Wisconsin aims for eliminating carbon-based fuel by 2050 under plan by Gov. Tony Evers

Source: By Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal • Posted: Monday, August 19, 2019

MADISON – Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order Friday aimed at eliminating the use of carbon-based fuel in Wisconsin by 2050 — an idea Republican lawmakers rejected this year.

The Democratic governor’s order also creates the Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy in the state Department of Administration, which will be responsible for carrying out the goal and putting the state on a track to achieve the 2015 Paris accord on climate.

“For far too long clean energy has not been a priority in our state and we’re going  to change that,” Evers said at a Capitol news conference.

The new office will be responsible for coordinating the efforts of other state agencies, local governments, utilities and businesses. It will also develop renewable energy standards for state-owned buildings and foster research and business development related to renewable energy.

Republican Rep. Mike Kuglitsch of New Berlin expressed disappointment about the plan.

“Since the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow, it is irresponsible to mandate total carbon-free generated electricity when there is not technology currently available to sustain a power grid 24/7 using intermittent generation,” said a statement from Kuglitsch, the chairman of the Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities.

Evers first offered similar plans as part of the state budget he introduced in February, but Republicans who control the Legislature took those measures out of the budget. Now, Evers is acting on his own.

By issuing an executive order, Evers has less of an ability to get what he wants than if he had gotten the provisions approved in the state budget.

Evers won’t have new money to use for his plans and he will have to reallocate positions from other parts of state government to fill the new office. He hasn’t determined how many people will serve in the new office.

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes will lead the effort on renewable energy, Evers said.

Under Evers’ plan, the state would shift over the coming three decades to renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, nuclear and hydropower.

Wisconsin is dependent on coal but utilities are moving toward renewable energy as prices drop.

We Energies, which serves Milwaukee, Green Bay and other parts of Wisconsin, plans to cut its carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. Madison-based Alliant Energy has the same goal and plans to eliminate the use of coal by that year.

Minnesota-based Xcel Energy, which serves western Wisconsin, announced in December that it would supply all electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050, the first major utility to announce such plans.

Evers in February joined the U.S. Climate Alliance,  a group of more than two dozen governors — mostly Democrats —who are committed to implementing goals of the Paris climate accord.

The 2016 agreement, which is voluntary, calls on countries to reduce carbon emissions by 26% to 28% by 2025, with base levels established in 2005.

The alliance was created in 2017 after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris accord.

In Wisconsin, carbon emissions dropped 13.5% as of the end of 2016 from 2005, according to recent figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Since then, Milwaukee-based We Energies has retired its big carbon-intensive coal-fired power plant on the shore of Lake Michigan in Pleasant Prairie in Kenosha County; closed the Pulliam power plant in Green Bay; and no longer gets power from a plant in Sheboygan in which it owned a share.

Alliant Energy was the majority owner of the plant, which closed in September.

Lee Bergquist of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.