May 15, 17-20, 2010

people walking down stairs to exit a building

CHE's 2010 Place-Based Workshop explored sites of energy production and consumption around Wisconsin and northern Illiniois. For the first time, this workshop was organized as a series of day trips leaving from Madison, with one overnight stay at Starved Rock State Park in Utica, IL. Another first for CHE was that this workshop coincided with the Spring 2010 CHE Methods Seminar, which produced a remarkable set of documents on issues of energy from both historical and contemporary perspectives.

The itinerary of this workshop, like CHE's previous workshops, reflected CHE's eclectic approach to environmental issues. Where else but a CHE workshop do public service commission employees get to talk to geographers, and poets get to tour LEED buildings? Where do employees at nuclear and coal plants talk to historians and sociologists about their jobs? Where do engineers talk with county board members about aesthetic issues involving wind farms? And where else can all of these folks have a picnic at a rural homestead that is disconnected from the grid?

Itinerary of 2010 Place-Based Workshop, "Energy in the Upper Midwest"

John Nelson at a construction site

Saturday, May 15 - The workshop began with a one-day session on issues of energy and the environment. This included overview lectures from John Nelson and Public Service Commissioner Lauren Azar in the morning, and walking tours of energy facilities on the UW campus in afternoon. From Science Hall the workshop moved to the Charter Street plant to discuss its conversion from coal to biomass, and then moved to tour the new LEED-certified building of the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery. The day ended with a tour of UW and MGE's West Campus CoGen facility.

Chris Upper in a yard talking to students
Monday, May 17 - Chris UpperThe workshop's first trek outside of Madison was to the Columbia coal-fired electrical generation station near Portage, which supplies more than half of Madison's electricity. From there, we followed the transmission lines that move this electricity towards Madison and talked with Public Service commissioner Don Newmeyer about the history and policy of energy transmission. Our next stop was a tour of the hydroelectric dam at Prairie du Sac, an aging facility that is still a workhouse for the grid in the Upper Midwest. Our final stop of the day was a talk and tour with Chris and Karen Upper, who operate a pick-your-own farm and live "off-the-grid" in western Dane county. This very full day ended with a picnic dinner at the Uppers' farm, and a lot of lively conversation about energy from workshop participants.

group looks at wind farm
Tuesday, May 18 - Day Two began with a trip to Badger State Ethanol in Monroe, WI where the workshop learned about the production of biofuels. From there, the workshop moved to Malta, IL to look at and discuss issues of zoning and siting of wind farms in the area. Michael John Jaeger of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission joined the group on this day and offered his insights on the history of wind farms and energy infrastructure. From Malta, the workshop moved to Utica, IL for a relaxing overnight stop at the lodge at Starved Rock State Park.

Sign at Byron Nuclear welcoming students

Wednesday, May 19 - Sign at Byron NuclearDeparting from Starved Rock, the workshop made its way to Byron, IL to tour Exelon's Byron nuclear generating station. After an orienting talk from the station's managers, the group toured a training simulator of the control room, the turbine deck, and the dry cask storage pad. The tour was followed by a talk from Exelon CEO and UW alum John Rowe who offered his insights on the history of the nuclear industry and the future of energy production in the United States.

Steve Brick

Thursday, May 20 - Steve Brick The workshop's final day was spent at Wisconsin's largest consumer of energy, the NewPage Corporation's facities in and near Wisconsin Rapids. The group learned about the plant's biomass and hydro facilities as well as its pulp and paper operations. Making a final return to Madison, workshop particpants reflected on what they had learned about energy production and consumption over the course of the week, and the scope of the energy challenges that lay ahead.