State leaders urged to expand Renewable Portfolio Standard in new report

The Environmental Law & Policy Center is urging state leaders to expand Wisconsin’s Renewable Portfolio Standard in hopes of driving further investment in clean energy. 

“One problem from a policy standpoint is that Wisconsin doesn’t have a modern clean energy goal to meet,” said Howard Learner, executive director for ELPC. “It’s important that Wisconsin catch up and move forward.” 

In a phone conference yesterday with reporters, Learner said other Midwest states have been increasing their requirements for renewable energy while Wisconsin’s has been unchanged for more than 20 years. 

The state created its RFS in 1999 with a goal of reaching 10 percent renewable energy by 2015. That goal was met in 2013, but ELPC says the requirement doesn’t go far enough. The group is calling on the state to increase its RFS to 25 percent renewable electricity by 2025. 

Illinois and Minnesota have set similar goals, while Michigan aims to reach 15 percent renewables by 2021. 

Andy Olsen, Wisconsin senior policy advocate for ELPC, says increasing renewable energy use can grow the economy while also improving the environment. The economics of solar power in particular has improved significantly in recent years, and Olsen said Wisconsin should modernize its laws to reflect the growing renewable energy sector. 

Ed Zinthefer of Plymouth-based Arch Electric has been in electrical construction for 30 years, and his company currently installs 200 solar projects per year. During the first decade he was in business, he installed 1.6 megawatts of solar energy. He said Arch installed the same amount in 2016 alone and he expects that growth “to continue for years.” 

ELPC is also recommending the state change its standards for connecting solar energy and wind power to the grid, arguing the current standards lead to “unnecessary costs and delays for project developers.” The report calls on the state Public Service Commission to begin a rulemaking process to reflect technological advances and “best practices” from other Midwest states. 

“Importantly, the PSCW’s rules should prohibit utilities from denying grid interconnection based on a customer’s choice of financing for their onsite generation,” report authors wrote. 

Learner said Wisconsin is ranked 6th in the Midwest for solar and wind jobs, but the number of these positions is “ticking upwards year after year,” showing “good, steady growth.” 

The report identifies 354 companies participating in Wisconsin’s clean energy supply chain, with 224 businesses in the supply chain for solar energy and 208 companies in wind energy. 

Across the state, 131 manufacturers create clean energy products while 129 contractors and installers fulfill other industry needs. On top of that, 152 businesses provide professional services in the clean energy space including legal work, design, marketing and finance. 

The report notes the American Wind Energy Association has called Wisconsin a national leader in wind power manufacturing, but the state’s wind energy project growth “remains modest compared to many states.” 

The state was ranked 24th among U.S. states in June 2019 for installed wind capacity, with 452 wind turbines. Per the report, wind power in Wisconsin grew at one-third the national rate between 2009 and 2018, and ELPC points to “a policy environment less favorable to renewable energy.” 

In the news conference, the speakers noted Wisconsin doesn’t have any fossil fuel resources of its own, so the state must pay to import these energy sources. ELPC says growing Wisconsin’s own in-state renewable sources such as solar and wind will make the state more resilient and independent. 

See the full report: