Area organizations working to reduce carbon footprint

Published On: Jun 25 2013 06:27:12 PM CDT   Updated On: Jun 25 2013 07:02:42 PM CDT
LA CROSSE, Wis. -

Tuesday night, President Barack Obama plans to bypass Congress with an announcement for action to prepare the country for the impacts of climate change.

The La Crosse area already has several initiatives in place to help reduce its carbon footprint.

Some of the sustainability initiatives in our area have been years in the making, and the benefits to these long-term investments are helping create a lasting rippling effect.

Every year, Xcel energy puts 73,000 tons of it to good use.

“This is, (where) it comes in the door, we take it as raw garbage, (and) we process it into a fuel called RDF (refuse derived fuel),” said Mark Paitl, Xcel’s plant manager.

That fuel is later burned to create enough energy to power 30,000 homes.

Xcel has done this since the late 1980s in partnership with La Crosse County as an effort to be more sustainable.

“It's eliminated the amount of waste going into the landfill,” said Paitl.

“You don't have to understand that if you pollute the air, (and) pollute the water, people get sick,” said Tom Thompson, sustainability coordinator at Gundersen Health System.

Sustainability is also a priority at Gundersen.

“Health care consumes more than two and a half times the energy of any comparable commercial building,” said Thompson. “We are a hospital. We run 24/7, 365 (days a year).”

The medical center has invested in a biomass boiler that is responsible for powering 38 percent of its health system.

Another project that converts garbage from the La Crosse County Landfill into energy has made the Onalaska campus the first in the nation to be energy independent.

“We really do believe that what we're doing is having a very big and positive impact on our community,” said Thompson.

While these projects take a lot of time and money, both said it's worth it for a clean future.

“Sustainability is very important for our patients, for the health of the community, the health of our staff (and) the health of the entire region,” said Thompson.

“It’s the right thing to do environmentally, and we wanted to keep this plant running and make power for Xcel Energy and coal wasn't the right way to go,” said Paitl.

Paitl said they've saved building five medium-sized landfills by the amount of waste that they've burned.

The contract to convert garbage into fuel between Xcel and the county will last until 2023.

Thompson said patients are able to experience the benefits of the changes Gundersen has made with lower health care costs.