Madison Gas & Electric says it will add solar or wind power and will further reduce harmful emissions from its power plants as part of a plan for the next 15 years.
The Madison utility company also says it will not ask for a hike next year in the fixed rate that customers pay for electricity — an issue that sparked citizen protests in the summer of 2014.
The proposals are part of MGE’s “Energy 2030” plan, a framework for meeting the area’s energy needs through 2030, released on Wednesday.
The plan includes:
• Providing 25 percent of its retail customers’ energy needs from renewable sources by 2025 and 30 percent by 2030.
• Reducing carbon dioxide emissions to 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
• Encouraging energy efficiency and conservation to reduce community energy use, especially at peak demand times.
MGE CEO Gary Wolter said MGE will not seek a higher fixed rate next year for residents and small businesses and will consider a range of options for paying for the utility’s future projects.
“We still have important issues to sort out,” Wolter said. “How do we be fair to everyone who uses the (electric transmission) grid? ... As an industry, this is something we need to figure out.”
The Citizens Utility Board said MGE’s decision not to raise the fixed rate is “a positive step” for ratepayers.
“CUB looks forward to working with MGE to find ways for customers to control their energy use and lower their utility bills,” spokesman Richard Storck said.
Right now, 12 percent of Madison Gas & Electric’s energy supply is from renewable power, primarily wind. MGE owns wind farms in Kewaunee County and in Iowa and contracts for energy from three others.
The utility also is asking the state Public Service Commission for approval to build two solar projects in Middleton. One would install 1,700 solar panels on the Middleton Municipal Operations Center, 4330 Parmenter St.
A smaller solar field would be erected on the roof of the Middleton Police Department building.
Getting to 25 percent or 30 percent renewable energy will require more installations. “We will have to add wind or solar to get to those (levels),” Wolter said.
He said community solar projects could sprout around Dane County if enough customers sign up to support them. No specific proposals are in the works right now, he said.
Wolter said officials for Dane County and the cities of Madison, Monona, Middleton and Fitchburg have called for “25-by-25” goals, or 25 percent renewables by 2025.
“We are plugging into plans of our communities,” he said.
MGE owns part of two coal-fired power plants and owns two natural gas-fueled plants. More renewable resources will help reduce carbon emissions, now nearly 20 percent below 2005 levels.
In addition, Wolter said MISO, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, which governs electricity flow over the transmission grid for parts of 15 states and Manitoba, Canada, can draw energy first from wind and solar resources on sunny, windy days and bring in coal-fired generation to supplement that, rather than the other way around.
The more renewables that are available to tap, the bigger difference that can make, he said.
RePower Madison, the citizen group formed to oppose MGE’s plans last year for a sharp hike in the fixed rate for electric customers, applauded the Energy 2030 plan. It is “the result of the work of many in the community who have urged new thinking,” spokesman Mitch Brey said.
MGE is “moving in the right direction” by pledging to cut carbon emissions and add renewables, “but we feel that much more will need to be done to ensure a safe, healthy future for our families and businesses,” Brey said.
RENEW Wisconsin called the plan “a good step forward.” Executive director Tyler Huebner said keeping customers involved in the process will be important.
“Ensuring customer opportunities to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and incorporating equity, fairness and control over customer bills should continue to be part of the conversation,” Huebner said.
MGE has been holding what it calls Community Energy Conversations. Wolter said about 600 people took part in nearly 100 small sessions, held at locations throughout the area, starting over the summer and concluding last week.
“The community engagement we’ve done is unprecedented,” Wolter said.
He said citizen comments were considered in drawing up MGE’s energy plan.
While Energy 2030 sets the utility’s direction for the coming years, the plan itself does not require action by state regulators, but individual projects will need approval when they are submitted.
“We will continue working with customers on implementation and sorting out the issues,” Wolter said.