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.
September 29 event to highlight area renewable energy projects.
Madison, WI – On Saturday, September 29th, RENEW Wisconsin will host its 6th annual “Ride with RENEW” bicycle tour of renewable energy projects, with this year’s ride taking place in Milwaukee, WI. All event proceeds support RENEW Wisconsin’s ongoing work to advance renewable energy in Wisconsin.
Riders will travel approximately 25 miles on paved roads and bike paths to visit innovative wind, solar, geothermal, and biogas energy generation facilities in Milwaukee.
The total tour time will be approximately 6 hours (including stops at renewable energy sites) and actual riding time will be 2 to 3 hours.
Participants will get an inside look at some of the area’s leading renewable energy projects and will enjoy breakfast, lunch, and beverages along the way. They will visit with installers and workers who are advancing renewable energy every day, and hear from customers about why clean energy works for their pocketbooks and their businesses.
The day’s tour will include:
- Gather at Ingeteam parking Lot a 9:00 a.m. departure. – Ingeteam has a LEED Gold, 138,000 square foot industrial facility and is a leading manufacturer of wind and solar energy products.
- Milwaukee Public Museum – MPM features 234 solar panels on its south-facing tower wall. The panels are linked to a kiosk located on the ground floor that provides near-real-time data on the energy generated by the panels.
- Discovery World Science and Technology Center – Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin is a youth-oriented science and technology museum and aquarium in downtown Milwaukee and features geothermal heating and cooling.
- Port of Milwaukee Wind Turbine – The City of Milwaukee’s Environmental Collaboration Office (ECO) and the Port of Milwaukee partnered to install a 100 kilowatt wind turbine at the Port. Installed by Kettle View Renewable Energy, the turbine provides more than 100 percent of the electricity needed by the Port administration building.
- Escuela Verde – This public charter school, designed to support students interested in sustainability, student-led learning, and restorative justice, was a recipient of a 2017 Solar for Good grant. In 2018, 60 solar panels were installed by SunVest and Current Electric on the roof of the school.
- School Sisters of Saint Francis – The Milwaukee branch of the School Sisters of Saint Francis partnered with Arch Electric to install 1,086 solar panels on the rooftop of the St. Francis Sacred Heart building in 2017. Producing 375 kilowatts of solar, the solar array is able to help offset more than 12 percent of the electricity consumed at the Sacred Heart facility.
- Potawatomi Biodigester – This waste-to-energy project converts waste materials generated by the food and beverage industries to electricity. The electricity produced is sold to WE Energies as renewable energy.
- The ride will conclude at City Lights Brewery for refreshments at around 4:00 p.m.
Registration for the ride is open through September 28th. The cost is $40 for members of RENEW Wisconsin, $50 for non-members, and $70 to both register for the ride and become a member of the organization for one year. All donations to RENEW Wisconsin for this charity bike ride are matched up to $15,000 by generous donors John & Mary Frantz of Madison!
Individuals and businesses can donate to RENEW Wisconsin or in support of a rider, sign on as an event sponsor, or volunteer on ride day.
“We are very excited to tour some of Milwaukee’s best renewable energy projects on Saturday, September 29th,” said Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin. “This tour allows us to showcase a variety of ways to produce homegrown, clean energy right here in Wisconsin including wind, solar, and even food waste. This is a really fun event where you can meet great people, help a good cause, and learn together about clean energy in Wisconsin.”
Sponsors of the Event include Arch Electric, HGA, SunVest, Bounce Milwaukee, Discovery World, Milwaukee County, Summit Credit Union, SunPeak, UW Engineering Professional Development, Current Electric, H&H, Milwaukee Shines, Wegner CPAs, and Open Circle Unitarian Church – Fond du Lac.
There is still time to sponsor if your business or organization wishes to do so.
Quilt Block Wind Farm
On August 9th, Vanessa Tutos, Director of Government Affairs for EDP Renewables hosted me and a large group of legislators, legislative staff and other interested people on a tour of their Quilt Block Wind Farm near Darlington, Wisconsin.
During a pre-tour briefing, Vanessa and the EDP Renewable staff gave an overview of the facility and how it works. Darlington Mayor Dave Breunig also participated in the briefing, explaining the many benefits that the Quilt Block facility brings to the local communities, including not only the town and county tax revenues, but the good paying jobs at Quilt Block and the many community businesses that benefit such as restaurants, hotels and other shops.
In attendance were State Senator Howard Marklein and Rep. Todd Novak. Legislative staff: Garrett Huffman, Rep. Kuglitsch (Assembly Utilities Committee Chair); Kyle Koenen and JJ Sherman, Sen. Kapenga staff; Brian Radday, Sen. LeMahieu staff (Senate Utilities Committee Chair); Evan Miller, Sen. Cowles staff (Senate Energy Committee Chair); Dave Breunig, Mayor of Darlington; Alex Ignatowski, Wis. Public Service Commission; Ryan Owens, Tommy Thompson Center on Public Leadership – UW Madison; Jon Hochkammer, Wisconsin Counties Association; Rob Richard, Wisconsin Farm Bureau; Tim Hoven, EDPR
School Sisters of St. Francis
On Tuesday, August 22nd, the Wisconsin Association of Energy Engineers invited me and Jane McCurry of the RENEW Wisconsin staff to tour something old and something new, all in one location, the School Sisters of St. Francis campus in Milwaukee. The Sisters recently installed a 375-kW solar array with 1,086 panels on several of their buildings.
Sister Carol Rigali, Coordinator of the province leadership team, specifically asked that the panels be made in the USA. As Mike Cornell of Arch Electric explained, they acquired the panels from Seraphim Solar USA, from Jackson, Mississippi. Sister Carol said that St. Francis expects to save $1.5 million in energy costs over the life of the system, but that was only one reason they did the project.
She noted that in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis specifically mentioned installing solar panels as one way to care for creation. “This solar energy project will enable us to lessen our energy consumption and to invest in our care of the earth.” The chapel was finished in 1914 but looks as amazing as the day it was built. The art and architecture inside compare to some of the best churches anywhere in the world. Now they have a state-of-the-art solar generation system that will help them achieve their mission now and into the future. Preserving the past by embracing the future! Nicely done Sisters!
Wisconsin Agriculture Coalition
On Monday, August 27, I was joined by RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director Tyler Huebner, Scott Smith from Madison Gas & Electric and Neil Palmer from Invenergy to give a briefing to the Wisconsin Agriculture Coalition about the latest developments in renewable energy and how it may affect their members. The Agriculture Coalition is a group of association executives and government affairs staff who meet regularly to discuss legislative and regulatory issues in which they have a common interest.
I opened the meeting by discussing the changing economics and politics of renewable energy and let them know that they are going to be seeing a lot of activity in Wisconsin. Tyler then gave an overview of renewables in Wisconsin that will especially impact farms and agriculture related businesses such as solar and wind farms and biogas generation. Scott gave the utility perspective on why they are all adding large scale renewables to their portfolio and the benefits that they see for their customers. In particular, he noted that the driving force was the impressive price drop of over 75% for solar power in the last 10 years.
Finally, Neil spent some time explaining how Invenergy goes about developing a utility scale solar project, from identifying good locations with access to substations and landowners with enough flat, open land who are interested in leasing their property, to the steps and timing of the regulatory process. We also had a good discussion about the “frequently asked questions” that they may be hearing from their members and how to answer them. In summary, everyone in attendance received a good, general understanding of the amazing changes that are happening in the renewable industry and that RENEW Wisconsin is their source for reliable, fact-based information!
Members of the Ag Coalition include:
- Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation
- Wisconsin Farmers Union
- Dairy Business Association
- Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association
- Midwest Food Products Association
- Wisconsin Agri-Business Association
- Wisconsin Association of Professional Agricultural Consultants
- Wisconsin Cattlemen Association
- Wisconsin Pork Association
- Wisconsin Soybean Association
- Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association
- Wisconsin Corn Growers Association
- The Cooperative Network Associations
Cedar Ridge Wind Farm
On July 24th Alliant Energy hosted a tour of their Cedar Ridge Wind Farm in Fond du Lac County for several state legislators to discuss not only wind, but all of the latest developments in renewable energy. Built in 2008, Cedar Ridge was one of the first wind installations in the state. Alliant Energy owns and operates this site of 41 turbines that has a capacity of generating 68 mW of electricity, enough to power 17,000 homes. In its 10 years of existence, Alliant calculates that the electric power generated by these wind turbines allowed them to avoid burning enough coal to fill a 99-mile-long coal train! Alliant currently owns 569 mW of total wind power, but because of falling costs, efficiency gains of the turbines, and inexpensive operations and management, they expect to invest in an additional 1,150 mWs of wind generation by 2021. Representatives Bob Kulp and Rick Gundrum came away impressed and posted very positive comments online about the tour and the many developments in renewable energy.
Tim O’Brian Homes Net Zero Community
On July 20th I visited a ribbon cutting for the new Tim O’Brian Homes Net Zero Community in New Berlin. This all-solar subdivision is the first of its kind in Wisconsin. In partnership with Neumann Companies and SunVest Solar, Inc., they are developing the Red Fox Crossing subdivision with a focus on sustainability and energy efficiency. Not only is every home in the subdivision designed from the ground up to include 6 to 8 kW photovoltaic solar arrays, but they are also certified ENERGY STAR® V3 National Qualified Homes. “Buyers are looking for ways to save on their true cost of homeownership,” says Angela Cooper, Milwaukee Division President of Tim O’Brien Homes. “The upfront costs of building a net zero home might be slightly more than a code-built home but the money saved in monthly utility bills results in an overall less expensive home.” The subdivision has been popular, with half of the 34 units already sold. “Red Fox Crossing has the potential to be the turning point in building a more sustainable community in Wisconsin, versus focusing on only one home at a time,” says Tim O’Brien, President of Tim O’Brien Homes. ”
Badger Hydroelectric Plant
On July 13th I joined State Senator Rob Cowles (District 2-Green Bay) and Representative Dave Murphy (District 56-Greenville) on a tour of the Badger Hydroelectric plant in Kaukauna. The visit was hosted by the Kaukauna Municipal Utility, a member of WPPI Energy. As noted in this WBAY news story, the visit was designed as a discussion about renewable energy of all kinds. Hydroelectric power was one of the first, and least expensive sources of electric power. The Kaukauna facility is 110 years old and had a major upgrade in 2013, giving it a capacity of 7 mW of power, up 40% from the capacity of its two old powerhouses. During the meeting we discussed the dropping prices for wind and solar power and the tremendous amount of renewable energy that is currently listed on the 4-year MISO planning queue. It was noted that WPPI Energy, Dairyland Power and the investor owned utilities are looking to close their coal burning power plants and invest in utility scale wind and solar projects. They are doing this because wind and solar cost less than coal and the rising customer demand for renewable energy. This competitive, market-driven demand for renewable energy has led Wisconsin to easily surpass the 10% Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that was established by the state legislature in 2006, and shows no signs of slowing!
Governor Walker Helps Energy Bank Announce Renewable Energy Lighting
On July 9th I was invited by Energy Bank, Inc. to attend the unveiling of a new product called FUSION. Neal Verfuerth, owner of Energy Bank, invented this new lighting system that uses the DC power output from photovoltaic solar panels to directly energize LED fixtures – without conversion to AC. Governor Scott Walker gave the keynote speech where he said Wisconsin companies understand the need to keep their peak energy demand low and reduce the overall cost of energy to be economically viable. Walker said that businesses understand that “to be environmentally sustainable, you need to be economically sustainable”, and products like FUSION make that happen. The Governor was excited about innovative and high-tech companies like Energy Bank locating in Wisconsin, creating the new era technologies that will create jobs and attract millennial workers to Wisconsin. I had a few minutes to speak with both the Governor and Representative Paul Tittl (District 25-Manitowoc) at the end of the event about the exciting advancements and fast falling prices that renewable energy has had in the last few years. They were very interested and are looking forward to working with RENEW to help keep that momentum going.
The 29th Annual Energy Fair
On the weekend of June 15-18 I had the pleasure of visiting the MREA Energy Fair in Custer. This was my first visit to the Energy Fair and all I can say is that I was blown away! They had an amazing number of great seminars (over 250) on renewable energy, energy conservation and sustainable practices of all kinds. I was able to see, sit in and learn about many different electric vehicles (over 70 of them were on-site) and discuss with EV aficionados what the exciting future of transportation might look like. There were also over 450 exhibitors, presenters and sponsors from around the country. There were great speakers, entertainment and interesting people everywhere you looked. Everyone was up-beat and excited about renewable energy and how quickly it is taking over the energy market. Finally, the most fun part of the weekend was having me drive the RENEW Wisconsin electric demolition derby car. I won my initial heat and was in the final event. A controversial call by the umpires and a slight miscalculation on my part kept me out of the winner’s circle, but at the end of the evening everyone was a winner and we all had a great time!!
Last fall, I was asked to help promote a series called Names behind the Numbers, profiling Wisconsin’s renewable energy workers. One of the interviews featured April Smith (pictured above), a construction worker on the Quilt Block Wind Farm in Darlington, WI. In describing her work she said “All the people, the company, and the community — everyone looked out for each other” and I thought “that’s Wisconsin.”
I grew up in the northeast corner of Iowa County, in the Wisconsin River valley in a small town called Arena. My grandmother cleaned houses, my dad was a mechanic turned landscaper, and my uncles worked road construction. I was surrounded by the grit and community that defines the Wisconsin work ethic; I was taught to work hard, work together, and get the job done.
Now I am one of Wisconsin’s clean energy workers. I joined the RENEW Wisconsin staff a year ago with an untraditional background: an arts education, a theater and music career, and eight years of marketing for a general contractor in Chicago. I knew little about renewable energy, but I cared about the environment and wanted to help build a cleaner future for my children.
According to the Department of Energy’s 2017 US Energy and Jobs Report Wisconsin, over 67,000 people are already working in clean energy, and renewable energy job growth is six times faster than overall job growth in the state. Wisconsin has the opportunity to increase renewable energy substantially in the coming decades, and create tens of thousands of jobs along the way.
After April’s story was published, I was able to attend the Quilt Block dedication and ribbon cutting in Darlington, WI. I witnessed firsthand a community (comprised of local landowners, businesses, educators, government officials, and EDP Renewables) working together to build a 98 MW wind farm, enough to power 25,000 Wisconsin homes with clean energy. This project created approximately 100 full-time jobs during construction and 12 permanent jobs.
I recently attended an outdoor BBQ at the local office of the proposed Badger Hollow Solar Project in Monfort, WI. This was an opportunity for local landowners to get together and see which of their neighbors would be growing a solar crop. There, I met Tracy Fillback, the local liaison hired to address questions and concerns from the landowners and the community as this project progresses. She spent the last few years at home raising her children and now she’s starting a new chapter as part of of the Badger Hollow Solar project. She is another example of renewable energy job opportunity in Wisconsin.
Wind developers are scoping out new projects in rural parts of the state and in recent weeks two proposals for large scale solar farms have joined Badger Hollow Solar at the review stage of development. While we can’t predict the exact number of jobs this will mean for Wisconsin, these companies and workers will spend millions of dollars on locally-sourced gravel, concrete, construction supplies, food, lodging and other services. Increasing renewable energy is one of the best economic development moves Wisconsin could make, particularly for its rural communities.
Wisconsin’s renewable energy workers are building a cleaner future for our children and they’re doing it the Wisconsin way; with tenacity, community, and hard work. Renewable energy can support our local economies and be as homegrown as the crops in our fields, if our communities can continue to embrace the possibilities.
RENEW Wisconsin’s Solar for Good program is issuing grants to 15 Wisconsin nonprofit organizations to install new solar electric systems. The grants total over $145,000 and will fund 10% to 20% of each organization’s project. The overall value of these new solar arrays is set to exceed $1.2 million.
Planned for installation over the next twelve months, these projects expect to add over 460 kilowatts (kW) in new solar power. The size of each project will vary based on the needs of the organization.
This is the second round of Solar for Good grants, following Fall 2017’s inaugural opportunity when sixteen organizations were offered grants. The program is primarily funded by solar philanthropists Cal & Laurie Coulliard of Deerfield through their Coulliard Solar Foundation.
“Nonprofit organizations are leaders, gathering places, and signs of hope across our Wisconsin communities. By helping them produce their own solar energy, we are empowering them to showcase solar energy’s capabilities and continue their leadership role for the people they serve. We are very proud of these nonprofits and can’t wait to see their shining solar projects get completed!” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director.
The following organizations have been offered Solar for Good grants to install new solar electric systems:
Alice’s Garden, community and urban farm, Milwaukee
Community Homestead Inc, special needs organization, Osceola
First Unitarian Society of Madison, house of worship, Madison
Heartland Housing Inc., community housing, Milwaukee
Heartland Montessori School, early childhood education, River Falls
Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, outdoor education program, Menasha
Memorial United Church of Christ, house of worship, Fitchburg
Quasimondo Physical Theatre, arts education and training, Milwaukee
St. Bridget Catholic Church, house of worship, River Falls
VFW Post 8483, veterans service organization, Madison
Walnut Way Conservation Corp, environmental conservation organization, Milwaukee
Worldbuilders Inc., humanitarian organization, Stevens Point
Two organizations have asked to remain anonymous at this time.
Solar for Good plans to issue another round of grant funding in fall 2018. Individuals who want to learn more about the program can visit our website.
About RENEW Wisconsin
RENEW Wisconsin is a nonprofit organization which promotes renewable energy in Wisconsin. We work on policies and programs that support solar power, wind power, biogas, local hydropower, and geothermal energy. More information is available on RENEW’s website.