Companies, colleges pursue alternative energy sources to address community needs

There are stern warnings this week to move away from fossil fuels to limit the effects of climate change. A United Nations report found that annual carbon dioxide pollution levels would have to start dropping now to stop some of the effects of climate change.

Some area companies and colleges are moving away from fossil fuels as energy sources and embracing the alternatives as a way to meet the needs of people they serve. This includes using alternative energy sources, like solar, wind, or using geothermo energy to heat a building.

Xcel Energy is proposing a new program that gives Wisconsinites the choice to have energy solely produced by wind turbines or solar panels. Customers would pick how much they want to purchase each month through the Renewable Connect program.

“We will either source or build wind or solar fairly local for the amount that we’ve been requested to buy,” said Mike Herro, community services manager for Xcel Energy.

The company already has a solar array, or arrangement, in Eau Claire. It’s building another for its Solar*Connect Community program in Cashton, which will be completed later this year.

“The unique thing about it is it really doesn’t impact all the other customers that don’t decide to get involved in the program. So it doesn’t raise their rates,” Herro said.

The cost is one of the pushbacks by consumers. It can take a lot to invest in solar panels or wind turbines on your own property. A community approach can be a better option.

“Unlike if you’re going to put panels on your roof or whatever there’s no setup time, no installation fee,” Herro said.

The company has submitted its proposal with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. If approved, the Renewable Connect program could launch early next year.

While Xcel Energy continues to pursue alternative energies, so does Western Technical College. The college was involved in a multimillion-dollar referendum to make green improvements to its campus years ago.

“We produce well over 1.1 gigawatts of energy, so that’s through our dam, through our solar panel, through our renewables,” said Jay McHenry, facilities director for Western Technical College.

Since 2010, McHenry said the college has reduced emissions by more than 20 percent, but it’s not done yet.

“The goal of our new plan is to be carbon neutral by 2035,” McHenry said.

The college continues to explore ways to be more efficient, like tying classroom schedules to energy consumption. That means if there are no students in the classroom, its cuts down on power.

“We do know to be carbon neutral by 2035, it will be consisting of a very robust portfolio of renewable energies,” McHenry said.