Malcolm McDowell Woods

News you need to know

By - Jun 1st, 2009 12:00 am

Researchers, farmers hope bee population continues rebound from colony collapse

Will this year be a good one for bees? Time – and analysis – will tell if our country’s bee population will continue to bounce back from lows suffered two years ago. Bee colony collapse has not been in the news much since the sumemr of 2007, when 35 states reported Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The news was alarming: pollinators (which includes bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, birds, bats and the wind) are needed for the reproduction of 90% of flowering plants and one third of human food crops.

In Wisconsin, cranberries and apples are among the agricultural crops almost totally dependent on honeybee pollination. The loss of 50% or more of adult worker bees was a wake-up call that demonstrated  once again how little we knew about how we affect nature.

Since 2006, Wisconsin has participated in the Bee Alert Survey and agreed to voluntary request inspections of hives in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Apiary Program offers inspections beginning in May and going through July and resuming in the fall. The inspector will find the queen, look for varroa mites, foulbrood diseases, viruses and any other pests or diseases.

Some early signs of CCD are:
• An insufficient workforce to maintain the brood
• The workforce seems to be made up of young adults
• The queen is present, appears healthy and is usually still laying eggs
• The cluster is reluctant to consume food provided by the beekeeper, such as sugar syrup and protein supplements
• Foraging populations are greatly reduced or non-existent

Since local bees alone can’t effectively pollinate huge acreages of crops, migratory beekeepers from Florida, Texas, Mississippi and California haul about 40,000 hives or colonies into Wisconsin to help pollinate fruit and vegetable crops. Local farmers often rent the visiting hives for pollination. Although the mingling of local bees with migratory bees may be beneficial to the gene pool, it can also spell disaster when a very serious die-off of honeybee colonies spreads across the country.

Since no one knows the exact cause of CCD, there are only precautionary guidelines for beekeepers to keep their colonies safe. They include:
• Not combining collapsing colonies with strong colonies
• Storing equipment where bees won’t have access to it when CCD is found
• Treating with certain bacterial agents and not others
Timothy Fulton, president of the Wisconsin Honey Producers Association says: “ There seems to be a number of factors that are affecting CCD. One of the most important aspects is nutrition. Bees need a variety of proteins from a variety of flowers. Having a population just available for alfalfa, for example, weakens their systems.” He also mentioned viruses, mites, certain insecticides and mold. Last year was a good year, with very little die-off. It is uncertain yet what the bee population will be like as of this writing since they are just beginning to stir from their hives.

There are not only national and state beekeepers associations, but also a Milwaukee/Waukesha Beekeepers Association (as well as many other local clubs throughout each state). These clubs plan workshops and special activities to keep their membership informed and to educate the general public about being good stewards of the land. They hold monthly meetings and welcome visitors.

June 22-28th is the third year of National Pollinator Week. Although no specific activities have been announced locally, the Wisconsin Honey Producers Association (WHPA) is keeping busy. There will be the announcement of winners of the annual Butter and Honey Recipe Contest on Father’s Day weekend at the Reedsburg Butterfest. (The deadline for entering was May 25th).

Other WHPA activities throughout the year include:
• A Honeybee Poster Contest for school aged children with cash prizes in the fall.
• The annual Wisconsin Honey Queen Contest in January.
• The Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis in August, where a booth is manned by volunteers. There are many things that we as individuals can do to help pollinators. (There are almost 4000 kinds of bees besides honeybees and the health of their populations is unknown.) According to
• We can plant a variety of flowers that attract and foster a healthy population of pollinators by providing the nectar and pollen they need
• We can minimize or eliminate the use of pesticides
• We can provide needed shelter for protection from severe weather and predators as well as sites for nesting (such as trees, shrubs, and different sized perennial plants)
• We can offer a clean, reliable source of water (such as pools, ponds and small containers with sloping or shallow sides so that pollinators can easily approach the water without drowning.

There is a new Farm Bill working its way through Congress and the House of Representatives for provisions for pollinator support strips to be added to large tracts of commercial farm land (much like the hedgerows seen throughout most of Europe) to encourage the healthy lifestyle of our tiny workers.

One other thing we can do is to support our local beekeepers. Most of us don’t realize that the honey we buy in large chain grocery stores comes from Argentina or China (check the label). This honey has been blended and heated to extend the shelf-life by breaking down the crystals that form naturally in honey and give a uniform color and taste. Local honey will vary greatly in color and taste because of the source of the flowers that they have visited. (Outpost carries the Kallas brand, which is produced locally. You can also find a wide variety at your local farmer’s market or find a local beekeeper at

If you want to know more about being a good pollinator partner, visit the web sites listed. Learning about bees would be a good hobby for a young person seeking a science fair project or 4-H project, or anyone who has time and space for a rewarding and worthwhile hobby.

– Cheri Yarborough


Not tilting at windmills: Michael Hastings, president and CEO, and Kevin Hirsch, CFO, compare Half Moon Power to the wildcatters who went up against the big oil companies in Texas decades ago. Photo by Liz Setterfield.

Catching wind: Three guys and the struggle for renewable energy

It seems simple. One might even say it’s a no-brainer. One part of the answer to the energy crisis … is wind. Especially in Wisconsin, where we have all the right ingredients; old coal plants and manufacturing plants suitable for retro-fitting, infrastructure, open land … and lots and lots of wind.

Governor Doyle’s 2007 energy independence plan has renewable energy written into it. The U.S. Department of Energy wants 20% wind power by 2030. Wisconsin is committed to getting 10% of its energy from renewable sources by 2015, and is contemplating 25%. Currently, the figure is closer to 1.2%. The Obama administration is funding wind projects around the country.

It all seems ripe for action. But progress made in Wisconsin seems to be met with a certain level of frustration due to a “not in my back yard” sentiment. There are headlines about administrative barriers to wind farms, stories about permits granted but ground never broken and there are people testifying in support of Senate Bill 185/Assembly Bill 256 which would create uniform state standards that permit construction of safe wind farms.

And in the middle of it all, three Milwaukee men, friends since grade school, agreed to ditch their day jobs and start a wind power company. Three men with families and mortgages. Three men with big smiles on their faces, as it turns out.

Half Moon Power was incorporated in September 2006 by Michael Hastings, Kevin Hirsch, and Will Fetterley. With backgrounds in international business, finance and marketing; commercial real estate; and construction, the three men found they had the ideal combined skill set for the wind power venture.
At first, Hirsch (CFO) was unconvinced they could play in a field dominated by giant utility companies. Hastings (President and CEO) persuaded him that the all-important pre-development work required low capital, and once that work is done, and a site approved and ready for turbines, securing the big investment funds is manageable.

In a nutshell, the business model behind Half Moon Power is: Locate sweet spots for wind power, talk to the landowners, conduct viability studies, negotiate a land lease option and secure the necessary permits, zoning approval and regional support. If a site proves viable, negotiate with the utilities and secure investment for the construction of the wind farm. One turbine carries a price tag of $4 million, fully installed, and the average wind farm requires 145 of them. Which is where Hastings’ international finance background and investor know-how comes in handy. And as Half Moon Power states on its web site: “Utilities have a demonstrated need to acquire pre-screened wind farm sites to invest their capital most effectively. The delivery of sites with two years of verified wind data, local zoning approval, EPA permits, regional support and preliminary power purchase agreements in place is of significant value to the development community.”

So the three friends spent the first couple of years traveling to potential wind farm sites, chatting with farmers at their kitchen tables, conducting research and development while building relationships with the landowners. Hastings said, “After a year, we began an intense sales effort that requires a lot of patience; patience that the big utilities don’t have… to do it right.” Hastings compares Half Moon Power to the wildcatters who upset the Texas oil barons by going out and prospecting on their own. It takes between five and seven years to do all the groundwork for one farm. “Money can’t buy trust and build relationships,” he says. So where are they now? Like the wind power industry as a whole, they are in the works. The three men spend their time juggling multiple projects with 8 farms in various stages of development. Some are close to the finish line, with permits in place, and some are in the desktop phase.

The company’s East Side office space, in a house tucked behind busy North Ave., is filled with maps showing transmission lines and farms in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan.

The maps tell an interesting story and explain easily why Hastings and Hirsch seem so energized by their work here.  “The Midwest is basically wind alley,” Hastings says, leaning over a map of the region. “North Dakota is the perfect spot and could power half the country, but there’s no transmission infrastructure to get the power out.” Hirsch adds that south of Kentucky, there’s no wind. Then the two men are off… in quick succession, they discredit other markets: Texas has regulation issues standing in the way of development; the northwest is progressive in attitude, but where there are mountains, there’s no wind; California has a couple of good spots, but they’re already developed. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, they say, are perfectly positioned to grab hold of this opportunity. Even Detroit stands to gain, they say… why not retrofit the car manufacturing plants to build turbines?


A toy wind turbine at Half Moon Power’s offices. Photo by Liz Setterfield

Even taking a global view, this region is sitting pretty. Hastings points out how the Japanese are very interested in developing wind technology, but they have no land for it; the Europeans likewise. “All the big European players are setting up shop in Chicago,” he says.

That brings us back to the frustration element of the story. On Half Moon’s web site, the executives acknowledge that even with permits filed, some projects do not come to fruition because affected parties bring litigation against them. Without statewide standards in place, it can be difficult to make progress in Wisconsin. So it seems no accident that one of the more promising projects under Half Moon’s wing lies across the border in Minnesota.
“Minnesota is extremely progressive,” Hastings says. “They have a clear set of rules on how to develop this, which attracts a lot of investors.”

Hirsch and Hastings say they want other business people, as well as elected state officials, to be willing, as they were, to take on some risk for the goal of economic growth, jobs and a better environment. Globally and nationally, the right words are being spoken, and some of the right steps are being taken. Hastings and Hirsch believe Wisconsin and Michigan need to act now and not miss the boat.

“Essentially, what needs to happen in Wisconsin and Michigan is probably 10,000 megawatts or 5,000 turbines by the year 2020,” Hastings says. A traditional coal plant generates 1,000 megawatts, he explains, and a typical wind farm 100 to 200 megawatts. That’s a lot of wind farms.

“We could be successful with one wind farm,” Hastings notes, referring to himself and his partners. But the energy and enthusiasm displayed in his offices belies the three men’s passion for something larger than their own bottom line.

“It feels really good to be involved in this,” Hastings says, “We looked at solar and biomass, but zeroed in on wind… and we’re in a great place to do it.”

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