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West Green Club members Charles Hua, left, Grace Upham, Kari Weiss and Nyah Banik, all seniors, hope to get 100 solar panels installed on the roof of West High School and for the school to be carbon-free by 2030.

Andy Manis

Madison Gas & Electric Co. outlined in the company's Energy 2030 framework plans to supply 30 percent of energy sales with renewable energy by 2030. While the 30 percent by 2030 benchmark makes for a melodious slogan, it manifests a lack of ambition and leadership that sends the wrong message, particularly to youth in Dane County and across the country.

Myriad reports indicate the need for swift action to avert the most damaging consequences of anthropogenic climate change. The urgency with which individuals and organizations must act to prevent these impacts can only be conveyed by a call to action for 100 percent renewable energy within a not-too-distant target year of 2030.

My stance on this issue derives from my position as president of West Green Club, a student-led coalition at Madison West High School committed to fostering a carbon-neutral, zero-waste school environment. This past spring, we launched a massive initiative to install at Madison West High School 100 solar panels by 2018, a system large enough to power five houses continuously and generate $145,000 in savings over 30 years. We commenced our project after collecting 500 student signatures petitioning the Madison Metropolitan School District to pursue a solar energy project at Madison West High School and have achieved success with the help of hundreds of individuals and organizations who have generously provided nearly $20,000 in financial support toward our efforts. Our project will expand our existing solar array by nearly a factor of 15 and put Madison West High School on track to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.

Perhaps most importantly, we have established a foundation for future generations of youth to tackle energy challenges facing their community and inspired them to action. As one of the largest clean-energy projects in Wisconsin led entirely by high school students, our efforts are projecting a strong message to youth in our community: Not only are energy problems important to address, but students have the wherewithal to pursue innovative solutions enabling gains in sustainability.

If a coalition of high school students possesses the ambition and leadership to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, so too should a company that chooses to pride itself on “being responsive to the needs and priorities of [their] customers” and “continuing to transition to a more environmentally sustainable energy supply.”

As a utility for one of the most environmentally progressive cities in the nation that embraces sustainability leadership, Madison Gas & Electric Co. can incontrovertibly substantiate its priorities by divesting from its current reliance on coal for 68 percent of its energy and pursuing a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. (Achieving 30 percent renewable energy by 2030 would only require Madison Gas & Electric Co. to modestly increase reliance on renewable energy by little over 1 percent annually. In comparison, our project at Madison West High School will achieve in one year almost five times that figure.)

If Madison Gas & Electric Co. were to revise its framework to accommodate a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, they would certainly receive the resoundingly positive support from West Green Club and countless other Dane County residents advocating for the same. West Green Club would support a mission of 100 percent renewable energy on all fronts and assist the implementation of renewable energy projects across Dane County schools.

After all, “70 percent nonrenewable energy by 2030” makes for a much less compelling catchphrase than “carbon-free MGE by 2030.”

Charles Hua is president of the Madison West High School Green Club.

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