Even though Wisconsin is one of only two states in the Midwest where a wind farm is not now being built, renewable-energy advocates say the federal government’s new carbon-reduction rules will help fill the industry’s sails.
But before developers are likely to bring Wisconsin’s wind-generation capacity more into line with neighboring states’, they will have a tangle of court battles to make their way through. The latest of the skirmishes will challenge the new carbon regulations themselves.
On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released rules that would give states until 2030 to reduce their carbon emission by an average of 32 percent below their 2005 levels. Wisconsin, which still relies heavily on coal to produce power, would have to lower its by slightly more than many states – by 34 percent.
Brad Schimel, Wisconsin’s attorney general, announced the same day that he would join a lawsuit challenging the EPA regulations. He contended that the rules will fall heavily on the state’s economy, “increasing residential and business electricity bills, resulting in significant job losses.”
and impact on states
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — President Barack Obama unveiled the final regulations in his plan that will cut carbon dioxide emissions nationwide 32 percent by 2030. Obama touted it as a bold step to slow climate change, while opponents said it was federal overreach that will raise prices for electricity consumers. Here’s what you need to know about the impact of the new plan on the states:
WHAT CHANGED IN THE PLAN?
Sixteen states, including Wisconsin, will have more stringent carbon dioxide reduction targets than those that were in the original proposal last year. There are two main reasons, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Janet McCabe: Renewable sources such as wind and solar are getting cheaper and easier to build, and the EPA considered that states in some cases could easily source clean power from neighbors if they didn’t have the capacity to generate it themselves.
Also, the states’ ongoing efforts to reduce energy demand won’t be included in their baseline measurements.
“In the proposal we looked at each state in isolation,” said McCabe, acting assistant administrator for the EPA’s office of air and radiation. “In the final rule we have opened it up so we could look at capacity for renewables and natural gas across the region.”
Thirty-one states’ targets were loosened, but the tougher goals for the others make the overall plan more ambitious than the original proposal.
WHAT DO THE STATES THINK?
The Republican-led states that disliked the original proposal still hate it and are threatening lawsuits to block it. Wyoming, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, Missouri and Kansas are the other states among the 16 that will have to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions the most, compared to the original proposal. Some, like Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, had sticker shock upon seeing the new regulations.
“The final rule released today is twice as bad for Kansas as the proposed rule released last summer,” Brownback said.
In some of the states that rely less on coal-fired electricity, such as sun-soaked Nevada and hydroelectric rich Oregon, officials expressed their support and said they were well-positioned to comply.
“Nevada has been ahead of this curve for a long time,” said Jennifer Taylor, executive director of the nonpartisan Clean Energy Project.
Leaders in other states such as Montana, which had supported the original proposal, expressed dismay at the tougher standards.
“It looks as though the Obama administration has moved the goal post on us,” said Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana.
States have until 2018 to submit their final emission reduction plans to the EPA. After that, the reductions begin in gradual step-down phases beginning in 2022 through 2029, with the final targets to be met in 2030.
WHAT HAPPENS IF A STATE DOESN’T TURN IN A PLAN?
Some state officials who oppose the rule have said they are considering not submitting a plan at all to the EPA. Any state that doesn’t file a plan, or submits one that is unworkable under the federal rule, will be forced to use a federal model, McCabe said.
— Matt Volz, Associated Press
Chris Kunkle, regional policy manager for the renewable-energy group Wind on the Wires, said the dearth of new wind farms in Wisconsin largely comes down to a lack of demand. He predicted the EPA’s new regulation will give rise to a need to replace coal-fired power plants and thus whet utility companies’ appetite for wind power and other renewable resources.
But that prediction assumes that Schimel and other state attorneys general are not successful in having the EPA’s regulations overturned in court. If those officials were to win, Wisconsin would be left largely where it is today.
Up to this point, the demand for renewable energy has mostly been driven by what is known as the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. That standard is aimed at ensuring that 10 percent of the power used in the state is coming from renewable sources by this year.
Utility companies actually hit that goal in 2013 – two years ahead of the deadline. Renewable-energy advocates have since fretted that little incentive remains to invest in wind farms, hydro-generators and similar projects.
That lack of a policy spur is probably the biggest reason no wind farms are now being built in Wisconsin, Kunkle said.
“It’s all about demand,” he said.
Still, the legal battles have not helped. And it’s not only the attorney general’s challenge of the new EPA rules.
Bill Rakocy, a principal partner of the wind generation company Emerging Energies LLC, said he in fact thinks renewable energy will gain steam regardless of what happens to the carbon-emission regulations.
“I believe, whether the EPA challenge stands up or not, that utilities are taking a longer view with an understanding that this is the general direction the country is going to head sooner or later,” Rakocy said.
The more immediate dampening effect is likely coming from various smaller court battles. Rakocy and Emerging Energies have found themselves embroiled in one such fight since 2014. The town of Forest, which lies about 40 minutes east of the Twin Cities, sued Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission in January of that year, alleging that utility regulators had improperly approved Emerging Energies’ plans to build a project known as the Highland Wind Farm on 26,550 acres in and near the town.
The development – consisting of as many as 44 turbines that would be capable of generating 102.5 megawatts in total – has been in limbo ever since.
Oral arguments in the case took place before a St. Croix County judge in October. Rakocy said he does not know when to expect a ruling.
He said the case does not the challenge the fundamentals of the state’s wind-farm regulations and thus does not pose a threat to other possible wind projects. Still, Rakocy said, he believes developers are anxiously watching for the outcome.
“If they saw some encouragement of our ability to move forward, it might encourage them to move forward as well,” Rakocy said.
He said Emerging Energies has put on hold plans to build additional wind farms in Sheboygan and Manitowoc counties until company officials know the outcome of the St. Croix case.
Wind developers, meanwhile, recently scored a victory before Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. Last month, the justices upheld a state rule that prevents local governments from requiring that wind turbines be set back any further than 1,250 feet from most types of residences.
Renewable-energy advocates said the decision will bring much-needed stability to the wind industry. Still, Wisconsin lags far behind its neighbors in wind development.
Wisconsin now has 648 megawatts of wind generation capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Minnesota, meanwhile, has 3,035; Iowa has 5,708 and Illinois has 3,667.