Our Vision for a “Powered Up” Dane County

Our Vision for a “Powered Up” Dane County

Over the past three months, RENEW Wisconsin has been participating in an exciting and audacious challenge to develop ways to bolster the middle class of Dane County.  UW-Madison was selected as one of four universities nationally to participate in a competition sponsored and funded by the Schmidt Futures Foundation, led by Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt. UW’s program is called “Dream Up Wisconsin.”

The challenge is to increase the net income of 10,000 Dane County Families by 10%.

Our Plan:  to “Power Up” Dane County families and communities with clean energy!  We were one of 46 original applicants, and we were fortunate to be one of 11 applicants to receive $10,000 to more fully flesh out our proposal.

Our vision for Power Up Dane County is to create buzz about clean energy and provide community members the tools to adopt clean energy to reduce their monthly bills, create new jobs, and build a healthier community. We want everyone to have access to clean energy, from efficient homes to solar panels on their roof, and electric vehicles in their garage.

However, many middle class families don’t know that these technologies are available to them. Power Up is our idea to change that.

The program would start by empowering households to take control of their electricity bills using “Neighborhood Champions.”  These champions will be excited members of the community who will help households install efficiency kits and the home energy sensor, Sense. Sense measures electricity consumption in real-time, and gives users a visual indication of their energy use through an app. By learning which devices in their home use the most electricity, residents can unplug energy hogs and save money.

After they have more efficient homes and a better understanding of their energy use, we want to connect participants with solar installers, home weatherization technicians, car dealerships that specialize in electric vehicles, and additional rebates for their clean energy investments.

Power Up will make it desirable, easy, and financially feasible for participants to adopt clean energy, like solar panels and electric cars.  These clean energy technologies will reduce air pollution and save families thousands of dollars per year on their energy bills.

Power Up is competing against 11 other proposals for the top 3 spots. Should we be selected for the next round of competition, we will pitch our proposal to Schmidt Futures in Arizona in late January.

We believe in a future that is “Powered Up” with clean energy technology. That future includes millions of dollars of in energy bill and healthcare savings, new clean energy jobs, and a healthy and prosperous middle class. The momentum around clean energy is building by the day. With Wisconsin utilities, counties, and municipalities committing to 100% renewable energy, we know the future of Wisconsin will be one with extensive clean energy adoption. Power Up is one vision for how to get there.


RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: 1000 Miles in an Electric Car

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: 1000 Miles in an Electric Car

Last weekend, I drove Bergstrom Chevrolet’s all-electric Bolt from Madison to Detroit, and back. Over 1000 miles, through 4 states, in sun and snow, the Bolt and I spent a lot of time together. Hopefully you saw some of the updates on Twitter!

The Bolt has a range of 230 miles in perfect conditions. That means if it’s not cold and you’re driving carefully in the city you can get over 200 miles on one full battery charge. Unfortunately, it was in the 30s and I was mostly driving interstate highways, so 200 miles on one charge was not an option. I planned my stops assuming I could get about 150 miles per charge.

Madison to Detroit

I set off at 7:30 on Thursday morning, charged up to 80% from a pit stop at an EVgo fast charger in Monona. After about 2 hours and 120 miles, I stopped at the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, just outside Chicago to charge at another EVgo fast charger.

After 45 minutes of checking emails and walking around the mall, I got a text from EVgo saying my charge was complete. I set off to my next stop: the Lincoln Oasis in South Holland, Illinois, which was about 50 miles away. The Bolt’s battery wasn’t drained yet but there aren’t many fast chargers on the west side of Michigan, so I wanted to have as much charge as possible before leaving Illinois. This turned out to be a good choice. Inside the Oasis, I ate lunch and worked, and packed up 45 minutes later when I got the text that my car was charged up.

My next stop was in Kalamazoo, Michigan (where I was born!) to charge at a fast charger at a car dealership. Unfortunately, this fast charger was out of order, and it was the only one within 50 miles. Turns out the charger is brand new – it was just installed at the dealership for the launch of the Jaguar I-Pace all-electric car. There was a part recall that meant it was not working yet. Bummer. But, the dealership was very gracious, they let me use their level 2 charger for free and even invited me inside for a cup coffee and to use their lobby’s Wi-Fi. I hung out there for about 2 hours which added 40 miles to the battery.

At this point, I had 200 miles under my belt and had charged at 3 fast chargers and 1 level 2 charger. At 4:30pm, I left the dealership with 70 miles on the battery and a better understanding of the realities of taking an all-electric car on long road trips.

Next stop, Grand Rapids, which is about 50 miles north of Kalamazoo. My plan was to pick up my sister, who lives in the area, and quickly plug into a fast charger before heading out to Detroit. The only fast charger in Grand Rapids is also at a dealership, and also affected by the part recall. So, with 20 miles left on the battery, my sister and I resolved to get dinner and spend the night at her apartment with the Bolt plugged into a level 2 charger overnight. No harm, no foul! I was disappointed I couldn’t do the drive in one day, but knew it would be an easy 150 miles from Grand Rapids to Detroit in the morning.

On Friday morning, we woke up to the first snowfall of the year! Together, my sister and I drove from Grand Rapids to Detroit, and stopped to charge up in front of a beautiful, snow-laden fall tree.

And Back

I made almost the exact same stops on the way back. Creature of habit, no? It was an easy drive and actually much quicker because I didn’t stop to charge at the level 2 in Kalamazoo. I took a shorter way from Grand Rapids to Chicago, which avoided Kalamazoo entirely. Live and learn.

Conclusions after 1000 miles in a Chevy Bolt

So, 1000 miles later, my conclusions?

  1. It’s totally doable to take an electric car on a road trip. This was a far cry from the fastest I’ve driven from Madison to Detroit and back but it was enjoyable. The Bolt is fun to drive and I had an excuse to stop along the way which meant I could walk around a get a real meal instead of being confined to a car for 7 hours straight.
  2. With that said, for now, I suggest renting a car or using a plug-in hybrid if you’re short on time. Get an electric car to use around town and rent a car for longer trips. You’ll still save money in the long run, too.
  3. EVgo chargers rock. They all have human names, like “Paul” and “Stewart,” which I stopped at, which is fun. More importantly, they are easy to use and charged the Bolt within 45 minutes. Also, EVgo provided us a $60 credit so all of my charging was free! I didn’t use that to inform my charging decisions though, EVgo just had the most convenient locations. Thanks, EVgo.
  4. As always, there’s more work to be done! The network of DC fast chargers in the Midwest is growing, but it’s not where it needs to be for convenient long road trips. We need to work with other Midwest states to create a better network of charging stations in convenient locations so we don’t have to think twice about using an electric car for a road trip. Luckily, Volkswagen funding is available to do just that.
  5. I really dislike driving my gasoline car now. After driving the Bolt for almost a week, my car screams “inefficient.” It bugs me that when I slow down the energy is lost instead of regenerating the battery, and the delay between pressing the gas and actually moving forward seems more obvious now.

What are you driving to your Thanksgiving celebrations? If it’s electric, take my virtual high-five, and a challenge to get at least one family member to drive your car around the block to see how great it is. For the rest of us driving gasoline cars, here’s to future years where we’ll be the ones showing off our electric ride. Happy Thanksgiving!

A special “Thank You” to Bergstrom Chevrolet for letting us use their Bolt.


RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: Electric Cars Aren’t So Spooky

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: Electric Cars Aren’t So Spooky

Happy Halloween! Let’s talk about something that isn’t spooky: driving electric! With momentum building, from hundreds of new models hitting the market soon and the Volkswagen Settlement providing an opportunity for public infrastructure, there’s no reason to get a fright over driving electric.

I’ve heard interested people point to a few reasons why they might be a little spooked by the transition to driving electric. So let’s demystify some of these potential scares.


Potential Scare #1: I can run out of juice!

Not to throw her under the *hopefully electric* bus, but I got a text on Sunday from a friend who said she ran out of gas on the highway. Running out of juice, whether electricity or gasoline, might be an issue with any type of car. Just like you plan your gas station stops in a gasoline car, you plan your charging station stops in an electric car. The real difference is that your garage is your primary fueling place. And, unlike gasoline cars, you can leave the car on as you refuel, which means you can leave the heat on too! No more waiting out in the cold as you pump gas. For me, the real scare is pumping gas on a cold, dark night by myself. Plugging in my car after I pull into my garage, on the other hand, is not a spooky task!


Potential Scare #2: Batteries are flammable!

So is gasoline! And you have to pump gasoline into your car, physically exposing yourself to its smells and dangers. The battery packs in vehicles don’t require regular human interference and are isolated into small packages, meaning that even if one of them malfunctions, it’s not likely that an entire battery pack will catch on fire. Not to mention that many gasoline car fires start as a result of a mechanical failure, which is less likely to happen with the very few moving parts in an electric car.

All cars are dangerous – that’s not new. But, did you know that electric cars can actually be safer than gasoline cars? Electric cars are less likely to roll over because they tend to have a lower center of gravity, mostly due to the heavy batteries being placed along the bottom of the car. The all-electric Chevy Bolt, which you’ll hear more about in next week’s post, was given the highest possible crash test rating and was named a 2017 Top Safety Pick. The safety of electric cars shouldn’t be a cause for concern.


Potential Scare #3: I’m just not as comfortable with electric cars!

I totally get that. Electric cars are somewhat new and do require a bit of behavior change from the driver. But, you can trust that electric cars are an extremely reliable, convenient, and fun swap for your gasoline vehicle. I don’t feel the need to understand exactly how my gasoline car works. I trust that when I turn the key, the car starts and I can go on my merry way. I know how to change a tire and add washer fluid to my car… anything else requires a trip to a mechanic. The good news is that an electric car doesn’t need much besides that! No oil changes, and again, fewer moving parts means less can go wrong.

What I really need, and I’m willing to venture many of you feel the same way, is a car so reliable that I never have to think about how it works. We all want a reliable and convenient car. To which I enthusiastically say, you should definitely consider switching to drive electric!


Driving electric isn’t so spooky after all

Driving electric doesn’t have to be scary. To prove it, next week I am going to drive Bergstrom Chevrolet’s Chevy Bolt over 800 miles from Madison to Detroit and back. If you want to follow along in real time, I’ll be taking over RENEW’s Twitter account next week, where I’ll share my experience taking an electric road trip through the Midwest!

Also, check out our new web page devoted to electric vehicles and driving on renewable energy.

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: The “Volkswagen Settlement” – A Big Opportunity for Electric Vehicles

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: The “Volkswagen Settlement” – A Big Opportunity for Electric Vehicles

In my last blog I talked about how many new electric car models are coming to market in the next few years. This is great news but also shines a light on the public charging infrastructure needed to support all these news makes and models. Here’s where the “Volkswagen Settlement” comes in.

In 2016, a federal court approved a settlement with Volkswagen (VW) requiring the car company to spend upwards of $15 billion to reduce environmental air pollutants from transportation in the U.S.

VW admitted to producing 11 million diesel vehicles between 2009 and 2016 that purposely cheated emissions tests designed to limit chemicals called “nitrous oxides,” or NOx.  NOx causes respiratory diseases like asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis.  As a result of VW’s cheating, their diesel vehicles emitted NOx at up to 40 times the federally accepted level.

The “VW settlement” is designed to decrease NOx emissions from the transportation sector to counteract the damage done while these vehicles were in operation.


Settlement Details

The settlement is broken up into 3 main parts:

1. VW will provide up to $10 billion to owners and lessees of VW and Audi 2.0-liter diesel cars with the NOx cheating software. Nearly 500,000 cars were affected, the largest false advertising case in US history! The deadline for owners to submit a claim has passed.

2. VW also had to put $2.9 billion into an environmental mitigation trust fund to be shared by states and tribes. States are set to receive funds based on the number of cheating vehicles in operation in the state. States are to develop their own programs for spending the money. Up to 15% of the funding can be used to support light-duty zero emission vehicle infrastructure, like public charging stations for electric cars.

3. To further reduce air emissions, VW also has to spend $2.8 billion on clean air infrastructure. $800,000 of this funding will be spent in California. To administer this fund VW created Electrify America, which is installing charging stations across the country and running a nationwide campaign promoting electric vehicles. Check out their first commercial!

More information on the settlement companies, violations, and enforcement can be found here.


Wisconsin’s Plan

Wisconsin was allocated $67.1 million from the environmental mitigation fund. In May, the state approved a plan for almost two-thirds of our total VW funding. Based on the plan, $42 million will be spent by June 2019 to purchase new and cleaner transit and state fleet vehicles to replace older and more polluting vehicles. The transit part is structured as a transit assistance grant, in which local governments receive a grant to upgrade or replace their transit buses but see a reduction in their state transit funding in subsequent years.

Now, I am all for clean transit but I am disappointed that Wisconsin didn’t allocate funding for electric vehicle infrastructure. Per the settlement, Wisconsin is allowed to spend $10 million on infrastructure, such as charging stations, to help drivers of light-duty cars and trucks. Of all 46 states that have submitted a plan, Wisconsin is one of 4 that didn’t choose to allocate funding to this zero-emission vehicle infrastructure.


RENEW’s Proposal for Wisconsin

I am excited to see Electrify America charging stations popping up across the country. That campaign in nationwide, though.

And we know that ensuring people can drive their electric vehicles and recharge them like they refuel their cars today is going to be critical to getting more uptake here in Wisconsin.  Therefore, we want to see VW funding spent on electric vehicle infrastructure right here in Wisconsin.

It is possible to change our state plan for VW settlement funding. More than one-third of the funding, over million, has yet to be allocated. And, if there is funding left over from the round, it can be re-allocated.

RENEW believes that any future VW settlement plan should include funding fast recharging stations so people can drive electric cars all over Wisconsin and know they can get anywhere they need to go.

$10 million can go a long way to support a state-wide network of charging stations! Such a network would allow Wisconsin’s electric car drivers to go anywhere in the state with confidence – in fact, we estimate that the funding could cover most of the cost to install three recharging stations each in 111 locations all over the state.  That’s enough to have one every 25 miles, giving drivers options when they are on the road.

It’s my hope that we can use “Dieselgate” to do the most good in Wisconsin. If the goal is to reduce air pollution, I don’t know if it gets any better than renewable energy powered electric transportation! Next week we’ll talk more about charging: how, where, and why driving electric is convenient, safe, and fun.

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: Momentum is Building

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: Momentum is Building

It’s an exciting time to be studying electric vehicles. From companies pledging to transition their fleets to auto manufacturers promising new models, momentum around the transition to electric cars is building.  

A number of announcements came out about electric vehicles in the past few weeks:

In addition, over the past year every major auto manufacturer made public commitments to support electric vehicles. Take a look at the hundreds of new electric cars that will be hitting the market in the next few years:


For the graphic we chose to include models from recognizable brands that are widely available in the United States. I did take a look at all car manufacturers across the globe and counted 222 electric car models that will be available in 2025.

That’s a lot of cars to test drive! With over 200 new electric cars by 2025, from compact cars to pick-ups and SUVs.  Soon there will be an electric car for everyone. Now that we know there are plenty of new models available soon, next time I’m going to dive into the Volkswagen emissions settlement and outline key actions we can take to support the infrastructure EV’s require.


RENEW Wisconsin September Legislative Blog

RENEW Wisconsin September Legislative Blog

September was a busy month for me and RENEW Wisconsin.  I attended more than 30 meetings, seminars and site visits all over the state.  Many of them involved learning about Wisconsin’s exciting and fast growing renewable energy industry and building relationships with the talented people who help make it go.  There were also numerous meetings with state and local policy makers as well as the leadership of many influential trade associations, unions and advocacy groups.  Working together, we are starting to develop ideas for the 2019-20 legislative session that will help advance the use of clean, renewable energy that will create jobs, economic growth and save money for everyone!

Customers First! Power Lunch – Go Electric!

September got off with a “high voltage” start at the Customers First! Coalition Power Lunch, with the theme of “Go Electric”. Over 120 attendees learned about the latest developments and benefits of electric vehicles and “efficient electrification” – replacing direct fossil fuel use with electricity in a way that reduces overall emissions and energy costs. Efficient Electrification holds significant potential benefits for Wisconsin customers, utilities, and environmental advocates alike.  PSC Chairman Lon Roberts gave the opening keynote speech and several panels with utility executives and state legislators Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) and Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin) dove deeper into the technical and policy issues that will need to be addressed to keep up with these fast-growing trends.  The program was interesting enough that WisconsinEye, the not-for-profit State Capitol broadcast network, recorded the event. 

Emmi Roth Solar Panels

On September 11th I joined State Representative Travis Tranel at the Emmi Roth Cheese plant in Platteville to cut the ribbon on their new 1,600 panel solar system. The system will provide 15% of their electric use.   “There are many companies trying to live up to sustainability goals,” said Jim Pullen, General Manager at Eagle Point Solar, who installed the system. “Emmi Roth is part of a group that actually makes these goals a reality and invests in the environment.” The company also recently invested in a new anaerobic digester at the same location in Platteville, Wisconsin, in an effort to lower operational costs and remain environmentally responsible for the waste being produced during their cheesemaking operations. According to Tim Omer, president and managing director at Emmi Roth, “We have a very strong commitment to sustainability. We want to have the lowest possible carbon footprint we could have in the industry.”

Butler Ridge Wind Farm

On September 17th, Pauline Meyer and Nic Cravillion, policy staff from Congressman Mike Gallagher’s office, and Dodge County Board member Russ Kattke joined me at a tour of the Butler Ridge Wind Energy Center in Dodge County.  This was a behind the scenes tour of one of Wisconsin’s premier wind farms and was hosted by NextEra Energy Resources. Butler Ridge’s 36 turbines generate 54-megawatts of clean, renewable energy to power more than 13,500 homes.  Wisconsin based Faith Technologies, who installed the ground grid and in-tower wiring, and The Boldt Construction Company were two of the prime contractors on the project.

Conservative Energy Forum Summit on “Advancing Wisconsin’s Clean Energy Economy” and Clean Energy Week Proclamation by Governor Walker

On Thursday, September 27th the Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum hosted a summit onclean energy developments in Wisconsin.  PSC Commissioner Lon Roberts opened the meeting discussing the bright future of renewable energy.  Several guest panels discussed Utility Scale Clean Energy – A Turning Point for Wisconsin Utilities, and Decentralizing Energy & Encouraging Private Sector Investment.  Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch also spoke about the great things happening for clean energy in Wisconsin and how renewable energy fits so well into a conservative political viewpoint.  At the end of her talk, Kleefisch presented a proclamation from Governor Scott Walker designating September 24th to September 28th as Clean Energy Week in Wisconsin. This echoed the clean energy week activities around the country.