Should red and blue states be green and black instead?

(Midwest Energy News, January 25, 2012)—A presidential election year is upon us again, and that means the return of maps splitting the nation into red and blue states.

James Lenfestey thinks we should be seeing green and black instead.

Lenfestey, a Minneapolis poet and former journalist, spoke at a monthly Environment Minnesota breakfast Tuesday about the politics of energy. (Environment Minnesota is a member of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News.)

The oil and coal industries have influenced U.S. politics so much in recent decades, Lenfestey explained, that many red states would be better represented as black for the oil and coal interests they support. Blue states, meanwhile, have led the way on green energy.

Lenfestey’s first exposure to the fossil-fuel industry’s political machine came while working as an editorial writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune in the early 1990s. Continue reading “Should red and blue states be green and black instead?”

Renewable or not? How states count hydropower

(Midwest Energy News, January 13, 2012)—When is hydropower a renewable energy source?

The answer, at least from a policy perspective, depends on the state.

How hydropower is counted toward renewable electricity standards varies from state to state perhaps more than any other type of generation.

More than 30 states have passed renewable electricity standards, which require utilities to generate a percentage of their power from renewable sources.

Every state counts some hydropower, but the fine print is far from uniform.

In the Midwest, for example:

•Iowa and Minnesota allow utilities to count electricity from small hydropower facilities only. Iowa doesn’t define small, while Minnesota sets the upper limit at 100 megawatts. Continue reading “Renewable or not? How states count hydropower”

Why unproven health fears persist around grid projects

(Midwest Energy News, January 11, 2012)—It’s been 20 years since Congress tried to settle the debate over power-line health risks.

In the 1992 Energy Policy Act, lawmakers instructed the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to lead a five-year investigation into the health effects of electric and magnetic fields, or EMFs.

The process involved scores of scientists from dozens of disciplines, from electrical engineers to molecular biologists. The results were compiled in a 500-plus-page report written at a nine-day meeting in Brooklyn Park, Minn., and released in 1998.

It concluded — despite studies in the 1980s suggesting a link — that two decades of research showed only a “weak association” between EMF exposure and childhood leukemia, and no link between EMF exposure and adult cancers.

For all its depth and breadth, though, the institute’s report was hardly the final word for transmission line opponents. Health fears regularly come up during power-line disputes, most recently with the CapX2020 project.

“It’s a hearty perennial,” says John Farley, a UNLV physics professor who has followed the controversy for decades. Continue reading “Why unproven health fears persist around grid projects”

Mild winter foreshadows climate stress for forests

(Midwest Energy News, January 9, 2012)—As I sit down to write this, the sun is shining, the sidewalks are sloppy, and it’s a balmy 46 degrees outside. It’s January in Minneapolis, but it feels like late March.

It feels fantastic, to take a deep breath outside without the burn of winter we expect here this time of year.

It’s also unsettling.

We’ve seen the news reports about how the winter-that-wasn’t has affected businesses and recreational activities. But as I walked the dogs Friday afternoon — gloves tucked in the pockets of my unzipped jacket — I wondered about the environmental impact of this weird and warm winter.

I called Lee Frelich, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Forest Ecology, to find out whether we’re likely to see consequences in our forests.

The short answer: it’s too soon to say. But a continued lack of cold or snow could cause stress for trees. And it foreshadows a climate shift that would bring huge changes to the region.

“One winter like this might not have a very big impact, but in the future, in a few decades, they mostly might be like this,” says Frelich. Continue reading “Mild winter foreshadows climate stress for forests”