By Doug Hissom Special to Published Jun 06, 2008 at 5:09 AM

Here's an idea that could lower Milwaukee heating and electric bills. The City of Madison kicked off a program to double that city's use of solar energy by 2010. It even has a catchy name -- MadiSUN.

The 2-year effort hooks up the city with Focus on Energy, UW Extension and Madison Gas and Electric (MG&E) with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's "Solar America Cities" program.

The goal of MadiSUN is to help provide information and expertise that can make it easier to install solar energy. This will be done with the assistance of a consultant who can provide residents and businesses with technical expertise and answers to questions regarding design, permitting and rebate programs. A Web site will also be launched.

The announcement was made beneath a solar canopy in a playground sandbox. MG&E and the City of Madison jointly worked on the installation of the solar electric shade structure. The 40 by 20-ft. structure is designed to provide shade for the toddler sandbox area while incorporating a 2.1 kilowatt photovoltaic system on the roof. The system produces 2,600 kilowatt hours per year and reduces CO2 emissions by 5,200 pounds annually.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett commissioned a "Green Team" in 2004 and has made green energy a focus for city buildings, but on a citywide scale this could be an interesting experiment, especially since the days of the ugly solar panels on rooftops are over. The panels are much smaller and more aesthetically pleasing now.

The city has an Office of Environmental Sustainability and its Web site offers practical tips to green up the yard and home.

More Political Capital Spent on GM: A laundry list of state pols got in line to bemoan General Motors' announcement that it would end all production and close its Janesville plant. Sure, the local officials and even the governor were expected to show up and wring their hands.

But state Sen. Ted Kanavas? The Brookfield Republican's gubernatorial aspirations are getting around the state -- mainly due to the fact that he's got so much money in his campaign fund that he's got to do something with it -- but it seems he's bordering on trying to make some hay on this one, promptly sending out a press release with a tough-it-out attitude.

"The people of Janesville and the city itself, along with the rest of southern Wisconsin are strong," says Kanavas in the statement.

Ironically, Kanavas suggests offering tax incentives as a way to replace the 800-some jobs lost in the GM move. GM received tax incentives not too long ago when it considered closing the plant. That didn't quite work, did it?

"Lowering taxes, providing incentives and giving the people of Janesville, along with the rest of our state, the chance to use their natural ability to innovate new ideas is the best response to an event like this. There is a bright future ahead for Janesville and the rest of our great state if the proper steps are taken today."

And then there's Barack Obama getting in on the group grief, as well. He seems willing to use tax credits, too.

"I've proposed investing $150 billion over 10 years in green energy and creating up to five million new green jobs. We'll finally provide domestic automakers with the funding they need to retool their factories and make fuel-efficient and alternative fuel cars."

Another Wireless Unplugging: Milwaukee's once highly touted effort to get into the wi-fi universe saw another chapter quietly came to a close this week, as one plan has been tabled for now. The Common Council's Steering and Rules Committee put the most recent issue of obtaining bids for the project to rest at its meeting this week. That's not to say a new effort to get bids won't resurface, but it appears for now there's no one screaming to do that.

In January 2007, Mayor Tom Barrett projected that by March 2008, "the entire city will be wired and a ‘walled garden' of about 60 sites will be available to people accessing the wireless system in the City of Milwaukee." He noted that Milwaukee is on the cutting edge of wireless installation and has the opportunity to be far more advanced than other cities in the United States.

The mayor's plan, however, relied on local wireless networker Midwest Fiber Networks to do the job -- without considering other providers or hiring outside consultants.

After several missteps and under-calculations for the project, Ald. Michael Murphy proposed last year that the city get bids on the project. Last July, Midwest Fiber announced that the "test area" was complete, but so far signals have been nearly non-existent to find. It announced shortly thereafter that finishing the project was financially questionable for the company.

The term sheet with the city for the deal, dated 2006, is still up on Midwest Fiber's Web site.

The onus was on former city Chief Information Officer Randy Gschwind to get the job done. Gschwind left his city post this year and formed Information Technology Management Solutions, listing himself as a "virtual CIO."

Milwaukee's experience with wi-fi is similar to that of other American cities rushing to be the first to go wireless. Many found problems assembling the infrastructure and had numerous problems with signals. Smaller cities in the States, however, have been able to put together functional networks and cities in other countries, such as New Zealand, have had success as well.

Trumping Tragedy: State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) has literally made a career out of taking tragedy or trouble and turning it into headlines for herself. And since she is facing a tough re-election fight against popular state Rep. Sheldon Wasserman (D-Milwaukee) for her seat, it should come as no surprise that she's at it again.

This time it comes in the aftermath of an incident in which a two-time drunk driver is accused of killing a pregnant Oconomowoc woman and her 10-year-old daughter. Waukesha County prosecutors are charging Mark Bensen, a Summit doctor, with homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle after saying he had the sleep aid Ambien, the anxiety medicine Xanax and the painkiller oxycodone in his system at the time of the crash.

Darling conveniently got some face time on Channel 4 condemning state drunk driving laws, saying that "we have to change some of the laws," but not offering much more. She suggested the state toughen laws after the third offense.

Darling got her interview the same day a community meeting was held in Oconomowoc to commemorate the death of Jennifer Bukosky and her daughter.

But Darling is actually a tad late and part of a long line of pols jumping on the tragedy, including Gov. Jim Doyle and Oconomowoc state legislator Joel Kleefish, who suggested the same thing shortly after the April 25 crash. But Darling got on TV and the other two did not.

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.