Benefits and Costs of Meeting Clean Energy and Carbon Reduction Goals: New Report shows benefits of the energy transition in Wisconsin

Benefits and Costs of Meeting Clean Energy and Carbon Reduction Goals: New Report shows benefits of the energy transition in Wisconsin

In recent years, Wisconsin has set goals to expand clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the state level, in 2019, Governor Evers set a goal for 100% carbon-free electricity in Wisconsin by 2050. Utilities across the state have also set carbon emissions reduction targets and have made plans to retire Wisconsin coal plants. These goals signal that Wisconsin is moving toward an energy transformation.

With growing momentum to meet ambitious clean energy and climate goals, RENEW Wisconsin partnered with Clean Wisconsin, GridLab, and Evolved Energy Research in 2022 to evaluate the economic impacts of Wisconsin meeting electricity and carbon dioxide reduction goals. This study resulted in the report Wisconsin’s Roadmap to Net Zero by 2050 (Evolved Report). The Evolved Report includes modeling energy system changes in two primary scenarios. The first scenario models 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 (100% Clean Electricity), and the second scenario models net-zero carbon dioxide emissions economy-wide by 2050 in Wisconsin (Net Zero Economy-Wide).

The Evolved Report summarizes the benefits and costs associated with these scenarios. However, these summaries do not provide detailed ‘apples-to-apples’ analysis for economic comparisons. For example, the Evolved Report included annual infrastructure investment ‘system’ costs and benefits results over the 2022-2050 time period. Additionally, the Evolved Report provides health benefits using a separate modeling tool that captures benefits in snapshots in time at 2030 and 2050. However, from the perspective of climate change impacts, the Evolved Report does not monetize the benefits of carbon dioxide emissions reductions. To thoroughly compare the cost-effectiveness of these scenarios, RENEW set out to perform a supplementary analysis to bring together and compare the cost and benefits streams between now and 2050 in different modeled scenarios.

To combine the streams of benefits and costs, RENEW conducted a benefit-cost analysis of the cumulative benefits and costs of these scenarios titled Benefit and Cost Impacts of Reaching Clean Energy and Carbon Emissions Reduction Goals in Wisconsin (Benefit Cost Report). Benefit-Cost Analysis (also referred to as cost-benefit analysis) is a process that identifies, monetizes, and compares the effects of alternatives. This form of analysis is often used to compare different policies, programs, or projects. In a real-world example, The Public Service Commission often relies on intensive benefit-cost analysis to weigh a proposed utility project (such as a large solar or transmission facility) against other feasible alternatives. In short, RENEW’s Benefit Cost Report is intended for policymakers, government officials, business leaders, and those skeptical of the clean energy transition or concerned that the negative economic impacts of this transition will outweigh the benefits.

To complete this benefit-cost analysis, RENEW staff worked closely with the lead modeler to receive and understand all the data behind the many facts and figures in the Evolved Report. The RENEW team then analyzed the data by interpolating the time series data and discounting the data over time to accurately compare costs and benefits occuring at the different points over multiple decades. This process ensured value streams were accurately identified, separated, compared on common terms, and not double counted in total results. An additional description of the analytical process can be read in the Approach section of the Benefit Cost Report.

Reaching 100% Clean Electricity Yields High Benefits Compared to Costs, Achieves ¼ of Needed Emissions Reductions

Accomplishing 100% Clean Electricity by 2050 is a cost-effective target, as the benefits far outweigh the costs when all benefits are considered. Meeting 100% Clean Electricity by 2050 would cost an estimated $12 billion between 2023 and 2050 to build new renewable energy infrastructure. But the operation of these renewable energy facilities would avoid fossil infrastructure investments and ongoing fuel costs. The avoided costs of fossil fuels and associated infrastructure, which is an economic benefit of $8.75 billion, is somewhat less than the renewable energy investment alone. However, when considering additional benefits, this is clearly a cost-effective scenario.

The benefits of replacing fossil fuels with clean electricity go beyond the avoided infrastructure and fuel costs. When health benefits and avoided carbon dioxide emissions are also included, the benefits of clean electricity outweigh the costs five to one. For every dollar of investment spent to transition to 100% Clean Electricity, Wisconsin will see $5 in benefits. However, as the Evolved Report details, the 100% Clean Electricity scenario only achieves about ¼ of all carbon emission reductions compared to economy-wide decarbonization.

Economy-Wide Decarbonization in Wisconsin Results in Billions of Dollars of Benefits and Remains Cost-Effective

According to the modeling results, going beyond 100% Clean Electricity to decarbonize the entire economy would cost more money in direct investments but would yield hundreds of billions of net benefits. The estimated economic cost of the Net Zero Economy-Wide scenario is $111 billion from 2023 – 2050. The direct economic benefits from avoided fossil fuel costs will be $111 billion over that same period. The health and climate benefits are much higher in the Net Zero Economy-Wide scenario compared to the 100% Clean Electricity scenario. Including all health and environmental benefits, the benefits outweigh the costs in the Net Zero Economy-Wide scenario by $111 billion. Although net-zero transition requires more investment, the benefits are also higher for Wisconsinites. The more considerable investment associated with the Net Zero Economy-Wide scenario results in a more significant return on that investment for Wisconsin’s economy, as presented in the table below.

Transitioning to a Clean Economy Creates a Healthier Wisconsin

In both scenarios, Wisconsinites would see considerable health benefits by reducing fossil fuel use. These health benefits are measured through an air pollution model that estimates the changes in air pollutants called criteria air pollutants¹.

Reducing our use of fossil fuels will have significant health benefits in Wisconsin, resulting in fewer heart attacks, respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions, acute bronchitis and respiratory symptoms, and asthma emergencies. For our analysis, we monetized the low and high-range emissions reductions estimated by the COBRA model and included the monetized benefits in the final benefits calculation of the Benefit Cost Report. In the 100% Clean Electricity scenario, the modeled health benefits are estimated to be between $18 billion and $40 billion cumulatively through 2050. In the Net Zero Economy-Wide scenario, where fossil fuels are reduced further, the health impacts are estimated to be between $30 billion and $68 billion.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!

A related report by Cambridge Econometrics, titled The Economic Impacts of Decarbonization in Wisconsin (Cambridge Report), provided estimates of the job growth and Gross State Product (GSP) impacts of decarbonization. The table below summarizes these impacts.

Scenario Gross State Product Increase by 2050 Net Job Growth by 2050
Net Zero Economy-Wide 3.0% 68,500 additional jobs
100% Clean Electricity 0.5% 7,320 additional jobs

The results of the Cambridge Report further emphasize the differences in the volume of benefits between the 100% Clean Electricity scenario and the Net Zero Economy-Wide scenario. The Cambridge Report results are clear: full decarbonization will lead to massive job growth and economic development for Wisconsin.

Public-private partnerships and planning will help ensure Wisconsin benefits from the clean energy transition and attracts job creators to our state. An article from Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) describes the potential of the clean energy economy transition and the challenges ahead. The WPR article highlights a recent Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation report on Wisconsin’s potential for EV component production, and highlights the need to develop workforce training to ensure Wisconsin remains competitive and an attractive location for clean economy manufacturers.

Meeting Clean Energy and Carbon Reduction Goals: A Win-Win for Wisconsin

The analysis performed by RENEW Wisconsin shows that meeting either the 100% Clean Electricity goal by 2050 or the Net Zero Economy-Wide target by 2050 will result in more benefits than costs for the state. Meeting either goal by 2050 is cost-effective, as each dollar invested in energy system changes results in more than one dollar in total benefits. While the 100% Clean Electricity goal is more cost-effective from an incremental perspective, reaching the Net Zero Economy-Wide goal results in greater benefits and achieves economy-wide net zero carbon emissions. Decarbonizing the entire economy requires more investment but results in considerable advantages in terms of avoided fossil fuel costs, health benefits, and avoided carbon dioxide emissions.

Fully decarbonizing Wisconsin’s economy is also critical to meet climate change goals. While transitioning the electric grid to 100% clean electricity is important, focusing only on the electricity sector will not be enough to address the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that keeping global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels requires net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050². This goal is aligned with the 2015 Paris Agreement to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels³. The Net Zero Economy-Wide target for Wisconsin is most aligned with this goal and is an important target to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

Reaching either clean energy goals or broader emission reductions result in benefits, including extensive benefits to human health. RENEW Wisconsin is excited to support the development of clean energy in the state, supporting economic development, human health benefits, and the mitigation of climate change.


1. Analysts used a tool, COBRA (Co-Benefits Risk Assessment Health Impacts Screening and Mapping Tool), to model air pollution changes and the impact on human health. The tool was developed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Branching Out into Clean Energy: UW Madison Arboretum Celebrates Solar Installation

Branching Out into Clean Energy: UW Madison Arboretum Celebrates Solar Installation

On Saturday, April 22, The University of Wisconsin Madison Arboretum celebrated Earth Day by holding an event dedicated to celebrating their sustainability efforts, including a solar dedication ceremony. They aim to conserve and restore the Arboretum lands, advance restoration ecology, and foster the land ethic.

SunPeak installed this 25.16 kW solar system on the Arboretum Visitor Center, and consists of 66 PV modules. The system is estimated to produce 32,000kWh of annual energy and will cover around 8% of the Arboretum’s electricity needs. 

The University of Wisconsin Madison Arboretum includes the world’s oldest and most varied collection of restored ecological communities. With this global status, it is expected that the visibility of this solar array will be far-reaching. “Our mission to foster the land ethic involves promoting sustainable relationships between people and the land,” said Karen Oberhauser, Director of the Arboretum. “A key driver of people/land interactions involves energy production, extraction, and consumption. Thus, we are dedicated to decreasing our institutional carbon footprint, serving as an example of sustainable energy production and use.” 

This project received funding from Focus on Energy and a generous donation from Friends of the Arboretum, and the Green Fund, a program of the UW-Madison Office of Sustainability that supports student ideas to improve campus stability. In addition to this financial support, The University of Wisconsin Madison Arboretum also received a panel grant from Solar for Good, a RENEW Wisconsin program in partnership with the Couillard Solar Foundation. Solar for Good granted the Arboretum a total of 68 solar panels. 

This project was brought to fruition largely due to the assistance of UW Madison student organizations, specifically Helios, whose members were active participants in all project stages, including drafting grant proposals, calculating the system’s impact, and engaging with their campus and community audiences. In addition to the UW Madison Arboretum, Helios and the Green Fund were also instrumental in getting a solar system installed on the University’s Gordon Dining & Event Center.

“We appreciate the generosity of donors and funders, the dedication of staff, the collaboration of students, and the assistance of campus and community partners as we strive to create a greener building for work and public learning,” said Susan Day, Communications Coordinator with the Arboretum. 

“As an environmental research center, the Arboretum is dedicated to decreasing its institutional carbon footprint, serving as an example of sustainable energy projection and use, and informing the public about these efforts,” continued Day.

As a leader in the global ecological realm, the Arboretum’s solar installation will be visible to thousands of people over its 30-year lifespan. With this level of visibility, the UW Madison Arboretum will serve as a model to other organizations to take the first step in their renewable energy journey.


Curative Connections Celebrated Completion of 280-kW Solar Project

Curative Connections Celebrated Completion of 280-kW Solar Project

On Thursday, April 20, Curative Connections held a ceremony dedicated to their new 280-kilowatt solar array. Curative Connections aims to help people reach their goals for independence by providing essential services to older adults and those with disabilities.

This solar system was installed by Eland Electric and is projected to offset 42-46% of the organization’s electricity usage. “We had a great experience with this project, from design and engineering all the way to commissioning,” said Jesse Michalski, Project Manager at Eland Electric. “This project was a little unique in that we had limited space and were trying to maximize the energy output of a solar array, and through the use of bi-facial modules, we were able to achieve a design that fits the customer’s goals.”

The economic implications of this array for Curative Connections are wide-reaching. The newly installed solar array is projected to bring the organization $50,000 of annual savings. “As a nonprofit, this is critical as we can now redirect these savings to support for our programs and the thousands of members
we serve each year,” said Jeanne Stangel, President and CEO of Curative Connections.

This solar installation is momentous as the organization celebrates an impressive milestone. “Curative Connections is proud to cut the ribbon on our solar project as it shines light upon another reason to celebrate our 75th anniversary year,” continued Stangel.

The project was funded largely by a $125,000 Office of Energy Innovation grant and financial support from Focus on Energy. Curative Connections also received a $10,000 grant from Solar for Good, a RENEW Wisconsin program run in partnership with the Couillard Solar Foundation.

“This solar project is a testament to the power of partnership between mission-driven nonprofits and clean energy advocates,” said Lauren Cohen, Program Coordinator with RENEW Wisconsin. “Solar for Good’s success is a direct result of organizations like Curative Connections leading the way towards a more sustainable future for Wisconsin and beyond.”

In addition to their grant funding, Curative Connections worked with Legacy Solar Cooperative to partner with a tax sponsor to take advantage of tax credits, which were not yet available to nonprofit organizations at the time of installation.

“We are grateful for the support we received from foundations, federal and state grants, and community partners,” continued Stangel. “This is a collaborative effort of a commitment to environmental responsibility and sustainability.”

With 75 years of serving the public under their belt, the money saved from this solar installation will allow Curative Connections to continue its mission to ensure that everyone receives the care they deserve. This project demonstrates the organization’s commitment to this mission and the environment, which others can look to and hopefully be inspired to embark on a similar path.

A New Chapter: Trempealeau Library Harnesses the Power of the Sun with New Solar Installation

A New Chapter: Trempealeau Library Harnesses the Power of the Sun with New Solar Installation

On Saturday, April 15, the Shirley M. Wright Memorial Library held a solar dedication ceremony for their 32-kilowatt, newly constructed solar array. Scenically located on the Mississippi River and the bluffs of the Driftless Region, the Shirley M. Wright Memorial Library is dedicated to serving the rural communities of Trempealeau by offering free and equitable access to lifelong learning and enrichment.

The project, installed by Ethos Green Power, consists of 60 solar panels and is projected to offset 100% of the library’s electric needs. “This investment will save thousands in tax dollars that can be repurposed for other community needs,” said Alicia Leinberger of Ethos Green Power Cooperative. “In just a few years, the savings will offset the initial investment, providing decades of free electricity harvesting sunshine on the library roof.”

The library received over $83,000 in grants and incentives to install this solar array. Among these, the Shirley M. Wright Memorial Library received an EBSCO Solar Grant, a program that funds library solar installations.

The Shirley M. Wright Memorial Library was also awarded a panel grant from Solar for Good, an initiative provided by RENEW Wisconsin and the Couillard Solar Foundation to expand solar power within the state. The grant provided 30 of the 60 solar modules necessary for the project. “The solar grants and incentives we received will help the library purchase less power generated by fossil fuels, allowing our library to be financially and environmentally sustainable, all while acting as a catalyst to inspire change in the community,” said Jessica Schoonover, Library Director.

The library has laid out several opportunities for the community to interact with and be inspired by this solar array. “The very visible solar panels and the monitoring available on the website make it easy for the public to get curious,” continued Leinberger.

This solar installation will be an example to the Trempealeau community, showing its residents the economic and environmental benefits of adopting sustainable practices. It is just one aspect of a new initiative the library is adopting called SWML Renew, aimed at beginning sustainable, energy-conserving changes to its footprint. “We are working on doing our part to develop, model, educate, and encourage our community to live mindfully of our environment,” continued Schoonover. “We hope to encourage our neighbors to consider energy-efficient ways they can Renew their homes and businesses to make a more resilient future for Trempealeau.”

Submit a comment in support of the Langdon Mills Solar project!

Submit a comment in support of the Langdon Mills Solar project!

Langdon Mills Solar is a 200-megawatt solar project with a 50 MW battery energy storage system proposed for development in the Towns of Courtland and Springvale in Columbia County, Wisconsin. As designed, Langdon Mills Solar would generate homegrown, affordable, emission-free electricity sufficient to power the equivalent of approximately 30,000 homes. If approved, construction on Langdon Mills will begin in 2024 and is anticipated to be operational in 2026. For more information, visit the application here. If you want to learn more about how Langdon Mills Solar has engaged with the community, check out their website here. RENEW Wisconsin submitted testimony in support of Langdon Mills Solar in Docket 9818-CE-100, which you can access here.

Solar projects larger than 100 megawatts must gain approval from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) before they can proceed to construction. Along the way, there are opportunities for public comment at the township, county, and state levels.

Please help us demonstrate Wisconsin’s enthusiastic support for solar power and this project by submitting a comment supporting Langdon Mills Solar. Be sure to specifically reference the project and the benefits that it can bring to Wisconsin. The deadline for submitting comments is May 23, 2023.

Full “STEAM” Ahead: Visit Sheboygan STEAM Completes 19.5- kW Solar Array

Full “STEAM” Ahead: Visit Sheboygan STEAM Completes 19.5- kW Solar Array

On Thursday, March 23, Visit Sheboygan STEAM held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for their 19.5-kilowatt solar array. Visit Sheboygan STEAM is a nonprofit organization that provides innovative science, technology, and urban ecology education.

The project, installed by Arch Solar, consists of 52 solar panels and is projected to offset approximately 28% of the building’s electrical needs and 56% of Visit Sheboygan STEAM’s production. “We had a blast working with Visit Sheboygan STEAM on their solar installation,” said Andrew Holmstrom at Arch Solar. “Installing on such a river-visible location, in downtown Sheboygan, meant a lot of Arch.”

Visit Sheboygan STEAM’s provides environmental and urban ecology education, and those involved with the STEAM program are excited by the solar installation’s educational opportunities. “The mission of our organization includes environmentally focused STEAM education, and this project will help us facilitate a new line of programming featuring photovoltaics and renewable energy,” said Kathy Cannistra, Program Developer at Visit Sheboygan STEAM.

As a popular destination among locals and tourists, Visit Sheboygan STEAM’s solar installation is a role model for similar organizations to follow in their footsteps. “All of Sheboygan County is in the early adoption stages of solar, so influential organizations paving the way are crucial in its development,” continued Holmstrom. “As time goes on, and the STEAM program grows, we’re looking forward to getting involved and providing education to the leaders of tomorrow on clean energy.”

This project was primarily funded by the organization’s existing donor base and business sponsors. In addition, RENEW Wisconsin’s Solar for Good program provided Visit Sheboygan STEAM with a $5,000 grant to assist with the upfront cost of the solar array.

“Environmental stewardship and education are core to our mission,” continued Cannistra. “Therefore, we are thrilled that this solar project has helped reduce the energy-related costs of our STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) programming while simultaneously demonstrating that solar power can be effective in our climate and region.”