Nov 9, 201712:08 PMInside Wisconsin
with Tom Still
Government rollbacks aside, renewable energy here to stay
(page 1 of 2)
Whether it’s the Trump administration order to scrap the federal Clean Power Plan or legislation to jettison renewable energy goals for Wisconsin state agencies, it seems like a grim time for advocates of wind, solar, and other clean energy technologies.
Less grim is this reality: The energy marketplace has already embraced renewables as part of a balanced portfolio.
Despite President Trump’s oft-repeated affinity for coal and a recent spike in U.S. production, energy experts don’t expect a long-term surge in coal production for power plants. There are two main reasons: More natural gas plants are coming online and renewable sources, mainly wind, are filling the energy gap in many parts of the country.
That transition is not only because the Obama-era Clean Power Plan compelled utilities and industry to burn less coal. The shift is mostly because market prices, consumer demand for clean energy, and changing technologies have made renewables more attractive — and sped the retirement of less efficient coal-burning plants.
In 2015, according to a state report, wind power made up two-thirds of Wisconsin’s renewable energy supply. Solar energy, organic matter used as fuel, and hydroelectric power accounted for the other one-third. Coal-fired, nuclear, and natural gas plants still supply the bulk of Wisconsin’s energy needs, but renewables are grabbing more of the market share.
More than two-thirds of Wisconsin’s wind power is not generated on Wisconsin wind farms. It comes from wind turbines to the west — primarily Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas — over transmission lines that carry electricity from where the wind blows to where power is needed.
Some 345-kilovolt transmission lines are in place, and work continues on completing the system and making the Midwest less reliant on coal and natural gas. One project on the books is the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line, which would span about 125 miles from northeast Iowa to the town of Middleton in Dane County.
Proponents say the Cardinal-Hickory Creek line would improve the overall reliability of the regional and local transmission grid, reduce costs over time, and provide a conduit for renewable energy — primarily wind power. Environmental groups such as Wind on the Wires and RENEW Wisconsin support the project mainly because they see wind power as reducing Wisconsin’s reliance on coal, a heavy contributor to greenhouse gases, while spurring the regional wind industry.
Wind on the Wires estimates the Cardinal-Hickory Creek line will advance 10 wind farms in four states, help avoid 1.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, power more than 400,000 homes, and save 757 million gallons of water each year.