Last night Madison’s Common Council unanimously approved a resolution establishing a goal of
100% renewable energy use and net zero carbon emissions community wide by a date to be specified. The same resolution authorizes city staff to spend up to $250,000 on an independent consultant to analyze different timelines and measures for transitioning the city’s buildings and transportation fleets to becoming net carbon-neutral.  With the benefit of that analysis, city staff will present a plan to the Common Council for achieving these objectives by January 2018. 

With this action, Madison is on track to join 23 other U.S. municipalities and cities–among them Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Rochester, Minnesota—committed to a full transition to renewable energy for its own operations. It is also the first Wisconsin municipality to commit to achieving a net zero carbon footprint.

According to Wikipedia, carbon neutrality, or having a net zero carbon footprint, refers to achieving net zero carbon emissions by balancing a measured amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset, or buying enough carbon credits to make up the difference. It is used in the context of carbon dioxide releasing processes associated with transportation, energy production, and industrial processes such as production of carbon neutral fuel.

The Sustainable Madison Committee (SMC), an official city body that meets monthly, spearheaded the changes to the city’s climate and energy goals. While these are the official goals for both the City of Madison and the broader community, the resolution directs City staff to address its own operations first for the purposes of leading by example. Stating that the “attainment of the goal is a budgetary and managerial priority,” the resolution requires the plan to include “interim milestones, budget estimates, and estimated financial impacts.”

City staff plans to issue a Request for Proposals for third-party expertise in May and hire a contractor in July. 

Madison’s decision to initiate a process for weaning itself off fossil fuels reflects the widening divide between municipalities and states over climate change. Frustrated by a polarized political environment and inaction at higher levels of government, cities are increasingly striking out on their own to adopt and implement clean energy policies that build in resilience, economic opportunity, and operational savings while improving air quality and slowing climate change.

On that theme the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters and partners will convene a full-day summit to empower local Wisconsin leaders to advance energy efficiency, renewable energy, and resilience across the state. The summit, titled How do we build resilient communities in Wisconsin?, set for April 5th in Fond du Lac, will include a panel showcasing the vanguard of local leadership on clean energy and resilience. For more information and to register for the summit, visit the website here.

Other links:
Wisconsin State Journal article

Channel 3 WISC-TV editorial

Midwest Energy News article

An excellent summary of the public engagement process that led to the resolution as well as the city’s expectations going forward can be found in the statement prepared by Raj Shukla, Chair of the Madison Sustainable Committee, supporting Council adoption of the resolution.


My name is Raj Shukla, Chair of the Sustainable Madison Committee and a father who is proud to live in a city that takes action on climate change not only for the future of our world, but for the health of our community right now.

By way of background, at the direction of the Common Council, the Sustainable Madison Committee undertook a series of public working sessions seeking to update community-wide goals on carbon emissions and renewable energy. From July through November, a work group of SMC members considered a range of information, received advice from experts, and weighed ideas from the public.

In the end, advances to our understanding of climate science and leaps forwards in technology led workgroup members to a clear conclusion: Madison should set its sights on 100% renewable, net-zero carbon energy.

The resolution before you does a few big things:

1.    Establishes a communitywide goal of 100% renewable, net zero carbon energy;
2.    Insists that city government lead the way and reallocate money for city agencies to start; and
3.    Provides a framework through which we’ll regularly assess and report on our progress.

We did not set a timeline for reaching these ambitious objectives within the resolution. To do so across the community reaches far beyond what city government can control. Energy policy is governed by state law and state regulators.

But city government can control how it operates, and this resolution empowers city staff to develop a plan—including target dates—for achieving 100% renewable, net-zero carbon goals for operations. Progress reports are built into the resolution and will keep us on track to meet community standards.

The vote you cast tonight is the culmination of eight months of community discourse and community leadership. But it is really just the beginning.