January/February 2021 Director’s Note

Moving our communities and businesses off of fossil fuels in the relatively short timeframe scientists report is necessary is not solely a climate solution, but a health and justice solution, a market and jobs creation solution, and a resilience and self-reliance solution. Solutions for the 21st century require a collaborative approach that is nonpartisan and consensus building because the solution set is far reaching and crosses many sectors.

The good news is that the clean energy economy is advancing at an extremely rapid pace. Solutions span efficiency and renewable energy, R&D, transportation, the built environment and infrastructure, agriculture and food systems, corporate sustainability, forestry and natural resources, health care, climate and energy equity, and resilience.

From the Biden administration’s net-zero emissions by 2035 climate and jobs policies, and plans to invest billions of dollars in clean energy, battery storage technologies and job training, to bipartisan legislation to advance energy storage and extend the Renewable Energy Investment Tax Credit, interests of the federal government, industry, utilities, customers, state government, and local communities are aligned.

Federal policy, programs, and funding will help support Governor Evers’ zero carbon electricity by 2050 Executive Order and implementation of the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change Report recommendations.  However, policy reforms will be needed.

Leadership, innovation, and investment in a clean energy transformation has come from Wisconsin’s Energy Independent Communities over the last decade, which represent 60 percent of the state’s population. A few of them are poised to reach 50 to 100 percent clean electricity by or before 2025.They worked with green building and energy businesses, UW-Extension, schools, nonprofits, Focus on Energy and their utilities. All should be poised for federal dollars that are expected to support shovel ready clean energy projects. While Wisconsin’s solar workforce, which totals nearly 3,000 jobs, ranks 34th nationally (SEIA), technical colleges, MREA and WI DWD are working to train more  professionals.

Business and industry are catalysts of the clean energy transformation. Big automakers are now open to strict fuel-economy standards; and, General Motors, Ford and others are investing in manufacturing only zero-emissions electric vehicles by 2030/ 2035. Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., and Citigroup Inc. have net-zero commitments to slash the carbon footprint across their lending portfolios, including fossil fuel companies. Walmart and Schneider Electric are collaborating on Project Gigaton reducing one billion metric tons of CO2 across Walmart’s supply chain by 2030.

Energy equity, solar equity and climate justice are important solutions that will require states and local governments to build equitable relationships with community-based organizations and stakeholder groups. A significant step is the PSC requiring Wisconsin utilities to report on diversity in their workers, decision makers, and supply chains and to measure customer energy burden – the percent of household income spent on energy bills.  Community solar may be one approach to provide access to clean solar power for low- and moderate- income (LMI) and BIPOC communities and to reduce energy burden. The Office of Energy Innovation at the PSC will pilot the Wisconsin Inclusive Solar Community Offering (WISCO) project for two community solar gardens in 2021 with innovative financing techniques. 

The need to fast track grid modernization and resiliency was brought home with the devastating power outages people in Texas and other states endured during extreme cold climate in February.  FERC Order 2222 will help usher in the electric grid of the future and promote competition in electric markets. Microgrids will promote decentralization and provide some redundancy. Research from GridLab and the Goldman School of Public Policy’s 2035 Report shows that the US power grid can affordably and reliably run on 90 percent zero-carbon power as early as 2035, and at no added cost to consumers.  Another report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine lays out a path to a net-zero carbon emissions future.

Sherrie Gruder