In 2017, Dane County was one of the first local governments to join “We Are Still In”, an alliance committed to the Paris Climate Agreement carbon reduction goal, despite the United States government’s exit from the pact. Even before joining, Dane County had already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent between 2007 and 2015.
Since then, Dane County has continued to work towards the goal to be carbon free by 2050. Partnering with local business, agriculture, and municipalities, Dane County is committed to developing initiatives that not only reduce our climate impact, but also provide new employment and revenue opportunities for our rural and urban communities.
“Dane County is a nationally-recognized leader in renewable energy adoption and innovation. From the hardest-working landfill in the state, to what will be one of the largest solar farms in the state, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made.” - Dane County Executive, Joe Parisi
One of the largest solar projects in Wisconsin will be located on 57 acres at the Dane County Regional Airport. More than 20,000 solar panels will generate 8 megawatts of renewable electricity - enough to meet 25% of the energy used by all county-owned facilities. Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) will own the solar system, which will be installed on land rented from the County. The solar farm will also double as a habitat for dwindling monarch and pollinator populations. Dane County currently owns more solar than any other public entity in the state.
The solar installation on roof the Dane County Jobs Center will save the county $18,000 a year in utility costs by generating 205,000 kilowatts-hours per year, or about one quarter of the electricity used by the building. This is the 16th solar installation on a County-owned building.
A total of 128 solar modules were installed, each with the capacity to produce up to 270 watts of energy. The energy from this solar installation is used by the Dane County Department of Land and Water Resources and the Dane County UW-Extension Office.
In Dane County, our trash is doing more than double duty. When garbage in a landfill breaks down, it produces biogas. About 50% of that is methane - a greenhouse gas that has a global warming potential 84 times that of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
When burned, methane - or natural gas - emits less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels, making it preferable to gasoline or diesel as a vehicle fuel. Dane County has installed a system at its landfill that converts landfill biogas to renewable natural gas (RNG). The first of its kind in the nation, a $28 million facility is estimated to generate enough revenue from the facility to payback the cost of the project in just a few years.
The facility is expected to displace 3,000, 000 gallons for fossil fuels in the first year of operation and 4,000,000 gallons thereafter. Because RNG has a lower carbon footprint, this is equivalent to taking 4,800 cars off the road.
The RNG produced at the landfill will be injected into an interstate pipeline. Through a partnership with Dane County, LaCrosse-based Kwik Trip will also dispense RNG from the pipeline to sell it at the company’s growing list of CNG fueling stations, and power vehicles locally and across the Midwest.
Dane County’s new facility will also have a biogas offloading station to allow other biogas producers, like manure digesters, to inject their gas into the pipeline. Digesters reduce greenhouse gas emissions by collecting methane that would otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere.
They also help farms manage manure more responsibly, which reduces harmful runoff to lakes and streams. This offloading station is expected to create an economic incentive for owners of “Cow Power” facilities in the area to convert their operations to vehicle fuel production, spurring development of more digesters in our area and increasing Dane County’s lakes clean-up efforts.
Since its formation in 2017, the Dane County Council on Climate Change has been developing recommendations for programs, projects and policies that will ultimately become the Dane County Climate Action Plan (CAP). The CAP will serve as a guide to reducing negative climate impacts countywide over the next several years.
The CAP report includes recommendations in the areas of energy efficiency; buildings; renewable energy; transportation and land use; agriculture; forestry and food; and water. It is expected to be released late summer or early fall of 2019. You can learn more about the CAP and read a summary of the Council’s recommendations on the Climate Action Plan page.
Recent flooding has had a major impact on our communities and has resulted in millions of dollars of damage. Climate change is expected to bring more frequent severe storms and extreme temperatures, meaning such events will become more common.
A report by a Dane County technical work group looked at lake level conditions and modelled various scenarios to improve resiliency for future events. Currently, water comes into the Yahara Chain of Lakes faster than it goes out—taking two inches of rain over two weeks to leave the Yahara Lakes system. The group found that removal of sediment could lower flood risks by increasing water flow through the system. Harvesting aquatic plants has also proven to be a successful strategy, doubling the flow of water after the heavy rains of August, 2018.
About 8.5 million pounds of sediment enters the Yahara system annually from urban runoff. In an effort to reduce the risk of future flood damage, Dane County has initiated a $2 million multi-phase project to reduce sediment at six key sites. The project will also improve fish and wildlife habitat in the Yahara lakes.
In 2019, two new aquatic plant harvesters were added to the fleet of 13 to remove aquatic plants, trees, and other large items of debris that restrict flow in the Yahara River. In addition to flood mitigation, aquatic plant removal can also cut down on the amount of phosphorus found in the Yahara Chain of Lakes, which can increase the frequency and extent of hazardous algae blooms.
We can anticipate the adverse effects of climate change. Dane County is taking action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause. Well planned, early adaptation will save money and lives, making our community more resilient in the face of climate change.