Strategic planning for energy efficiency at the municipal level is a critical step toward ensuring sustainable development, reducing energy costs, and mitigating the impacts of climate change. One city that has demonstrated a significant commitment to promoting energy and natural resource conservation is Menomonie.
Menomonie is a tight-knit community with over 16,000 residents located on the banks of the Red Cedar River in northwest Wisconsin. It is home to the University of Wisconsin-Stout (UW-Stout) and has been designated a national Downtown Historic District.
Since 2020, Menomonie has been pivotal in driving energy efficiency in its community by setting local policies, implementing projects, and engaging with local stakeholders. This commitment to sustainability is evident by the 350-plus acres of green space they have preserved in their local parks, converting traffic signals, runway lights, and lighting in the public library and fire station to LEDs, and being the recipient of the 2023 Energy Innovation Grant Program provided by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin Office of Energy Innovation.
In this interview with the Environmental Program Coordinator for the City of Menomonie, Megen Hines, you will discover how it has integrated energy efficiency into its strategic planning efforts and how to prioritize energy-saving opportunities for your own community.
Share your background and describe your duties as the Environmental Program Coordinator for Menomonie.
My educational background is in Meteorology with a Minor in Environmental Studies. There weren't many meteorological jobs when I graduated and moved to the Eau Claire area, so I finished my Bachelor's in Environmental Science at UW-Stout. Through that process, I interned at Dunn County Solid Waste and ventured into the solid waste and recycling world for about a decade. When the Dunn County program closed, the City of Menomonie sought staff to help. Within my role, I manage the solid waste and recycling program. I work on our MS4 stormwater program and assist with the required education and outreach. I also work in energy and sustainability, helping the City work towards our energy and sustainability goals.
Describe your municipality's sustainability goals.
Menomonie passed a resolution in the spring of 2020 to have carbon-free municipal facilities by 2050. In that resolution, there are interim goals, including a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.
How much effort went into the planning process of your sustainability goals?
Our Comprehensive Plan is a large document that spans many areas. It's been a multi-year process to keep that document updated. The resolution we passed in 2020 encompassed several months of working with community members.
Describe your community's efforts in reaching these sustainability goals.
The community is very supportive of these goals. With the carbon-free resolution, several community groups, such as UW-Stout students, are active in their campaigning efforts. We have a good base in Menomonie that wants sustainability efforts to be prioritized and are fairly vocal about it.
Describe your relationship with your utility.
Xcel Energy recruited us to participate in the Partners in Energy Program. We started by creating an Energy Action team of stakeholders across many sectors, including city staff, council members, and representatives from UW-Stout and the Menomonie Area School District. We also brought in smaller businesses, commercial and industrial businesses, and regular residents. The Chamber was also involved.
It was a two-year program, so we spent the first six months gathering stakeholder feedback, writing the energy action plan, and then we had 18 months of implementation. We had bi-weekly check-ins, and Xcel Energy motivated us to push forward. We formed a relationship with our Focus on Energy Advisor, who became a trusted resource throughout the process. Without the Partners in Energy Program and these valuable relationships, we wouldn’t have been able to develop a plan with that level of detail in that amount of time.
Describe your Energy Action Plan.
The plan we wrote includes the following priorities:
Within that plan, we focused on the following groups:
Our overarching goal was to:
How often is the plan reviewed and updated?
The plan was approved and implemented in the spring of 2021, and we are about two years into it. As funding opportunities arose, we've stayed on schedule and pursued new tactics, such as street lighting and HVAC controls.
How does your municipality seek out funding opportunities?
Our projects are on a five-year capital improvement plan. We typically borrow money to complete these projects or seek grants. Because budgets are tight, we are always looking for additional funding opportunities. Xcel Energy has shared grant opportunities with us. We've also joined newsletters from both the State and National Energy Offices.
How does Menomonie prioritize energy-saving opportunities?
Because our 2050 goal is specific to municipal facilities and operations, we focus our time and money there. We purchased the city hall building three years ago. It was built in the 1960s and has outdated heating and cooling equipment. Menomonie is applying for grants to update it with variable frequency drives and temperature controls, and sensors that can be operated remotely. We also received funding from the Public Service Commission's Energy Innovation Grant Program, which will allow us to complete a large portion of this project in one year instead of three.