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Friday, February 23, 2024

In an attempt to reduce Madison’s energy usage, the city council will consider a bill to fine businesses for running the air conditioning with windows or doors open. 

City council considers fining businesses for running air conditioning with windows open

Madison businesses may receive fines for cooling down with both air conditioning and windows if the city council passes a bill later this month.

The bill, proposed by Ald. Ledell Zellers, District 2, aims to lessen the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by reducing energy use, as much of the city is still reliant on non-renewable sources of energy like fossil fuels. Businesses found in violation of the rule would be fined $50 for their first offense, $100 for their second and $250 for every subsequent offense. 

The bill is not the first of its kind — New York enacted a similar ban in 2015, which Zellers said prompted her to propose the same for Madison in an effort to protect the city from climate change. 

“Here in Madison, we have experienced some of the impact [of climate change] with the significant flooding … this past summer,” she said. “I have heard from many constituents the concern about climate change and particularly the flooding and how that impacted the city.”

Though the bill specifies it is only relevant “until such time as the city is supplied with only renewable energy,” Zellers said it was necessary to act as soon as possible on combating climate change. 

“I figure [100 percent renewable energy] is probably 50 years in whatever future there is,” she said. “I don’t think that’s around the corner.”

In recent years, both the city of Madison and Dane County have been committed to developing renewable energy projects through the construction of solar panels and a biofuel conversion facility at the county landfill, which aims to turn biological waste into fuel for county vehicles. 

However, Don Ferber, conservation chair for the Four Lakes Group of the Sierra Club, thinks there is much more to be done on the issue. 

“I think they’re trying to make steps in the right direction,” he said. “Overall … I’m not satisfied with our rate of progress. Other cities are doing better in terms of renewable energy than we are.”

Ferber said he believes part of the lack of progress stems from energy inefficiency in buildings the city does not directly control, something Zellers’ bill aims to curb. 

Though the bill aims to fine businesses for something rather usual in the summer months, Zellers said she has only had “a couple of inquiries” from the business community. 

Brett Halverson, public policy manager for the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, said he was familiar with the bill but did not offer any definitive opinion on it. 

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“We are talking to our members and analyzing the proposal and its potential application,” Halverson said. “It's important to ensure there aren't unintended consequences.”

Ferber said he does not believe the bill is bad for business at all, as it gives businesses the possibility of promoting themselves as environmentally friendly. 

“We're learning we have to do things a little bit differently, but it doesn't really mean giving up that much,” Ferber said. “In some cases, it could mean we have a better situation otherwise.”

For now, the Board of Health for Madison and Dane County is reviewing the bill before passing it on to the Committee for the Environment and the Sustainable Madison Committee. Zellers said she expects the bill to be up for a final vote before the city council on their Feb. 26 meeting. It looks likely to pass, as nine of the 20 alders have already signed their names as co-sponsors. 

Even if he thinks there is more to be done, Ferber said he hopes there is more like the bill in coming years.

“This is just one piece of the puzzle,” he said. “I think it’s an appropriate step for our community to say we’re trying to move ahead.”

As for Zellers, she announced in November she would not run for re-election. She acknowledged her bill would not end the city’s dependence on fossil fuels, but said she remains committed to fighting climate change until her term ends in April. 

“I have a lot of environmental concerns, and I hope that a lot of people have environmental concerns because if we don't get a handle on the issues, we won't have a good future,” Zellers said. “It's not the biggest thing that we could do, but it's something that we can do, and every little bit helps. We have to focus on doing what we can do and get it done.”

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