Monthly Archives: September 2016

Teaching Middle Schoolers Climate Change Without Terrifying Them

By Rowan Moore Gerety, WLRN Public Radio. Posted on KIOS, which serves as the educational extension of the Omaha Public Schools.


Bertha Vazquez has taught earth science for more than twenty-five years. “For many years I covered the basic standard, probably like most people in the country do.” Then one day she says she decided to throw all that out the window when she saw former Vice President Al Gore speak at the University of Miami at a screening of An Inconvenient Truth, his documentary about climate change. “And it really … hit me. This is 2007 and, I’ve got to tell you, I lost sleep,” Vazquez says. A study in the journal Science this spring found that half of U.S. science teachers spend less than two hours on climate change each year. Read more here.


With projects popping up across Nebraska, future of solar power brightens

Written by Paul Hammel, Omaha World-Herald cliff-mesner-3

CENTRAL CITY, Neb. — On an old gravel parking lot on the north edge of town, a pioneer in rural economic development is trying to show how solar energy could reduce electric bills. Mounted on four rows of steel racks, 8½ feet high and covering an area the size of a football field, shiny black panels of photovoltaic cells soak up the afternoon sun. In the center, an array of meters and junction boxes hum away, documenting a flow of electricity that can power about 32 homes. Cliff Mesner, an economic developer for more than 25 years in this Platte River town, has been involved in luring businesses to Central City, expanding the ethanol industry and helping several communities build affordable housing. Now he’s selling solar. Continue reading.

Photo: Developer Cliff Mesner helped persuade residents and businesses at Central City to invest in a $600,000, 200-kilowatt solar garden. He completed the project a year ago and is working on others in Venango, Scottsbluff and Holdrege.


Nebraskans for Solar’s October 12th Public Forum: The Department of Energy’s National Community Solar Partnership

erin-cheese2The Department of Energy’s National Community Solar Partnership will be the topic of discussion on October 12th for Nebraskans for Solar’s first in a series of fall events at UNO’s Community Engagement Center. Erin Cheese, Fellow at the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, graduate of Creighton University’s Energy Technology Program, and former Nebraskans for Solar Board member for two years will discuss the National Community Solar Partnership and how Nebraskans can get involved.

The partnership works to expand access to community solar throughout the nation, especially in low- and moderate-income households. On July 19, 2016, the White House announced a new goal to enable 1 GW of low- and moderate-income solar by 2020. Nebraskans for Solar is a member of the National Community Solar Partnership. Included in Erin’s talk will be information on joining the National Community Solar Partnership and the benefits. Learn more and see a list of National Community Solar Partnership members here.

This event, which is open to the public, is co-sponsored by Creighton Energy Club and Green Bellevue. We’ve invited special guests, including government leaders and community solar advocates and developers, and reserved Combined Rooms 201/205/209 at UNO’s Community Engagement Center from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Please save the date and join us! Refreshments will be served. Reserved parking is available in the lot in front of the Community Engagement Center, near the Durham Bell Tower, and adjacent lots.

Nebraska Solar Schools Launches Adopt-A-School Program

blackrocksolar-rainshadowNebraska Solar Schools launched the Adopt-A-School Program last week at the Nebraska Association of Teachers of Science (NATS) Fall Conference. The Adopt-A-School Program is for Nebraska educators at public and non-public schools, as well as places like schools, who are interested in collaborating with potential funders to install a photovoltaic (PV) system at their school and/or purchase solar energy kits, books and other educational materials.

The Adopt-A-School Program also seeks funding partners: philanthropists, foundations, and businesses interested in collaborating with a Nebraska school or a place like a school that wants to “go solar.” For more information, visit:

Photo Courtesy of Black Rock Solar

New round of Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant applications now open

Hammond Farm.1

The Rural Energy for America Program provides guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for renewable energy systems or to make energy efficiency improvements.

Who may apply?
Agricultural producers with at least 50% of gross income coming from agricultural operations, and small businesses in eligible rural areas.

Grants of $20,000 or less: October 31, 2016 and March 31, 2017.
Unrestricted Grants (up to $500,000): March 31, 2017.
Loan Guarantees are completed continuously throughout the year.

Program Fact Sheet (PDF) 

Jeff Carpenter, USDA Rural Development, 100 Centennial Mall North, Suite 308 Lincoln, NE 68508
402) 437-5554

An energy audit is required for a REAP application. The Nebraska Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) at UNL conducts energy audits to meet USDA Rural Development grant and/or guaranteed loan application requirements. Energy audits can be conducted at any time by Nebraska MEP staff but must be completed in advance of USDA application submission deadlines. The program’s focus is on areas where local electric utility providers do not offer free audits. Nebraska MEP, which received an Energy Audit Program grant from USDA Rural Development, will pay 75% of the cost of an audit. Applicants will be required to pay 25% of the cost.

Matthew Jorgensen
Project Specialist
Nebraska MEP
(308) 293-5884

Photo: Hammond Farm in Nebraska. Credit: Matt Ryerson, Lincoln Journal Star 

A University of Illinois student wants to see the energy world at his feet

Written by Kari Lydersen, Midwest Energy News


At 19 years old, Swarnav Pujari wants to do nothing less than “revolutionize the energy market.” The University of Illinois materials science and engineering student envisions office buildings, convention centers and tourist attractions powered simply by the hundreds of people who walk through them each day. Pujari’s company, Touch Light Innovations LLC, has made “Power Pads,” one-square-foot devices that are placed under flooring or carpet and generate energy with each footfall. Click to read more.

Photo: Swarnav Pujari speaks at WISE competition. Courtesy of Phyllis Frankfort.

Partners Kick Off Community Solar Work In Minnesota, Solar Industry Magazine
In 2013, the Minnesota state legislature passed the Solar Energy Jobs Act, allowing Minnesota citizens to access locally produced solar energy and expanding the use of solar in the
state . . . “Minnesota is slated to have the largest community solar program in the country,” said David Amster-Olszewski, founder and CEO of SunShare.

Dubuque mulls more solar panels, works to cut gas emissions, Quad City Times
DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — Officials in Dubuque are considering placing solar panels atop more city buildings as they strive to reduce electricity consumption and produce more power without creating climate-warming gases.

Xcel plans big expansion in wind power, adding enough capacity for 750,000 homes, Star Tribune The company will add eight to 10 new wind farms in the Upper Midwest.

Utility Puts Out Massive RFP For More Midwest Wind Energy, North American Wind Power
According to the company, this request for proposals  (RFP) announcement is another step in its long-term plan to transform its energy fleet and represents one of the largest wind energy proposals in the nation.

Los Angeles to study 100% clean energy goals, Utility Dive
Sierra Club notes that Los Angeles would be the largest American city to commit to 100% clean energy, joining the likes of Salt Lake City, San Diego and Boulder, along with international names like Paris, Sydney and Vancouver, to examine the goal.

“Measuring Sustainability in Buildings” Webcast

Message from Dr. Andrew Baruth on the Opening Talk of Creighton University’s Spirit of St. Francis Celebration:

andrew-baruthI want to thank those who were able to attend last night’s eye-opening lecture at Creighton University with Dr. Joshua Kneifel, Applied Economist from the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Engineering Laboratory. He addressed the role of measurement science in motivating change in building design, as well as changes to codes/laws/mindsets concerning improvements in sustainability within new builds and the application of lessons learned to retrofits.

In addition, we caught a glimpse of the powerful tools being developed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology to quantify important metrics, including life cycle analysis and energy inflows/outflows, and their incorporation into the National Renewable Energy Lab’s energy modeling software, OpenStudio.

I’ve prepared a webcast of the talk: PowerPoint slides with microphone voice-over for those who couldn’t attend or who would like to review the material:

Another public lecture in this series, “Sustainability Initiatives at the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo,” will be presented on September 30th at 1 p.m, with a reception at noon, in the Harper Ballroom:

Stephanie Huettner, along with a panel of Zoo staff and Creighton faculty and students, will share their successes in the implementation of their 2011 Energy and Sustainability Master Plan that resulted in their 2016 “Friends of the Environment” award from the Earth Day Omaha Coalition.

We hope you can join us.

Andrew Baruth, Assistant Professor in Creighton University’s College of Arts and Sciences Department of Physics / Energy Technology Program

Environment America launches campaign for cities to go big on solar


Albuquerque, NM – On the heels of a major solar energy victory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Environment America today announced the launch of a nationwide campaign to convince cities and local governments to generate much more of their power from the sun. The “Shining Cities” campaign will engage and mobilize thousands of Environment America members, volunteers and supporters to convince local governments to expand the use of pollution-free solar power. 

This week, the campaign won a major victory in Albuquerque, where the city council unanimously voted to generate 25 percent of electricity used by city facilities from solar power by 2025. Environment New Mexico, the state organization driving the campaign, successfully mobilized constituents to make the case for the tremendous environmental and economic benefits of locally-generated clean energy. Read the entire News Release.

Environment America is a national federation of statewide, citizen-based advocacy organizations working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.

$12.4M Multi-Utility Microgrid Project Announced by U.S./Canadian Team, Microgrid Knowledge
A North American consortium plans to build a $12.4 million multi-utility microgrid project, designed to show how microgrids save money and help integrate renewables with advanced software.

Inside the new guidebook for electric utility regulation, Utility Dive
For anyone — industry veterans and curious consumers alike — seeking to understand the intricacies of electricity regulation and how it affects society, the book delivers authoritative answers in clear, digestible language.

Southwest Minnesota celebrates newest wind farm completion

By Julie Buntjer, Daily Globe


Over the course of the next 20 years, the Odell Wind Farm is anticipated to have a $50 million direct impact on the local economy, from payments to participating landowners in excess of $1.1 million per year, tax revenue to counties and townships of approximately $850,000 per year, and a $40,000 per year contribution to the Odell Community Fund to be used to support charitable activities and opportunities to the entire community touched by the Odell Wind Farm. In addition, the completion of the wind farm resulted in the creation of 15 full-time jobs. As the wind farm was under construction, an estimated $10 million was spent locally in living expenses by the approximately 200 construction workers. Read more.

Photo: Landowners and area leaders gathered Wednesday to celebrate the commercial operation date for the Odell Wind Farm. Credit: Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe

Solar and Energy Efficiency Need to Work Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly

By Steven Nadel, Executive Director of the American Council for an
Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). Republished by The Energy Collective

Click solar map to enlarge it. 


Energy efficiency and solar advocates have on occasion butted heads over which option should be implemented in homes and buildings first and how much should be installed before the other is considered. Here at ACEEE we believe that, like market solutions vs. energy efficiency programs, this is a false choice. Both are valuable and can, and should, work together as an integrated solution to create cleaner and cheaper energy. While energy efficiency is just as clean as solar when it comes to emissions, efficiency by itself can’t produce energy for customers looking for a clean energy option, and solar without energy efficiency can’t reach the full extent of its potential. Continue reading.