Seal of Dane County County of Dane
Dane County Office of Energy & Climate Change

Many Thanks to County Executive Parisi


I remember the first time I heard County Executive Joe Parisi give a talk. It was at an environmental fair at a church on the west side of Madison, in 2017 or 2018. The Executive was talking about the County’s efforts to capture, clean and compress methane at the landfill so that the product (renewable natural gas, or RNG) could be used as a transportation fuel. He also talked about county efforts to add solar to the rooftops of various facilities and he took questions from the audience. 

By that point in my career I’d heard numerous officials—people appointed to lead state agencies, elected officials at the local level—talk about energy topics. In most cases these officials read from carefully scripted talking points; in most cases officials did not take questions or referred any questions to their staff people.

By contrast, Executive Parisi was not scripted and he welcomed all questions, which meant he was quizzed on details of the methane generation as well as other topics ranging from the status of a bike path to estimated savings from the County’s solar arrays. The Exec responded to every question, often with an amazing level of specificity. I remember being struck that here was an official who was deeply engaged in his government’s climate and energy work. Frankly watching that talk was part of what prompted me to apply for a position with the Dane County Office of Energy & Climate Change; I felt confident that Dane County’s leadership had genuine passion for climate action. 

Now, almost five years after I first applied to join the Office, I’m writing a blog post as County Executive Parisi retires from County service. 

Working with Joe Parisi has been a privilege. Joe’s commitment to and knowledge about climate action and clean energy is deep and authentic. The Exec is very knowledgeable and yet he is always learning, always seeking to expand what he knows. Whether the topic is innovations in electric transmission wires or the contagion of rooftop solar, the Exec has an uncanny ability to absorb new information and then leverage those insights to identify where we can pursue more results. 

Executive Parisi loves results. He thrives on getting things done so he’s been enormously supportive of efforts that yield tangible outcomes. While he is sympathetic about the barriers to action, he is always the one in a meeting most likely to say “Ok, there are barriers but what can we get done now?” (And he always says now – at some level it’s comforting to have a leader who might be even more impatient than I am about all the things that slow down progress.)

And so Dane County has gotten a lot done. Parisi created an Office of Energy & Climate Change and Office staff worked with stakeholders to write a Climate Action Plan, recognized 150+ entities as Dane County Climate Champions and created resources to help everyone access Inflation Reduction Act resources. Parisi championed the Waste & Renewables effort to build a methane digester, the Highway Department’s purchase of more than a hundred RNG vehicles, and all the clean lakes and flood mitigation work done by Land & Water Resources. Under Parisi’s leadership Dane County became:

  • The first county in the US to be SolSmart Platinum designated in 2024
  • The first county in Wisconsin and the fourth in the US to have 100% renewable offset electricity in 2023
  • RENEW Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Pioneer of the Year in 2021
  • CDP A List community in 2021
  • Winner of the EPA Green Power Leadership Award in 2020

Awards and accolades are awesome. Being first makes it easier for another entity to be second or third so that is all good. Most important, though, is that we have made a difference for the people of Dane County. 

When I think about Executive Parisi’s legacy I always go back to his influence on our youth climate leaders. Dane County is lucky—we have a lot of amazing young people clamoring for climate action. And the Exec’s interactions with these young people is consistently inspiring. Joe never talks down to students; if anything he’s apologetic, acknowledging that his generation is leaving a mess that young people will have to address. And he listens; he really listens to these young people, which can be rare in adults much less officials. 

It was a privilege to lead the Office of Energy & Climate Change under County Executive Joe Parisi. I am grateful to be part of the Dane County team that is leading by example and I’m grateful to have worked with Joe. At the same time I’m confident that we’ll continue to do substantive things under the next County Executive. Joe would expect no less.


Kathy Kuntz

Kathy Kuntz


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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