Two Years Early, Wisconsin Hits Goal To Get 10 Percent Of Its Electricity From Renewables

CREDIT: Jeffrey Phelps/AP Images

Fisk Johnson, Chairman and Ceo of SC Johnson, reacts after he powered up two new wind turbines at Waxdale manufacturing in Mt. Pleasant, Wis., on Dec. 18, 2012.

In 2006, Wisconsin passed a law calling for the state to get 10 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2015. On Thursday, the state announced it has already met its goal.

Wisconsin utilities generated 10.17 percent of their power from renewable resources in 2013, according to a new report from the state Public Service Commission. Wind was the main driver of the state’s renewable power use, coming in at 65 percent of renewable power generation, followed by hydropower and biomass. Solar contributed the smallest amount to the renewable target, coming in at less than 1 percent.

“Our utilities are well positioned to meet their 2015 [renewable energy] requirements for the foreseeable future, and the statewide renewable energy percentage may increase to around 11.5% by 2016,” Phil Montgomery, the state Public Service Commission chairman, said during a meeting Thursday, according to the Journal Sentinel.

Wisconsin’s milestone is a significant achievement, considering the state only generated 3.8 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources in 2006. It also bodes well for the state’s position in dealing with recently-unveiled Environmental Protection Agency regulations limiting carbon emissions from power plants, as increased renewable energy use is one way to offset carbon pollution.

Under the rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, Wisconsin is required to reduce the carbon intensity of its power supply by 34 percent by 2030. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal dominated electricity generation in Wisconsin in 2013, providing 62 percent of the state’s net electricity generation.

“Diversifying our energy portfolio will continue to pay dividends as we enter an era of comprehensive carbon regulation. It’s a good thing Wisconsin got an early start on this,” said state Public Service commissioner Eric Callisto.

The law that spurred Wisconsin to ramp up its use of renewable energy for electricity is called the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), a policy that requires the state to use a certain amount of renewable energy. Many states have RPS laws; Hawaii has the highest, with a goal of 40 percent renewables by 2030, and California has the second highest, with a requirement of 33 percent by 2020.

Now that Wisconsin is meeting its own 10 percent RPS goal with ease, clean energy groups are calling on the state legislature to expand it even further.

“Now that we’ve met the 10 percent goal, the logical question before us is ‘What’s next?,’” Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin, said in a statement. “The conversation should shift to the Legislature to address that question in 2015.”

Hueber noted that Wisconsin’s neighboring states were already moving ahead of them, with Iowa now generating 27 percent of its electricity from wind energy, and Minnesota generating 14 percent. He also pointed out that Wisconsin Democrats recently proposed a bill that would increase the state’s renewable energy target to 30 percent by 2030, and urged state leaders to consider moving forward on it.

“Let’s keep Wisconsin moving forward and get to work on extending and expanding Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Standard,” Hueber said.

While Wisconsin and other states are seeing success with their RPS programs, other states are grappling with attempts to have those programs repealed and weakened — part of an effort led by corporate-backed, pro-fossil fuel groups that have fought to kill renewable energy laws around the country.