A popular mantra among the environmentally conscious during the past few decades has been a call for increased attention to renewable energy. At the same time, technological advancements in wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric energy, among other sustainable sources, has made the harnessing of such resources more affordable and attainable for many cities and municipalities.
In Wisconsin, a partnership between the state and its largest university system provides a singular location to advance and promote the development and use of renewable energy sources. Energy On Wisconsin, a collaboration of the Wisconsin State Energy Office and the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension, was established in 2013 with the goal of promoting sustainable energy practices through energy conservation and efficiency, renewable energy and bioenergy.
The partnership, funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy, was established to encourage communities, businesses, farms and the public to seek solutions and more sustainable sources for electricity. According to Energy On Wisconsin, the goals of the collaboration are:
- Increase energy awareness; education and outreach on energy conservation and efficiency; renewable energy sources and systems; plus bioenergy and sustainable energy planning and policies
- Increase the opportunity for energy-related technical assistance for local units of government,
- locally owned businesses and the state’s residents
- Increase the likelihood of creating successful energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in Wisconsin
A website launched two years ago provides information for interested parties, including government entities, businesses and energy providers, about current energy projects and needs within Wisconsin. Users are able to post pictures and videos of energy projects, use a forum section for idea sharing and questions and take part in discussions on various topics. The website also provides a resource for parties interested in funding energy-related projects through grants and loans, as well as educational opportunities.
Additionally, the website provides a resource for residents and business owners to seek ways to reduce their energy consumption and costs, as well as opportunities to apply for participation in state-run programs designed to help consumers with energy conservation and their renewable energy needs.
In 2009 and 2010, 50 Wisconsin communities received grants to implement sustainable energy in government buildings, infrastructure and fleets. According to Energy On Wisconsin, the process to move towards energy independence consisted of:
- Creating an energy team of local stakeholders
- Evaluating their current energy use and sources
- Determining energy efficiency and savings strategies
- Determining the community potential for generating energy from renewable sources locally
- Evaluating and selecting strategies to generate 25 percent of their energy through renewable energy sources by 2025
- Developing an energy independence plan with projected savings and costs to implement
One of the primary promotions of Energy On Wisconsin is the continuation of the Energy Independent Communities program, a voluntary agreement between the state and local municipalities that agree to the 25 percent goal. Currently, nearly 150 communities have signed a participatory resolution. Localities pledging their support range from small villages and towns to entire counties and large municipalities, including Madison, the capitol, and the state’s largest city, Milwaukee.
Many projects have been touted and supported by Energy On Wisconsin, including one in Dane County to further develop its “cow power” facilities. The county has received multiple grants to develop a plan to use digesters to convert millions of gallons of cow manure into electricity to power through the burning of methane gas. A local gas and electric company has contracted to purchase multiple megawatts of electricity annually from the Dane County facilities, and adds it to the grid to help serve all customers. The arrangement provides enough energy to power the equivalent of 2,500 homes.
In 2013, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said of the project, “By working together — the public sector, the private sector, business and agriculture — we are helping clean up our lakes, create homegrown ‘green’ energy and make it easier for our multi-generation family farms to keep growing their herds, crops and our local economy.”
Another project supported by Energy On Wisconsin is an energy update of a lighthouse in northern Wisconsin. Located in the town of Bayfield, the lighthouse was built in 1881 on Sand Island — one of the Apostle Islands — and is now part of the national park system. The lighthouse has been updated to use solar energy to replace 600 gallons of kerosene oil previously used each season.
Other projects includes solar arrays for public buildings and schools, anaerobic digestion facilities, wind farms and converting vehicle fleets to natural gas.
The collaboration between Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension has provided a one-stop resource, through its website, to consort on, promote and discuss green energy projects taking place within the state. It also has provided an opportunity for smaller Wisconsin communities to utilize resources that were previously available only to their larger brethren.
For more information about the Energy On Wisconsin partnership and its multitude of resources, visit http://energyonwi.uwex.edu.