Wisconsin utilities generated more than 10% of the state’s power from renewable sources in 2013, hitting the clean energy target two years before the deadline set by the state Legislature.
State energy regulators announced the milestone in approving utilities’ 2013 compliance reports with the state law that passed in 2006 to boost Wisconsin’s renewable power supplies.
The reports show renewables comprised 10.17% of power generation last year, up from 3.8% in 2006.
“Our utilities are well positioned to meet their 2015 RPS requirements for the foreseeable future, and the statewide renewable energy percentage may increase to around 11.5% by 2016,” said Phil Montgomery, commission chairman, during a Public Service Commission meeting Thursday.
Wind power accounted for most of the generation that’s been added since that time, including wind farms the state's utilities have built in Iowa and Minnesota, as well as those built in Wisconsin. Power generated outside the state accounted for more than half of the renewable energy sold by the state's utilities last year.
The utilities are required under state law to generate 10% of the state’s power by 2015, and to maintain that at 10% should the state’s electricity sales grow.
However, because electricity sales growth has flattened and utilities are now forecasting little to no increase in sales, the Public Service Commission projects the utilities should remain in compliance through 2020, given the wind power and other renewable sources they’ve already lined up.
The renewable program “adds continuing value to the state particularly as we enter a carbon-constrained regulated world,” said commissioner Eric Callisto, referring to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas emissions proposal unveiled last week.
That proposal targets emissions from the smokestacks of power plants burning fossil fuels, particularly those burning coal. Wisconsin is expected to reduce the carbon intensity of its power supply by 34% by 2030, according to EPA.
A report published in 2012 concluded that the renewable energy Wisconsin utililties built through 2010 added about 1% on average to utility customers' bills. A new report with updated estimates is expected to be prepared this summer, said Nathan Conrad, spokesman for the PSC.
The Wisconsin renewable energy law also created specific targets for each utility. Milwaukee-based We Energies, the state’s largest utility, generated more than 7% of its electricity from renewable power last year, and is on track to meet its 2015 target of 8.27%.
The utility has built Wisconsin’ s two largest wind farms, bought another wind farm and also built a biomass power plant in north-central Wisconsin, at a Domtar Corp. paper mill in Rothschild.
In a filing with U.S. securities regulators Thursday, We Energies says it’s forecasting the utility will be in compliance with its renewable target through the year 2022.
As a result, the utility isn't forecasting spending any money in its capital spending plan for renewable energy over the next six years. We Energies said Thursday it's estimating it will need to invest $250 million to $450 million in 2021-'23 to add more renewables.
Advocacy groups urged the state to take a fresh look at its renewable target, particularly since the EPA climate proposal offers states the ability to tap renewables to meet its target to trim greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030, compared with 2005.
"Now that we’ve met the 10% goal, the logical question before us is ‘What’s next?’ The conversation should shift to the Legislature to address that question in 2015," said Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin, a renewable energy advocacy group. "Our neighboring states are moving ahead of us. For example, Iowa now generates 27% of its electricity from wind energy, while the total in Minnesota is now 14%."
Wisconsin's 10% standard is lower than the targets in place in those states as well as Illinois, and in the lower half of the 29 states across the country that have renewable energy targets, according to a national clearinghouse that evaluates state-by-state energy policies.
Some of the state's utilities "have gone well beyond" their mandated targets in turning to cleaner generattion sources, said Keith Reopelle, senior policy director at Clean Wisconsin, a conservation group. “Northern States Power, for example, gets 18% of its electricity from renewables. For WPPI, it’s 16%; and Dairyland Power’s portfolio is 14%," he said.
Groups representing manufacturers have raised concerns about the cost of adding more renewable energy at a time when the state's utilities have ample power to supply customers.