On Saturday, August 26, The Aldo Leopold Foundation Legacy Center celebrated the completion of its newest solar array. Since the conception of the Legacy Center, the Foundation has aimed to achieve what Aldo described as, “The oldest task in human history: to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.”
The Aldo Leopold Foundation is a nonprofit conservation organization with a mission of fostering a land ethic through the legacy of Aldo Leopold. As described by him, the land ethic involves recognizing ourselves as “plain members and citizens” of the land community and treating our fellow members with care and respect.
The Foundation’s dedication to the land ethic is underscored by its new 90-kilowatt solar installation completed by All Sky Energy. This is the Foundation’s second solar installation at the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center, boosting the organization’s goal of achieving net-zero. As a complement to the new solar array, the foundation has also installed three electric vehicle charging stations and added two electric trucks to its fleet.
This project was made possible through the collaborative efforts of All Sky Energy, The Couillard Solar Foundation, OneEnergy Renewables, RENEW Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. The main source of funding came from a $152,000 Office of Energy Innovation grant and panel grants from OneEnergy Renewables and Solar for Good.
Buddy Huffaker, President and Executive Director of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, highlighted the significance of this endeavor, stating, “Obviously, this project benefits the Leopold Foundation by reducing our expenses, but we are most excited about the opportunity to continue demonstrating a conservation ethic that informs and inspires others to transition to renewable energy and electrification.”
This initiative resonates deeply with Aldo Leopold’s philosophy of living harmoniously with the land. The Aldo Leopold Foundation aims to lead by example by showcasing how investments in renewable energy promote sustainability while creating a tangible connection between modern living and the land ethic Leopold championed.
With thousands of annual visitors to the Legacy Center, the Aldo Leopold Foundation serves as an example for the broader community. This latest effort to electrify the land ethic has the potential to inspire others to embrace renewable energy solutions and drive rural electrification enhancements.
Last month, I joined the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin in a virtual discussion about energy costs in the state. I discussed strategies to address rising energy costs during the panel, including energy efficiency and beneficial electrification. The panel focused on real-world actions residents can take to reduce their energy burden. You can watch the webinar replay by clicking on this link. Now, I want to talk about the resources we have to support individual efforts to fight soaring energy costs through energy efficiency. In particular, I want to talk about the Focus on Energy® Program. (Focus).
What do I mean by energy efficiency, and why should you care? Energy efficiency is the use of less energy to produce the same result. For example, a light-emitting diode (LED) lightbulb produces the same amount of light as an incandescent lightbulb using only 15 percent of the energy needed for the incandescent light because LED lights waste less energy in the form of heat. Energy efficiency is important because less energy saves you money on utility bills.
Most homeowners, renters, and businesses in Wisconsin can access resources – such as free Energy Saving Packs – and financial incentives to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and businesses through the Focus program. Focus is Wisconsin’s energy efficiency and renewable resource program that operates on behalf of 107 utilities. Since 2001 the program has saved Wisconsin residents over $1 billion.
Last spring, the Public Service Commission (PSC) made decisions regarding the overall policies and priorities for the next phase of the Focus program. Wisconsin law requires the PSC to review energy efficiency and renewable energy programs every four years. You can read the minutes of the PSC meeting here.
In summary, the PSC provided the following directions for the next four years (period from 2023 to 2026):
- Focus should play a more significant role in cost-effectively reducing carbon emissions. The next four years should serve as a transitional period during which the program continues emphasizing energy savings while progressing toward a transition to a greater emphasis on reducing carbon emissions.
- Focus shall not claim savings from fuel switching from unregulated fuels to electricity.
- Focus shall use the next four years as a transitional period to position the program to take on a more significant role in promoting beneficial electrification statewide.
- Focus shall develop and maintain a menu of options for voluntary utility programs to be shared with participating utilities.
- Focus shall maintain its current level of support for utility demand response programs.
- The Focus program should continue to offer income-qualified programs and coordinate with the Department of Energy weatherization program to further fill potential gaps in its low-income offerings, including community-based pilot(s) in targeted communities. The Focus Program Administrator shall convene a stakeholder group that includes community-based organizations that work with marginalized communities to address barriers to outreach and participation.
RENEW submitted comments to the PSC supporting the alignment of Focus with emissions reduction goals to lower the state’s dependence on imported fuels and support renewable energy development. You can read RENEWS’s comments on the Focus Quadrennial Planning Process here.
I will write in the future about resources to help you save money through beneficial electrification. Stay tuned!
Co-author: Jenna Greene
Early April 2022, two people were seriously injured in an explosion caused by attempting to light a propane furnace in their Marinette County home. Approximately 253,000 (primarily rural) households in Wisconsin use propane to heat their homes, putting public safety at risk and creating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that negatively impact human health. In addition, propane is currently the most expensive fuel type for Wisconsin residents. Air-source heat pumps can be a safe, efficient, and affordable alternative to propane heat. Wisconsin needs policies, programs, and incentives that accelerate this transition for rural customers.
An air-source heat pump (ASHP) is an electrically powered heating and cooling device that moves heat, rather than generating it, to provide comfortable building temperatures. ASHPs operate “in reverse” in the summer to provide cooling (similar to a refrigerator). Cold-climate air source heat pumps have made significant technological advances in recent years; today, ASHPs can operate in temperatures as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit. Some local Wisconsin residents and nonprofit organizations are already switching to ASHPs for heating and cooling.
Heating homes with fossil fuels create emissions that impact human health and contribute to climate change – 8% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Wisconsin come from the residential sector. Climate change threatens the economy in many ways, including increased flooding and storm damage, altered crop yields, lost labor productivity, and strained energy systems. Wisconsin’s electric grid is increasingly powered by renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Transitioning away from propane heat will increasingly reduce GHG emissions.
In 2021, Wisconsin imported 41,000 barrels of propane – valued at more than four million dollars. Spending money on imported energy resources weakens local economies and burdens household budgets. Many Wisconsin residents feel the effects of rising fossil fuel costs, with propane projected to be the most expensive fuel source in 2021-2022. Transitioning to air-source heat pumps can lower annual heating and cooling costs and free Wisconsinites from the volatility of imported fossil fuels.
ASHPs provide safe, efficient, and affordable home heating and cooling. Electricity is generated off-site and delivered to homes, which dramatically lowers the safety risk to families from on-site propane combustion. High-efficiency heat pumps can convert one British Thermal Unit (BTU) of electricity into three BTUs of heating or cooling – significantly more efficient than gas furnaces at most temperatures. ASHPs are also cost-effective compared with propane use. ASHP adopters can save up to $750 per year on heating and cooling costs. We need financing mechanisms to allow households and businesses to finance energy efficiency retrofits and ASHP installations with affordable upfront payments.
Many rural Wisconsin households use propane or heating oil to heat their homes which is expensive, puts people at risk, and sends millions of dollars out of state each year. Wisconsin utilities, policymakers, and Focus on Energy should expand programs to transition households from propane heating to efficient electric heating, saving people money, reducing hazards, and improving health outcomes in rural communities.