Utilities look toward wind, sun to reduce costs, provide power
By Gene Kemmeter
Remember years ago when the government sought to combat the buildup of pollution around the state and nation. Many businesses and trade organizations were critical of all the measures being “forced” upon them, calling them costly and unnecessary.
Paper companies were among the hardest hit because the cleanup proved to be especially expensive. But the expense was worth it, because lakes and streams that were unfit from the contamination have rebounded and now provide recreational opportunities for all.
Wisconsin’s two largest public utilities pledged last week to make deeper cuts in greenhouse gases than previously predicted by switching to renewable energy.
Alliant Energy and WEC Energy Group announced new goals to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050. That is double the projected decline of 40 percent by 2030, which would now be reached about 2023.
The utilities said the switch to renewables are driven by tumbling prices for wind and solar power technology at the same time power companies in Wisconsin and the nation are using more natural gas as an alternative to coal.
The chairperson of WEC Energy said recently that utility-scale solar has increased in efficiency and prices have dropped by nearly 70 percent in recent years, calling the situation an option that fits well with the plan to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions during the peak demand period of summer, when the most solar power is generated.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says power plants are the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the country and make up about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas, which is in abundant supply because of new drilling technologies, produces about half the carbon emissions as coal, so utilities are switching to that.
Several other factors contribute to the switch: A push by some states and cities for carbon-free sources of power; technological improvements such as battery systems that will increase the efficiency of solar and wind; pressure from investors with an interest in socially responsible investing; and large customers seeking greener sources of energy.
WEC Energy has no plans now to shut down coal operations in Oak Creek, especially the newer units, because they run efficiently and churn out electricity relatively inexpensively, but a spokesman said it would be fair to say it’s going to be solar, wind, batteries and some natural gas to replace them.
It’s nice to see companies embrace the potential of saving costs and taking steps to protect the environment instead of claiming the changes are bad for the industry. Too many businesses do that already, and then leave it to government to clean up their mess.