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Gov. Tony Evers says clean energy investments can create jobs, lower bills

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The state’s first Clean Energy Plan is meant to serve as a blueprint for meeting Gov. Evers' goal of carbon-free electricity generation by 2050 and helping meet the state's commitment to cutting half of all greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this decade.

Gov. Tony Evers says Wisconsin could create more than 40,000 jobs, lower energy bills and fight climate change by investing in clean energy technologies.

Released Tuesday, the state’s first Clean Energy Plan is meant to serve as a blueprint for meeting his goal of carbon-free electricity generation by 2050 and helping meet the state’s commitment to cutting half of all greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this decade.

Evers billed the plan as a way to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and reinvest some of the roughly $14 billion a year spent on imported coal, petroleum, gas and other energy sources, protecting both natural resources and residents’ pocketbooks.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released a report outlining what should be done to limit global warming to 1.5C. We need to ditch fossil fuels, coal and gas plants need to close and the focus needs to be put on renewable energy like solar and wind. Governments will need to put infrastructure in place to make it easier for people to switch to electric vehicles to reduce carbon emissions. Methane makes up around 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to experts reducing methane emissions will “shave off some of the temperature rise”. To prevent Earth from going over the 1.5C threshold, scientists say we need to start using machines to suck CO2 from the atmosphere. Having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable changes to our lifestyles and behavior can result in a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, Priyadarshi Shukla, UN IPCCC Co-Chair.

“The good news is that we don’t have to choose — we can do both if we start working smarter as a state — and that’s what this plan is all about,” Evers said in a statement. “Folks, the cost of doing nothing is far too high.”

The plan, called for in a 2019 executive order, is merely a recommendation, though it is intended as an actionable framework with four primary paths:

Promoting clean energy technology by expanding incentives in the state’s $100 million ratepayer-funded Focus on Energy program

  • , updating emission goals for electricity generation and leveraging existing government programs to support renewable energy and help businesses develop new technologies.
  • Reducing energy demand across all sectors through new energy efficiency standards and increased funding for Focus on Energy.
  • Updating

commercial building codes

  • , using local and low-carbon building materials, scaling up renewable heating and cooling, and using electricity rather than fossil fuels as a heat source.
  • Addressing transportation, the single-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, by supporting the transition to electric vehicles, promoting transportation alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles.

The plan calls for the state to expedite development of utility-scale solar projects, which are often met with strong local opposition, as well as policies to promote rooftop and community-owned solar energy.

Notably, it calls for a phaseout of natural gas-fired generation as well as consideration of nuclear power.

Wisconsin’s only operating nuclear power plant, which produces about 15% of the state’s electricity, is licensed until 2033, though the owners are seeking a 20-year extension. La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative is exploring small-scale nuclear technology that has not yet been commercially deployed.

The American Conservation Coalition, an Appleton-based nonprofit that promotes market-based solutions to environmental problems, faulted the plan for treating nuclear energy as “an afterthought.”

The plan also outlines workforce development recommendations such as creating clean energy apprenticeship programs, working with technical colleges and supporting job training programs for people in prison.

Some of the proposals, such as increased funding for energy conservation, have been previously rejected by Republican lawmakers. Others reflect recommendations by utilities and industry groups, who say the clean energy transition could bolster the state’s $28 billion power and controls sector.

Evers said the strategies in the plan “can help us create good paying jobs that don’t require a college degree and bring talented workers to Wisconsin while saving money, reducing energy costs, and building the sustainable future we want for our state.”

Halfway to Paris

According to the Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin’s net greenhouse gas emissions fell by about 9% from 2005 to 2018, thanks in part to cleaner electricity, but some sectors, such as agriculture and industrial processes, increased emissions by more than 20%.

Climate scientists say the world must cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and eliminate them altogether by 2050 in order to reduce the risk of the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

Yet the clean energy plan would achieve only about half the necessary reductions. The remainder would have to come from non-energy sectors, such as land use, construction and agriculture, which are outlined in a 2020 climate task force report.

Evers said the biggest hurdle to implementing the plan is time.

“It takes time because we were so far behind the curve,” he said. “Most of our energy is created by non-renewables. ... I know we’re heading in the right direction, it’s just a matter of whether we can ramp it up.”

Maria Redmond, director of the state’s Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy, said the plan was drafted with input from dozens of stakeholders, including environmental organizations, utilities and consumer advocates.

“One of the values of the clean energy plan is collective action,” Redmond said. “Everybody who touches energy or uses energy has a role to play.”

Reaction to plan

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest industry lobbying group, called the plan “unaffordable” and “unrealistic,” claiming it would lead to higher energy prices.

“Wisconsinites have seen costs explode for electricity, natural gas for heat and gasoline over the last year, and the governor’s plan would only make things worse,” said WMC vice president Scott Manley.

Clean Wisconsin called on state agencies, utilities and lawmakers to act on the recommendations “and create the energy-independent Wisconsin all our communities deserve.”

Chelsea Chandler, the group’s climate and air program director, said waterlogged soil, hotter summers, milder winters and historic floods are already affecting life in Wisconsin.

“We cannot afford to delay implementing these cost-effective, clean energy solutions. Wisconsinites are already paying the price of inaction on climate change,” said Chelsea Chandler, the group’s climate and air program director. “We need to act boldly and swiftly to mitigate these heavy costs to our society.”

Editor's note: This story has been undated to correct the expiration of Point Beach's current license. The plant is licensed until 2033.

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WEC says its subsidiaries need the added revenue to cover added expenses, primarily investments of more than $1.1 billion in renewable energy that the company says will save customers millions of dollars in years to come.

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