Below are some frequently-asked questions generated from our report contributors and Wisconsin Academy staff. As with the other materials in the web portal and report, we plan to update this page as new questions and research emerge.
If you have a question about the Climate Forward Report, the Climate & Energy Initiative, or about climate and energy in Wisconsin, email Meredith!
To start a conversation in Wisconsin about how to best address climate change and explore clean energy solutions.
There are a many reasons why Wisconsin can and should be a leader on the global issue of climate change:
- Climate change is already affecting Wisconsin—it is a global issue with local impacts, and you are either part of the problem or you’re part of the solution. We think Wisconsin should be part of the solution.
- Adaptation and technology have a role, but understanding our choices will give us the freedom to solve problems today and tomorrow. By being proactive and ahead of the regulatory curve, we can choose the strategies that fit Wisconsin’s needs.
- We want to be stewards, leaders, do our part to look out for future generations. Taking action is aligned with our values of responsibility, leadership, equity for posterity/7th generation view. We have a legacy of being environmental leaders – this is what the next generation of that leadership looks like and must rise to!
- Climate change and energy choices will produce winners and losers in terms of the economy, public health and safety, environmental resilience, etc. We would like Wisconsin to be among the winners. Clean energy jobs already going to other states. The risk of being a loser is far greater than any benefit in waiting for federal or other actions to determine our options.
There are many advantages to stepping up to the leading edge of energy innovation, from health and social to environmental and economic benefits, including:
- A Healthier Population: Reducing our reliance on fossil carbon-based energy sources would reduce sources of air pollutants such as fine particulates, mercury, and smog. Reducing our dependence on automobiles could also lead to positive health outcomes from more walking and biking. Less air pollution and more exercise would mean lower health care costs, increased productivity from a healthier work force, and improved quality of life for Wisconsin residents.
- A Way of Life that Aligns with Wisconsin Values: By advancing a cleaner, more sustainable, less wasteful, and more just energy economy, our generation can live up to Wisconsin’s values and traditions of responsible stewardship. Aldo Leopold’s land ethic and Gaylord Nelson’s Earth Day are among Wisconsin’s signature contributions to the world. Coupled with a willingness to take responsibility for the global and intergenerational consequences of our decisions, our positive, can-do, sleeves-rolled-up attitude can fulfill the promise made by Wisconsin’s motto: Forward! In the process, we will protect and expand not only energy supply and savings, but also the quality of life for the generations that follow us.
- A Better Environment in which to Live, Work, and Play: The quality of Wisconsin’s land, air, water, and wildlife has always been a key factor in attracting people to the state and enticing them to stay. For ourselves, as well as for future generations, we want to keep our air, water, and land healthy, and reduce, as much as possible, the negative by- products of a carbon-based energy system—such as coal ash, spilled oil, and air pollutants. Beyond preserving the healthy natural landscapes that we already have, good land management and restoration practices can increase our capacity to naturally store carbon in wetlands, prairies, and forests and also enhance the landscape for both humans and wildlife.
- Growing an Economy that Supports Competitive Technologies and Jobs: Renewable energy technologies are becoming increasingly cost-effective, and more businesses and consumers are demanding access to renewable sources of power. For example, when Facebook selected a Des Moines, Iowa, suburb as the site for a $300 million data center, it cited access to clean and renewable wind power as a factor in its decision to locate there. Developing reliable renewable energy sources will help us become more competitive within the Midwest region and beyond. Of the currently planned Midwest wind energy projects, 99.4 percent will be built outside of Wisconsin. If Wisconsin fails to increase investment in energy advances, eagerly sought jobs and related economic development—from energy retrofits to wind turbine design and American-made solar panels—will continue to go to states that welcome this development. However, more home-grown renewable energy will keep dollars circulating through Wisconsin’s economy that would otherwise be sent out of state to purchase imported coal, oil, gas, or nuclear fuels.
Options in the report would help Wisconsin meet the new EPA goals. Taking these actions will reduce risks and costs with any form of carbon regulation or costs. The full range of options in the report goes far beyond what EPA is requesting from current sources.
We are 20th in the nation on total carbon dioxide emissions (2011 data), emitting 96 million metric tons a year.
Even with similar hurdles and in this lean economy, neighboring states are attracting clean energy jobs and investment while pursuing their competitive advantage. For example:
- In 2012 alone, Michigan installed more wind energy capacity than Wisconsin will have in total at the end of the year 2015.
- 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 requiring up to 40 percent by 2030. In Minnesota, Xcel Energy is on track to have 30 percent of the electricity it produces generated from renewables by 2025.
- Minnesota’s 2013 Clean Energy and Jobs policy provides a solar energy standard of 1.5 percent by 2020.
- Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota all have aggressive energy efficiency goals (set as a percentage of consumption) whereas Wisconsin’s targets are limited by a funding cap, despite evidence that Wisconsin could achieve financial savings by doubling its investment in energy efficiency.
- Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan have adopted stronger residential and/or commercial building energy codes than Wisconsin.
The 80% figure is a widely accepted target among energy and climate scientists in the field internationally. It represents the levels necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the impact (pace and scale) of disruptive climate change. While we will still get hit by negative impacts of climate change, reducing the levels to this goal means those impacts will be more like a punch in stomach vs. being knocked out cold.
No. But there is a significant cost to not taking action. Some actions will increase costs in the short term, but other things, like efficiency and conservation will reduce costs. Acting now is a lot less expensive than waiting. Competitiveness is an issue as well. As other states diversify energy sources and reduce costs related to fossil fuels, Wisconsin risks losing competitive capacity. (Iowa electrical rates are already lower, in part because of their significant shift to wind energy.) Wisconsin is already being hurt by dragging feet and clinging to the 1950s. What is our manufacturing state doing to capture manufacturing opportunities related to clean energy?
If we want to continue with our current electrical generation and delivery system, which is designed burn fossil fuels to create electricity for delivery. One of the challenges moving forward is to develop systems and business models that can take advantage of the growing demand for, and capacity provided by, distributed renewable energy, so that energy can move two ways on the grid—to and from generators and consumers. This is a national challenge and Wisconsin should part of thinking about solutions for a new era in electrical systems.
Public investments are almost always part of the strategy with any major change in infrastructure or systems, such as the development of the interstate highway system, or America’s satellite information systems. Fossil fuels are already “subsidized” through investment tax credits, accelerated depletion, and other mechanisms. The larger question is where we want our public investments to go for our long-term benefit.
In the report we note that the closure of the Kewaunee nuclear plant has recently increased Wisconsin’s use of fossil fuels to supply the electricity that Kewaunee used to generate. A longer-term option would be to offset that gap with renewable sources. It is unlikely that the shuttered plant would be brought back into service by its current owners. Given the complex issues surrounding nuclear energy, the report stresses renewable development as a near-term strategy and avoids experimental technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells.
Additional Resources on Climate Change & Energy in Wisconsin and Beyond
- Climate Wisconsin
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
- NASA - Climate Change
- NOAA - Climate.gov
- United Nations and Climate Change
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - Climate Change
- UW-Madison - Water Sustainability & Climate
- Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI)