Other states are eating our lunch on clean energy

Wisconsin’s wrong-headed plan to sue the Obama Administration over pending regulations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is another missed opportunity to achieve a high-end, cleaner energy economy – one that attracts clean energy jobs and investment and furthers our state’s long tradition of environmental stewardship.

The proposed EPA regulations would reduce emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030 and provide significant flexibility to create opportunities for cost effective emission reductions while encouraging collaboration with other states and regions.

Unfortunately, other Midwest states are eating our lunch when it comes to making smart investments in clean energy while pursuing their competitive advantage. For example:

• Minnesota is on track to have 25 percent of total electricity sales generated from renewable resources by 2025 and proposals have been introduced for a standard reaching up to 40 percent by 2030. Wisconsin ranks among the worst of 29 states that have a Renewable Energy Standard.

• A first-of-its-kind Clean Energy Partnership between the city of Minneapolis and a local utility will collaborate on ways to provide reliable and affordable clean energy choices for customers.

• In 2012 alone, the state of Michigan installed more wind energy capacity than Wisconsin will have in total through this year.

• Iowa, which has over 5,000 MW of wind energy installed (27 percent of its energy production), has 30 percent lower electricity rates than Wisconsin, which gets only 2 percent of its energy from wind. High energy costs hurt Wisconsin’s competitiveness.

There are better ways than costly litigation for Wisconsin to move forward on cleaner energy sources, emission reductions and a more productive business climate. For example:

• A 2 percent improvement in energy efficiency each year will over 10 years save $3.4 billion on Wisconsin utility bills; reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2 million metric tons and create more than 4,000 energy related jobs, including local jobs retrofitting and weatherizing homes and businesses that can’t be outsourced.

• A 2 percent reduction in Wisconsin industrial energy use would reduce those same emissions by over 400,000 metric tons per year. Quad/Graphics, Johnson Controls, Miller Coors, Gundersen Health System, and other innovators are among the leaders in energy efficiency. Why not find ways to broaden and enhance these efforts?

• Wisconsin’s manufacturing heritage, including its tool and die, machining and power control capabilities could also enhance Milwaukee’s market strength in water technology businesses by adding new market opportunities and job creation in clean energy manufacturing.

• A state budget proposal to eliminate $4 million per year for a UW-Madison bioenergy research center may sound penny wise, but is really pound foolish. This modest level of state funding has leveraged more than $265 million in federal research funding over 10 years and helped create a $50 million energy research facility that is working to create fuels, chemicals and other bio-based products to transform Wisconsin’s pulp and paper, plastics and dairy industries. By pursuing the cutting-edge technologies of the future Bioeconomy, we can revitalize the states rural and Northwood’s economies and create more high paying jobs.

Wisconsin has a role to play and we can reap substantial economic returns and environmental benefit if we move beyond the same old tired delay tactics and costly litigation and embrace a more collaborative, practical and effective way forward.

For more on a Green & Growing Strategy for Wisconsin, please see Climate Forward: A New Road Map for Wisconsin’s Climate and Energy Future produced by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters.

John Imes is executive director for Wisconsin Environmental Initiative in Madison.

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