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Nashua;66.0;;2015-07-01 11:28:37

Geek on the radio: Chatting about 100% renewable energy with NHPR


My weekly chat with NH Public Radio host Peter Biello concerned, as usual, my column - which this week pondered a report about how New Hampshire could be powered 100% by wind, water and sun. (Answer: Almost certainly not, but it's a useful intellectual exercise.)

You can listen to it here. Or you can ready my column here. Or you can do both, of course.

Mercury-reducing upgrade of Portsmouth coal plant will continue, despite Supreme Court ruling

NHPR reports that "New Hampshire’s largest utility says a US Supreme Court ruling which on mercury emissions won’t affect its plans to install pollution controls at its coal-burning plant in Portsmouth." (Story here)

The Concord Monitor has a more detailed story here.

The much larger Merrimack Station plant in Bow already has the controls, installed at an eye-watering price of $450 million and the center of a big fight over disinvestment of power plants. The controls at the Schiller Plant in Portsmouth are much cheaper: $2 million, says NHPR.

Could NH be powered 100% by renewables? Probably not, but it's useful to calculate

I like the lede of my column in today's Telegraph:

Before we get into the interesting question of whether New Hampshire could really be powered by 100 percent renewable energy, let me reassure loyal readers: Even though the group doing the analysis is headed by an A-list actor, the only person I’ll quote is a Stanford University professor.


Community solar project could double N.H. solar power

The Concord Monitor reports of a big proposal from New Hampshire Solar Gardens, an operation I wrote about last year that helps develop community photovoltaic projects:

Seven community solar garden projects throughout (Franklin) would total 8.5 megawatts. That’s more than the total megawatts of residential and commercial solar projects installed across the Granite State in the past seven years. And it’s more than eight times the size of the state’s current largest solar development in Peterborough.

New Hampshire has 8 megawatts of solar energy currently installed, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The whole story is here.

While this is big for solar in NH, it's small for power production. How small?

Factoring in solar's intermittency (it's capacity factor, technically speaking) this will generate roughly one-third of one-sixth of the annual output of the Northern Wood Project, the coal-turned-to-wood power plant in Portsmouth - and it is just one-third of the Schiller Station power plant, which is one-third the size of the Merrimack Station coal-fired power plant in Bow. So if you're thinking of replacing coal with solar in this state, there's a long long way to go.

On the slip side, this is relatively distributed power, so its indirect cost on the grid is less than adding this output to an existing power plant because it won't require as much transmission-line usage.

Genetically modified wheat doesn't scare away aphids, as researchers hoped

Genetically modifying plants to do certain things is a good idea (in my humble opinion) but like all technologies it doesn't always translate from the lab to the field, as reported by Science magazine.

Researchers had hoped that the wheat modified to emit a warning pheromone would ward off aphids while also attracting their natural enemies, thereby allowing farmers to spray less insecticide. Despite promising signs in the laboratory, the field trial—which made headlines in 2012 after opponents of genetic modification (GM) threatened to obstruct it—failed to show any effect.

“If you make a transgenic plant that produces that alarm continuously, it’s not going to work,” he says. “You have a plant crying wolf all the time, and the bugs won’t listen to it any longer.”

Inspired by science cafes, NHPR tackles probiotics (the big takeaway: eat well, for crying out loud) 

Inspired by Science Cafe NH and Science on Tap, both of which have tackled the topic this year, the statwide call-in show The Exchange on NHPR discussed "the emerging science of probiotics" on Thursday's program - which you can listen to right here.

They snagged an impressive guest: Allan Walker, a nutrition professor at Harvard Medical School who chaired a symposium about emerging research on probiotics last fall.

One of the conclusions: Good diet is the most important factor, by a long shot. Slugging down a probiotic pill or a dose of some specialty food isn't enough.

Recession's drag on people moving into NH may be ending

You've probably heard the quote "demographics is destiny," expressing the idea that pretty much everything - war, peace, economics, social change, popular music, whatever - is driven by changes in the numbers and makeup of the human population. It's an exaggeration for effect, of course, but it's pretty accurate as is obvious in places like fast-aging Japan, too-many-single-males China and too-many-restless-teens central Africa.

So if New Hampshire's economy picks up in the next few years, perhaps it will be a reflection of of a demographic trend I point out in today's Telegraph: A possible end to the Great Recession's clampdown on our in-migration.

As with Vermont and especially Maine, New Hampshire suffers from Overly Pale Sydrome: non-hispanic whites have small familes, so they (we) don't do a good job of keeping population numbers up. Our population growth depends on people (especially young adults) moving here, mostly from other U.S. states.

That mostly ended when the recession killed off jobs and stalled most migration.

But 2014 census estimates of state and county population hint that this may be reversing, that we might be shifting back into pre-recession migration patterns. That would be a good thing for the economy of southern NH, but as I note in the story it does little or nothing for the northern parts of the state. Coos County, for example, has seen its numbers fall 4 percent in four years!

Even in far northern Maine, the "wilderness" is controlled by people 

We hear how removing dams from rivers can hugely increase the number of alewife (a small anadromous herring that is important in Northeastern river ecology) which make the runs back up the river.

But as a story in today's Press-Herald shows, you don't have to remove the dam: Just opening the fish runs at the right time has tripled the alewife run in a small river on the Maine-New Brunswick border.

Why weren't the fish allowed through before? Politics of the outdoors:

Alewives were effectively shut out of the St. Croix River from 1825 to 1981, first because of impassable dams, and later because of pollution from lumber and paper mills. Meanwhile, smallmouth bass were introduced to the region by late- 19th century sport fishermen, supporting fishing camps and guides across the watershed.

But with construction of a better fishway at the dam at the mouth of the river in the early 1980s, the alewives’ annual run grew 13-fold to more than 2.6 million fish. Bass guides worried about the possible effects on smallmouth bass and persuaded Augusta lawmakers to pass a 1995 law that ordered the fishways at the Grand Falls and the Woodland dams – which are controlled from the Maine side of the river – to be closed to the fish. The St. Croix alewife runs collapsed to just 900 fish in 2002, a decline of 99.7 percent.

This is a reminder that even in the wilds of northern Maine, there's no such thing as wilderness any more. Humans control it all.

Can you identify good aquatic weeds vs. bad aquatic weeds?

Whenever I'm out paddling and spot vegetation - in other words, whenever I'm out paddling - I always wonder if it's a good weed or a bad, invasive weed that should be yanked and/or reported.

If you have the same question, consider The Nashua River Watershed Association's free “Aquatic Plant Identification Workshop” on Thursday, July 16, 2015, at 6 p.m., at the Petapawag boat launch off Nod Road in Groton, Mass. Here's their press release:

This 2-hour class will be led by Tom Flannery, aquatic ecologist with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Lakes and Ponds Program.

The workshop begins with an introduction to the invasive non-native species issue, how exotic species are introduced into our waterways, methods of dispersal, basic terminology, and guidance on performing bi-weekly monitoring and completing plant surveys. The remaining 3/4 of the class will engage participants in hands-on identification. A variety of non-native and native plant species are provided, and people are encouraged to bring in their own samples.

Participants will become familiar with using a dichotomous key and, although the emphasis is on exotic species, the goal is to teach people how to use the key so that they will be able to identify the majority of common aquatic plants in their lake or pond (native or otherwise).

This workshop is free and open to the public, made possible by a grant from the Greater Lowell Community Foundation. Attendees may park at the NRWA River Resource Center at 592 Main Street (Rt. 119) in Groton, and walk to the nearby boat launch. The workshop is limited to 20 people; pre-registration is required. To pre-register, or for more information, please contact Martha Morgan, NRWA Water Programs Director, at (978) 448-0299, or email

I missed a good aurora-spotting chance last night - ARGH!!!!

The Northern Lights were seen as far south as Georgia last night, due to a big space storm. I missed the news and didn't go out spotting - argh!!!!

If I was a zillionaire, I'd go on one of those winter aurora-spotting vacations to the Arctic; I've never seen the darn things, even though I went atop Pack Monadnock last year during a big solar storm.

Here are a bunch of pictures from Mount Washington Observatory posted a photo on its Facebook page that I've copied above.

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About this blog

David Brooks has written a science column for the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph since 1991 - yes, that long - and has overseen this blog since 2006.

He chats weekly with New Hampshire Public Radio about GraniteGeek topics, around 5:50 p.m. on Tuesdays. You can listen to old sessions here.

Contact:   E-mail or call 603-594-6531.


Free, informal get-togethers at a bar that feature discussion among the audience (everybody is welcome) and experts in various fields. Check the website here.

NEXT CAFE: Wednesday, June 17

TOPIC: Probiotics: Is "gut health" bacteria a fad or a new direction for medicine?

Location: Killarney's Irish Pub, 9 Northeastern Boulevard (Holiday Inn, just west of Exit 4 on the turnpike).



May: Trains. April: Who was here before Europeans arrived - and how do we know? March: How roads are designed. February: The science of sugar. January: Geothermal energy.


November: Medical screening; how much is too much? October: Flexible and printed electronics. September: The science of marijuana. June: Fluoridation in public water. May: Organic gardening. April: Tele-medicine, or doctoring from afar. March: Bitcoin - what is it? February: The science of allergies. January: Electric cars.

Multiple sclerosis. October: Genetically modified organisms. September: Aquaponics. June: Flying robots (drones!) May: PTSD and brain tauma in veterans. April: Cats vs. wildlife in NH. March: Mosquito-borne disease. February: The science of brewing. January: 3-D printing, with MakeIt Labs.

"Dark skies and light pollution" with Discovery Center. October: "The science of concussion." September: "The science of pain management." June: "Arsenic in our environment." May: "Invasive species in New Hampshire" April: "Nanotechnology in business and the lab". March: "Lyme disease in NH". Feb: "Seasonal Affective Disorder." Jan: "Biomass energy"

Nov.: "Science of Polling." Oct.: "Digital Privacy." Sept: "Vaccinations." June: "Future of Food." May 2011: "Climate Change"


Alternative power map

Click here to see my alternative-power Google map showing large-scale solar, wind, hydro and nuclear plants in N.H., plus intriguing alternative-power items.

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