Wisconsin Health System Partners with Utility on Renewable Microgrid

Jan. 29, 2024
Gundersen Health System will partner with utility Xcel Energy on the project, creating one of the first fully resilient and renewable energy-powered health care campuses in the United States.

Gundersen Health System is building a renewable energy microgrid at its Onalaska, Wisconsin, campus with the help of Xcel Energy’s EMPOWER Resiliency program.

The microgrid will control a new battery energy storage system (BESS) to be installed by Xcel as well as the campus’ existing solar panels. Renewable energy generated from biogas by the La Crosse County Landfill will also be connected to the microgrid.

Biogas from the landfill is currently being piped to the Gundersen Onalaska campus where it’s turned into electricity and used to heat water and multiple buildings on the campus.

The BESS and microgrid will transform its Onalaska facilities into one of the first fully resilient and renewable energy health care campuses in the United States.

"This is something rarely seen in health care,” said Alan Eber, director of Gundersen Envision, the health system’s sustainability program. “This is a groundbreaking chance for a utility and a health system to come together to lower costs and create a more resilient campus for patient and community care.”

Microgrids made easy with utility partnership

The EMPOWER Resiliency program designs and builds microgrids and other resiliency projects for Xcel’s commercial, government and industrial customers in Wisconsin. The utility serves around half a million natural gas and electricity customers in the northwest part of the state.

The program, which is also available in Minnesota, focuses on customers with higher than normal reliability needs, such as health care systems. The program is technology agnostic, though it’s commonly employed to install standby generators, ground-, roof- or carport-mounted solar, battery energy storage systems and microgrid controllers.

Customers can finance the resiliency projects through Xcel, typically for a 10-year period during which the utility will own and maintain the equipment. At the end of the term, ownership transfers to the customer.

The program shows that utilities, like Xcel, are increasingly recognizing the role microgrids will play in providing safe and reliable power delivery in the future.

“We recognize that some of our major commercial and industrial customers have exceptional resiliency needs to maintain their operations. With the EMPOWER Resiliency program, we are proud to help Gundersen achieve their resiliency, sustainability and other energy-related goals," said Karl Hoesly, president of Xcel Energy-Wisconsin and Michigan.

Future viability depends on resiliency

The Onalaska campus microgrid builds on Gundersen’s ongoing sustainability initiatives. The health care system, which includes seven hospitals and 65 clinics across Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, has already added solar, geothermal and battery storage to several of its facilities.

Thanks in part to these efforts, Gundersen Health System became energy independent in 2014 and is producing more energy than it consumes.

The Onalaska microgrid is currently in the design phase and is expected to be commissioned in 2025.

"Future viability depends on being prepared for change and [being] resilient in the face of it,” said Bill Farrell, chief strategy and innovation officer for Gundersen Health System.

He added that partnerships, like the one with Xcel, are critical to success.

“This is a big win for our region and for the future of sustainable health care," he said.

About the Author

Kathy Hitchens | Special Projects Editor

I work as a writer and special projects editor for Microgrid Knowledge. I have over 30 years of writing experience, working with a variety of companies in the renewable energy, electric vehicle and utility sector, as well as those in the entertainment, education, and financial industries. I have a BFA in Media Arts from the University of Arizona and a MBA from the University of Denver.

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