Green Madison aims for big impact

metro buses
Can an entire city significantly reduce its overall energy use in less than two years? Green Madison is working to make it happen through a sweeping effort focused on informing, engaging and inspiring Madisonians to take action on energy efficiency and water conservation issues. Madison is one of 50 communities vying win the $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize by implementing innovative methods to reduce its energy footprint. The money will be used to invest in future city-wide sustainability efforts.

Winning the prize might sound like an enormous goal, but Green Madison organizers insist the city can get there if we all work together. And they say small, simple steps can have a big impact.

“The average homeowner can see a $400 annual reduction in energy bills from a simple home energy audit,” explains Jennifer Rubin, single family program manager for Green Madison. During the competition, homeowners can sign up to receive a reduced price audit of their home. “If you have considered having a home energy audit, but couldn’t fit it into your schedule, this is time to do it. If you want to lower your utility bills and have a more comfortable home before winter, Green Madison can help.”Green Madison logo

And because Green Madison is focused on building a grassroots, community-based effort, homeowners who host energy house parties, similar to Tupperware parties, can get energy audits for free. Audits are performed by a certified energy analyst, who will make site specific recommendations, suggest timely rebates and incentives, and detail what savings can be realized with the changes considered.

The group is also partnering with Madison-based nonprofit Cool Choices to help engage everyone – not just homeowners – in the city-wide sustainability push.  Cool Choices is an online game where anyone in the city can compete to win prizes by making small changes to their daily routines. Residents can play with or against friends, neighbors, family members and coworkers and compete for prizes like Madison restaurant gift certificates and 2016 CSA memberships.

“This was a great learning experience for me,” says one Cool Choices player. “What a way for Wisconsin to put themselves on the map in such a positive way.”

The Cool Choices game promotes a variety of energy-saving and sustainability actions, from recycling to replacing light bulbs. But it also promotes water-saving initiatives like Madison Water Utility’s online conservation tool that lets people see how much water their using on a weekly, daily, or even hourly basis and set up water usage threshold alerts.

“People forget that there’s a strong connection between water use and energy use,” says Madison Water Utility conservation officer Amy Barrilleaux. “We pump 8 tons of water from the aquifer every single minute at every operating well in the city. That takes an enormous amount of energy.”

MWU’s popular Toilet Rebate Program alone has saved an estimated half-billion gallons of water and enough energy to power 130 Madison homes for a year.
But it’s not just toilets. Barrilleaux points out that doing something as simple as switching to a water efficient shower head impacts both water and energy use.

“It’s not just that you’re using less water for your shower, you’re using less hot water. So that’s less energy that your hot water heater is using.”

Madison’s many landlords and tenants also have options under the Green Madison umbrella. Green Madison’s multifamily initiative takes aim at condos and apartments, with a focus on low income areas and inefficient buildings. This is thanks in large part to the combined efforts of Focus on Energy, which provides energy efficiency upgrades and information, and Project Home, a Madison nonprofit focused on weatherization services and health and safety related home repairs.

“Everyone deserves to live comfortably and affordably. Through this initiative, we aim to reach as many buildings as we can to provide a better quality of life for both landlords and tenants,” said Megan Harris, Green Madison business development lead.

In addition to all of this, the City of Madison will be looking to make improvements and energy reductions in its municipal buildings, and the City and the utilities that serve it will be working with Madison schools to makes strides in education and action on energy efficiency. This includes upgrades to actual school and municipal buildings in addition to a broad effort to educate and inspire city workers, building managers, and others responsible for the city’s facilities.

With a way for virtually everyone in the City to participate in Green Madison, organizers hope to have a good chance of winning that coveted $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize competition, which runs through the end of 2016.

“We use less water as a city today than we did in 1970, and we have 70,000 more people,” says Barrilleaux. “The same thing can absolutely happen with energy. Our city can lower the amount of energy it uses, but all of us are going to have to take real action -- deliberate, focused steps -- to make a difference. I know it's something our community can do.”