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View from around the state: Saving energy requires flexibility

A green buildings bill recently vetoed by Gov. Jim Doyle is the latest example of well-intended environmental efforts getting ahead of themselves.

Doyle’s veto killed Senate Bill 616, which would have directed all funds available under the authorized state building program toward the goal of meeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards for at least 15 percent of buildings’ total square footage by 2015. Doyle said he supported the premise of the bill — to encourage sustainable building practices — but that, as written, it would have hamstrung current and future maintenance and new building projects.

In his veto message, the governor cited a portion of the bill that would have required the state’s building commission to “apply all moneys available for its use” toward the LEED standards goal. We agree Doyle’s veto was prudent, as this all-inclusive language could have severely restricted needed maintenance and building projects.

We also agree the bill’s intentions are laudable. From changing light bulbs to turning down the heat or using renewable building materials, the green movement makes environmental and fiscal sense. But we urge caution on one-size-fits-all environmental goals that, while admirable in theory, may fall flat in practical application.

An example of this is the pilot program for “energy independence” on four University of Wisconsin campuses, including UWGB. Announced with fanfare in 2006, this initiative aimed to make participating campuses able to produce or acquire renewable energy equivalent to the amount they used — by 2012. At the time, Doyle’s office said the switch to renewable energy could save 260,000 tons of coal and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 676,000 tons in 10 years.

Nearly four years after the announcement, it’s clear the lofty effort is unlikely to come to fruition. Doyle in December said the energy independence goal was not practical because of the challenges associated with producing energy for a college campus.

The state has refocused its efforts around the pilot, encouraging participating schools to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions equal to the emissions produced by their 2005 electric consumption, said Wisconsin Department of Administration spokeswoman Carla Vigue. UWGB is almost 40 percent of the way there, Vigue said Wednesday.

UWGB’s projects have included heating, ventilation and air conditioning efficiency, chilled water, boiler tuneups, compressed air and steam trap projects. …

We understand the financial challenges and logistical hurdles that accompany environmental efforts, whether building green or going off the energy grid. …

We don’t want to discount incremental progress toward important environmental goals. But we can keep an eye on the larger green picture while taking small, prudent steps. To take liberty with an aptly green metaphor, let’s not miss the trees for the forest.

— Green Bay Press-Gazette

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