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March 2008 Issue

march 2008
Feature 1
UP CLOSE
& PERSONAL
Feature 2

NUCLEAR
FRICTION

Editorial

EDITORIAL

Wisconsin Favorites

Wisconsin Favorites
Cutting the Mustard
in Mount Horeb

 

 

 

 

Up Close and Personal
Feds Eye Household Energy Use

Last year brought a sea change in federal energy legislation. In every congressional session since the 1990s, big energy bills focused on how utilities are structured and regulated. These were invariably pared back and usually abandoned, thanks to concerns about taking utility restructuring nationwide.

But last December, Congress passed and President Bush signed a very different energy bill. Known in legislative shorthand as H.R. 6, this new energy law is not about how utilities are structured but about telling them and their consumers how they’re going to obtain energy and how much they’re going to use.

It goes straight into the daily routine of every energy consumer in this country, as spelled out in a January headline from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review: “Energy law will alter American households.”

How that will happen was the discussion topic last month for a panel of energy professionals as Wisconsin electric co-op directors and management gathered in Madison for an annual conference.

The First Step

Scott Neitzel, a vice president at Madison Gas and Electric Company (MGE) and former member of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, agreed that H.R. 6 represents “a sea change” but added that it’s only the beginning.
 “This energy bill is kind of really the primary of energy legislation, maybe the ‘Iowa Caucuses’ of energy legislation and I think after the elections this year we are really going to see, probably early next year a kind of Super Tuesday on energy legislation and probably a year or two after that, a big general election on energy,” Neitzel told the audience of about 150 co-op leaders.

Even so, as a first step H.R. 6 is a pretty big one. Neitzel continued, “If you look through this legislation, I don’t think there’s an appliance used in your house that the federal Department of Energy doesn’t have to set a standard for or do a study on. In reading through the legislation last night I think the only appliance I didn’t see that’s going to have a new efficiency rating is maybe an electric toothbrush, but I might have missed that one.”

Kenric Scheevel, government affairs specialist with Dairyland Power Cooperative, took note of “efficiency standards raised on everything from light bulbs to dishwashers to refrigerators. Essentially anything that uses energy in your home is going to be affected by that.”

Scheevel added, “A little-known provision you may not be aware of, is an efficiency standard by which the incandescent light bulb will become obsolete in the next five to 10 years. Those of you that are putting in the compact fluorescents, it’s inevitable. The traditional bulbs won’t be for sale after a while.”

With H.R. 6, Scheevel sees energy policy “moving away from production of energy and toward conservation of energy…I think this energy bill is the first step in the next sea change in terms of energy production, energy conservation, the types of energy production that are going to be prominent in the next 50 years.”

Todd Stuart, executive director of the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group and a former state Senate staffer instrumental in passing Wisconsin’s 2005 renewable energy law, said climate change issues are driving H.R. 6 priorities. He saw lessons in 1990s utility deregulation.

 “There were two states that were racing toward deregulation a decade ago: California and Wisconsin,” Stuart said. “Wisconsin happened to slow down and step to the edge and look down and say, ‘Wait a minute, maybe we don’t want to do that,’ whereas several other states did do it, and I think as consumers we really need to think hard about some of the provisions that are coming.”

His organization represents Wisconsin’s largest electricity users—manufacturers and paper and related industries. They’re seeing annual increases of about 7 percent on energy costs and Stuart expects that to continue.

Climate legislation is inevitable and will be “very expensive,” he predicts, adding, “I want to preface everything else by saying as consumers, we’re going to get hit hard no matter what happens.” 

Tradeoffs Everywhere

When you finish with your energy-efficient electric toothbrush and head off to start the workday, you’ll encounter more of H.R. 6. It calls for a 40-percent increase in corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards—to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. Some say that’s bad for the auto industry but others will like it a lot.

 “For those of you who like soy diesel and ethanol,” Scheevel says, “this is tremendous legislation because it raises the usage standard from nine billion gallons to 36 billion gallons, meaning we’re going to have to go beyond corn to meet the biofuels mandates.”

Score that as a spur to development of new alternative fuels and a revenue stream for agriculture. For the average motorist, Stuart says the results are uncertain.

 “On one hand you have CAFE standards that should increase the gas mileage for your car and you supposedly use less gasoline,” Stuart says. “On the other hand you have more biofuels which don’t give as great gas mileage, so I’d like to see a study of how these things offset each other.”

Again, a tradeoff with every provision. On efficiency standards, Stuart sees new expense “that hits almost everything in your home.” But he sees opportunity nearby.

 “I think some of the green building standards could be an area where we save a lot of money over the long term,” he says. “If we reinvest in some of the building stock, retrofit our factories with energy efficiency projects, that could save this country a lot of money long-term.”

Those are tradeoffs many will no doubt be willing to weigh and accommodate in what they view as the most advantageous manner. Other tradeoffs will be more complicated because they involve one of today’s most controversial issues: siting and construction of electric infrastructure.

No Free Lunch

Conspicuously absent from H.R. 6 is a national renewable portfolio standard (RPS) mandating a set percentage of electricity from renewable sources by a specified date. That looks like a prime target for new federal legislation. And in any event some states—including Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa—already have their own RPS.

Wisconsin has a quota of 10 percent renewably sourced electricity by the end of 2015. Governor Doyle has called for 25 percent by 2025 and his Task Force on Global Warming is believed likely to propose a number in between by this spring.

Our panelists agreed on the large implications.

 “If we’re going to have either a state or federal RPS increase we have to tell people what that means in terms of building transmission, because the renewables aren’t next door to the load,” Neitzel explained.

Both Neitzel’s MGE and Dairyland Power Co-op have popular wind-energy programs, but because the wind resource is less reliable in Wisconsin, much of the power is imported.

 “The wind is better in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming—great wind resources in some respects the same places the coal is,” Neitzel says. “We move coal by train right now but you can’t move wind by train so you’re going to have to move it by wire.”

Scheevel sees rural co-op country as home to most renewable generation but not to the greatest energy demand.

 “Just the Buffalo Ridge region in Minnesota [where Dairyland obtains much of its wind power] has roughly 25,000 megawatts of projects proposed,” Scheevel said. “We all know there’s not that much transmission available, so one of the big fights coming up is going to be who has to build it and who is going to pay for it,” meaning which utilities will incur the costs and pass them on to their customers.

Reeling off a list of infrastructure projects now in the pipeline, growing regulatory compliance costs, the presumed need to build approximately 33 times more wind capacity than our existing 50 megawatts, and the new transmission lines to deliver it, Stuart estimates Wisconsin energy consumers will see $15 billion in new expenses over the coming decade.

 “The numbers,” Stuart says, “are eye-popping.”—Dave Hoopman  

 

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Nuclear Friction
Lawmakers Differ on Nuclear Revival

At press time for this month’s Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News, Capitol observers thought it likely the state Assembly would pass a bill repealing Wisconsin’s 25-year old statutory moratorium on new nuclear power-plant construction, and that the measure would then die in the state Senate as the clock runs out on the 2007–08 Legislature.

With scheduled session days winding down in February, the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association invited two state lawmakers to its Education and Lobby Day discussions to hear their divergent views on an issue that’s gained increasingly serious attention in recent years.

Voices of Experience

State Representative Jim Soletski (D–Green Bay) was formerly employed at the Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant and advocates considering all energy options, including new nuclear. State Representative Chuck Benedict (D–Beloit) is a retired neurologist who says he did some graduate work in nuclear physics and opposes further development of nuclear energy.

Soletski, a member of the Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities, led off the presentations, making it clear he sees something useful—as well as a challenge or two—in every form of energy production.

 “I like windmills, Soletski said. “I think a large valley full of them in California is picturesque and I’d like to see more of them in Wisconsin.

 “Unfortunately a lot of people in Wisconsin don’t agree with me,” he continued. “They don’t like the noise, they don’t like the flicker, and they don’t like the interference on their television. And they also don’t like the transmission lines to the large cities that cut through their forests and farmlands. Most of the windy spots in Wisconsin—other than Madison itself—don’t have a lot of transmission lines running through them and the construction of transmission lines is one of those things that we have a hard time doing in this state.”

Soletski argued that every generation source has its drawbacks, but some—especially nuclear—have fewer than the rest.

Benedict served last year on the Legislative Council Study Committee on the Future of Nuclear Power. It was that committee’s work that produced Assembly Bill 346, the proposed repeal of the moratorium on new plants. But Benedict declines to support that proposal, saying, “I disagree that nuclear power should be the wave of the future.”

Benedict notes that Wisconsin’s moratorium became law four years after a partial core meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania. The moratorium says the Public Service Commission (PSC) may not approve a new plant “unless two conditions are fulfilled: Any new nuclear facility built in Wisconsin must be economically advantageous to ratepayers compared with feasible alternatives, and a federally licensed repository for high-level nuclear waste is operating with enough capacity to handle the waste from all nuclear power plants in Wisconsin.

 “Neither of these conditions has been fulfilled and neither is likely to be in the near future,” Benedict said.

All Options Open?

Soletski points out that repealing the moratorium would not require new nuclear generation but would allow it to be considered again. “Our PSC would still decide if it’s fiscally responsible and that hasn’t changed,” he says. “It’s a fool’s errand to say we’re going to pursue alternatives while completely ignoring some of those alternatives.”

He praises hydropower but acknowledges objections to damming rivers and building transmission lines. He praises solar power but faults heavy metals in its component parts and the need to treat them as hazardous waste after 10 or 20 years. He faults gas-fired turbines for inefficiency and high fuel costs.

But nuclear plants, Soletski says, “run for a year or two at a time, very rarely have a breakdown, and are very clean, and the only carbon footprint I can think of is when the semis bring in the fuel.”

He asks the audience, “Did you know the waste generated in the United States by nuclear plants since the 1950s would fit on a football field, nine feet deep? Or that power from nuclear is about a cent per megawatt cheaper than coal, which is 10 times cheaper than natural gas?”

Benedict cites other options, saying, “We have viable, cleaner, and renewable alternatives.

 “I would suggest that we move our energy policy into the 21st century, beyond the outdated, unsafe, and expensive nuclear option,” Benedict says. “Let’s use our technical skill, our entrepreneurial ingenuity that we have here in Wisconsin, and our cooperative hard work to solve our energy needs in a safe and sustainable fashion.”

Elevating the Discussion

Moderator Brian Rude of Dairyland Power Cooperative, who served with Benedict on the Legislative Council committee, asks how the public can have a more reasoned discussion of energy issues.

Benedict credits the committee’s approach and the diverse backgrounds of its members, saying energy should not be a partisan issue: “You can’t ‘sound-bite’ something like this. It’s too complicated.”

Soletski reported that he’d set up a tour of Kewaunee and “there were takers on both sides of the aisle to see what it was all about, what’s going on in a nuclear plant.” He adds, “People who formed their opinion of any energy source decades ago have to reassess where we are today.”—Dave Hoopman

 

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EDITORIAL
by Perry Baird

An old saying holds that the wheel of justice turns slowly. As painfully deliberate as legal matters often are, it’s that much more exhilarating when an eventual positive outcome occurs.

Early last month, courtesy of the Wisconsin Third District Court of Appeals, what is hopefully the final chapter in a lawsuit spanning 3-1/2 years came to a satisfying conclusion. The court affirmed an earlier circuit judge’s determination—that the state of Wisconsin failed to prove a Sawyer County cranberry grower’s operation was creating a public nuisance. As a final postscript, Governor Doyle’s office said it would not appeal the matter further.

Bogging Down

                Originally filed in the spring of 2004 by then-Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager and 14 out-of-state Lac Court Oreilles landowners, the lawsuit claimed phosphorus draining into the lake from William Zawistowski’s cranberry bogs constituted a public nuisance. The suit came after attempts to restrict or close down Zawistowski’s operation failed when it was determined that it did not violate any law or regulation at any level of government.

The Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives joined nine agricultural groups to intervene against Lautenschlager’s position.

A month after filing the cranberry lawsuit, Lautenschlager joined with attorneys general from seven other states in another nuisance suit where no one was being accused of breaking any law or regulation. This time it was against five of the nation’s largest electricity producers, and the government officials demanded the companies reduce carbon dioxide emissions in 20 states.

In a September 2004 editorial, we quoted Jeff Schoepke of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce: “Why would anybody want to bring jobs to a state where the attorney general sues businesses that comply with the laws?” We characterized the lawsuit as “government freelancing” and called upon Lautenschlager to withdraw from that case. A federal judge in New York eventually dismissed the CO2 suit.

Tempered Effect

While we hail these outcomes, the door wasn’t firmly slammed on future nuisance lawsuits against law-abiding individuals or companies. The appeals court decision in the cranberry case falls short of a statement that full legal and regulatory compliance will protect a defendant against successful nuisance suits. The upheld earlier finding of the trial court says that even if an action complies with applicable laws and regulations, it “may not be a reasonable exercise of a conferred statutory right.”

In other words, operating a legal business in compliance with all federal, state, and local laws and regulations does not constitute a public nuisance—that is, until plaintiffs can find a court that agrees the impacts are severe enough to qualify as one. That leaves the door ajar to future litigation.

The New York judge in dismissing the CO2 case didn’t address whether a public nuisance was actually created, but we agree with her assessment that a legislative body, not a court, should decide the matter by enacting laws governing such situations.

To do otherwise allows overly ambitious government officials to be a nuisance.

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You’re never too old to cut the mustard in Mount Horeb, where mustard—nearly 5,000 varieties of that condiment—are displayed and sold at the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum.

Curator Barry Levenson tells the story of the museum’s humble beginnings in his web site. Levenson, an assistant attorney general of Wisconsin, at the time, was despondent over the loss of his beloved Red Sox at the 1986 World Series. He wandered aimlessly through an all-night supermarket until the condiment aisle beckoned him. There, so he says, the mustards spoke to him: “If you collect us, they will come.” He chose a dozen assorted jars, and kept acquiring mustards and related memorabilia until the current collection is 4,863 and growing.

As you wander through the museum, founded in 1992 and moved in 2000 to more spacious quarters across the street, you’ll be struck by the many shades of yellow and brown, and even reds and near-blacks, of mustards and the number of countries they originate from. (Generally speaking, American mustards are paler and milder, and the mustards become darker and hotter through England, Europe, and Asia, with Chinese mustard being among the hottest.)

There are accessories such as mustard pots, mustard signs, and books. There are various “go-withs” for mustards, such as crackers and pretzels. There are gift packages with all types of assortments, such as those for different higher educations. (The University of Wisconsin assortment, anyone?) Or you may make up your own gift assortment. In a giant cooler, there are many opened mustards for sampling, so you might learn what you like but may not know it. And there are raw mustard seeds for do-it-yourself cooks, who’d like to concoct their own mixture. You can get on the newsletter list or request a witty and informative catalog.

The first Saturday each August is a celebration honoring National Mustard Day, when the festivities spill into the streets of Mount Horeb. There are 3,000 free hot dogs (with mustard, of course), music, and other entertainment. Two stages, sponsored by French’s Mustard and Grey Poupon Mustard, host zany games, song, and other contests. Last year, the local Culver’s Frozen Custard served its “famous” Mustard Custard.

In a more sober vein, Levenson is serious about educating young and old alike about the marvelous properties of various mustards. Levenson offers seminars such as “The Ecodynamics of Mustard Management” and will speak to add a little spice to outside meetings, bringing along exotic mustards for tasting. Recently, he’s written a kids’ book called Mustard on R Pickle.

And speaking of education—you can even graduate from “Poupon U” (though we wonder if the famous Grey Poupon mustard, portrayed in its commercials to be rather pompous, would thoroughly approve of the double entendre). For a small fee, Levenson himself will sign and mail you your Poupon U diploma, and you can even wear the official Poupon U tee-shirt. Graduating at such a prestigious institution of higher education—how’s that for cutting the mustard?
Linda Hilton

The  Mount Horeb Mustard Museum is located right in downtown Mount Horeb at 100 West Main Street (also known as “The Trollway”). It’s open seven days a week, except major holidays, from 10–5. Contact the museum at 800-438-6878 or look at their Internet site at www.MustardMuseum.com.

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©2009 Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News