As 2024 begins, now is a good time to reflect on what we have accomplished in the last year and where we need to focus our energy next.
2023 was a big year for Dane County’s Office of Energy & Climate Change. We celebrated the County achieving 100% renewable offset electricity for all County operations when the Yahara Solar project went live. Dane County is the first county government in Wisconsin to achieve this milestone and just the fourth in the nation. Check out our video about the 100% achievement with County Executive Joe Parisi and several high school climate activists.
But even with this milestone, we’re still always focused on what’s next. By the time Yahara Solar was complete we were already deep into the Comprehensive Energy Assessment that will help Dane County achieve carbon neutrality across our facilities, fleet and land operations by 2030. We received the final report from our contractor HGA and several priority projects were included in the County’s 2024 budget.
And climate action across the county continues. We welcomed 43 new Climate Champions this year, bringing the total number of Climate Champions to 150+. We are grateful to be part of a region where so many entities are doing their part to lead on climate action. In 2020 we heralded Forest Edge Elementary, the first net-zero energy school in the state as a Climate Champion and this year we welcomed two more net-zero energy facilities with more under construction. We expect this momentum will increase even further now that entities can leverage incentives from the federal Inflation Reduction Act alongside state incentives.
Building Momentum for Clean Energy Solutions
We focused on two significant clean energy efforts this year:
1. Promoting the incentives available through the Inflation Reduction Act; and
2. Protecting net metering policies to maximize the benefits of rooftop solar investments.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was a recurring theme in our 2023 efforts. We led and participated in dozens of talks about the IRA opportunities for individuals, businesses, nonprofits and local governments. And we created webpages, fact sheets and infographics too.
Although the IRA reduces the first cost of clean energy, utility net metering policies ensure that those who install rooftop solar are fairly compensated for their contribution to our clean energy future. In 2023 two local investor-owned utilities, Alliant Energy and MGE, both proposed abrupt changes to their net metering policies. Dane County, in collaboration with the cities of Madison and Middleton as well as about a dozen local and national nonprofit groups, intervened in the cases. On behalf of Dane County we argued that the proposed changes were premature and would slow progress on our ambitious countywide climate goals. We also asked both utilities to work with us to increase equitable access to rooftop solar.
Ultimately, the state Public Service Commission denied the utility requests to end net metering and ordered both utilities to participate with interested stakeholders in a process to determine the future of net metering. We were delighted with the Commission’s decision and look forward to participating in the statewide discussions in 2024.
Breaking Down Barriers, One Project at a Time
In addition to talking to groups about the IRA we worked one-on-one with organizations to identify and overcome barriers to action. These efforts range from phone calls to ongoing meetings with a construction team. And in 2024 our office is adding a new Energy Specialist position, which will add to this capacity.
Another barrier is the structural inequalities that persist in our communities. Some populations are underserved by existing programs. Historically many clean energy programs were oriented toward those with greater resources. Some of our existing policies, for example, make it difficult for renters to access or benefit from clean energy opportunities. In 2023 our team worked in partnership with community-based organizations to understand these inequities and in 2024 we aim to launch several new initiatives that will address the gaps in services while also giving underserved communities a greater voice.
Experts tell us that 2023 is almost certain to be the warmest year in 174 years of record keeping. It was also a year of unprecedented climate disasters across the globe. For most of us in Dane County, the urgency of climate action gets clearer all the time. So we continue to lead locally. We reduce our own emissions, we promote equitable climate solutions and we celebrate leadership from others because that leadership shows us all what’s possible.
Dane County is home to a lot of clean energy firsts. I’m looking forward to celebrating new clean energy and climate achievements in 2024 and I hope you’ll be there to celebrate with us.
Kathy is the Director of the Dane County’s Office of Energy and Climate Change. In that role she's leading efforts to implement the Climate Action Plan. Prior to coming to Dane County, Kathy led Cool Choices and, prior to that, she led Wisconsin's Focus on Energy program.
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