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Environmental groups model scenarios for net-zero emission in Wisconsin by 2050

Katie Thoresen

In 2021, an estimated 42% of net electricity generated in Wisconsin was from coal-fired power plants and another 34% was from gas-fired plants, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Through an Executive Order, Governor Tony Evers has set a goal for the state to be 100% carbon-free by 2050.

It’s an ambitious goal given how much the state currently relies on fossil fuels, but environmental groups say it’s not only achievable, but cost effective.

Evolved Energy Research, GridLab, RENEW Wisconsin, and Clean Wisconsin produced a report to find a path to Wisconsin’s goal of being 100% carbon-free by 2050.

“I think a lot of people think renewables are expensive or this transition would be expensive, but actually in the end it’s going to benefit everybody including individual households,” said Clean Wisconsin Staff Attorney Brett Korte.

According to their research and modeling, the “net-zero economy wide” scenario is most cost-effective while also achieving the carbon-free goal.

At its basics, the scenario calls for transitioning away completely from coal and natural gas to renewable resources like wind and solar, using non-fossil fuel gas infrequently, and people switching to electric equipment for things like cars and home heating.

“We didn’t have our solutions. It wasn’t driven by what we wanted to see. We were trying to find cost effective pathways to get to net-zero and it turns out that that net-zero economy wide which provides the best emissions reduction, gets us to zero net emission by mid-century, was also the one that had the most economic benefits for the state,” said Korte.

The plan requires the state and people to fully commit and to do so sooner than later. Delaying switching to electrified technology could end up costing more.

At the same time, as more people run their cars, homes, and businesses on electricity, Wisconsin’s power grid will need to expand to support it. And the state would need to expand transmission to other states to remain cost-effective.

The report projects the cost to achieve these goals would cost about $2 billion more than operating as we do now, but the report also shows those costs would be offset by saving money on fossil fuels and healthcare.

“We’re not talking about just a giant tax bill. These are investments economy wide. Private companies are making them, governments are making them, individuals are making them. All of those pan out on their own. If someone adopts an efficient appliance, they know what the savings they’re going to see are,” said Korte. “It’s not like Wisconsin is going to be stuck with this big price tag at some point. We’re just looking at the overall costs and ultimately under the net-zero economy wide scenario the state’s GDP grows by about 3% over the baseline. So that benefits everyone, all across the economy.”

Other economic benefits highlighted in this report anda companion study by Cambridge Econometrics include more than $2 billion in avoided healthcare costs in 2050, lower out-of-pocket costs for fuel and energy, and an additional 68,000 Wisconsin jobs.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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