Gov. Jim Doyle announced plans last week for four University of Wisconsin campuses to participate in a pilot program to become energy independent by 2012.
Colleges selected for the program are the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Construction is set to begin immediately.
The program is a step in the governor's plan to fulfill Wisconsin's Declaration of Energy Independence, part of which states that Wisconsin will get 25 percent of its power and fuel from renewable resources by 2025, said Matt Canter, spokesman for the governor. Funding for the program is coming from $450 million that has been set aside for statewide energy independence programs.
The campuses will be using a combination of solar power, wind power, biomass and ethanol fuel. Solar power transfers the energy in sunshine into electricity and can also be used to heat water. A biomass power plant installed on the campuses would replace burning coal and other fossil fuels with any organic material, such as scraps from a paper plant, for energy. Ethanol is a fuel produced primarily from corn and used as an alternative to gasoline that would be used in campus vehicles.
"It's unlikely that the campuses will each have their own wind farm, but they would be able to purchase energy produced by nearby wind farms," said Don Wichert, director of the Wisconsin Focus on Energy renewable energy program. "Solar power will probably be the most efficient for use on the campuses."
Campuses interested in the program were asked to submit a proposal of what they could contribute.
UW-Green Bay already has a basic foundation for the program: Mary Ann Cofrin Hall, a building that opened in 2001, has solar panels on the roof that power the building. There are also solar panels on the roof of the campus' athletic facility that are used to heat water in the pool.
"We have a long tradition of environmental education and awareness," said Dean Rodeheaver, assistant chancellor at UW-Green Bay.
The campus programs are one part of the initiative to increase energy independence throughout Wisconsin.
"We want to use the university system as a role model for the rest of the state in achieving our goals," Canter said. "Gov. Doyle has said he wants to harness enthusiasm for the goal and this is a way of encouraging college students to help build that."
A large reason for UW-Green Bay wanting to participate in the program was the enthusiasm that came from students.
"We were surprised at how interested students were. They really brought our attention to the subject," Rodeheaver said.
Rodeheaver also said he thinks the school's participation in the program could be a large draw for prospective students.
The program could result in drastic changes in the amount of energy the campuses use.
"These schools have huge potential to reduce the amount of energy used by half. If I were in charge of this program I would do everything possible to try to achieve that," Wichert said.
Apart from environmental benefits, there are economic benefits to the program as well.
"It will save a lot of money for the state and individual campuses," Canter said. "There will be up-front costs, but the system should pay for itself over time."