Door County, Wisconsin

Archive for March, 2017

How climate change will affect YOUR health: More than half America’s doctors join forces urging policymakers to take climate change seriously

  • On Wednesday, 434,000 doctors launched a campaign to describe how global warming affects health in the US
  • The report includes a map of the US showing the biggest issues in each region
  • It includes rising levels of air pollution to increased water contamination and a widening range for disease-carrying mosquitoes 

More than half the nation’s doctors have joined forces to urge policymakers to take make climate change a priority.

On Wednesday, more than 434,000 physicians – including family doctors, pediatricians, obstetricians, allergists, geriatricians and internists – launched a campaign to describe how global warming affects health.

The report includes a map of the United States, detailing the biggest concerns in each region – from rising levels of air pollution to increased water contamination and a widening range for disease-carrying mosquitoes.

It also features personal accounts from doctors who have seen the impact of environmental factors first-hand.

On Wednesday, 434,000 doctors launched a campaign to describe how global warming affects health in the US. It includes a map of the US showing the biggest issues in each region

On Wednesday, 434,000 doctors launched a campaign to describe how global warming affects health in the US. It includes a map of the US showing the biggest issues in each region. 

The coalition, dubbed the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, consists of doctors from 11 different medical groups.

Their aim is to help policy makers understand the health dangers of global warming, and what must be done to guard against it in the coming years.

‘Doctors in every part of our country see that climate change is making Americans sicker,’ said Mona Sarfaty, a physician and director of the new consortium.

‘Physicians are on the frontlines and see the impacts in exam rooms. What’s worse is that the harms are felt most by children, the elderly, Americans with low-income or chronic illnesses, and people in communities of color.’

The group is releasing a report that highlights the ways climate change affects health, and calls for a speedy transition to clean renewable energy.

The report, called Medical Alert! Climate Change Is Harming Our Health, will be circulated to members of the Republican-dominated Congress.

Some of its key warnings relate to heart and breathing problems associated with increasing wildfires and air pollution, as well as injury from extreme heat events.

 Doctors in every part of our country see that climate change is making Americans sicker
Mona Sarfaty, a physician and director of the new consortium

Infectious diseases can spread more widely as ticks carrying Lyme disease and mosquitoes with West Nile virus expand their range.

Extreme weather, such as hurricanes and droughts, may become more common, destroying not only homes and livelihoods but also wreaking havoc on people’s mental health, it warned.

Most Americans are not aware that increases in asthma attacks and allergies are linked to climate change, according to the report.

A poll from 2014 suggested that only one in four Americans could name even one way in which climate change is harming our health.

People are not powerless, the group urged. They can push for a quicker transition to renewable solar and wind energy, and also do what they can to walk and bike more instead of driving.

‘Here’s the message from America’s doctors on climate change: it’s not only happening in the Arctic Circle, it’s happening here,’ said Sarfaty.

‘It’s not only a problem for us in 2100, it’s a problem now. And it’s not only hurting polar bears, it’s hurting us.’

ISAAC’S STORY: DOCTOR SLAMS CLIMATE CHANGE AFTER HER SON WAS HOSPITALIZED IN HEAT WAVE

By Dr. Samantha Ahdoot, Lead Author, American Academy of Pediatrics’ Policy on Climate Change; Pediatric Associates of Alexandria

My nine-year-old son Isaac was attending his last day of band camp when I received a call from the emergency room.

He had collapsed in the heat, and was rushed to the emergency room.

When my husband arrived at the hospital, Isaac was on a gurney with an IV in his arm, recovering under the watchful eyes of nurses and doctors. It was a terrifying experience for him.

That day was part of a record-setting heatwave in Washington, DC, one of several days that summer when the heat index reached over 120 degrees.

As a pediatrician, I know that Isaac is not alone in his vulnerability to the heat.

Emergency room visits for heat illnesses increased by 133 percent between 1997 and 2006.

Almost half of these patients were children and adolescents. In August 2010, another record hot summer, a colleague treated Logan, a young football player, in Arkansas.

He showed initial signs of heat illness—weakness and fatigue—during practice in his un-airconditioned gym, but he wasn’t treated right away. He subsequently developed heat stroke, kidney failure and pulmonary edema.

Fortunately, kidney dialysis saved him, but it was a close call.

Every summer, I see the impacts of increasing temperature and heat waves on children like Logan, and warn parents of the dangers of increasing heat waves.

I believe it’s imperative that pediatricians on the frontlines of this urgent problem speak out for children on issues that will harm the health and prosperity of our youngest generations.

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People-powered: renewable energy project changes Indigenous lives in Barkly

Some members of the Barkly community in the Northern Territory.

 Some members of the Barkly community in the Northern Territory.

Deep in the outback, about a 90-minute drive from Tennant Creek, two tiny Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory are coming back to life.

Since May, the Kunapa communities of Ngurrara and Kurnturlpara have been returning to the Barkly tableland, moving into the houses that had been abandoned years ago, setting up a School of the Air for their 15 children, and re-establishing their Indigenous culture. In fact, in a little over a month, the population has increased from just two people to about 40. And the reason? Solar power.

Graeme Smith, one of the original inhabitants, came up with the idea of introducing solar power after realising that the cost of living in the bush was unrealistic for many.

“My wife and I were living out there in one of the two houses in our community,” he says. “Twice a week we had to drive for half an hour to get two 44-gallon drums of diesel to power the houses.

“We were spending about $700 a week just on diesel. The neighbouring community had three houses, and they were spending even more.

“Collectively we were easily spending around $1,500 a week to run five houses – and if a generator went down, it would cost at least $2,000 to get someone out to fix it. No economy can sustain that out bush, when there are no jobs and all we have is the welfare system.”

Some of the Barkly community with the recently installed battery storage.
 Some of the Barkly community with the recently installed battery storage. Photograph: All Grid

Eventually the residents left. Many moved to towns such as Tennant Creek, although people would periodically come back and live on country when they could afford it, and stay until the generators ran dry.

“Everyone wanted to live in the houses, they wanted a school out there, and to work the land,” says Smith, “but we needed a more affordable power supply.

“So the Manungurra Aboriginal Corporation [an organisation that represents the Kunapa clan group, and of which Smith is chief executive] thought that, as we get huge amounts of sun out on the Barkly [tableland], solar would make sense for us.”

The solution came when Smith got in touch with Indigenous Business Australia(IBA), an organisation that helps facilitate economic independence for Indigenous communities. IBA agreed to finance a pilot solar and storage project on a seven-year, lease-to-buy agreement with the Indigenous corporation AllGrid Energy.

IBA provided about $240,000 to the project, and a total of 36 kW of solar panels and 67 kWh of gel battery storage were fitted across the five houses and the School of the Air building last month.

Although half the lease repayment comes from Manungurra, the other half comes from the residents. Smith says the lease repayments are about$600 a week across the five houses, less than half of what was being spent in diesel.

But the benefits of the system have not just been financial. Dean Stehling, chief executive of Red Centre Manufacturing (AllGrid Energy’s manufacturing partner), says that despite the fact that managing projects in remote areas can be “very challenging”, the work is satisfying as the benefits to the communities are “life changing”.

The Barkly community’s newly established School of Air for the younger members.
 The Barkly community’s newly established School of Air for the younger members. Photograph: All Grid

Deborah Oberon, marketing and alliance manager from AllGrid Energy, says: “The houses in the Barkly area had no insulation and in the summer they used to get so hot that not even flies would go into them during the day. The cost of diesel in the area made running air conditioning too expensive, but the new system has changed that.

“Power costs have dropped, the solar panels provide additional roof shading and insulation, people no longer have to make the long trip for diesel, and they are able to cool their homes without having to listen to the constant noise of the generators, or smell the fumes. These might be simple things that we take for granted, but it has been a significant change.”

Alleviating the power cost has had the desired effect of bringing people back to the community. Smith estimates 40 people have returned since the project started in June.

“Now the houses are full, we have the numbers to do things,” he says. “We have been able to set up a School of the Air for the children, we can now [sub-contract] remote jobs and community programs [now community development programs], and we’re about to pick up municipal services, local government repair and maintenance money for our houses as well.

“On top of that, we expect to develop our cattle and bring on a fodder farm that brings more income and economy to the community. We’re giving people a reason to live here.”

The arrival of the solar panels in Barkly in the Northern Territory.
 The arrival of the solar panels in Barkly in the Northern Territory. Photograph: All Grid

“Tennant Creek is a scattered community and the old culture has been slowly eroding as the older people go, but by returning to country we’re able to be more Indigenous [with traditional practices like hunting and foraging] and ensure that the culture, storyline and songlines continue.”

There could be more arrangements such as these cropping up in other remote communities across Australia soon. By monitoring the Ngurrara and Kurnturlpara communities’ data and energy usage, AllGrid hopes to design more bush-specific solar systems, and create a wider-reaching Oasis Strategy that could help more Indigenous communities become self-sufficient.

Ray Pratt, AllGrid Energy’s chief executive, says the strategy could provide renewable energy, communications, water purification, fuel and even housing. For example, there are plans to introduce flat-packed housing materials made from recycled materials to create affordable, recyclable, and bush-fire resistant homes, while green fuel could be produced from small-scale, fully containerised bio-diesel refineries.

“Australia is a very wealthy, first world country, but we still have people living in third world conditions in our remote communities,” he says.

“Indigenous people have always had a sense of connection with the earth that sustains us, but the cost of modern life has meant that we’ve lost that. We’re trying to help recapture that, and make remote Indigenous communities self-sufficient and sustainable on their own land once again.”

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Small Town, Big Sustainability

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Fossil technology includes coal, oil, petroleum, and natural and advanced gas combined. Each technology in electric power generation has seen and increase in jobs, but none as much as solar. The boom in the country’s solar workforce can be attributed to construction work associated with expanding generation capacity. Solar energy added 73,615 new jobs in the U.S. economy over the past year while wind added a further 24,650.

While 2016 was the warmest year on record, NASA records show that the ten warmest years since scientists began recording the Earth’s surface temperature have all occurred since 2000. For those who understand that human activity is warming our planet, there is a growing sense of urgency to make energy choices that limit the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The good news is that in the last few years, America’s energy choices have increasingly favored renewables. A recent Gallup poll shows that 67% of Americans support increased investment in renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar. Yet, even with demand on the rise, many communities in Wisconsin and the energy utilities that serve them lack easy answers for providing renewable forms of energy. Energy demands, geography, environmental impacts, and economics are just a few of the considerations that go into making energy choices. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to addressing energy use and global warming, and many people find the problem too nebulous or unwieldy to address.

For Larry Bean, it’s the impact that climate change will have on his community that drives his decisions about energy use.

Bean, who has spent nearly fifty years immersed in environmental science and policy—first as a professor and then as a state energy administrator—is very much aware of the ways in which burning fossil fuels has driven climate change. While he was able to explore the science behind global warming as a teacher, it was his 22 years as the head of the Iowa State Energy Office that helped Bean understand how communities can control their role in climate change.

“We worked on policies and programs that reduced energy consumption of government, modeled ways that citizens could reduce their use, and advocated for the development of renewable energy technologies. The work and concern in those years was to implement mitigation efforts for climate change and to develop more sustainable energy resources,” Bean says. “So I’m very concerned about the climate.”

Bean isn’t the only one.

Over the course of 2016, Wisconsin began construction on more solar energy projects than in any other previous year. Last year we added more than 30 megawatts of new capacity—enough to supply about 5,000 Wisconsin homes with electricity for an entire year—through projects ranging from utility-based solar arrays to commercial and residential rooftop installations in Milwaukee, Madison, Racine, and the Chippewa  Valley.

Today, the American solar industry workforce is bigger than that of oil and gas workforce combined, and nearly three times the size of the entire coal mining workforce. With solar equipment costs plummetting (nearly 70% since 2010) and concern rising over another year of record-breaking heat, citizens are looking for ways to use clean energy to power their homes and businesses while protecting the health of the people, land, and waters they hold dear.

Building a resilient community

As retirees, Bean and his wife spend half of the year in the small, unincorporated town of La Pointe on Madeline Island, which is part of the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior.

About eight years ago, Bean became a catalyst for clean energy in La Pointe. Building on the community’s interest in sustainability and a shared love for the natural environment, he encouraged the town board to create an energy committee—a committee he now chairs—to increase the island community’s energy resilience and sustainability.

“The ideal would be to make municipal operations resilient to any threat [such as a major storm], says Bean. “So we’re looking at how to get to a point where the island could operate whether there’s power from the major utility company or not.”

After a series of energy audits, the Town of La Pointe made some efficiency-based changes such as switching to LED light bulbs and ensuring municipal buildings were well insulated against the island’s harsh Wisconsin winters.

After that, the energy committee comprised of six La Pointe residents pursued both wind and solar as alternative forms of energy to power the town’s municipal buildings. But because of the island’s relatively small size—fourteen miles long and three miles wide—there were few feasible sites for a wind turbine. Other considerations, such as a special dock large enough for installing and maintaining the turbine and the challenge of running transmission lines from the site to the town, made wind energy a nonstarter for the community.

So, the La Pointe energy committee turned their focus to solar. They applied for and received a $75,000 grant from the Wisconsin State Energy Office (now the Office of Energy Innovation), and the town received an additional donation of $20,000 from the local library to install a solar array on the island and also lay the groundwork for a solar microgrid.

Like a solar array, a microgrid generates energy from the sun’s rays. But while solar arrays are reliant on traditional electric transmission grids to distribute energy to customers, microgrids have control software that can sense when, say, a tree knocks down a power line, and disconnect from the grid to rely on their own solar and other distributed energy resources to keep the lights on.

The energy committee hired Chippewa Valley Alternative Energy to do a planning study, and, upon completion of the study, contracted North Wind Renewable Energy to do the installation. Today, the 18.2-kilowatt (kW) solar array, built in the center of La Pointe just minutes from the ferry line, provides enough energy to power two of the town’s municipal buildings.

“We’ve taken the first step. We have a solar array that provides about 112% of the annual electricity needed for our medical clinic and library,” says Bean. “But to be able to operate without power from Xcel Energy [the local utility provider] we would need battery backup or another way to generate power when the sun isn’t shining, so we still have a ways to go.”

Next summer the Town of La Pointe board plans to add additional solar panels to power the town hall. If the energy committee is able to keep up the momentum and funding for more solar, they hope the town will add the school, emergency services building, winter transportation building, and the materials recovery center to the proposed solar microgrid. Very soon, every municipal building in the town could be powered by sunlight.

“Madeline Island is such an excellent demonstration site for people to learn, see, and realize the impact of these kinds of initiatives,” says Bean. “The town board is unanimous in its support for our committee and our work, and the fact that this is an environmentally sound thing to do is part of that support.”

Responding to consumer demand

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 13% the electricity in the U.S. in 2015 was generated from renewable energy sources, including hydroelectric, wind, biomass (both wood and waste), solar, and geothermal. Yet few of us can directly harness wind or hydroelectric power. So we leave it to utilities to provide consumer access to renewable energy.

Advances in clean energy technology are creating new opportunities to produce energy more cheaply and efficiently from carbon-based sources such as natural gas. But, while natural gas may be cheap now, its price fluctuates according to supply and market demands. The cost of solar energy, on the other hand, continues to drop. Looking at the two energy sources side-by-side, one can see why solar is becoming increasingly attractive to energy providers.

Even though the future of the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from American power plants 32% below 2005 levels by 2030, remains uncertain, the falling cost of renewable energy and rising consumer demand will continue to drive carbon reduction strategies. Community interest in living more sustainably, more in balance with the environment, is also pushing utility companies to offer more renewable energy options through initiatives such as community solar.

A community solar project—usually called a solar farm or solar garden—is a solar array that has multiple shareholders such as homeowners, farms, and businesses. Ownership of a solar farm, whose generated energy is shared by its members, can be community-based or led by a third-party. It’s important to note that community solar participants are not physically connected to the project, so they do not receive energy directly from the array (it’s fed into the utility grid).

In Western Wisconsin, Vernon Electric Cooperative is responding to the demands of its customers—known as member-owners in the co-op world—by building and operating the first community solar project in Wisconsin that gives people the chance to choose the source of their energy.

Joe McDonald, CEO and general manager of Vernon Electric Cooperative, has been in the co-op industry for close to thirty years. Cooperatives are organizations owned and run by members, each sharing in the profits and goods produced for their mutual benefit. The focus on members is what McDonald likes most about the co-op model.

“When I started at Vernon Electric Cooperative [in 2009], I had heard about community solar from my previous job and we had members that were interested in it. So we just kind of took the ball and went with it,” says McDonald.

In 2013 Vernon Electric Cooperative, with support from Dairyland Power Cooperative—a generation and transmission cooperative that supplies Vernon Electric with power—and  developer Clean Energy Collective LLC, broke ground on a community solar project near Westby.

“The reason we were able to build our community solar [farm] was because Dairyland Power built a 520 kW solar array on our property and then we tagged off of that and, using the same builder and contractors, were able to add [our arrays] much cheaper than we could have on our own—and substantially cheaper than an individual putting it on their own roof could,” says McDonald.

The co-op’s 305 kW solar farm, which went online in June 2014, today generates enough electricity to power thirty homes. “We sold the almost 1,000 panels [on the solar farm] in less than two weeks,” exclaims McDonald. “We’re one of the few models where we actually sell the panel. The norm has been that co-ops own the panel and simply sell the output, but our members like the idea that they can come and see and physically touch the panel. It’s part of the selling point,” McDonald says.

Another major selling point was the cost. While it can take 15 to 22 years to recoup the cost of a standard residential solar array, Vernon Electric was able to offer solar panels with a 12- to 13-year payback.

Two key factors leading to the high demand and success were the price point and flexibility that the project offered. Vernon Electric Cooperative was able to bring the cost down to less than $2 per watt by leveraging economies of scale (through Dairyland) to build the array, taking advantage of incentives for building the first community solar project in the state, and offering a $71 per-panel rebate through Vernon Electric’s Do Watt$ Right energy efficiency program.

For member-owners who don’t have the capacity to purchase solar panels, Vernon Electric Cooperative also offers an option to purchase renewable energy generated by Dairyland. This is a good fit for renters and others who might not want to make the long-term investment in solar panels.

As Vernon Electric Cooperative’s 10,500 members become increasingly interested in renewable energy sources, McDonald hopes to offer more opportunities for them to pick and choose where their energy comes from.

“We have a very [environment-oriented] group in our service area,” says McDonald, noting that, “people have relocated to our area just for that [reason].” While protecting the natural environment is a primary driver for member-owner participation in the solar farm, McDonald says that many appreciate the ability to protect against future energy rate increases and reduce the carbon footprint of their homes, farms, and businesses.

No matter what happens on the state and federal level in regard to carbon regulation and environmental policy, local communities such as the Town of La Pointe and Vernon County are leading the transition to renewable energy. And they show no sign of slowing down. These ground-up movements calling for increased energy options demonstrate how smart energy choices can protect Wisconsin communities—and the world—from climate change.

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