‘Going green’ gets a short cut

    Last week’s Earth Day celebrations and the onset, finally, of spring weather gave us pause to revel in the beauty around us – and to consider our responsibility to be good stewards of our most precious asset, the environment.

    We walk down a path cleared by Wisconsin’s own Gaylord Nelson, John Muir and Aldo Leopold. And we stand now in the threshold of opportunity delivered to us in the guise of global climate change and a pressing need for energy independence.

    For too many of us, the prospect of a global phenomenon is so overwhelming as to be paralyzing. We don’t know how to begin to act; we aren’t sure anything we do as individuals can possibly have an impact and change the course of what appears to be inevitable.

    Two new initiatives in my Green Economy agenda provide you an easy point of entry and a powerful way to make a difference. The first is geared to all of us in our homes. You are likely one of the 2.3 million residential electricity customers in every county in the state with access to what the utilities call "Green Pricing Programs." Those programs offer you the option to purchase renewable energy to power your home at a small premium – usually ten dollars or less per month.

    When you enroll, you effectively prevent one ton of coal from being burned this year. If only one thousand of us flipped the switch, it would be the equivalent of taking three hundred cars off the road, preventing 3.28 million pounds of CO2 from filling the atmosphere. And as even greater numbers of us insist on renewable energy, we speed up development of those resources and the new jobs that go with that, even as we increase our energy independence and reduce carbon emissions.

    It took me no more than five minutes to make the change. Now our apartment in Madison gets its electric power from methane gas harvested from Dane County landfills; our home in Algoma runs on wind power. Your utility may offer hydroelectric power or biogas or a combination of the rich mix of resources being developed here to power our homes and businesses.

    I partnered with Wisconsin’s Office of Energy Independence to provide an online resource to help you make the switch. Just go to http://power.wisconsin.gov and click on "Renewable Energy." Select your county, click on your utility provider and you will learn the cost and source of energy used, and how to enroll.

    The second initiative is designed to help school districts across the state become more energy efficient and save money for hard-working taxpayers. I challenged the state’s school district administrators to become Energy Star Partners in a program offered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

    According to the EPA, U.S. schools currently spend $6 billion a year on energy costs, more than they spend on textbooks and computers combined. Inefficient technologies and building design rob them of an average of twenty percent of that energy purchased. With energy costs high and rising, and sure losses due to the inefficiencies of Wisconsin’s aging building stock, I aim to give school districts an easy way to begin to change operations and habits, and save money doing it.

    Thirteen Wisconsin school districts have already enrolled as Energy Star Partners and enjoy impressive results. One district reports avoiding over $2 million in energy costs in just three years with a twenty-five percent reduction in energy consumption. They also report improved lighting and air quality. Another district started down this path planning to save enough money to fund a new roof. For all, savings become addictive and they continue to explore new efficiencies.

    With my challenge, I created a page on my website devoted to linking schools to the resources and providing the support they need to shrink their carbon footprint, improve conditions for work and study, and save your hard-earned tax dollars. They need only go to www.ltgov.wisconsin.gov and click on the "Energy Star School Challenge" button to set down that path to savings.

    We in Wisconsin don’t wait for change; we author it. Take advantage of these new web tools to transform utility markets and strengthen the hand of our schools to educate our children. Together, we can improve our economic outlook and leave a proud legacy.

    Barbara Lawton is Wisconsin’s Lieutenant Governor.

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