Power generated by Gundersen’s wind turbines is sold to the local utility grid to help offset the health care system’s energy use.

Gundersen Health System reaches energy-independence Gundersen Health System, La Crosse Wis., has taken sustainability to its highest level by becoming energy-independent, making it the first health care system in the nation to achieve the distinction of producing more energy than it consumes.

Gundersen announced that it reached the rarefied status on Oct. 14, about six years after hospital leadership embarked on a mission to control rising energy costs and improve the health of its local community by using cleaner, more efficient energy.

"We did not set out to be the greenest health system," says Jeffrey Thompson, M.D., chief executive officer. "We set out to make the air better for our patients to breathe, control our rising energy costs and help our local economy. We believe we have made more progress on all three than anyone else in the country."

The health care system started its energy-saving journey in 2008 by taking simple, cost-effective steps starting with an energy audit and retrocommissioning of its facilities. Early steps included scheduling HVAC system fans to run when necessary, installing energy-efficient lighting, and optimizing chiller and cooling tower performance.

The actions produced almost immediate payback and substantial savings, leading Thompson to raise the sustainability bar to achieving energy-independence.

Gundersen began taking more aggressive steps such as designing a new data center to achieve best-in-class energy-efficiency; building wind turbines to sell power to the local grid; and developing a system with its local county to capture and deliver methane gas from a landfill, ultimately to be used to generate heat and electricity at Gundersen.

The overall result is an estimated $2 million in annual energy savings, thanks to a 40 percent reduction in energy use. The system also has reduced carbon dioxide production by 41,400 tons annually.

Making the achievement more remarkable is the fact that Gundersen built a new hospital and a new behavioral health facility, a 25 percent increase in space, while the energy-independence quest was underway.

"We have shown that you can be financially disciplined, improve the local economy and positively impact the environment," Thompson says.

Despite the monumental achievement, energy-independence is a work in progress for Gundersen, which now plans to sustain its new status indefinitely.

"We set our sights on a goal that had never been achieved," says Jeff Rich, executive director of Envision, Gundersen's energy subsidiary. "And while we are a national leader, we still have work to do. It's like breaking the sound barrier. We were the first to do it and it's a pretty astounding thing. Our next chapter will be to run the days into months and years."