In June, the Carolyn Foundation, a Minnesota non-profit, awarded the Dane County Office of Energy and Climate Change a grant to fund advanced environmental modeling technology used in combating climate change.
County Board Supervisor Patrick Miles said the grant serves as an acknowledgement of the strides Dane County has made in tackling environmental issues.
“The award of this grant is recognition of the significant leadership Dane County has demonstrated in addressing climate change challenges,” Miles said in a press release from the office of Dane County Executive Joe Parisi last month. “The modeling will help ensure that our efforts are effective in mitigating our impact on the environment and are cost-effective for taxpayers.”
Dane County has contracted with Sustainable Energy Economics, which created and owns the Framework for Analysis of Climate-Energy-Technology Systems model.
FACETS, which is an economic optimization model, contains data on all electricity generation sources nationwide, Keith Reopelle, director of the Office of Energy and Climate Change, said.
Sustainable Energy Economics will also modify the model to include the transportation sector, so that Dane County can analyze mitigating actions in a more geographically-specific and thorough manner, according to a press release.
Reopelle, who submitted the grant application, said that since the model already has extensive information about Dane County’s power sector and emissions, the user need only input certain parameters and actions for the model to produce the most cost-effective scenarios for achieving desired levels of pollution mitigation.
“The model really gives us the ability to be able to forecast and be able to say with some confidence that if we put this suite of policies and programs in place, we will be able to get this level of [emission reduction] at this cost,” Reopelle said.
The modeling costs a total of $80,000, half of which is covered by the OECC’s budget. This grant — awarded by the Carolyn Foundation — amounts to $29,500, with $20,000 going directly to the modeler and the rest covering costs within the OECC office.
The Carolyn Foundation provides funding to programs and initiatives throughout the country which work to bring about positive change, according to the non-profit’s website. Executive Director Becky Erdahl said the grant application process is fairly competitive, but Dane County was chosen because of its opportunity to use world-class technology to create an analytically strong Climate Action Plan.
“One of the challenges for communities is getting and having access to strong data, and this proposal had that,” Erdahl said. “We want to fund things with high odds of success, good ideas that people will actually implement … and we thought [the model] would have a lot of opportunities to make a difference in Dane County.”
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Aside from county efforts, the University of Wisconsin will also be establishing a few new environmentally friendly programs.
According to a description sent to The Badger Herald and written by Ian Aley, Green Fund program manager at the Office of Sustainability, one project aims to replace toilets in Tripp Residence Hall with higher efficiency units.
Each year, this will save University Housing almost $37,000 in operating costs, over 6 million gallons of water and about 47,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. The installation will be completed before the commencement of the fall semester.
Although Reopelle is still in the process of obtaining more grant money to cover the remainder of the $80,000 owed to the modeler, some of the modeling is already underway. He hopes to have the last installment of funding by September and aims to finish up next year with a completed Climate Action Plan aided in development by the Council on Climate Change containing FACETS’ results by Earth Day.
Then, implementation — the hard part — begins, Reopelle said.
Over the next 5-10 years, the OECC will communicate with county governments, municipalities and town boards to recommend various parts of the Climate Action Plan, like solar panels and electric car charging station installation. Reopelle hopes will then be enforced within a couple years of recommendation.
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These actions are especially important because of how the climate is changing right here in Dane County, Stephen Vavrus, senior scientist at the UW Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research, said.
Vavrus pointed to heavier rainfall, which led to phosphorus runoff causing algal blooms in local lakes this past summer
Vavrus lauded Parisi’s work in creating the OECC and Climate Change Council, and he hoped larger governing bodies were as progressive as Dane County on environmental issues.
“The first step to addressing any problem is admitting you have a problem,” Vavrus said. “It’s been very frustrating that some politicians haven’t admitted we have a problem.”
Varvus said that with climate change noticeably on a dramatic and steady rise since the 1970s, activities like the FACETS model are crucial.
Erdahl also believes that city and county governments will have to lead the way in pursuing emissions reduction actions, since she does not think the national government will progress on this “hot button issue” any time soon.
“There’s been a lot of regression on climate action at the national level, even though most Americans most everywhere realize that climate change is happening,” Erdahl said. “It’s at the local levels where I think people can still have civil discussions … As those things happen and bubble up you begin to create broader, coordinated efforts across the country. That’s where I see the hope, and that’s what keeps me from getting too discouraged.”