Digging Deeper into the Local Economy

DeepEconomy.jpgA good half dozen or so people have been encouraging me to read Bill McKibben’s book “Deep Economy” and Griff and Tracy have been urging me to write a post now and then. So I guess this is at least two birds with one stone.

In case you haven’t read the book, I’ll give you my summary in a sentence. McKibben argues that our drive for never-ending growth is colliding with the physical limitations of our world and recommends that we switch our goal from “more” to “better”.

He starts with a historic overview. The major accelerator in our economic growth, and, I’ll note, the expansion of wealth, the sharing of political power, the increase of education, and the improvement in health, resulted from the invention of the steam engine. The simplify a virtually all encompasing change in paradigms, by converting a natural resource of fossilized energy, in this case coal, into power, human muscles with shot at roids could be replaced by mechanical machines.

This scientific breakthrough resulted in great gains in efficiency. Fewer people could do more work. The push for greater efficiency in everything began.

McKibben initially focuses, even obsesses, on the impact of shifting from human muscles to fossil fuels in the economic sector affectionately known as “food”. Most of you have long heard of some of the downsides of our current food production system, such as tomatoes with the consistency of baseballs, various food-borne disease outbreaks, and the destruction of the rain forest. The author instead focuses on an issue that is increasingly noticeable to us, a fossil fuel based, or dependent, system requires a substantial amount of energy. He notes that it takes a half gallon of oil to produce a bushel of midwestern corn.

The author advocates for increasing the consumption of locally-grown food. McKibben cites a Japanese study that found that eating local food would be the equivalent of cutting household energy use by 20 percent. He suggests that by disengaging from the global model of massive corporate farms and nurturing locally-scaled food systems would have other benefits. McKibben cites the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture which notes that “smaller farms produce far more food per acre, whether you measure in tons, calories, or dollars”. Finally, he raises recent studies that have found that switching from petrochemical-based agriculture to sustainable agriculture “has led to an average 93 percent increase in per hectacre food production”.

McKibben illustrates successful models of this shift. They’re not all in exotic locations like Japan, Cuba,and England either. One of them is in Burlington, Vermont. The Intervale Community Farm, next to the city’s power plant, and former site of the town dump, produces 7 to 8 percent of the fresh food consumed in Burlington, a city with a population of about 40,000 people, on just 200 acres of land.

The author argues that the financial feasiblity of fossil fuel-based agriculture may have peaked and is now being maintained by false economies, pointing out that “about 70 percent of the value of American soybeans comes straight from the government”. He notes a New York Times article that looked at Denison, Iowa, a town that was once known for the variety of fruit that it produced, but followed an economic development strategy that was linked to government subsidies and now produces only feed crops for livestock.

But enough about agriculture. Let’s get to a topic of greater interest, at least to me, density.

The next target of McKibben’s criticism is sprawl. Quoting James Howard Kunstler on the 1990s, “The dirty secret of the American economy was that it was no longer about anything except the creation of suburban sprawl and the furnishing, accessorizing, and financing of it”. He goes on to offer statistics from the U. S. Census Bureau: “the average density of cities, suburbs, and towns in 1920 was about 10 persons per acres’ by 1990, it had dropped to 4 persons per acre…and the average density of the most recent housing developments in America is only two people per acre”.

He goes on to illustrate the individual costs of a sprawling lifestyle. Reduction of quality time between parents and children, husband and wife, coaches and young atheletes, and volunteers and their communities, are all too common examples. McKibben, coupling it with what he calles hyper-individualism, expands it to the deterioration of our civic institutions, pointing to the decline of public schools, increase in our prison population, and collapse of our highways and bridges.

McKibben extends his solutions for our food sector to the overall economy. He sees hope in a “shift to economics that are more local in scale”. He finds the building blocks for the recreation of our economy, and social relationships, in the farmers’ market: “sociologists studying shopping behavior reported recently that consumers have ten times as many conversations at famers’ markets as they do at supermarkets”. He suggests a return from society to community, quoting neuroscientist Peter Whybrow, that as we move away from local toward global, “the behavioral contingencies essential to promoting social stability in a market-regulated society – close personal relationships, tightly-knit communities, local capital investments, and so on – are quickly eroded”.

This last bit was quite interesting to me. I had read the book, and written the notes, earlier this past summer. When I reread Whybrow’s quote, it seemed that he had been writing about Wall Street.

McKibben concludes this thread with a slogan that could be an empirical goal, “one-tenth the energy; ten times the conversation”.

The next sector is the media, in this case, radio. The spotlight shines on WDEV, an independent in Barre, Vermont. It’s a great story, but with local radio personality and entrepreneur Jeff Johnson taking over KYMN, we can check that one off our list. The next topic that caught my interest was “complimentary currency”. There’s Berk-shares, issued by three banks in Western Massachusetts. It struck me as another way to potentially increase liquidity, at least in the local economy.

It’s not just progressive idealists generating creative ideas for decentralizing the economy (and the currency), there’s real money involved. Even in a small state like Vermont, if local consumers “substituted local production for only 10 percent of the food we import, it would result in $376 million in new economic output, including $69 million in personal earnings from 3,616 new jobs”.

Back when I was studying developing economies as an undergrad, I believe that such a strategy would have been called “import-substitution” and was considered radical, even threatening, by some global powers. Taking back control of some of our agriculture, some of our media, and some of our capital investment, is it a radical idea?

Or is it no more threatening that what Wayne Eddy has been saying for years, “Keep Your Money in Northfield”?


  1. Tracy Davis said:

    Ross – great post. I read the book a few months ago, and agree that it’s both insightful and thought-provoking. I’m going to hold back just a bit on the macro concepts and ask just one particular question of you and the NDDC…. how ’bout re-exploring the idea of “Northfield Bucks” or whatever it was?

    November 6, 2008
  2. Ross Currier said:

    You mean “Downtown Moolah”?

    November 6, 2008
  3. Anne Bretts said:

    The chamber has gift certificates, but they only come in large check-like documents in $5 denominations. They are cumbersome to buy, carry around and use. Having more user-friendly ‘currency’ would be great, and having reloadable gift cards would be better. Being able to buy them online would be another useful incentive. Right now you have to send a check and have them sent snail mail.
    Come on, let’s catch up with the rest of the world.

    November 6, 2008
  4. David Ludescher said:

    Ross: Sounds like a great idea. Local businesses could all get together to support each other and the community. They could keep those personal relationships and form a network to help each other. Can I suggest a name? How about the Chamber of Commerce?

    November 6, 2008
  5. Bruce W Morlan said:

    In the 70’s I was studying the models that the Club of Rome used in their “Limits to Growth” analyses, which are the mathematics of the Malthusian catastrophe. While the Club got a lot wrong (peak oil anyone), their underlying assumption (that growth cannot be unbounded in a finite system) is correct. Even then we suspected that the math might say “slow down” but the politicians would not be able to stand and say that without losing to the grow grow grow mentality.

    If you have not read Collapse I’d recommend it at well. Easter Island is a microcosm of what we face on a platetary basis. I’ve read that if the world wanted to live like the US, we would need 11 planets worth of resources. But that’s okay, we are being told we can help (not solve) the problem by living like Europeans (wrong, 4.5 planets). How about we all live like the people in the Dominican Republic (1 planet, today). How about like Haiti? Political realities up against the math, I’m betting on the math.

    On a local note, we may have an opportunity to actually think about this (we have talked about this at Politics and a Pint many times). We have some local infrastructure that may be well protected IF we ask how proposed development impacts those resources. But the global issue is much less amenable to rational processes. Fortunately, we are in a period of change, so the additional 3B people who are coming to dinner in the next 30 years or so will be looking to China (1.3B today) and India (1.2B) for their solutions.

    November 7, 2008
  6. Bruce W Morlan said:

    By the way, the Club’s peak oil prediction was for the 80’s, which was pretty much correct in the US. But peak oil for the planet is either just around the corner or has already occurred.

    November 7, 2008
  7. Tracy Davis said:

    Ross, when I read this book, the biggest takeaway for me were the overarching concepts: Developing and encouraging local food systems; integrating my economic life with that of my “neighbors” (really, all of Northfield) by shopping at local businesses whenever possible; thoughtfully approaching the design and planning of the built environment; and a sustainable use of resources.

    All rather large concepts, so I applaud your efforts to bring it down to a practical level in asking what this means for Northfield and how we might approach the ideas.

    For example, Just Food Co-0p has done a great service in encouraging local producers and making it easy for Northfielders to buy those products. They’ve encouraged us to “Think About Your Food”. The farmers’ market is another step in that direction, and I’d love to see that expanded.

    It’s been too long since I’ve read the book, so I don’t remember if it left a predominant thought burning in my brain afterwards. Rather it solidified a general commitment I had to really THINK about the impact of my daily choices. It does matter whether I buy groceries at Econofoods or Cub. It does matter whether I buy a book from Amazon or order it through Monkey See or River City Books. It does matter if I buy a teapot at Target or Present Perfect. Things like that.

    November 7, 2008
  8. Curt Benson said:

    Ross and Tracy, what does McKibben have to say about manufacturing? I think probably half my business is the antithesis to what he seems to be preaching. (I haven’t read the book, but I did ask Monkey See to get it for me.) I’m dependent on more people wanting better, faster, flashier gizmos– things packed with semiconductors. The stuff I make ends up helping semiconductor fabricators make chips faster and with fewer errors. Most of it ends up in Asia. What could I do to go along with McKibben’s ideas?

    November 7, 2008
  9. Bruce Anderson said:

    Ross, Thanks for this thoughtful, detailed post. I read Deep Economy shortly after it was published in May 2007, and I agree with McKibben’s focus on community as the appropriate scale for addressing the seemingly overwhelming problems facing humanity as it tries to find a more sustainable path forward. (I also agree with Bruce Morlan’s recommendation of Collapse by Jared Diamond as a cautionary tale concerning the fate of societies that do not find a sustainable path.)

    I appreciated your summary of McKibben’s discussion of the local economic benefits of relocalizing food production. On a related note, the final report of the Northfield Energy Task Force, on which I served, included the observation that Northfield energy consumers (residential, commercial, industrial, institutional) spent about $97 million on energy in 2006 (Figure 3, page 9). Think of the potential economic benefit of, increasingly, keeping those dollars circulating in the local economy, if we can develop a more local, decentralized, energy economy.

    Finally, for a very practical discussion of many of these considerations, I encourage LoGroNo readers to consider attending tonight’s gala at the Grand Event Center, Cohousing: Pushing the Sustainable Development Envelope. We’ll have (local!) food catered by Just Food, (local!) music by The Zillionaires, and a presentation by cohousing pioneers Katie McCamant and Chuck Durrett on what cohousing is all about. The cohousing project I am involved in here in Northfield, Buffalo Commons Cohousing, will try to embody the Deep Economy principles articulated by McKibben right here in River City. While our cohousing project is envisioned for a parcel of land immediately adjacent to Northfield city limits (walkable/bikeable to downtown and local employers), with room for food production and about 15 acres of protected wetland and woodland, cohousing also lends itself beautifully to high density infill and redevelopment in urban areas, and is very much in keeping with the principles embodied in Northfield’s new comprehensive plan.

    November 7, 2008
  10. Ross Currier said:

    We’re getting some great ideas here. Although it’s useful to think of fun promotional campaigns to stimulate local sales, remember that some people might prefer rechargeable cards and shopping over the internet, praise the potential power of enthusiastic membership organizations, and, someday, discuss the importance of nurturing a variety of local media voices, I had been thinking on a 10,000 feet level (as opposed to either the perspective from the coffeehouse or from outer space), viewing and considering the local economy within the regional and/or national economy.

    Perhaps I once again tried to generate a discussion of taxpayer input on municipal spending decisions but ended up causing people to trip over pavers.

    I used the phrase “import substitution” in an effort to extend McKibben’s “eat local to save gas” concept more clearly to “invest local to build the community’s economy”. However, although it was good for a shared laugh yesterday with Betsey Buckheit over undergraduate development economics jargon from the late seventies, maybe you had to be there for it to be meaningful. Perhaps a more effective expression of the idea would be “reducing leakage”, a phrase used by the University of Minnesota Extension Service in their Retail Trade Analysis.

    Certainly I am a supporter of shopping locally, conserving resources (including taxpayers’ money), and saving the planet. However, McKibben’s book made my mind wonder about investment (or, as Tracy suggests, planning) decisions that could be made that would strengthen the local economy (and cut energy use) by producing goods and services locally that were currently being produced and supplied outside our community’s economy.

    Perhaps the best example of my specific interest would be the Intervale Community Farm. Admittedly it’s in the food sector, however, it is a public-private partnership that led to the substitution of local products for “imported” products and resulted in increases in local businesses, jobs, and income.

    We often talk about attracting businesses to Northfield and convincing them to relocate here. As the recent example of Upper Lakes Food demonstrates, that’s a good thing. However, perhaps there are potential economic gains to be obtained by looking at the existing market, and its (our) consumption of goods and services, and to see if we might identify opportunities for producing them locally.

    It could be another way to stimulate local economic development and…

    Keep Your Money in Northfield.

    November 7, 2008
  11. Ross Currier said:

    Wow Bruce, $97 million, that certainly qualifies as real money.

    November 7, 2008
  12. Jerry Bilek said:

    Great discussion Ross. I’ve read Deep Economy twice. He tackles a lot of issues. the economic impact studies I’ve read support McKibben’s argument.

    shopping locally makes a difference.
    I’m selling Deep Economy for 20% off the cover price.

    I did a price comparison of some bestsellers and found that you can save money by shopping locally:

    Monkey bucks will be available soon. Chimp change it ain’t.

    I’m at a loss for ideas to get locals to shop my store.

    November 7, 2008
  13. Rob Hardy said:

    I blogged my own review of McKibben’s book over the summer (appended to my review is a comment by Brendon Etter, for those who collect such things). Rethinking my review, I would react with a little more skepticism to what McKibben says about Cuba; he’s more convincing when he uses Vermont as an example. Although I agree with the general point about small farmers relying on traditional, local knowledge rather than on petrochemical fertilizers.

    November 7, 2008
  14. Ross Currier said:

    Curt –

    Really great question. I suppose if I had the answer, I’d be making the big bucks, like them Bobos.

    I suppose there are two sides of that coin.

    The first side would be: “what can you do for your economy?” Perhaps you could look at your supply chain and see if there are some inputs for your products that could be sourced locally.

    The other side would be: “what can your economy do for you?” I wonder if some of the major local businesses purchase products with some similarities to those that you produce. Perhaps the colleges aren’t packing gizmos with semi-conductors, at least not in quantities to be worthwhile, but could any of the area manufacturers gain efficiencies by using your products?

    Hey, at the very least, maybe you could work with the Carleton College Robotics Club, providing expertise if not product, and help them win the annual Trinity College Firefighting Robot Contest. Recognition is often a good thing.

    Thanks much,


    November 7, 2008
  15. David Ludescher said:

    Tracy: As someone who buys rugs from India, could you put this blog into perspective?

    November 7, 2008
  16. Bright Spencer said:

    One thing the author has way off is the amount of people in the city on one acre. I lived in a luxury hotel with over 260 people in it, and that was only a six story building which could have easily fit into a football field. And there are thousands of buildings like that and much larger and taller in Chicago and all big cities.
    I do agree that a lot of food can be raised in a small area, but it is only because we have spent years perfecting the feeding of great masses that we now have the mind set to go back and do it right. OH, there may have been other paths, but we chose that one because we had the machine muscle and no worries about oil, and no concern for health matters in that area. Bascially, we did not have the knowledge required.
    As far as shopping locally, I do whenever there is something I see that I cannot get elsewhere, that has real quality or beauty to it and at a fair price. I don’t think I am the only one who thinks that way. Perhaps if
    the store owners would sell things on the level of Rain Guitars, or things that you have to see to buy, like shoes, suits for men, and maybe crematorium services for pets, and special homemade treats for pets, too.

    November 7, 2008
  17. Jerry Bilek said:

    “As far as shopping locally, I do whenever there is something I see that I cannot get elsewhere, that has real quality or beauty to it and at a fair price.”

    I think this is how many Northfielders approach shopping locally. It’s a novelty. Rather than the other way around, give the local business a shot first. If you can’t get it locally, then you try the competition. It seems to me it’s about marketing. I can offer prices competitive with the chains or internet retailers. I don’t spend $80,000,000/year telling you this, so I lose. I’ve been asked if I will match Target’s prices, but do they match mine, no.

    Maybe my tag line should be “Always Low Prices.” Where have I heard that before.

    November 8, 2008
  18. Bruce W. Morlan said:

    It does little good to shop locally for trinkets that are manufactured elsewhere. And we simply do not have a locally grown music instruments stores, art supply store or clothing store. And we probably won’t be able to regrow those capabilities or even want to. Free trade is one of the best protections against conflict, protectionism has failed many times in the past, often to disastrous effect. Although my tag line is that “specialization is for insects”, I have no intention of becoming a manufacturer of everything I need, and do not expect that protectionist policies can ever reset the trading clock back to pre-cheap oil shipping days. But if we are smart, maybe we’ll figure out how to use our high-tech solutions to build a better future, one community at a time. I have been talking about this for years, wish I had the money to do something about it, and I am glad people like Bruce Anderson are able to work toward this more sustainable world. Actually, this is tonight’s Politics and a Pint topic.

    November 9, 2008
  19. Bruce W. Morlan said:

    Jerry, unfortunately, the economic truth is that you have to be able to overcome the need for a fair price and be willing to pay a premium that represents a voluntary contribution to the local crafter who cannot easily directly compete with cheaper labor elsewhere. After all, a worker in an economic environment where $2/hr is a very good wage indeed is charging a fair price when they undercut a local living in an evironment where $2/hour is a starving wage.

    See you in a few, I need a copy of the book that started all this.

    November 9, 2008
  20. Paul Fried said:

    Jerry, I wonder how fuel prices (which will eventually go back up, and keep rising as the economy recovers) may influence the idea of local book printing / production.

    Right now, it may still be cheaper to print and assemble books in China, or far from MN., but this may not always be the case.

    Will book printing evolve in response to rising fuel prices as strawberry growing has begun to? Authors like Michael Pollan (“The Omnivore’s Dilemma”) observe that too much of our food presently comes from too far away (iceberg lettuce, strawberries, almonds and milk from California, orange juice from Brazil).

    But already, with recent hikes in gas prices, owners of California strawberry fields have been starting to buy land that is more geographically diversified (New England, for example) in order to reduce their transport costs.

    So part of the push for quality will come, and is already coming, in response to market factors like rising fuel prices; this involves not only making things better, but making the whole process of production and distribution more efficient (and more local).

    Any signs this has been happening in the printing of books? We’ve long had a few small presses around MN, but might local production grow when fuel prices go back up?

    November 9, 2008
  21. Griff Wigley said:

    We suddenly seem to be headed for a long recession and an age of scarcity.

    If consumerism declines dramatically and our Division St. retailers dwindle, what could take their place so that downtown remains vibrant?

    November 9, 2008
  22. David Henson said:

    Overseas production has a whole lot to do with finance as companies shipping products (technology) to China and India have need counter trade. Meaning sometimes even a US manufacturer can overcome freight and labor costs but still production is moved off shore because the finance terms are better. The government overhead in the US is also a huge adder.

    November 9, 2008
  23. Jerry Bilek said:


    I don’t think McKibben advocates returning all manufacturing to local artisans. In fact he does not even advocate eating all of your food from local sources. McKibben admits to loving bananas and nobody grows bananas in VT.

    The point I took from the book is think about everything you do and it’s economic impact. Can you keep the dollars local? More voting with the wallet is needed if we want out local economy to be vibrant.

    November 9, 2008
  24. Rob Hardy said:

    Griff: You spend too much time reading David Brooks. He seems to think that Starbucks and Pottery Barn are what make America interesting. Bizarre.

    November 9, 2008
  25. Jerry Bilek said:


    most books are still printed in the U.S. the exception are art books and some children’s books. MN is home to printers. Mankato, St. Paul and Brainerd all have large printing companies. Scott King publishes books by MN poets. He edits these books in Northfield. He prints these books in St. Paul or by hand on a letterpress in Redwing. two of his poets will read at my store on Saturday, Nov. 14.

    November 9, 2008
  26. Tracy Davis said:

    David L, a few comments ago you asked me to put this into context as someone who does my manufacturing elsewhere (India).

    My business happens to be in a field that developed somewhere in the Fertile Crescent or west central Asia and has been an established cottage industry there for at least two millennia. Hand-knotted carpets have never been produced in the U.S., and I’m not about to try to start now.

    I suppose you could suggest that if I really want to practice what I’m preaching, I should divest myself of the business I’m in and make pottery from local clay instead. However, I’m assuming you’re asking for a more practical application of the idea.

    In my case, I initially opened a retail store on Division Street to sell these products locally, pay rent to a Northfield building owner, eat my lunches in town, etc. etc. Since most of even my retail sales were not local, I didn’t have a compelling business reason to open a store here, but I believed it would add interest and vibrancy to downtown, and I needed an office, so I figured I might as well have a storefront one. I did that for about three and a half years, but during that time shifted the business from importing and retailing to production and wholesale, and our business needs shifted so I closed the retail store.

    In our current business incarnation, I still pay rent to a local building owner, purchase my phone and internet service from the St. Olaf telco, buy coffee and lunches in town, and use local people for admin, technical, and professional services wherever possible (too bad we don’t have a local attorney specializing in intellectual property law). All these are conscious and deliberate choices.

    I agree with Jerry B. that one of the biggest points of “Deep Economy” is the idea to think about your spending and support local. By that I envision concentric circles around Northfield, the region, the state, the upper midwest, etc. which I try to do whenever possible.

    I hope that answers your question.

    November 10, 2008
  27. Griff Wigley said:

    Rob, what other conservative pundit besides Brooks should I consider following on a regular basis?

    As for his comment about Starbucks, et al, he didn’t write that they’re what makes American interesting… he was making a point about those private sector examples that have “enlivened daily life”. In that sense, the private sector coffeehouses here in Northfield do the same, don’t you think? Starbucks is just the epitome of that phenomenon.

    Patrick, his Applebee’s mistake was just that. If he’d said ‘grabbing a burger’ at Applebees, then he would have made his point — one I’d disagree with re: Obama, however. Brooks considers himself a Bobo so it’s not surprising that he’s never set foot in Applebees.

    November 10, 2008
  28. Griff Wigley said:


    First National Bank of Northfield is sponsoring a town hall discussion about the current state of the economy and what it means to you and your neighbors on Tuesday, November 11, at 6:30 p.m. at The Grand Event Center in downtown Northfield.

    Details here.

    November 10, 2008
  29. Thought I might add that the folks at the bank want people to RSVP for the event. The Grand has 300 seats:

    “RSVP for this limited-seating event by calling Julie at 507-645-5656 or Sarah at 507-664-0820”

    November 10, 2008
  30. Rob Hardy said:

    Griff: Brooks actually isn’t a bad choice, along with George Will. But conservative intellectuals like Brooks and Will seem to be facing a bit of a dilemma, which is reflected in the Brooks column you link. Brooks is an intellectual, but the GOP has become (especially under the influence of Rove) profoundly anti-intellectual. There was something pathetic about watching all those highly-educated urban East Coast conservative pundits attacking Obama’s “elitism.” Obama, Brooks says, has lived most of his adult life within walking distance of a major university. What’s your point, Mr. Starbucks-Loving New York Times columnist?

    November 10, 2008
  31. Anthony Pierre said:

    Pat Buchanan is pretty fun to listen to.

    November 10, 2008
  32. Patrick Enders said:

    My basic problem with Brooks is summed up by the Applebee’s goof:

    David Brooks is an out-of-touch upper-crust conservative intellectual who likes to caricature liberals as out-of-touch upper-crust intellectuals.

    In short, I’m not a fan of stereotypes, and David Brooks is a purveyor of stereotypes. See ‘bobo.’

    Personally, I find it more fun to follow the verbal antics of Bill Kristol. And yes, if I want a fairly consistent, honest conservative opinion, I probably go with George Will. Or better yet, Bruce W. Morlan.

    For the gay, Catholic, Obama-supporting ex-Brit conservative view, I’ve been reading a bit of Andrew Sullivan’s blog ( http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/ ) while I wait for an honest conservative intellectual movement to be reborn.

    November 10, 2008
  33. Peter Millin said:

    I am curious how some of you would define ant- intellectualism?
    This label is being frequently applied to Republicans and I have a hard time understanding it’s meaning.

    Mr. Brooks is not a conservative he is a neocon and now mad because his political views will no longer be respected in the GOP.
    He is part of the problem, which his article clearly documents.
    To narrow down the “interesting” things about the USA to Starbucks is not only wrong, but has an elitist ring to it.
    A lot of Europeans look at Americans as culture less, McDonalds eating, fat and ignorant. Mr. Brooks just replaced McDonalds with Starbucks.

    How do I know? I used to share that view before I moved here.

    America has been proclaimed dead many times since the idea started. To hear it from people on the inside is not only troubling but dangerous.

    IMHO our best days are still to come.

    November 10, 2008
  34. David Henson said:

    Yes Peter, isn’t it very intellectual to talk up ideas of buying local to improve local economy when the 3 major employers (St Olaf, Carleton and MOM) underpin the Northfield economy through broad trade. Spending a lot of time figuring out what to sell each other is a sure way to get no where fast. I would think spending the time figuring out what can we make in Northfield and sell to everyone else in the world would make more sense.

    November 10, 2008
  35. Jerry Bilek said:

    this discussion is turning into a debate about a book, many people have not read. It’s not an all or nothing argument. Somebody finds one paragraph they don’t like and they dismiss McKibben’s book as pointless. Don’t bother reading it, the cover is ugly.

    the book is about economics. McKibben makes the point for people to think about how and where you spend your money and the impact it has.

    November 10, 2008
  36. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: I don’t understand how there can be a liberal intellectual or a conservative intellectual. Isn’t there just intellectual? For example, I have no doubt that Mr. McKibbon is very smart; but, his idea/book seems to be politically useless.

    I would make the same argument against his book that I made against the Comprehensive Plan. If we design a Comp Plan that bobos love, we will have a plan that bobos love. What about the blue collar workers, the Mexicans, the manufacturers, the people who like to drive cars, the people who are struggling to make a living, and need the government assistance the most? What about those who like Target, Kmart, Applebee’s, and other chains? What plan is there for them?

    From Obama’s acceptance speech, I have great hope that he will abandon the idea of liberal/conservative in favor of honest and courageous. We will soon be entering an era, if we have not already done so, where spending $0.5 million dollars to construct a glorified sidewalk will be looked upon as insane.

    November 10, 2008
  37. Jerry Bilek said:

    Did you read his book before you declared it politically useless? I would think his ideas overlap with the what the Northfield Chamber of Commerce does. doesn’t the Chamber promote the idea of people spending their money in Northfield?

    If all of the citizens in Northfield were to spend their money on goods and services in Burnsville, business in Northfield would collapse? Our tax base would shift to home property taxes. We would have problems.

    I found this on the Chamber website:
    “The Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce is the lead business organization that promotes the Northfield area and the local business community.”

    McKibben’s book is more about economics and less about politics.

    November 10, 2008
  38. Patrick Enders said:

    liberal + intellectual = liberal intellectual
    conservative + intellectual = conservative intellectual

    November 10, 2008
  39. David Ludescher said:

    Jerry: Just from reading Ross’s post it seems as if McKibben is promoting an individual approach. How this kind of thinking becomes a political reality is unclear (useless).

    I (and the Chamber) agree that people should shop locally. In fact, the Chamber’s goal is just that. But, the Chamber takes the approach that people will act in their own self-interest, not in the global interest. Go to Monkey See, Monkey Read because Jerry can help you, not because it is the “right” thing to do.

    November 10, 2008
  40. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: Intellectual + liberal = liberal; intellectual + conservative = conservative. Liberal and conservative are alliances of power not systems of thought.

    November 10, 2008
  41. Rob Hardy said:

    Having actually read the book, I would have to say that what McKibben actually promotes is exactly the opposite of an individual (or individualistic) approach. What he values most highly is community. He says (and you must read his entire argument for this to make sense:

    For Wal-Mart to prosper, we must think of ourselves as individuals—must think that being individuals is the better deal. But the point I want to make from here on is just the opposite: think of yourself as a member of a community, and you’ll get a better deal. You’ll build a world with some hope of ecological stability, and where the chances increase that you’ll be happy. You may not have quite as many small appliances, because they may cost a few dollars more, but you’ll be happier.

    If you haven’t read the book, you should. In fact, you should buy a copy from Jerry. It may not be possible to agree with everything McKibben says, but I think there is much to be said for his argument that ultimately there may be more happiness to be gained from building community than there is from building personal wealth.

    November 10, 2008
  42. Patrick Enders said:

    You seem to be making up some arbitrary rules there.

    A liberal intellectual is different from a liberal idiot, just as a conservative intellectual is different from a conservative idiot. (Same adjective, different noun.) Therefore, while the former and the latter pairs can be lumped together in the political alliances you describe, they are definitely distinct from each other.

    I assume you have some reason for wanting to to claim that liberal intellectuals and conservative intellectuals don’t exist. Care to share it with us?

    November 10, 2008
  43. Rob Hardy said:

    Re: Conservative intellectuals, I recommend this article from the Wall Street Journal.

    November 10, 2008
  44. Patrick Enders said:

    Nice article.

    November 10, 2008
  45. john george said:

    Rob- That’s an interesting article. It makes me wonder about a direction of thought in this country that the common person really doesn’t know how he should direct his life and that he needs to be under the tutilege of an “expert.” I may be interpreting that wrongly, but it brings that question to mind. This is a trend I have perceived since my college days. When we have an economic melt-down as we are experiencing, I think there is a tendency to question the “expertise” of the experts, such as Alan Greenspan. To a point, this is probably good, but society has a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Another example is the “new math” theory that was integrated into education a few years ago by the supposed math experts. Young people were taught about integers, etc., but were not required to know that 2+ 2=4, and the square root of 49 is 7. I have personally experienced dealing with these individuals in a check out line when they cannot figure change in their head. If it does not show up on their computer screen, they are lost. I haven’t heard much about this math system recently. I could go on adnauseum with examples, but my main point is that experts in particular fields have not necessarily produced useful results. I percieve this as more of a relationship/communication problem than a “we’re right, you’re wrong” scenario. There must be some means of interaction between those with higher education and those without. My concern about these types of articles is that they promote more separation between the groups than cooperation. I think both groups of people have valuable insights to contribute to life, and eliminating either one leaves us incomplete.

    November 10, 2008
  46. Jerry Bilek said:


    Rob’s point in #46 is accurate. In fact, it is your best interest to buy the book from me because it is better for our local economy and better for you. Better for our local economy because the profits stay in Northfield and I have the potential to expand and hire more employees. Better for you because I have a better price than Target or amazon.

    November 10, 2008
  47. Paul Fried said:

    Ross, you wrote,
    ”…quoting neuroscientist Peter Whybrow, that as we move away from local toward global, “the behavioral contingencies essential to promoting social stability in a market-regulated society – close personal relationships, tightly-knit communities, local capital investments, and so on – are quickly eroded”.’

    There was a book published in the late 1970’s (and recently reissued) by Lewis Hyde:
    “The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property.” Hyde is also the author (more recently) of “Trickster Makes This World.” By “erotic life of property,” Hyde doesn’t mean anything like the sexiness of land and goods; rather, he means the way gifts can help create bonds of community.

    In “The Gift,” Hyde speaks of how some small-scale economies (on an island in the Pacific, etc.) are gift economies: There is no money used, and much of the life of the community and culture is built around networks of gift-giving at key life events: birth, death, coming of age, weddings. Instead of simply giving a gift to the bride and groom at a wedding, the occasion often requires intricate networks of gift exchange that not only bind together new ties in the families and community, but also, in the process, help keep people fed and warm.

    Hyde draws upon the work of others before him who studied gift economies. He notes that when a culture gets too big, it can’t maintain the intricate webs of gift-giving–there are too many strangers to bind together in the community. Hence a market economy emerges, so you can take your money to the store and give it to the clerk without feeling you have some debt of gratitude toward the clerk (as you would if you were the recipient of a gift in a gift-culture).

    Hyde’s main focus is how art exists in both types of cultures: In a gift economy, art keeps moving via the gifts that bind the community together. People would not think of hoarding a painting or sculpture simply because Aunt Millie or Grandpapa gave it to us; like stories in an oral culture that have to be told and kept moving to remain alive, gifts and art keep moving in a gift culture. Today’s seashell necklace might become tomorrow’s seashell earings, scattered among many. Not so in a commerce or market culture, where people are often encouraged to cling to their gifts, and where great art is kept safe, locked in a museum.

    David L:
    You say “it seems as if McKibben is promoting an individual approach. How this kind of thinking becomes a political reality is unclear (useless).”

    I never thought your approach would be so similar to the cries of the labor movement: “ORGANIZE!”

    But when consumers are told to help save the local economy by helping the profits stay local (among Chamber members), we have no guarantees from Chamber businesses that they, too, are spending the profits locally….

    I’d bet that in liberal Northfield, many businesses who are Chamber members benefit greatly from the individual approach of liberal intellectual consumers who sometimes vote with their feet by buying local. I’d suggest you should not knock the individual approach. You might be biting the hand that feeds you.

    November 10, 2008
  48. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: A true intellectual only has an affliation with the truth, not with liberals or conservatives. If an intellectual’s opinion has the appearances of liberal or conservative, it is just happenstance.

    Rob: I don’t disagree with McKibbon’s premise. But, you can’t structure a political system around his premise. When Target was looking to come to Northfield, many said, “We don’t need a Target in Northfield”, “We would be better off with Target” etc. What folks really meant was, “I don’t want it, and I don’t want you to want it either”.

    Further, even if McKibbon is right, selling the idea of shopping locally will only work if the individual is convinced of its merits for himself. There is no practical way to legislate it for the community. I don’t need a book to convince me of the merits of shopping locally or building community. Then again, Chamber members (and all business owners) have a vested interest in local businesses.

    November 10, 2008
  49. Patrick Enders said:

    That’s an odd semantic point to devote so much time to.

    Assume, for example, that George Will is an intellectual. Is it really necessary to consistently describe him as “an intellectual whose opinion has the appearance of being conservative, but only due to happenstance”?

    Would it be okay to say “conservative and intellectual”?

    Wouldn’t it be far easier, as a shorthand to use in situations where it really wasn’t the core point of the discussion at hand, to simply describe him as a “conservative intellectual”?

    November 11, 2008
  50. Jerry Bilek said:

    I still don’t understand what this intellectual argument is even doing here. It sounds more like an argument between liberals and conservatives than a discussion of this book.

    I don’t think McKibben is making a political argument, but rather an economic one. I don’t remember him arguing for legislating the Targets of the world. He does not advocate legislating shopping locally, but offers an argument that it is a better economic model. If you look at the economic impact studies that I linked, it is better for our local economy and tax base if locally owned and operated businesses succeed. It’s pretty easy to understand. Shop at Walmart and the profits return to Arkansas and the shareholders, shop locally and the money remains in Northfield to recirculate.

    I agree the individuals need to be convinced of the merits of local shopping for it to work. I’m not going to sit by and wait for it to happen on it’s own. I do everything I can to further the cause. Bottom line is I compete. I don’t expect people to shop at my store out of sympathy. I want them to shop there because it is a better choice in many ways. Better for their pocket book, better for our local economy.

    To illustrate a point, I meet a lot of people looking for donations for their cause. I give them a donation whenever possible. Once I had some people asking for a donation. they commented that they had never been in my store. I asked them where they bought their books. They said Target. Did they asked Target for a donation? They said no, Target would never give them a donation. I then asked how they expected me to be able to give out donations if my potential customers shopped at Target. I pointed out I had many of the same books at equal or better prices. I could save them money. I would buy the books back. More money. They took the donation and said they would be back to shop. As far as I know they have never set foot in my store again.

    November 11, 2008
  51. Ross Currier said:

    Great comments Jerry. Both the Walmart and Target examples illustrate the point that McKibben was trying to make: keeping your money in Northfield strengthens our community.

    Although I am a passionate advocate for shopping at local retailers, especially in this slow economy and during the upcoming holiday season, I was really hoping to generate other ideas for keeping our money in Northfield. There is certainly considerable power to the aggregated decisions of individuals, however, I was thinking about community-wide decisions.

    Bruce Anderson’s comment on the $97 million spent by Northfielders on energy in 2006 seemed worth a follow-up. Perhaps someone from the Energy Task Force could let us know if the group made any specific recommendations for keeping some of those millions in Northfield.

    Another suggestion made to me a number of times over the years is the City using more local architects and engineers for their consultant reports. Perhaps another benefit of making this switch would be resulting recommendations that provide greater stewardship of our scarce resources.

    An idea that was raised during the furor over the lost municipal millions was to spread the City’s investment dollars around local institutions. Perhaps the fraction of a percentage point that we were supposed to earn by going with Rate Search would have created some local jobs.

    So maybe we could take a break from Liberals and Conservatives, and the Chamber of Commerce and Erotic Poetry, and refocus the comments on possible decisions that we could make as a community that would keep our money in Northfield.

    November 11, 2008
  52. Curt Benson said:

    I’d like to see a meeting of local manufacturers–where businesses that make manufactured goods (you know, stuff that exists in three dimensions in the real world) could demonstrate their capabilities to each other. Businesses that purchase custom manufactured items would be invited, as well as anyone else interested.

    Perhaps the EDA or Chamber of Commerce might see a meeting like this as fitting in with their missions. (David L., if the Chamber does this meeting, I promise I’ll join.)

    Also Ross, in an earlier comment, you mentioned making an effort to source supplies locally and to sell to local customers. Actually two of my top four customers are local. But most of the raw materials I purchase (plastics and metals) are not available locally.

    November 11, 2008
  53. Rob Hardy said:

    David L.: You wrote:

    I don’t disagree with McKibben’s premise. But, you can’t structure a political system around his premise.

    Perhaps the political system is, to a large extent, beside the point. During the last eight years, while many have complained about the Bush Administration’s political inaction on issues like global warming, Northfield has gained two wind turbines and a co-op that offers local and fair-trade foods; the colleges have been constructing LEED-certified buildings and have begun offering local foods in their dining halls; hybrid cars have begun to proliferate on our streets (along with some biodiesel cars); ARTech has installed solar panels; and countless individuals have begun to explore ways of living sustainably and locally. McKibben’s ideas may not contain a recipe for building a political system, but they may suggest some of the ingredients for sustaining a community.

    November 11, 2008
  54. David Henson said:

    If I buy a book at Monkey Read (sorry Jerry but you are in it now) for $10.00 and Jerry purchases that book from a supplier for $6.00 then six is leaving town and $4.00 is staying here. Then Jerry runs to the coop and spends the $4.00 profit on organic chips and water where $3.00 leaves town and one stays here … I don’t think that compounding effect would even be close to the MOM effect. If Northfield really wants to keep dollars in Northfield then either defining natural resources that can be harnessed (not wind) or promoting businesses with a big value added component are the best means.

    BTW: I buy all my books from Jerry because the service is exceptional – supporting local retail is important – but the local retailers would benefit more from more MOMs than local sentimentality.

    November 11, 2008
  55. Peter Millin said:


    Go figure, we all made the described changes by you, without government help!!!!!

    WOW what a concept.
    This goes to the very heart of my stance on this. If there is a market for green technology and if it makes financial sense, the free market will find a way to do it.
    ..and we did…..

    November 11, 2008
  56. Peter Millin said:

    Target provides important entry level jobs to some of our children. Who then take the money and spend it locally.
    In my mind Target qualifies as being part of a local economy.

    I wish I could afford buying “Red Wing” shoes made in Minnesota for my three kids. In reality though I have to buy cheap shoes made in China….sorry.

    November 11, 2008
  57. Bruce Anderson said:


    You wrote:


    Go figure, we all made the described changes by you, without government help!!!!!

    WOW what a concept.
    This goes to the very heart of my stance on this. If there is a market for green technology and if it makes financial sense, the free market will find a way to do it.
    ..and we did…..

    While I completely agree with Rob’s analysis of the positive local steps that have been taken locally in the past eight years in spite of the Bush Administration’s inaction/obstructionism/denial/etc. on issues like global warming, I disagree that “we made all the described changes…without government help.” WRONG. I have been right in the thick of trying to make most of these things happen, and there actually has been government “help” encouraging many of these things. The Carleton and St. Olaf wind turbines were possible only because of state incentives for community-based wind projects (created via bipartisan governmental action); there has been a federal tax credit for hybrid vehicles and a federal tax credit for biodiesel production; the state of Minnesota offers a solar rebate that ARTech took advantage of, etc., etc.

    The “free” market is not free. Clean energy sources such as wind and solar compete with mature, polluting fossil fuel and nuclear industries that have received massive federal subsidies for many decades, and continue to receive them to this very day. I want to puke every time I hear someone say we should just let the free market work. Sure, markets are extremely important, but let’s not pretend they’re free, or there would be a level playing field if incentives/subsidies for renewable technologies were denied, or any similar nonsense. POLICY MATTERS, whether it’s at the federal, state or local level. We’d have way more than two wind turbines in Northfield, and millions more dollars circulating in the local economy annually, if there were a rational federal energy policy that encouraged local investment in 21st century clean energy infrastructure. That we have two turbines is a testament to the vision and tenacity of folks at Carleton and St. Olaf who made them happen IN SPITE OF federal policies making it virtually impossible to develop locally owned utility-scale wind projects, not to the wonders of the free market. Markets work great if you get the prices right. Unfortunately, the prices we pay for all sorts of socially and environmentally destructive activities/products/services do not include many of the true (external) costs…thus the need for government involvement.

    November 11, 2008
  58. kiffi summa said:

    Bruce said: “POLICY MATTERS”. Bruce is correct, and in order to further develop good … no exceptional… policy for NF’s further development, I will expect this new city council to work hard at doing just that.
    It’s not nearly good enough to say “chicks rule”, I’m not looking for either chicks or roosters to rule; I’m looking for councilors who are not afraid to wade right in to the policy changing discussions.

    I have not, in the thirteen years I’ve lived here, heard a better presentation than that of the Energy Task Force which they recently presented to the council. I am looking for the new council, no matter what part of the barnyard they hang out in, to bring some big golden eggs of discussion to the community.

    The time is PAST… to be making new decisions, based on innovation and DEEP discussion.

    This new council must PROVE itself to be different; especially after all the talk of a new day a’comin’. They said they could be better at working together; I want to see those new councilors put that promise to work, make it a reality.

    Good luck ‘chicks’; you’ve still got three of those entrenched ‘roosters’ to work with, and it will only take one of you to go to that side of the ‘barnyard’ for the old voting bloc to start re-establishing itself.

    The best beginning this new council could make is to bring back the Energy Task Force, give it some solid funding to co-ordinate all the appropriate ideas from the citizen Boards/Commissions … and start defining a new strategy to make this town thrive, in what are difficult times.

    We need strong new thinking, ideas, and policies; just saying we have a lot of good new plans(Comp., Trans., etc) won’t cut it … You must use those plans as just the basis of your implementation of them.

    November 11, 2008
  59. Peter Millin said:

    I am all in favor to give tax breaks to companies that compete in a global market. Especially since other countries heavily subsidize some of their industry.

    There is a difference between subsidizing something and people actually using it.
    I feel we distort viable alternatives with non viable alternatives.
    Too many interest groups have Washingtons ear, do we really want interest groups to determine our energy future?
    Most politicians haven’t got the slightest clue on which source or combination of source has a future.

    i.e. Once we start putting pencil and paper to solar and wind we find out that their applications are limited too.

    We can’t completely dismiss free markets, but we shouldn’t rely on our government for all the answers either.

    On another note:
    I just read an article on a company called Hyperion Inc. they have developed a “backyard reactor” that would power 20000 homes.

    here is the link:

    November 11, 2008
  60. David Ludescher said:

    Bruce: What policies on the local level might be effective?

    November 11, 2008
  61. Bruce Anderson said:


    I’ll comment on some energy-related policy suggestions that I feel make sense at the local level. While federal and state policy will be critically important drivers of significant energy system transformation, there ARE a lot of local policies that would make sense. I was a member of the Northfield Energy Task Force created by the City Council in May 2007. The Task Force was in existence for one year, and submitted a report (available on the City website: Energy Task Force Final Report) to the City Council in fulfillment of its charge, which follows:

     1. To assess opportunities to develop local energy efficiency and clean energy projects that will

    a. protect the community from future energy price and supply instability,
    b. enhance local economic development, and
    c. provide local, regional and global environmental benefits.

    2. To assess the efficacy of creating a municipal electric utility or special energy district in achieving the above.
    3. To recommend citywide target greenhouse gas emissions reductions to fulfill the next step in the City’s commitment to the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign (CCPC).
    4. To develop an action plan to meet the CCPC targets identified in step three above and report to City Council by the end of May, 2008.

    . The report includes a number of policy suggestions. I’ve cut and pasted the following from pages 23-25 of the report:

    ?Charge 4 from the City Council to the NETF      
    To develop an action plan to meet the CCPC (Cities for Climate Protection Campaign) targets identified in Charge 3 and      
    report to City Council by the end of May 2008.      
    Climate Action Plan      

    •  Use local government policy tools to facilitate achievement of CCPC targets listed in Charge 3.     
    • Recommend a Climate Action Plan of 10 items.      

    1. Commit the City of Northfield to act as a role model by exceeding the GHG targets in internal City operations.      
    2. Create a permanent Northfield Energy Commission (NEC) to advise the City Council on energy issues that might affect the community and opportunities to proactively address them in an environmentally and economically beneficial way, and provide the NEC with staffing and a budget.      
    3. Create a City Energy Coordinator position to staff the NEC and oversee city-wide energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.      
    4. Charge the NEC, as one of its first primary tasks, to research and recommend alternatives available to fund community Climate Action Plan energy efficiency and renewable energy activities and programs, including but not limited to      

    o Clean energy surcharge on natural gas and the carbon-emitting portion of Xcel electricity (modeled on the Boulder Climate Action Plan tax10),
    o Clean energy bonds (modeled on the Berkeley Sustainable Energy Finance District11), and
    o Franchise fee on Xcel Energy bills.

    5. Begin planning immediately to apply for US DOE Energy Sustainability and Efficiency Grants and Loans (FYs 2009-2013; Section 471 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007: see Attachment A) for specific municipal energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. This funding should be available by July 2008, and could be used to assist in funding any and all municipal facility projects in the next five years, and could lead to major operations and maintenance cost savings over time. See additional funding resources in Appendix 5. Eligible projects would include:

    o District energy,
    o Combined heat and power,
    o Renewable energy (including solar and wind),
    o Thermal energy source, and
    o Other highly efficient technologies for transportation, electricity generation, heating, cooling, lighting, or other energy services in fixed installations.

    6. Partner with Xcel Energy in aggressively promoting its existing energy efficiency programs (especially for residential and small commercial customers.)
    7. Work with Xcel Energy to position Northfield to serve as a pilot Smart Grid community.
    8. Establish aggressive building energy performance standards for all new residential and commercial buildings

    o e.g. Adopt Energy Star12 standard or the equivalent, or, more aggressively
    o Require that all new construction be carbon-neutral, or purchase local carbon offsets to achieve carbon neutrality (i.e. through purchasing a share in a local renewable energy project).

    9. Require that an Xcel energy audit be performed on all existing homes prior to their sale, and that the housing unit be certified as meeting energy performance standards prior to sale.      
    10. Require that a “Truth in Energy” report be submitted to buyers of both new and existing housing units, reporting total gross energy use (heating fuel and electricity), either actual for the previous 12 months or projected based on an evaluation by a certified independent Home Energy Rater, and heating energy use on a Btu/square foot-degree day basis.     


    10  Boulder Climate Action Plan tax      
    (http://www.bouldercolorado.gov/files/Environmental%20Affairs/climate%20and%20energy/cap_tax_faq_26mar07_final.pdf): “City of Boulder voters approved Initiative 202, the      
    Climate Action Plan tax, in November 2006. The tax will take effect on April 1, 2007 and expire on March 31, 2013. The tax will fund the city of Boulder’s Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in alignment with the Kyoto Protocol. The tax will be levied on electricity usage (per kilowatt hour) for city of Boulder residents and businesses.”      
    11  Berkeley Sustainable Energy Finance District
    (http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/mayor/GHG/SEFD-summary.htm).  “The citywide voluntary Sustainable Energy Financing District would allow property owners (residential and commercial) to install solar systems and make energy efficiency improvements to their buildings and pay for the cost as a 20-year assessment on their property tax bills. No property owner would pay an assessment unless they had work done on their property as part of the program. Those who do have work done on their property would pay only for the cost of their project and fees to administer the program. The City would secure the upfront funding throughthe placement of a taxable bond.  The financing mechanism is loosely based on existing ‘underground utility districts’ where the City serves as the financing agent for a neighborhood when they move utility poles and wires underground. In this case, individual property owners would contract directly with qualified private solar installers and contractors for energy efficiency and solar projects on their building. The City provides the funding for the project from a bond or loan fund that it repays through assessments on participating property owners’ tax bills for 20 years. The Financing District solves many of the financial hurdles facing property owners. First, there would be little upfront cost to the property owner. Second, the upfront costs are repaid through a voluntary tax on the property; therefore funding approval is not determined
    directly by property owner’s credit or the equity of in the property. Third, the total cost of the solar system and energy improvements is comparable to financing through a traditional equity line or mortgage refinancing because the well-secured bond will provide lower interest rates than is commercially available. Fourth, the tax assessment is transferable between owners. Therefore, if you sell your property prior to the end of the 20-year repayment period, the next owner takes over the assessment as part of their property tax bill. Property owners and their contractors would be required to agree to certain terms and conditions mandating energy efficiency steps, appropriate warranties, and other performance measures to take advantage of the financing.” 
    12   http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=new_homes.nh_features: “To earn the ENERGY STAR, a home must meet guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental
    Protection Agency. These homes are at least 15% more energy efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC), and include additional energy-saving features that
    typically makes them 20–30% more efficient than standard homes.”

    November 11, 2008
  62. Tracy Davis said:

    This might be a good time to mention the workshop going TOMORROW (Wed.) – a free Home Energy Efficiency Workshop.

    Wednesday, November 12
    7pm- 8:30 p.m.
    Northfield Community Resource Center, 1651 Jefferson Parkway,
    Room SS105

    Come hear from certified energy efficiency experts from the Neighborhood Energy Connection on practical tips for improving household energy
    efficiency. Topics covered include insulation, heating, water heaters, windows, lighting, and appliances. The workshop is free, and includes no product promotions.

    Whether you are already an energy conservation guru, or giving thought to reducing your home energy costs for the first time, you will find this workshop full of helpful information and tips.

    This workshop is part of the City of Northfield’s commitment to reducing Northfield’s CO2 emissions as one of the International Cities in the Cities
    for Climate Protection Campaign (CCPC), and is sponsored by the Environmental Quality Commission in cooperation with RENew Northfield.

    For more information call Susannah Shmurak, of the Northfield Environmental Quality Commission: 663-8826.

    November 11, 2008
  63. Tracy Davis said:

    The work of the energy task force has been very impressive, and I’d encourage everyone to read the report. In fact it should probably be have its own separate discussion thread. The Minnesota Sustainable Communities Network on the State of MN Website has a nice summary here.

    November 11, 2008
  64. Ross Currier said:

    Tracy –

    …or the Town Meeting, sponsored by 1st National Bank, at the Grand, TONIGHT, at 6:30 p.m., regarding the economy…

    – Ross

    November 11, 2008
  65. Paul Fried said:

    Thanks for the good information, Bruce — and the earlier editorial comments on “the free market isn’t free.” Combatting that myth will take a long time….

    November 11, 2008
  66. Pat Allen said:

    I served on the Northfield Energy Task Force and welcome the discussion of the report and the implications for our community. The Task Force has many ideas for local government as Bruce has indicated. In addition, I would like to cut and paste several ideas from pages 25 – 27 of the report that the average individual resident and/or business owner can implement right now to enhance our energy security and local energy economy. While these may seem obvious and ordinary, the effects of conserving energy community-wide are enormous!

    “The following are suggestions for residential users to increase their energy
    conservation/efficiency and to consider clean energy projects for their homes.

    1. Buy compact fluorescent lamps to replace as many incandescent
    bulbs as possible.
    2. Walk, bike, or carpool at least one day per week; combine car trips when doing errands and shopping.
    3. Unplug electronics when not in use.
    4. Tune up your car. Change your air filter often. Recycle the filter if possible. Maintain recommended tire pressure.
    5. Walk to the farmer’s market. Bring a reusable bag.
    6. Turn your thermostat down as far as comfort will allow in the winter and up as far as comfort will allow in the summer to save energy.
    7. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle everything possible.
    8. Use Xcel Energy’s SaverSwitch to lower air conditioning use (free).

    1. Do all of the above.
    2. Have a home energy audit conducted by Xcel Energy for $35.
    3. Install a programmable thermostat and use it.
    4. Plant a tree to shade your house during the summer to reduce need for air conditioning.
    5. Use a clothesline to dry clothes.
    6. Insulate (attic, walls, rim joist and foundation) and weatherstrip your home, seal up your home’s exterior cracks and openings for TV cables, phone lines, etc.
    7. Update your windows to high energy efficiency if appropriate.

    1. Do all of the above.
    2. Buy Windsource energy from Xcel Energy.
    3. Have a home energy audit with infrared inspection for $100.
    4. Install solar electricity or solar water heating.
    5. Install air source or ground source heat pump to cool and heat your home.
    6. Purchase Energy Star appliances including refrigerator, freezer, clothes washer, furnace, water heater, and dishwasher.
    7. Install a wind turbine sized for your use if appropriate.
    8. Future Green: Be prepared to act on future opportunities as
    technology advances.

    Suggestions for Commercial/Industrial/Institutional Energy Users
    The following are suggestions for commercial, industrial, or institutional users
    to increase their energy conservation/efficiency and to consider clean energy
    projects for their buildings.

    1. Conduct a commercial energy audit through Xcel Energy.
    2. Take advantage of Xcel’s energy efficiency and demand management incentives.
    3. Provide incentives for employees to walk or bike to work.
    4. Facilitate employee telecommuting, car and van-pooling.

    1. Do all of the above.
    2. Provide vans for employee van pooling.
    3. Pay for parking for van pools and car pools.
    4. Provide preferential parking for electrical scooters with electric plug ins.
    5. Provide fuel efficient company vehicles.
    6. Provide electrical plug-ins for plug-in vehicles.

    1. Do all of the above.
    2. Generate energy with on site renewable energy systems such as photovoltaic, vertical wind turbines, solar thermal installations, and geothermal heat pump.
    2. Partner with other major energy users to create a Special Energy District.
    3. Install green roof on facilities.
    4. Take a cradle-to-cradle approach in all processes [– reduce, reuse, recycle, reform].
    5. Future Green: Be prepared to act on future opportunities as technology advances.”

    Access the report online on the city website under Energy Task Force.

    November 11, 2008
  67. Pat Allen said:

    Sorry that the question marks appeared at the beginning of each suggestion in my comment. Just ignore the ????. The leprechauns are playing with me again.

    November 11, 2008
  68. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks, Pat. I removed your leprechauns.

    November 12, 2008
  69. Ross Currier said:

    Curt –

    I think your suggestion (in comment #57) of a Northfield Manufacturers Summit is a great idea.

    An opportunity to network between manufacturers would be supportive and could be productive.

    Involving the EDA would raise awareness and could help reduce obstacles and increase opportunities.

    Perhaps catch EDA President Rick Estenson next time you see him and offer up the idea.

    Thanks much,


    November 12, 2008
  70. Anne Bretts said:

    Jerry, you mentioned the difficulty of having local people ask for donations when they don’t shop with you. I don’t know why downtown folks don’t come up with some cooperative plan for community support, much as Target has done. People could have a shopping card, and you could punch it anytime they shop downtown (or in your store). When the card is fully punched, the person can turn it in to their favorite organization, which can turn it in for a donation. No shopping, no money…
    Think about how kids would nag their parents to come downtown for pizza or books or games, all to fill their cards…The groups would manage the cards, so there would be little cost to merchants.
    I also think downtown could have print materials (brochures, coupons) that could be left at dental and medical offices and car service businesses, where people are sitting around and would notice them. There are a lot of simple ideas that could spark the interest of those 60 percent of local people who don’t shop downtown.

    November 12, 2008
  71. Tracy Davis said:

    David Henson, I don’t understand why you see efforts to support local small businesses as somehow being in opposition to conventional economic development, i.e. recruiting “the next Malt-O-Meal”. It’s not either-or, it’s both-and.

    I focus on our small indie businesses because I believe they contribute disproportionately to the “personality” of Northfield, particularly downtown, but get short shrift on any form of assistance. Because they are typically in retail, hospitality, or B2C services on a smaller scale, and don’t have many employees, they’re pretty much off the radar as far as support from the EDA, SBA, etc. goes.

    I just think it’s smart and makes both social and economic sense to be neighborly, which includes buying things from people who are woven into the fabric of the community rather than people who aren’t, when I can make a meaningful choice. I also support conventional ec dev strategies of business retention and recruitment on a larger scale.

    In my mind, having the attitude that “I don’t really care if Business X goes under” is only slightly less callous than “I don’t care if my neighbor goes into foreclosure and loses her house.” Of course, there are always businesses and neighbors that one doesn’t particularly care for (like the guy on my street with the pit bulls), but as an overall attitude of fostering community, I would hope those sentiments are limited.

    November 12, 2008
  72. Peter Millin said:

    o Clean energy surcharge on natural gas and the carbon-emitting portion of Xcel electricity (modeled on the Boulder Climate Action Plan tax10),
    o Clean energy bonds (modeled on the Berkeley Sustainable Energy Finance District11), and
    o Franchise fee on Xcel Energy bills.

    The above equals higher energy costs for everybody and makes no sense whatsoever.
    happy to see that the task force members seem to have enough money to afford a higher energy bill.

    Never mind that we sacrifice those who have a hard time affording their bills now so we can comply with a dubious Kyoto protocol…yup that makes sense.

    People are struggling with higher food prices (created by the ethanol lobby group) so now we going to slam higher energy prices on top of it?

    I say let’s remove ALL energy subsidizes and see who survives.
    The task forces focus clearly has bias in the “green” movement and completely rules out nuclear and coal. I am sure you will attract a lot of people with that policy.

    There is hope though 4 out 5 environmental policies failed on state ballads. Good news there is enough common sense left.

    November 12, 2008
  73. Bruce Anderson said:


    In comment #64 you say:

    I feel we distort viable alternatives with non viable alternatives.
    Too many interest groups have Washingtons ear, do we really want interest groups to determine our energy future?
    Most politicians haven’t got the slightest clue on which source or combination of source has a future.

    i.e. Once we start putting pencil and paper to solar and wind we find out that their applications are limited too.

     We can’t completely dismiss free markets, but we shouldn’t rely on our government for all the answers either.

    I agree that we can’t rely on our government for all the answers. However, like it or not, the government does, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on one’s point of view (unless you are an anarchist), have a role to play in setting the rules of the economic game by which we play.

    Judging by your link to http://www.hyperionpowergeneration.com/, which promotes its product, a 25 megawatt, underground, “backyard” nuclear reactor:

    Hyperion power modules are about the size of a “hot tub” — approximately 1.5 meters wide. Out of sight and safe from nefarious threats, Hyperion power modules are buried far underground and guarded by a security detail.

    and your comment, “we distort viable alternatives with non viable alternatives,” it appears that you feel nuclear (specifically backyard nuclear reactors) is a viable option, while solar and wind are not.  Where to start…

    I have a hard time envisioning backyard nuclear reactors (even if the backyard is figurative, and not literally Peter Millin’s or Bruce Anderson’s backyard) playing a major role in a decentralized energy future for Northfield. While many, including some environmentalists, are urging a re-examination of nuclear power’s role in light of the seriousness of global climate change’s threat, it is far from clear that nuclear would be more economically and technically viable than wind or solar even in a totally unregulated market.

    Setting aside, for brevity’s sake, the not-insignificant questions of operational safety (I liked Hyperion’s reference to the backyard security detail!), long-term (as in thousands of years) waste management, and nuclear proliferation issues, there is the question of GOVERNMENTAL SUBSIDY. The nuclear industry has been heavily subsidized in many, many ways since well before day one (basic and applied R & D, military reactor design, etc., etc.). If you are unaware of the Price-Anderson Act of 1957, the history of this little-known piece of federal legislation is a good example of how energy industry insiders pull strings in near-private in Washington, while arguing in public that their industry (nuclear, coal, oil, natural gas) is the most competitive, cost-effective, blah, blah, blah. Concerning Price-Anderson:

    At the time of the Act’s passing, it was considered necessary as an incentive for the private production of nuclear power — this was because investors were unwilling to accept the then-unquantified risks of nuclear energy without some limitation on their liability.

    It was argued that this “temporary” measure was necessary to get the nuclear industry up and running because the private insurance industry was unwilling to cover possible large claims (as in the tens or hundreds of billions of dollars of claims) resulting from possible large nuclear incidents. Well, after 51 years of experience, guess what? The private insurance industry is still, apparently, unable to provide affordable coverage to the nuclear industry, leaving you and I, gentle reader, on the hook for potentially hundreds of billions of dollars in the event of any major accident. Can’t happen, you say? Why won’t private insurance provide adequate, affordable insurance, then? How large has this subsidy been for the nuclear industry over the past 51 years? I don’t think I have enough fingers and toes to count that high.

    As for wind and solar being (if I’m reading you right, Peter) non-viable, or at the very least “we find out that their applications are limited too”:  Minnesota has already committed, with overwhelming bipartisan support (59-5 vote in the state Senate; 125-9 vote in the House) for The Next Generation Energy Act of 2007, to having a total of 25% of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy sources (i.e. wind, solar, etc.) by 2025. Xcel Energy, our utility, has to provide 30% of its electricity from renewables by 2020. Already, in one of your home countries, Germany, “in the northern states of Saxony-Anhalt, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, and Schleswig-Holstein, wind meets an impressive 30 percent of electricity needs.”

    For purposes of this discussion thread, I think the central energy question is not which technologies are viable (although that is indeed important), but

    • WHO is going to own the technology, and
    • are we going to stay with the large, central-station power plant paradigm that has dominated for the past 75 years, coupled with large, fossil-fuel transportation fuels production, or is it worth fighting for a distributed, decentralized, power production and transportation fuels (could/should be largely electric) system, that also happens to be relatively clean and non-carbon-emitting that puts economic power in the hands of the people who need and use the energy, i.e. you and me.

    I’ve probably gased on long enough for now.

    November 12, 2008
  74. David Henson said:

    Tracy – personally I agree with what you are saying – accepting the idea of keeping the money in Northfield seems tough given the currency is US. But as a practical matter (like from a marketing position) saying buy local because it is more neighborly or moral does not work – therefore Walmart is what it is. As far as local retailers I think energy spent promoting the tangible value to the individual consumer (for which there are many) of shopping locally will be more successful.

    The keeping everything local concept did not work that great in the middle ages. I guess for Northfield economic development I would not focus too much inwardly.

    For example, I buy Nicks eggs at the coop – they are local (I’m not actually sure which town) – but they are also great eggs which is really why I buy them. Now this is a local resource – a business could be made expanding this or franchising the concept to get these great eggs available elsewhere. I mean how will Chatfield and Edina get these great eggs if all vision is turned inward ?

    That said the coolest example of turning everthing in ward is Ithica Dollars http://www.ithacahours.org/

    November 12, 2008
  75. Bruce Anderson said:

    Peter, I wrote comment 79 before seeing your comment 78 (Griff tells me I clogged up the filter with my excessive gas). I’ll respond (briefly, I promise! I have to get back to work!) to a couple of your concerns here.

    The above equals higher energy costs for everybody and makes no sense whatsoever. happy to see that the task force members seem to have enough money to afford a higher energy bill.

    Either a clean energy surcharge or a franchise fee would indeed mean (at least temporarily) a higher energy bill for SOME. (We discussed at length, as a task force, mechanisms to ensure that lower income residents would be held harmless.) In addition, we discussed a variety of ways to ensure that those paying the tax (yes TAX) in the form of items one and three in the list would directly benefit from the tax (low-interest loans, rebates, educational programs, etc.). Item two, the clean energy bond, would involve essentially no cost to the taxpayer (other than the transaction cost to the city of issuing the bonds that would finance the initiative). Individuals and businesses would pay off these bonds through the property assessments associated with the energy improvement to the property.

    Corn ethanol I don’t even want to begin with. I’ll just say that, while corn ethanol initially served a purpose in demonstrating that biofuels can work, its time as a demonstration/bridge technology has come and gone, and it makes no sense to make fuel from food in significant quantities. High food prices are also far more complicated than simply blaming corn ethanol.

    As for saying “let’s remove ALL energy subsidizes and see who survives” I can only say, Peter, I try to live in the real world. Removing ALL energy subidies ain’t gonna happen. Even if we could do that, does it make sense to say, “let’s have clean, non-polluting renewable energy sources that do not cause asthma and other respiratory problems, that do not require mountaintop removal, that do not lead to mining deaths and black lung for thousands of miners, that do not require environmentally risky drilling in offshore and pristine wilderness environments, that do not have the potential to lead to briefcase nuclear bombs or dirty bombs, that do not contribute to potentially catastrophic global climate change, etc., etc., compete on a so-called level playing field with coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear industries that DO all of those things and more, when these industries have been heavily subsidized for many decades already, and we pay no price in the market for all of the tremendous costs of these traditional energy resources?

    To pretend that “the free market” can solve our energy problems if only we would remove all subsidies is delusional. I for one don’t buy for one second that we can pretend that an unsubsidized, level playing field can be created in the energy sector. IT AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN. NO WAY, NO HOW.

    I don’t completely rule out nuclear and coal. Neither nuclear nor “clean” coal seem like very plausible local clean energy solutions, however. Would you like a nuclear power plant and/or coal-fired power plant in your backyard, Peter? I have my doubts that a majority of the Northfield-area population does. Fortunately, the majority has spoken, not only locally, but nationwide in the recent election, and,. yes, one of the MAJOR policy differences between Obama and McCain was energy. (There was a previous thread that touched on this, nuclear in particular. I don’t have the time to track it down…)

    November 12, 2008
  76. Peter Millin said:


    Despite your insurances energy will cost more from renewables.
    I do believe that we should explore and bring renewable energy in to the mix. What worries me is the all or nothing approach of some promoting it.

    10 years from being independent from oil is foolish and dangerous. I’d rather see a more inclusive approach.
    We need to avoid more foolish corn ethanol like stunts. Not only is corn ethanol not efficient but it also brings the moral issue of burning food when other people starve.
    Wind, solar or corn alone can’t free us from oil. It has to be a comprehensive, systematic and logical approach preferably free from partisan politics.

    I think most common sense people see the need to get away from oil only we just have disagreements on how and how fast we should get there.

    Unfortunately you have oil lobby pushing on one side and the green extremist lobby on the other.
    Fortunately, like so may other times, the solution is somewhere in the middle.

    November 12, 2008
  77. kiffi summa said:

    I have not been very enthusiastic about the 530 Ac. annexation, except for some possibilities OTHER than what has been talked about for ‘industrial’ development on that land.
    Michael Pollan(famous gardening,food and nutrition writer) had a long “Letter to the President-Elect” in the New York Times a few Sundays ago. He suggests a sustainable agriculture/food chef for the White House, and the creation of a five acre garden on the south lawn, which would provide produce for the White House, setting an example of dedication to better agricultural and nutrition practices .. to say nothing of growing and eating locally!

    This thinking is something I would like to see for the 530 Acres in G’Vale. Not only could that annexation anchor a portion of the Greenway Corridor Plan (Something that I fear won’t happen without an initiating ‘anchor’) but it could set Northfield up as an example for sustainable, local agriculture.

    Okay, there’s the weather in MN, but there is such rapid growth in the hydroponic growth industry … does the solution lie there?
    Look at the example of the hydroponic greens business in Faribault; anyone who shops at Just Food has probably enjoyed their beautiful lettuces. Why can’t a very financially successful model for that acreage be a huge system of hydroponic growing facilities (are they still called greenhouses?) which would provide locally grown food all year around, as well as some interesting jobs.

    Maybe that’s a partnering ‘thing’ with Saint Olaf, as they are about the most sustainable people around, and they’ve been putting out lots of students with strong interests in that arena.

    We need a new model of capitalism: one that doesn’t depend on just exponentially developing more product, but a model of capitalism that depends , and REWARDS, the development of innovative ideas that are proportionate to the lives we must begin to live, in earnest, not just in theory.

    Hydroponics may be more expensive now; but will regulate down in the same way electronics have as they became more common.
    People will always need to eat. I think it is the best business investment around, and especially at a time when there’s an economic downturn.

    As a taxpayer, that’s a plan I could get behind, feel good about, think was a sound investment for Northfield.
    Forget “build it and they will come” … Build it and they will eat!

    November 13, 2008
  78. Peter Millin said:

    Not sure where to put this but this is important.
    Most of you remember the outcry when the bridge collapsed and how it was due to negligence of the infrastructure….turns out that was another attempt to smear the people in power.
    Federal investigators probing the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis said today that the Aug. 1, 2007, tragedy was the result of design errors and not aging infrastructure.


    November 13, 2008
  79. Ray Cox said:

    Peter is right…we cannot develop renewable energy without keeping our eye on conventional energy production. I was glad to hear so much talk about energy in the recent Presidential election, and I’m sure progress will be made in that area.

    We have only to look to Faribault to see how renewable energy can help an economy. The new wind turbine assembly plant should be up and running in late 2009, employing 100 people right away. Great to have that business here. But it is interesting to note that Faribault managed to lure it there because it had land in the JOBZ program. Without that, I doubt it would be in Faribault. My question is that if JOBZ can make this plant happen, what would happen if other incentives were put on the table?

    November 13, 2008
  80. Ross Currier said:

    Ray –

    You’re right to bring up the “other incentives” required to secure the next Moventus. The article to which, I think, Curt Benson provided a link, informed us that the public sector (city, county and state) had to provide over half of the money ($4.3 million out of a $8 million budget) for the project.

    If the company indeed creates the 100 jobs predicted (I couldn’t find the link in a quick search of the comments to determine the actual number of jobs), that would be $43,000 of taxpayer money per job created. I’m not sure if that is this is considered by the “experts” to be a cheap or an expensive cost for public money per job created.

    However, when such an investment is coupled with the JOBZ program, I do have a concern. My understanding of that particular program is that it provides exemptions for individual, business, sales, and property taxes for some time period; this would certainly have a major impact on the return on public investment for such a deal.

    Although 100 jobs sound really great, and assembling windmills sounds really green, and coming up with a justification for the major public infrastructure investment that isn’t even part of the project cost is really convenient, I guess I would look first at trying to set up a local “environment” that can repeatedly create 3 or 6 or 9 jobs, many times a year, with little or no public investment, but perhaps with more flexible and creative code enforcement, program application, and promotional collaboration.

    Such an approach would be higher on my list than hoping and dreaming, or planning and scheming, for the next Moventus, Saturn, or Excelsior plant. Perhaps I’m unrealistic, but I’d like to think we can get more leverage out of taxpayers’ money than 86 cents on the dollar.

    – Ross

    November 14, 2008
  81. Peter Millin said:

    Not only do we subsidize the jobs with taxpayer money to build the wind turbine, we also subsidize the produced electricity from it? To end up with a higher KW per hour cost?
    Doesn’t sound that good of a deal to me.

    I would be curious to know on how much actual electricity we get from the two turbines in Northfield?

    Somebody told me that we don’t get any and the power produced only supplies part of the campus?

    November 14, 2008
  82. Jerry Bilek said:

    Northfield does not get any power from the two turbines because Northfield does not own them. the two Colleges own them and each supplies about 30% of their power. this is my understanding of how they are set up. Carleton sells their power to excel and gets a credit for the amount produced and St. Olaf has their own power grid so when it spins, it turns on the lights.

    November 14, 2008
  83. Peter,

    Jerry’s description of the two turbines, in terms of ownership and power production, is correct. The two turbines, combined, produce the equivalent of about 4% of Northfield’s electricity, with no pollution (carbon dioxide or otherwise) resulting. My only complaint is that there aren’t many more locally-owned turbines on local ridge tops. The reason there isn’t is that the game is rigged against local ownership. (For an excellent discussion of this, see Broadening Wind Energy Ownership by Changing Federal Incentives by John Farrell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.)

    All of the Carleton turbine’s electricity is sold to Xcel Energy (and any surplus power produced by the St. Olaf turbine) at a competitive contractual rate, ensuring that Xcel will pay 3.3 cents per kilowatt-hour from September 2004 until September 2024 for all of this electricity. Do you think any new nuclear power plants, backyard or otherwise, would be able to produce power at this rate? Or any new “clean” coal plants?

    As an Xcel ratepayer, I think it is a wise corporate decision by Xcel to lock in such an attractive rate for 20 years. New wind power projects are cost-competitive with new coal-fired power plants, and cheaper than new natural gas plants, even at current fuel prices. I daresay natural gas (and coal, when you consider the cost of transporting it from the mine mouth in Wyoming via diesel freight train), including the inevitable price we will soon begin paying (whether because of a carbon cap-and-trade system, or because of a carbon tax) will be more than a bit more expensive in 2024 than they are now. I produce most of my own power with a photovoltaic system, but the small (net) amount of power I purchase from Xcel, I get through their Windsource program, which supports Minnesota wind farms. For the first half of 2008, customers purchasing Windsource paid an average of  0.71 cents per kWh more for their electricity, or an average of about 7% for a residential customer. In July, for the first time, Windsource electricity was actually CHEAPER than “regular” electricity, since the fuel adjustment charge (reflecting the cost of purchased fuel) was larger for “regular” customers than the charge for Windsource.

    As for the subsidies of wind (which are primarily in the form of a tax credit which only large corporations and individual fat cat investors can take advantage of, not regular folks–see the ILSR analysis cited above–surprise, surprise), I will remind you that, as I tried to make clear in comment #81, it is simply NOT TRUE that wind, solar and other renewables get subsidies while the traditional, polluting fuel sources do not. I went into the Price-Anderson Act in some detail in comment #81, just one of the many subsidies the nuclear industry has been getting (in this case for 51 years annd counting).

    Since you seem completely unwilling to take my leftist word for it, I suggest you check with a more authoritative source, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which produced an October, 2007 report (FEDERAL ELECTRICITY SUBSIDIES: Information on Research Funding, Tax Expenditures, and Other Activities That Support Electricity Production) with the following (excerpted) findings concerning research and development:

    • Nuclear programs. Nuclear programs received the largest share of electricity-related R&D funding, with appropriations totaling $6.2 billion from fiscal year 2002 through fiscal year 2007.
    • Fossil fuel programs. Fossil fuel programs were appropriated $3.1 billion in electricity-related R&D funding from fiscal year 2002 through fiscal year 2007.
    • Renewable programs. Renewable programs were appropriated $1.4 billion in electricity-related R&D funding from fiscal year 2002 through fiscal year 2007.

    Concerning “revenue loss estimates associated with tax expenditures specifically related to electricity,” the GAO found the following:

    • Fossil fuels. Fossil fuels received the largest share of electricity-related tax expenditures. We estimate that tax expenditures to support electricity production from fossil fuels totaled $13.7 billion from fiscal year 2002 through fiscal year 2007.
    • Renewables. We estimate that tax expenditures to support electricity production from renewable sources totaled $2.8 billion from fiscal year 2002 through fiscal year 2007.
    • Nuclear. We did not identify tax expenditures directed at nuclear power production during the 6-year period we examined. A key tax expenditure directed at nuclear power production, the advanced nuclear power facilities production tax credit, was enacted in the 2005 Energy Policy Act. However, this tax credit has not been used because no nuclear power plant has been built recently.

    In summary, then, one can conclude that fossil fuels received $16.8 billion in DIRECT electricity-related subsidies; nuclear received $6.2 billion, and renewables received $4.2 billion. For the record.

    In addition, there are HUGE human health and loss of productivity costs related to air pollution resulting from coal plant operations (estimated in the billions of dollars annually, not to mention human suffering and death). Another little-known subsidy: many coal mining companies have reneged on their responsibilities to their employees. Literally hundreds of thousands of former coal miners are permanently disabled, or have been killed by, pneumoconiosis, better known as black lung, which results from long-term exposure to coal dust in and around mines. It’s a problem to this very day. As a result, the federal government has been operating a tidy little program called the Black Lung Benefits Program since 1969. The cost to taxpayers: $1.324 billion in FY 2009.

    I could go on and on, but I don’t really think I need to, Peter. The bottom line: we, the consumers, don’t pay the full bottom line when we pay our utility bill (or fill up our gas tank). Yes, renewables receive subsidies. However, the nuclear and fossil fuel industries receive MUCH MORE, and pollute, sicken and kill people to boot, not to mention causing potentially catastrophic global warming in the case of fossil fuels.

    Getting back to the original focus of this discussion thread: locally-owned renewables (and energy efficiency/conservation) offer a huge potential local economic benefit. Backyard nuclear reactors notwithstanding, nuclear and fossil fuel technologies do not. 

    November 14, 2008
  84. Bruce Anderson said:

    (Thread drift warning) Regarding inexpensive power from conventional coal power plants:

    EPA ruling over climate jeopardizes coal plants
    Fri Nov 14, 2008 2:11pm EST

    By Timothy Gardner NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. environment regulators late Thursday rejected a permit for a new coal-fired power plant in Utah over the issue of its greenhouse gas pollution, putting in question the future of new coal plants that do not to curb their emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency’s appeals panel rejected the permit issued by its Denver office, saying it had failed to support a decision to grant the plant a permit without requiring the best available controls to limit carbon dioxide, the main gas blamed for warming the planet. (more…)


    November 14, 2008
  85. Paul Fried said:

    Thanks, Kiffi and Tracy, for the Michael Pollan plug. If you Google Michael Pollan NPR garden white house, you will find a link to his recent interview by Teri Gross of Fresh Air, which discussed the letter to the next president regarding ag policy and gardening on the White House lawn.

    Thanks, Bruce, for talking up the idea of more decentralized energy generation. It seems we’re too often stuck in the paradigm where large corporate interests generate the electricity and sell all of it to the consumer, so when we start thinking about wind turbines and solar-electric generation, most people talk about wind farms on farm land, and solar arays in Arizona.

    The US has quite a bit of prospective space for collecting rays from rooftops if we would retrofit many of them.

    In spite of claims of bird kill — mostly from putting turbines in migration routes, or from older ladder-style towers on which birds liked to roost — I think many homes could generate at least some electricity from wind, if only zoning would allow it. If there were a market, safe home-based towers could be designed.

    These would all be ways to keep energy dollars local.

    I’ve heard from one homeowner who had solar on the roof (anecdotal evidence – not to be trusted?) that Exel charges a fee for the box that helps sell the electricity back to the power company — so it became more expensive for him to generate and sell it back to Exel than to go without the solar panels altogether. If this is actually the case and not just an error in calculation on the part of the homeowner, I’d like to see the laws changed so there is no disincentive.

    November 14, 2008
  86. john george said:

    Bruce- While the thread is adrift, I did some quick math on the windmills. I come up with a need of about 50 windmills to supply enough electricity for Northfield. There is a link- http://www.energyadvocate.com/fw84.htm, with some interesting statistics. These are some old figures, so there may be more efficient techonology available now than when this was written. At that time, 2001, the study figured about 60 windmills over about 1500 acres, or about 3 sq. miles. That is a lot of wildmills close at hand, and with costs over $1+ million each, and a return of about $.033 per kilowatt, it would appear to take quite a few years to pay these things off. Plus, the needed infrastructure for distribution and rent/cost of the land, I wonder if these things would even be able to pay themselves off before they wore out? Carlton has already had to replace the gearbox on theirs, but I think it was covered under warranty. It’s a little late and I’m a little tired to do the math tonight. Re.: the article, it appears the writer is biased toward solar power.

    November 14, 2008
  87. Bruce Anderson said:

    The Northfield Energy Task Force spent considerable time researching and discussing various biomass-based technologies. Its final report included recommendations concerning combined heat and power plants such as the Rahr Malting plant in Shakopee discussed in today’s Strib: Ear-blasting start promises quiet energy payoff.

    A plant the size of the $60 million Koda Energy plant (27 megawattss), with 90% availability (i.e. producing full power 90% of the hours per year, a fairly reasonable expectation), would generate 82.5% of the electricity consumed in Northfield in 2006. Add the two college wind turbines, and Northfield would be about 7/8 of the way to providing all of its electricity from local renewable resources… 

    November 16, 2008
  88. Peter Millin said:

    To be sure I am not against any form of alternative energy. I am however opposed to making a wholesale change overnight.
    Most people just can’t afford the cost of these ventures…period.
    Why does this have to be an either or choice???

    I could really see how 50 windmills would add a certain romantic view on to Northfield.
    This would look great. Who on this site would like to volunteer to put on in their backyard.

    T Boone Pickens was on “Meet the Depressed” last Sunday. Out of all the current proposals his makes the most sense.
    He as a common sense approach and is only guided by his desire to make money on his fund that is vested in the wind project.
    I’d rather support him, buy shares in his fund then to throw it away to another failed government program.

    November 17, 2008
  89. Rob Hardy said:

    Burlington, Vermont, (as McKibben tells us) has the Intervale Community Farm CSA. It has a Living Machine (biological wastewater treatment plant). It has a strong gay community. It provides a base of support for a socialist Congressman (Bernie Sanders) and a liberal Democratic Senator (Patrick Leahy). The result of all this subversive activity? Burlington, Vermont, is (according to the CDC), the HEALTHIEST CITY IN AMERICA. Damn those clean-living liberals!

    November 17, 2008
  90. Peter Millin said:


    You forgot to mention, that Vermont has:

    Vermont’s State/Local Tax Burden Among Nation’s Highest
    During the past three decades, Vermont’s state and local tax burden has consistently ranked among the nation’s highest. Estimated at 10.3% of income, Vermont’s state and local taxes rank 8th highest nationally, above the national average of 9.7%. Vermont taxpayers pay $4,410 per capita in state and local taxes.

    Vermont’s 2008 Business Tax Climate Ranks 44th
    Vermont ranks 44th in the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index. The Index compares the states in five areas of taxation that impact business: corporate taxes; individual income taxes; sales taxes; unemployment insurance taxes; and taxes on property, including residential and commercial property. Ranks of neighboring states are as follows: New Hampshire (7th), New York (48th) and Massachusetts (34th).

    Vermont’s Individual Income Tax System
    Vermont’s income tax system is composed of five brackets with a top rate of 9.5% kicking in at $349,700. Among states levying individual income taxes, Vermont’s top rate ranks 2nd highest nationally. Vermont’s 2005 individual income tax collections were $804 per person, which ranked 20th highest nationally.
    Vermont’s Corporate Income Tax System
    Vermont’s corporate tax system has three brackets and a top rate of 8.5% on income over $25,000. This top rate ranks 13th highest nationally. In 2006, state-level corporate tax collections (excluding local taxes) were $137.97 per capita, which ranked 27th highest nationally.

    I really think we should follow their example. We won’t have any jobs, but we be a lot healthier.

    November 18, 2008
  91. Bruce Anderson said:


    Ross began this thread with his analysis of Bill McKibben’s book, Deep Economy (which is subtitled “The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future”). In Ross’ second paragraph, he provided this one-sentence summary of the book’s central thesis:

    “McKibben argues that our drive for never-ending growth is colliding with the physical limitations of our world and recommends that we switch our goal from “more” to “better”.”

    This thread, in general, is addressing the issue of whether and how we might create a “better” Northfield in light of the issues discussed in McKibben’s book. Rob, in comment #98, touts Burlington, Vermont’s status as America’s healthiest city. Your response (in comment #99), implies that the only thing that matters to you is how much you pay in taxes. Isn’t “better,” perhaps described as improved quality of life, a bit more nuanced than paying lower taxes? After your litany of high tax statistics, you indicate that Vermont’s relatively high taxes must mean that if we “follow their example…we won’t have any jobs.” In fact, Vermont’s unemployment rate (5.2% in September, 2008) is lower than Minnesota’s (5.9% in September, 2008). Go figure.

    I think a far more interesting question than “who pays more (or less) taxes?” is “who has a higher quality of life?” I would also add, whose grandchildren will have a higher quality of life (i.e. how sustainable is the community/state/nation’s quality of life)?

    I just spent a few minutes poking around with the Google machine, and was unable to find any comprehensive, relatively objective quality of life analyses for US cities or states. However, I found an interesting international analysis by the relatively staid British journal The Economist. The Economist published The Economist Intelligence Unit’s quality-of-life index  “based on a unique methodology that links the results of subjective life-satisfaction surveys to the objective determinants of quality of life across countries. The index has been calculated for 111 countries for 2005. This note explains the methodology and gives the complete country ranking.” While there are other such indices that you, Peter, might find too lefty-fringy-hippie-dippie (alternatives to the brute force Gross Domestic Product, such as the Index of Social Economic Welfare and the Genuine Progress Indicator), The Economist can hardly be accused of being a leftist rag. Their QOL index places Ireland, Switzerland, Norway, Luxembourg and Sweden in the top five slots; the US is a respectable number 13 (in spite of our robust 2nd ranking in GDP per capita, trailing only Luxembourg). Bringing up the rear are Tajikistan, Nigeria, Tanzania, Haiti and Zimbabwe.

    I have to believe that the high QOL for the top performers has less to do with relative tax rates than a whole bunch of other far more interesting policy and social issues, as does the low QOL for the worst performers. Of course we have to be concerned about excessively high taxes stifling job creation. However, I just think there are lots of other much more important issues if we can break out of the “no new taxes”/”lower taxes are everywhere and always an imperative” mindset.

    November 18, 2008
  92. Peter Millin said:


    With the exception of Ireland I wouldn’t want to live in any of the countries you mentioned. The lifestyle of those places doesn’t appeal to me at all.

    At one point we will reach the point where our ever expanding need for growth will reach it’s boundaries.

    Your and my definitions of quality of live don’t match yours isn’t that in itself a characteristic worth preserving?
    You seem to believe, that a government is designed to provide all these things, that in your opinion provide a “better quality of life”.
    I measure my quality of life by what I can achieve by myself without having to ask government to help me.

    I want to chose whom I support and want to keep as much of what I have earned.
    Don’t I deserve to keep what I earn? When did our elected officials start to believe that what I earn belongs to them, and they are free to tax me at will? So they can throw more money and bailouts and other foolish programs??

    I don’t know where most people work here, but if I had to guess we have a high amount of government or government related people here at this board.
    Which partially explains why they are so willing to part with their hard earned money.

    Do you want government to decide where those borders are or do you believe that this process will naturally find it’s way?
    I am all against trying to squeeze people in to a box that somebody else defines for them.

    November 18, 2008
  93. Bruce Anderson said:

    The last thing I want is for the government or anyone else to squeeze me (or you!) into a box. I don’t long to be taxed more heavily; I just think it’s an option that should be on the table as we seek to create a more just, sustainable society. (By the way, I work in the private sector as a self-employed consultant; my wife, does, however, feed at the public trough as a public school teacher. Is she overpaid? I don’t think so, but that’s a WHOLE ‘NOTHER conversation.)

    You’re completely entitled to your opinion, as I am to mine. Rock on, dude! Vive le difference!!! (You and I might both be surprised at how much we might have in common, BTW.)

    November 18, 2008
  94. David Ludescher said:

    Bruce: It is the government’s role to create a sustainable society? Where is that in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, or any other document?

    November 19, 2008
  95. Tracy Davis said:

    David L., I would argue that it’s an appropriate CITIZEN’S role to work and lobby for a sustainable society. If part of accomplishing that goal is electing public officials who will also work toward that end, isn’t that an appropriate function of representative democracy?

    November 19, 2008
  96. Edric Lysne said:

    Another subtopic that I believe is pertinent here is Malcolm Gladwell’s new book ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’


    I haven’t read it (though I am a fan of ‘Tipping Point’), but the review calls it a book that talks about “luck” being a bigger factor in determining who/what succeeds and who fails in our society, in a way ideas and profitable ventures only occur of of circumstance and ‘Geniuses are made, not born.’

    November 19, 2008
  97. Bruce Anderson said:

    You’re right that the Constitution and Declaration of Independence are silent regarding creation of a sustainable society. However, it seems that any government would be irresponsible to stand by while society goes over a cliff, in the interests of letting the market operate.

    Even Peter concedes (comment #101) that “At one point we will reach the point where our ever expanding need for growth will reach it’s boundaries.” Left to its own devices, the market, with its inherent short-term, bottom-line focus, is virtually guaranteed to send us over the cliff unless citizens, through their elected officials, say “let’s create economical/social policies that ensure long-term (i.e. indefinite) sustainability.” If we wait for the market to recognize that our boundaries have been reached, to use Peter’s terminology, it’s too late to avoid the abyss (e.g. societal collapse).

    November 19, 2008
  98. David Ludescher said:

    Tracy: Ross asked if taking back some of “our” agriculture, media, and capital investments is such a radical concept. The answer is “yes” if it means that I want to control things that I don’t own.

    For example, the argument of sustainability in the annexation process was: we have a limited amount of farmland; we need to preserve it; therefore, we should restrict its use. The problem, of course, is that “we” don’t own it; “they” own it.

    So, citizens can and should lobby for what they want, including sustainability. But, sustainability should the the result of good government, not the goal. Fairness (justice) to the farmers requires that they receive market price even if the land is used for “sustainability”. That way, the price of sustainability is shared by all.

    November 19, 2008
  99. David Ludescher said:

    Bruce: Government is not a tangible thing; it is just an idea. Government doesn’t stop people from doing stupid things anymore than God stops people from doing stupid things.

    Government can and should offer incentives and punishments to direct behavior even toward sustainability. But, even seemingly good ideas like ethanol can turn out to be monumental failures when the incentives don’t match the financial reality.

    November 19, 2008
  100. Paul Fried said:

    David L: Just because the word “sustainable” is not in the constitution doesn’t mean we don’t have a constitutional duty to do it. When the document was written, they didn’t see the human race as being the cause of the “6th great extinction” or as one among various causes of global warming (and related feedback effects that accelerate it).

    Given our current understandings of these, and of the breakdowns of unsustainable systems, it’s easy to see it as related to the preamble:

    “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    – The goal is a more “perfect union,” which allows for future progress.
    – “…establish justice”: Unsustainable systems often lead to unjust consequences, such as paying for cheap meat, milk and vegies by way of hidden health care costs.
    – “…insure domestic tranquility”: Domestic tranquility may be threatened by climate change, as the Pentagon has already planned for possible droughts and food shortages, as well as wars over resources.
    – “…provide for the common defence”: Some of the dangers we defend against include the consequences of our own unsustainable actions.
    – “…promote the general Welfare”: Need we say more?
    – “…secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”: The future of the planet requires sustainability.

    Sustainability itself may not be in the text of the articles that follow, but it’s clearly in the intention of the preamble, which sets the tone; laws to promote sustainability can certainly be made within the framework of that constitution, and in wonderful harmony with the preamble.

    November 19, 2008
  101. David Henson said:

    “Sustainable” is just an emotional word for left wing politics. On rational level ‘oil’ has so far proven more sustainable than ‘wind’ – at the very least for society. The problem with arguing for ecology over society is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Posters here argue that oil has been subsidized so alternatives should be subsidized. I don’t think that is an accurate argument. The government did not have to promote oil with financial incentives; oil was and is an unbelievably economical source of energy. I sense people get religious type fervor over ‘wind’ that hurts rational discussion of its merits. Do I object to a wind verses oil debate on the actual merits, of course not. But a debate that demonizes oil and suggests that wind mill blades are like angel’s wings should be called out as silly. The huge wind installations that real corporations are looking into, where massive amounts of hot water will be created and pumped into the ground for storage sound just as damaging to the environment as oil. Why can’t a larger emphasis be made on conservation of energy technology regardless of the source? Personally, I think conservation technology liberates people from control by the system and neither of two parties that currently control political debate in this country can cotton freedom.

    November 20, 2008
  102. Bruce Anderson said:

    It’s curious but consistently and tiresomely predictable that some folks inevitably, see the words sustainable and sustainability as red flags, and seem unable to get past them without reacting in a violently negative manner, and caricaturizing efforts to work toward sustainability as misguided/ill-informed/people-hating tree hugging. David H.: your opinion that

    “Sustainable” is just an emotional word for left wing politics.

    is a case in point, as is your characterization of comments on this thread as

    arguing for ecology over society

    Here’s the working definition of sustainable (and sustainability) that informs my worldview:

    A sustainable community is one that provides opportunities for its citizens in ways that do not compromise opportunities for future generations.

    Sustainability is a means of configuring civilization and human activity so that

    • society, its members and its economies are able to meet their needs and express their greatest potential in the present
    • while preserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems, and
    • planning and acting for the ability to maintain these ideals in the very long term.

    If that is left wing politics, so be it. If right wing politics is uninterested in working to ensure that we have a world worth living in long-term, I will oppose right-wing politics with every fiber of my being. However, I’m more interested in a politics of getting positive things done than in applying off-putting labels such as left wing and right wing designed to divide people into opposing camps….sigh. Some things seem to never change.


    November 20, 2008
  103. Peter Millin said:

    You won’t be able to find a person in the USA that would be against sustainability.
    Sustainability is not just a concept of political will it is a natural law. If we don’t think and act on sustainability the planet will force us to do it.

    The discourse on this issue comes from the way it is being used as a political tool to further an agenda that goes beyond protecting our natural resources.

    I am old enough to remember when the rivers were a lot dirtier then they are today and the air was less clean then it is today.
    Back then we didn’t have to use taxes as a way to punish everyday citizen in to compliance by raising taxes. We didn’t raise peoples cost of energy by burning food for fuel or plan to raise taxes via a cap and trade system. We did it because it was the right thing to do.

    The aggressive tone of the extreme eco-nazis has pretty much destroyed any civil conversation on this issue.
    We are readily adopt the mantra of an Eco- Messiah who claims that only he alone can save the world.
    Never mind that he does exactly the opposite of what he preaches and has setup a mutual fund to profit from his prophecy.

    I think we all would be well served to take of our blinders and go back to common sense solutions rather then serving a self serving agenda of an extremist few.

    November 20, 2008
  104. Rob Hardy said:

    The basic causes of our environmental troubles are complex and deeply embedded. They include: our past tendency to emphasize quantitative growth at the expense of qualitative growth; the failure of our economy to provide full accounting for the social costs of environmental pollution; the failure to take environmental factors into account as a normal and necessary part of our planning and decision making; the inadequacy of our institutions for dealing with problems that cut across traditional political boundaries; our dependence on conveniences, without regard for their impact on the environment; and more fundamentally, our failure to perceive the environment as a totality and to understand and to recognize the fundamental interdependence of all its parts, including man himself.

    —famous left-wing politician Richard Nixon, August 10, 1970

    November 20, 2008
  105. David Henson said:

    Bruce – “violent” ? What are you going to jail me for questioning “sustainability” like a medieval priest would for questioning “god.” What about the tangible issue of pumping massive amounts of hot water into the ground for energy storage – is this deemed sustainable or not ?

    November 20, 2008
  106. David Henson said:

    Bruce – your definition seems worthy and solid excepting the part about “configuring civilization” as this implies a command and control system which 1000s of years of history has shown will be corrupted. Who are these high priests that will decide on the configuring and accuse any questioners of being “violent.”

    November 20, 2008
  107. Peter Millin said:


    “You quoted :
    the inadequacy of our institutions for dealing with problems that cut across traditional political boundaries”

    Thanks…my point exactly.
    We are in the midst again were a few extremists are trying to push a political agenda rather then ecological agenda.
    Amen to that.

    November 20, 2008
  108. Bruce Anderson said:

    A thousand apologies for the perhaps ill-advised use of the word “violent.” I have no interest in being a high priest, nor in having to defend myself against being considered an extremist, so I’m gonna bow out of this conversation for now and engage in some more-productive activity.

    November 20, 2008
  109. Peter Millin said:

    Thank you Bruce for confirming my point. I guess it’s only a fruitful discussion if we all come to your point of view?
    It’s alright for you to say:

    “If right wing politics is uninterested in working to ensure that we have a world worth living in long-term, I will oppose right-wing politics with every fiber of my being. However, I’m more interested in a politics of getting positive things done than in applying off-putting labels such as left wing and right wing designed to divide people into opposing camps….sigh. Some things seem to never change.”

    But soon as someone questions your motive you get defensive???

    Your above statement does not contribute anything to the by you proclaimed need for unity on this issue.

    It makes guys like me resentful and indifferent to your point of you.

    November 20, 2008
  110. Peter Millin said:


    I agree that it is the CITIZENS responsibility to work for sustainability.
    Unfortunately this issue has been hijacked by lobbyists on both sides.

    Little people like me have no say other than vote.

    November 20, 2008
  111. David Henson said:

    Bruce – in earnest, I am interested in this issue of pumping heated water into the ground. Is this something that the sustainability movement supports ?, Wants to see large scale experiments with ?, is against ? Or has no position yet ? I hear discussions of the subject but have not seen much research.

    November 20, 2008
  112. Griff Wigley said:

    I’m not sure how this conversation went to hell in a handbasket so fast but I’m not happy about. Please read our Guidelines page which starts out:

    Our discussion guidelines here on Locally Grown are intended to foster the development of an environment where ideas, information, and opinions are exchanged in an atmosphere of civility, trust, fun, and respect. It is best if you bring a spirit and language of inquiry with you when you visit and restrain your desire to only promote a point of view that is already formed.


    November 20, 2008
  113. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: maybe you just need to call them all “ignorant sluts” …. OOPS… They’re GUYS! What word would you use?

    November 20, 2008
  114. mike zenner said:

    David H,
    Where did you read where wind turbines were heating and storing the heated water? Iam interested to read about it if you have a link.

    Actually, I’ve been thinking of this scheme (underground thermal storage) for awhile and I believe it to be a viable solution to the intermittency of renewable energy. Unlike batteries which are expensive, short life expectancy, and are generally limited to how fast they can be charged. The wind thermal can be coupled with solar thermal for an additional boost in thermal energy.

    There’s a housing development in Alberta Canada that used the ground itself as a thermal storage unit, the method used is referred to Borehole thermal storage. See link:


    The ground itself is heated and not the ground water( which would sink the heat away).

    I’ve been thinking that other ways would be to build large insulated underground tanks filled with rock and water to store the heat. This heat could then be used as a local district heating center (see the Sterling Homes link above) , and additionally can be used to regenerate electricity using Organic Rankin Cycle generator as in link below:


    The nice thing, if system is designed right, is this generator will be running 24/7, no more renewable intermittency.

    November 20, 2008
  115. john george said:

    Griff- the whole country is going the way of the handbasket. Why should LGN be exempt?

    November 20, 2008
  116. mike zenner said:

    David H to #111,

    I don’t feel that storing heat in the ground (~200deg F) would be bad for the environment when the entire core of the planet is molten rock.

    I am not a subscriber of Global Warming but I am very concerned about Peak Oil.
    Peak Oil is NOT about how much oil is available (RESERVES), but how fast (FLOW RATE bbl/day) can be supplied and how much INPUT ENERGY is needed to make that possible.

    The little publicized annual IEA report on oil supplies should make all take pause and think about what we are doing and where we are going as far as our energy future is concerned:


    Until this report these folks have been very bullish about the future of oil supplies. Their estimate that the current major global oil fields are currently depleting at a rate of 6.7% is pretty stunning number. This rate implies that a year from now, without any new added capacity from new (much smaller) fields that basically the supply of roughly 5.7million bbl/day ( about the amount now produced daily by the US) will no longer be available and every year thereafter another US supply will go offline.

    If true, no amount of energy conservation will be able to keep up with this depletion rate, and no amount of increased drilling will hold this rate in check. The report was talking about $1trillion/yr spending to try to just stay in place.

    It’s not a question about if, but when, oil depletion will become the major issue, which will be the ultimate cap on our infinite global consumption. Energy is the foundation of the modern global economy, and once it begins to fall in earnest so will the global economy. I feel we need to start thinking seriously about local sustainability, what it will look like and how we can get there.

    November 20, 2008
  117. David Henson said:

    Mike – I’m not against new energy ideas but I am not going to discount the ideas from oil companies in favor of “Nobuo Tanaka” opinion just yet. I mean I know they are all bad men but they have been delivering a gallon of refined gas cheaper than a gallon of milk for a long long time. If peak oil is a huge coming concern then we should easily be able to see this change in energy company’s investment decisions.

    As to holding heated water in the ground, I have mostly heard talk of this from people as a solution to the fact that energy cannot be stored. Wind sort of runs countercyclical to demand so on a hot still day when everyone wants AC there is now wind. The idea sounds interesting but storing enough heated water below ground for say a metroplex of 3 million sounds like one monster load of heated water ~ certainly enough to radically alter the environment.

    My thought has always been since most oil is used in transportation, and since 45,000+ people die every year in cars, and since Detroit is collapsing that maybe the focus should be on safe efficient point to point transportation. The beauty is that efficiency gains in human life will parallel efficiency gains in oil consumption (I’ll posit an estimate that everyone could be moved around safely on 1/25 the oil now consumed for the purpose). I bet setting aside a measly 1/2 billion dollars for prize money would create more radical and unbelievable ideas within a year than anyone would ever predict.

    November 20, 2008

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