A ‘China Dream,’ more efficient than the American one

A miniature streetcar at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center. (Photo by Aapo Haapanen via Creative Commons)

A miniature streetcar at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center. (Photo by Aapo Haapanen via Creative Commons)

In Shanghai, Peggy Liu’s family has largely adapted to China’s chronic air and water pollution — even accepted it as part of the price to pay for living in one of the world’s most vibrant, compact and convenient cities.

But it’s going to take more than water filters and pollution masks to survive China’s next looming environmental disaster.

It’s going to take a dream.

China’s middle class is projected to grow from 474 million today to 800 million by 2025, and Liu is among many sustainability experts concerned about the unprecedented strain that growth will put on the planet’s resources.

Liu, co-founder of the Joint U.S.-China Collaboration on Clean Energy (JUCCCE), spoke at an Ensia Live event Wednesday at the University of Minnesota about her solution: the new “China Dream” (Midwest Energy News is a media sponsor for the Ensia Live series).

At its core, it’s about giving China’s growing middle class a new, greener path to aspire towards — one that doesn’t emulate the “American Dream” of ever-growing consumerism.

Peggy Liu

Peggy Liu

“What we need to do is decouple the rise of living standards with the traditional rise in energy use and consumption,” Liu said.

Up to now, most of China’s pollution has been driven by the West’s desire to consume, Liu said. “This isn’t just China polluting for polluting’s sake.”

But China is quickly shifting from “made in China” to “consumed in China.” It’s the fastest growing market for everything from SUVs to soft drinks, and its per-capita carbon footprint is expected to catch up to the United States’ by 2017.

“We cannot continue to blindly follow the American lifestyle. This is simply unsustainable for China and the world,” said a Chinese housing and development vice minister, Qiu Baoxing, at a recent JUCCCE training event for mayors.

Since 2007, JUCCCE has organized community discussions about what a sustainable Chinese Dream should look like. It’s also promoting its own vision, translated as the “Harmonious Happy” dream.

Harmonious Happy celebrates “living more, not just having more.” Generally, it values experiences over things, along with urban living, shared public spaces, and safe food, air and water.

JUCCCE is working with bloggers and journalists, marketers and ad agencies, and others to promote the Harmonious Happy values everywhere from social media to soap opera scripts.

A key to the concept is portraying sustainable lifestyles as something to aspire to, something that signals that you’ve arrived, rather than something done out of fear or shame.

That’s meant dumping the stuffy, guilt-ridden language of environmentalists in favor of a new, more aspirational language. Liu wrote for Ensia earlier this month:

In the China Dream vision of a better quality of life, each focus area is phrased as an aspiration but drives sustainable behavior. “Transit-oriented design” becomes “convenient, metro-centered living.” “Trigenerational developments” becomes “vibrant living.” “Pollution reduction” becomes “safe food and water.” Sterile academic wording is replaced with personal benefits. In fact, the word “sustainability” is entirely replaced with the phrase “和悦 [harmonious happy].

The clock is ticking, though. JUCCCE believes it has just a few years for the China Dream meme to catch on or else they will lose momentum.

Liu is optimistic. When it comes to policies, China has the resources and the willingness to “throw spaghetti at the wall” and see what sticks. Its centralized leadership structure allows change to happen very quickly.

When she looks out the window of her high-rise apartment in Shanghai, the dust and disruption outside is easier to bear knowing that part of the construction is for a major subway expansion, which will improve sustainability.

“We know that good change, that progress is coming,” Lui said.

Originally published March 29, 2013 at 06:00AM at Midwest Energy News http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2013/03/29/a-china-dream-more-efficient-than-the-american-one/

Study: U.S. biofuels policy pushes GHG emissions overseas

Forests give way to farmland in Brazil. A new study says climate benefits from U.S. ethanol mandates are largely negated as other countries clear forests and grasslands for agricultural use. (Photo by BBC World Service via Creative Commons)

Forests give way to farmland in Brazil. A new study says climate benefits from U.S. ethanol mandates are largely negated as other countries clear forests and grasslands for agricultural use. (Photo by BBC World Service via Creative Commons)

The U.S. ethanol mandate is successfully lowering the nation’s greenhouse-gas footprint — but likely to cause a slight increase in emissions around the globe, according to the latest study of biofuels’ climate impact.

The analysis comes from researchers at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, in a paper published this month in the journal Energy Policy.

“We find a very modest effect, but if you think that the ethanol mandate is a big winner in terms of its greenhouse gas implications, it doesn’t appear to be,” said Brian Murray, a co-author and the institute’s director for economic analysis.

The greenhouse-gas footprint of ethanol is among the most contested figures in all of energy, as debated and controversial as cost assumptions for coal-burning power plants.

Countless studies have attempted to pin an accurate, lifecycle emissions number to crop-based fuels, which displace fossil fuels but also drive changes in land use that can release heat-trapping gases even more potent than carbon dioxide.

One of the more comprehensive studies has been going on at the Nicholas Institute, where Murray and his colleages have used computer models to predict how land use changes with demand for corn and other biofuels crops.

Two years ago, the team published a paper examining the domestic greenhouse gas impact of the U.S. Renewable Fuels Standard, which will require gasoline companies to blend 36 billion gallons of biofuels into their products by 2022.

The conclusion then: the policy leads to a net reduction for U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, though the benefits are smaller than those estimated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Since then, the group broadened its scope to look at the effect on global emissions. What’s likely to happen in the rest of the world as the U.S. uses more of its crops for biofuel feedstocks?

“We didn’t go into it to prove any one thing or another. We just went in objectively to see what we might find,” Murray said.

Their model shows that U.S. exports of most agricultural products would shrink, and other countries would fill the gap by converting native grasslands and forests into farmland. The global deforestation and increased use of fertilizer cancels out the environmental gains at home.

Increasing the mandate, they determined, leads to increases in global greenhouse gas emissions that exceed the reductions in U.S. fossil fuel emissions. Lowering the mandate results in increased domestic emissions but also lower global emissions from deforestation and fertilizer.

Global emissions also go up with the percentage of the mandate met with corn-based ethanol. Second-generation biofuels aren’t necessarily the solution, either, the paper notes:

“This analysis indicates that biofuel mandates based on second-generation biofuels could increase land pressures and actually increase net global GHG emissions. The availability and suitability of marginal land for growing biofuel feedstock is still under debate, and the economic profitability of production on such land could be challenging.”

Tom Buis, CEO of ethanol trade group Growth Energy, in a statement referenced a 2009 Yale University study that found “direct-effect” greenhouse emissions from ethanol to be 48 percent to 59 percent lower than gasoline.

“Biofuels are renewable and are 59 percent better than gasoline on GHG’s and the RFS has been and continues to be one of the most successful energy policies our country has ever had,” Buis said. “Not only has the RFS helped reduce dependence on foreign oil from 60 percent to 45 percent, it has helped improve our nation’s air quality all while creating thousands of U.S. jobs.”

Murray said there are a variety of reasons to support an ethanol mandate, including energy security and rural economic development. But the case that it lowers greenhouse emissions, one of Congress’ stated objectives when it created the standard, is getting tougher to make.

“It doesn’t generate environmental benefits,” Murray said, “and possibly even some small environmental costs are involved.”

Originally published March 28, 2013 at 06:00AM at Midwest Energy News http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2013/03/28/study-u-s-biofuels-policy-pushes-ghg-emissions-overseas/

In Iowa, another view on how to solve wind’s variability

(Photo by Sarah Barrow via Creative Commons)

(Photo by Sarah Barrow via Creative Commons)

A groundbreaking renewable energy study is on the agenda this week at an annual gathering of the wind power industry in Iowa.

The analysis, which was published in the Journal of Power Sources, challenges the common notion that wind and solar power need to be paired with fossil fuel or nuclear generators, so utilities can meet electricity demand when it’s not windy or sunny.

The paper instead proposes building out a “seemingly excessive” amount of wind and solar generation capacity — two to three times the grid’s actual peak load. By spreading that generation across a wide enough geographic area, Rust Belt utilities could get virtually all of their electricity from renewables in 2030, at a cost comparable to today’s prices, it says.

The research is of particular interest to Midwest wind developers, who will hear from one of the study’s co-authors today at the Iowa Wind Energy Association conference in Des Moines. Cory Budischak, who teaches energy management at Delaware Technical Community College, is scheduled to speak at 9:35 a.m., immediately following Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.

Budischak told Midwest Energy News that he started thinking about the topic after hearing a coal lobbyist claim wind could never replace a baseload power plant.

“I think this study really challenges that,” Budischak said.

Budischak and his colleagues used computer models to seek out the most economical mix of renewables and storage to meet electricity demand on the PJM Interconnection grid 30 percent, 90 percent or 99.9 percent of the time.

The team simulated 28 billion combinations of wind, solar and storage technologies using projected 2030 prices and historical weather and PJM load data from 1999 to 2002. (The PJM grid extends from Chicago east to New Jersey.)

The winning, most cost-effective combination turned out to be a whopping amount of wind power and surprisingly little storage.

The analysis found that wind power alone could meet all of the grid’s power needs 90 percent of the time if utilities over-built wind generation capacity to equal about 180 percent of peak load — around 140 gigawatts in PJM’s case.

By comparison, Iowa currently has about 5 gigawatts of wind capacity installed, with a potential wind resource of 570 gigawatts, according to the Wind Energy Foundation.

Under the study’s scenario, on windy days, thousands of megawatts of clean electricity might go to waste, but even on the worst-performing days there would be enough power from wind farms to meet all or most of the demand.

Renewables could meet demand 99.9 percent of the time by adding solar and storage to the mix and ramping up renewable generation capacity to around 290 percent of peak load.

The remaining 0.1 percent of hours could be covered by fossil fuel power plants, but if they become uneconomical to maintain, other mechanisms such as demand management, interruptible rates or other storage could close the gap.

Both systems, without subsidies, would cost less than the current one — if externalities such as health and environmental impacts are accounted for, the paper says.

The more-is-better strategy can be almost as effective as storage at smoothing out wind power’s peaks and valleys, but at a fraction of the cost, it concludes. By having more wind farms spread across a wide area, the odds of them all coming to a standstill at once diminish.

It’s a new way of approaching the challenge, Budischak said. Previous studies have looked at how to achieve significant renewable penetration, but they’ve focused on how to generate the amount of electricity we use, but no more. This study lifted that cap.

On the surface, it might seem wasteful, but the paper points out that today’s thermal fossil fuel power plants are far from efficient, and Budischak notes that the surplus power would be from a fuel-free source. “We’re not paying for the wind to blow or the sun to shine,” he said.

It’s also possible that the surplus generation could be used for electric heating, which could further improve the economics, he said. Wind generation tends to be higher and electricity use lower in the winter.

For Iowa, he said, the analysis could support efforts to expand the wind industry’s role.

“They can start to make the argument that this isn’t just something for 10 or 20 percent of our portfolio mix. We can really get to those higher percentages.”

Originally published March 26, 2013 at 06:00AM at Midwest Energy News http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2013/03/26/in-iowa-another-view-on-how-to-solve-winds-variability/

Documentary aims to draw attention to frac sand impacts

A frac sand processing facility near New Auburn, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jim Tittle)

A frac sand processing facility near New Auburn, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jim Tittle)

The Oscar-nominated documentary “Gasland” was for many an eye-opening conversation starter on the environmental hazards of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

A new independent documentary called “The Price of Sand” aims to play a similar role in the region’s frac sand mining debate.

St. Paul filmmaker Jim Tittle started his project, like “Gasland” director Josh Fox, after a fossil fuel company began speculating near his family’s land. About two years ago, an oil company bought land down the road from his mother’s home in Hay Creek Township, south of Red Wing, Minnesota.

As word spread about the company’s plans to build a 150-acre open pit silica “frac sand” mine, nearby residents started asking questions about how it would affect them. Tittle, a freelance videographer, decided to seek answers across the river in Wisconsin, where more relaxed regulations had already attracted a silica mining boom.

The extra-fine sand, which is plentiful in the bluffs of southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin, is part of the slurry that’s injected underground during fracking to loosen oil and gas deposits. The surge in domestic drilling has brought with it a spike in demand for silica sand, which has nearly doubled in price since 2006 to more than $46 per ton in 2012, according to a recent SEC filing by U.S. Silica.

Several counties in Minnesota, where smaller-scale mines have long operated, have passed moratoriums on new sand mining, and the state legislature is considering a one-year statewide ban so health and environmental impacts can be better studied.

In Wisconsin, the mining boom has created jobs and tax revenue, but also dust, traffic and other disruptions to the rural communities Tittle visited.

“Because of the amount of money involved, things are being done to people and towns that wouldn’t normally be allowed or permitted,” Tittle said.

In November 2011, Tittle started filming interviews with residents, businesspeople and officials who live or work near silica sand mines. He uploaded a series of clips to YouTube and within three months they were viewed more than 10,000 times. (Views now exceed 55,000.)

“The Price of Sand” grew from that project. Tittle crowdfunded a budget of $6,800 to partially cover expenses like an aerial photography flight over a cluster of Wisconsin silica mines. The 57-minute film combines interviews with aerial footage and other images, including microscopic photos of silica particles.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration classifies silica sand as a workplace hazard. Unlike beach or playground sand, ultra-fine silica is easy to inhale. Workers who breathe the dust may be at risk for lung cancer and silicosis, in which scar tissue forms in the lungs, reducing their ability to absorb oxygen.

Little is known, however, about risks from broader environmental exposure outside of a workplace setting.

The film will officially premier next month at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, but Tittle received permission to hold two advance screenings, tonight in Red Wing and March 28 in St. Paul, so that he can get it in front of audiences while the Minnesota Legislature is still considering a statewide moratorium.

“I’d love to see it have an effect,” Tittle said.

The problem he sees in Wisconsin is that the industry has grown at a faster pace than regulators can keep up with. Responsible companies are managing dust with moisture and enclosures, but “bad actors” are getting away with excavating and trucking it away as fast as possible with little regard for neighbors.

“It’s not terribly efficient or well organized or regulated,” he said.

“Personally, I have strong feelings about the environment, but also, I drive a car, I live in a house, I use the products that come from silica mines,” Tittle said. “I know they need to mine it and there’s no way to just stop it. The question is how do you have a reasonable impact on people.”

Originally published March 22, 2013 at 06:00AM at Midwest Energy News http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2013/03/22/documentary-aims-to-draw-attention-to-frac-sand-impacts/

Iowa bill would support farmer-owned wind installations

A wind turbine is installed at a Michigan farm in 2011. (Photo by Corey Seeman via Creative Commons)

A wind turbine is installed at a Michigan farm in 2011. (Photo by Corey Seeman via Creative Commons)

An Iowa Senate subcommittee surprised utility groups and clean energy supporters alike earlier this month when it unanimously passed a bill that would establish a statewide feed-in tariff for small wind projects.

It’s the first time the perennial proposal has ever been cleared for a full Senate vote.

The bill, SF 372, would require all electric utilities in the state to purchase power from customers’ wind turbines at a guaranteed price for up to ten years. The program would apply only to wind projects built on agricultural land with a nameplate capacity of 20 megawatts or less. And power purchases would be capped at 50 percent of the utility’s sales growth in the previous year.

The state’s public utilities board would be tasked with setting a fair price per kilowatt hour and drawing up a standard contract for use with all qualifying projects.

Why is it significant?

Supporters of distributed generation — power that comes from smaller, individual- or cooperative-owned projects instead of large utility power plants — believe feed-in tariffs are the best way to boost clean energy. The policies, also known as CLEAN programs, are considered a key to Germany’s success in ramping up renewable energy over the past decade.

If Iowa were to adopt a feed-in tariff, it would be the first in the Midwest and among the first nationally, following states like Hawaii, California, and Vermont. And according to data from an Iowa Renewable Energy Association lobbyist, Ed Woolsey, Iowa’s program would potentially be among the larger, too, up to 60 megawatts per year.

“In the grand scheme of things … 60 megawatts a year is not that significant, but in comparison to other [U.S. feed-in tariffs] that have received far more attention, it is — and it’s being done in a conservative state,” said Paul Gipe, a California renewable energy analyst who tracks feed-in tariff policies in the United States and Canada.

He speculated that the Iowa bill could become a milestone for U.S. feed-in tariffs if it continues to move forward with bipartisan support.

Who supports the bill?

The bill was introduced by Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Joe Seng, a Democrat from Davenport. The committee consists of eight Democrats and five Republicans. The proposal has the backing of the Iowa Farmers Union, Iowa Environmental Council, and Iowa Wind Energy Association, among others, who argue that it will help extend the state’s success with large utility wind farms to smaller farmer- and community-owned projects.

The Iowa Farmers Union and Iowa Environmental Council are members of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News.

Nathaniel Baer, energy program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, said the biggest obstacle for farmer- and community-owned wind projects now is that utilities refuse to offer a fair price for the electricity they would generate.

“I think the fundamental goal is to get a level playing field,” he said.

Who opposes it?

The state’s municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives have come out against the proposal, which they say would take away local control and be unfair and unrealistic for smaller utilities to implement.

“Our primary objection to this bill is that it gives ratemaking authority to the Iowa Utility Board and takes it away from the local governing board,” said Bob Haug, executive director of the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities.

Opponents also argue that feed-in tariffs amount to a subsidy for a small group of customers — those who own their own generation — at the expense of all other customers.

“The concept of subsidizing somebody’s electricity at the expense of others is one our boards around the state have not been able to get behind,” said Tim Coonan, lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives.

Iowa electric co-ops have already connected more than 200 consumer-owned generation projects to their systems totaling over 14 megawatts, he said.

What are the bill’s odds?

Harold Prior, executive director of the Iowa Wind Energy Association, said he’s “very hopeful” and encouraged by the bill’s unanimous, bipartisan committee approval. Similar bills have been introduced for several consecutive years but never passed from committee.

“I think over time, Iowans are looking at this concept more positively,” Prior said. Clean energy groups have broadened the coalition of supporters by emphasizing its rural economic development potential.

Utility groups, though, warned against reading too much into the committee victory.

Julie Smith, a lobbyist for the municipal utility association, said the bill bypassed the usual process, in which legislation is introduced, assigned to a subcommittee, then taken up later by a full committee. Sen. Seng, using his committee chair authority, used a shorthand process to push the bill through committee in a single hearing just before a deadline for bills to be considered by the full Senate.

“Nobody really saw this coming. There was no opportunity for utilities to register their protest against the bill prior to it moving out of committee,” Smith said. She and other utility lobbyists regularly attend hearings for the commerce and environment committees, but not the agriculture committee, so they had no way of knowing about it until after the fact.

Now, they’re mobilizing to stop the proposal.

“[T]he odds against it, as in most other states, are very long as powerful forces begin aligning against it,” Gipe wrote last week.

What’s next?

The committee vote doesn’t guarantee consideration by the full Senate, but the bill could now come up for a vote anytime this year or next year.

Woolsey, of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association, said the Senate’s majority leader has indicated he won’t block the bill from coming up. He said he and others are working to pick up more supporters, and that they’re open to broadening the bill to include small solar and biomass projects as well. They’re also trying to recruit Republicans to take the lead with similar legislation in the House.

“This is farther than we’ve gotten in the past,” Woolsey said, “but we’ve got some heavy lifting yet to do.”

Originally published March 19, 2013 at 06:00AM at Midwest Energy News http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2013/03/19/iowa-bill-would-support-farmer-owned-wind-installations/

As a power line moves in, an organic farm ponders its future

Dave Minar, right, owner of Cedar Summit Farm, worries high-voltage power lines will affect the quality of his soil. (Photo by Cedar Summit Farm via Creative Commons)

Dave Minar, right, owner of Cedar Summit Farm, worries high-voltage power lines will affect the quality of his soil. (Photo by Cedar Summit Farm via Creative Commons)

An organic dairy farm in Minnesota has become a high-profile example of the tensions that can emerge as new transmission lines are built through the rural countryside.

The owners of Cedar Summit Farm, in the path of the CapX2020 transmission project, claim the line threatens their business and want Minnesota lawmakers to increase compensation for farms that choose to relocate away from power lines.

If Cedar Summit opts to move, its status as a certified organic farm complicates the process. It takes three years to transition conventional farmland to organic, which means a move could disrupt its certification as well as production of its milk, cream and other products, which are treasured by customers for their high quality.

In an online petition with more than 4,000 signatures, Cedar Summit, which is also renowned for its sustainable agriculture practices, says either the farm will have to move or “work around high voltage power lines … that may affect the health of our employees, animals and land.”

Farm owner Dave Minar told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in February that the farm “can’t be sustainable beneath a high-power line,” and other farmers have expressed similar concerns to lawmakers.

Minar acknowledges, however, that there is little if any science to support that claim.

“We didn’t find any documents studying the effects of this voltage on organic pastures, so the best we can say is there have been no studies,” he told Minnesota Public Radio last week. “The issue here is the lack of data, and we’re not interested in being Guinea pigs.”

In an interview with Midwest Energy News, Cedar Summit sales and marketing manager Ryan Crum said they believe electromagnetic fields (EMF) from the power lines will lower milk production and hurt the health of both the cows and microorganisms in the soil that support organic farming.

While it’s true that existing EMF studies don’t specifically address organic farming, volumes of research have been published on how EMFs affect both humans and animals, including dairy cows.

And from the National Institutes of Health to the World Health Organization, the conclusion of every mainstream health organization to study power-line EMFs in recent decades is that they are not a cause for concern.

Effects on people

We’re all exposed to natural and man-made EMFs every day. The most common source is the sun. Sunlight is on the higher-frequency end of the EMF spectrum, just below UV radiation and X-rays, which are strong enough to create heat and are known carcinogens.

In the middle of the spectrum are radio frequencies, such as those from cell phones and baby monitors, which are more debated but still presumed safe by most studies. On the lower end are the fields given off by power lines and appliances.

The most credible link between power-line EMF and human health is a weak association between prolonged exposure and a rare type of childhood leukemia. An analysis in 2000 found the risk may double from 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 10,000 for heavily exposed children.

“However, the evidence is not conclusive,” the U.K. National Radiological Protection Board said in a 2004 report, noting that some of the studies analyzed “were based on such small numbers that the findings could have been due to chance.”

A 1999 report from the U.S. National Institutes of Health also notes that none of the leukemia findings have been reproduced in animal studies, which “severely complicates the interpretation of these results.”

Animal studies

Doug Reinemann, a biological systems engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said several studies have compared the health and productivity of farm animals grazing under power lines to animals in other pastures, and found no difference.

Some of the earliest research on farm animals and EMF came in the wake of Minnesota’s power-line controversy in the 1970s, when dozens of farmers and their supporters were arrested for toppling power lines and vandalizing utility equipment in protest of a major transmission project (the state’s buy-the-farm law was enacted in 1977).

Another wave of studies were done in the 1990s as Canada was expanding its transmission system for new hydropower facilities, and more research has been done in the Pacific Northwest, Reinemann said.

“The bottom line is that no one has found any causal link or even an association between electromagnetic fields from a transmission line and these sort of adverse effects on animals or people,” Reinemann said.

One of the Canadian studies did observe a change in dairy cows exposed to unusually high EMF levels. In a 1996 study, McGill University animal science researcher Javier Burchard built an “EMF exposure chamber” big enough to hold eight cows. Over the course of a month he rotated 49 cows in and out of the chamber, which simulated exposure from standing directly under a 735 kV AC power line carrying maximum current load.

What he found was that the exposed cows ate more and actually produced more milk than other cows, similar to what happens with increased daylight exposure.

Electrical currents

In addition to EMF radiating from power lines, another concern sometimes raised by farmers about power lines is that they attract or create so-called “earth currents,” slight electrical currents that travel through the soil.

In the mid-1990s, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission assembled a scientific advisory committee to investigate claims by farmers that earth currents associated with transmission lines were causing health problems for dairy cows.

The group included state experts in physics, biochemistry, electrical engineering, soil science, animal physiology, and veterinary science, among others backgrounds. Over the course of four years they reviewed existing research, surveyed farmers, and conducted field research.

The conclusion, in the group’s 1998 report: “We have not found credible scientific evidence to verify the specific claim that currents in the earth or associated electrical parameters such as voltages, magnetic fields and electric fields, are causes of poor health and milk production in dairy herds.”

Instead, the team found that at dairy operations with poorer animal health and lower milk production, other, more likely risk factors were present, including poor nutrition, high temperatures, infectious disease, defective equipment and improper handling of animals.

Harold Dziuk was one of the committee’s milk experts. He grew up on a dairy farm, earned a Ph.D. in animal physiology, and worked with cows as a professor at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine until his retirement.

“If there was any measurable evidence of something different about the power supply and the currents and the fields on the farms that were affected, we should have been able to determine that,” Dziuk said. “That didn’t happen.”

The Minnesota report did find that electrical hazards exist on many farms, but the risk is from improper wiring or grounding of equipment, often done by the owner, operator “or other persons without electrical training.”

The committee’s field study found many code violations in work that was not done by electrical contractors, as well as examples of wiring that was not properly maintained or replaced when it became defective. This type of stray voltage is very real, but also can be mitigated.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission has documented thousands of cases of on-farm stray voltage. The primary point of exposure is when cows come into contact with equipment in a barn that’s part of the electrical grounding system, Reinemann said.

Aesthetic concerns

This map, produced by Midwest Energy News using a Google satellite image, shows the approximate route of the planned CapX 2020 power line to the south of Cedar Summit Farm. (Click to enlarge)

This map, produced by Midwest Energy News using a Google satellite image and information provided by Cedar Summit Farm, shows the approximate route of the planned CapX 2020 power line near the farm. (Click to enlarge)

Crum, of Cedar Summit Farm, said the effect of EMF on the animals is their top concern, but they also have worries about aesthetics, erosion and loss of trees that are currently used as windbreaks.

The line will run along a highway a few hundred feet to the south of the farm’s main buildings, which include a retail store. The farm also offers tours to school groups and other visitors.

“Is the aesthetics an issue? Yeah, it is. Part of our business is having people down to the farm for farm dinners and events. This is going to affect that or make them obsolete,” Crum said.

Randy Fordice, a spokesman for the CapX2020 project, said the impact on the farm will be “minimal.” The proposed easement involves just 0.7 acres of the farm’s 114-acre property with only one structure, located in a marshy area, not the pasture.

Fordice also noted that the utilities have already developed a mitigation plan with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture that includes taking specific steps for organic farms, such as not using herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers and implementing erosion control strategies.

The skeptics

The Minars aren’t the only EMF skeptics, but much of the evidence that power lines cause health problems comes from anecdotal reports or studies that are too small or biased to be accepted by mainstream science.

The BioInitiative Working Group, an international group of scientists calling for stricter limits on EMF exposure, said in its 2012 report that much of the disagreement is over the level of proof needed to draw a conclusion. Another challenge: “there is no unexposed population.”

Crum provided Midwest Energy News with links to reports by a retired Michigan State University animal science professor, Donald Hillman, who claims power-line EMF exposure reduces milk production in cows. In an interview, Hillman said his report is based on data collected by an electrician at five Wisconsin farms where the owners’ complaints about electrical issues were dismissed by utilities.

The conflicting reports have left Cedar Summit Farm confused about what would happen if they don’t move. Could the organic farm coexist with the power lines?

“Honestly, we’re really not sure,” Crum said. “We’re trying to figure that out.”

Originally published March 15, 2013 at 05:50AM at Midwest Energy News http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2013/03/15/as-a-power-line-moves-in-an-organic-farm-ponders-its-future/

Is South Dakota ‘open for business’ for wind developers?

(Photo by Joel Rivlin via Creative Commons)

(Photo by Joel Rivlin via Creative Commons)

A South Dakota legislative conference committee agreed Thursday on an economic development proposal that could help the state’s wind industry catch up to its potential.

Taxes on wind farm construction in South Dakota are currently the highest in the region —up to ten times higher than in Iowa, Minnesota or North Dakota.

The proposal lawmakers agreed to on Thursday would let developers apply to the state’s economic development board for up to a full refund of the state’s 4 percent sales tax for projects $20 million and larger.

“It’s really a historic bill,” said Bob Sahr, general counsel for the East River Electric co-op, a member of the South Dakota Wind Energy Association. “They definitely, in South Dakota, have put the ‘open for business’ sign out for wind developers.”

The bill, which was one of two wind tax bills moving through the legislature this week, still needs to pass votes in the full House and Senate, which Sahr said is “extremely likely.”

Underdeveloped resource

The flat, gusty Great Plains state leads the nation in the share of electricity it gets from wind power — over 22 percent, according to the American Wind Energy Association’s most recent annual report.

But that distinction has more to do with the state’s small population and low electricity load. Despite having the fifth best wind resources in the country, South Dakota doesn’t crack the top 15 for total installed capacity.

“You don’t see the development that would be proportional with its excellent resource,” said Joe Sullivan, regional policy manager for Wind on the Wires, a nonprofit that works on wind and transmission issues. (Wind on the Wires is a member of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News.)

Several factors are at play, but taxes are a big one. South Dakota is among nine states that have no income tax. Instead, it relies more heavily on other types of taxes, including a 2 percent tax on work that contractors do.

On top of the contractors’ tax, South Dakota wind developers also pay a 4 percent tax on equipment. And the operator later pays a gross-receipts tax on power sold by the wind farm.

An analysis by Iberdrola Renewables estimates that a $200 million wind project in South Dakota will pay $11.4 million in upfront taxes, compared to $1 million in North Dakota, $1.2 million in Iowa, or $1.4 million in Minnesota.

“It’s an upfront disincentive to build in South Dakota,” Sullivan said, even considering the state’s superior wind resources. “The turbines are not spinning more often enough to make up the difference.”

Wind energy supporters say it is critical for the legislature to act this session before federal tax credits expire and new transmission upgrades are completed.

“We can tell you that if we don’t do something with our current tax structure, it’s very unlikely we would get any more wind energy,” said Ron Rebenitsch, executive director of the South Dakota Wind Energy Association.

Multiple proposals

The bill endorsed by the conference committee, SB 235, will let developers of many projects, including wind farms, apply for significant rebates.

Sahr said a typical $200 million project under the proposal would pay $1 million or less in upfront taxes, making it competitive with neighboring states. The state economic development board would still have discretion on whether to award full or partial rebates.

“The bill could go a long way toward reducing the very high up front taxes South Dakota levies on wind energy projects,” said Adam Sokolski, a business developer for Iberdrola Renewables who prepared its tax analysis. “We support the bill in its current form as passed by the Conference Committee.”

State Sen. Larry Rhoden, a Republican from Union Center, has introduced another bill, SB 195, that would refund much of the upfront wind farm tax but collect much of it back later through production taxes. That bill appears to be sidelined with the advancement of SB 235.

Transmission constraints

Another ongoing challenge is transmission constraints, Sullivan said.

Any significant growth in the state’s wind industry is going to be driven by exporting electricity, which requires capacity on long-distance transmission lines between wind farms and larger cities to the south and east.

Several transmission projects are under development in the region, many of them specifically designed to deliver wind power, but South Dakota could miss the opportunity to connect if it doesn’t get projects moving into the queue. Capacity is typically awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.

And exporting will be more costly and complicated because most of the state is not part of a regional transmission organization such as MISO, Sullivan said.

Wind farms on MISO’s grid are able to sell power to any customer in the MISO area, which covers much of the Upper Midwest and will soon extend south to Arkansas and Louisiana. In most of South Dakota, though, wind farms can only sell to the local utility, or else pay fees to use MISO’s transmission lines in order to connect with other customers.

Sullivan said South Dakota needs to address tax and transmission issues soon while the region’s electricity grid is still being expand.

“There’s a historic build-out of the transmission infrastructure that’s happening,” Sullivan said. “If South Dakota misses the opportunity, it’ll miss it for a while.”

Originally published March 08, 2013 at 05:00AM at Midwest Energy News http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2013/03/08/is-south-dakota-open-for-business-for-wind-developers/