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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Organic Valley: First Wisconsin Business to Commit to 100% Renewable Power

Photo courtesy Organic Valley
Organic Valley is set to become the largest the largest U.S. food supplier and the first Wisconsin business to go 100% renewably powered. The LaFarge-based dairy cooperative unveiled plans last week to partner with a municipal power supplier to acquire renewable energy credits (RECs) from several solar arrays to be constructed and energized next year.

When the arrays are operational, Organic Valley will be able to supply all of its Wisconsin operations with wind power and solar power generated in the Dairy State. With this announcement, Organic Valley joins a rapidly growing roster of companies that have committed to powering their entire operational footprint with renewable energy. 

“Our future demands bold new thinking about our sources of energy, and there is nothing more natural to a farmer than harnessing the power of the sun and the wind,” said George Siemon, CEO and a founding farmer of Organic Valley. “So our cooperative is committed to achieving 100% renewable power, and doing it in partnership with the rural communities where we live and work.”

Organic Valley’s REC purchase will provide financial support for the development of 12 megawatts (MW) of new solar capacity in western Wisconsin. Though the electricity from these arrays will flow to member utilities in the Upper Midwest Municipal Energy Group (UMMEG), the contract enables Organic Valley to count that solar output towards its own renewable energy goals. Both UMMEG and the solar developer, OneEnergy Renewables, are working to attract other potential REC purchasers to achieve a total project build-out of 29 MW.

“The cost of electricity is going to be reduced over the life of these systems for everyone in these communities," said Stanley Minnick, energy services manager at Organic Valley.

Until this announcement, Organic Valley’s investments in local renewable generation had taken the form of rooftop arrays on its LaFarge and Cashton facilities and a two-turbine, five MW wind power installation adjacent to its Cashton distribution center. Today, those facilities account for about 60% of Organic Valley’s electricity usage. But to attain a goal of 100% renewable energy for its operational footprint, Organic Valley needs to expand its renewable energy supplies beyond what can be produced from its behind-the-meter installations.

Organic Valley’s arrangement with UMMEG and OneEnergy Renewables purchase is emblematic of a broader trend among U.S. corporations and institutions, namely the purchase larger quantities of renewable energy or REC’s from new off-site generators. Indeed, there is clearly a growing comfort level among utilities and independent developers to supply both corporate and residential customers with solar power generated from off-site solar facilities. 

Photo courtesy Organic Valley
In addition to increasing its own use of renewable power and helping farmers in its vendor network invest in wind and solar energy, Organic Valley is a sponsor of RENEW’s annual energy policy summit held in January in Madison.

A RENEW business member, OneEnergy Renewables has committed to landscape each of the project arrays with native grasses that will provide a home for bees and butterflies. In addition to its solar venture with UMMEG and Organic Valley, the Seattle-based solar developer will also build a one megawatt solar garden in Cashton in 2018 to supply the community solar program offered by Xcel Energy’s Wisconsin utility.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Another Excellent “Ride with RENEW” Bike Tour!

On Sunday, October 1st, RENEW Wisconsin, with presenting sponsor SunPeak, hosted its 5th annual “Ride with RENEW” bicycle tour of renewable energy projects, with this year’s ride taking place in Middleton, WI.  All event proceeds supported RENEW Wisconsin’s ongoing work to advance renewable energy in Wisconsin.

Check out all the photos on our Facebook photo album!

Our biggest bike event yet, we had seventy-four riders who traveled approximately 25 miles on paved roads and bike paths to visit innovative wind, solar and biogas energy generation facilities in scenic northwest Dane County. Seven seasoned cyclists opted for the extended route of about 40 miles to travel at their own pace.

As a fundraising event, we are proud to announce that we raised over $20,000 from 203 donations (so far)!  This amount will be matched with $15,000 from John & Mary Frantz and another $5,000 from a private donor.

Participants got an inside look at some of the area’s leading renewable energy projects and enjoyed breakfast, lunch (pizza donated by Glass Nickel Pizza), and beverages (post ride beer donated by Capital Brewery) along the way. They visited with installers and workers who are advancing renewable energy every day, and heard from customers about why clean energy works for their pocketbooks and their businesses.

Riders gathered at Sustainable Engineering Group’s net-zero solar powered office in downtown Middleton. They checked in and enjoyed an open house hosted by Sustainable Engineering Group staff.
The first stop of the ride was Gundersen Health Systems & Dane County Biodigester. This project converts manure to make enough electricity to power approximately 2,500 homes while keeping manure out of the watershed.
Next, we visited Madison Gas & Electric’s Middleton Shared Solar project, a large 500 kilowatt solar project on the roof of the Middleton Operations Center. Subscribers to this pilot shared solar program receive the benefits of locally generated solar power from a centralized solar project.
Presenting sponsor, SunPeak, led a discussion on one of their projects, the PDQ in downtown Middleton. The solar panels installed on this store showcase the market advances of solar alongside traditional fuels.
Riders enjoyed a pizza lunch donated by Glass Nickel Pizza.
After lunch, we rode north to Epic’s “Galactic” Wind Farm, featuring six turbines along the rolling hills northwest of Madison which generate enough electricity.
The ride concluded with refreshments at Capital Brewery, also powered by a set of solar panels.

Sponsors of the Event included SunPeak (presenting sponsor), Sustainable Engineering Group, Capital Brewery, City of Middleton, H&H Solar, UW Madison Engineering Professional Development, Summit Credit Union, Wegner CPAs, Full Spectrum Solar, One Energy Renewables, Glass Nickel Pizza, Midwest Solar Power, Madison Solar Consulting, Keyes & Fox, Sustainable Technologies, Open Circle UUF, and Willy Street Co-op.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Site Visit to HellermannTyton's Milwaukee Factory

by Tyler Huebner

Last month, Nick Korth, the Product Marketing Manager for Energy at HellermannTyton, invited me to visit their Milwaukee factory.

This is an impressive operation.  HellermannTyton manufactures and distributes a number of parts that make solar installations possible, all across America.
Nick Korth of HellermanTyton shows off a very small clip, for which
thousands would be used for a single utility-scale solar project.  In his
hand is a sample kit of zip ties, plastic parts, and safety labels used to
comply with electrical codes for solar projects of all sizes.

From zip ties for wire management to small clips that are used in each panel, HellermannTyton makes millions of these small parts which go in everything from rooftop solar for homes to utility scale projects.

The company is also a leader in ensuring compliance with electrical codes.  From wire management to labeling, the company helps solar installers ensure their projects are installed correctly and safely.

HellermannTyton makes this equipment right in Wisconsin, but sells it to solar projects all over the country.  They have a number of assembly lines with huge presses for making both plastic and metal parts.

In addition, the company makes wire management systems for automobiles. Nick explained how the system below is for a modern gasoline-powered vehicle.  He said the same types of wire harnesses for electric cars are at about twice as long and twice as thick.

HellermannTyton is one example of many Wisconsin-based companies building the parts necessary to enable a clean energy transition, both for solar power and electric vehicles.  Thank you, Nick, for the tour and education, and we look forward to seeing your products in more and more Wisconsin-based projects in the years to come!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Press Release: New ‘Solar for Good’ program to fund Wisconsin nonprofit organizations to install solar energy

Wednesday September 20, 2017, Madison.

For Immediate Release

For More Information
Katherine Klausing, RENEW Wisconsin
608-255-4044 x5, 614-406-1105

Solar for Good, a new initiative from the renewable energy advocates at RENEW Wisconsin, will offer grant funding to assist mission-based Wisconsin nonprofit organizations with installing solar panels on their facilities.

The grant program was created and funded entirely by a donation from local philanthropists Cal and Laurie Couillard of Deerfield.

With solar installation costs falling dramatically and public enthusiasm on the rise, more and more people and businesses have installed solar in recent years, and the program seeks to expand the benefits of solar to not-for-profit organizations.

“We know that the solar energy boom is having a positive impact on our Wisconsin communities, from creating good local jobs to cleaning our air and water,” said Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin. “That’s why we are very excited to help more nonprofit organizations and houses of worship, who are working every day to improve our communities, join the solar movement.”

Solar for Good will award a total of $125,000 in grants to nonprofit organizations and houses of worship to assist them in installing solar electricity systems. The grant program will fund up to 20% of the cost of a solar project, with a grant cap of $10,000 for solar projects sized less than 75 kW and a grant cap of $20,000 for projects 75 kW and above. Solar for Good will also offer small grants for technical assistance, including professional solar site assessments and engineering services, to get projects started and see them through to success.

By installing their own solar projects, these organizations will be able to generate their own clean, renewable energy, save money on their utility bills, and reinvest the energy cost savings back into their missions.

RENEW Wisconsin and Solar for Good aim to use the grants to help organizations going solar to spread the word about their solar investments and educate their communities about the benefits of solar energy.

The cost of installing solar panels has fallen by over half in the past five years. With these lower costs, we have an opportunity to make sure that all segments of our community can receive the many benefits of solar energy, including a lower electricity bill and an energy source we can feel good about,” said Katherine Klausing, Engagement Manager at RENEW Wisconsin.  “As leaders and messengers, these organizations can demonstrate how solar energy really benefits everyone, not just the traditional ‘early-adopters’.”

The fund was started by a single family, “but their dream is that we would grow this initiative beyond a single round of funding,” added Huebner. “If there are other philanthropists out there who care about renewable energy and want to invest in local community organizations, we encourage them to reach out to RENEW Wisconsin and consider supporting this new initiative.”

The program will run in concert with Focus on Energy rebates which are also available for many nonprofit organizations in Wisconsin.  Beyond those rebates, homeowners and businesses can take advantage of tax credits which enable them to lower the costs of solar investment. This program is focused on mission-driven non-profits who would not benefit from those tax credits.

How to Apply
Organizations can learn more and apply at

In order to be eligible, the organization must be a registered nonprofit organization located in Wisconsin, be in good financial standing, be ready to install solar and agree to participate in educating community members about the benefits of solar energy. If approved for a grant, all fundraising, design and installation for the solar project must be completed within 12 months. The program is geared towards mission-based, primarily 501(c)3 organizations, and is not designed for local governments or schools.

Applications for this round of funding must be received by Monday November 13th 2017. Decisions and funding announcements will be made by Monday December 11th, 2017.

For organizations looking at solar for the first time, technical assistance grants are available to fund a solar site assessment (up to $250) or engineering review (up to $500) for their solar array. These applications will be reviewed separately from the applications for grants for solar installation and will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. 

About RENEW Wisconsin
RENEW Wisconsin is a nonprofit organization which promotes renewable energy in Wisconsin. We work on policies and programs that support solar power, wind power, biogas, local hydropower, and geothermal energy. More information is available on RENEW’s website:


Friday, September 15, 2017

RENEW Wisconsin Supports State Biodigester Investment

September 15, 2017                                                                                
Contact Tyler Huebner, Executive Director
608.255.4044 ext. 1
Today the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin announced the results of the Request for Proposals (RFP) that was issued earlier this year to support an Integrated Anaerobic Digester project. The goal of the RFP was to identify one or more projects that would support renewable energy generation, improved manure management for dairy farms, and improved water quality.

Three proposals were submitted, and one proposal was unanimously recommended by the review committee.  The PSC agreed with the recommendation, and allocated $15 million of the state’s Focus on Energy program funding to support this project. The project’s total estimated cost is $60 million. 

The project is called “Green Pastures Bio Energy Center” and was proposed by BC Organics, LLC. The PSC’s news release identified the consortium as including 24 members and led by Dynamic Concepts of Waukesha, WEC Energy Group of Milwaukee, US Biogas of Plymouth, and BioStar Organics. The project would be located in Brown County and involve 9 dairy operations with a combined 22,882 animal units.

Wisconsin is the national leader in on-farm biodigesters.  This new project will involve accepting manure and potentially other organic waste products (such as food waste) into multiple anaerobic digesters located near a proposed landfill in Brown County. The digested material will produce renewable natural gas, which would be injected into a large natural gas pipeline to bring it to customers. Enough renewable gas would be produced to provide the home heating needs of 7,600 Wisconsin homes. 

RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director, Tyler Huebner, issued the following statement about this decision: 

Biogas is a Wisconsin-based renewable energy resource that keeps dollars in our state. We are very happy to see the State’s investment into local renewable energy, and we hope this project proceeds and is very successful in creating value from what are waste products today. As a leader in anaerobic digesters, we hope Wisconsin policymakers and our utilities will use this investment as a springboard to increase their support for all digesters, including the 34 on-farm digesters already in operation today.  There are a lot of farms in Wisconsin that need manure management solutions, and we believe biodigesters are one solution that can meet those needs while also bolstering Wisconsin’s reputation as an innovator and leader in energy.
It is important to keep in mind that no one project is going to solve the very challenging agricultural and water-quality issues for northeast Wisconsin.  We believe today’s PSC decision is an important step in the right direction.
Wisconsin is known for our dairy cows and we hope one day soon we will also be known for our leadership on waste-to-renewable energy innovation.

The PSC had previously allocated up to $20 million for this project for the Request for Proposals stage.  With $15 million allocated for this project, the Commissioners unanimously agreed to keep the $5 million not yet spent in a dedicated fund for biodigesters and renewable energy going forward.

The Public Service Commission’s press release can be found here.


A memo from the Public Service Commission describing the proposals and the evaluation process is available here.  


RENEW Wisconsin is a nonprofit organization which promotes renewable energy in Wisconsin. We work on policies and programs that support solar power, wind power, biogas, local hydropower, and geothermal energy. More information on RENEW’s website:

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Madison Gas & Electric's "Renewable Energy Rider" Ready for Action

Madison Gas & Electric is now offering a first-in-Wisconsin opportunity for its business and institutional customers to access clean, renewable energy.

Called the "Renewable Energy Rider," the program allows Madison Gas & Electric (MGE), a local investor-owned utility, to enter specific contracts with existing or new customers in which MGE will provide a dedicated renewable energy project to that customer.

This program follows a dramatic uptick in corporate and local government interest in renewable energy across America.  It enables these customers (more than 4,000 MGE customers in total are eligible) to directly pay for the sourcing of solar, wind, bioenergy, or other renewable energy on their electric bill, and to source that energy from additional and new projects if the customer desires.

RENEW Wisconsin has developed a two-page fact sheet for interested customers and stakeholders, as shown below and available for download:

The tariff is available in the last two pages of this MGE filing with the Public Service Commission.

RENEW Wisconsin is available to help any MGE customer business or non-residential customer take advantage of the program, and we are also encouraging other Wisconsin utilities to follow the lead and offer a similar program for their customers to directly access clean, renewable energy!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Wind Farm Close-Up

The RENEW Wisconsin team got an up-close view of the Wisconsin Quilt Block Wind Farm on August 24th. The wind farm, developed by RENEW business member EDP Renewables, is located 50 miles southwest of Madison in Lafayette County’s Seymour Township. The turbines compliment the area’s sprawling corn, wheat, and soybean fields and provide local farmers with a stable cash crop in the form of landowner lease payments.

We drove about an hour and fifteen minutes from Madison through the beautiful rolling hills of southwest Wisconsin. About 10 minutes from our destination, we caught our first glimpse of the striking wind turbines in the distance.
When we pulled into the lot where the project offices were located, we were all struck by the impressive number of vehicles and people going about their work, a testament to the 100 full time jobs created during construction. The wind farm will also offer 12 permanent jobs during the life of the project.

We entered the on-site offices and were greeted by a very friendly project team and other invited guests, including U.S. Representative Mark Pocan, whose congressional district includes the new wind farm. We also heard from local leaders who were proud to show us the project and share their great experiences working with the EDP team and others. The project is intricately tracked on a white board in the job site trailer, with each turbine listed along with process steps and status. We learned that 41 of the planned 49 turbines had already been erected or "topped out," putting the project ahead of schedule.

After enjoying coffee and donuts, we piled into several pickup trucks for the short drive to one of the turbines that had recently been erected. Our guide Chris, an inspector and surveyor who oversees the construction of the concrete bases for EDP, gave us a quick safety talk, then gamely answered all of our questions about the construction process. One big surprise? The ‘top-out’ process, where workers use cranes to hoist a nacelle and blades atop each tower, is completed for each of the 49 turbines by a single work crew of only a dozen people. We were impressed by the efficiency.
On site, we stood directly beneath a recently-constructed wind turbine, towering above us. As lovely as it was to see the turbines in the distance, this was even more majestic. We were overwhelmed by the size and beauty of the turbines. Tim McComish, the Chairman of the Town of Seymour and a 5th generation local farmer said he did a lot of research when the wind farm was first proposed. He was concerned that the turbines would ruin the landscape. “I love how they look,” he said.

At our next stop, we stood beside a tower with its nacelle and 3 blades on the ground, waiting to be hoisted by two large cranes later in the day. Standing next to three enormous turbine blades, the size and perspective was mind-blowing. The blades and nacelles on these impressive structures can actually be raised and assembled in 3 to 4 hours, if the wind conditions and weather allow.

RENEW toured the project along with a number of local officials including Tim Burgess, a Supervisor in Seymour. He is supportive of the wind farm and enthusiastic about the benefits it will bring to the local community. "Any farmer or community who tries to keep a project like this out of their area is crazy," he joked. Burgess is also one of the 44 local land owners who are leasing land to the farm. He was impressed by how efficient, professional, and considerate all of the contractors on the project had been.

When finished, the 98 MW wind farm will produce enough clean electricity to power more than 37,000 Wisconsin homes. The energy will be purchased from Quilt Block by Dairyland Power Cooperative.

This wind farm represents a capital investment of approximately $167 million. About $400,000 in revenue every year will be generated for local governments, divided among the county and towns. For the Township of Seymour, where the wind farm is located, the $150,000 they will earn each year is bigger than their current annual budget, and they are eager to put the revenue toward new projects and improvements to local roads, according to Vanessa Tutos of EDP Renewables.

Why Quilt Block? We learned that the wind farm’s name references the barn quilts of Lafayette County. Barn quilts are painted wood or metal quilt blocks mounted on barns or other buildings and celebrate the area’s agricultural heritage.

We’re grateful to Vanessa, Wayne, and everyone at EDP Renewables and the residents of Lafayette County for their hospitality. We’re also glad we had the chance to talk with U.S Representative and renewable energy proponent Mark Pocan. It was a privilege to see first-hand the beauty and benefits of this amazing wind farm and to meet the team that made it possible.