February 25, 2021

Solar power in WI is on the increase as solar panels have decreased in cost

The Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change Report released in December 2020 includes 55 climate solutions across nine sectors. The recommendations aim to help the state to better adapt to and mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, while also seeking environmental justice and economic opportunities in renewable energy and conservation.  

The report says divesting from fossil fuels could be a smart financial choice to help Wisconsin fight the devastation of climate change, according to Dem Rep. Greta Neubauer of the state’s climate task force. The report recommends that the state divest fossil fuel stocks and other interests, as a tier-two policy option, which means that it was an issue raised by the public that didn’t draw support from all 31 members.

“A growing number of financial analysts and economists argue that fossil fuels will prove to be a bad investment, as climate change continues to accelerate and renewable energy becomes even more cost competitive,” said Rep. Neubauer, a Racine Democrat. “Over the past few years, coal and oil stocks have shown great vulnerability and volatility, a trend that has only accelerated during the pandemic. Divestment is not only a symbolic demonstration of our values and our support for a just, sustainable future — it is a reasoned financial choice when the market is already moving away from fossil fuels.”

The Wisconsin Retirement System accounts for approximately 90 percent , about $129.7 billion, of the $143.9 billion of total assets under management at the State of Wisconsin Investment Board.

Ultimately, divestment would call for fossil fuel stocks to be removed from state-owned investments; the top 200 fossil fuel companies owned by the Wisconsin Retirement System, the UW System Foundations. It also would call for the banning of any future investments in these stocks or other interests. 

With the state becoming more energy independent and oil companies having financial problems divestment from fossil fuels is gaining in popularity. Solar farms have already been established across the state and more are on the horizon.

The shift in the electricity generation mix has been driven by declining costs of utility-scale solar as coal has become more costly to operate. Solar costs have dropped more than 80 percent in the last decade. A growing number of utilities have set goals to go carbon neutral by 2050 and are looking to solar as a major part of their power source.

Where Solar Projects are are, or are being built in Wisconsin as of December 2020.

In 2020. Alliant Energy announced it would phase out coal from its electricity generation by 2040. Last May, Alliant detailed plans to invest $900 million to add 675 megawatts of solar as part of a goal to add 1 gigawatt of solar power by the end of 2023. 

Solar energy accounted for 43 percent of all new electricity generating capacity added in WI in 2020, according to projections from the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The state currently has 20 solar farms under active development that will generate more than 2.2 gigawatts of power, that’s enough capacity to account for about 7 percent of the state’s annual electricity use. 

Michael Vickerman, policy director for RENEW Wisconsin, said the cost decrease in solar spurred the projects and sees more. “There will several waves of solar development. Customer demand, tax incentives, streamlined permitting and landowners backing solar all have helped utilities switch to solar power.”

All solar farms built or proposed in Wisconsin are owned by, or sell their electricity to, Wisconsin electric providers. Among the Wisconsin utilities purchasing solar energy are Dairyland Power Cooperative, Xcel Energy, Alliant Energy, WPPI Energy, River Falls Municipal Utilities, and New Richmond Utilities. Madison Gas & Electric, WPPI Energy and Wisconsin Public Service have publicly stated their intentions to acquire more solar energy from Wisconsin-based large-scale solar projects.