In December 2022 Kelly Hilyard, the Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Middleton, presented to a local group on Middleton’s sustainability efforts.
It was a good reminder about all the ways Middleton is leading on climate action.
One of the first communities in Wisconsin to set clean energy goals, some of Middleton’s most noteworthy accomplishments include:
- LEED for Cities: Middleton was the first city in Wisconsin to receive a grant to pursue the US Green Building Council’s LEED for Cities designation. Similar to the way that LEED certification can verify sustainable practices in new construction or a building retrofit, the LEED for Cities program enables a local government to benchmark its sustainability efforts and track progress on specific goals. Middleton is expected to complete its certification in the near future.
- Integrating sustainability into the City’s Comprehensive Plan. Under Wisconsin statute, local communities are required to create a comprehensive plan every 10 years; the plan is a framework for the community’s vision 20 years into the future. Middleton approved the most recent version of their Comprehensive Plan in 2021 and, when city officials updated the plan they integrated Middleton’s sustainability goals into the plan. That is significant; rather than having a separate plan with sustainability goals, the City’s primary planning document now includes those sustainability objectives. Sustainability is baked into Middleton’s vision for the future.
- Innovative efforts to make affordable housing more affordable. One of the strategies included in the new Comprehensive Plan is about reducing community-wide emissions. To make progress on that strategy Middleton is working with Sustain Dane and Elevate on an Efficiency Navigator pilot that is focused on making naturally occurring affordable housing (i.e., workforce housing) more energy efficient, more comfortable and more affordable for tenants. These efforts are likely to position Middleton well as new federal funding for expanded work in affordable housing becomes available.
- Leveraging TIF funding to get more solar in the community. Wisconsin municipalities have limited ability to influence new construction in their communities. The state legislature sets the Wisconsin building codes and local governments cannot require practices more stringent than the state building code. As Middleton has illustrated, though, local governments can use Tax Incremental Financing (TIF - an incentive that local governments can offer developers in specific areas of a city) to encourage greener building practices. Over the last few years Middleton has encouraged 11 TIF projects to include solar, yielding about 1.5 MW of installed solar.
- Engaging the public via Middleton’s Sustainability Committee. More than any other sustainability committee in Dane County, Middleton’s committee is out in the community, engaging people and encouraging action. The Committee marches in Middleton’s Good Neighbor Parade and hosts a booth at the celebration, they worked with the Middleton Cross Plains High School Green Team and the St. Bernard's Catholic Church Creation Care Team to distribute LED lightbulbs, they collaborated with the Middleton Library to host a series of webinars, Sustainable U, and in 2022 the Committee hosted a special event, the Solarbration, to motivate more solar installations in the community.
In addition to all of that, Middleton is working to green its operations and has a big list of new initiatives they aim to launch in 2023, including expanding their TIF efforts to encourage more net zero energy buildings and a new recognition program for local residents and businesses.
To be sure there is a lot left to do to address our climate crisis. At the same time, though, it is critical we recognize and celebrate our victories because that creates momentum for the next challenge. In that vein, I want to offer sincere thanks to my colleagues in Middleton. Thanks for inspiring us and for demonstrating what is possible; your innovation and leadership is much appreciated.
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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