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Carbon copies: MGE and UW–Madison team up

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Public-private partnerships have been getting a bad rap (and rep) from those who worry about the potentially pernicious characteristics of each partner. That would be “big government” from the conservative perspective and “big business” from the liberal vantage point. Still, as long as safeguards are in place to prevent abuse, the potential downsides shouldn’t prevent public and private entities from exploring a mutually beneficial relationship, especially if it serves the public interest.

The most promising recent example is the new net-zero carbon goal established by Madison Gas & Electric, which is to be aided and abetted by the University of Wisconsin’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. The goal, part leap of faith, part moonshot, is to achieve net-zero carbon for MGE customers by 2050, and the electric and gas utility readily acknowledges that it will require technologies not yet commercially available or cost-effective.

It will also require the Nelson Institute to play an assessment role in this decarbonization campaign. MGE wants the Nelson Institute to evaluate its pathway to net-zero carbon and ensure that it’s consistent with what the global climate scientists recommend, and that assessment will be led by Tracey Holloway, the 2017–2021 Gaylord Nelson Distinguished Professor at the UW–Madison. Holloway, an air quality scientist, is jointly appointed in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, and if you’ll pardon the pun, she and her colleagues should offer some “sage” advice. [The assessment will be done by a small team in the Nelson Institute’s Center for Sustainability in the Global Environment, or SAGE.]

MGE already has been working with Holloway’s colleague, Dan Vimont, who directs the Center on Climatic Research in the Nelson Institute, so the partners already are familiar with one another. They are also fully confident that the goal can be reached, with a firm conviction about the potential for technological advances to enable cheaper, more reliable, and more sustainable low-carbon electrical generation.

“There is a lot that’s going to happen between now and 2050,” Holloway notes. “If you look at the past, just in the past 10 or 20 years, solar has become much cheaper. Wind has become much cheaper. Batteries have become much cheaper. There is a lot of change that has been going on, and there is certainly a lot of change that will go on during the next few decades that will sup-port this kind of move to low-carbon electricity.”

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