University of Wisconsin researchers and students are seeking new avenues for funding energy and sustainability research due to state budget cuts and limitations.
One of the largest cuts was to the Wisconsin Energy Institute, an organization that works to find new solutions for world energy problems through more than 100 faculty and scientists’ research across campus.
The federal government gave the institute a $265 million grant in 2007, which was renewed in 2013. The state was supposed to match these funds, but last summer’s budget cuts eliminated the state’s promise of funding, according to the Wisconsin Gazette.
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UW plans to match two-thirds of the initial state-promised match, Mary Blanchard, WEI associate director, said. As part of UW’s commitment, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation gave $3.5 million to WEI in December, Blanchard said.
“We are undergoing a cut so they [UW] were not able to fully replace what funding was lost,” Blanchard said.
WEI’s work focuses on energy research, education and industry engagement, in an effort to solve global energy problems, Blanchard said.
Though state funding largely affects research at WEI, other energy research at UW remains mostly unaffected as most research is funded through federal grants, UW chemistry professor Robert Hamers explained.
As state support decreases, Hamers said a long term solution needs to be devised to account for the increases in expenditures, like paying for graduate students. Continuing to find ways to fund energy research is important for the future as well, especially as the planet keeps changing, he said.
“If we don’t cure the cause of cancer in several years, a lot of people will die,” Hamers said. “If we don’t solve the climate change [and the] global warming problem in the next 20 years, we are going to living on a fundamentally different planet.”
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Whether or not the change is man-made, Hamers said resources for fuels are already running low, and new solutions take 20 to 40 years to develop before they are able to make changes or solve problems.
Researchers aren’t the only ones dealing with restrictions. Associated Students of Madison’s Sustainability Committee has also faced limitations, August McGinnity-Wake, chair of the committee said.
Due to a state statute that limits what segregated fees may be spent on, the Green Fund, which gives grants to fund student-led, environmental projects and is one of the committee’s biggest campaigns, can’t complete projects, McGinnity-Wake said.
“There are really, really tight restrictions on what we can and can’t use segregated fees for — which is good because it is for the protection of student money — but it really makes most projects we propose to not be able to be funded because of those restrictions,” he said.
For example, McGinnity-Wake said they have made several proposals to purchase solar panels for campus buildings. But state statutes prohibit spending on changing campus infrastructure.
Though the Green Fund’s budget was eliminated by the Student Service Finance Committee, the Sustainability Committee plans to look toward other areas for funding so projects may still be student-led, but without the same restrictions, McGinnity-Wake said.
“I think you’ll start to see a lot of interim projects that the Sustainability Committee will start to do, and maybe the committee will start to turn toward city and county lobbying and try to get things on that level,” he said.