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UW-Oshkosh Foundation May Face Bankruptcy After Helping Build A Biodigester

2 Former School Officials Being Sued By UW System For Mishandling $11.3M, Including $4.1M Biodigester Investment


The green energy economy may play a part in a financial scandal at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

The digester, located at Rosendale Dairy near Ripon, isn’t the only project that has potentially pushed the nonprofit UW-Oshkosh Foundation into bankruptcy.

Two former school officials are being sued by the UW System for allegedly mishandling $11.3 million in university money.

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Of that money, $4.1 million was spent helping to build a biodigester at Rosendale Dairy. The concentrated animal feeding operation houses 8,200 cows.

Rosendale teamed up with UW-Oshkosh Foundation to build the digester to convert manure into electricity for the school and to provide a “real life laboratory” and internships for students at the school, the state’s third largest public university. The facility is up and running, and producing power.

Tim Baye, the state energy specialist for UW-Extension, said utilities have already met state-mandated renewable generation requirements of at least 10 percent. “For the past four, almost five years that requirement from the state has been met by the utilities, and so there’s not a lot of additional demand for renewable electricity in the state of Wisconsin.”

The project went forward in 2011, three years after the Great Recession of 2008.

Baye, who is also a professor of business development and energy finance, said three factors combined to change the renewable energy sector, “overall power demand dropped. They already had contracts with wind and biogas facilities.”

Finally, Baye said a rule change implemented when Gov. Scott Walker took office allowed utilities to meet their 10 percent renewable requirement by purchasing power from Canada, “and now the utilities could buy hydropower.”

The former UW-Oshkosh administrators named in the January lawsuit filed by the UW System are former Chancellor Richard Wells and former Chief Business Officer Thomas Sonnleitner.

They authorized roughly $4.1 million for the Rosendale project, $1.4 million hasn’t been recovered, according to court documents.

Besides the Rosendale Dairy digester project, the two are accused of helping to fund another, smaller digester on campus, a hotel, alumni visitors center and a sports center.