New Year’s EVe Blog: A decade of personal transportation

New Year’s EVe Blog: A decade of personal transportation

In the very first edition of the RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicles Blog, I shared my transportation story. That was over a year ago, and now we are approaching a new decade, which will be sure to bring just as much change as the last. Here’s a quick rundown of what I see as the biggest transportation changes over the past 10 years, what’s coming next, and how I plan to clean up my own transportation use in 2020.

10 years of transportation

In 2010, 3 days after my 16th birthday I got my driver’s license, kickstarting my experience with personal transportation.

In 2015, I purchased a red (Go Badgers!) 2010 Ford Escape. I didn’t even think about buying an electric car. Sometimes, I opted to drive my car because it was warm and easy, despite having the option to reduce my emissions by walking, taking the bus, driving my moped, or biking.

Then, in July of 2018, I started working at RENEW. I was immersed in clean energy – and quickly realized that my transportation choices didn’t align with my values.

I spent a year learning as much as I could, evaluating my lifestyle, and crunching the numbers on an EV purchase. I bought a Tesla Model 3 and moved to an apartment with solar on the roof. My husband and I are an all-electric, one car household. I call a rideshare when I need it – and in Madison, I can call an all-electric rideshare with Green Cab.

This is not the transportation future I imagined when I started my transportation story in 2010. I have more options, and produce fewer emissions, than I could have imagined 10 years ago. Madison is a walkable city that has an all-electric cab company, BCycle electric bikeshares, beautiful bike paths, and an extensive bus system that is being renovated and electrified. I can (and do!) take advantage of these options to live my clean energy values more fully.

A clean energy resolution

As I reflected on my personal transportation choices this decade, I decided to make Clean Energy Resolutions for 2020:

  1. Buy carbon offsets for my air travel.
  2. Try not to rideshare alone. I will bus when possible and call a Green Cab when I need to, reducing my solo rideshare trips (it’s not really “sharing” when I’m the only one in the car that needs to go there).

How has your personal transportation evolved over the decade? What would your Clean Energy Resolutions be?

Here are a few options to dip your toe into a clean energy transition this year:

  • Pledge to take the bus once a week in January
  • Instead of a “swear jar” have a “lights jar” at home – anyone caught leaving a light on when they’re not in the room owes the jar $1
  • Take part in National Bike to Work Day this May, bonus points if you get coworkers involved
  • Look into your utility’s green power program, or other ways to offset your home’s electricity use, like solar
  • Test drive an electric car (I bet you’ll like it!)
  • Become a RENEW Sustaining Member
  • Get a solar site assessment – at home or your work – to see if solar is right for you. See our list of trusted installers here

What will next decade hold?

This decade saw a lot of change in the way people get around. Rideshares like Uber and Lyft became common, electric scooters took over sidewalks nationwide, and electric vehicle sales tipped over 1 million in the U.S.

I expect that next decade it will be even easier to get around with enhanced micromobility options, cleaner buses with more bus routes, and more electric vehicle models than ever. These transitions are happening nationwide and Wisconsin is no exception. In addition to Madison, La Crosse, Milwaukee, and Racine all have electric buses ordered. Madison is working toward bus rapid transit, which will make commuting faster, cleaner, and more equitable for thousands of Wisconsinites. Micromobility is happening everywhere too – the founder of Bird Rides, one of the big scooter-sharing companies, grew up in Appleton! And, there are bikeshares in cities as small as Wisconsin Rapids and as large as Milwaukee. Together, these options will make it easier to get where you need to go, with fewer emissions.

For passenger vehicles, expect 200 different EV models to be available by 2025, giving us more size, shape, price, and brand options in the electric vehicle market. To add to it, I am really excited to see how the transition to autonomous vehicles will play out, especially as we transition to electric and shared mobility at the same time.

Buckle up, it’ll be a fun ride!

 

 

 

Solar. Community. Future.

Solar. Community. Future.

On the first day of August, a delegation from RENEW journeyed to the heart of the Driftless Area to take part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by Organic Valley Cooperative. What drew the participants to this location was a newly constructed 2.5 MW solar array perched on a hill overlooking Organic Valley’s distribution center along State Highway 27.

Behind the array stands two large wind turbines that are owned by Organic Valley and Gundersen Health System. Between the wind turbines, the solar array, and a number of other solar systems on the cooperative’s properties, Organic Valley now offsets 100% of its electric energy use with locally sourced renewable energy.

The array in Cashton is also a symbol of a project design that brought to fruition nine other solar arrays in the Upper Midwest serving rural communities. The post below, first published on Rootstock, Organic Valley’s blog, recounts how Organic Valley’s clean energy ambitions served as the catalyst for what is now one of the most creative renewable energy projects now operating in the United States.


How do you improve rural America?
By working together.

Out in the sunlight in 2016, two friends and former coworkers discussed what might be possible if their new employers came together to bring more solar to the Midwest. Could a major food brand become totally renewably powered? It was a dreamer’s conversation. A starshot. Luckily, they also found a way to be doers.

One of the dreamers worked for the cooperative behind Organic Valley, the largest farmer-owned organic cooperative in the country. You probably know Organic Valley from the milk, butter, and eggs in your fridge.

It’s kind of a crazy business.

So these dreamers met over lunch and ended up talking about a crazy goal: to make Organic Valley the world’s first 100% renewable-powered food company in just two years.

If you ask Stanley Minnick, Organic Valley’s energy services and technology manager, even he will tell you he didn’t quite know how to make it happen.

“I didn’t know exactly how it would all work out,” Minnick said, “but I knew if we just kept moving forward — and especially if we had the right partners — we could scale beyond our current wind, solar and geothermal and get to 100% renewable-powered.”

How would they get it done in “flyover country”? How would they focus on this project in a rural America that so many said was crumbling? How could they reach such an audacious goal in so little time?

The answer? Community.

As the goal evolved into a project, more partners — locally and beyond — stepped up to make the dream of a community solar partnership a reality.

Two creative and bold energy companies, OneEnergy Renewables and a group of Midwestern municipal utilities referred to as the Upper Midwest Municipal Energy Group (UMMEG), worked night and day to figure out how to structure the project. They, along with the City of Madison, Dr. Bronner’s and Clif Bar, brought their own intrepid goals to the table. Advocates and scientists at Fresh Energy, the National Renewable Energy Lab, and the Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund were engaged to find even more opportunities to create environmental benefits.

What started as a dream to become a 100% renewably powered food business became a community project that would benefit more than 23,000 rural Midwestern households within the scope of the overarching project. Suddenly, the project went beyond Organic Valley’s offices, warehouse and plants. It meant decades of cheaper energy from renewable sources for tens of thousands of rural Americans.

As the plans expanded, so did the logistics. Between the ten arrays in the full project, the team expected to increase the solar energy produced in Wisconsin by 30%. It was a big goal, and with solar tariffs and the elimination of government tax credits on the horizon, there were no options but to either run full steam at the goal or to stop the projects in their tracks.

They forged ahead. The dreamers turned into full-time doers, along with help from an entire team at Organic Valley, BluEarth Renewables, and even the state’s capitol city of Madison, Wisconsin.

The partners worked hard to figure out the finances, including the power purchase agreements and renewable energy credits, while the communities weathered real and financial storms at the same time. Two back-to-back 500-year floods inundated the communities where these panels would be installed. The rural areas were already seeing the effects of climate change.

In January 2019, some of the hardiest and hard-working people on Earth forged ahead into a brutal winter. They installed hundreds of steel posts and panel supports in frozen ground.  Temperatures hit negative 30 degrees two nights in a row, and daytime temps barely got over zero degrees for weeks. Months later, the same crews battled muddy conditions to install the panels, wiring and other equipment needed to bring everything to life.

This community solar project, as a template for more projects around the country, was fighting for a brighter future as the rain fell on their hardhats. Still, the project was on track, if only a little delayed by an angry Mother Nature.

Rural America has an incredible resource many just don’t see: a sense of community that rivals anywhere else in the world.

When you drive through the small town of Viroqua (pop. 4,400), just 15 miles from the solar installation site, you’ll drive past a National Co-op Grocers’ food cooperative with solar panels on its roof, a restaurant that sources almost all of its food from local farms, and a farmers market that blows most bigger cities’ markets out of the water. And the community comes together in times of crisis, like when those 500-year floods ripped through a farmer’s backyard.

 

As the solar project needed help from partners in the other local communities and from the wider industry, people from different backgrounds stepped up. They started projects of their own, supported by a group of businesses intent on doing good in the world. And it’s working.

On August 1st, 2019, all the solar panels were finally in place and ready to make renewable energy for thousands. You can see the view for itself, nestled beneath the wind turbines in Cashton, Wisconsin, created from yet another powerful local partnership.

Organic Valley is now the biggest food brand to source all of the electricity for its owned facilities from 100% renewable energy. And it happened through partnership and cooperation.

Another Organic Valley employee has dreamed up a new innovative partnership that we can’t wait to share, but we kind of have to. This next big project will require even more collaboration and cooperation, but the end goal will be worth it: food made better. If you join the Organic Valley email list, you’ll be the first to hear about our big goals and new projects.

Rural America has a bright future, and it’s powered by dreamers and doers who work together toward big, crazy goals.


This article was written by Joshua Fairfield and first published on Rootstock, Organic Valley’s blog. You can view the original post HERE.


 

Students, Teachers, and Local Families Call on Monona Grove School District to Invest in Renewable Energy

Students, Teachers, and Local Families Call on Monona Grove School District to Invest in Renewable Energy

In November 2018 voters approved a $57 million referendum to build a new school and make improvements in the Monona Grove School District.  As Monona Grove designs and plans a new 615-student elementary school, local residents are working to ensure the building includes renewable energy and sustainable design. You can follow the elementary school construction design process here. While there has been discussion of a 100% renewable energy resolution, this has not been formerly introduced to the Monona Grove School Board yet.

In June I had the pleasure of attending the Monona Grove School Board meeting and hearing from a number of clean energy supporters. Science teacher Tyler Keuhl made particularly thoughtful comments which I asked him to share with us. The following are excerpts from his remarks.


Hello Everyone!

My name is Tyler Kuehl and I am a science teacher at the high school. Thank you for the opportunity to speak tonight.  Tonight I’d like to speak from a Monona Grove teacher perspective encouraging the district to adopt a 100% renewable energy resolution.

I’ve taught environmental science at Monona Grove High School for the past 7 years. One thing those of us who operate in educational circles have come to know quite well, is that learning is a two way street. When we get into education we hope that we can have a lifelong impact on our students, and we soon realize that our students teach us a great deal, as well.  While I hope my former students have learned things about science and themselves, I know that I’ve learned a great deal from them. They care about a sustainable future and have taught me how important that is to them.

One of the themes in my curriculum comes from a quote that drives a lot of different things in my life. Edmund Burke said, “No man made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”  I tell students that their own individual actions are vital even while they may seem small. In essence, I want my students to dream big, but not ignore the seemingly small daily opportunities they have to make a difference. In all honesty though, I don’t think adopting this resolution should even be seen as “dreaming big.” This is an action that has been taken by large cities and entire countries.  It’s time for us to play our small part.

I get very similar feedback from every group of students at the end of each year; that environmental science should be a required course. I agree in a sense. The significance of these problems necessitates the education of all who walk through the doors of Monona Grove School District buildings. However, I don’t think you accomplish that by making environmental science a required course. I think you accomplish that by becoming a sustainable district.

Students should be interacting with concepts that encourage a sustainable future throughout their educational career. We need to teach students the history of how we got to where we are, the energy solutions, economic models and strategies, the psychology of changing behavior, and that there are social justice and career opportunities for every student in a society that must increasingly embrace sustainability. I think ultimately this is a curricular outcome of a district who takes steps to be sustainable itself.

Now the really cool thing about our district is that this is already happening organically. Students are learning some of these things and are taking action as individuals. It’s time for us to once again learn from them and follow their lead.

As a part of a project that I do in my class where I give the kids space and time to try and make an impact, they’ve done some great things for our school and community. They’ve raised funds to build two fresh water wells for schools in Uganda and reusable water bottle refilling stations at the high school. They’ve saved countless rolls of paper towels by doing the legwork to get electric hand dryers installed in first level bathrooms, which also saved the school thousands of dollars. They’ve created educational programing for elementary students to teach them about freshwater usage and plastic pollution. They’ve been leading the way on these things. As the adults in a district that’s mission is to, “enhance achievement for all students by cultivating a desire for learning and instilling a social responsibility” we must not squander this opportunity. It is beyond the time for our own social responsibility to kick in.

The old adage from Theodore Roosevelt, which rings true in so many ways inside education, echoes here as well. Students won’t care how much we know, until we show them how much we care. They know we know that climate change is a serious issue. But we as the adults in this district need to show them we care by adopting a 100% renewable energy resolution.

Thank you.


Thanks to Tyler for sharing his comments with the RENEW community!  We will stay tuned as Monona Grove explores its renewable energy options.

 

Dane County Communities Stretch Towards 100% Renewable Energy

Dane County Communities Stretch Towards 100% Renewable Energy

The Madison Common Council adopted in late March a resolution setting 2030 as the deadline to achieve a 100% renewable energy and net-zero carbon goal for city operations. Spearheaded by the Sustainable Madison Committee (SMC), the resolution empowers city staff to lead by example and initiate aggressive policies and practices designed to reduce carbon emissions across the community.

Madison’s action comes on the heels of similar resolutions adopted by its neighbors, specifically the cities of Fitchburg and Monona, committing themselves to procure renewable energy sources to power their operations.

In late February Fitchburg’s Common Council resolved to offset 100% of the city’s electricity demands from renewable energy resources by 2030.  A week later, Monona adopted a resolution establishing an identical goal and deadline for its own electricity use, and coupled it with a renewable energy commitment by 2040 applicable to other energy uses, such as heating buildings and fueling vehicles.

With these resolutions on the books, there are now five Wisconsin cities that have embraced a 100% renewable energy (or electricity) future for its operations, and have set deadlines for achieving it. The other two cities on that list are Eau Claire and Middleton (see comparison here).

Adopted on March 19, 2019, Madison’s resolution emerged from a report commissioned by the city in March 2017 to analyze three different scenarios for achieving 100% renewable energy use and net zero carbon emissions. Of the three scenarios examined in the HGA/Navigant report, the SMC selected the 2030 pathway (Scenario 3), after a spirited discussion to identify certain implementation steps necessary to ensure that all City residents benefit from this transition.

The resolution commits city staff to engage “committees and commissions to review and develop plans for policies, programs, and procedures to achieve the goals and targets in Scenario 3.” Between now and the end of the summer, SMC members will work with the relevant committees and commissions to shape and guide these implementation plans.  These plans will be submitted in September.

The HGA/Navigant report estimated $95 million in up-front investments over 12 years to achieve the City’s 2030 carbon reduction goals. Under Scenario 3, a combination of heightened building energy efficiency, additional supplies of renewable energy, and an increasingly electrified vehicle fleet produced the broadest array of benefits for city residents, including lower operating budgets and reductions in health-related expenses.  According to HGA/Navigant, the social and economic benefits from this transition, coupled with the energy savings, would far surpass the original investment.

At $60 million, the investment in electric buses shapes up to be the costliest element among the strategies analyzed, but one likeliest to yield substantial health benefits to the entire community.

Already, the City of Madison has committed to provide nearly $1.4 million in project financing to leverage the construction of five solar arrays in western Wisconsin totaling 10 MWac.  Construction has already begun on these arrays, and all will begin generating power this summer, enough to offset 37% of the City’s electric load on an annual basis. The arrays, owned by BluEarth and developed by OneEnergy Renewables, will serve the municipal utilities of Argyle, Cumberland, Elroy, Fennimore, and New Lisbon.

(Note: See images of BluEarth projects under construction.)

 

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.

 

NEW REPORT: Over 75,000 Wisconsin Residents Work in Clean Energy

NEW REPORT: Over 75,000 Wisconsin Residents Work in Clean Energy

More than 75,000 Wisconsin residents now work in clean energy industries, including individuals in all 72 counties, according to a new analysis of energy jobs data from Clean Energy Trust (CET) and the national, nonpartisan business group E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs). Wisconsin’s clean energy workforce employs more than all the waiters and waitresses, computer programmers, lawyers and web developers in Wisconsin combined, according to Department of Labor Employment Statistics.

Energy efficiency once again led all clean energy sectors in Wisconsin, employing 62,299 workers – accounting for 8 in ten of all clean energy workers.

Renewable energy generation came in second with over 5,600 jobs – led by solar and wind (5,351).

“Wind, solar, and energy efficiency are the lowest-cost options for utility companies and our state’s homes, businesses, and public-serving organizations.  Wisconsin has a tremendous job creation opportunity because these clean energy  technologies are now cost-effective and ready for prime-time,” said Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin.

Across the entire 12-state region, Clean Jobs Midwest found that clean energy employment totaled 714,255 at the end of last year.

Key findings about Wisconsin’s clean energy workforce include:

• Renewable energy, led by wind and solar, employs 5,660 Wisconsin residents

• Over 2,500 Wisconsin residents now work in grid modernization and energy storage

• The majority of Wisconsin’s clean energy jobs are in construction and manufacturing (75.30%)

• Clean fuels and clean vehicle technologies employ 4,565 workers

• Employers project 2.0% clean energy job growth in 2018

• Small businesses are driving Wisconsin’s clean energy sectors, with 67.90% of clean energy businesses employing fewer than 20 individuals.

• 11% of Wisconsin residents employed in clean energy are veterans