OPINION: Wisconsin’s leadership role in sustainable transportation

Written by Lorrie Lisek

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"Wisconsin" by US Department of State is marked with CC0 1.0

When it comes to sustainable transportation in the U.S., many assume only the East and West coasts are embracing adoption.

The reality is, Third Coast states, including Wisconsin, are proving themselves to be innovative leaders in the sustainable transportation realm.

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I’m proud to serve as Executive Director of Wisconsin Clean Cities, one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s nearly 100 Clean Cities coalitions. The nonprofit, member-based organization serves the entire state of Wisconsin and supports the nation’s energy and economic security by building partnerships to advance affordable domestic transportation fuels, energy-efficient mobility systems and other fuel-saving technologies and practices.

Alternative fuels play an important role in Wisconsin’s economic and environmental success, with more than 1,100 alternative fuel and electric vehicle charging stations across the state. Our dairy industry and governmental entities are working with renewable fuel producers and retailers to capture methane from dairy production and landfills for use and sale as renewable natural gas. Our members Dane County, Kwik Trip and Renewable Energy Group are all involved in those efforts to create profitable, sustainable solutions.

Still, those of us in this field often hear the chicken and egg analogy when it comes to alternative fuel and electric vehicles: How can I invest in them if the fueling and charging infrastructure doesn’t exist? Why should I build stations if local fleets and private owners don’t own the vehicles to support them?

One initiative getting to the heart of this issue is the Michigan to Montana I-94 Clean Fuel Corridor project (M2M), which with the help of grant funds from the U.S. Department of Energy supports an alternative fuel corridor along I-94 from Port Huron, Michigan to Billings, Montana. Led by Gas Technology Institute in partnership with Clean Cities coalitions along the route, including Wisconsin Clean Cities, M2M provides commercial fleets and individual drivers with more fueling and charging sites to serve alternative fuel and electric vehicles by identifying and filling infrastructure and supporting fleet gaps.

In August 2018, the former Ground Round Bar & Grill (now Taphouse Twenty) in Tomah unveiled its new public electric vehicle charging hub as part of the M2M project, the first of its kind in Western Wisconsin. As the halfway stop for motorists between Minneapolis and Milwaukee or Minneapolis and Chicago, Tomah was a prime location for a station that allows travelers to stop and support local businesses while charging their vehicles.

In July 2020, the Hampton Inn & Suites in Hudson added another charging hub along I-94 through the M2M project. Wisconsin Clean Cities member Landmark Services Cooperative in Cottage Grove is building a retail propane fueling station through the M2M project and plans to use it to fuel its fleet of propane vehicles. In Green Bay, our member Contract Transport Services received multiple compressed natural gas-fueled trucks through the M2M project and deemed the project so successful, they went on to install their own CNG station.

Another one of our members, Veriha Trucking in Marinette, took possession in November of five compressed natural gas trucks acquired with funding assistance from the M2M project and will soon add five more CNG trucks through the project. 

Have we solved the problem? Not yet, but are we working together to be part of the solution? Absolutely. With cooperation, collaboration and innovation, Wisconsin will continue to be among the Third Coast’s sustainable transportation leaders.

This column originally appeared in the State Journal Register. Lorrie Lisek is executive director of Wisconsin Clean Cities and president of Legacy Environmental Services. The opinions are the writer’s.

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