Letter to the editor
Time to refocus on clean energy
October 3, 2014
Recently, we learned that Wisconsin hit a clean energy milestone two years ahead of target. Today, more than 10 percent of our electricity comes from sustainable sources like wind and bioenergy.
While that sounds like great news -- and, by itself, it is great news -- a look at the bigger picture shows Wisconsin actually is falling behind, and it’s time for our state leaders to act.
Back in 2005, when Wisconsin enacted the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) with bipartisan and business support, the state was considered a national leader in clean energy. Utilities had a 2015 deadline to begin including at least 10 percent clean power in their energy mix. Public Service Commission data unveiled recently showed we got there in 2013 instead.
Although our utilities worked ahead of schedule, 28 other states including neighboring Minnesota and Illinois created more aggressive policies to drive innovation and create jobs. As a result, Wisconsin today ranks last among states with an RPS. Worse, there are currently no plans for what’s next.
Bipartisan polling released in September by two of the nation’s leading firms (Public Opinion Strategies and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates) shows that Wisconsin voters share a vision for clean energy, and candidates on the Nov. 4, ballot would be smart to take notice. Three in four of those polled support raising the RPS from 10 percent to 30 percent.
That might seem like a big jump, but the same pollsters posed the RPS question to voters in Illinois and Minnesota, who by wide majorities are calling for RPS expansions to 40 percent and 50 percent, respectively.
As our neighbors pull ahead of us, it will become harder and harder to compete. Case in point, Illinois has emerged as a Top 10 U.S. market for clean energy with the trade organization Environmental Entrepreneurs tallying 3,800 jobs in 2013 alone.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin continues to spend more than $12 billion annually to import fossil fuels. Our money is supporting economic opportunity elsewhere when it could be creating clean energy jobs right here to benefit hardworking Wisconsin families and farmers.
Even more troubling, Wisconsin has squandered opportunities, particularly in wind power development, over the past two years. Regulatory uncertainty led a half-dozen projects to pull stakes, taking along hundreds of potential jobs and capital investment estimated to top $1 billion. Currently, there are 35 wind farms under construction regionally -- but none in Wisconsin.
We also see a few of Wisconsin’s utilities pursuing rate changes that could further stunt clean energy here by making it less economical for customers to install clean energy solutions, such as solar panels, at home or in the office. Several of Wisconsin’s utilities, however, have shown a great willingness to serve customers with clean, sustainable energy. Dairyland Power, WPPI and Northern States Power have documented that clean energies make up 14 percent, 16 percent and 18.5 percent of the energy mix, respectively.
Especially in light of the EPA’s recent proposal to reduce carbon pollution by 34 percent below 2005 levels at Wisconsin power plants over the next 16 years, we have to keep making forwardthinking, responsible choices to shape Wisconsin’s energy future. Expanding the RPS is a necessary part of that equation.
It’s time we all get back to the table just like in 2005 -- Republican, Democrat, business leader, nonprofits, health organizations and so forth -- to confront challenges and embrace opportunities.
Senior Policy Director