Paving the road to wind project sites

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Most people don’t associate road construction with a wind turbine project however it is a key factor in transporting the equipment to the project site, maneuvering components during the construction phase, and servicing the turbines once production begins. These photos were taken on the same corner of a rural road near the Gundersen Envision Lewiston, MN, wind project site.

As you can see from the photo on the right, commercial turbine tower sections and blades are very long and require special trailers to haul them over the road. Some components, such as the gear box and rotor hub may not be as long but are extremely heavy. Properly transporting these large pieces of equipment will often require a turning radius at intersections to be constructed so the truck and trailer can negotiate a corner.

Routes are predetermined months in advance of the construction project. State Department of Transportation permits are required as well as local township permits and possibly Department of Natural Resource permits. Local police may be required to help safely control traffic challenges and often, moves may be made at night when traffic congestion is less of an issue. A seasoned wind turbine manufacturer and your project developer should have experience managing these permits and the logistics required to transport the necessary equipment to the project site.

Townships may also require the project owner to secure a road bond to cover any potential damages that may occur to local roads during the construction of the project.  At this particular intersection, excavation was required as well as backfill, culvert, and crushed gravel. In this case, it was necessary to develop a plan to prevent soil erosion and adjust signage at the intersection. Once all of the equipment was on site, the road construction crew restored the intersection back to its original condition and removed the temporary road materials. Occasionally, it may also be necessary to move power lines or other utilities in the location. These are all factors that are considered in planning an appropriate route and minimizing costs to the project.

The turbine site also requires road building. Each turbine needs an access road to move cranes and other service equipment to the turbine. A crane pad, that can support a massive crane that will lift the components of the turbine during erection, must be placed next to each turbine. Additionally, a lay down area for storing the components during the construction is needed, in addition to space for construction trailers, crew vehicles, etc. Once the turbines are erected and the large crane moves offsite, the lay down area, crane pad, and vehicle parking areas are removed and the land restored to its original state.

In most cases, this work is taking place on rural, agricultural property. The property owner is typically reimbursed for crop losses during the construction process on a per acre basis and appropriate crop pricing. In addition, most land lease agreements for turbine sites compensate the land owner for the access road acreage that must remain to service the turbines during production.

Learn about other Envision renewable energy projects at

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Hand drying alternatives


These photos are from public restrooms and show several alternatives for hand drying. Each solution has its pros and cons and consideration should be given for the proper method to suit the intended purpose.

The photo on the left shows a common paper towel dispenser where a stack of folded paper towels is dispensed one at a time in a similar fashion to a tissue box. Often, the towels will pull out in a bunch and drop into the waste receptacle or worse, on the floor as you can see in the photo. This method has several significant disadvantages. First, the towels must be loaded manually and the paper waste removed, which can consume significant labor from cleaning crews. In addition, the paper uses a significant amount of fossil fuels and electricity in the processing of pulp wood into paper, packaging, and transport to the point of use. Furthermore, the paper is disposed in the trash and will end up in a landfill.  In restrooms with large volumes, the paper waste can be significant. Its advantage is that it has an economical upfront cost.

The center photo shows an automatic paper towel dispenser that utilizes a roll of paper. This solution has the advantage of a hands-free touch-free sensor for dispensing the towel in a predetermined length appropriate for the need, thus reducing paper.  It is also a less energy intensive way to produce and package the paper. The towels can still require significant fossil fuel to harvest, produce, and transport, and the towels can still end up on the floor.

The photo on the right shows an electric hand dryer using a high speed air stream to evaporate the water from hands. While this solution does use fossil fuel electricity, the power is only used for a brief time and is more efficient in saving energy costs and has less impact to the environment. These new models of air dryers are much better at drying than the older versions that heated hands rather than forcing water from hands. Some disadvantages are that they have a significant upfront cost which may be prohibitive unless used for high volume restrooms. Other disadvantages are potential splatter of water droplets and their noise level.

There are several hand drying solutions available today and the factors for consideration are upfront cost, labor intensity, fossil fuel use, disposal costs, infection control, noise, and mess. Think carefully about your intended application and the proper balance of these solutions.

Visit to see how Gundersen Health System’s Envision can help you with your energy conservation and sustainability program.

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Nursing and climate change: Recycling

recycling 3Gundersen Health System nurses are undertaking a project to take the sustainability and environmental practices they use at work (through the guidance of the Envision program) home with them to broaden the impact Gundersen’s nurses can make on the environment. After targeting nurses, the project will go system wide!

One of the most widely utilized and available methods of environmental stewardship is recycling. Knowledge is power when it comes to recycling. In single stream recycling, placing the wrong item into the stream can prevent other items from being recycled. Also, throwing something into a landfill that could have been recycled is counterproductive. Get to know your town’s recycling program. If you aren’t sure where to start, and you live in the La Crosse area, look here:

Recycling doesn’t just mean putting a can in the recycling bin either! You can “recycle” used items by donating to various places like Salvation Army. These are also places to think about making purchases for items that don’t need to be brand new. Why waste all the packaging and resources that are put into a brand new item, when the same gently used item serves the same purpose? Here are some ideas for places to check out:

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Nursing and climate change: You can make an impact

Lightbulb charge

Earlier this month Tom Thompson, Gundersen Health System’s sustainability coordinator, and Phoebe Breed, RN, Surgical and Digestive Care Unit, presented at the all RN/LPN staff meeting about Gundersen’s nursing and climate change grant.

The goal of the winning grant proposal is to apply some of the same sustainability and environmental practices nurses use at work (through the guidance of Envision) in their homes to broaden the impact Gundersen’s nurses can make on the environment.

Here are suggestions for implementation at home.

  • Unplug older appliances or use a power strip for a more convenient “turn off” option.
  • Turn off the lights when you don’t need them! One light on for eight hours each day can cost up to $20 in one year.
  • Change your light bulbs. You can save $135 in the lifetime of an LED Energy Star certified light bulb compared to incandescent light bulbs.

See how you can make a difference.

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Scheduling exhaust fans – an easy way to save money

Have you ever taken a walk on the rooftop of your hospital or clinic to see what is up there? You might be amazed at the amount of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment that is placed on rooftops. This is often a good place to install mechanical systems since rooftop space is not in high demand. Exhaust fans can range in size and shapes from a very small unit such as those you might find in your home to fans the size of the one in the photo above. Sometimes you may find small exhaust fans mounted to duct work through exterior walls of buildings. Their functional purpose is to exhaust air from inside the building. They are frequently used remove fumes, odors, particles, etc. from inside the building and thus improve the indoor air quality for occupants. In certain applications, such as pharmacies that mix chemotherapy drugs, isolation rooms, labs, etc. exhaust fans may serve an important safety or infection control function. There are many fans that serve restrooms and cafeteria cooking areas.

Exhaust Fan

However, “out of sight” typically means “out of mind” and when energy use is invisible to us we usually don’t manage it very well. When Gundersen Health System began its Envision® program in 2008 we started with an intense energy efficiency effort. One of the steps we took was to inventory our exhaust fans. We found that we had over 300 exhaust fans serving our six largest facilities … approximately 1,500,000 square feet of mixed-use inpatient, outpatient, and medical office buildings. That was a surprising number of fans, but what was even more surprising was that most of these exhaust fans were operating 24 hours per day, 7 days per week even though most were serving areas that were unoccupied for at least 10 or 12 hours each day. If you think about it, nobody leaves their bathroom exhaust fan running when they leave their home for the day. Why should we have these exhaust fans using energy when it is not needed? Energy waste costs money which is passed along to patients, contributes to disease, and harms the environment.

Electronic controls can make automatic scheduling of fans easy so they can be turned off when they are not needed–although they are frequently installed without electronic controls. However, some fans may have electronic controls and others may make sense to retrofit with new controls so they can be scheduled. On one of our buildings, our fan inventory revealed eight fans similar to the one in the photo that could be automatically scheduled and instantly provided an annual energy savings of more than $5,000. This is an easy way to improve health, save money for patients, and improve the environment.

The experts at Gundersen Envision can help you uncover a number of quick payback energy conservation measures in your organization. Contact them today at


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Insulation: An Easy Opportunity to Improve Energy Efficiency

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Pipe insulation 1Pipe insulation 2

This photo was taken with a thermal imaging camera that utilizes infrared technology (thermography) to measure the temperatures of surfaces on subjects in the photograph. The colors in the image enhance the viewer’s ability to distinguish cool and warm areas of the surfaces in the image. The warmest areas are white or yellow and the coolest are deep blue or purple.

The photograph shows two steam lines in a mechanical room serving an outpatient facility with a surgery center and sterilizer. The pipe on the left has an uninsulated check valve and the pipe on the right has insulation covering a similar valve. As you can see from the scale in the photo, the exterior surface of the left side steam pipe is approaching 156 degrees Fahrenheit. This heat is wasted and lost to the interior of the building and must then be cooled by the buildings air conditioning systems which wastes more energy and money for patients. Mechanical rooms are often hot because of pipes, connections, pumps, and valves like these are uninsulated. Sometimes the insulation is skipped as a cost savings measure in a construction project. Other times, maintenance staff may remove insulation to conduct necessary work. If the insulation is difficult to remove or replace, they will often leave it off so that they can conduct their work more easily the next time.

Insulation continues to be one of the best opportunities for improving energy efficiency which will improve health, improve the environment, and save money. Insulation is usually out of sight and out of mind. People are often numb or indifferent to wasteful use of energy and even in the case of heat, which we can feel, we don’t usually question why it is hot inside a space. When we can see energy being used we are much more likely to question why and take action to prevent or remove waste. Insulation will often have paybacks approaching three years. It is a good investment and can be tailored to fit your capital improvement budget. Do what you can when you can.

Recently, new styles of easily removable insulation have been developed to make it easier for maintenance staff to conduct their work without compromising the insulation and its energy benefits. An example of this is shown in the photo on the right. Walk through you facility and mechanical rooms and look for un-insulated pumps, valves, connections, pipes, etc. and pay attention to the temperature in your mechanical rooms…you may have an easy opportunity for improvement.

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Greenhouses: How they work


Greenhouses are prefect for someone wishing to grow plants year around. But how do they work? Greenhouses are usually made of glass or plastic. Why? Because greenhouses use solar radiation to trap heat inside and the glass/plastic allows heat to enter easily into the building structure. This design helps create an artificial environment to sustain plants inside when it is too cold outside. The heat from the sun enters through the roof and warms the plants and soil inside. As the heat around the soil begins to rise it is replaced by surrounding cool air which immediately starts to warm up. This system rapidly warms the greenhouse.

In temperate climates (growing season and a dormant season in which temperatures can get below zero) additional heat sources may be needed, including heat fans. As plants absorb the energy of the sun, they do not emit it quickly but instead retain it, which is another reason why the greenhouse stays so warm. There is a chance of overheating occurring, which is why vents need to be installed near the roof to let lighter/hotter air escape and near the floor where cool air can enter. Greenhouse plants also need plenty of water. To make it easier, drip irrigation systems are commonly used, along with overhead sprinklers.

Greenhouse sizes vary. The larger the greenhouse, the more expensive it will be. Greenhouses can be purchased or built. Building a greenhouse used to be difficult but now there are materials you can buy that are specifically designed for building a greenhouse. Keep in mind that greenhouses are also beneficial to the environment because they reduce fossil fuel use by allowing us to grow local vegetables and fruits during cold months rather than having to import them. If you would like to improve the environment and have plants and vegetables available to you year round, consider investing in a greenhouse!

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The Blue Wrap project


At Gundersen Health System we use blue wrap to wrap surgical instruments and trays prior to sterilization. In the past, once the surgical instruments and trays were in the OR, they were unwrapped prior to surgery and the blue wrap was thrown away. Considering that up to 22,000 pounds of blue wrap was being used each year, there was a lot of waste being produced. One of the fixes to this problem was investing in reusable hard cases for the surgical trays. However, since this was not possible for every surgical instrument, we knew that there must be a way to reuse and recycle the blue wrap.

Blue wrap is not made of cloth, it is actually polypropylene plastic (otherwise known as a # 5 plastic). Number 5 plastics can be recycled into items such as caps for bottles or medicine bottles, however we did not want to recycle all of the blue wrap, we also wanted to reuse what we could. We formed a partnership with the Coulee Region RSVP (Retired Senior and Volunteer Program), which is made up of volunteers age 55 and over. Their volunteers handcrafted the blue wrap into items such as tote bags and aprons (as pictured above), and wheel chair and walker bags that are used in the therapy department. The program started in the summer of 2011 and it is still going strong today. By reusing blue wrap we avoid purchasing items such as tote bags, which has enabled us to save money in departments throughout the health system. The most significant savings have been in the Breast Center where we have saved approximately $4,000/ year. This money can be redirected back into patient education materials. How does the blue wrap project relate to sustainability? By reusing and recycling the blue wrap, materials are kept out of the waste stream. In addition, we developed a long-lasting partnership with a wonderful volunteer program.

We can help you create sustainability projects at your organization. Find out how.

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Aviation planning, lights, ensure aircraft safety near wind turbines

Corey Zarecki FAA Light

The photo on the left shows Corey Zarecki (Director – GL Envision Engineering and Operations) on top of the north tower nacelle on Gundersen Health System’s Cashton, WI, wind project.  He is standing next to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) light which is also shown in the right photo.  Since wind turbines are tall structures it is necessary to notify the FAA when planning a project.

As part of the permitting process for a wind turbine project, the FAA will conduct an aeronautical study to determine whether or not the turbine will present an obstruction hazard to aircraft navigation.  If the location is determined not to constitute a hazard it is still required to have the turbine properly marked and lighted to enhance visibility for pilots and reduce the likelihood of a safety incident.

For sites with multiple turbines, the FAA lights are synchronized for all turbines so the entire project blinks at the same time.  This makes the multiple turbine site less distracting to pilots and you may notice the synchronized FAA lights if you drive past or fly over a wind farm at night.  During construction and prior to power being provided to the turbine, FAA lights can be powered from an on-site generator, solar or by battery.


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Do you purchase bottled water? Buy a water bottle instead


Do you drink bottled water on a daily/weekly basis? If so, is it because you have to, or is it your personal choice? If it is a personal choice, perhaps it is time for you to choose a different alternative. Bottled water is convenient and for the most part it is easy to find. However bottled water has many negative effects on the environment. Did you know that although most bottled water claims to be from fresh spring waters, about 25-40% of it comes from municipal sources (tap water)? Bottled water also produces around 1.5 million tons plastic each year which is close to 50 million gallons of oil needed to produce the plastic. Although plastic bottles can be recycled, over 80% are thrown away. This is bad for the environment because plastic takes a long time to decompose in the landfill.

What is a good alternative to bottled water? Buying reusable water bottles made of either glass, metal or even plastic. The plastic for reusable water bottles is different than the one time use bottled water because it is durable (lasts longer), dishwasher safe, and in many cases it is BPA free. Reusable water bottles are also a one-time payment, whereas bottled water has a price for every bottle purchased. But what if you don’t like the taste of the tap water at your house, or even at work? Consider getting a water filter that can be attached to your sink or one that can be stored in your fridge. This will clean the water of any impurities and in most cases improve the taste. Or try adding in natural flavors to your water such as basil, lemon, lime, or various other fruits, which will not only add a new flavor to your water but will also provide you with important nutrients for a healthy body. Bottled water may be convenient, but if we want to make a positive difference on health, costs, and the environment, it is time to discard bottled water, and turn to something that is reusable!

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