giant wind turbine blade

My wife was traveling westbound on US-30 the other day and witnessed this giant wind turbine blade at the intersection with US-421. Impressive!

We are truly living through the 3rd industrial revolution (as explained in this video).

I saw the early stages of commercial wind farms in northern Iowa, near my parents’ childhood home. It was erected in 2002. The turbines seemed enormous at the time. They stood 65 meters tall (at the central hub) and produced a maximum 0.676 MW of power.

Off-shore wind turbines (larger than the on-shore variants, and comparatively new) are now reaching even 13.0 MW, producing nearly 20 times the peak power of those 2002 versions (which I believe are being or have been decommissioned). The center hub stands 141 meters above the water. A single spin of this new wind turbine could power a home in the UK for two days!

While you’re here, you can find the details of any US wind farm on this amazing interactive map.

Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) Technology Coming to Rural Indiana

Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) Technology Coming to Rural Indiana

The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ is partnering with Fermata Energy to install a bidirectional electric vehicle (EV) charging system at its Donaldson campus

Donaldson, Ind. and Charlottesville, Va.– September 21, 2020 – The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ (PHJC) is partnering with Fermata Energy to install a bidirectional electric vehicle (EV) charging system on The Center at Donaldson campus, located 90 miles east of Chicago, and 35 miles southwest of South Bend, Indiana.

Through collaboration, the Poor Handmaids sought to address the emerging needs of the surrounding communities through the lens of integral ecology, and saw an opportunity to build resilience into its sustainable agenda by installing a bidirectional charging system for its fleet of EVs. 

“The Poor Handmaids keep pushing the envelope with technologies that accelerate the shift toward renewable energy. The more we can produce, monitor and manage flows of energy at The Center at Donaldson campus, the better,” said Adam Thada, Director of Ecological Relationships at The Center at Donaldson. “Fermata Energy’s bidirectional charging system provides that flexibility and will help us continue electrifying our fleet in an affordable way.”

Fermata Energy’s bidirectional charging system for EVs is the first in the world to receive UL’s new North American safety standard, UL 9741, the Standard for Bidirectional Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging System Equipment third-party safety certification. Fermata Energy’s V2G technology uses bidirectional charging and proprietary V2G integration  software to turn EVs into sources of energy, giving their customers a clean and reliable alternative.  

“Our patented system works by turning an EV fleet or building into a revenue-generating, clean-grid supporting energy management platform, without the need for major capital expenditures,” said Fermata Energy founder and CEO David Slutzky. “Fermata Energy’s V2G solution will enable organizations such as the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ to maximize the use of renewable energy sources and reduce grid-operating costs.” 

# # #

About Fermata Energy

Fermata Energy’s turnkey V2X system empowers electric vehicle (EV) owners to make money while their cars are parked. Fermata Energy makes it possible for electric vehicles to combat climate change, increase energy resilience, and reduce energy costs. For more information, visit, and follow us on Twitter (@FermataEnergy), LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram (@fermata__energy).  

About The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ

Called in Baptism to proclaim by our lives and our works the presence of God in the world, we Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ accept the invitation to live a vowed life in community.

We are inspired by Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and Saint Katharina Kasper, our foundress, to listen prayerfully, live simply, serve joyfully.


Fermata Energy:       
Daniel Cherrin | | 313-300-0932

Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ:
Alicia Hammonds | | 574-935-1768

news round up, end of summer edition

Fall is almost upon us! Here’s some more links for your reading pleasure. And a picture of our favorite & frequent fowl family.

John Glenn School Board Moves Forward with Solar Project (Max 98.3) Johnson Melloh’s proposal for the [North Liberty Elementary] project came in at $701,000 for a 350 kilowatt system with an upgrade to LED lighting and updated lighting controls. The project is expected to be complete this fall.

The Most Important Number for the West’s Hideous Fire Season (The Atlantic) “If you’re having trouble following this year’s western fire season, you are not alone: The fire scientists are too. “There are two dozen fires burning right now that singularly would have been the top story on the national news 10 or 20 years ago,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told me…Several have swelled to a size of 100,000 acres—that is, more than 150 square miles—in the first 12 hours of their existence, Swain told me. “That statistic is so astonishing that I’m having trouble putting it into words,” he said.

Multiple Sample Collection, Testing Violations Found at Indiana Steel Mill and Testing Lab (Indiana Environmental Reporter) IDEM inspectors found “unsatisfactory” effluent sample collection and handling methods at ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor steel mill and Merrillville lab testing the samples.

Lawn to Meadow – Part I (Lake Maxikuckee Environmental Council)

University awaits approval for on-campus micro-nuclear reactor (The Daily Illini)

How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled (NPR)

Oil Demand Has Collapsed, And It Won’t Come Back Any Time Soon (NPR)

Pope urges respect for Paris climate accord, says ‘creation is groaning’ (Reuters)

Does over-seeding prairie plantings work? (Grassland Restoration Network)

Don’t crush that ant—it could plant a wildflower (Scientific American) Trilliums, bloodroot, violets—many wildflowers of spring in eastern North America bloom thanks to ants. The tiny six-legged gardeners have partnered with those plants as well as about 11,000 others to disperse their seeds. The plants, in turn, “pay” for the service by attaching a calorie-laden appendage to each seed, much like fleshy fruits reward birds and mammals that discard seeds or poop them out. But there’s more to the ant-seed relationship than that exchange

Bioblitz recap with the Marshall County Historical Society, Museum & Crossroads Center

I recently had the opportunity to share some updated results of last year’s Bioblitz, held at Moontree Studios on June 29-30, 2019. The virtual presentation was hosted by the Marshall County Historical Society, Museum & Crossroads Center.

The presentation starts around the 9:00 mark at this link. After presenting results from the Bioblitz, I tried to place them in the larger ecological context of the last two hundred years of changes.


Oh, and in case you missed it, here was a preliminary blog post summarizing the event (with photos!).

Image may contain: one or more people and people standing

9th Road Wetland Fen Restoration

A version of this article appeared in the September 2020 edition (Vol. 9, #9) of Ripples, our internal newsletter.

“It’s not ours, it’s just our turn.”  Doug Duren

Years before “Marshall County” was established, in the year the white man marked as “A.D. 1830”, a surveyor pounded a metal marker in the ground at what is now a 4-way stop at the intersection of Union & 9th Roads. He took his 66’ length of chains and headed due east, past white & black oaks, hickories, hazelnuts, turtles, wildflowers and grasses of all sorts – a bounty stewarded by the Potawatomi peoples.

After 27 such lengths (1/3 mile), he came down into a “marsh, rolling and springy.” At 40 lengths, a white oak 17” in diameter, “No other tree” around. At 43 chains, “spring brooks.”

190 years later, those brooks still flow. At the corner of Tulip & 9th Roads lies a large fen, a special wetland that is fed year-round by groundwater, not rainfall. This means the ground is squishy even in the midst of summer drought. The earth imparts a particular chemistry, leading to unique plant communities found nowhere else. During our 2019 biodiversity, botanists found 250 species here, indicating a very high quality habitat.

An ecologist friend once told me, “Consultants don’t make fens, only ice ages make fens.” We simply don’t know how to truly replicate this complex hydrology. Once it is destroyed, it is gone forever. 

searching for old tiles

Since that original survey, the fen community has been modified. Gone are the large grazers: bison & elk. Fire largely ceased. Wetlands were mowed for “marsh hay.” Settlers dug a ditch down the center of this fen to drain the land for European-style agriculture; today it is a “legal drain” that taxpayers excavate periodically. Fences & cattle followed as well, but the squishy organic soils made for many a stuck cow. Then also came the drainage tile & plow, to raise row crops. But the dark, water-logged soils are too persistently damp for the demands of heavy equipment & commodities markets.

And so, despite this barrage, most of the fen has remained relatively intact. It was decided that the most heavily-degraded portion could be restored (to a degree) by redirecting the drainage tiles and creating a shallow pool for frogs, turtles, and migratory waterfowl. This work is being funded through a partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

We just finished the earthwork recently. When I went to visit the following day, I already spotted the giant footprints of the Sandhill Cranes. Dragonflies dipped their abdomens on the surface of the growing pool, planting hopeful eggs. Killdeer gathered in a flock of more than a hundred, drawn by bare earth. Over the next couple years, we will be prioritizing invasive plant control & the introduction of native species.

Sandhill Cranes and Racoons showed up immediately

The idea of “seven generation stewardship” – said to be based on the Great Law of the Iroquois – is to make decisions based on the benefit of those living 7 generations into the future. What seems like an interminably long period is really not. This fen has already persisted for 7 generations since the year the Potawatomi stewards were removed at gunpoint.

Despite that happy feeling we might have when we pay off our home mortgage (someday…), the idea of ownership is still new and foreign to this land, a convenient myth we have built to organize the flow of capital. The name on the land’s deed today lists only the current, temporary stewards. The sun rises and sets on our time as stewards, the bonds between generations linked by culture, wisdom, and lovingkindness.

Which makes me wonder… when my daughter’s great-granddaughter stands on a rise in what is now Marshall County and looks to the horizon with her grandson, what will they see?

bloom report 2020

The coronavirus lockdown that began in March 2020 provided the perfect excuse for me to start on a project I had been mulling over for some time. I had always wondered how many blooming species were present in my yard, and when they were blooming throughout the year. This could serve as an indicator of nectar & pollen resources for pollinators.

Well, there’s only one way to find out. Count them! Over and over and over again…

Starting March 15, I have been going out every Sunday during midday to find & identify every blooming wildflower species on my little 0.4 ac suburban homestead. Each Sunday, I will mark every species as either 1) new for the season, 2) disappeared (I saw it last week, but not this week), or 3) reappeared (it was here, gone, then back this week).

I counted all species, whether they were wild, cultivated, native, or non-native. I did not make notes on bloom abundance. That is, even a single Tulip (bulb) flower counts that species as present, the same as the White Clover with many thousands of blooms across my lawn.

Up high or down low, each one counts (photo credit: my 8-year-old)

Preliminary Results:

I provided results last month in a mid-season update to residents of Maria Center, our independent living center. Sorry, no photos from that! But, a lively discussion on flowers & pollinators.

I’ve got too many iron(weeds) in the fire right now for a full report… I’ll save that analysis for the winter months. But here are some basic plant metrics, and two collages with blooms of all sorts.

Total Species: 132

Native / Non-Native: 62 / 70

Cultivated / Wild: 53 / 79

Weeks counted (so far): 23

Weekly metrics:

Bloom diversity seems to be peaking the last 4 weeks, as I’m consistently seeing over 50 species per Sunday count! I will expect this to drop pretty soon, and sharply. As the numbers above show, I’m averaging about 6 new blooming species each week.

The longest blooming species goes to the humble dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), which I have found every week but 3. The average species blooms for about 5 weeks.

There have been several species that I had not seen before. It was a good opportunity to use keys and apps to learn some new species.

Image may contain: plant, flower, outdoor and nature

news round up, late summer edition

A magical solution’: Solar developers planting flowers that could help save butterflies and bees (IndyStar)

Grassland bird decline tied to neonicotinoids (BirdWatching) The increasing use of neonicotinoid insecticides is a major factor in the decline of grassland birds in the United States, according to a new study published in Nature Sustainability

Beetles And Wasps Vie For Title of Most Diverse Critter (NPR)

Bumble bees damage plant leaves and accelerate flower production when pollen is scarce (Science)

How to drive fossil fuels out of the US economy, quickly (Vox) The US has everything it needs to decarbonize by 2035.

Greta Thunberg to donate $1.2M from humanitarian prize money to environmental groups

What is solar for? AIRE’s new plan for cooperative, sustainable communities solar

Building a prairie and watching for bees (U of Illinois) It’s early evening as I follow the researchers to their work site on the Phillips Tract, just east of Urbana. When we get there, I immediately notice two things: We are standing in a vast grid of prairie plots with neatly mowed paths between them, and there are tents – dozens of dollhouse-sized tents.

Ball State report finds renewables will stabilize energy prices, benefit consumers in Indiana

Construction Begins on I&M Solar Farm (Inside Indiana Business) Contractors have begun moving dirt on a planned 20-megawatt solar farm in St. Joseph County to help provide power to thousands of homes and businesses in northern Indiana, more than doubling the utility’s current output.

Tesla Gigafactory Austin is going to be ‘ecological paradise’ open to the public (Electrek)

The scariest thing about global warming (and Covid-19) (Vox) “Shifting baselines syndrome” means we could quickly get used to climate chaos.

How Oak Trees Evolved to Rule the Forests of the Northern Hemisphere (Scientific American) Genomes and fossils reveal their remarkable evolutionary history (subscription required, e-mail me if you would like to read)

A Few Notable Trees on Our Campus

This piece appeared in the Aug. 2020 edition of Ripples, our internal newsletter.

People have very emotional relationships with trees, and for good reasons. Trees bear witness to the decades and centuries. They create shade, water,
timber, and food from thin air; store carbon and culture; serve as history books for fires, insect outbreaks, and atmospheric composition. As we mortals pass through our own decades, we often find a tree to journey with, their seeming stability an anchor for our frenetic wanderings.

A couple years ago we watched a giant black oak begin cracking in front of the Motherhouse. After felling, we cut out a “tree cookie” and counted all 109 rings, dating back to 1909 or so. This predates the Motherhouse by more than a decade. The first European settlers born in Marshall County were only in their 60’s when it sprouted and might have passed by this tree. Some perhaps even remembered from childhood the removal of the Potawatomi in 1838.

Former Ancilla College student Sister Lucia Tran views the “tree cookie” from the felled black oak during Earth Week 2018.

Another giant of unknown age stands in the horseshoe drive. This Tulip Popular (Liriodendron tulipifera) is Indiana’s state tree and the tallest-growing hardwood species of the eastern U.S. Its leaves feed the caterpillar of the gorgeous Eastern Swallowtail butterfly. Sister Mary measures this tree at 3’6” at breast height. You may have seen a few parking spaces temporarily blocked off next to this Tulip. That’s the work of aphids, raining down sticky “honeydew” from their abdomens as they suck moisture from the leaves. The bounty produced a sugary windfall for all manner of hymenopterans (ants, wasps, and bees). The forest community evolved to handle this, and the aphids’ many predators and parasites will ensure that the Tulip species will persist. The ecological value produced by this single living being – whose life is interwoven with ours and so many others – far exceeds the trivial inconvenience of moving our motor vehicles.

You may have noticed the tree that was felled in the employee parking lot nearby. This was a Basswood or Linden Tree. It grew at a severe tilt to the ground, making it the best candidate to be transformed into beautiful woodwork of the new organ planned in Ancilla Domini Chapel. Even for trees, there is life after death!

Contractor James Harrell stands before the Linden Tree
that will be used in the pipe organ renovation in AD Chapel.

Lastly, there are three American Chestnuts hidden on the property, planted by Sister Mary. This species once comprised one in every five trees in Appalachia. A blight (fungus) was introduced from East Asia in 1904, leading to the loss of some 3-4 billion trees and near eradication of the species. Thanks to Sr. Mary’s diligence, foresight, and patient care, we are now stewards of the small genetic remnant that may be used to restore this species over the 21st and 22nd centuries.

Being stewards of these slow and patient beings requires that we not act out of ignorance. Ecologists call this the “precautionary principle.” If we don’t know what we are doing, we hold off on action until we gain wisdom. The fool in a hurry is likely to cause harm, damage that may take centuries to undo.

On this subject, Aldo Leopold wrote:

The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”