River Falls Breaking New Ground on Energy Efficiency

, By Clean Wisconsin

Long-term campus commitment and unique city program get results

MADISON — He’s running a first-of-its-kind energy efficiency and renewable energy program at River Falls Municipal Utilities (RFMU), but Mike Noreen is still surprised by the attention it’s getting.

“I’ve done countless interviews. It’s pretty exciting,” said Noreen, RFMU’s conservation and efficiency coordinator. “Other utilities and communities are also looking to learn from us.”

In February, RFMU launched “Save Some Green,” a program that helps homeowners finance energy-efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems. One unique aspect of the program is its emphasis on efficiency. To participate, residents must have their homes’ efficiency evaluated by Focus on Energy, the statewide energy program.

“That gives the customer enough information so that they can do efficiency upgrades and meet their needs with smaller renewable systems, so they save money,” explained Noreen. “Or maybe, after the efficiency work, they won’t need solar panels at all.”

University of Wisconsin-River Falls staff helped develop the utility-funded program. But, the campus is also an energy efficiency leader in its own right.

“Since the 1970s oil embargo, the campus has worked diligently on conservation and energy efficiency,” said Michael Stifter, UW-River Falls director of facilities management. In fact, UWRF was one of the first campuses to do lighting retrofits.

Recent and ongoing campus efficiency projects include retrofitting the fine arts building, renovating the library and two field houses, building a centralized water cooling plant, and adding motion sensors to lights in residence halls and academic buildings. The list of campus improvements is impressive.

And so are the results.

“Right now, we’re consuming less electricity and heat than we did back in 1995, even though the campus has added nearly 400,000 square feet of building space since then,” said Stifter.

“UW-River Falls destroys the myth that efficiency and growth aren’t compatible,” said Diane Farsetta, energy efficiency coordinator at Clean Wisconsin. “By reducing energy bills, efficiency helps schools and businesses free up funds for expansion or other investments.”

The campus’ efficiency gains reinforce the city’s efforts, and vice versa. “Our success as a campus depends on success at the community level,” said Stifter. “And there’s good leadership on that front.”

“Having a strong campus partnership is critical for us, especially on energy efficiency,” said Noreen. “They are our largest customer, and they go the extra mile, in their involvement with the community. They’re really the driving force for a lot of local energy initiatives.”