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Monday, April 24, 2017

Madison and Middleton launch solar buying program; Madison earns “Gold” designation from national SolSmart program

For Immediate Release

More Information:
Katie Crawley, Mayor’s Office

Katherine Klausing, RENEW Wisconsin

April 24, 2017 – Madison. Today the Cities of Madison and Middleton announced the launch of the MadiSUN Solar Group Buy program, a collaborative program that helps residents easily and affordably invest in solar electric systems on their homes. The announcement continues the steady stream of renewable energy commitments and solar projects announced in Wisconsin, and follows 2016’s successful solar group buy program—the largest in Wisconsin to date.

Jay Edgar and Josh Feyen participated in the
2016 MadiSUN Group Buy.
The MadiSUN Solar Group Buy program will enable Madison and Middleton residents to “go solar” together.  Through the group buy program, a team of community members requests offers from solar companies across the region. The program then pre-qualifies a price and service provider to make it as easy as possible for people to join the program. The City’s investment in marketing and competitive bidding will drive down the cost for each participant. The cost of installing solar has never been lower, and households can receive a Federal Tax Credit for 30 percent of the system cost, while Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program offers up to $2,000 in additional rebates.

The program, through its contractor RENEW Wisconsin, has begun recruiting interested households to participate. This summer, citizens can learn more and sign up at

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin lauded the group buy program. “These programs are proven vehicles for making rooftop solar more accessible and affordable for homeowners in the community, and that’s why we thank MadiSUN,” he said.

The City will partner Summit Credit Union to offer a special Solar Energy Loan Program where residents can finance 100 percent of a solar electric system with no fees or collateral. “Summit Credit Union is thrilled to continue partnering with the City of Madison bringing solar technology to the area,” they said in a statement.  Details on the MadiSUN loan program can be found on the website or by calling 800-236-0985.

Six educational events were also announced as part of the program, aimed at helping residents learn more about solar energy and the options available for installing solar. All events are free and open to the public. The dates, times, and locations information sessions are available at

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin accepts
SolSmart's "Gold" designation.
Madison earned a “gold” designation from SolSmart, the highest level of recognition from a national program under the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative. The “gold” designation recognizes the city’s efforts to accelerate solar development, from improving permitting and zoning for solar, to investing in financing and solar workforce training programs.  Madison recently became the first community in Wisconsin to commit to a goal of 100 percent renewable energy. The City is already progressing toward that goal, including initiatives like a citywide solar apprenticeship program whose trainees will install another 100 kilowatts of solar on city facilities.

Middleton Mayor Gurdip Brar pointed to the city’s many solar developments in recent months, such as the 100kW atop the Middleton Police Station. “We at the City of Middleton are proud to work with our neighbors to bring the benefits of solar energy to all of our communities here,” he said. “Going forward, Middleton and Madison are going to be cooperating a lot more,” he said.

“2017 is going to be a great year for solar, and we encourage Middleton families to take advantage of this opportunity,” Brar said. “This is a great day for our communities.”

Jay Edgar and Josh Feyen use their solar panels
to power their hybrid-electric car.
Homeowners Josh Feyen and Jay Edgar hosted the event outside their home, where they installed 6 kW of solar panels in 2016 as part of that year’s MadiSUN Group Buy program.  The array also powers their new car, a hybrid-electric Chevrolet Volt.  Feyen estimates that the system will pay for itself through energy cost savings in about 10 years “and then we’re going to be getting about 20 years of free electricity, including charging our car three times per week. So if you think about it, we’re saving a lot of money from the energy we’re creating and the gasoline we’re not putting in our car,” said Feyen. They were also able to take advantage of the federal tax credit and rebates from the Focus on Energy program.

Feyen and Edgar have also been talking to family and friends about the benefits of the MadiSUN program. “We’ve kind of been Johnny Appleseed,” Edgar says.
Katherine Klausing, MadiSUN Program Manager,
gives concluding remarks at the 2017 launch.

MadiSUN Program Manager Katherine Klausing concluded by saying, “We’ve built a lot of momentum leading to this event. As successful as the past year has been, we believe 2017 is going to be even better.”

Sign up to learn more about the program at


Friday, April 21, 2017

Dane County Explores 30-acre Solar Project at Airport

Yesterday, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced that the County will study the feasibility of building a 6-megawatt solar project on 30 acres at the local airport.

Learn more: Dane County's Press Release and a Wisconsin State Journal article

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, at Podium, with Michael Vickerman of RENEW Wisconsin (right), Mark Redsten of Clean Wisconsin (far left), and Elizabeth Katt Reinders of the Sierra club.

RENEW Wisconsin's Michael Vickerman was on-hand and delivered these remarks:

Seven months ago, County Executive Joe Parisi held a press conference to announce what was then the largest commitment by a local Wisconsin government to solar energy. This was the 770 kilowatts of solar that will serve the Alliant Energy Center and the Dane County Jobs Center, which will be installed this summer. As befitting such a milestone, he stood among local clean energy leaders and advocates, including me.

Standing here today with Joe, I am experiencing a very strong sense of déjà vu, for today’s announcement surpasses the clean energy bar he set last September. When this solar project is completed, which I expect will occur in the second half of 2018, it will become not only the largest solar project in Dane County, but also in the state of Wisconsin. We have businesses right here ready to construct and interconnect more than 15,000 solar panels on airport property, and every other County resident will benefit from the improvement to local air quality and the lift to the local economy.

There is a reason why so much solar energy activity is happening in our midst, and that is local leadership. We are fortunate to have political leaders in Dane County who not only recognize the value of locally produced clean energy for its citizenry, but also take all necessary and appropriate actions to integrate solar, biogas and other low-carbon resources into all facets of municipal operations. Leaders like County Executive Parisi to are grabbing the reins and plugging their communities into the 21st century energy landscape.

The local of the array is on the northeast side of the airport property, as shown below.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

National Solar Company Sets Up Shop in Wisconsin

San Francisco-based Sunrun, the leading residential solar company in the nation, announced today its intention to venture into Wisconsin and begin offering customers several options for financing a new solar PV system.

The entrance of Sunrun into Wisconsin represents the first time a national rooftop solar company has ventured into the Midwest. Sunrun will target southeast Wisconsin counties from Sheboygan and Fond du Lac in the north to Kenosha, Walworth, and Rock in the south.

Says Amy Heart, Sunrun’s Director of Public Policy and a long-time solar advocate in Wisconsin: “We are excited to be the first national residential solar company to serve the Midwest, and I personally could not be more proud to help Sunrun call Wisconsin home. Wisconsin has an opportunity to lead the region with solar energy--leading to new jobs and a stronger economy.”

In an interview with Midwest Energy News, Sunrun's Heart explains the reasoning behind her company's decision to select Wisconsin as its point of entry into the Midwest.

For more information on Sunrun’s financing options and opportunities for employment, visit the full press release here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Madison Embraces 100% Renewable Energy Future

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.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

RENEW Takes on Energy Policy in Milwaukee Media Tour

RENEW's Michael Vickerman joined Alex Bozmoski of RepublicEn, a right-leaning think tank housed in George Mason University, and WUWM reporter Susan Bence in a lively exchange on the prospects for expanding clean energy and confronting climate change in the new Trump administration. Bence’s article, titled “Two Takes on Tackling Climate Change,” is now online, along with the interview that aired last week.  

The radio show, taped on February 23rd, was one of three conversations that day organized by Douglas Savage of the UW-Milwaukee Institute of World Affairs. Savage directs the Institute’s Fireside Forum series, which this year is titled “Wisconsin and the World in the Trump Era.” Savage invited Vickerman and Bozmoski to continue the conversation in a WMTV-Channel 36 interview (air date TBD) and in an evening in-person forum at the UWM Student Union, which drew more than 100 attendees.

A good part of all three discussions revolved around the efficacy of and prospects for a federal carbon fee and dividend, a policy proposal supported by RepublicEn as an alternative to the Clean Energy Plan, the Obama Administration’s signature climate change policy initiative. Bozmoski details this policy in an Op-Ed he wrote for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Vickerman pointed out that the economic case for clean energy has become very compelling in recent years, and will continue to become more mainstream regardless of how the Clean Power Plan or a carbon tax fares under a Trump administration.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

MGE plans $107 million wind farm in northeast Iowa

An article on Madison Gas & Electric's announcement to build, own, and operate a 66 megawatt wind farm in Saratoga, Iowa appeared in today's Wisconsin State Journal. 

Excerpt from the article below: "Tyler Huebner, executive director of the Madison renewable energy advocacy nonprofit RENEW Wisconsin, praised MGE's Saratoga project. 'We're happy to see MGE move ahead on their Energy 2030 framework and identify a large, renewable energy project,' he said."

MGE plans $107 million wind farm in northeast Iowa

Madison Gas & Electric plans to build a wind farm in northeast Iowa that could generate up to 66 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 47,000 homes.

The Madison utility company said Tuesday the Saratoga wind farm in Howard County, Iowa, would consist of 33 turbines, each nearly 500 feet tall. That’s 100 feet taller than turbines at MGE’s Top of Iowa wind farm in Worth County, in north-central Iowa, installed in 2008.

If regulators approve the proposal, it will be built next year and will begin operating by the end of 2018. The estimated cost is $107 million.

“This is an exciting opportunity for our customers and continues the progress we’ve made in reducing carbon emissions and increasing renewable energy,” Gary Wolter, MGE chairman, president and CEO, said in a written statement. “With recent advances in technology, this project represents a long-term, cost-effective strategy for MGE to continue to transition to cleaner energy sources.”

The announcement came one week before Wolter is slated to retire as president and CEO, to be succeeded by Jeffrey Keebler, senior vice president of energy supply and planning, on March 1.

Wolter will remain chairman of the boards of MGE and parent firm MGE Energy.

Tyler Huebner, executive director of the Madison renewable energy advocacy nonprofit RENEW Wisconsin, praised MGE’s Saratoga project. “We’re happy to see MGE move ahead on their Energy 2030 framework and identify a large, renewable energy project,” he said.

Huebner was not surprised about the Iowa location. “Right now, southwest Wisconsin is a little transmission-constrained. That is hurting the ability to develop wind power (in Wisconsin),” he said.

The Sierra Club also is glad to see MGE “taking the much needed initiative to invest in wind power,” said spokeswoman Elizabeth Katt Reinders, in Madison. “We’d like to see MGE commit to large-scale clean energy investment with the goal of replacing, not augmenting, dirty fossil fuels.”

In its Energy 2030 plan, released in November 2015, MGE said it plans to supply 25 percent of its electric sales from renewable resources by 2025 and 30 percent by 2030.

MGE said it started searching for sites for a wind farm in summer 2015. It began negotiations for the northeast Iowa site in summer 2016 and obtained rights to the location last year from initial site developer RPM Access.

If approved, it will be MGE’s largest wind farm. The utility also gets wind-generated power from five other farms in Wisconsin and Iowa.

Tuesday’s announcement about the Saratoga project comes on the heels of a meeting held Monday night by RePower Madison, a citizen group formed in 2014 to oppose MGE’s rate increase plans.

About 100 people attended the session at the Madison Central Library at which RePower Madison encouraged residents to send postcards to the utility calling for MGE to commit to 100 percent renewable energy.

RePower program manager Mitch Brey said the timing of MGE’s Saratoga announcement could be more than coincidental, though the project has been in the works for a while.

“We hope this will be the first of many clean energy projects for MGE’s incoming CEO, Jeffrey Keebler, and that he will embrace a goal of 100 percent renewable energy as he takes on his new leadership role,” Brey said.

The MGE proposal is the latest in a series of wind generation projects announced in the past year. Alliant Energy, Madison, will build at least 500 megawatts in Iowa by 2020 and Dairyland Power Cooperative, La Crosse, said it will buy power from a wind farm under construction near Platteville and another, already operating, in north-central Iowa.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Commentary: When will Wisconsin utilities finally embrace solar?

RENEW's Michael Vickerman wrote a piece for today's Midwest Energy News on the growth of solar in Wisconsin, and why investor-owned utilities should follow the leadership of co-ops and residents:

By: Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin Policy & Program Director

One of the Dairyland Power Cooperative arrays at 
Taylor Electric Cooperative in Medford, WI.
For solar energy in Wisconsin, the last 24 months have been nothing short of electrifying.  After the best-year-ever in 2015 led by installations on businesses and homes, 2016 started with a jolt when La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative committed to 14 large projects scattered across the full length of western Wisconsin. About half of these projects will be fully operational by the end of February, and the remainder before July.

Projects by Alliant Energy, Bayfield Electric Cooperative and Madison Gas & Electric delivered the next pulse of sun-generated power. Their installations span the state from Iron River near Lake Superior in the north to Beloit by the Illinois border in the south.

Large arrays placed on 16 Wisconsin stores owned by national retailer Target also contributed to the ongoing surge of solar generation. Located principally in southeast Wisconsin, Target’s rooftop systems encompass the largest customer commitment to solar energy to date in the Badger State.

When the final project in this wave is energized this spring, Wisconsin’s solar portfolio will stand at 60 megawatts (MW), producing enough electricity to supply 7,000 households each year. A year ago that number was only 25 MW.

Notwithstanding Target’s remarkable initiative, Wisconsin electric providers have accounted for most of this recent growth, driven primarily by cooperatives responding to the desires of their owner-members. As impressive as these numbers appear to be, however, a comparison between our solar marketplace and those of the other 49 states places Wisconsin in 34th place, behind our Midwestern neighbors Minnesota, Iowa, and Indiana.

Given Wisconsin’s second-division status in this area, it came as a shock to many when WPPI Energy and NextEra Energy Resources announced plans in late January to jointly pursue a 100 MW solar power plant adjacent to the Point Beach nuclear plant north of Manitowoc. As presently planned, NextEra’s project would supply WPPI’s 51 member municipal utilities with clean electricity under a 20-year contract beginning in 2021.

A recently completed NextEra Energy solar project of similar size provides a glimpse into the economic benefits we anticipate from the Point Beach solar project. Located in Alabama, the River Bend plant, which supplies electricity to the Tennessee Valley Authority, created about 350 jobs during construction, with most of the workers coming from the local area.

In addition to being a job generator, River Bend will provide tax payments for schools and local services adding up to nearly $10 million over the life of its current contract. So too will the Point Beach solar project, to the tune of $400,000 per year while producing safe, clean, and renewable electricity for municipalities like nearby Two Rivers.

The Point Beach announcement highlights another positive attribute of solar power in Wisconsin, which is that our state has an abundance of locations well-suited to accommodating large projects, including brownfield sites such as the former Kewaunee nuclear station now undergoing decommissioning. Closed since 2013, Kewaunee is a mere 15 miles away from Point Beach, and has the infrastructure in place to host a similar-size installation. Local officials should take a cue from WPPI’s action and press Dominion Energy, Kewaunee’s owner, to explore re-energizing the 900-acre site with solar power.

Indeed, nothing demonstrates the cost-effectiveness and low-risk nature of a generation source as emphatically as a 20-year power purchase contract. Now that it has become cost-competitive with new wind and natural gas generators, shouldn’t solar power be the default resource going forward with all Wisconsin utilities?

It’s worth remembering that Dairyland and WPPI are unregulated power suppliers and as such do not need approval from state regulators to pursue large-scale solar for their members. But Wisconsin’s largest power providers are investor-owned utilities, and do not have the same latitude. They need approval from the Public Service Commission (PSC) to build solar projects of any size for their ratepaying customers. PSC Chairwoman Ellen Nowak recently stated, “Right now, there’s not a need for a lot a new generation of any source in Wisconsin,” indicating investor-owned utility-scale solar proposals may encounter tougher sledding.

While suppliers for municipal and cooperative electricity providers can go big on solar power today, investor-owned utilities have yet to come up with a strategy for persuading the PSC why large-scale solar is needed and is in the best interests of all ratepayers. And until they do, they will remain largely bystanders to this build-out, hampered in their ability to pursue installations apart from the occasional shared solar array or demonstration project.

Now is the time for Wisconsin’s larger investor-owned utilities to capitalize on the solar leadership of Dairyland Power Cooperative and WPPI Energy. While the solar development we have today is creating jobs and helping businesses manage their energy costs and compete for new customers, it can do so much more for Wisconsin.

For years, organizations like ours have been presenting the public policy case for solar energy, with modest success. But if the state’s largest utilities decided to make the case for an expanded build-out based on simple economics, the chances of convincing policymakers will improve dramatically.