14 Sustainability Wins from 2023


The end of the year serves as a time of reflection and celebration in our community. Having just returned from the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference (COP28), I have been reflecting on the tremendous momentum and support for climate action and sustainability in Madison. I’m happy to celebrate the successes we have achieved together this year and look forward to doing even more in 2024. Thank you to everyone in our community, including City staff and all our partner organizations, for making these wins possible.


1. Madison became Wisconsin’s first municipality to adopt a building energy benchmarking and tune-ups ordinance. 

In March 2023, the Common Council unanimously approved a new ordinance to create the Building Energy Savings Program (BESP) to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon pollution from large commercial buildings community-wide. These buildings are currently responsible for 30% of Madison’s greenhouse gas emissions. The program requires non‐residential, commercial buildings to benchmark their energy use and tune‐up building systems to reduce energy waste. The program is expected to cut climate pollution by an estimated 91,000 tons per year. That’s like taking 18,000 cars off the road. 


2. Madison has the largest municipal electric fleet in Wisconsin.

This October, we added the 100th electric vehicle (EV) to our fleet, making it the largest municipal EV fleet in Wisconsin. Five years ago, the City of Madison had no electric vehicles in its fleet. Now, we aim to become the first large government fleet in North America to get out of gas engines altogether by 2030. This remarkable growth is thanks to Fleet leadership, which has embraced EVs both large (Pierce Volterra’s EV Fire Truck) and small (Caterpillar and Toyota EV forklifts). 


3. We launched a new air quality monitoring initiative with funding from US EPA.

The City of Madison is leading a new collaborative project to install a citywide network of air quality sensors to help understand air pollution in our community. These sensors will measure particulate matter pollution (PM 2.5) - small particles from dust or car exhaust that can cause heart and breathing problems. These sensors will provide real-time air quality information which will help inform new strategies to reduce pollution and protect community health. You can learn more and participate in this project by attending our upcoming air quality Open House events. This initiative is supported by a $430,000 grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


4. Metro Transit secured $38 million in federal funding for electric buses and sustainable facilities.

In June 2023, the City of Madison was awarded a $38 million Federal Transit Administration grant to purchase sixteen new 60-foot articulated all-electric buses. This is in addition to the 46 60-foot articulated all-electric buses which have already been purchased for the new East-West Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. This funding will also help modernize Metro Transit’s bus maintenance facility with new bus charging equipment and new roofs with solar to power our electric buses. 


5. The City added solar panels at another eleven facilities, bringing our grand total to 42 solar installations.

In 2023, we installed 690 kilowatts (kW) of solar at eleven City facilities including: Tenney Park Pavilion, Madison Police Department Training Center, and Engineering Operations Facility. This brings the City’s total behind-the-meter solar capacity to 1,700 kW at 42 facilities. Now, 74% of electricity for City operations comes from renewable sources. Additionally, in January 2023, the City of Madison was honored with the 2023 Clean Energy Pioneer award at the RENEW Wisconsin summit for our work to advance solar energy and electric vehicles in both City operations and in the broader community.


6. Madison continues to be a voice for climate action at the national level.  

This year, I took the gavel as the national Chair of US Climate Mayors, a group of over 500 Mayors working to accelerate climate action in the United States. I also served as Co-Chair of the US EPA’s Local Government Advisory Committee’s (LGAC) working group on climate mitigation. In these roles, I collaborate with other cities, share examples of our climate successes, and represent the needs of our community. 


7. The City adopted a new Transit Oriented Development zoning overlay that will incentivize climate-friendly development.

In January 2023, the City of Madison adopted the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Overlay Zoning District to encourage development along the future bus rapid transit (BRT) lines and high-frequency local transit service. This policy promotes pedestrian-oriented, compact, mixed-use development that centers around quality public transit. The new overlay district allows building height bonuses, residential dwelling unit bonuses, and changes to parking on lots located within a quarter mile of high-frequency transit.  


8. The Efficiency Navigator Program provided free energy-saving upgrades to 88 multifamily housing units with more in progress. 

In April 2023, the City of Madison, Sustain Dane, and Elevate successfully completed the first round of the Efficiency Navigator Program, which provides free energy-saving upgrades to affordable multifamily housing. In its first year, the program upgraded 88 rental units in thirteen buildings on the Northside and Southwest side of Madison. These buildings received over 60 efficiency upgrades, which reduced energy bills by $300 to $500 a year in each building, while also reducing carbon pollution. The second round of upgrades are currently underway, and we have applied for a grant to expand the program in 2024.


9.Madison celebrated the largest ever class in the GreenPower workforce training program.

In October 2023, the City of Madison started its largest ever class of GreenPower Program trainees in preparation for a big year of projects in 2024. The Engineering Division’s GreenPower program prepares participants for employment opportunities in the solar energy and electrical industries while also increasing the City’s generation of renewable energy and decreasing its carbon footprint. Each year, the City hires trainees from non-traditional trade backgrounds to work alongside Engineering Division electricians to install solar photovoltaic systems on City facilities. This year, the Engineering Division welcomed six new trainees to the program.


10. The City’s MadiSUN program kicked off its seventh year of helping homes, businesses, and nonprofits go solar.

In March 2023, the City of Madison launched another successful year of the MadiSUN program at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, which received a $10,000 grant from MadiSUN in 2021 to install a 21.6 kW rooftop solar array. The MadiSUN program, which is administered by RENEW Wisconsin, has been helping residents, businesses, and organizations in our community go solar since 2016. So far, we’ve helped 281 households, 19 businesses, and 19 affordable housing and non-profit projects access the benefits of clean energy.


11. Madison Water Utility received funding to remove PFAS contamination from drinking water.

In November 2023, the City of Madison received $3.5 million in funding from a water pollution settlement, which the Madison Water Utility will use to build the state’s first-ever well-specific PFAS treatment system at Well 15. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) solutions are sometimes called forever chemicals, because they are slow to break down in nature and contaminate drinking water. Well 15 delivered one billion gallons of water to Madison’s east side each year before it was shut down in 2019 due to the detection of PFAS. The utility expects to complete Well 15’s PFAS treatment system in Summer 2025.


12. The City’s Sustainability and Resilience program welcomed two new staff members.

We added two Sustainability Program Coordinators to help advance our sustainability and climate action initiatives. Gabriel Saiz is an Indigenous sustainability professional, environmental educator, and native Madisonian whose work focuses on helping the City scale up energy efficiency upgrades in multi-family affordable housing, improve its understanding of intra-city variation in air quality, and increase the City’s heat resilience. Gregg May is an urban planner with experience in long-range comprehensive planning whose work focuses on supporting sustainable transportation, renewable energy, and zero waste.


13. We had a record-breaking year for food scraps collection at Farmers’ Markets, with more than 18,800 lbs of food scraps composted instead of ending up in the landfill.

For the second year in a row, we’ve partnered with local nonprofit Sustain Dane to provide free food scraps collection at the South Madison and Eastside Farmers’ Markets from June through October. This year, we collected more than 18,800 pounds of food scraps for composting – keeping it out of the landfill where it would have become a potent source of greenhouse gas emissions. The program also included composting education for market visitors. We are excited to announce that the program was funded in next year’s budget, and we hope to exceed this year’s record-breaking numbers in 2024.


14. We’re collaborating with municipal, state, and nonprofit partners to secure federal funding for local climate action.

Throughout 2023, sustainability staff worked closely with partners to apply for funding opportunities provided by the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Our team has applied for grants related to renewable energy, EV charging stations, energy efficiency and more. These partnerships have laid the groundwork for a successful 2024 and beyond.


Thank you to everyone who has helped make our community a leader in sustainability. Again, I’m happy to celebrate the many successes the City of Madison has achieved this year and look forward to building on that success in 2024.

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison Mayor's Office.

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