December 2018 Director’s Note

2018 has been a fast-paced year in transition to a clean energy economy with big milestones in all sectors at less cost. Utilities were able to replace large coal generation plants with renewable generation at lower cost. While primarily due to an 88 percent decrease in the price of solar modules on the world market between 2001 and 2017, it turns out that by the end of 2018, PV module prices are expected to fall by 20 percent to $0.37 per watt in spite of the 30 percent federal tariff, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance note. Now, approximately 500 kilowatts (one half a MW) of solar energy are installed in the US every 25 minutes.

The world surpassed the 1 terawatt (1TW) wind and solar capacity milestone in June 2018. The next TW is expected to be added within 5 years at half the cost. US wind capacity crossed the 1 gigawatt (GW) threshold with larger, more powerful and less costly turbines (79% increased capacity factor, 33% less cost). Yet, last week, a US offshore wind auction broke records with $405 million in bids to lease thousands of acres off the Massachusetts coast projected to host up to 4.1GW of wind generation.

US plug-in electric cars hit the 1 million milestone in October, 2018. In July, Tesla hit the 200,000 EV sales threshold triggering a reduction in the federal income tax credit financial incentive for subsequent Tesla buyers. California passed the first all-electric bus law (see December news below).

By June, corporate renewable energy procurement achieved a record 3.57 GW of clean energy projects as many corporations took the RE100 pledge to purchase 100 percent renewables (EnergyOnWI news, August). Apple achieved 100 percent clean energy in April. Kohler Company pledged zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 and, in 2018, purchased new wind to offset all electricity in its North American operations (EnergyOnWI news Feb/March).

In Wisconsin, in the last decade, commercial and industrial solar installation have increased by a factor of nine (over 1,000 installations) and residential installations by a factor of 12 according to Public Service Commission of Wisconsin data. Organic Valley alone this year is responsible for 31MW of new solar development in rural Wisconsin. IKEA’s record setting 1.64 MW rooftop solar PV array on its new Wisconsin store in May is about to be surpassed by Madison College’s 1.85MW solar system in January 2019 (EnergyOnWI news, Nov.). Wisconsin Community Solar Group Buy programs exceeded 1.4 MW with 227 new solar residential and farm PV installations in 2018 (EnergyOnWI news, Oct.).

The most astounding developments are in utility scale renewable energy that will power Wisconsin homes, businesses and governments. Some of the projects reported on add 750MW of renewable generation alone. WPPI doubled its wind power in July with a 132MW wind center in IL. MGE and Alliant Energy are building 66MW and 150MW Wind Projects both in Iowa. Alliant’s is designed to expand by another 100MW. New utility scale solar developments include 300MW to be built in Iowa and Manitowoc Counties and purchased by WPS and MGE, and 100MW by WPPI in Manitowoc County (EnergyOnWI news, May/June). Plus, there’s solar in the pipeline from solar developers initiating another 450 MW of projects across Wisconsin in Iowa, Kenosha and Richland Counties.

2018 marked more movement toward 100%. Xcel Energy, one of the biggest utilities in the US and that serves western Wisconsin, is the first investor-owned utility (IOU) to commit to become carbon-free, 100% by 2050. While, MidAmerican in Iowa, is en route to being the first IOU in the nation to supply its customers with 100% renewable energy. The milestone of 100 US cities and towns committing to transition to 100% renewable energy was reached in December with Eau Claire, Madison and Middleton among them. The States of California and Hawaii and this week, the District of Columbia passed legislation mandating aggressive 100 percent goals.

There is more of note in 2018 in this clean energy transition, including how many well-paying jobs are being created – 75,044 in Wisconsin alone and growing (EnergyOnWI news, August), and how local governments are leading the way.  But, most importantly, in 2018, the world was put on notice by climate scientists in the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report, estimating $54 trillion in damage globally should we not reduce global temperature rise significantly in the next 12 years. Wisconsin experienced that first hand in 2018 with record flooding and loss of life, property and infrastructure. As the great progress in the transition to clean energy made in 2018 indicates, there is tremendous will and action using the technologies we have now to make this moonshot. It bodes well for Wisconsin’s economy, jobs, public health, and environment.  Thank you for all you are doing to move us toward success in ensuring a clean energy economy and a future for our children.

Sherrie Gruder