‘We all have a responsibility to act now’: Dane County aims for net-zero carbon emissions by 2030

MADISON, Wis. — In response to the worsening effects of climate change around the world, Dane County leaders are planning to have net-zero carbon emissions for all county buildings and fleets by the end of the decade.

“The flooding, fires, and extreme temperatures gripping the globe year after year offer irrefutable, tangible evidence we are in the midst of a climate crisis,” County Executive Joe Parisi said. “We all have a responsibility to act now, and that’s just what Dane County government is doing.”

Parisi’s announcement that the county plans to have net-zero emissions by 2030 came alongside a $10 million proposal included in his 2022 budget that would go toward expanding the county’s clean fuel infrastructure, thus reducing the county’s reliance on diesel.

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The $10 million proposal includes $5 million for trailers equipped to carry compressed natural gas (CNG) — a renewable fuel generated from rotting trash and natural gas harvested from manure digesters.

Since launching the first CNG fueling station in 2013, nearly half of the county’s 60 highway snowplows have shifted to the fuel. Parisi said purchasing the trailers will help expand refueling to rural areas where filling stations are less available.

“By investing in clean fuel infrastructure and becoming net zero in carbon emissions for our buildings and fleet by 2030, Dane County will be a leading voice of what is possible for the public and private sectors to help combat the disturbing trends of climate change,” Parisi said.

The $10 million also includes $2 million for a new CNG filling station at the county’s Fish Hatchery Road Highway garage and $3.2 million to buy eight more CNG-powered snow plows.

The county’s renewable natural gas plant is currently on track to displace 4,750,000 gallons of gasoline in 2021, which is equivalent to driving 106 million fewer miles. The emission reduction is also equivalent to planting 700,000 trees.

In total, the county’s fleet includes 100 CNG vehicles and 17 electric vehicles and hybrids.

Parisi said improving the county’s renewable resource infrastructure is only part of the solution. His 2022 budget also includes more than $93,000 for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps, which will partner with local groups to work on energy efficiency projects like winterizing buildings or working to increase renewable energy production.

Following up on a proposal from his 2021 budget, Parisi said his 2022 budget will include $2.5 million for land conservation, which he said plays an important role in the county’s quest for net-zero emissions because they help trap carbon. Protected lands also help reduce runoff and erosion.

According to a news release, Dane County is just over a year away from becoming the first public entity of its size within the region to generate more renewable electricity than it uses. That’s in part because of a 140-acre solar farm that, once completed, will be the county’s largest and produce enough renewable energy each year to power more than 3,000 Dane County homes.

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Dane County as one of five Green Power Leadership Award winners. Dane County was the only local government recipient from the Midwest in 2021. The award recognized Dane County for its “use of green power, creative collaboration, and commitment to expanding access to green power to diverse, historically underserved, rural, and urban communities.”