Coal plants are shutting down in Portage, Oak Creek and Sheboygan. Solar and wind farms are going up in Cambridge, Darien and Grant County.
With Wisconsin and the world celebrating Earth Day last weekend, our progress toward a clean energy future is reassuring and significant.
Yet more must be done faster to ensure future generations inherit a stable and healthy planet.
Wisconsin is heading in the right direction by lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Total emissions from all sectors and fuels in Wisconsin peaked in 2005 at about 142 million metric tons and had fallen by 18% to 116 million metric tons by 2020, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The burning of carbon-based fuels such as coal and gasoline sends greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, trapping heat from the sun. The result is a warming planet with more extreme weather. The last eight years have been the hottest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
That’s bad for Wisconsin farmers, who struggle with heavier rainfall, deeper floods and longer droughts. Those same factors contribute to pollution washing into and fouling Wisconsin’s lakes. Failing to act risks ever-hotter summers and vanishing winters. More frequent natural disasters threaten our homes, businesses and economy.
Gov. Tony Evers’ Clean Energy Plan seeks to make all of Wisconsin’s electrical generation carbon-free by 2050, which is an ambitious yet doable goal. While the Republican-run Legislature has been slow to embrace the cause, private utilities and businesses keep advancing. A dramatic decline in the price of solar panels has boosted their popularity. Similarly, high gas prices have convinced more motorists to purchase hybrid and electric vehicles.
Democrats accelerated that trend in Washington last year by approving $369 billion for clean energy and related initiatives. This includes more charging stations and tax breaks for electric vehicles as well as incentives for manufacturing jobs.
Wisconsin still burns a lot of coal compared to other states. But Madison-based Alliant Energy and its partners plan to shut down the coal-fired Columbia plant in Portage by 2026.
Another Alliant coal plant in Sheboygan and a We Energies coal plant in Milwaukee County are slated to close in 2025. WEC Energy Group in Milwaukee plans to eliminate coal from its portfolio by 2035. Madison Gas and Electric says it has no controlling interest in coal-fired resources and should be entirely off coal by 2035.
To make up for lost power, Wisconsin utilities are investing heavily in renewables. Alliant Energy, for example, has built three large-scale solar projects with nine more in construction. Those solar farms will eventually power 300,000 homes and create an estimated 2,000 jobs, according to company officials.
To make sure the lights stay on when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, the utility plans to store energy in batteries and tap its natural gas plant in Beloit. Natural gas is still a contributor to climate change but produces about half as much carbon-dioxide when burned.
Besides governments and power companies investing in clean energy, homeowners and renters can volunteer to buy wind and solar from their utilities. Property owners can erect their own solar panels, conserve energy and pick efficient appliances and lights.
It’s important to stay positive, rather than fixating on doomsday scenarios for rising temperatures. Thanks to technology, a carbon-free future is on the horizon. We should celebrate that future and work together to speed its arrival.
— From the Wisconsin State Journal