Greenfire hosts energy speakers

Matt Lineal and Kelsey Lutz

Greenfire has organized an energy speaker series as an annual event at Lawrence for the past few years. This year, Greenfire brought in speakers on solar, wind, nuclear and hydropower, as well as coal and biofuels.
Fri., April 13, Professor Emeritus William Beckman from the University of Wisconsin-Madison presented a lecture that analyzed the potential of solar power as a part of the U.S. energy profile. Beckman served as director for solar energy applications at UW-Madison and had powered his house in Wisconsin for 25 years using solar power.
He highlighted that photovoltaic cells are high tech and more complicated than other solar energy applications. Solar water heaters have the greatest power potential and make economic sense. Many photovoltaic and solar applications are not necessarily economically sound, but people like the psychological benefit of having an array of PV cells on their roof.
According to Beckman, solar cannot do it all. It would take a 100-square-mile array in Nevada to generate the power that the U.S. annually consumes. Regardless, there are numerous potential practical applications of solar energy. As Beckman concluded, “All it takes is sunshine and demand for power.”
Following Friday’s solar presentation, Leslie McCain presented a lecture on wind energy. McCain holds the position of Midwest Director of Business Development for Community Energy, Inc., which is a pioneer company in that it sells Renewable Energy Certificates and also builds wind plants.
During her presentation, McCain noted that wind power is emission free, there are no price spikes, it is well received by the public and the media, and it offers economic development opportunities to farmers. Wind power is becoming a greater power source as pricing is rapidly growing more competitive.
According to McCain, though wind turbines in the U.S. kill about 10,000 birds, this number pales in comparison to the 100 million birds killed by cats, and the 220 million birds killed by buildings, pesticides and vehicles.
Lastly, McCain’s presentation addressed the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (, which is an organization she has worked with to bring wind power to campuses nationwide.
Sat., April 14, Loretta Krcma-Olson, supervisor of the Point Beach nuclear facility in Two Rivers, Wis., presented a talk on nuclear power. The Point Beach and nearby Kewaunee plant generate 17.9 percent of Wisconsin’s energy. The Point Beach facility generates 1,036 megawatts per hour of operation, which could power a city the size of Seattle or Boston.
Basically, nuclear fission generates steam under pressure, and three feet of concrete-reinforced steel, among other components, comprise the safety net that keeps radiation in and people out.
Concerning the spent fuel, Krcma-Olson conceptualizes it as an issue of time, distance and shielding. Spent fuel is kept onsite in underwater storage pools. After five years, heat has dissipated to sufficiently low levels for dry storage of spent fuel in concrete casks.
Point Beach considered reprocessing spent fuel, but the plutonium involved in such a plant is easily weaponized. Aside from spent fuel, the plant generates waste heat by pumping Lake Michigan water, used for cooling, out at about 25 degrees hotter than it came into the plant.
Also on Saturday, Jim Brown from Kaukauna Utilities spoke about hydropower. Kaukauna Utilities is a nonprofit community-owned company for residents of Kaukauna, Little Chute, and other surrounding cities. In all, there are six plants with 13 generators operating on the Fox River.
Brown’s company acquired the water rights for the Fox River and built many of its hydropower facilities in the first half of the 20th century. Power generation is 80 percent efficient, and costs 6.5 cents per KWH, making it the cheapest electricity in Wisconsin. A prospective project of the company is to collaborate with a farm that has 6,800 cows and to buy the manure to digest it and generate electricity.
The last talk on Saturday was Jacquelyn Peck from WE energies concerning conventional coal power. Lawrence University, among other WE energy customers, purchases roughly 60 percent of its power from coal resources. Despite the coal power’s dirty nature, Peck highlighted that WE energies has led efforts in environmental stewardship. WE innovatively made fly ash, a coal byproduct, into a form that could be used in construction materials and concrete.
Currently the company is performing a carbon dioxide capture pilot project. Also, WE is constructing a wind farm of 88 turbines adjacent to Calumet just southeast of Lake Winnebago. Peck posited, “Everyone has some impact, [but we can offset our impact] by diversifying where we get our resources.”
Tues., April 17, Taavi McMahon from PrairieFire BioFuels presented a lecture about the applications of biofuels.