A CEP staff update from the No-till On the Plains Winter Conference:

I attended the No-till On the Plains Winter Conference last week in Salina, KS.  I went in the hopes of learning more about Best Management Practices for No-Till producers and also thinking I might hear real-life success stories from farmers in Kansas to spotlight for On Farm Water and Energy Progress.  I got way more than I expected!  If you have any interest in agriculture practices and are unfamiliar with this organization, I suggest you look them up at http://www.notill.org/.   They are doing great work.

No-till On the Plains is a Kansas-based 501c3 whose reach extends far beyond the Heartland region.  The mission of the organization is “to provide education and networking on agricultural production systems that model nature.”  Conference organizers spoke passionately about the commitment of farmers to be good stewards of the land and the importance of following the roadmap nature provided us long ago.  A focus on soil health, biodiversity in soil systems and building strong communities guided the conference.

The keynote speaker, Ray Archuleta – NRCS Agronomist and Soil Health Specialist, captivated us all with proof-is-in-the-pudding soil tests comparing conventional tillage to high quality no-till Kansas soil.  You could have heard a pin drop throughout Archuleta’s presentation.  This soil guru drove the points home over and over again:  cover the soil, never till, manage more, disturb less.  With the current drought heavy on everyone’s minds, his presentation demonstrating the amount of water that infiltrates no-till soil vs. the almost complete loss of water in conventionally-tilled soils sure made a believer out of me!  Explaining terms like biomimicry, Archuleta urged the audience to think about farming the “creator’s way” vs. “our way.”  Our soils are naked, hungry, thirsty and running a fever…and no-till offers the solution!

Well…yes and no.  Presenters explained over and over that no-till is a tool – it is just a part of the equation.  Archuleta explained that the best tool you can have is a shovel – to go out and test your soil.  Conference Organizer, Brian Lindley, explained that there are farmers who say they’ve been doing no-till for 30 years…and he says, “Yeah, well I’ve been dieting for that long, too and it’s not working either!”  Lindley affably explained that you can use no-till practices but if all you do is use the drills to plant, you’re missing the most important part of the practice.

I went to the conference with the understanding that “a commitment to no-till means a commitment to chemicals” as a colleague in Western, KS, had explained to me.  Well, I quickly learned that it does not have to be this way.  Archuleta and others talked about focusing on INPUTS rather than YIELD.  Be free – reduce inputs, focus on energy use and become independent.  As Archuleta said, “You don’t have to put diesel in worms.”  Maintain diversity in soils and feed the whole system, it’s the best weed control around.

Presentation after presentation demonstrated how conventional tillage yields insurmountable problems from massive soil erosion to “frankenweeds” to water pollution.  Again, invoking the values of the Heartland, Archuleta stated, “The creator did a perfect job, he showed us what to do.”

There were too many presentations to cover in what was intended to be a short blog, but within a few weeks all presentations will be available for sale on the No-till On the Plains website.  I highly recommend Archuleta’s presentation if you want to get up to speed on soil health while David Montgomery’s presentation definitively placed the extreme erosion problem on my radar.  These nationally recognized speakers offered amazing presentations, but the producer panels and presentations by farmers really brought it home.

A father-son farming duo from Jewell, KS, won me over with their presentation on Companion Crops.  They minced no words when stating that the primary purpose of double cropping was to make a profit. The second was to improve the soil and the third was to improve the following crop – which was something they did not anticipate.  Their honest account, complete with setbacks, surprises, and humility, provided some hard and fast evidence that you could easily wrap your brain around.  Pictures of healthy, beautiful companion crops requiring minimal inputs, drawing beneficial insects and increasing profit drove home their conclusions: Take care of your cash crop, be careful as you experiment, you can use some herbicides, however they also limit diversity, and, finally, that companion planting could replace herbicides.

I left the conference with my mind in a whirl, racing from point to point and trying to process the immense amounts of information I gained…and promising myself that I’d call my local NRCS agent to figure out how to start implementing cover crop forage on my farm.  No-till on the Plains provides information on economically sound, agronomically superior and environmentally safer agricultural systems of producing food, fiber and fuels.  They’re an amazing resource and absolutely worth checking out.  We’ve got a few of the No-Till superstars in Kansas on our list of nominees for the On Farm Water and Energy Progress Awards – stay tuned for more on the great innovations happening in Kansas!

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Posted by Rachel Myslivy, Program Director for CEP

 

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Welcome Rachel Myslivy, CEP’s newest program director, who is leading the way with our On Farm Water + Energy Efficiency Project.

Read more about her project below.

The warmer weather this weekend brought dreams of springtime to my mind…lush, green pastures, and life bursting anew…but a cursory glance around the farm called these dreams into doubt.  While the dormancy of winter masks some of the harshness of the drought, the Kansas Water Office’s weekly drought report provide reminders of the severity of the situation. What will the spring look like this year?

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 It goes without saying that the farmers are the hardest hit by the drought.  But Kansas farmers don’t give up easily.  They are resilient, determined and innovative.  CEP’s newest project focusing on Water and Energy efficiency on the farm seeks to spotlight innovations in energy efficiency and water conservation on Kansas farms.

 The On Farm Water + Energy Efficiency Project identifies innovative approaches to water and energy usage on the farm.  In a time of decreasing resources, both financial and natural, our hopes are to help farmers impact their bottom line while conserving water and energy. The primary goal of the project is to identify Kansas farmers who are successfully addressing water and energy usage in innovative ways. The stories of working innovations will be shared widely as examples for others to learn from and replicate.

These practical examples from Kansas farms will spur further innovations and add to the toolkit of resources for on-farm efficiency.  The project focuses on real-life, practical solutions currently happening on the ground in Kansas.

The project brings together a diverse steering committee representing agriculture, natural resources, energy and water organizations.  Members of the steering committee are sending in nominations of innovative farmers.  There are some amazing farmers out there and we are excited to recognize them as stewards and leaders in water conservation and energy efficiency.  If you know of someone who fits the bill, please contact Rachel Myslivy for more information:  myslivy@climateandenergy.org or 785-424-4115.

 

On this cold snowy morning I am happy to think about all the renewable energy plans that are incubating in offices across the region. I know that seems a little dramatic, but I have been influenced by all the seed catalogues that have begun arriving in my mailbox!

While you may have read that the BP wind farm north of the Flat Ridge wind farm in south central KS was facing a little slow down with local officials, it appears that the project is moving forward and BP has made their announcement about the farm. This newest project will be a 150 MW farm in southeast Pratt County. This continues to be great economic news for communities which continue to fight the impacts of prolonged drought.

Elsewhere in the area, news broke about a smaller scale solar project in the progressive KS town of Lawrence. Chad Lawhorn posted about the newest solar installation in Lawrence and the first in downtown. As Chad states, Lawrence is a hot spot for solar in the region.

“…the system will produce about $5,000 worth of electricity per year, Rogge said. And that’s based on the price of electricity today. Each year, the value of that electricity is going to increase. (Unless you think the power companies are suddenly going to lower their rates, in which case, you’ve perhaps stuck your finger in the light socket one too many times.)

Kansas now has a law stating that businesses or residents can install solar panel systems, and the electric provider in the region must buy back the electricity it produces. In other words, your monthly utility bill is offset by the amount of electricity the solar panel system produces.

Lawrence has become a bit of a hotspot for solar projects. The Poehler Lofts building near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets has an entire roof full of the panels, and the new Hy-Vee convenience store along Clinton Parkway also has solar panels on its roof.”

Good news is also coming from Nebraska as the Lincoln Electric System is looking to add 50 MW of wind power for the residents of Lincoln. This was, in part, spurred by the extension of the PTC. Read more about the possibility of more wind power in Lincoln.

Know of any new renewable energy projects i your neck of the woods? We would love to hear more about it.

posted by Kate Van Cantfort,  CEP  Program Director

 

 

At  several professional meetings over the past year a common theme emerges at some point. Electrical/power engineers are aging and the academic programs have been seeing a decline in enrollment.  Who is going to keep the lights on? The question is literally – who?

Our electrical grid, as a whole, is well over 50 years old. And so are the majority of people to run and maintain it. I don’t mean the regulatory agencies. I mean the men and women who run the grid. The engineers who maintain it, who decide where the power comes from and when. The people who  maintain the grid that actually gets the power to our homes and businesses.

For years this grid remained basically the same. The growth in power plants and transmission lines was steady and the educational system generating engineers maintained the same steady pace. But just as our electrical grid has aged so has the work force that runs and maintains it. And just as everything is aging new demands and new technologies are changing the face of power. The rate and type of growth – of new power sources, increased rate of transmission and now even types of transmission are out pacing the grid workforce.

So what does this mean? It means at just the time when new interest and new opportunities are arising, we are seeing a decline in the number of professors for power engineering (they do have to retire) and that maybe new professors prepared to instruct on the old and the new technologies have not been developed at the rates they should have.

The good news is that we have an opportunity unfolding  before us. At a time we need employment opportunities – we have one. The aging workforce which supports the grid isn’t retiring as fast as they could and the new smart grid technologies are of interest to younger folks. We do have a gap in creating academic centers to lead the way, but with some corporation donations they will be quick to catch on. We are at a transition time in this industry. We need the knowledge of both the grid as it has been created and operated for the past 50 years and we need the knowledge to innovate the new technologies for the grid of the future. But we have a shrinking window  of opportunity as each year passes.

So read more on what is being done (this article from Intelligent Utility is a great place to start), talk you your elected officials about what they are doing to encourage this growth area, and talk to any young people you know about whether they have considered a career with the smart grid.

posted by Kate Van Cantfort, CEP Program Director

Happy New Year everyone!

We all know that the PTC extension was passed in the “Fiscal Cliff Package” just before the deadline. We all should express thanks to the two Kansas Senators Roberts and Moran who voted for the extension of the PTC.  Please also thank Senator Moran for his continuing leadership on tax code parity for renewable energy. It is refreshing to see the Senator take a leading stance on the this issue.

Disappointingly, not ONE of the House representatives for the state of Kansas voted in favor of the PTC. NOT ONE. Please let your representatives know how you feel about their choice.

A thanks also needs to go to Kansas Governor Brownback. He vigorously supported the extension of the PTC. While he had no vote on the legislation, he did as much as he could, working with Governors from across the country to support the PTC. The Governor released a statement recently about the PTC win. Read more from the Topeka Capital Journal.

While the flurry of activity across not only the Heartland but the entire country has been tremendous in the first week of the PTC extension, AWEA has not been able to provide numbers on the immediate impacts of the extension. AWEA has been able to pass along information as new projects are started and projects put on hold are back on line. Here is a round up of PTC impacts in this first week of extension:

  • Minnesota’s largest wind project, Pleasant Valley wind farm, is shovel ready. Needs to touch up paper work since it has been on hold for several months waiting for the PTC outcome, according to the Austin Daily Herald.
  •  A 100-200 megawatt project in North Dakota is moving forward and could begin construction by mid-year according to the Prairie Business Journal.
  • In Ohio, 2 projects may not break ground in 2013, but the PTC extension has given them new life, read more in the Mansfield News.
  • Texas reports wind farm activity moving forward in the Panhandle region – including transmission projects. The Amarillo Globe-News tells us more.

While not directly related to the PTC extension, Nebraska is seeing forward movement on the transmission front with open houses scheduled. The transmission line project, referred to as the R-Project, is being built to enhance transmission system reliability, relieve congestion from existing lines within the transmission system, and provide opportunities for additional renewable energy generation. Learn more about these and other transmission projects at the Center for Rural Affairs and read more about the open houses at the Norfolk Daily News.

Well, that makes for a busy first week of January. Hope yours was a good one too!

posted by Kate Van Cantfort, CEP Program Director

News of the fiscal cliff has been everywhere – very early this morning (New Year’s day) the “American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012” –  better known as the Fiscal Cliff Package, passed the Senate with a bipartisan vote of 89 for to 8 against. Thank you to Senators Moran and Roberts for reaching across the isle on this important issue.

The package includes an extension of the Production Tax Credit through January 2014. While it is not the permanent fix needed for the wind industry to have parity with other energy sources, it will give one more year to come up with a long-term solution for clean energy.

The bill is now waiting on the House to take up the vote. Let’s hope our Kansas delegation considers how important this issue is,  remembering the 1400 Kansans who signed petitions for extending the production tax credit.

Stay tuned and Happy New Year!

Dorothy Barnett, Executive Director, CEP

Holiday News Round-up

December 27, 2012

Happy Holidays to everyone!

We just want to keep everyone in the loop even with the busy holiday schedules. We hope those of you who got some of the much-needed snow are being safe and enjoying the moisture.

Just before the holiday break, AWEA announced support for a 6 year stepped phase out of the Production Tax Credit. Read more about AWEA’s support here. This announcement came just in time for the last of CEP’s deliveries of the petition signatures and opened the door to a better conversation with some of our Congressmen. There is more interest from our Senator Moran in addressing some if the tax codes issues that effect interested wind investors. He is co-sponsoring a bill with Senator Coons from Delaware to address parity for renewable energy investors. Read more about Senator Moran asking for support tax code changes.

In the news this week is the announcement of Kansas’ largest wind farm to be on-line by the end of the year. The project owned by BP Wind and Sempra U.S. Gas & Power – Flat Ridge 2 – is on a 66,000-acre site covering parts of Harper, Barber, Kingman and Sumner counties in southern Kansas. Read more about this important project and BP Wind’s support of the newly proposed 6 year phase out of the Production Tax Credit.

CEP and our petition supporters have also received news coverage as we delivered your signatures to our Congressional representatives.  Read some of the coverage in the Hays Daily.
And for a story of completely different tone, Eileen Horn, a former CEP staffer and current sustainability director for Douglas County, was recently interviewed by Grist for a series on women in green careers. Eileen has some great thoughts on climate change in the Heartland and gives CEP and the Take Charge Challenge a great shout out! Thank you Eileen!
Keep warm out there and we will keep you posted on any more  breaking news.
posted by Kate Van Cantfort,  Director of Communications