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Yahara Hills Solar panel (copy)

The Yahara Hills Golf Course was one of five city facilities that received a solar installation in 2016 through the GreenPower program.  

Almost two years after Madison set ambitious 100 percent clean energy goals, a sustainability-focused city committee has recommended a path toward reaching them.

Led by the Sustainable Madison Committee, the Madison City Council set a goal of using 100 percent renewable energy sources and producing zero net carbon emissions in March 2017.

In the 100% Renewable Madison Report, committee members, alders, city staff and consultants outline three scenarios toward reaching these goals. The options vary in cost, investment in city facilities, time it would take to reach clean energy goals and the positive financial impact they would have on the city.

“City officials have an urgent need for future climate planning and implementation while promoting Madison’s vibrant culture to retain and attract the people who will continue to make contributions for our community, our planet, and our shared prosperity,” the report states

All options accomplish the clean energy goals by reducing energy demand from local government operations, supplying electricity through renewable energy, generating renewable energy locally and supplying remaining energy needs from renewable energy credits and carbon offsets.

On Monday, the city's Finance Committee accepted the report and adopted the recommended scenario outlined in the Renewable Madison Report, which would would meet the city’s clean energy goals by 2030.

“This is a vital step not just for symbolic purposes, but to actually assist with the fiscal health of the city and the physical health of the city city,” said Raj Shukla, chair of the Sustainable Madison Committee and mayoral candidate.  

The recommended option would implement known measures to reduce the carbon footprint from city operations and minimize the reliance of external RECs or carbon offsets. RECs are tradable non-tangible energy commodities that represent proof of the generation of one megawatt-hour of energy by a renewable energy facility.

By 2030, city government will cut its carbon emissions by 55 percent with at least 25 percent of municipal operations electricity sourced by self-generated renewable energy, under the recommended option. The remaining 45 percent of carbon emissions would be balanced by investments in RECs or carbon offsets.  

In addition, the city would invest in energy efficiency with short- and long-term benefits, including retrofitting HVAC in buildings and converting fleet vehicles to operate on electricity or compressed natural gas from non-fossil sources.

“Renewable energy, energy storage and electric vehicle markets are undergoing rapid technological innovation and price declines,” the report states. “A balanced approach of investments in energy efficiency, transportation strategies, and renewable energy installations, along with RECs and carbon offsets, is key to reaching the 100% renewable energy and zero net carbon goal quickly and cost-effectively.”

Ald. Zach Wood, District 8, worked closely with those who created the report as a member of the Committee on the Environment. He said the recommended option is the “most substantial” and provides the most significant short- and long-term investment in Madison’s renewable future.

“We have to lead,” Wood said. “We really have no choice but get to net zero carbon, 100 percent renewable energy. It’s going to be a substantial investment from a financial perspective and an effort perspective, but we really don't have a choice.”

To achieve this goal, the recommended scenario anticipates $95 million in capital investment over a 12-year period.

The 2019 capital budget and Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) currently contains $122.7 million for programs highlighted in the report, according to the resolution. Comparatively, over the five year CIP period, the plan recommends the program funding be increased by $47.5 million, or 38 percent, to a total of $170.2 million.

By 2030, the report estimates the city would see $78 million in cost savings, a reduction of 426,000 tons of carbon emissions and between $21 million and $162 million in societal benefits.

Jeanne Hoffman, the city's facilities and sustainability manager, said the clean energy and transportation markets are rapidly changing and producing better products at lower prices.

"While some might think that 2030 is too far, like we should be more aggressive, I think that it strikes the right balance that we’ll be able to take advantage of those technology improvements to accelerate the change that we want to see and how we power and fuel the city's operations and fleet," Hoffman said.

Hoffman also stressed that the city is moving forward on 'greener' path and wants the community to join.

"The big message of the report is that this is what the city is going to do. We are going to move forward," Hoffman said. "We want businesses and residents to also really start incorporating these renewable energies and technology and conversion of fleet into their own businesses and their own homes." 

Under the resolution, city staff will work with commissions and committees to develop plans within six months of adopting the report for policies, programs, procedures to achieve the city’s clean energy goals.  

The report recommends that city officials should review plans every two years to track progress and update goals.

“Our goal is to make sure sustainability is integrated into everything the city does,” Shukla said.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.

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