A group of environmental organizations is offering to help local governments in Wisconsin address climate change and save money through a guide it has published on clean energy initiatives.
Created by Wisconsin Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club and Renew Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Clean Energy Toolkit provides energy policy basics and steps for local government officials to plan, implement and finance clean energy projects.
Local government officials often hear from constituents who want a shift to clean, locally produced energy sources, but many communities lack the resources and support to make that transition, said Jennifer Giegerich, government affairs director for Wisconsin Conservation Voters.
And in the absence of federal action, Giegerich said, local governments are more interested in tackling climate change themselves.
“Local communities are often on the front line of dealing with the impacts,” she said.
But it’s not just about reducing carbon dioxide emissions, which have led to a rapid warming of the atmosphere, triggering rising sea levels and increasingly violent storms.
Wind and solar are now among the cheapest sources of electricity and represent an opportunity for economic development in a state that imports more than $14 billion worth of fossil fuels each year.
“It’s one of the only places someone can save money,” said Megan Levy, local energy programs manager for the state Office of Energy Innovation. “It’s a revenue stream.”
Indeed, rapidly falling prices and changing public opinion on climate change have erased the traditional financial and political costs associated with being a clean energy leader, said Greg Nemet, professor of public affairs and environmental studies at UW-Madison.
“There’s a much stronger place for local action than there was five or 10 years ago,” Nemet said. “They enable it and encourage it by showing best practices. Once people see some of these examples, they’re pretty interested and eager to adopt.”
Last year Gov. Tony Evers established a goal of generating all electricity used in Wisconsin with carbon-free sources by 2050. But local governments have been leading the effort for years.
At least 10 municipalities — including the city and county of Milwaukee as well as Fitchburg and Monona — have set 100% renewable energy goals for government operations.
In 2017, the city of Madison became the first in the state to adopt a community-wide clean energy goal. Green Bay, Eau Claire and Middleton have followed suit. While Dane County has not adopted a resolution, it is expected to release a comprehensive climate action plan later this spring.
Levy said there’s long been interest from other communities as well.
“It’s not just Madison and Dane County,” Levy said. “It’s Sheboygan. It’s River Falls. It’s all over the place.”
Giegerich said she and her coauthors focused on the 147 communities who passed Energy Independent Community pledges as part of an initiative under former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle in 2008, many of which made no progress toward the goal of getting 25% of their energy from renewable sources.
“What’s the gap between communities who aspire to be clean energy communities and those who put together a plan,” Giegerich said. “They didn’t even know how to get started.”