La Crosse considers creating ‘green team’ to make sustainable upgrades

A group to help the city of La Crosse go ‘green’ is one step closer to being approved. The finance and personnel committee voted to consider forming a group to make sustainable changes to the city.

The city first identified some goals to improve energy efficiency and renewable energy in its strategic plan for sustainability in 2009.

“We’ve made great strides and reduced our carbon footprint by over 30 percent since we started. And this really takes us to that next level,” said La Crosse City Mayor Tim Kabat.

Through the tax reform bill passed this year, Xcel Energy had to give customers credits. Because the city uses so much power, it has about $165,000 in funds to use in other areas.

“We’re going to invest this money so that we’ll be saving money in the future,” said Lewis Kuhlman, environmental planner for the city.

In the short term, city buildings could be upgraded with new boilers, HVAC systems, convert to LED lighting and purchase more electric buses.

“Those are really the next steps to help us with saving money as well as implementing our goals for reducing our use of fossil fuels,” Kabat said.

But the money, combined with the oversight of a green team, could provide the push the city needs to move on even bigger projects.

“We’ve been trying to figure out what to do to reduce energy use at our largest consuming municipal facilities like the water treatment plant, the La Crosse Center, City Hall and our municipal service center,” Kuhlman said.

The group could be comprised of the officials already tasked with similar jobs from the engineering, planning and utility departments. And it would be forming at the perfect time– right before the city creates a new sustainability plan.

“Having buy-in and an established green team within the city to focus these goals I think will be really important over the next few months,” Kuhlman said.

One the other green changes the city already set in motion is considering how and where it could install solar panels. Kabat said a feasibility study is being conducted right now. This could be another project that this new group could help navigate.

The motion to approve the group will face a final vote during next week’s common council meeting.