The Danes are At It Again

Dannebrog.jpgBack in April of last year, I blogged about the Danes and their efforts to achieve energy independence. The efforts of these people in this area have come to my attention once again.

In the July 7 & 14 New Yorker, there is an article by Elizabeth Kolbert titled “The Island in the Wind”. The article’s subtitle, “A Danish community’s victory over carbon emissions”, summarizes it effectively.

The island in the title is Samso, the “o” of which I can’t reproduce on my computer. It is the size of Nantucket, which is probably meaningless to most Minnesotans, but which is around 50 square miles. There are twenty-two villages on the island and many of the inhabitants have traditionally grown potatoes, wheat or strawberries.

What makes the island of interest to me, however, is their rapidly dropping use of fossil fuel and production of carbon dioxide. In about ten years, the island went from importing oil brought by tankers and electricity generated by burning coal to cutting their use of fossel fuel in half and exporting electricity produced from renewable sources.

What brought about the dramatic changes was surprising to me. Basically the island decided to enter a national contest for energy saving. Slowly but steadily, through small community gatherings that often included food and beer, more and more of the island’s residents joined the effort. Nobody was compelled to do anything; it was all voluntary. Different people had different motivations and took different steps but everybody seemed to join the effort to become the “renewable energy island”.

I enjoyed the article. If you’re interested in the topic, I would recommend it. More importantly, I note that Northfield has two windmills and I ask,

“How are we coming on the third?”

17 thoughts on “The Danes are At It Again”

  1. According to Bicycling magazine:
    “Only 9 percent of the oil the United States consumes comes from the Persian Gulf. Only half of this is used for transportation. If Americans cycled, rather than drove, just one day a week, we would completely eliminate our need for Middle East oil.

    in terms of air pollution, transportation accounts for 17 percent of U.S. greenhouse gases.

    Bicycling Science, by Frank Rowland Whitt and David Gordon Wilson, converting calories into gasoline, a bicycle gets 3,000 miles to the gallon.”

    from 1world2wheels.org
    “The U.S. could save 462 million gallons of gasoline a year by increasing cycling from 1% to 1.5% of all trips.”

    In Copenhagen 36% of residents commute by bike.

  2. From Bolton & Menk’s July 7th Draft City of Northfield Comprehensive Transportation Plan Update,

    ” Northfield is a bit different than most cities its size in Minnesota. While three-quarters of the population drive alone to work in other Minnesota Cities, only about half do in Northfield. In addition, more than one quarter of the work force (2,446 out of 8,820) in Northfield walk or bicycle to work, while less than one tenth do in other Minnesota Cities. Perhaps it is the influence of the two private colleges, the historic and vibrant downtown, or the appeal of the Cannon River. Whatever the reason, the community is extraordinary, right down to its transportation system.”

  3. Ross -As you know, Nantucket has the Cape Wind project. I thought other folks should know that both Mitt Romney and Sen. Kennedy opposed the project. Seems the offshore turbines spoiled the view from their summah cottages and posed a hazard to navigation for the leisure sailboat cruises.
    It is money that gets these projects up and running; not altruism.
    Also: excerpt: …. a new report finds that the United States is on track to breeze past Germany within two years as the world leader in installed capacity to spin the wind into electricity. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/04/080421-wind-power.html

  4. The Bolton and Menk copy from the Transportation Plan update derives from U.S. census data, which show that about 26 percent of people in Northfield walk to work. When the Northfield News reported that statistic, I was suprised. I have to believe that figure includes students who walk to their classes and jobs, since 5,000 of our 18,000 residents are students.

    Back to Ross’s main post: I read the article too. What stood out for me was this: the importance of leadership. One person on the island, a Mr. Hermansen, had a paid position to work on the energy issue, as this sentence from the article states, “When some federal money was found to fund a single staff position, he became the project’s first employee.”

    Not much happened on the project for years, but Hermansen toiled away, speaking at meeting after meeting until the conservative rural community got on board and began to change its ways. So what I took away from the article: both federal and local leadership are vital.

    People in Northfield such as Bruce Anderson, the members of the Energy Task Force, and members of RENew Northfield and other organizations have been showing leadership on the energy issue, and I believe Northfield will become like Samsø if they persist and if local leaders work with them.

    (Ross, on a Mac you can type “option o” and get the special character “ø.” Sorry, I don’t know the key combination for PC’s.)

  5. Let me amend my comment above: state leadership can also be vital, as California has shown for years, leading the way on clean air and energy efficiency standards.

  6. Bill –

    I will not argue with you that political leadership can be helpful. However, it was individual citizens in the Danish community who said “I can do this one thing that will contribute to our shared goal”.

    With two windmills and our performance on commuting, I think that we may already be on our way to leading Minnesota in reduction of the use of fossil fuel and production of carbon dioxide. Another windmill and implementation of some of the Non-Motorized Transportation Task Force’s recommendations, and we could be even closer.

    Can’t I hold on to the hope that if the people lead, our leaders will follow?

    – Ross

  7. Leadership or citizens? What is most important is that we have champions–someone or a group of someones that makes this their focus. I applaud the work of the Energy Task Force as well as the Non-motorized Transportation Task Force for the amazing work that they have been doing. For the first time I feel hopeful that Northfield is really poised to move in the direction of that Danish island. I know that we could position Northfield to be a state and even national clean energy leader! This is a very exciting prospect.

    And talking to Bruce there seems to be some funding sources–both private and public. Excel Energy might even take us on as a model community project if we are ready and willing to make some moves in this direction. The Energy Task Force recommended that the city look into hiring a full time staff person to look at energy issues. I think it is possible that the money saved in energy usage by the city would cover the cost of this position. Plus, it would give us the momentum to look into broader based solutions.

    We have so much creative brain power here already–perhaps we just need the will and the vision. Just think of the fabulous companies that we could attract to our new commercial/industrial GREEN campus if we proceed with a master plan with this mind set!
    Thanks Ross, this is the kind of conversation that will move us ahead!

  8. Great topic, Ross. Now that you’ve moved on from the Planning Commission (and THANKS, by the way, for your leadership and excellent community service in that capacity over the past five years!), perhaps we can recruit you to serve on a permanent Northfield Energy Commission!

    Creation of such a body, and a permanent Community Energy Coordinator staff position (self-funding via City energy savings) is one of a number of significant recommendations contained in the report submitted by the Northfield Energy Task Force to the City Council on June 16th. We were supposed to discuss this report in depth at the council work session yesterday, but agreed with Joel Walinski’s suggestion at around 9:15 that perhaps delaying to a later meeting might be more productive due to the toxic nature of the preceding 2+ hours of discussion on board candidates and the separation agreement…

    A few comments:

    1. I first proposed back in a March 2001 Northfield News opinion piece that Northfield could generate ALL of its electricity from renewable sources (wind, solar, biomass) within 10 years. From this grew RENew Northfield, and, indirectly, the Carleton wind project. St. Olaf later followed suit. As you no doubt recall, there was significant community support for a second turbine, owned by the school district, to be located on the same site as the Carleton turbine. For reasons too complex to go into in depth here, it didn’t happen–an opportunity at least temporarily lost. The City was also approached about partnering in 2001, but did not pursue the opportunity. (The school district DID, however, elect in April 2006 to partner in a Johnson Controls-led, 15-school-district, 31.5-megawatt wind project to be built in southwestern Minnesota. Anyone in the school district know the status of this project???)
    2. I believe more firmly than ever that ALL of Northfield’s electricity, as well as other energy (heating, industrial process energy, and transportation energy in the form of liquid biofuels produced from non-food sources and electricity) can and should be produced from renewables as quickly as is economically feasible. The above-referenced report to the city council suggests a target of 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from a 2005 base within 25 years. (State policy enacted in 2007 calls for Minnesota to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.) I firmly believe that this is a moral imperative from the point of view of
      • environmental responsibility (global warming and the degradation caused by fossil fuel exploration and exploitation)
      • social responsibility (the perversion of our foreign policy caused by our dependence on foreign oil), and
      • economic responsibility (our economy is at risk of complete disruption due to continuing skyrocketing fossil fuel costs and potential supply disruptions).
    3. I also believe that the transition to a post-fossil-fuel (and post-nuclear) economy represents the greatest OPPORTUNITY available to our society (and to Northfield as a community and local economy) in the early 21st century. We can make this a model community not only for Minnesota, but for the entire US, just as Samsø  has become a model community in Denmark. The tens of millions of energy dollars that currently leave the local economy annually could ALL recirculate right here, and we could create and support green infrastructure businesses galore, if we make this commitment.
    4. This can only happen if individuals, businesses, local institutions, AND the City of Northfield commit NOW to a common goal of becoming a national leader in developing a local renewable energy-based economy, buffered from the severe winds of change sure to blow in the coming years and decades ahead when energy cost and supply become ever-more-urgent issues.
    5. City policy changes are needed to facilitate the transition. Many are suggested in the Energy Task Force’s report. I strongly encourage candidates for city council and mayor to read this report, ponder the recommendations, and be prepared to articulate their support for, opposition to, or concerns about, these recommendations. I would like to think that the citizens of Northfield would support many, if not all, of the recommendations. (Then again, I could be wrong…)
    6. State and federal policy can be either hugely helpful, or as is too often the case, hugely obstructionist. Danish national policy made it possible for local Danes in Samsø to become wind turbine owners. US wind energy policy (largely a renewable electricity tax credit usable only by mega-corporations with mega tax liabilities, and completely UNUSABLE by folks with ordinary income and tax liability) makes it nearly impossible to develop locally-owned wind projects of any significant scale. There is tremendous local interest in wind investment in the Northfield area, but almost no way to develop a workable business model to enable such local investment. A local group of folks, convened as a result of one of the Energy Task Force’s public meetings, continues to work on cracking this particularly hard-shelled nut.
    7. Significant first steps have already been taken. Not only do the Carleton and St. Olaf wind turbines collectively produce about 4% of the electricity used locally on an annual basis, but the following are also positive signs:
      • The first two solar water heating systems in town (that I am aware of, anyway) were installed on local residential rooftops in 2007.
      • The ARTech photovoltaic installation is just about complete. This follows a 3-kW installation on my roof in 2006 and a previous 3-kW installation on another local roof several years ago (with solar shingles; this Xcel demo project ended last year and the shingles will be used by Carleton on a new building soon). I am working as a consultant with another local rural household that expects to install a 10-kW PV system later this summer to completely power their geothermal heated/cooled home.
      • Working as a contractor to Xcel Energy, I have performed 176 residential energy audits in Xcel’s south-of-the-Metro service territory since November 2006. Roughly half of these have been in the general Northfield area. At each of these audits, I have been able to help homeowners identify cost-effective energy efficiency/conservation opportunities. In some cases, the opportunities for savings are modest. In others, opportunities for electricty and/or heating fuel savings of 60% or more are possible. Insulation, air-sealing, tankless water heaters, Energy Star appliances, compact fluorescent light bulb and programmable thermostat installations, HVAC equipment upgrades (from high-efficiency furnaces and air conditioners to air source and ground source heat pumps), etc. are happening as a result. For those who want to go the Full Monty, it is possible to achieve carbon neutrality or zero net energy status. I have been able to nearly do so in my 1910-vintage home. Shameless self-promotion alert: Having an energy audit done is a GREAT way to get started, and costs only $35 for Xcel customers.
    8. How our community develops is a HUGE part of the energy sustainability/self-sufficiency equation. For example, how the industrial park is developed (if, indeed, it is ever developed), for example, will represent either a great leap forward or an unhelpful clinging to the ways of the past. I’m also very excited about another project I’m working on, a potential cohousing project that could be carbon neutral, mixed-use, and possibly integrate agricultural, recreational, and preservation land uses with a new kind of residential development in the community.

    I’ve probably gased on enough. In summary, YES to a third (and fourth, fifth, up to perhaps 50th) local wind turbine, and a whole lot more (including bike lanes/routes and roundabouts!) to boot!

  9. Word on the street is that Carleton is actively investigating a possible second turbine that would directly supply electricity to campus. Director of Facilities Steve Spehn or Director of Energy Management Rob Lamppa would know the Carleton scoop…anyone out there have publicly available information on this? Turbine availability (particularly for single-turbine projects such as this) is a major obstacle right now, with the manufacturing capacity of major turbine suppliers booked through 2010 or so.

    As far as the group growing out of the Energy Task Force process, a group styling itself the Wind Turbine Working Group investigated the possibility of additional large, utility-scale turbines going up in the neighborhood, either as stand-alone turbines or as a larger wind farm (a more viable approach in the current wind industry environment). Their report can be found as Appendix 10 on pp. 69-73 of the Energy Task Force report. Matt Rohn headed up the group; Ron Griffith headed a sub-group looking at larger wind farm possibilities.

  10. Fear not – the Danes are stepping forward to bring you another wind turbine! The Jacobsens are scheduled to have installed a Jacobs Wind Turbine at their new home – a bit northwest of Northfield… our hope is that we will be able to produce more than our electric house is consuming… Thanks to Bruce Anderson – we were steered in the direction of WERC of Brainerd – their passion for things GREEN motivated us to move forward.

    Being a Jacobsen – we would not want to break with past practices – we didn’t seek outside financial help… Bob wouldn’t have approved of any governmental assistance.

    We were pleased to find that the only legal hoops that we needed to master was to request a new driveway at a Township meeting… with that approval in hand -it has been smooth sailing forward.

    Come on up and visit the site when you’re in our area.

    *Please see the twinkle in this Dane’s eye as he makes these observations… they are all true 🙂

  11. Ross,
    The lumps on my head from battering against the public school system regarding a district-owned wind turbine (spring 2001-spring 2003, when the district backed out at the 11th hour on a partnership with Carleton for their own reasons; spring 2006 when RENew Northfield again approached them about the possibility of applying for Clean Renewable Energy Bond funding authority to pay for a local district-owned turbine, only to be aced out at the last minute by Johnson Controls’ multi-district, multi-turbine proposal for the project to be located somewhere in SW MN; again, anyone have info on where this stands two plus years down the road? School board members? School district administrators?) are just now beginning to heal. I currently plan to batter my head in the private sector, and possibly with a willing City of Northfield…

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