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Water vapor billows from the Madison Gas & Electric smokestacks over downtown Madison. 

FILE PHOTO

I was raised on coal. My dad worked at a coal power plant for 28 years. This physically demanding job was not easy, but it was a good union job and it helped provide my parents the ability to raise four daughters. That same coal plant was closed in 2015 by Alliant Energy. It hurt my small, rural Wisconsin hometown to lose those family supporting jobs.

Given my family’s ties to coal, one might be surprised to know that I am now an MGE shareholder who is urging MGE to be a national leader in clean energy and transportation and commit to becoming 100 percent coal-free.

Fossil fuels have provided many benefits to our world, but the era of fossil fuels must end. Climate change cannot be denied. To change an entire world that has been raised on coal, we will need everyone — including our utility companies.

I am now raising my own children. And the privilege and ability to invest for our children’s future is something my husband and I are grateful for. Shortly after our son was born eight years ago, our financial planner suggested we invest in MGE to start saving for college. As customers of MGE, we believed MGE was a progressive, green utility and decided this would be a good investment.

However, in 2014 I read the fine print of their annual report and was saddened to learn that I had been green-washed by MGE. Despite MGE’s solar pilot projects, electric vehicle charging stations and green ads, they still relied on fossil fuels for 88 percent of their electric generation. That same year, they introduced a new rate structure that was a huge disincentive for customers to be energy efficient. Saving money for my two young children’s college expenses in a company that was significantly contributing to the demise of their very future and whose core business relies on a product that is not financially sustainable no longer seemed like a good investment.

Fortunately I met Don Wichert, a self-described energy geek. Don, also a shareholder, was also upset that MGE was not doing more to be a national leader in clean energy. Don and I decided we needed to use our voices as part owners of the company to push them to do more. We formed MGE Shareholders for Clean Energy in 2014 and along with 90 other local shareholders, we’ve been advocating for MGE to be a true clean energy leader.

The MGE Energy annual shareholder meeting is May 16. We anticipate much hype from MGE on their Energy 2030 Framework. But as shareholders we must ask ourselves, "Do these goals go far enough in protecting our long-term investment in MGE?"

The answer is no. Growth for traditional electric generation remains flat and our investment that continues to be primarily dependent on fossil fuels is a bubble waiting to pop and deflate.

But MGE has an opportunity to diversify its business and make our investment sustainable by embracing the growing electric transportation market. That is why three shareholders submitted a resolution that calls on MGE to lead a multi-party study that would include the company's strategy to supply electricity generated by renewables for the electrified transportation sector.

The city of Madison recently passed its own resolution resolving that the city will vote its MGE shares in favor of this resolution. The city recognizes MGE’s leadership can be significant in decreasing emissions from the transportation sector.

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Yet MGE opposes the resolution.

Just as my small hometown was hit with job losses, MGE will face its own demise if they do not make a 100 percent coal-free commitment and embrace the growing electric transportation market.

Clean energy and transportation provide sustainable jobs, sustainable investments, and a sustainable world. To change everything it takes everyone, and we need MGE to raise the next generation on clean energy and transportation!

Beth Esser is a co-founder of MGE Shareholders for Clean Energy.

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