The Budget Bill is now in the hands of the state legislature, and the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) has announced four listening sessions, three in-person and one virtual, to learn about your Budget priorities.
Friday, April 9, 2021, UW-Whitewater, Whitewater, WI
Wednesday, April 21, 2021, The Hodag Dome, Rhinelander, WI
Thursday, April 22, 2021, UW-Stout, Menomonie, WI
Wednesday, April 28, 2021, Virtual
Due to the expected crowd size, speakers (virtual and in-person) will be given just two minutes to speak. If you would like to submit more in-depth comments, the committee has created a web portal for citizens to provide input. The JFC has also developed a dedicated email address for comments: email@example.com.
While the JFC process is important, it does have its limitations. The most effective thing you can do to support the clean energy Budget proposals is to speak directly with your state legislators,especially if they are a member of the Joint Finance Committee or in the Senate or Assemblylegislative leadership. You can contact them one-on-one or see if they are holding in-district or virtual listening sessions for their constituents. To find the contact information for your legislators, you can use the digital Legislative District Map.
Every legislator has a vote and can influence what is included in the final Budget package. Make your legislators understand that clean energy issues are a priority for you!
If you have any questions or find out that your legislators are especially supportive or opposed to the clean energy proposals, please tell Jim Boullion, RENEW Wisconsin’s Director of Government Affairs, firstname.lastname@example.org.
After simmering on the proverbial back burner for nearly two years, the third-party financing issue relating to customer-sited solar power has been thrust back into the public spotlight as pressure builds to resolve the legal questions surrounding it.
The reemergence of this issue can be traced to two parallel developments. The first is a Public Service Commission (PSC) proceeding moving toward a ruling settling the legality of third-party-owned solar systems serving individual retail customers. The second is a lawsuit recently filed by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association in Portage County Circuit Court, challenging the PSC’s authority to regulate the financing of behind-the-meter systems that serve host customers only.
The PSC proceeding began in March 2019 when Eagle Point Solar, a Dubuque-based solar contractor, filed a complaint against We Energies for blocking the installation of rooftop arrays serving the City of Milwaukee. In its complaint, Eagle Point contends that PSC Chapter 119, which regulates the interaction between small-scale electricity producers and the utility grid, does not give We Energies the right to deny interconnection to a customer based on how the generating equipment is financed. According to We Energies, however, a third party owner of the equipment that supplies electricity to one customer under contract should be regulated as a public utility.
Following an extended period of legal maneuvering, the PSC set in motion a process for investigating Eagle Point’s complaint (Docket 9300-DR-104). In so doing, it expanded the scope of the proceeding to consider the public utility question that led to the interconnection denial. When the parties finished entering evidence into the hearing record, the PSC opened a public comment window on the proceeding, which ended on February 23rd.
Supporters of third-party financing sprang into action, led by RENEW. To illustrate the breadth and depth of support for opening up the solar market in this fashion, RENEW circulated an action alert encouraging those who care about this issue to submit comments supporting Eagle Point’s position. Networks such as Wisconsin Climate Table, Wisconsin Health Practitioners for Climate Action, and our own solar contractor e-mail list helped circulate RENEW’s alert beyond our own activist base. At the same time, organizations such as 350 Madison and Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) asked their activists and members to post comments on the PSC website.
As a result of our combined efforts, a total of 336 individuals and organizations weighed with their views on the Eagle Point matter. Of that, 327 comments expressed support for opening the market to allow third-party ownership of solar electric systems in Wisconsin. In that overwhelming display of support, several themes prevailed, including the following:
Third-party financing is already expressly authorized in 28 states;
Allowing third-party-owned solar systems is consistent with Wisconsin case law;
The threat of being regulated as a public utility discourages businesses from providing solar power generated onsite to retail customers through leases and sale agreements;
Third-party financing would make solar power affordable to low-to-moderate income households and nonprofit entities such as schools;
Expanding solar financing options would help communities reduce their reliance on harmful fossil energy sources; and
Expanding solar financing options would invigorate local economies.
These arguments track closely to those articulated by Wisconsin solar contractors and consultants in a March 2019 filing urging the Commission to approve Eagle Point’s petition. Similar to our efforts during the comment period, RENEW shaped the themes in that statement and pulled together a coalition of market actors to demonstrate support for third-party financed solar energy. In the intervening two years, Eagle Point Solar and the City of Milwaukee labored to amass a set of facts and legal arguments to support a finding that WEPCO’s action was unlawful.
The merits of this case are clear-cut, as are the regulatory remedies. Other states that regulate electric utilities have taken steps to affirm the legality of third-party-financed solar, most notably Iowa, which did so in 2014, the result of a long and expensive legal fight waged by Eagle Point. In contrast to Iowa, the State of Wisconsin has allowed this issue to languish for many years without resolution.
In a brief representing RENEW and other solar advocates, we urged the PSC to take the following actions:
Order WEPCO to interconnect the City of Milwaukee solar projects, regardless of how those projects are financed;
Clarify that a utility may not deny interconnection based on project ownership, and
Clarify that third-party owners of customer-sited distributed generation are not “public utilities” under Wisconsin law.
RENEW would like to thank Eagle Point Solar and the City of Milwaukee for leading this crucially important regulatory battle, ELPC for drafting a particularly persuasive legal brief on behalf of clean energy advocates, and the 327 commenters who affirmed their desire for an expanded solar marketplace free of utility interference.
Photos from the North Star Solar project in North Branch, Minnesota, illustrate the type of pollinator and prairie habitat that will accompany Onion River. While grazing is not yet part of the Onion River project, the North Star Solar photos demonstrate the potential to graze livestock between solar panel rows, an exciting opportunity for solar in Wisconsin.
The Onion River Solar project will produce clean, cost-effective electric energy for Alliant Energy customers, provide a diversified income source for local farmers, and generate significant tax revenues for the town and county. This project can improve environmental outcomes ranging from reduced air emissions, reduced chemical use on local farmland, increased grassland and pollinator habitat and improved downstream water quality in parts of the Onion River watershed.
Onion River Solar is anticipated to avoid the generation of over 400 million pounds of CO2 per year. For more information on solar farms’ potential to reduce air emissions, you can see RENEW’s analysis of the 250 MW Darien Solar Farm’s health benefits.
The solar farm is expected to generate $250,000 per year in new revenue to the Town of Holland and $350,000 per year to Sheboygan County. Local governments can use these funds to meet pressing local budget priorities.
Onion River Solar represents a significant step forward to build Wisconsin’s renewable energy capacity and to shift away from fossil fuels.
RENEW is happy to announce EVs for Good, a new grant program created to foster the expansion of and transition to electric vehicles among nonprofits in Wisconsin. EVs for Good will reduce the upfront costs of purchasing an electric vehicle while reducing vehicle maintenance costs and transportation emissions.
RENEW Wisconsin’s mission is to lead and accelerate the transformation to Wisconsin’s renewable energy future through advocacy, education, and collaboration. Transportation accounts for approximately 25% of Wisconsin’s energy use and emissions. This presents a huge opportunity to transition our state’s vehicles away from fossil fuels and onto clean, renewable electricity sources. Electrifying transportation will result in lower carbon emissions and improved air quality for all Wisconsinites.
EVs for Good is possible thanks to a generous donation from Carol and Andy Phelps. The Phelps installed a solar array at their Middleton home in 2019 and recently purchased an electric vehicle to further reduce their carbon emissions. The Phelps are extremely happy with their shift from gasoline and want to ensure everyone has the same opportunity.
“Everyone thinks electric cars are only for rich people, but EVs are for everybody,” said Andy Phelps.
This interview of Carol and Andy Phelps explains why they are so passionate about the EVs for Good program.
EVs for Good will offer grants for 20% of the cost of an electric vehicle, with a maximum grant of $5,000. Larger grants, capped at $10,000, are available for organizations seeking to purchase an electric van or bus. In addition, $500 grants are available for organizations who choose to install Level 2 (or higher) electric vehicle charging equipment.
Preference will be given to organizations that work on issues related to social justice or education. Preference will also be given to organizations that serve black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), low-income, or rural communities, as well as, those that serve children or seniors.
Nonprofits can apply for the following:
Vehicle Grant: Covers 20% of the cost of a new or used electric vehicle, with a $5,000 maximum amount. Grants may also cover 20% of an electric bicycle or an electric cargo bicycle purchase.
Van or Bus Grant: Covers 20% of the cost of a new or used electric van or bus, with a maximum grant amount of $10,000. The vehicle must be able to transport eight or more persons safely.
Electric Vehicle Charging Equipment Grant: $500 grant for nonprofits installing a Level 2 (or higher) electric vehicle charger.
Organizations that receive an EVs for Good grant must agree to promote their awards in their communities. This outreach can be a media event, an open house for the solar + charging infrastructure, a vehicle demonstration, or a “ride and drive” for an electric vehicle purchase.
Grants will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, with the initial grant cycle opening in Spring 2021. If all funds are not awarded in Spring 2021, grant applications will be accepted on a biannual basis until all funds are dispersed.
The initial grant cycle for EVs for Good will open on Thursday, April 1, 2021. Applications are due by Saturday, May 1, 2021. Questions can be emailed to email@example.com.
Now just ten days out from the onset of the crisis, water contamination and shortages (resulting from frozen and broken pipes) continue to threaten the health and welfare of Texas residents.
Immediately preceding the energy crisis, a powerful winter storm blanketed the southern Plains with freezing rain and snow, followed by record low temperatures. Frigid temperatures had a stranglehold on the central U.S. for two straight weeks, extending from Canada to Mexico. Many parts of Texas and the South rely on electricity as their primary source of heat, as opposed to gas, propane, or wood, which are more commonly used in the northern United States. The prolonged cold snap created a high demand for natural gas, for both heating and electricity generation around the region, triggering an upsurge in electricity consumption.
Unfortunately, the outages gave rise to a disinformation campaign that attempted to implicate frozen wind turbines as the principal cause of the power outages. This narrative is patently false. While some wind turbines were frozen and unable to produce electricity, the cold and ice had a far more disruptive effect on thermal plants.
Wind, natural gas, and other energy sources need to be weatherized
In fact, renewable energy generation facilities played a key role in keeping the lights on. According to ERCOT, wind power output exceeded forecasted generation numbers during the blackouts, even with the icing of turbines. At times, solar generation has also exceeded output. Wind turbines would have done better if they had used heating technology as Sweden does, to prevent icing and keep turbines generating power in extreme cold. Using heating carbon-fiber technology similar to aircraft, Swedish maintenance workers add a thin layer of material to the wings of the turbines that can be automatically heated can prevent ice before it forms.
The bottom line is that our electricity grid and all types of power generation are vulnerable to extreme weather events. We need to plan for these events and invest in grid resilience and weatherization to prevent disasters like this from repeating.
There is no single cause for the situation currently unfolding in Texas, and no silver bullet for preventing a repeat situation. A combination of record demand due to the prolonged cold temperatures, and generators not equipped to function in very cold temperatures are responsible for the rolling blackouts now plaguing the state.
Planning and preparing for extreme weather has to be part of the conversation
Renewables are reliable sources of energy from Texas to Antarctica. Even during extreme weather events, wind and solar can function when traditional energy sources have gone offline. More renewable energy sources, in more locations, will diversify our grid and make it less susceptible to the forces of nature and the market. Microgrids and energy storage are important tools to help shore up the reliability and safety of our grid.
Extreme weather events will continue to complicate our lives and strain our power grids over the foreseeable future. By incorporating more sources of renewable energy, we can reduce problems and increase reliability in our electric grid.
The bill now goes to the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) for review. The JFC will hold a series of public hearings, likely in April, to gather public comments and then will spend the next several months amending the bill. Once the bill passes out of Joint Finance, it goes to both houses of the legislature for final review and potential amendment there. The Session Calendar indicates that the legislature plans to finish the budget and adjourn for the summer by June 30th.
RENEW Wisconsin will be closely monitoring the progress of the bill and working to pass as many of the Governor’s clean energy and efficiency proposals as possible. If you would like to talk to your legislators about any of these provisions, or if you have ideas that you think the State should adopt into the Budget Bill, you can click here for a directory to find contact info for your state representative.
If you have any questions or comments feel free to contact Jim Boullion, RENEW Wisconsin’s Director of Government Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3.11.2021 Update: After the initial posting of this blog, further research indicates that the Darien Solar Energy Center would have a *capacity factor likely closer to 0.24, not .30. Using this updated capacity factor of .24 for the Darien Solar Energy Center, emissions would decrease by 423,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), 602,000 pounds of nitrogen oxides (NOx), 745,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide (SO2), and 76,000 pounds of particulate matter (PM10) annually for the lifetime of the project. These emissions reductions would lead to decreased mortality of about one life per year, annual health savings between $15 to $34 million, and yearly climate savings of over $17 million
* Capacity factor expresses in percentage form the expected production of a power plant relative to its maximum possible output. This ratio takes into account variables such as maintenance-related downtime and the availability of the energy source fueling the plant. All power plants have a capacity factor of less than one.
Consider a solar farm sized to produce a theoretical maximum of 10,000 megawatt-hours/year. If the plant is estimated to have a capacity factor of 0.30, it can be expected to produce 3,000 megawatt-hours a year. A solar farm could not have a 1.0 capacity factor because the sun doesn’t shine all day. In fact, with nighttime constituting half of the hours in a year, a solar farm could not have a capacity factor greater than 0.50.
The Darien Solar Energy Center is a proposed 250-MW solar PV facility in Walworth county, Wisconsin currently under review at the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. If approved, developers hope to have the project constructed and energized by 2023, offering significant health, environmental, and economic benefits to local Wisconsin communities.
Using the EPA’s Avoided Emission and Generation tool, RENEW Wisconsin estimates that the Darien Solar Energy Center could reduce emissions by 538 thousand tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), 700 thousand pounds of nitrogen oxides (NOx), 1 million pounds of sulfur dioxide (SO2), and 98 thousand pounds of particulate matter (PM10) annually for the lifetime of the project. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, and sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter contribute to health problems including asthma, cardiopulmonary disease, and premature mortality. Fossil fuel power plants are the primary emission sources of these pollutants. Transitioning to the clean energy produced by the Darien solar project, Wisconsin would reduce its fossil fuel generation, providing significant human health and environmental benefits to its residents.
RENEW Wisconsin completed in-house research on the health benefits of the Darien project. Using the EPA’s Co-Benefit Risk Assessment model, the Darien Solar Energy Center is estimated to reduce mortality by up to one life per year for 30 years in Wisconsin. The health impacts are substantial for Wisconsin, a state highly dependent on coal-fired electricity generation. Energizing the Darien Solar Energy Center could directly save Wisconsin lives.
In addition to the health benefits of clean energy, there are also significant economic benefits this solar project could deliver. Using the EPA’s health benefit factors for Wisconsin, the annual savings ranged from $18 to $42 million depending on population, pollution burden, and other differentiating factors. Moreover, Darien could produce up to $22 million in annual savings resulting from avoided climate impacts. Climate impacts are estimated from the EPA’s social cost of carbon values. These monetized health impacts are significant and illustrate the benefits that the Darien Solar Energy Center could bring to the Wisconsin economy.
Overall, these findings detail the benefits that the Darien Solar Energy Center offers Wisconsin by reducing pollution, decreasing human mortality, helping to mitigate climate damages, and providing millions of dollars in economic benefits to the state. Other significant benefits related to Wisconsin GDP, employment, and environmental and water impacts were not discussed in this article. To learn more about the Darien Solar Energy Center and its additional benefits, please visit the Town of Darien website.
Wisconsin’s distributed generation (DG) renewable energy market lags behind comparable states. As seen in other states, DG helps diverse groups of individuals and organizations, including businesses, residents, renewable energy customers, and future renewable energy customers, gain access to renewable energy and create a more fair and navigable market.
Whether it takes the form of behind-the-meter generators powering individual customers or larger projects feeding power directly into the distribution grid, DG is a vitally important segment of the renewable energy landscape. Customer investments drive these installations with benefits extending to Wisconsin businesses, residences, governments, nonprofits, and their communities. DG clean energy investments help spur local economic investment, support clean energy jobs, and save Wisconsin money that otherwise would have been spent on importing fossil fuels.
It has long been RENEW’s view that a more fair, clear, and consistent regulatory environment could strengthen the DG market and accelerate the transition to renewable energy in Wisconsin.
In June 2020 the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) convened an investigative docket” (5-EI-157) to identify regulatory barriers that effectively put a tight lid on Wisconsin’s DG market, especially customer-sited DG.
This investigation is structured to encourage input and recommendations from organizations and entities that support small-scale DG. RENEW has assembled an expert legal and technical team for this docket—Tim Lindl and Melissa Birchard of Keyes and Fox, and Justin Barnes of EQ Research. We invite you to review the legal and policy analysis we provided to the PSC in August 2020 and in January 2021. A coalition of organizations (Clean Energy Advocates) joined our comments to the PSC, demonstrating broad support for an improved DG market. This ongoing investigation is the best opportunity we’ve had in more than 10 years to advance renewably powered DG before the PSC.
The success of this campaign will strengthen and expand the renewable DG market in Wisconsin. If you support this work, please consider a donation to RENEW today. Together we can champion renewable energy growth in Wisconsin and we are poised to make significant progress in 2021. Join us today!
Wisconsin has fewer net metering customers than comparable states
Net metering customers represent an important segment of the renewable energy market, however, Wisconsin is falling behind. In the last four years, net metered customers in Wisconsin have grown by only 0.11%, well below the increases seen elsewhere in other states since 2015.
Fair and clear distributed generation policies would grow the renewable energy market in Wisconsin
RENEW Wisconsin aims to enlarge the market share for non-utility-owned renewable DG, including both self-supply and grid-supply projects. In furtherance of that goal, we’ve developed a number of principles that should inform decisions rendered in the DG docket. These include:
Ensuring developer access to standard offer contracts that have terms for reasonable compensation.
Giving developers insight into system and utility resource needs to help them target their planned investments.
Provide larger energy users with better and less restrictive opportunities for larger self-supply resources.
Standardize and improve net metering rates for all customers across Investor-owned Utilities (IOUs).
In addition to behind-the-meter systems, RENEW has also set forth a path for front-of-meter renewable generation projects up to 20MW. These types of projects should be eligible for 20-year standard offer contracts that are pegged to the same methodologies that utilities use when assigning value to their own generation projects. Leveling the playing field for compensating solar is essential to increasing customer investment opportunities, and expanding the solar workforce.
RENEW is optimistic that by the end of the docket the PSC will land on several beneficial policy changes for promoting renewable DG. These policy changes could be taken up later this year through the anticipated utility rate case filings. Should events unfold along these lines, solar developers and customers stand ready to benefit from a more fair, clear, and consistent renewable energy market.
Join RENEW’s campaign to advance renewable distributed generation in Wisconsin
Since 1991, RENEW has been the state’s preeminent advocate for renewable energy. At the macro scale, solar and wind can outcompete fossil fuels on cost and environmental performance. For the first time in more than a decade, we have an opportunity in Wisconsin to broaden the clean energy transition underway to benefit all customers who place a value in a healthy energy economy. A clear, fair and forward-looking regulatory environment will be crucial to spreading renewable energy across all sectors of society. RENEW is bringing together the leadership and expertise necessary to undo the regulatory barriers that have held renewable DG back, and to replace them with policies to make renewable DG more accessible, affordable, and plentiful across Wisconsin. We hope you will join us in this work by donating today. 2021 promises to be an exciting year!
 RENEW evaluated eight states closest to Wisconsin in terms of cumulative Net Energy Metering (NEM) capacity at the end of 2015, i.e., the four states immediately above and below Wisconsin in EIA data listing NEM capacity by state. The eight states closest to WI in NEM capacity in 2015 included NH, RI, ME, NC, VA, IL, MN, and MI. The 2020 data is based on NEM capacity through April 2020. The percentage of total customers uses 2018 total state customer counts for both calculations. Note that Wisconsin has fallen behind states it had previously led. See bar graph for more information.
 In the most recent comments filed by Clean Energy Advocates, we looked at this year’s PSC calendar to assess how our recommended actions can make their way into regulatory policy. The DG docket now underway is well-timed in that we expect every Class A investor-owned utility in Wisconsin to file for new rates in 2021.
At its first open meeting of 2021, the Public Service Commission (PSC) cleared the path for Wisconsin’s next solar farm, a 150 megawatt (MW) project near Wisconsin Rapids in Wood County, to proceed to construction. Developed by Savion Energy, the Wood County Solar Farm is one of six Wisconsin solar farms totaling 675 MW that Alliant Energy-Wisconsin Power and Light seeks to acquire for its own generating fleet.
Wood County is the sixth solar farm proposal to be granted a siting permit from the PSC since April 2019, when the agency approved Wisconsin’s first two solar farms, Two Creeks and Badger Hollow. With the authorization of the Wood County project, total solar power capacity approved by the PSC climbed above one gigawatt (see Table 1).
With this favorable ruling, four of the six solar farms that Alliant Energy plans to acquire now have permits. In addition to Wood County, the other permitted solar farms are Crawfish River, a 75 MW project near Jefferson, North Rock, a 50 MW project near Edgerton, and Richland County Solar, a 50 MW project near Lone Rock, also developed by Savion Energy (see Table 2).
Two other proposed solar farms—the 200 MW Grant County project near Potosi and the 150 MW Onion River project near Oostburg in Sheboygan County–are moving through the regulatory review process. The PSC is expected to issue rulings on those two projects, along with Alliant’s application to own and operate all six solar farms, over the next three months.
Presently, the site is mostly a red pine plantation grown for the pulp and paper industry. Following PSCW approval of Wood County Solar Project, the work to harvest the site’s existing stand of trees will begin. Coordination has already commenced between the Project, Alliant Energy, The Town of Saratoga, and Wood County to ensure an orderly harvesting campaign.
As part of its tenth annual Renewable Energy Summit, RENEW Wisconsin will recognize individuals and organizations who have made significant and lasting advances in renewable energy development here in Wisconsin.
Titled “Building the Clean Energy Mosaic,” this year’s Summit will be hosted virtually over three days from Tuesday, January 12th through Thursday, January 14th, 2021. The theme of this year’s event, “Building the Clean Energy Mosaic,” will highlight the diversity of technologies, people, and scale needed to shape our clean energy future.
Roster of 2020 awardees
Renewable Energy Business of the Year
Northwind Solar Cooperative, Amherst
Renewable Energy Catalysts of the Year:
Sid Sczygelski & Ali Wolf, Aspirus Health, Wausau
Charles Hua, Madison
Renewable Energy Champion of the Year
Oregon School District
Renewable Energy Pioneer of the Year
Renewable Energy Project of the Year
Two Creeks Solar Park, Manitowoc County
NextEra Energy Resources (developer)
Wisconsin Public Service Corp. (joint owner)
Madison Gas and Electric (joint owner)
Renewable Energy Business of the Year
NorthwindSolar Cooperative has been a fixture in Central Wisconsin’s renewable energy marketplace since 2007, operating principally in the residential and small commercial segments. Throughout its history, Northwind has been acutely conscious of the value of community ties. Northwind’s PV systems are a common sight in Amherst. The company has operated the Grow Solar – Central Wisconsin group purchase program for four straight years, designing and installing more than a megawatt of solar capacity for 168 residential customers. After the company reorganized itself as a worker-owned cooperative structure, Northwind committed to building a new headquarters building in Amherst Business Park that showcases its talents and services. With 44 kW of PV capacity and multiple battery configurations, Northwind’s new headquarters building invites prospective customers to pursue solar + storage as the energy package of the future.
Renewable Energy Catalysts of the Year
Aspirus Health is a health care organization serving much of central and northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, with 10 hospitals, 50+ clinics, labs and other service-providing facilities within its system. In 2018 Aspirus launched a systemwide initiative to identify and implement strategies for slashing its energy overhead and scaling back its carbon footprint. Sid Sczygelski, chief financial officer of Aspirus, chairs this initiative, while Sustainability Director Ali Wolf directs and coordinates this ambitious undertaking. Their goal is to reduce carbon emissions systemwide 80% by 2030. Going into 2021, Sczygelski, Wolf and the Aspirus sustainability team have made great progress to date. Aspirus has integrated into its buildings more than 900 kilowatts of solar PV on its rooftops, saving more than $600,000/year in energy expenses. In 2021, Aspirus plans to double its use of solar energy systemwide and complete construction on its most energy-efficient facility yet, a clinic in Wausau.
In 2017, students and staff at Madison West High School started work on a campaign to power their school with a rooftop solar PV system. That year, Charles Hua, then a junior, took the helm of West Green Club and launched a fundraising and outreach campaign that blossomed into one of the largest youth-led sustainability efforts in Wisconsin. From June 2017 through 2019, the West Green Club raised nearly $90,000 from staff, students, parents and local foundations, accounting for nearly 50% of the cost of their 128 kW solar PV system. Installed last summer by Westphal Electric, Madison West’s solar system is now the largest array supplying electricity to a Madison Metropolitan School District building. The example set by Hua and West Green Club helped inspire the school district to adopt a 100% renewable goal for all of its facilities. Hua is now a junior at Harvard University.
Renewable Energy Champion of the Year
Long a leader in pursuing solar power for its operations, Oregon School District took advantage of an opportunity in 2018 to push the envelope on sustainability at its new Forest Edge Elementary School in Fitchburg. Collaborating with HGA’s Madison office, an architectural and engineering design firm, the school district financed and saw to completion the first net zero energy public school in Wisconsin. Equipped with a 646 kW rooftop solar array, a ground-source heat pump system and onsite battery storage, Forest Edge is an all-electric building. There is no gas connection to the school. Completed in the fall of 2020, Forest Edge represents a quantum leap in capturing, controlling and maximizing the economic value of sunshine and ground temperatures to heat, cool and power a building where many people congregate.
Renewable Energy Pioneer of the Year
Impatient with federal and state government inaction on climate change, Dane County decided to roll up it sleeves and get to work, starting in 2017 with the creation of the Office of Climate Change and Energy. The County’s approach to reducing fossil fuel use has been aggressive and remarkably systematic for a local government. A number of these actions bore fruit in 2020. These include:
Throwing the switch on a biogas processing plant in April that converts gas from landfill waste and cow manure into a pipeline-grade renewable fuel;
Releasing a Climate Action Plan, also in April, containing recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions countywide 45% by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050;
Partnering with Madison Gas and Electric to host a 9-megawatt solar array on airport property and purchase the output from that project, under a long-term contract; and
Purchasing property in the Town of Cottage Grove to host a larger solar array that will enable the County to offset all of its electricity usage with zero-emission power.
Renewable Energy Project of the Year
Developed by Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources in Manitowoc County, the 150-megawatt Two Creeks Solar Park was energized last November. It is now the largest power plant in the state of Wisconsin that is fueled by the sun. Jointly owned by Wisconsin Public Service and Madison Gas and Electric, Two Creeks effectively doubled solar generation capacity in Wisconsin, and its output will equal the electrical consumption of 33,000 residential households. Two Creeks was the first solar power plant to receive approval from the Public Service Commission, and the first to be approved as a utility-owned asset. Seeing Two Creeks to completion opens the door to a new chapter in electric power, one highlighted by the emergence of solar power as the cleanest, more affordable and least risky supply option available to Wisconsin electric providers.
This year’s summit program will also draw attention to other milestones and notable achievements in 2020, including the following:
The Public Service Commission approved two large solar farms—Badger State Solar and Paris Solar—that will add 349 MW of solar power to Wisconsin’s electric generation portfolio;
Madison Gas and Electric completed two smaller solar farms in its service territory, with a combined capacity of 14 MW, to supply several customers under contract and expand its shared solar program;
Grants from RENEW’s Solar for Good program resulted in 27 new solar installations across the state totaling 1,265 kW of operating capacity.
Two Eau Claire high schools—Memorial and North—celebrated the completion of their 126 kW solar arrays supported by Solar on Schools, a joint venture between the Couillard Solar Foundation and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association.
Eagle Point Solar installed 400 kW(AC) of PV capacity, serving four City of La Crosse-owned buildings.