Milwaukee signs on to reduce energy intensity by 20 percent
Dec 11, 2013

Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The state’s largest city and commonly known as “beer capital of the world,” the bustling urban area of 600,000 now has a new line on its résumé to celebrate. In an effort to reduce carbon emissions, Milwaukee is one of 130 partners aiming to cut energy intensity by 20 percent by the year 2020.

Maria Vargas, Director of the DOE’s “Better Building Challenge,” sees the task as lofty yet surmountable. Roughly 20 percent of the $200 billion energy bill the Wisconsin city fronts every year is definitively wasted, she explains. Slashing costs to meet the 2020 goal will be predicated on finding innovative methods of shaving costs from numerous existing structures.

For example, at the Milwaukee Public Library, a regal, stone structure built in the late 1800s, work is underway to install what architects are now calling a “green roof,” allowing natural light to replace energy-sucking overhead lamps. Along with other retrofits, like replacing incandescent light bulbs with longer lasting, cooler running LEDs, the library has already cut consumption a surprising 23 percent. Still on the horizon is replacement of the insulation, which will serve to make the library easier and cheaper to heat.

Across town, the Wells Building, a 15-floor commerce center christened in 1901, is also getting a makeover. A new heating and cooling system looks to save 17 million gallons of water per year while still maintaining the historic significance and fine architectural detail of the age-old structure.

Furthermore, just down the street, the Milwaukee Athletic Club is gearing up for a long overdue renovation. A total of sixty hotel rooms routinely get blasted with vented steam heat so intense that even winter visitors were cranking up their air conditioning. But this is about to change, according to Adam Sauter of Johnson Controls. A more comprehensive heating and cooling system is looming, and the mechanics of how the building is seasonally controlled is also on deck to be optimized and updated.

Erick Shambarger, a representative of Milwaukee’s environmental sustainability office, says the city is largely relying on the Me2 program to bankroll the many improvements around town. A federally funded loan source for local homeowners and business owners, The Me2 program also sets up an incentive system for updating obsolete operation methods and offers education to those interested in being greener.

The tides are clearly changing when the powers that be at the city level are concerned with cleaning up their act. Aside from the obvious draw of wanting to cut electricity costs, it’s refreshing to see government factions at even the municipal level showing concern for our environment and engaging in smart energy conservation.