Creating Sustainable Change For Communities, By Communities

Creating Sustainable Change For Communities, By Communities

Photo Credit: Walnut Way

Walnut Way, Community Change Grants and how their benefits can be leveraged to reduce environmental disparities in Milwaukee’s Northside

With over 20 years of experience as an environmental nonprofit in Milwaukee’s northwest side, Walnut Way Conservatory has established itself as a trusted resource for local residents and stakeholders statewide through its commitment to creating healthier, safer, and more prosperous communities.

Through the EPA’s new Environmental and Climate Justice Community Change Grants, Walnut Way has the opportunity to move forward with its multi-million dollar proposal intended to advance sustainable change. The Community Change Grants Program is a multi-faceted initiative aimed at fostering environmental justice, infrastructure development, and community engagement.

Developed as a comprehensive response to pressing environmental concerns, the grants leverage the collective strength of Walnut Way and its partner organizations by deploying a budget of approximately $20 million to be distributed over 36 months with funds from the EPA through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Walnut Way’s proposal is specific to Milwaukee’s Lindsay Heights Neighborhood with the goal of increasing education, capacity building, governance participation, and environmental stewardship. 

Expediting Change

The Community Change Grants Program funds environmental and climate justice activities that benefit disadvantaged communities through projects that reduce pollution, increase community climate resilience, and build community capacity to address environmental and climate justice challenges.

Antonio Butts, executive director of Walnut Way, said, “Over the past two years, significant work has been done in Milwaukee to address energy burden, energy affordability, and sustainability projects in underserved communities. This work has involved engagement in utility rate cases with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, cross-sector collaborations with local grassroots organizations, and partnerships with various state agencies.”

The culmination of these efforts resulted in a comprehensive proposal to the EPA Community Change Grants Program.

These place-based investments will be focused on community-driven initiatives to be responsive to community and stakeholder input. They are designed to deliver on the transformative potential of the IRA for communities most adversely and disproportionately impacted by climate change, legacy pollution, and historical disinvestments. 

Photo Credit: Walnut Way

Community Impacts: Direct Financial Assistance, Energy Independence, and Home Weatherization

Overall, the project aims for a holistic transformation of urban infrastructure and the creation of a sustainable, equitable community. 

​“This grant opportunity is designed to fund community-driven projects that address environmental and climate challenges and enhance meaningful involvement in government processes related to environmental justice,” said Butts.

Walnut Way’s proposal focuses on initiatives that provide immediate and direct impacts for residents, totaling $3 million over three years. This direct assistance consists of food, housing, and medical care.

Notably, the initiative has allocated $1.5 million to implement a 0.5 MW microgrid for subscription-based renewable energy access. This will be done in partnership with Watts Up Way, an apprenticeship program born out of Walnut Way to support a clean energy transition, enhance energy independence within the community, and promote clean energy jobs.

To reduce the energy burden of residents, Walnut Way has budgeted $2 million to weatherize 300 homes in the community.

“Our goals are ambitious,” Butts said, “And in order to complete these goals, it’s going to take a collective effort. Our objective is to sustain our engagement and ensure that generations to come have a voice that directly impacts our well-being and quality of life.”

The Importance of Community-Led Transitions to Energy Justice

A critical element of this effort is the Resilient Resident Civic Engagement Compensation Program. This innovative program by Walnut Way provides a strategy for community members to gain recognition and compensation for their contribution to the project, providing a way to earn additional income and engage in civic activities.

The objective of this is to provide an avenue for transparent two-way communication, leadership, and adjustment between government entities and constituents to build trust within the community. For Walnut Way, community engagement has always been the foundation for achieving sustainable change. This is apparent in conversations among Walnut Way and Lindsay Height’s residents when asked about their vision for the community moving forward.

The desire for change among residents is not scarce, but the means to make improvements have been.

“The reality is that we need to take advantage of all available resources,” Butts admitted, and “especially listening to our community members. They live here. They know what they need to be successful.”

He continued, “Being held accountable by the residents requires us to be aligned, coordinated, and to already have established a baseline of accomplishments for us to earn their trust.”

“Working alongside residents enables us as an organization to respond with confidence to aid the community moving forward,” Butts said.

Emmonia Barnett, who has lived in Lindsay Heights for over ten years, shared, “My vision is a community that is empowered to look after itself.” 

Her neighbor, Ammar Nsoromoa, echoed Barnett’s wishes and added, “I would like the community to be beautiful. You don’t see trash. You don’t see people in poverty. The community is self-sustained. We take care of one another. The businesses serve the locals. We feed each other with food from grocery stores in our neighborhood. We want to be actively a part of what’s going on.”

Photo Credit: Walnut Way

EPA Grant deadlines, technical support, and how to bring change to your community

While Walnut Way is still in the preliminary stages of the grant application, the Notice of Funding Opportunity is open now through November 21, 2024, with applications accepted on a rolling basis. Additional support for organizations and communities seeking technical assistance with grant eligibility and technical writing will be provided through the EPA’s Environmental Justice (EJ) Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers (TCTAC). The creation of these centers was a direct response to feedback from overburdened communities and organizational leaders who have encountered barriers to maximizing the full benefits of available federal funds.

There are the two TCTACS serving Region 5 organizations and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards. As designated by the EPA, Region 5 spans 35 tribal lands and six states–Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The Great Lakes, led by the University of Minnesota, and Blacks in Green (BIG) Justice, led by a partnership of community-based organizations in Illinois, are the two TCTACs that serve Region 5. Interested applicants can submit an intake form detailing their needs to either center to get help with overcoming barriers to accessing funding from the Community Change Grants.

“Our objective is to sustain our engagement and ensure that generations to come have a voice that directly impacts our well-being and quality of life,” Butts said. He also noted that the Community Change Grants program has the capacity to expedite this process for the residents of Lindsay Heights while allowing the community to lead in its own solution development.

RENEW Wisconsin’s 2023 Clean Energy Honor Roll

RENEW Wisconsin selected 13 projects for this year’s Honor Roll. These projects and the organizations involved in them demonstrate leadership, ambition, and climate awareness in their design and use of clean energy.

ALLIANT ENERGY (WPL) SOLAR PORTFOLIO

In 2023, Alliant Energy’s Wisconsin utility placed in service eight utility-scale solar plants totaling 639 megawatts as part of its Clean Energy Blueprint. By the end of the year, Alliant had finished work on 11 of the 12 projects in its solar portfolio. When the final solar plant is completed this summer, they will together generate approximately 20% of Alliant’s resource mix in Wisconsin, sufficient to power nearly 300,000 homes annually. Many Wisconsin contractors participated in the construction of these projects, including Westphal Electric and Mashuda Contractors.

BADGER HOLLOW

Developed by Invenergy and owned by WEC Energy Group and Madison Gas and Electric, Badger Hollow Solar Park is now fully operational. At 300 MW, it is Wisconsin’s largest operating solar power plant, capable of generating 6,000,000 megawatt-hours per year. This is equal to the annual consumption of 90,000 Wisconsin households. Badger Hollow was one of the first utility-scale solar plants approved by the Public Service Commission in 2019. Since then, Invenergy has secured permits for four more solar and storage projects in Wisconsin, totaling 1.35 gigawatts. Two of them are under construction today.

BAYFIELD COUNTY

Bayfield County successfully commissioned the area’s first multi-building, intelligent microgrid on November 10, 2023. The Bayfield County Courthouse and Jail automatically integrate solar PV, battery storage, and backup diesel generation under a single utility meter. The system will provide electric power with or without the electric grid and can optimize economic benefits during normal grid-tied operation through features like demand management and energy arbitrage. The system is not only a first for the area but a first for Wisconsin and the Midwest.

CITY OF MADISON

In the previous decade, the City of Madison set a goal of installing one megawatt of solar capacity by 2020 to supply its own facilities. By the end of 2022, about 1.5 MW of behind-the-meter solar power had been installed, mostly through the City’s Green Power training program. In 2023, the City added 585 kW of solar PV at nine different facilities, including 200 kW apiece at both Streets West and the Nakoosa Rd. Fleet Garage, bringing overall installed PV capacity serving City facilities to more than 2 MW.

COLLEGE OF MENOMINEE NATION

In 2023, Eland Electric partnered with the College of Menomonee Nation to install a 40-kilowatt solar array on the tribe’s reservation in Keshena. In addition to powering a college building, this array kicks off an initiative to help local community members develop the skill set needed for installing and maintaining solar arrays. The Menomonee Nation hopes to build its own reservation-wide solar energy utility service.

HOLY WISDOM MONASTERY

In 2023, Holy Wisdom embarked on an ambitious effort to become an all-electric facility using carbon-free sources onsite to the greatest extent possible. The monastery’s journey to a carbon-free future began with a significant expansion to the onsite PV capacity already in place. Designed by the team of Hoffman Planning and Madison Solar Consulting and installed by Northwind Solar, the new array is built upon single-axis trackers, and its output flows directly into the utility distribution system. When the ground-source heat pump and battery storage system are commissioned later this year, Holy Wisdom Monastery will have effectively achieved carbon neutrality. Wisconsin’s Office of Energy Innovation helped kick off this project with a $575,000 grant awarded in 2021. Local solar developer John Young contributed financing for the solar array.

MCFARLAND PUBLIC SAFETY BUILDING

In 2023, the village of McFarland celebrated the opening of its new Public Safety Center, likely the first net-zero municipal building in the state of Wisconsin. With 51 geothermal wells for efficient heating and cooling as well as solar panels that can produce up to 470kW of photovoltaic energy, the facility will produce as much energy onsite as it consumes annually, leading to its designation as a net zero facility. Taking advantage of federal and state clean energy funding (including an Energy Innovation Grant), this $20 million building should pay for itself in year one.

RED BARN WIND ENERGY CENTER

Commissioned in 2023, the 92 MW Red Barn Wind Park was developed by Minnesota-based PRC Wind and built by Allete Clean Energy for the project’s current owners, WEC Energy Group and Madison Gas and Electric. Approved by Grant County in 2019, Red Barn is the first project in Wisconsin to have advanced from the proposal stage to full operation under the state’s Wind Siting Rule (PSC 128). The output from this 28-turbine project should equal the annual consumption of 50,000 Wisconsin households.

SHEBOYGAN SENIOR COMMUNITY

Sheboygan Senior Community is a faith-based, nonprofit continuum of care facility providing respite, short-term rehab, assisted living, skilled nursing, and end-of-life services. Designed and installed by Plymouth-based Arch Solar, the installation consists of a 198-kW ground-mount solar array and a battery energy storage component. In addition to a grant from the Wisconsin Office of Energy Innovation, the project’s financing relied on a generous commercial benefactor, who provided 95% of the funding for the senior community’s project. The organization worked with Legacy Solar Cooperative to secure this funding. In addition, Couillard Solar Foundation donated one-third of the 438 panels that make up the array.

SOLARSHARE WISCONSIN

In 2023, SolarShare Wisconsin, a cooperative entity organized under Chapter 185, invested capital provided by members to bring two smaller solar projects in western Wisconsin to fruition. SolarShare Wisconsin partnered with OneEnergy Renewables, which has developed more than 20 smaller-scale solar projects across Wisconsin, to build its first two arrays in Juneau County, totaling 4.5 MW. Now energized, the Lemonweir (lemon•weer) and Webster Creek projects supply electricity to Oakdale Electric Cooperative. SolarShare Wisconsin plans to add another solar project to its portfolio later this year. At a site near Lake Hallie (rhymes with rally) in Chippewa County. Like the first two projects, the Lake Hallie project, also developed by OneEnergy, will be financed with capital provided by SolarShare Wisconsin members.

UW-HEALTH EASTPARK MEDICAL CENTER GARAGE

In 2023, UW-Health partnered with SunPeak and Staff Electric to design and oversee the construction of a 1 MW solar parking canopy on the garage adjacent to its Eastpark Medical Center. This PV canopy not only supports UW-Health’s carbon reduction goals but also provides additional protection to patients and visitors using the facility.

UW-PARKSIDE

UW-Parkside partnered with McKinstry to host a 2.1 MW solar array, similar to the one McKinstry designed for UW-Platteville a year earlier. Built on a parking lot, UW-Parkside’s array is the largest installation in 2023 serving a Wisconsin school or municipality. McKinstry selected Westphal Electric to build the structure and interconnect the PV system to the grid. The electricity generated by the McKinstry/Westphal installation flows directly to UW-Parkside campus buildings.

YAHARA SOLAR

As noted on Dane County’s website, the 17-megawatt Yahara Solar project, completed in 2023, enables Dane County to become not only the first county government in the state to achieve 100% renewable electricity status, but also the 4th county in the nation to reach the 100% goal. Key partners in the project include Alliant Energy (the local utility), SunVest (the project developer and owner), and Pieper Power (the installation contractor). Yahara Solar will produce more than 36 million kilowatt-hours of renewable electricity per year — enough to power more than 3,000 Dane County homes.

2024 RENEW Wisconsin Summit Recap!

2024 RENEW Wisconsin Summit Recap!

On Thursday, February 1, RENEW held our 13th annual Renewable Energy Summit, presented by Arch Solar and Invenergy. More than 700 Attendees from across Wisconsin, the Midwest, and even around the globe joined us as we discussed how to unleash the power of Wisconsin’s clean energy potential.

Our amazing cast of panelists, presenters, and guest speakers covered:

  • Emerging Technologies: Delve into the latest breakthroughs in clean energy technologies, from advanced renewables to energy storage and grid innovations.
  • Economic Transformation: Explore how the clean energy sector is reshaping Wisconsin’s economy, generating jobs, and fostering economic growth.
  • Community Power: Hear how community-led clean energy initiatives empower local residents to actively participate in the energy transition.
  • Energy Policy and Legislation: Gain insights into Wisconsin’s evolving energy policies and regulations and hear from policymakers and legal experts about the opportunities and challenges facing the clean energy sector.
  • Rural and Urban Integration: Showcase successful strategies for bridging the urban-rural divide in clean energy adoption and development.
  • Inclusive Sustainability: Focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion in the clean energy sector to ensure that everyone benefits from its growth.
  • Clean Energy Workforce Development: Focus on building a skilled workforce to meet the demands of a growing clean energy sector and create high-quality jobs.
  • Educational Catalyst: Examine the role of education and research institutions in driving clean energy innovation and workforce development.
  • Resilient Infrastructure: Address the importance of building resilient energy systems capable of withstanding disruptions and extreme weather events.
  • Investment and Financing: Explore investment opportunities and financing models that support the scaling of clean energy projects.
  • Collaborative Partnerships: Encourage collaboration between government, industry, academia, and local communities to foster a thriving clean energy ecosystem.

We were also joined by the likes of Tonya Hicks, Robert Blake, and State Representative Supreme Moore Omokunde. Tonya Hicks shared with attendees not only how we can go about building a diverse workforce, but why it is necessary for the success of the industry. Robert Blake talked about the potential of existing renewable energy technologies and how the industry can go about finding the workers needed to achieve that potential. And Supreme Moore Omokunde closed out the Summit with a reminder that our transition to clean energy should be equitable, and that we must ensure access to renewables for low-income and minority communities.

Attendees also learned that this would be the last RENEW Wisconsin Summit with Michael Vickerman joining us as a RENEW staff member. Though Michael does plan to retire this spring, he has promised that this won’t be the last we hear from him. Michael’s role at RENEW and in Wisconsin’s renewable energy industry cannot be understated and we’re excited to see what he gets up to in his retirement.

We are proud to say that our Summit continues to grow in size and scope. The energy and engagement at this year’s summit were inspiring, and it’s all thanks to the sponsors, volunteers, speakers, attendees, and everyone else who joins us each year to make it happen!

The results of our 2023 Board Of Directors election are in!

The results of our 2023 Board Of Directors election are in!

Thank you to all members who voted in our 2023 Board of Directors Election. RENEW Wisconsin’s Board of Directors plays an important role in setting the strategic vision for the organization. All dues-supporting members of RENEW Wisconsin were invited to vote in this year’s Board of Directors election. 

This year’s election results include three incumbent board members, Josh Stolzenburg, Alicia Leinberger, and Eric Udelhofen, and two newly elected board members, Michael Troge and Victoria Soloman. All will soon begin a three-year term, helping us advance renewable energy in Wisconsin.

MEET OUR NEWLY ELECTED BOARD MEMBERS

VICTORIA SOLOMAN

I am honored to join the RENEW Wisconsin Board of Directors. I’m highly interested in this organization and position because I understand that RENEW is a leader on advancing clean energy in Wisconsin. I want to support taking such action now for current and future generations across all of Wisconsin.

Areas where I seek to add value to the RENEW Board of Directors:
● Building bridges through education and facilitating common ground. In my role at UW-Madison Division of Extension, I am part of a cross-programmatic team working in communities across Wisconsin on climate change. I have experience with government, multi-sector leadership, and deliberative dialogue on topics such as climate change.
● Connection with diverse networks. Every day I work with decision-makers across sectors in rural, suburban, and urban communities. I work with community leaders across sectors, races, cultures, languages, geography, educational level, and political perspective at local, state, and national levels.
● Planning, measuring, and communicating. I am a certified planner with organizational, county, and regional planning experience. Additionally, as an associate professor, I evaluate my current educational programming using a variety of tools to tell the story of my educational and research work. This is consistently effective in connecting with the community across diverse sectors and perspectives

MICHAEL TROGE

My introduction to RENEW was at the 1999 MREA energy fair. Little did I know this would change the course of my career. It’s been a fascinating ride full of ups and downs. The technologies are innovative, and the people are inspiring.

It’s taken a while to find my niche in the industry. I’m fortunate to work for Oneida Nation, allowing me and the Energy Team the flexibility to build a concept that has led to PV & solar-thermal installs, a variety of energy studies, climate preparation, and most recently the planning and design of the Oneida Nation Health Campus Resiliency Project featuring a microgrid with 2 MW horizontal tracking array and 6 MWh BESS. I value working with an Indian Tribe that has a progressive nature driven by a history of hardship. Tribes across the country are so different, but they’re all reaching for the same thing – their sovereign right to thrive. Energy is a big part of that.

I’m proud to be a founding board member of the Midwest Tribal Energy Resources Association (2014) devoted to Tribal energy development. It’s grown to 20 member-Tribes. As a RENEW Wisconsin Board Member, I intend to continue to build those connections that encourage all organizations to partner toward a responsible energy future.

RENEW also recently welcomed Tonyisha Harris to our board, filling a mid-term board vacancy. 

TONYISHA HARRIS

I am absolutely honored to join the RENEW Board of Directors.

As a member organization and communications point of contact of the Clean Economy Coalition of Wisconsin (CECW), I have the pleasure of collaborating with RENEW on advancing clean energy in Wisconsin. Working with Jodi Jean Amble and occasionally Sam Dunaiski is an amazing opportunity to learn the landscape and best communication practicies that resonate with Wisconsinites. Sending a video to the RENEW Summit was an awarding experience and I’m glad to have been invited to represent young people at the summit.

Areas where I seek to add value to the RENEW Board of Directors:
● Education: I led student-run campaigns at Loyola University Chicago, including but not limited to “A Place at the Table,” a campaign geared towards making environmental organizations and activism more diverse and inclusive to students of color and non-environmental science/studies majors.

● Communications: As the Associate Director of Communications and Partnerships at ACE, I
excel at writing communications that resonate with young people, especially those with marginalized backgrounds and identities. This experience is critical to diversifying the membership and audience of RENEW.

RENEW BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Josh Arnold • Madison, WI
Mike Barnett • Madison, WI
Mike Cornell • Hartland, WI
Jim Funk • Winneconne, WI
Samara Hamze • Stevens Point, WI
Tonyisha Harris • Chicago, IL
Alicia Leinberger • Viroqua, WI
Mariah Lynne • Albert Lea, MN
Lauren Reeg • Boulder, CO
Amy Seeboth-Wilson • Platteville, WI
Victoria Soloman • Monticello, WI
Josh Stolzenburg • Wausau, WI
Michael Troge • Seymour, WI
Eric Udelhofen • Madison, WI
Ken Walz • Madison, WI

Don Wichert (DIRECTOR EMERITUS/Lifetime/Non-voting) • Madison, WI

Thank you for participating in the election and using your voice to help shape RENEW’s future! And thank you to all candidates who offered their expertise and time to help our organization grow and thrive. 

RENEW Wisconsin

RENEW Wisconsin holds elections for our Board of Directors every year. If you or someone you know would like to be considered for our next election, please complete the short form linked below. Racial diversity and inclusion are a priority in our organization, and we strongly encourage people of color and other underrepresented groups to join us in advancing renewable energy in Wisconsin. 

RENEW Wisconsin Celebrates Memorial Day

RENEW Wisconsin Celebrates Memorial Day

RENEW Wisconsin was honored to participate in the Monona (WI) Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 29. Emerging Technology Director Francisco Sayu, his family, and RENEW Intern Julia Herkert attended this community celebration to honor U.S. veterans and spread awareness about electric vehicles (EVs) and Wisconsin’s clean energy future. 

“To participate in an event where staff members were able to connect with the community, but also able to honor the Americans who have given their lives serving their country, was an uplifting and memorable experience,” said Herkert. “RENEW hopes the information shared with parade attendees helps Wisconsin families understand the benefits of transitioning to EVs.”

RENEW staff walked alongside Geoff Hoffman; The owner of Hoffman Manufacturing and an advocate of clean energy, who provided a Tesla Roadster —Tesla’s first production car— to use as a parade vehicle. 

Decorated with a RENEW Wisconsin banner, the car was immediately recognized by many as Hoffman’s Tesla is a popular sight among members of the community of all ages. RENEW staff members were happy to answer questions ranging from “Are electric vehicles convenient for owners with families?” to “Woah, is that a Tesla?”. 

RENEW staff addressed many questions about EV operation and charging infrastructure. They were also able to communicate the benefits of a decarbonized Wisconsin economy. 

RENEW is grateful to Hoffman Manufacturing and the City of Monona for the opportunity to participate in this event and discuss renewable energy and electric vehicles with the Monona community.

RENEW Kicks Off 2023 with Largest Energy Summit To Date!

RENEW Kicks Off 2023 with Largest Energy Summit To Date!

On Thursday, January 26th, RENEW held our 12th annual Renewable Energy Summit. Attendees from across Wisconsin, the Midwest, and even around the globe gathered to learn more about the clean energy transition taking place in our state. With over 600 attendees and dozens of exhibitors, this year’s Summit was our most successful to date!

Our amazing cast of panelists, presenters, and guest speakers highlighted how new federal legislation will help drive clean energy deployment in Wisconsin. As renewable energy sources continue to grow in our state, the tools available from the Inflation Reduction Act, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and other bills will increase the speed at which we phase out fossil fuels.

Each year our Summit continues to grow in size and scope. The energy and excitement at this year’s event were absolutely palpable. Thank you to the sponsors, volunteers, staff, attendees, and everyone else that helped make this an amazing Summit!