Ten Positive Facts About Renewable Energy in Wisconsin

Ten Positive Facts About Renewable Energy in Wisconsin

by Don Wichert, RENEW Wisconsin

1. Renewable energy is cost effective with conventional fossil and nuclear fuels

The price of renewable energy continues to decline, while the price of conventional energy (with the recent exception of natural gas) continues to increase.  Customer-sited solar electric is now equal to or less than the retail cost of grid electricity in many areas of Wisconsin.  Dairyland Power Cooperative and Vernon Electric Cooperative will begin purchases of power from two large solar arrays under long term contracts. Biogas to electricity is competitive or less than retail electricity for farms and solid biomass fuels out compete propane and oil in rural areas.  Renewable fuels have stable, zero, or low fuel costs, that do not fluctuate like fossil fuels.

2. Fossil and nuclear industries have received more subsidies from government than renewables

All energy production in the U.S. receives significant federal support, dating back to the first oil subsidies in early 20thcentury. In cumulative dollar amounts, the oil, coal, gas and nuclear industries have received approximately $630 billion in U.S. government subsidies, while wind, solar, biofuels and other renewable sectors have received a total of roughly $50 billion in government funding.

(DBL Investors, http://bit.ly/uV14lf)

3. Wisconsin has plenty of solar energy

Wisconsin consistently receives enough solar energy to supply significant amounts of electricity used in Wisconsin households and businesses from their rooftops and properties.  Wisconsin receives 20 percent more solar energy than the world’s leader in solar development, Germany, and similar amounts as New Jersey, a solar energy installation’s leader in the US.  A number of studies imply that solar could supply 100 percent of Wisconsin’s electricity during peak hours by installing panels on existing roofs with solar access (http://www.ecotopia.com/apollo2/photovoltaics/PVMktPotentialCostBreakthruNavigant200409.pdf).

4. Renewable energy provides energy at critical times and locations and is matched well with other resources to maintain reliability

Solar energy output peaks in the summer when demand on the electricity system is highest due to air conditioning use.  Wind power can also match high electrical demands when summer and winter winds bring in heat and cold.   Biomass and hydropower are forms of stored solar energy that can be used to fill in supply gaps from intermittent sources.  Natural gas plants can be quickly started as an adequate and clean back up source of power.  Renewable energy systems can be installed at weak voltage locations in the transmission grid to boast power. Installation of incremental amounts of renewable energy to meet growing local demand can occur in months rather than in the years it takes for fossil fuel plants to be installed.

5. Net metering adds value to the grid and all customers  

Net metering uses the electric transmission grid to absorb extra renewable electricity from distributed producers and provides a similar amount of electricity back when electric demand exceeds renewable supply.  Net metering adds value when produced during peak electrical demand hours, reduces the need for transmission and distribution infrastructure, reduces environmental emissions, enhances energy security, and hedges the variable nature of fossil fuels prices.  Although all customers pay for the electrical grid, studies have shown that the extra value from the renewable production is greater than the cost.

6. Wind power provides local energy, improved environmental & economic impact

Wisconsin has thirteen wind farms varying in size from 1.3 MW to 162 MW with a total of 647 MW.   This represents about half of all wind energy used in Wisconsin, the rest coming from neighbors Iowa and Minnesota.  This power is local, has no emissions, and is now one of, if not the, lowest sources of electricity in Wisconsin and the Midwest (http://www.awea.org/Resources/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=5547).

7. Biogas takes pollution and converts it to rural energy, jobs, and environmental improvements

Wisconsin’s 1.3 million dairy cows produce a great deal of manure: 16 billion gallons per year.  For years this manure was spread on pasture land in the summer and winter.  Unfortunately, some of the nutrients, pathogens, and smell polluted the local water and air sheds.  Wisconsin’s 40-50 farm and food bio digesters take manure and high organic content food wastes and convert these pollutants to local energy, fertilizer, high value bedding, while reducing pathogens and smell by over 95 percent (http://www.epa.gov/agstar/documents/gordondale_report_final.pdf).   In addition, the remaining digestate, which is the liquid left over from the digesters, can be stored and used in irrigation systems to add water and nutrients to crops at optimal times.

8. Biomass energy reduces greenhouse gas and other emissions, and can be grown sustainably 

Biomass is “young” stored solar energy. Through photosynthesis, water is combined with carbon dioxide to form hydro-carbon compounds.  Depending on the biomass, the stored carbon is one to 100 years old.  In a natural system of growth and decay, all of the biomass would eventually go back to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or methane as the biomass oxidizes (rots), if not used.   Converting the biomass for productive energy reduces the total carbon emissions because it replaces old (fossil) carbon that has been stored in fossil fuels for millions of years.  In addition, half of a tree’s mass is in the roots and some of the carbon is taken up by surrounding soils and stored there.

The vast majority of modern biomass combustion units are labeled, highly efficient, and are regulated for air emissions.  This includes residential wood stoves.  Most biomass energy processes only use wastes from non-energy forest or crop applications.  Smaller branches, twigs, and leaves are not taken for energy use and contain most of the nutrients, which are recycled into the soils on the forest floor.   Residual ash from the combustion process, which contains valuable nutrients, can be reapplied to the land.

9. Renewable energy is becoming more mainstream everyday

In 2012 and 2013 solar and wind supplied 51% and 37%, respectively, of all new electric generation capacity in the US (wind power additions fell in 2013 as a result of the expiration of the production tax credit).

Renewable energy now produces more power than nuclear energy in the US.
Solar energy grew at a 40% rate in 2013 from 2012.  Wind energy has over 60,000 Megawatts of installed capacity, a ten-fold increase from 10 years ago.

10. The vast majority of Wisconsin citizens want more renewable energy

Surveys consistently show that Wisconsin citizens prefer renewable energy over fossil fuels.  Over 83% of Wisconsin voters support solar, wind, and hydro as their energy source vs about 50 percent for coal and nuclear (Source: Voter attitudes towards Energy Issues in Wisconsin, 2012).

National energy policy needed to reduce reliance on fossil fuels

From an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

This Earth Day falls a year and a day after one of the worst environmental disasters to hit the United States. The explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig took the lives of 11 rig workers and released 206 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

What have we done with the lessons learned in that year? Not so much.

Still missing: a comprehensive energy policy that would significantly reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and place more reliance on alternative or renewable fuels.

There has been some improvement. Cleanup efforts continue, but most of the mess has been removed or has disappeared through evaporation or microbes. The disaster was extensive, but the damage turned out not to be quite as devastating as some expected (although not all of the victims have received full compensation and some effects will certainly linger).

Beaches are open again. Commercial and recreational fishing is back in action. Deep water drilling is probably safer than it was before the explosion; the federal government’s inspection program is tougher and more independent.

But critics say this all could happen again – that, in fact, another disaster is inevitable. That’s the risk of drilling in ocean waters. The feds recently approved the 10th deepwater drilling permit since the disaster.

Some of that is necessary in the short term. But in the long term, relying on fossil fuels is unsustainable.

Earth Day Economics: A Green and Prosperous Future

From an article in the Shepherd Express by Doug Booth, a retired Marquette University economics professor, a founder of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy, and author of The Coming Good Boom: Creating Prosperity for All and Saving the Environment Through Compact Living:

The astounding success of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, under the tutelage of a true Wisconsin hero, Sen. Gaylord Nelson, marked the coming of age of the environmental movement in this country. Environmental victories in the 1970s included the passage of such landmark legislation as the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts. Earth Day ushered in a new environmental era, and today the quality of our lives is much improved for it.

Unfortunately, our work remains unfinished.

Our single greatest environmental threat today is global warming brought to us by the burning of fossil fuels to power our cars, heat our homes, grow our food and fabricate and operate all our wonderful consumer gadgets. Scientists tell us that greenhouse gases from fossil fuels act like a “tea cozy” around the Earth, bringing forth dangerous environmental harms reported in the news on a daily basis—a shrinking polar ice cap, rising sea levels, more powerful storms, droughts and wildfires.

Reducing Fossil Fuel Consumption
Bringing global warming to a halt can be accomplished with a simple act—freeing ourselves from the environmental tyranny of fossil fuels. Some will say this is easier said than done, but doing so will bring on what I call a “good boom” that will lift all our boats. The “good boom” will be an economic expansion created through compact urban living, clean energy, more grassland and less corn, green cuisine, letting forests grow old and more. It will also help us address global warming. . . .

Wind and Solar Are the Future’s Power Sources
Necessary to moving beyond fossil fuels is a switch to truly clean sources of renewable energy. Notwithstanding Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to bring wind energy to a screeching halt with onerous regulations, both wind and sun are the primary energy sources of the future. For example, California lawmakers recently approved a rule requiring utilities to derive one-third of their power from renewable energy sources within 10 years. As we do more of anything in our economy, its cost inevitably falls. This is happening already for both wind and solar energy. The Great Plains is on track to becoming the Saudi Arabia of wind energy, and throughout the Midwest industrial belt, old factories are quickly being refitted to produce wind generators and solar panels. Despite the naysayers, the wind and solar energy revolution is under way, bringing forth an abundance of new jobs—windsmiths, solar panel installers, weatherization specialists, solar engineers, wind and solar equipment fabricators and, here in Milwaukee, urban farmers.

To be sure, the fossil fuel industry will resist going quietly and will defend to the death its right to pollute the atmosphere without cost. Eventually, the industry will lose this battle and will pay the public piper through some form of a tax on greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy policy murky year after oil spill

From an editorial in the La Crosse Tribune:

A year ago Wednesday, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 men and spewing 172 million gallons of oil in the ocean.

While we remember images of spewing oil and blackened beaches, nature has shown her remarkable resiliency, despite man’s best attempts at despoiling her.

A report by more than three dozen scientists grade the Gulf’s health as a 68 on a 100-point scale, which is slightly below the grade of 71 they gave the Gulf prior to the spill. While beaches are open as tourism returns to normal, there are still long-term environmental concerns such as hundreds of young dolphins dying and dead spots on the sea floor.

Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The Associated Press that the Gulf is “much better than people feared, but the jury is out about what the end result will be. It’s premature that things are good.”

It also will be a while before there are tougher environmental and safety rules regulating the offshore drilling industry. The New York Times published a story Monday that said the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has much work to do before more rigid rules can be put into place.

There’s certainly plenty of pressure from the oil and gas industry to resume deep-water drilling. A moratorium on new deep-water drilling was lifted in October, and the Interior Department has approved 10 permits and 15 others are pending, the Times said. The House of Representatives has three bills pending that would speed up permit approval and open new areas for drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as well as easing environmental rules off the Alaska shores.

Our country has an insatiable need for oil but fails to have a comprehensive federal energy policy to wean our dependence on fossil fuel.