeline that shows commissioners holding a public information meeting April 15 on the program prior to taking a vote on the TIF in May.

Greg Mitchell and Noreen Norton of Eaton Peabody Consulting Group, hired by commissioners in February to help them understand the TIF process, explained the elements of a TIF and gave examples of revenues, taxes and tax shifts if an agreement is reached on the Kibby and Skinner townships project.

TransCanada wants to build a 132-megawatt, 44-wind turbine project on Kibby Mountain and Kibby Range in northern Franklin County near the Canadian border. The project, with a value of $220 million, could be in operation by 2009.

The TIF would only be the second such district created in an unorganized territory.

TransCanada Energy Ltd. project manager Nick Di domenico previously told commissioners TransCanada was interested in entering into a TIF similar to a Washington County deal signed in 2007 with UPC Wind for the Stetson Mountain wind project.

While not opposing wind power, concerns were raised by Carrabassett Valley Town Manager Dave Cota over a potential loss of tax revenue to the county if a TIF agreement is reached.

"That revenue would otherwise reduce the property tax commitment to all 21 of the Franklin County towns and plantations," Cota wrote in a letter to commissioners.

He raised concerns over potential tax shifts and offered a demonstration of the reduction in county tax for each town if the TIF was not approved.

The increased tax revenue could mean that without a TIF, towns would pay lower county taxes. With it, county assessments to the towns remain the same, Norton said after the meeting.

"The question I've heard most was whether the project would move forward if there was no TIF agreement," said Ruth Marden, Jay's town manager.

Cost projections increased dramatically since the start of the project more than two years ago, especially in terms of the drop in value of the dollar compared to the Euro, said Di domenico. Some of generating equipment is produced in Europe, he said.

TransCanada's corporate board may make a decision on the project in May and will be looking for cost savings, Di domencio said. With a TIF, the project is more likely to be accepted, he said.

At a meeting to be held on April 8, time and place to be announced, TIF investment options and district boundary recommendations will be addressed.

Mars Hill wind farm celebrates a year of clean power

Bangor Daily News

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

MARS HILL, Maine — State officials touted Maine’s capacity to become a major producer of pollution-free wind power on Tuesday during a ceremony marking the first anniversary of electricity production at the Mars Hill wind farm.

The Aroostook County facility has produced an estimated 133.5 million kilowatt-hours of power since beginning commercial operation in late March 2007. That is roughly the equivalent annual electricity demand of more than 19,000 New England homes.

Standing at the base of the slopes of Big Rock Ski Area, Gov. John Baldacci praised the Mars Hill wind farm and its developer, UPC Wind. Baldacci said wind power should play a central role in Maine’s goal of moving away from foreign oil and toward more homegrown energy solutions.

"This is just the start," Baldacci said. "It’s time to tap into Maine’s natural resources to give us a cleaner and greener source of energy. … We have the natural resources and the geography to become energy-independent."

With 28 turbines each measuring nearly 400 feet tall, the Mars Hill facility is currently New England’s largest wind farm. But that title is unlikely to last much longer as more and more companies seek to capitalize on the current positive regulatory and financial atmosphere for wind power.

Massachusetts-based UPC Wind is constructing a 38-turbine wind farm on Stetson Mountain in northern Washington County and is exploring additional sites, including one in the Lincoln-Lee area. Another company, TransCanada Maine Wind Development, recently gained regulatory approval for a 44-turbine wind farm in Kibby and Skinner townships in Franklin County.

Several other large wind farms have also been proposed elsewhere in Maine and New England.

UPC Wind officials estimate that a power plant would need to burn 260,000 barrels of oil or 70,000 tons of coal to yield the same amount of energy produced at Mars Hill during the past year. They also estimate that traditional New England power plants would release 60,000 tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide to produce the same amount of electricity.

The Baldacci administration is completing legislation that aims to streamline the regulatory review process for wind farms. An outgrowth of a task force on wind power, the legislation is expected to propose that the state identify which areas are acceptable for wind development. Wind projects in such areas would have an expedited review.

The task force recommends aiming for producing 2,000 megawatts from wind by 2015. Nonetheless, wind power constitutes a tiny fraction of the total electricity produced in Maine. And in order to achieve the state’s goals on renewable energy, Maine would have to tap into a broad range of sources, including tidal power and biomass, state officials said.

Matt Kearns, director of project development at UPC Wind, said the company began talking about the Mars Hill project during what he called "uncertain times" for wind power in New England. He praised the state’s progress since then as well as the administration’s proposal for streamlined reviews of projects in areas deemed appropriate for wind farms.

"That’s the way Maine is going to lead in the future," Kearns said. "The environment and the economy don’t have to be mutually exclusive. We can do both."

Representatives of the town of Mars Hill — located about 14 miles south of Presque Isle — also praised UPC Wind for helping lower property taxes by 20 percent because of $500,000 in taxes paid by the company annually.

Several speakers at Tuesday’s event did acknowledge that the Mars Hill facility has had challenges, however. Foremost among those is the ongoing noise concerns raised by some neighbors of the wind farm.

Neighbors have claimed that UPC Wind is violating its permit conditions because of excessive noise from the turbines. Company representatives say all of the tests have come back showing that the facility is in compliance.

But earlier this winter, an organization called Industrial Wind Action Group filed a complaint with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection claiming that UPC Wind used flawed methodology when calculating noise levels.

UPC Wind’s president and CEO, Paul Gaynor, said in an interview that the company has committed to doing a better job in the future ensuring that local residents know what to expect when a large wind farm is built nearby.

"I know there was an expectation [in Mars Hill] about what these were going to sound like," Gaynor said. "These are big structures and they do make sound."

Baldacci said he recognizes there has been some controversy over the Mars Hill facility.

"It’s important that we are sensitive to these issues and that we work together to find a solution," he said.

Portland to go lights out for Earth Hour on Saturday

Portland Press Herald

From 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., businesses and residents will return to the dark ages for energy conservation.

By JOHN RICHARDSON, Staff Writer March 26, 2008

It might get a little darker than usual in Portland and other areas Saturday night.

Businesses, residents and city officials are pledging to turn off the lights from 8 to 9 to celebrate Earth Hour. The event, scheduled to take place around the world, is being organized on the Internet as a way to focus attention on global warming and energy conservation.

"It's going to be rolling around the planet," said Liz Seidel, an organizer of the Portland event with the Maine chapter of the Sierra Club. "It was done last year in Sydney, Australia, and more than 2 million businesses and residents turned off their lights for one hour."

Seidel said businesses and residents in downtown Portland, as well as in several other southern Maine communities, have pledged to turn off their lights.

Portland's City Council passed a proclamation Monday supporting Earth Hour, and Mayor Edward Suslovic said he hopes that the event will promote energy efficiency.

"We'll be turning the lights off at City Hall," Suslovic said. Other nonessential lights in the city also might be turned off, he said.

Street and traffic lights will remain on.

The event coincides with the planned release this week of a Sustainable Portland report calling for the city to increase energy conservation efforts.

Suslovic said he's also interested in making city lighting more efficient so wasted light doesn't hit the night sky.

"You really can't see the stars very well anymore," he said.

The Sierra Club is organizing a candlelight rally to celebrate Earth Hour in Portland's Monument Square. Speakers, including Suslovic and Glen Brand of the Sierra Club, will talk about global warming and what individuals can do to reduce pollution and save energy.

The rally starts at 7:30 p.m. and will feature live music -- acoustic, naturally.

The World Wildlife Federation is the prime organizer of Earth Hour and is sponsoring events in more than two dozen U.S. cities, including Phoenix, Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago and Denver.

To learn more about Earth Hour in Maine, go to

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Carbon Output Must Near Zero To Avert Danger, New Studies Say

Washington Post

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 10, 2008; A01

The task of cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to avert a dangerous rise in global temperatures may be far more difficult than previous research suggested, say scientists who have just published studies indicating that it would require the world to cease carbon emissions altogether within a matter of decades.

Their findings, published in separate journals over the past few weeks, suggest that both industrialized and developing nations must wean themselves off fossil fuels by as early as mid-century in order to prevent warming that could change precipitation patterns and dry up sources of water worldwide.

Using advanced computer models to factor in deep-sea warming and other aspects of the carbon cycle that naturally creates and removes carbon dioxide (CO2), the scientists, from countries including the United States, Canada and Germany, are delivering a simple message: The world must bring carbon emissions down to near zero to keep temperatures from rising further.

"The question is, what if we don't want the Earth to warm anymore?" asked Carnegie Institution senior scientist Ken Caldeira, co-author of a paper published last week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. "The answer implies a much more radical change to our energy system than people are thinking about."

Although many nations have been pledging steps to curb emissions for nearly a decade, the world's output of carbon from human activities totals about 10 billion tons a year and has been steadily rising.

For now, at least, a goal of zero emissions appears well beyond the reach of politicians here and abroad. U.S. leaders are just beginning to grapple with setting any mandatory limit on greenhouse gases. The Senate is poised to vote in June on legislation that would reduce U.S. emissions by 70 percent by 2050; the two Democratic senators running for president, Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), back an 80 percent cut. The Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), supports a 60 percent reduction by mid-century.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who is shepherding climate legislation through the Senate as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said the new findings "make it clear we must act now to address global warming."

"It won't be easy, given the makeup of the Senate, but the science is compelling," she said. "It is hard for me to see how my colleagues can duck this issue and live with themselves."

James L. Connaughton, who chairs the White House Council on Environmental Quality, offered a more guarded reaction, saying the idea that "ultimately you need to get to net-zero emissions" is "something we've heard before." When it comes to tackling such a daunting environmental and technological problem, he added: "We've done this kind of thing before. We will do it again. It will just take a sufficient amount of time."

Until now, scientists and policymakers have generally described the problem in terms of halting the buildup of carbon in the atmosphere. The United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change framed the question that way two decades ago, and many experts talk of limiting CO2concentrations to 450 parts per million (ppm).

But Caldeira and Oregon State University professor Andreas Schmittner now argue that it makes more sense to focus on a temperature threshold as a better marker of when the planet will experience severe climate disruptions. The Earth has already warmed by 0.76 degrees Celsius (nearly 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. Most scientists warn that a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) could have serious consequences.

Schmittner, lead author of a Feb. 14 article in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles, said his modeling indicates that if global emissions continue on a "business as usual" path for the rest of the century, the Earth will warm by 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. If emissions do not drop to zero until 2300, he calculated, the temperature rise at that point would be more than 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

"This is tremendous," Schmittner said. "I was struck by the fact that the warming continues much longer even after emissions have declined. . . . Our actions right now will have consequences for many, many generations. Not just for a hundred years, but thousands of years."

While natural cycles remove roughly half of human-emitted carbon dioxide from the atmosphere within a hundred years, a significant portion persists for thousands of years. Some of this carbon triggers deep-sea warming, which keeps raising the global average temperature even after emissions halt.

Researchers have predicted for a long time that warming will persist even after the world's carbon emissions start to fall and that countries will have to dramatically curb their carbon output in order to avert severe climate change. Last year's report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said industrialized nations would have to cut emissions 80 to 95 percent by 2050 to limit CO2concentrations to the 450 ppm goal, and the world as a whole would have to reduce emissions by 50 to 80 percent.

European Union Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, in Washington last week for meetings with administration officials, said he and his colleagues are operating on the assumption that developed nations must cut emissions 60 to 80 percent by mid-century, with an overall global reduction of 50 percent. "If that is not enough, common sense is that we would not let the planet be destroyed," he said.

The two new studies outline the challenge in greater detail, and on a longer time scale, than many earlier studies. Schmittner's study, for example, projects how the Earth will warm for the next 2,000 years.

But some climate researchers who back major greenhouse gas reductions said it is unrealistic to expect policymakers to think in terms of such vast time scales.

"People aren't reducing emissions at all, let alone debating whether 88 percent or 99 percent is sufficient," said Gavin A. Schmidt, of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. "It's like you're starting off on a road trip from New York to California, and before you even start, you're arguing about where you're going to park at the end."

Brian O'Neill of the National Center for Atmospheric Research emphasized that some uncertainties surround the strength of the natural carbon cycle and the dynamics of ocean warming, which in turn would affect the accuracy of Caldeira's modeling. "Neither of these are known precisely," he said.

Although computer models used by scientists to project changes in the climate have become increasingly powerful, scientists acknowledge that no model is a perfect reflection of the complex dynamics involved and how they will evolve with time.

Still, O'Neill said the modeling "helps clarify thinking about long-term policy goals. If we want to reduce warming to a certain level, there's a fixed amount of carbon we can put into the atmosphere. After that, we can't emit any more, at all."

Caldeira and his colleague, H. Damon Matthews, a geography professor at Concordia University in Montreal, emphasized this point in their paper, concluding that "each unit of CO2emissions must be viewed as leading to quantifiable and essentially permanent climate change on centennial timescales."

Steve Gardiner, a philosophy professor at the University of Washington who studies climate change, said the studies highlight that the argument over global warming "is a classic inter-generational debate, where the short-term benefits of emitting carbon accrue mainly to us and where the dangers of them are largely put off until future generations."

When it comes to deciding how drastically to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, O'Neill said, "in the end, this is a value judgment, it's not a scientific question." The idea of shifting to a carbon-free society, he added, "appears to be technically feasible. The question is whether it's politically feasible or economically feasible."

Recycling in Saco: No time to waste

Portland Press Herald

The rate of participation is rising, but the city has a long way to go to hit its 75 percent goal by 2010.

By SETH HARKNESS Staff Writer March 24, 2008

Everett Holbrook of BBI Waste Industries collects trash in Saco last December, before Saco made the switch to single-stream recycling.

Saco's recycling rate may be the envy of several nearby communities, but the city still has far to go to meet its own ambitious goal of recycling three-quarters of its trash by 2010.

In early January, Saco switched to a new system that allows residents to place all their recyclables in one container. So-called single-stream recycling is meant to be a more efficient and convenient form of recycling that will encourage greater participation.

After the switch, Saco Recycling Coordinator Sarah Wojcoski said the city noticed an immediate increase in the proportion of residents' trash that was recycled. In January, the city recycled 33 percent of its solid waste, she said. In January of last year, the rate was 26 percent. The city's annual recycling rate in 2007 was 25 percent.

The nearly 27 percent jump is significant, but the Saco City Council, which is accustomed to taking a leading approach to environmental matters, had set a 75 percent recycling goal. The communities with the highest recycling rates in the state are currently at close to 50 percent.

Saco has set a high goal, but in recent years the city has gained a reputation for undertaking green initiatives. The city became the first municipality in Maine to purchase an electric car, and it installed a 100-foot wind turbine to power a train station that is currently under construction.

Although Saco's 2007 recycling rate of 25 percent was below the state average of 35 percent, many people involved with solid waste planning say comparing rates among different communities is problematic. Hank Tyler of the State Planning Office said the different mix of residential and commercial contributors to the waste stream found in various communities makes these comparisons faulty.

By another measure, the average number of ounces each resident recycles per day, Tyler said Saco compares favorably with other large communities in Maine. In 2006, he said, Saco residents recycled 10 ounces per person, per day. In Portland, the per-person figure was 7 ounces and in Biddeford it was 5 ounces.

Saco's 75 percent recycling goal is far beyond the 50 percent target set by the state in the mid-1990s, which has not yet been achieved. After years of decline, the statewide recycling rate is currently holding steady, said George MacDonald, director of the recycling program with the State Planning Office.

One incentive that may promote additional recycling in Saco is economic. As the city recycles more, Saco City Councilor Eric Cote said, the cost-per-ton of disposing of recyclables will fall. Saco's recycling program has a high fixed cost, a $200,00 trucking contract, but the city pays nothing to dispose of its recyclables at ecomaine in Portland.

"The more you recycle, the cheaper it gets to recycle," Cote said.

Saco is now on the cusp of reaping these benefits. When the city reaches 28 percent for a full year, Wojcoski said, it would cost the same to deliver a ton of recyclables to ecomaine in Portland as it would to haul a ton of trash to the facility and incinerate it. Higher recycling rates would lead to savings.

Last week, the City Council held a workshop to consider potential strategies for boosting recycling rates. One item on the agenda was the possibility of hiring an enforcement officer who would monitor residents' trash disposal habits and send letters to those who failed to recycle.

Even in Saco, Cote said, the councilors agreed that no one was ready for this. "Everyone was against having some heavy-handed approach to recycling enforcement," he said.

Instead, he said, the councilors decided to let the current system continue to operate and to re-examine the issue in six months.

Staff Writer Seth Harkness can be contacted at 282-8225 or at:

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

On Carbon, Tax and Don’t Spend

NY Times

Op-Ed Contributor

Published: March 25, 2008

Evanston, Ill.

EVERYONE seems to be talking about a carbon tax. It’s probably the most glamorous — and certainly the most unlikely — use of the tax code since Al Capone got hooked for tax evasion.

The idea is that polluters should pay for the environmental damage they cause. Slap a tax on carbon, the theory goes, and you will get fewer carbon emissions, more revenue for government and energy independence, all at the same time. No wonder people from both sides of the political divide have come out in support of it.

But a carbon tax isn’t a new idea. Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden have had carbon taxes in place since the 1990s, but the tax has not led to large declines in emissions in most of these countries — in the case of Norway, emissions have actually increased by 43 percent per capita. An economist might say this is fine; as long as the cost of the environmental damage is being internalized, the tax is working — and emissions might have been even higher without the tax. But what environmentalist would be happy with a 43 percent increase in emissions?

The one country in which carbon taxes have led to a large decrease in emissions is Denmark, whose per capita carbon dioxide emissions were nearly 15 percent lower in 2005 than in 1990. And Denmark accomplished this while posting a remarkably strong economic record and without relying on nuclear power.

What did Denmark do right? There are many elements to its success, but taken together, the insight they provide is that if reducing emissions is the goal, then a carbon tax is a tax you want to impose but never collect.

This is a hard lesson to learn. The very thought of new tax revenue has a way of changing the priorities of the most hard-headed politicians — even Genghis Khan learned to be peaceful, the story goes, when he saw how much more rewarding it was to tax peasants than to kill them. But if we want lower emissions, the goal of a carbon tax is to prompt producers to change their behavior, not to allow them to continue polluting while handing over cash to the government.

How do you get them to change? First, you prevent policy makers from turning the tax into a cash cow. Carbon tax discussions always seem to devolve into gleeful suggestions for ways to spend the revenue. Reduce the income tax? Give the money to low-income consumers? Use it to pay for health care? Everyone seems to forget that the amount of revenue is directly tied to the amount of pollution that is still going on.

Denmark avoids the temptation to maximize the tax revenue by giving the proceeds back to industry, earmarking much of it to subsidize environmental innovation. Danish firms are pushed away from carbon and pulled into environmental innovation, and the country’s economy isn’t put at a competitive disadvantage. So this is lesson No. 1 from Denmark.

The second lesson is that the carbon tax worked in Denmark because it was easy for Danish firms to switch to cleaner fuels. Danish policy makers made huge investments in renewable energy and subsidized environmental innovation. Denmark back then was more reliant on coal than the other three countries were (but not more so than the United States is today), so when the tax gave companies a reason to leave coal and the investments in renewable energy gave them an easy way to do so, they switched. The key was providing easy substitutes.

The next president of the United States seems sure to be more committed to environmental policy than the current president is, and a carbon tax is high on everyone’s list of options. Indeed, a carbon tax has been promoted almost as a panacea — just pop in the economic incentives and watch them work their magic. But unless steps are taken to lock the tax revenue away from policymakers and invest in substitutes, a carbon tax could lead to more revenue rather than to less pollution.

An increase in gasoline taxes — the first instinct of many American policy makers when the idea of a carbon tax comes up — would likewise be the wrong policy for the United States. Higher gas taxes would raise revenue but do little to curb pollution.

Instead, if we want to reduce carbon emissions, then we should follow Denmark’s example: tax the industrial emission of carbon and return the revenue to industry through subsidies for research and investment in alternative energy sources, cleaner-burning fuel, carbon-capture technologies and other environmental innovations.

Monica Prasad, an assistant professor of sociology and a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, is the author of “The Politics of Free Markets.”

Wind farm company says Lincoln a potential site

Bangor News

By Nick Sambides Jr.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008

LINCOLN - Data gathered at Rocky Dundee Road and Grandma’s Mountain off Route 6 show the sites could support a Stetson Mountain-sized wind farm for electricity generation, the site’s prospective operator said Monday.

Matt Kearns, project manager with UPC Wind of Massachusetts, said it’s too soon to decide whether to build a wind farm in Lincoln, but the data show that "it’s a reasonable site.

"It has potential to be developed as a generation site," Kearns said. "There are lots of other variables that need to be evaluated and there are other variables that affect the potential feasibility of the project, but the wind resource information supports continued investigation."

Evergreen Wind Power LLC, a subsidiary of UPC Wind, built two meteorological towers worth $90,000 on the sites late last year to test the suitability of both areas for wind-energy towers. Landowner David Susen of Lincoln received a building permit for a $30,000 tower on a farm near the mountain on Nov. 1. Landowner Herbert Haynes Jr. of Lakeville Shores Inc. of Winn received a building permit for a $60,000 tower on Rocky Dundee Road the same day, town records indicate.

UPC Wind is building what will be New England’s largest wind-energy facility on its Stetson Mountain site, between Danforth and Springfield. Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission unanimously approved UPC’s plan in early January.

As proposed, the company’s 38 turbines each will stand roughly 390 feet from base to blade tip and will be spaced out along the ridgeline, which runs roughly parallel to Route 169 for about seven miles. The turbines will be located primarily along existing logging roads.

Once operational, the Stetson wind farm is expected to generate 57 megawatts of pollution-free electricity annually. Company officials said that is the equivalent of the yearly electricity use of 27,500 Maine households. Power from the farm will flow into the New England power grid.

UPC Wind already runs the 28-turbine wind farm in Mars Hill in northern Maine that generates enough pollution-free electricity to power about 15,000 New England homes, company officials said. That facility, New England’s largest, sells power wholesale to electricity retailers over the grid.

Town Economic Development Assistant Ruth Birtz welcomed the news of the successful test results in Lincoln. She said town officials would do what they can to help make the project a reality.

"This sounds like it can be very beneficial for the area," Birtz said.

The town planning board has begun reviewing prospective wind farm regulations to see whether adopting them is advisable.

If all goes well, Kearns said, Lincoln’s site would be "of similar magnitude" to Stetson Mountain. It would employ five full-time workers and seven to 10 contractors from General Electric, the company that manufactures the turbines.

"We are very aware of the desire to deliver local benefits from these projects. That’s a big part of our plan going forward, to make sure that projects are delivering clear local benefits," he said.

Testing is continuing. The company hopes to have a decision made on its Lincoln plans by the end of the year and will meet with the Town Council to update it within the next several months. About 100 people are employed full time and part time as consultants vetting the Lincoln project, Kearns said.

"There’s no mystery. The thing has to work," Kearns said. "People have to want it there and be ready to work with us to accommodate the project. It’s a big step forward. It will represent real positive economic development in the area, but it is a big change and people have to look at it together and be comfortable with it."


College to buy offsets from wind farm

Morning Sentinel

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel 03/25/2008

BRUNSWICK (AP) -- Bowdoin College has announced a three-year agreement to purchase renewable energy certificates from the owner of the Mars Hill wind farm in northern Maine.

The purchases are intended to offset the use of nonrenewable energy as part of the college's effort to become carbon neutral.

Bowdoin says it's currently offsetting about 70 percent of the electricity use on the Brunswick campus with voluntary renewable energy certificates produced in Maine.

The 42-megawatt Mars Hill project was developed by Massachusetts-based UPC Wind and is the only utility-scale wind farm currently operating in New England. The company is moving ahead with other wind projects in Maine, including a 57-megawatt facility in Danforth.

Fairfield aims to clean up on biofuel

Morning Sentinel

BY MORNING SENTINEL STAFF Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel 03/23/2008

FAIRFIELD -- With the purchase of a simple $40 filter, the Fairfield Highway Department recently converted one of its one-ton trucks to run on biodiesel, a fuel made from used cooking oil.

Adding a plus factor to the story is the fact that the biofuel is being manufactured right there in the town of Fairfield, Town Manager Paul Blanchette said.

Linda Howe, 52, and her son Ralph Howe Jr., 29, both of China, moved their biofuel manufacturing plant -- Bio Renewable Fuels -- to Fairfield from China, where planners two years ago rejected their permit application.

They moved to the U.S. Route 201 Business Center, home to Freihofer's Baking Co., Leaps-n-Bounds dance studio and other businesses across the road from the Irving service station.

The goal this year is to produce as much as 30,000 gallons of fuel a week, or 1.4 million gallons by the end of the year, Blanchette said.

"It's only the one-ton truck, because we're trying it out, but we're getting it from them," Blanchette said. "Anything that operates on diesel can burn biofuel. We added an extra filter because biofuel is cleaner than diesel and diesel leaves a lot of sludge in that tank.

"When you introduce biofuel, it cleans up the dredges of the tank, so we put another filter in to catch that stuff," he said.

Blanchette said the company is operating on $59,000 from the town of Fairfield's revolving loan fund. Payments on that loan are due to start in May, he said.

"Right now what they are using to make it is Fryolator grease and they are using brown grease from restaurant grease traps," Blanchette said. "And they use brown grease from sanitary treatment plants -- they have a grease that floats that they skim off -- that's brown grease, too."

The company also can make home heating oil, depending on the grade that is being manufactured, Blanchette said. A paper mill in eastern Maine also is using the biofuel from the Fairfield company, he said.

Ralph Howe Jr. said one gallon of grease can make almost a full gallon of bio-fuel after it is processed. The rest is glycerin, which also is sold.

As they were building the plant, they made batches of biofuel and shipped loads on occasion, but now they are ready to step up production, he said.

"We're making the process a little better, tweaking machines and making sure the fuel meets specifications," Howe said.

Linda Howe said the family made the fuel and used it in their own vehicles beginning in 2004, but it was not for sale.

"It was test batching; it was a pilot program," she said.

Ralph Howe Jr. said the company takes in mostly waste grease collected from restaurants.

"We warm it up and take out the chunks, like French fries and bottle caps and most everything else," he said. "We run it through a screen mechanism, then we heat it up to drive out any water."

The material is run through a process that separates the organic vegetable matter from the glycerin. Methanol is mixed with sodium hydroxide and a centrifuge is used to separate the two, Howe said.

The light, clear fuel oil rises to the top and the glycerin drops to the bottom. The oil is collected and pumped into tanks, ready for market.

The Howes are listed at the Bureau of Corporations at the Secretary of State's office as having first filed as a Maine company in 2006.

The China Planning Board rejected their permit in 2005. The Appeals Board agreed a year later, saying noise, vibrations, fumes and odors would disrupt the rural way of life.

The board also said the water supply was inadequate for manufacturing and fire protection.

Blanchette said there is town water going right to the site on U.S. Route 201, so that will not be a problem and that the Howes did not require much in the way of permits to operate, it being an industrial/commercial zone.

Town Code Enforcement Officer Cynthia Tuttle said the company needed only a $35 development permit, which they have secured.

Fire inspector Capt. Jim Lane of the Fairfield Fire Department said he has visited the site a couple of times and that the plant is good to go.

Blanchette said the next step for biofuel use in Fairfield is to get the stuff burning in furnaces in town buildings, both as a "green" way of heating and at a savings to the town of an estimated $1.25 per gallon once conversions are done.

"In some aspects, you want to use it because you are not burning petroleum products," he said. "And we all know there is a petroleum/energy problem. If you can burn something else or use something else, you can help in not burning foreign oil.

"I think it burns cleaner and we can cut our heating bill for the town. If we can do that, and it's successful, we can save the town some money," Blanchette said.

Doug Harlow -- 861-9244

Diesel cost forces man to consider bankruptcy

Bangor News

By George Chappell
Monday, March 24, 2008

HARMONY, Maine - A logging truck operator with a fleet of 10 registered trucks is losing his 35-year-old business as a consequence of skyrocketing diesel fuel prices.

He is not going gently, however.

Donald A. Hayden, 58, president of Donald Hayden & Son Logging Inc., plans to protest in Augusta on Friday to draw attention to diesel fuel prices that he says are driving companies out of business.

As part of his plan, he will meet banking representatives who are repossessing three of his tractors at 8 a.m. Friday at the parking lot behind the State House. Hayden, who plans to file for corporate bankruptcy, will be joined in the protest by logging truck operators from the Coalition to Lower Fuel Prices in Maine and the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine.

"They wanted to pick up the tractors here in my yard," Hayden said of the bankers, "but I persuaded them to do it this way by meeting them in Augusta, and they agreed.

"When I bought those trucks in March 2006, diesel fuel was $2.60 a gallon. Now it’s over $4.15 a gallon," he said. "The price of fuel has gone so high, I just can’t keep going, making payments and buying fuel."

He buys fuel to run seven trucks using 100 gallons a truck every day. Now one truck costs him $700 a week more for fuel than two years ago.

"That’s $2,800 more for the month per truck that it’s costing me," he said.

"When you figure that per truck for the month for seven trucks, that’s paying $19,600 more than I did in 2006, and that’s only on $4 a gallon. It’s $4.15 now," he said.

"That doesn’t count the $2.60 I was paying per gallon when I bought the trucks," he said. "And you wonder why I’m paying more than I can afford.

"It’s to the point of ridiculous," Hayden said. "The price of tires has gone up another 8 percent than it was last week or the week before. Tires that we were paying $240 for are now over $400," he added. "That’s per tire."

Prices of parts have gone up because the cost of steel has almost tripled, he said.

"It’s never ending," he said. "It’s just never ending."

Hayden said he has employed seven drivers full time over the winter, including himself and his son, Travis. He recently had to lay off three of these drivers.

"We’re going to stay in business, although not as this company," Hayden said. "We are going through bankruptcy."

Hayden said he would be able to keep some of the older trucks that were his and not the corporation’s so that he could keep going on a reduced scale.

"We don’t have a choice," he said. "We’re going to go through bankruptcy and dissolve the company we have, but we’re going to use some of the old trucks. I own four or five of these old trucks out here," he said, nodding toward his yard. "I’ll keep going with those five trucks and operate under a different name.

"After more than 30 years of this, it’s hard to give up a business," he said. "But I can’t keep going the way I am. There’s no assistance from anybody. The governor isn’t helping us at all, the way the state helped the ski industry a few years ago."

He said he tried unsuccessfully for low-interest loans but was told no money had been appropriated.

"This isn’t considered a disaster, even though people are going to be put out of work and out of business," he said.

Hayden also has called three federal agencies and was told no money had been appropriated for his kind of emergency.

Truckers at rallies in Lincoln, Damariscotta and Skowhegan this winter held up their keys and promised to park their rigs because of the fuel prices. Hayden said one company recently abandoned its equipment in the woods and walked out.

"We’re all in the same boat, including the people in the woods cutting the logs," he said.

Travis Hayden, 25, represents a younger generation that is skeptical about the future of the state’s forest products industry. He plans to stay in the business despite the forecast, but he said he would not recommend it for someone wanting to enter trucking now without experience.

"I’ve been helping my dad since I was a junior in high school," he said. "If somebody my age asked me if he should buy a truck, I’d tell him no.

"The only way to make it in this business, if you do buy a truck, is knowing how to work on it," he said.

Travis said the only truck he would feel comfortable with is his 1985 Freightliner because it can be repaired without depending on computers.

On the new trucks, he can only change filters and "small stuff like that." All the rest is computerized, which he learned about when studying for his degree in diesel mechanics at Eastern Maine Technical College in Bangor.

"I’ve got the know-how, but I don’t have the tools to do it," he said.

Pellet suppliers BULKING UP

Portland Press Herald

As long as burning a mix of sawdust and wood waste stays cheaper than heating with oil and gas, its future is assured. That's why fuel suppliers are beginning to invest in storage and delivery systems to meet anticipated demand for the product.

By TUX TURKEL Staff Writer March 23, 2008

Coal bins still stand along a railroad siding at Spring Brook Ice and Fuel Co. in Waterville, a reminder of how heat was delivered in Maine 75 years ago. The shift to oil and propane eliminated the need for solid fuel storage by the 1960s, but now Spring Brook is going back to the future.

Early this summer, Spring Brook is expecting its first trailer load of bagged wood pellets. The next step will be to put up storage silos along the rail siding and start delivering bulk truckloads of pellets to large commercial customers that plan to switch from oil to wood. That practice is common in Europe, and Spring Brook is trying to position itself for a similar conversion here.

"We're in the energy business," said Bill Peebles, the company's general manager. "Whatever it takes to keep people comfortable."

Eight of every 10 Maine homes are heated with fuel oil or kerosene, and the state's oil dealers certainly aren't getting out of that business. As petroleum prices set new records and consumers clamor for alternatives, however, some Maine dealers are looking to hedge their bets. After decades of perfecting the infrastructure to store and deliver liquid and gas fuel, they're pondering how to finance, move and service what could become the 21st-century version of coal in Maine.

"Sticking primarily with oil is great," Peebles said, "but we need to look at what's coming down the tracks."

Pellets, which are made from sawdust and wood waste, are becoming common in Maine. They burn efficiently and are much cheaper than oil. They also can boost the state's forest products economy. Plants in Ashland and East Corinth make them now, and a company in Athens is starting production. Another plant is expected to start construction this summer, just over the border in Berlin, N.H.

Virtually all wood pellets are sold in bags and burned in special stoves. Few homes have central heating systems fired by pellets, and big units that can heat a hospital or warehouse, for example, are a novelty.

That level of bulk demand must grow before oil dealers can turn pellets into a profitable business model, according to Averill Cook, president of Biomass Commodities of Williamstown, Mass.

"They sell oil in bulk," Cook said. "They certainly don't sell it in cans."

Cook sells pellet equipment and consults for the industry worldwide. He's working with Peebles at Spring Brook and talking to potential commercial customers that are considering a switch from oil to wood, including the University of Maine, in Orono, Colby College and Thomas College, in Waterville, and the Maine Military Authority, in Limestone. Cook also has installed a commercial-size pellet boiler at the new plant in Athens, where he plans to erect silos for a distribution center.

To operate with a bulk fuel supply, Cook said, an oil dealer needs at least one delivery truck and a silo that could hold 500 tons. That's a minimum investment of $500,000, he estimated.

"Dealers are starting to put their toes in the water," he said, "but to get into this now, it's still risky business."

At Spring Brook, pellets are a logical way to diversify. The company sells oil heating equipment, gas water heaters and fireplaces, central air conditioning and even solar hot-water systems.

Peebles said his garage may have the expertise to fabricate pellet storage bins. The investment will make sense, he said, because he now sells hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil to customers such as Colby College and Thomas College. If they switch fuels, he'll lose a lot of revenue.

"But as long as they go to pellets, we're not losing anything," he said.

One Maine oil dealer already is selling wood pellets and trying to promote larger quantities.

Dysart's, the widely known truck stop and restaurant in Hermon, also sells heating oil and operates a trucking company. It began selling bagged pellets this winter, charging $5.25 for a 40-pound bag. A pallet loaded with 50 bags can be delivered for $249 or picked up for $219.

"The reaction has been good," said Dave Oxley, the company's fuel dispatcher. "We've sold 300 to 400 tons, without much advertising."

Dysart's also offers a 1-ton "tote," essentially a heavy plastic sack that's delivered on a pallet that can be stored in a garage. It goes for $219, a $30 savings over the bagged product.

"We try to push that," Oxley said.

Dysart's also sells firewood, although not in stove lengths. Anyone with a pickup truck can stop by and load 4-foot logs for $109 a cord.

"We want to offer our customers alternatives," Oxley said.


Firewood is part of the heritage of many Maine oil dealers, so the move to a modern wood product isn't such a stretch.

A century ago, the original company behind Downeast Energy & Building Supply sold firewood and coal in Brunswick. It expanded over time to offer heating oil and propane, as well as building materials.

Next heating season, Downeast plans to sell BioBricks, a small briquette made from compressed sawmill waste. BioBricks are burned in wood stoves and fireplaces. They take up less room than cordwood and contain more heat energy.

Downeast expects to test the market by selling BioBricks at its building supply store in Brunswick, according to John Peters, the company's president. There's room in lumber sheds to store the fuel, and delivery trucks are available to transport it.

Downeast is one of the state's largest oil dealers. It continues to promote oil as a convenient, dependable heat source that remains a good value for many people, but record prices have forced customers to conserve, cutting sales by up to 15 percent this year, Peters estimated. So the company has to look ahead.

Downeast hasn't decided whether to sell wood pellets or pellet heating equipment, Peters said. Because pellets must be burned in special stoves and boilers, they won't appeal to as many customers, he reasoned.

Peters isn't closing the door on alternatives, however. He recently examined a home-sized cogeneration system, fired by propane, that makes electricity and uses waste heat to warm living space.

"If the price of oil continues to go crazy, we may need to consider selling all kinds of things," Peters said.

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

Parks in Peril

NY Times

March 24, 2008

The country’s treasured open spaces are no more immune to air pollution from coal-fired power plants than are its big cities. Sulfur dioxide causes acid rain and kills trees. Mercury emissions poison streams. Nitrogen oxides and sulfates create smog and haze.

For all these reasons, Congress in 1977 amended the Clean Air Act to require the Environmental Protection Agency to make a special effort to clean the air in national parks, wildlife refuges and other places of “scenic” and “historical” value it hoped to leave in somewhat better shape for future generations.

No administration since, Democratic or Republican, has paid any attention to this mandate, and despite high hopes, the Bush administration seems likely to fail as well. Two weeks ago, the antiregulatory brigade in the Office of Management and Budget killed ozone standards that would have offered stronger protections for plants, trees, crops and wildlife. And the Environmental Protection Agency, ignoring protests from its own regional offices and the National Park Service, is nearing approval of regulations that would make it easier to build coal-fired plants near parks and wilderness areas without installing pollution controls.

Improving the national parks was one of President Bush’s two big environmental promises in the 2000 campaign. The other was his pledge to control greenhouse gas emissions, abandoned the day he rejected the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. As for the parks, Mr. Bush has commendably increased their budgets and started a separate centennial campaign to encourage private contributions on an unprecedented scale. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm for cleaner air in the parks is not nearly as strong as his fealty to the utilities.

In 2003, for instance, his proposal for revising the Clean Air Act, known as Clear Skies, would have stifled dissent by making it harder for the Park Service and other agencies to object to new power plants. In 2005, an otherwise admirable E.P.A. plan to reduce power plant pollution east of the Mississippi, known as the Clean Air Interstate Rule, also provided cover for many of the dirtiest plants to avoid expensive pollution controls. And in 2006, the White House weakened a proposed rule that would have greatly reduced the airborne particulates that ruin the scenic views in many parks.

The net result is that one in three national parks suffers from one or another form of air pollution, including immensely popular destinations like Yosemite in California, Great Smoky Mountain, straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border, and Gettysburg.

The air in these parks will only get worse if the administration proceeds with its latest rules opening the way for more downwind power plants. Members of Congress and nearly every environmental organization have asked Mr. Bush to abandon this ruinous idea. Doing so would improve not only the parks but also whatever positive legacy Mr. Bush hopes to leave behind.


Earth Policy Institute
Plan B Update
Embargoed for March 20, 2008, 12:00 noon EST

Lester R. Brown

The world is now facing a climate-driven shrinkage of river-based irrigation water supplies. Mountain glaciers in the Himalayas and on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau are melting and could soon deprive the major rivers of India and China of the ice melt needed to sustain them during the dry season. In the Ganges, the Yellow, and the Yangtze river basins, where irrigated agriculture depends heavily on rivers, this loss of dry-season flow will shrink harvests.

The world has never faced such a predictably massive threat to food production as that posed by the melting mountain glaciers of Asia. China and India are the world’s leading producers of both wheat and rice -- humanity’s food staples. China’s wheat harvest is nearly double that of the United States, which ranks third after India. With rice, these two countries are far and away the leading producers, together accounting for over half of the world harvest.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that Himalayan glaciers are receding rapidly and that many could melt entirely by 2035. If the giant Gangotri Glacier that supplies 70 percent of the Ganges flow during the dry season disappears, the Ganges could become a seasonal river, flowing during the rainy season but not during the summer dry season when irrigation water needs are greatest.

Yao Tandong, a leading Chinese glaciologist, reports that the glaciers on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau in western China are now melting at an accelerating rate. He believes that two thirds of these glaciers could be gone by 2060, greatly reducing the dry-season flow of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. Like the Ganges, the Yellow River, which flows through the arid northern part of China, could become seasonal. If this melting of glaciers continues, Yao says, “[it] will eventually lead to an ecological catastrophe.”

Even as India and China face these future disruptions in river flows, overpumping is depleting the underground water resources that both countries also use for irrigation. For example, water tables are falling everywhere under the North China Plain, the country’s principal grain-producing region. When an aquifer is depleted, the rate of pumping is necessarily reduced to the rate of recharge. In India, water tables are falling and wells are going dry in almost every state.

On top of this already grim shrinkage of underground water resources, losing the river water used for irrigation could lead to politically unmanageable food shortages. The Ganges River, for example, which is the largest source of surface water irrigation in India, is a leading source of water for the 407 million people living in the Gangetic Basin.

In China, both the Yellow and Yangtze rivers depend heavily on ice melt for their dry-season flow. The Yellow River basin is home to 147 million people whose fate is closely tied to the river because of low rainfall in the basin. The Yangtze is China’s leading source of surface irrigation water, helping to produce half or more of China’s 130-million-ton rice harvest. It also meets many of the other water needs of the watershed’s 368 million people. (See data at

The population in either the Yangtze or Gangetic river basin is larger than that of any country other than China or India. And the ongoing shrinkage of underground water supplies and the prospective shrinkage of river water supplies are occurring against a startling demographic backdrop: by 2050 India is projected to add 490 million people and China 80 million.

In a world where grain prices have recently climbed to record highs, with no relief in sight, any disruption of the wheat or rice harvests due to water shortages in these two leading grain producers will greatly affect not only people living there but consumers everywhere. In both of these countries, food prices will likely rise and grain consumption per person can be expected to fall. In India, where just over 40 percent of all children under five years of age are underweight and undernourished, hunger will intensify and child mortality will likely climb.

For China, a country already struggling to contain food price inflation, there may well be spreading social unrest as food supplies tighten. Food security in China is a highly sensitive issue. Anyone in China who is 50 years of age or older is a survivor of the Great Famine of 1959­61, when, according to official figures, 30 million Chinese starved to death. This is also why Beijing has worked so hard in recent decades to try and maintain grain self-sufficiency.

As food shortages unfold, China will try to hold down domestic food prices by using its massive dollar holdings to import grain, most of it from the United States, the world’s leading grain exporter. Even now, China, which a decade or so ago was essentially self-sufficient in soybeans, is importing 70 percent of its supply, helping drive world soybean prices to an all-time high. As irrigation water supplies shrink, Chinese consumers will be competing with Americans for the U.S. grain harvest. India, too, may try to import large quantities of grain, although it may lack the economic resources to do so, especially if grain prices keep climbing. Many Indians will be forced to tighten their belts further, including those who have no notches left.

The glaciologists have given us a clear sense of how fast glaciers are shrinking. The challenge now is to translate their findings into national energy policies designed to save the glaciers. At issue is not just the future of mountain glaciers, but the future of world grain harvests.

The alternative to this civilization-threatening scenario is to abandon business-as-usual energy policies and move to cut carbon emissions 80 percent -- not by 2050 as many political leaders suggest, because that will be too late, but by 2020, as outlined in Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. (Download book at The first step is to ban new coal-fired power plants, a move that is fast gaining momentum in the United States.

Ironically, the two countries that are planning to build most of the new coal-fired power plants, China and India, are precisely the ones whose food security is most massively threatened by the carbon emitted from burning coal. It is now in their interest to try and save their mountain glaciers by shifting energy investment from coal-fired power plants into energy efficiency and into wind farms, solar thermal power plants, and geothermal power plants. China, for example, can double its current electrical generating capacity from wind alone.

We know from studying earlier civilizations that declined and collapsed that it was often shrinking harvests that were responsible. For the Sumerians, it was rising salt concentrations in the soil that lowered wheat and barley yields and brought down this remarkable early civilization. For the Mayans, it was soil erosion following deforestation that undermined their agriculture and set the stage for their demise. For our twenty-first century civilization, it is rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations and the associated rise in temperature that threatens future harvests.

At issue is whether we can mobilize to lower atmospheric CO2 concentrations before higher temperatures melt the mountain glaciers that feed the major rivers of Asia and elsewhere, and before shrinking harvests lead to an unraveling of our civilization. The good news is that we have the energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies to dramatically reduce CO2 concentrations if we choose to do so.

# # #

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

For more information, see Chapters 3, 11, and 12 in Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, available online for free downloading.

Data and additional resources at

For information contact:

Media Contact:
Reah Janise Kauffman
Tel: (202) 496-9290
E-mail: rjk (at)

Research Contact:
Janet Larsen
Tel: (202) 496-9290 x 14
E-mail: jlarsen (at)

Earth Policy Institute
1350 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 403
Washington, DC 20036

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Input sought on wind farm

Sun Journal

By Donna M. Perry , Staff Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2008

KIBBY TOWNSHIP - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened a 30-day public comment period Tuesday on TransCanada's federal permit application for wind farm development work.

TransCanada Maine Wind Development wants to build a $270 million, 44-turbine commercial wind farm on the ridge lines of Kibby Mountain and Kibby Mountain Range in northern Franklin County. It would have a total generating capacity of 132 megawatts.

TransCanada wants to place permanent and temporary fill in inland waterways and adjacent freshwater wetlands between Kibby Township and Carrabassett Valley in order to develop the mountaintop wind project and an associated aerial electrical transmission line, according to a Army Corps of Engineers news release. Corps permit project manager Jay Clement was in training Wednesday and unavailable for comment.

The public notice may be reviewed online at and selecting regulatory/permitting and then weekly public notices.

Minor upgrades are proposed to existing logging roads and some new access roads will result in 25,965 square feet of stream bed and adjacent wetland impact connected to the project.

The two ridge line developments would be linked to a new common electrical substation by transmission collection lines. Installation of those lines would result in about 16,602 square feet of temporary fill using timber mats to access pole locations, the release states.

No clearing impacts will occur in wetlands and all areas of temporary access will be removed and restored on completion of the project.

A new transmission line will extend 27.6 miles from the common substation to an existing substation adjacent to Route 27 at Carrabassett Valley.

About 1,300 square feet of wetland will be permanently filled during pole placement and approximately 7.59 acres of wetland will be temporarily filled using timber mats to access pole locations.

All areas of temporary access fill will be removed and restored upon completion of the project. Additionally, vegetation clearing within the 27.6-mile right of way will affect about 35.55 acres of forested wetland, converting it to emergent or scrub-shrub cover types.

"The proposed wind farm will generate electrical power for distribution to the ISO New England Electrical grid, which distributes power to energy customers throughout New England," the release states.

TransCanada proposes to forgo using its exclusive rights to develop wind facilities on about 1,324 acres of land near the project area, and will facilitate the permanent conservation of about 750 acres of high elevation habitat within Maine's Mahoosuc Mountain Range.

The transmission line construction may impact habitat for Atlantic salmon, which consists of stream and river bottoms composed of silt, sand, and gravel mixed with stones. Impact to the species is expected to be minimal with appropriate erosion control measures and other best management practices, the release states.

If TransCanada gets all approvals, including its corporate and the federal permits, the intent is to start development in August or September and to have half of the wind farm in service in 2009 and the other half in 2010, a company project manager said March 11.

Wind power backers eye Lincoln sites

Bangor Daily News

By Nick Sambides Jr.
Thursday, March 20, 2008

LINCOLN, Maine - The backers of what will be New England's largest wind-energy facility, a 38-turbine wind farm in Washington County, are considering expanding into the Lincoln Lakes region, town officials said Wednesday.

Evergreen Wind Power LLC has built two meteorological towers worth $90,000 near Rocky Dundee Road and Grandma’s Mountain off Route 6 near the Lee line to test those areas’ suitability for wind-energy towers.

No one knows if, or when, power generating towers will be built on the two properties. However, the town planning board on Tuesday night began reviewing other towns’ regulations regarding wind power towers to possibly create its own legislation, if it is needed, board member Mike Cole said.

"It’s a sensible precaution," Cole said Wednesday, calling Evergreen’s plans "a big mystery ... We want to better our knowledge of these things in case they start coming before us."

Evergreen and Dundee Wind Power LLC, were formed by parent company UPC Wind of Newton, Mass., to handle the Lincoln Lakes project. Matt Kearns, project manager with UPC, and company spokesman John Lamontagne did not immediately return calls Wednesday.

Landowner David Susen of Lincoln received a building permit for a $30,000 tower on a farm near the mountain on Nov. 1. Landowner Herbert Haynes Jr. of Lakeville Shores, Inc. of Winn received a building permit for a $60,000 tower on Rocky Dundee Road the same day, town records indicate.

Town officials have been working with UPC on its tentative Lincoln plans intermittently for about five years, Town Manager Glenn Aho said.

"In the short term, this [UPC’s possible investment] is a lot of jobs coming to the region," Aho said Wednesday, "and in the long run, it’s steady employment, if this project comes to fruition."

Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission voted 5-0 in January to approve UPC’s application for the Stetson Mountain site located between Danforth and Springfield. The 38 turbines will stand roughly 390 feet from base to blade tip and will be spaced out along the ridgeline, which runs roughly parallel to Route 169 for about seven miles.

The turbines will be located primarily along existing logging roads. Construction is expected to begin after mud season. UPC hopes the wind farm will be operational by summer, Kearns said.

The company is still seeking approval of a power line route from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Once operational, the Stetson wind farm is expected to generate 57 megawatts of pollution-free electricity annually. Company officials said that is the equivalent of the yearly electricity used by 27,500 Maine households. Power from the wind farm will flow into the New England power grid.

UPC Wind also operates a 28-turbine wind farm in the Aroostook County town of Mars Hill.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

No 'right' to use inefficient light bulbs

Portland Press Herald


If 'The Government' can inspect meat, bar leaded paint and set auto mileage, it can ban bulbs.

Dudley Greeley
March 19, 2008

Let's shed new light on the contention that "The Government" shouldn't "force" people to use certain kinds of light bulbs.

Does the establishment of science-based, technologically appropriate and stakeholder-developed product standards amount to a use of "force"?

Is this America, where people can use any light bulbs in any manner they choose?

Or, is this America, where people have a right to make "private" choices only if these choices don't unfairly impose costs on others?

Modern society is complicated and interdependent to an extraordinary degree.

Most of us gratefully delegate to our government the difficult task of ensuring a safe food supply, determining that medicines are safe and effective, and keeping dangerous products out of our homes and communities.

If we choose to buy meat in America, do we complain that we are "forced" to buy "USDA Inspected" products?

Are we "forced" to buy regulated and tested pharmaceuticals or are we lucky to live in a society that offers this service?

Don't we all benefit because our government finally got the lead out of most paint, "forcing" paint buyers to select safer paint?

OK, so light bulbs are different from food, pills and paint, but the issue of establishing minimum acceptable standards for "safe and effective" light bulbs isn't really all that different.

Using longer-life, more efficient (and thus effective) light bulbs will save Americans billions of dollars, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases , and protect watersheds by reducing the need to mine, transport, and burn coal.

The new standards don't proscribe any specific technology -- just set efficiency standards that phase in over a number of years.

The marketplace remains "free" to produce incandescent light bulbs if they meet current efficiency standards.

For decades, as technology has permitted, similar standards have been established for a wide range of other products, including refrigerators, televisions and dishwashers.

Our government also went beyond establishing minimum standards and developed a higher, voluntary standard, (Energy Star) that has been widely supported by manufacturers and smart shoppers alike.

The standards aren't arbitrarily imposed. They result from sometimes years of negotiation and assessments by a wide range of stakeholders, including the manufacturers.

While some may insist there is a "right" (presumably guaranteed by The Government) to use inefficient light bulbs, this is not necessarily the case.

A close look at the consequences of the supposedly "private" choice to use inefficient equipment makes clear the behavior comes with unacceptable public costs that are forced upon society and our environment.

Others in the human community not only have a right but an obligation to protect the public's interests.

Hidden "behind the light switch" in private homes or businesses powered with fossil-fuels are costs that aren't found on the monthly electric bill.

Half of America's electricity is generated by burning coal. While the process does offer personal and social benefits, it also imposes perhaps 4 or 5 cents per kilowatt hour in unwanted social, environmental and health care costs that are not paid by generators.

Efficiency standards for bulbs protect the public welfare.

The marketplace protects Americans' "right" to choices with a bright array of efficient new lamps that offer brightness equivalencies from 2 watts to many hundreds of watts in many "colors" of white, types of bases, shapes of lamps, dimmable bulbs, floods, spots, three-ways, induction, cold-cathode. LED, HID, EL, lead-free, etc.

Some even take a moment to reach full brightness just like candles and oil lamps, but you don't have to trim a wick.

— Special to the Press Herald

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Carbon cutters win state praise

Bangor Daily News

By Kevin Miller
Tuesday, March 18, 2008

AUGUSTA - State officials recognized 20 Maine companies and institutions Monday for taking steps to shrink their "carbon footprints" and reduce energy consumption.

In 2001, the governors of the New England states joined their counterparts in eastern Canada in committing to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 10 percent from 1990 levels by decade’s end.

As part of that initiative, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection launched a voluntary program — known as the Governor’s Carbon Challenge — encouraging businesses to pledge to work toward the 10 percent goal.

On Monday, representatives of the DEP and Gov. John Baldacci’s administration gave out 20 awards to participating businesses or organizations that met or exceeded the 10 percent goal several years ahead of schedule.

The recipients ran the gamut from large, international corporations to colleges and government agencies.

"I think your participation here shows deep commitment to reducing CO2 emissions, to reducing the effects of global warming and to help Maine prosper," Karin Tilberg, a senior policy adviser to Baldacci, told 140-plus people attending the Governor’s Carbon Challenge Networking and Expo Forum.

ZF Lemforder Corp., which operates a manufacturing plant in Brewer, has reduced its carbon emissions by 55 percent since 2000, eliminating 3,381 metric tons of greenhouse gases in the process. The company reduced its emissions primarily through efficiency upgrades in such areas as lighting, air compression and transportation.

Two local colleges also were recognized for their efforts to fight climate change.

College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor has reduced its carbon output by 18 percent since 2005, thereby eliminating the production of an estimated 108 tons of greenhouse gases.

Unity College, meanwhile, has achieved a 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions — the equivalent of 269 tons — since 2001. Unity has retrofitted older buildings with new insulation and heat plants, built new "green" buildings on campus and buys 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources in Maine.

Unity spokesman Mark Tardif credited the college’s leadership and the campus community as a whole with putting a priority on fighting climate change.

"Unity is very focused on the future," Tardif said. "We are placing great emphasis on sustainability and have been for some time."

Bowdoin College was the third educational institution to receive a Carbon Challenge award Monday.

The largest emissions reductions were made by National Semiconductor of South Portland, which eliminated production of an estimated 43,700 tons of carbon through a variety of measures.

The other award recipients were:

Maine State Housing, Augusta
Maine Bureau of General Services, Augusta
Washboard Eco-Laundry, Portland
Lamey Wellehan, Auburn
Renys, Newcastle
MaineGeneral Health, Augusta
Hannaford Brothers Co., Scarborough
Winthrop Congregational Church, Winthrop
Oakhurst Dairy, Portland
Greater Augusta Utility District, Augusta
Wright-Ryan Construction, Portland
Lyman Morse Boatbuilding, Thomaston
Poland Spring, Hollis
Pratt & Whitney, North Berwick
Bath Iron Works, Bath

DEP Commissioner David Littell said the award recipients demonstrated it is possible to reduce pollution, both in the form of greenhouse gases and air toxins, and reduce energy costs at the same time.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Pittsfield: Farmers brace for fertilizer, diesel fuel costs

Bangor Daily News

By Sharon Kiley Mack
Monday, March 17, 2008

PITTSFIELD, Maine - When it comes to this spring’s planting, Maine farmers are facing a double whammy: both the devil they know - increasing fertilizer costs - and the devil they don’t - rocketing fuel prices.

Farmers are watching diesel fuel prices carefully and have no way to predict where the gauge will stop when planting time arrives.

But higher fertilizer costs are something they are already paying. A ton of fertilizer that cost between $300 and $400 last spring will easily cost $1,000 this year — that’s about $500 an acre for a vegetable farmer, a 300 percent increase.

"Another 25 to 30 cents higher on fuel or fertilizer and we’ll be in a crisis situation," Maine Department of Agriculture Commissioner Seth Bradstreet said.

"It’s bad. Very bad," Spencer Greatorex, a certified crop adviser with Northeast Ag & Feed Alliance in Detroit, said. "And I don’t see it changing a lot. I’d like to tell you that next year the prices will go back to normal, but I don’t know what’s normal any more."

Charleston dairy farmer Richard Perkins, who plants 307 acres of corn to feed his herd, said prices have changed so fast between last fall and this winter that "I don’t have a firm grip on what it costs me to produce milk any more." But he added that it has never cost him this much in the 27 years he has been dairying.

Nitrogen that cost Perkins $180 a ton a few years ago is now going for $600 a ton. "It’s going to be a challenging year, to put it mildly," he said.

Mark Heddrick, the nutrient management coordinator for the Maine Department of Agriculture, not only advises Maine growers but has a diversified farm of his own in Union. He raises sheep, vegetables and flowers.

"My fertilizer costs will double this year," he said. "The bottom line is that I’ll be cutting back my production, a scenario that will be repeated across the state."

And in the end, he said, prices for all agricultural products will rise for consumers.

Bradstreet grows vegetables and potatoes in Newport and said the greater costs for his 60 acres will add costs on the consumers’ end.

"That sweet corn that cost $4.50 last year may cost $5 or $5.50 this summer," he said.

Heddrick said a number of factors have pushed the fertilizer costs upward: commercial fertilizers are petroleum based; fertilizer is very heavy, pushing transportation costs higher; and Russian potash mines were flooded, creating a scarcity of that key ingredient.

Greatorex said Midwest farmers growing crops for ethanol production are planting 8-9 million additional acres of crops, further increasing the demand for commercial fertilizer.

"Foreign trade also has a huge impact," he said. "China and other countries are starting to fend for themselves more and are buying up a lot of these agricultural supplies."

Greatorex said Maine farmers are trying to be more efficient by utilizing more manure. "Manure is not just a waste product any more," he said. "It is a valuable product."

In the Midwest, grain farmers are buying manure from large-scale livestock dealers. One livestock farmer in Ohio banked an additional $750,000 in income last year just by selling his cow manure to grain producers.

But as development crowds into former farmland, neighbors often rebel when farmers spread manure. Some extension agents say odor issues are their No. 1 complaint. A dairy farm that grows corn for cow feed can apply 15 to 20 tons of manure per acre, Heddrick said, and still have to supplement with commercial fertilizer.

Heddrick said farmers should do more soil testing to see exactly what the needs of their soil are and only apply what is required. "Efficiency is going to be key to survival," he said.

Bradstreet said many large farmers are switching crops.

"Canola is going for $700 a ton," he said. "These are not just cover crops any more. Now is the time that Maine farmers can actually see a profit on food grains. The problem is with the higher cost of inputs. They may make more money, but their net will be no different."

Exeter potato farmer Jeffrey Campbell said his costs have increased $175 an acre on the 370 acres he plants, a factor that will be a key role in his ongoing contract negotiations with Frito-Lay. "Everything trickles down, right to the wages that I pay my employees," Campbell said.

"I just don’t see how people are going to deal with this," Perkins said. "Everything is out of sight — fuel, tires, parts, equipment. Last month my fuel bill was $5,000, and that was just to heat the buildings enough to feed and clean. What’s that bill going to be when we hit the ground running in April and May?"