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UW-Madison Commits to 100% Renewable Electricity by 2030

A new sustainability plan at the University of Wisconsin-Madison aims to develop more solar on campus, become a "zero waste" campus by 2040 and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2048.

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(TNS) — UW-Madison aims to get all of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030 and have net-zero emissions by 2048 — the university's 200th anniversary — as part of a new sustainability plan to combat climate change.

While sustainability initiatives at UW-Madison are not new, the latest push is the first to encompass all aspects of campus.

Reaching UW-Madison's 2030 goal will take serious assistance from its energy partners, largely from Madison Gas and Electric, as space on the 900-acre campus is limited for generating the amount of renewable energy the university needs. UW-Madison also will need to develop more solar on campus as it constructs new buildings.

The net-zero emissions goal, which includes UW-Madison's electricity use and all of its heating and cooling plants, will be a heavier lift. Hence the longer timeline, said Missy Nergard, sustainability director for Facilities Planning and Management.

"The next shift is going to be to something that's less carbon intensive. We're looking at electrification and different fuel sources, and solar and battery storage and micro grids," Nergard said. "And there's actually a study out right now ... looking at what are the different pathways that the institution can take to decarbonize by 2048."

UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin announced the latest sustainability initiative during her second-annual speech to the UW Board of Regents on Thursday, saying the university "owes it to the people of the state" to be responsible stewards of the environment.

"This initiative builds on UW — Madison's great Wisconsin Idea, our tradition of innovation for the public good," Mnookin said. "It prioritizes issues that affect the people and communities of our state ... these goals set us on our way while building on the great strides we've taken in recent years."

In addition to reducing UW-Madison's carbon footprint, the initiative also looks to establish a "hub" by this spring where staff can get assistance with facilitating large-scale sustainability research and connecting with others on campus interested in cross-campus collaborations.

The initiative also seeks to make UW-Madison a "zero waste" campus by 2040 through improving material management systems; increase capacity in sustainability-related degree programs to meet student demand; and improve the campus' environmental responsibility rating from silver to gold.

The new Computer, Data and Information Sciences building under construction will feature solar panels, rainwater collection and a "green roof," where vegetation planted on the roof will reduce the building's urban heat island effect by removing heat from the air and reducing the temperature of the roof by 30 to 40 degrees. A solar farm partnership with Alliant Energy at UW-Madison's Kegonsa Research Campus northwest of Stoughton could generate enough energy to power 450 homes, for which UW-Madison will get renewable energy credits.

UW-Madison will be playing catch-up to some of its fellow Universities of Wisconsin schools, though. UW-Stevens Point, known for its environmental science program, was the first UW system university to source all of its energy needs from renewable sources, nearly a decade ago, through purchasing energy derived from renewable sources and reducing its energy consumption.


The plan comes as climate change is showing tangible, and often detrimental, impacts on the state's people, economy and crops.

December 2023 was the warmest in Wisconsin and many other Midwest and Great Plains states since record-keeping began in the 1880s, a report from UW-Madison state climatologist Steve Vavrus said. The average temperature was 10.9 degrees higher than the average in the past 30 years.

Developing a campuswide sustainability plan was a priority for Mnookin when she came to UW-Madison in 2022, Nergard said, and the university is building on prior progress.

UW-Madison has made strides toward its sustainability goals in recent years. Its heating plant switched away from burning coal to natural gas, as well as other biomasses, in 2012. It purchases about 5 percent of its electricity from a 20-megawatt, MGE-run solar farm in Fitchburg. Nergard said the university hopes to purchase additional solar power from future MGE solar farm projects.

In 2006, Facilities Planning and Management launched its "We Conserve" program, and in four years UW-Madison reduced its energy use by 25 percent by upgrading heating and cooling systems in buildings that are major energy users.

"Our faculty would say the time was 50 years ago, when we started Earth Day," she said. "It hasn't been just that we are doing it now — we've been doing stuff all along. I think (Mnookin's) vision, and sharing that vision so everyone understands and is part of the solution, has been probably the biggest change."

©2024 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.