January/February 2017 DIRECTOR’S NOTE

Wind and solar energy are now the cheapest available sources of electricity in many places across the US, without federal subsidies. This was shown in Lazard’s annual report on the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for different electricity-generating technologies. The report shows that wind costs have fallen 66 percent since 2009, from $140/MWh to $47/MWh and solar costs have fallen 85 percent since 2009 from more than $350/MWh to $55/MWh. 

It is now cheaper to build new solar or wind generation than to continue operating existing coal and nuclear plants in many states. Wisconsin has shut down 770 megawatts of coal capacity in the last four years. Additionally, the Kewaunee Station nuclear plant was taken offline in 2013; and, as reported below, We energies will now idle one of its large coal plants for half the year. In Michigan, 25 coal plants will be retired by 2020 while Xcel will close two coal plants in Minnesota by 2023 and 2026. Even China is cancelling coal projects midstream amounting to 120 gigawatts of shuttered new coal capacity. In contrast, Wisconsin utilities are investing in renewables with Dairyland Power building a 98 MW wind farm in Platteville plus 14 new solar projects totaling 19 MW, for example.

Free markets now favor solar and wind, and jobs in these industries pay well. The US Department of Energy 2017 US Energy and Employment Report  findings are that solar power employed 43 percent of the Electric Power Generation sector’s workforce in 2016, while fossil fuels combined accounted for just 22 percent.The national median wage for solar workers is $26/ hour according to The Solar Foundation. The Mole Lake Band of Chippewa are seizing this opportunity by including a training program for solar installation with the development of solar PV projects on theirTribal government buildings as reported below. Solar will continue to expand this year in Wisconsin with the help of Focus on Energy, which is taking applications for $8.6 million in renewable energy incentives now (see funding below). 

Sherrie Gruder