Sauk County locals gathered at the Reedsburg Library Aug. 7 to discuss renewable energy and sustainable building practices.

The event was one of a series of conversations put on by the Milwaukee based group Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

For Citizen Action Organizing Co-Op Incubator Kevin Kane, the drive to create positive change is a personal one.

Kane was put on a waiting list for Badger Care and worried about his future.

“When my plan had a $10,000 deductible and I made something like $13,000 that year, health care didn’t seem to matter that much,” Kane said. “I got really interested in (trying to make sure) people aren’t as scared as I was.”

From there Citizen Action grew.

“It started out in health care, but it has gone from that to challenging concentrated animal feeding operations in Counties like Dunn and Burnett, passing living wage ordinances in places like Eau Claire County, preventing homes from being destroyed and foreclosed upon as well as very much turning up voter registrations and (getting) people out to vote,” Kane said.

Recently, Kane said Citizen Action has been looking into counties considered federal disaster areas because of flooding.

“We started looking and trying to figure out what we could do for people who in some cases houses and homes have been washed away,” Kane said. “I remember driving by Coon Valley and there’s this destroyed home on Highway 14 just sitting there.”

Sauk County Democrats Chair Tammy Wood said she looks forward to working with Citizen Action. “I want to be able to help engage citizens in creating change that affects our communities,” Wood said. “(And) making sure that when we’re rebuilding, we’re rebuilding sustainable communities (and) making sure citizens who right now feel like there’s so much wrong with the world, bringing them tools so they can change our community. Empowerment is very important to me.”

Kane said Citizen Action is working to build coalitions of local organizations to improve the quality of life for residents of south central Wisconsin. The group is currently focused on helping direct affected individuals to an Associated Bank program designed to help disaster areas, as well as urging homeowners to pursue energy efficiency mortgages which offer extra resources to people buying or refinancing their home if they make it more efficient and weatherized.

Kane said while these programs are commendable, “they weren’t doing a very good job promoting these mortgages, and I know that because I’m the first person in the state to have gotten one.”

For people who are neither buying a new home or refinancing an existing one, Citizen Action is working to direct people towards the Rural Energy Savings Program. “The Rural Energy Savings Program is an ongoing pot of federal money (that allows for) local utilities serving rural communities to create on-bill financing.”

The concept recognizes homeowners and utility companies as equal shareholders in the efficiency of a building, and consequently, as beneficiaries of efficiency improvements as well. Because of this, utilities help homeowners install energy efficient technology such as solar panels and then split the savings with the homeowners.

Citizen Action is urging local utility companies to apply for the program and make it available to residents. The organization will host an informational forum titled “Good Jobs, Green Homes” Oct. 27 at the community room of the Reedsburg Library from 2-4 p.m.

You can reach Jake Ekdahl on Twitter @JakeaEkdahl or contact him at 608-697-6353

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