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.
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.
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.
Thanks to Tyler for sharing his comments with the RENEW community! We will stay tuned as Monona Grove explores its renewable energy options.
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.
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.
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
Acquisition Broadens HGA’s Expertise in Sustainable Energy Planning
MILWAUKEE — HGA has acquired the Sustainable Engineering Group (SEG) in Madison, Wisconsin, a leading engineering firm focused on energy optimization and sustainable design. The acquisition reinforces and broadens HGA’s existing expertise in energy and infrastructure planning and design for leading national clients in healthcare, academic, corporate, and public sectors.
“SEG’s approach and deep knowledge will allow us to better serve the energy needs of our growing client base,” said Rick Hombsch, PE, LEED AP, vice president and HGA’s Energy & Infrastructure market leader. “Their team brings technical insights into emerging energy technologies and renewable resources that build on our existing strengths in high-performance energy systems, commissioning, retro-commissioning, energy auditing, and central energy plants. By combining forces, we are creating a more robust in-house practice that will enhance our capabilities to research, plan, and implement highly advanced energy systems that benefit our clients economically and environmentally.”
Founded in 2004 by Manus McDevitt, PE, LEED AP, and Svein Morner, PE, PhD, LEED AP, Sustainable Engineering Group quickly established itself as a regional leader in energy systems modeling, commissioning, retro-commissioning, LEED certification, and advanced research, with specialized focus in geothermal systems, renewable energy systems, and carbon reduction/net zero campus planning.
McDevitt has more than 25 years of experience in energy-efficient HVAC design and engineering systems. Morner has comparable tenure in mechanical engineering, with a research focus in thermal storage systems, energy self-sufficient buildings, fuel cell design, and solar panels.
SEG’s 12-person team works out of an historic commercial building that has achieved net zero energy using strategies that include waste heat recovery, natural ventilation, a photovoltaic roof system, and real-time energy-use monitoring.
“Clients are concerned about reducing their carbon footprint and exploring the most efficient designs for the life of their buildings,” said McDevitt. “HGA has a demonstrated track record as well as a clear sense of responsibility around designing healthy, energy-efficient buildings—which aligns with our mission. Joining HGA provides the opportunity for our team to work with a more diverse portfolio of clients and project types, to build our expertise in new technologies and research; it allows us to expand our scope to make an even more significant, positive impact on the built environment, which is our real passion.”
Both firms have extensive experience in energy and infrastructure planning and design. Here are just some examples of their work:
The SEG acquisition is part of HGA’s strategic focus on elevating its national excellence in sustainable design and energy planning. With the addition of Lisa Matthiessen as National Sustainable Design Director in 2017, HGA is building new structures and deepening its expertise to explore new directions in planning healthy buildings that help create a more profound impact for clients and end users.
The acquisition is effective July 1, 2018. SEG officially will change its name to HGA and merge operational and administrative functions.
HGA is a national multi-disciplinary design firm rooted in architecture and engineering. Founded in 1953, we believe that enduring, impactful design results from deep insight into the people and passions that animate each unique environment. Our nine offices from coast to coast craft specialized teams to serve clients in education, arts, healthcare, corporate, government, community, and energy industries. Visit HGA.com or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.