The Madison Sustainability Committee passed a motion Wednesday evening to execute an agreement between the city and Madison Gas & Electric, implementing a five-megawatt Renewable Energy Rider Project.
Through a standard tariff program, the RER will cover nearly 20 percent of Madison’s current electricity by providing renewable energy to power all or a portion of local businesses.
The project, set to begin in 2021, has been discussed at length since July. But the decision to implement it comes at a tumultuous time when climate change is a prominent issue, particularly for youth.
Last Friday, thousands of people in Madison gathered before the Capitol building for the global climate strike. Protesters called for MG&E to divest from fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy.
The RER project offers customers and business owners the chance to partner with MG&E to substitute their current electricity system and purchase solar at utility-scale pricing through MG&E or a third-party-owned renewable generation facility.
RER is apart of the city council’s operating budget and is aimed to help move the city toward achieving 60 percent renewable energy.
However, as many lawmakers across the country race to make the transition to a low-carbon economy, Madison set an ambitious goal to reach 100% renewable energy by 2030.
City council members wanted to ensure customers would not be burdened with additional costs, but clarified that rates can change over time.
Stacie Reece, the newly appointed sustainability program coordinator, expects that the city’s 28 sustainability projects going back to 2007 — now including RER — only accounts for one to two percent of electricity consumption for the city.
While rates will change, there is a tariff associated with unused energy, according to MG&E Director of Finance Scott Schmidt. The city can choose to add or remove buildings from solar rooftop installations.
City legislators believe it’s crucial to set a high standard for the rest of Wisconsin and to empower other cities to follow their lead in making renewable energy central to public policy. The contract would move the city from 40 percent renewable energy to 60 percent.
Ald. Tag Evers, District 13, isn’t certain the two percent annual escalation fee associated with the project will decrease over time. However, several city council members are hopeful that as the technology for renewable energy improves, costs will drop.
One problem the committee acknowledged is that there is not much land available to install large solar units, but they see potential economic growth in eventually installing solar rooftops, since it is sustainable and creates more job opportunities.
Former Madison Ald. Denise Demarb wanted to ensure the RER project would come out of the capital budget. Schmidt assured that, if anything, this major project is a risk for their company — not the council.
He added that approximately six to seven acres of land cover each megawatt of energy.
“To find a location that has affordable land for a utility-scale project is difficult,” Schmidt said. “We found something that brings the value of scale and technology.”
While two members of the committee voted against passing the measure, others saw the potential for economic growth.
“We’re just glad we’re able to bring a solution that isn’t going to be the full solution for the city, but it’s one of the pieces of the puzzle,” Schmidt said. “And [it’s] affordable.”
Assuaging taxpayer concerns in the transition from fossil fuels may be the biggest challenge council members face in the future — but, for now, things remain optimistic.
City council members are considering a rebate for the city once they hit year 15 in their contract with MG&E. Additionally, MG&E hopes to expand solar projects to Middleton and throughout Dane County.