Nonpartisan forum allows open discussion on energy | Events
Wisconsin and Dane County’s future energy sources could involve natural gas and cow manure, according to experts who spoke at a nonpartisan forum, part of a series of events seeking to create a conversation between both sides of the political aisle.
Erin Roth, executive director of the Wisconsin/Minnesota Petroleum Council, and Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) discussed the future of energy in the county. Reach Out Wisconsin, which will celebrate its second year anniversary next month, hosted the forum as a way to discuss an issue from multiple political perspectives.
Roth said the country’s reserves of both oil and natural gas will last for more than a hundred years. He also noted that natural gas burns cleaner than oil and is better for the environment.
“Natural gas offers a lot of hope for the future,” Roth said. “Compressed natural gas, certainly with fleets, will offer an opportunity say for rental car facilities, taxi cabs.”
Extracting both natural gas and oil reserves involves hydrofracking, which needs a certain quality of sand abundant in Wisconsin. Roth said frac sand mining has caused road damage and that his organization supports modest regulation of the industry. Hulsey agreed about regulation, saying the sand should be transported on railways and not trucks.
Roth said his organization supports a balanced approach to the future of energy.
“My industry says all the above -- we need all the above: wind, solar, ethanol plays a role, and certainly petroleum and natural gas to move this economy forward,” Roth said.
Hulsey said Dane County is considering converting all its vehicles to natural gas, which he said is about half the cost of gasoline. He also noted Wisconsin has 1.2 million cows in the state that produce natural gas.
“The basic rule is one cow produces enough energy for one house,” Hulsey said. “My researchers are working on how many of our vehicles can we also [power], because from a cow point of view, we’re kind of the Saudi Arabia of America. We have a lot of cow poop out there, and we might as well turn the waste into a resource.”
Dane County has a community digester near Waunakee, which takes cow manure and changes it into energy, and Hulsey said the county and the state are working together to build another one in Middleton.
He noted that other approaches to energy conservation include installing LED lights to reduce electricity consumption.
Elizabeth Schrader, a first time attendee of the forum, said she liked the format of having multiple views being shared on the issues, where audience members could ask questions in a safe environment and neither side felt as if it had to convince the other of its viewpoint.
“I’ve had some friends who have come here and felt that they finally got to understand where other perspectives are coming from and appreciate them for what they are,” Schrader said.
The organization hosting the event, Reach Out Wisconsin, was founded following the election of Gov. Scott Walker, when Madison residents Katie Songer and Ron Dolen realized they did not know any conservative voters.
Wanting to expose themselves to conservative ideas, Songer said she emailed the Republican Party of Dane County to ask if anybody would have a conversation with them.
Scott and Carol Grabins, the organization’s current leaders, responded to the request. The four met for dinner and continued to meet repeatedly to discuss issues. A few months later, they founded Reach Out Wisconsin.
“We just had the idea, ‘Why don’t we bring this to a larger forum?’ We’re getting so much all out of this and our friends were asking us questions like what do conservatives think about this, so the four of us created this organization,” Songer said.
The organization meets every third Tuesday each month at a different location to make it convenient for people throughout Madison to visit, Songer said.
The next forum deals with gun control and will be held on Aug. 20 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Babes Restaurant on Schroeder Road.