Madison to put $250,000 into developing renewable energy transition plan

The Madison Common Council has formally endorsed an effort to become the first in the state to transition to completely renewable energy.

This decision came Tuesday, when the council voted to put $250,000 into developing a transition plan by Jan. 18, 2018.

City officials and environmental advocates are applauding this groundbreaking decision, but insist it will take a collaborative effort to achieve the target goal.

“I look forward to working with residents, schools, churches, businesses and our local utility as we begin transitioning to clean energy, community-wide. The benefits of a transition to 100% clean energy are many,” said Alder Zach Wood. “These goals will drive a clean energy economy that creates local jobs, provides affordable and sustainable electricity, and results in cleaner air and water.”

If implemented, the plan would seek to achieve 100 percent renewable energy and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for city operations.

“Madison can help lead the Midwest with this bold commitment to 100 percent renewable energy, but we cannot do it alone,” said Katt Reinders, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club, a national environmental advocacy group. “Our community has shown incredible support for moving beyond dirty fossil fuels. Today our city took that vital action, but Madison Gas & Electric must also be a key player in realizing this vision which will create more jobs and opportunity, reduce the burden of high electricity costs on residents and businesses, and protect our families from pollution.”

MGE currently generates around 87 percent of its power from fossil fuels, with close to 66 percent coming from coal. Its renewable energy percentage has hovered around 13 percent.

However, MGE frequently uses purchased power from national utility MISO, which has varied sources of generation, so the actual mix varies from year to year.

“We’re hopeful Madison Gas & Electric will heed the calls of community leaders and residents throughout our city by committing to move beyond dirty fuels and working with us to achieve our community’s goals of 100 percent clean and renewable energy,” Reinders said.

MGE registered in favor of the resolution at Tuesday’s council meeting, and is already pursuing more renewable energy sources, such as its recently proposed 66-megawatt Saratoga wind farm.

The new project would supply about 47,000 homes with clean energy as part of its Energy 2030 framework. Under this resolution, MGE is pursuing the goal of supplying 30 percent of electric sales with renewable resources by 2030.

MGE has also said it won’t be building any additional coal plants, and is reducing ownership share in the coal-fired Columbia Energy Center in Portage.

“We have a history of working with the City,” said Dana Brueck, MGE corporate communications manager. “We’re supportive of the Council’s action and look forward to ongoing discussions with City officials through our collaboration.”

The utility will also be announcing a smart thermostat pilot program this year, which will help residential customers reduce energy waste.

“If we control and reduce our energy use — individually and collectively — that will help to reduce costs for all of us in the long run,” Brueck said. “Our Smart Thermostat Demand Response pilot program will allow MGE to communicate with participating customers’ smart thermostats and to adjust them during peak periods (such as summer when we’ve had an extended period of intense heat) to better manage the grid.”

–By Alex Moe