Southwest Wisconsin Plans for Energy Independence

, By Clean Wisconsin

Largest collaboration in state to commit to 25% renewable energy production by 2025

VIROQUA, WI — Over the next year, two counties and eight local communities in Southwest Wisconsin’s Driftless Region will become the largest collaboration in state history to plan their energy independence.

Vernon and Crawford counties, along with the communities of Fennimore, Prairie du Chien, Viroqua, Ferryville, Gays Mills, La Farge, Soldiers Grove and Viola, plus Viroqua-based energy planners and consultants E3 Coalition, just won a $65,000 grant from the state’s Office of Energy Independence. The final plan will outline how the group can get 25 percent of their electricity, heating and transportation fuels from renewable resources by 2025, or a 25×25 plan. In addition to the state grant, the communities raised $46,400 in monetary and in-kind support.

“The Driftless Region has a long tradition of self-sufficiency and sustainability, and those are the goals of our planning efforts,” said Todd Osman of E3 Coalition. “At the same time, it’s difficult for small communities to tackle energy issues on their own. We’re very pleased to be working together with two counties, three cities and five villages.”

In the late 1970s, Soldiers Grove responded to repeated flooding by recreating itself as the nation’s first solar village. Today, Gays Mills is integrating sustainability measures into its reconstruction process, following recent floods. La Farge is home to Organic Valley, the largest member-owned organic food cooperative in the country and a leader in biomass and biodiesel initiatives.

The first step in the planning process is documenting local governments’ current energy and fuel use. Then, the communities will identify potential energy efficiency, conservation and renewable energy projects. Throughout the planning process, E3 will work with local communities to hold educational workshops and events for government staff and members of the public.

“Everyone wins with energy efficiency,” explains Osman. “Investing in energy efficiency creates local jobs. It saves money while reducing pollution. That means we keep more of our resources in our own communities by spending less on out-of-state energy sources.”

E3 Coalition, which brought the communities together and spearheaded the plan proposal, will coordinate and lead the planning process. E3 offers energy efficiency, renewable energy and sound green building services. Clean Wisconsin helped E3 with the grant application.

“We can make energy efficiency understandable, affordable and achievable,” says Osman. “An important part of our mission is to educate the broader community about energy, the environment and what works best for our buildings.”