Ninety-five years ago Eau Claire agreed to allow a local power company to install hydroelectric generators at Dells Pond dam, which City Manager Dale Peters cites as the first pact to provide clean energy to the community.
On Thursday the city signed a new agreement with Xcel Energy, which got ownership of the dam in 2003, to work together toward each of their even more ambitious goals to drastically cut pollution by 2050.
“Xcel Energy is a substantial partner in helping us achieve our goals,” Peters said.
In March 2018, the City Council adopted a resolution saying that Eau Claire — the city government and entire community — should run on 100% renewable energy by 2050. Several months later, Xcel announced its intent to produce entirely carbon-free electricity by 2050.
“We’re very proud of that aspiration,” said Mark Stoering, president of Xcel Energy-Wisconsin.
Peters and Stoering signed an Energy Future Partnership — a document agreeing on certain shared values and to work together toward them — on Thursday afternoon at Eau Claire City Hall.
Xcel already has made similar pacts with some of its communities in Colorado and Minnesota, but Stoering said this is the first such agreement in Wisconsin.
A plan on how to achieve Eau Claire’s lofty clean energy goal is currently being finalized. Xcel and the city have held meetings since March to work on that plan; a draft of that document is expected to be done on Nov. 21 and then go to the City Council for approval, according to Ned Noel, associate city planner.
Next year the city will need to produce 5% less greenhouse gasses than it did in 2015, which Noel said looks attainable.
Reaching milestones for years 2030 through 2050 are seen as a greater challenge, he said, relying on changes in technology and industry help Eau Claire get to the 100% goal.
“Transportation is the big nut to crack,” Noel said.
The vast majority of drivers have vehicles that run on gasoline, but to meet the city’s goal in about 30 years, those people would need to switch to cars that run on electricity or another fuel source that doesn’t create emissions.
Xcel already has a road map for reaching most of its carbon-free goal, but Stoering admits that the exact path to the final leg of the journey is not yet known.
The utility company already has filed plans with regulators to reduce its carbon emissions by 80%, but getting rid of the remaining 20% will require some advancements in clean energy technology.
“But don’t bet against technology,” Stoering said, noting that improvements in renewable energy have helped Xcel be recognized as one of the greenest utility companies in the U.S.
The cost of producing renewable energy has gone down in recent years, becoming cheaper than burning fossil fuels.
“It does make good business sense,” Stoering said.
Stoering noted that Xcel’s new wind farms in the works are among the most competitively priced methods of generating electricity.
However, he added that the drawback of windmills and solar power is they only work when the wind is blowing and sun is shining. That is why the company’s pledge is for carbon-free energy, which does not rule out the continued use of nuclear power as it is reliable at times when weather conditions do not produce wind or solar power.
Xcel’s Eau Claire customers currently get 26% of their power from renewable energy sources. That is included in the carbon-neutral power sources that make up 56% of Xcel’s power supply to our area.
Eau Claire has a number of projects intended to help make the city government run on cleaner power.
The city recently added newer hybrid buses to its fleet, is getting price quotes for installing solar panels at Hobbs Ice Center, plans to research hybrid police cars and is evaluating its older buildings for ways to make them more energy efficient.
Past and upcoming efforts also have involved cooperation between the utility company and city government.
Xcel and Eau Claire worked together a few years ago when the city provided its former landfill as the site for a solar power farm. The city buys some of that solar power from Xcel to provide 100% of the electricity to run Fairfax Park Pool in the summertime, Peters noted.
The city is now working with Xcel on the potential for more electric vehicle charging stations in Eau Claire, as current ones are mostly located off Interstate 94 and U.S. 53 to meet demand from travelers.
“We think there is an opportunity for a fast-charger downtown,” Noel said.
Eau Claire’s public schools also are getting involved in the push for cleaner energy sources.
The Eau Claire school district also signed a pledge in October to run entirely on renewable energy by 2050 and begin installing equipment to get closer to that goal as early as next year. Earlier this week, a community group and anonymous donor pledged to donate solar panels that would be put on top of Eau Claire’s high schools as long the local Public Schools Foundation raises money to pay for their installation.