Climate Corner: Local Leadership is Key to Clean Energy Future

by Chelsea Chandler, Director of Environmental Initiatives, Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters

For the past five years, the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters has led an examination of Wisconsin’s role in global climate change and explored diverse, sustainable energy opportunities for our communities. Working with a broad network of experts and harnessing Wisconsin’s community values and tradition of environmental stewardship, in 2014 the Academy developed a “roadmap” that provides a path toward a more sustainable and resilient future for Wisconsin. This roadmap, Climate Forward, highlights progress in mitigating climate change and showcases people from Wisconsin businesses and local governments who are leading the charge in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other practical strategies to limit our contributions to global warming.

Since we published our Climate Forward roadmap, our state and world have seen many changes to both policy and practice. So, we decided to revisit the roadmap with an update in 2017 that summarizes areas of notable progress, setbacks, and new opportunities that have emerged in the intervening years. A clear theme to emerge in the update is the importance of local leadership by municipalities, businesses and citizens in driving progress toward a more sustainable, more resilient Wisconsin. Another key factor driving change is the increasingly favorable economics of renewable energy installations.

As the cost of solar technologies continues to go down, rooftop and community solar arrays are popping up all over the state. We’ve also seen huge growth in utility-scale installations. For the third consecutive year, our state has added record amounts of solar capacity. From 2016 to 2017, the total amount of solar installed in Wisconsin roughly doubled. In other words, in one year, we installed about the same amount of solar capacity as in all previous years combined. This demonstrates how quickly our energy system is changing.

Indeed, what some had categorized as “niche” or “alternative” energy has truly shifted to become mainstream as several cities in Wisconsin have established renewable programs. Residential solar group purchasing programs, for instance, enable groups to install solar panels on their respective homes, providing customers with information about solar technologies and financing options, as well as favorable pricing afforded by economies of scale. Community solar is another collective model for solar installations that has been lauded for its flexibility, affordability, and community benefits. Families or individuals that are not ideal candidates for on-site solar installations (for instance, households in shaded areas or renters who do not own their homes) can instead participate in a community solar energy system by buying one or more panels of an array and receive credit for the electricity produced.

Renewable programs depend on local leadership, and Door County is one of more than 140 Energy Independent Communities in Wisconsin that has voluntarily agreed to obtain 25 percent of their electricity and transportation fuels from renewable resources by 2025. The county is actively working to achieve this ambitious goal.

In addition, Door County has adopted a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, an innovative financing mechanism that encourages energy efficiency, water conservation, or renewable energy improvements in buildings by allowing cities, towns, villages, and counties to treat loan repayments for these improvements as a special charge that can be passed on to the next property owner. The WI PACE Commission, which was developed to establish uniform standards and best practices across the state, has now expanded to 27 counties (including Door County). The next step will be partnership with one or more local banks to kick off the program. The City of Milwaukee has already facilitated more than $13 million in loans under PACE. By proceeding with PACE, Door County businesses and residents can realize substantial energy savings.

Further demonstrating local leadership, the City of Sturgeon Bay, together with the more than 40 other Wisconsin communities that own WPPI Energy (a jointly-owned, public electric wholesale provider), is at the head of the pack in pursuing clean energy. In partnership with NextEra Energy Resources, WPPI Energy is in the process of putting in place by far the largest solar installation in Wisconsin at the Point Beach nuclear plant site near Two Rivers. This 99 MW project will be in service in 2021. WPPI will further expand its renewable energy portfolio by adding a new large wind energy project.

As a result of these additions, more than 22 percent of Sturgeon Bay’s electricity will come from renewable resources and WPPI Energy will have reduced the greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity supplied to Sturgeon Bay by approximately 40 percent from 2005 levels.

While our 2017 update shows Wisconsin falling behind some of our neighbors in terms of state policies that promote clean energy, our local governments are providing leadership because they are driven by practical community needs. Keeping electricity bills down, meeting citizen demand for renewable energy, and considering energy security and emergency preparedness are all critical factors that are spurring local efforts to conserve energy, build renewable capacity and resilience, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Wisconsin is also registering important progress through the actions of our businesses, large and small, as they seek to lower costs through energy conservation and commitments to clean energy. Many major Wisconsin businesses, including the state’s electric utilities, have voluntarily adopted greenhouse gas reduction goals to meet their responsibility to future generations.

Through bottom-up leadership, smart planning, increasingly favorable economics, and the drive to build thriving and just communities, together we are laying the bricks of this clean energy path. To download a copy of the Academy’s Climate Forward roadmap or to learn more about how to help lead your community down this path, visit

Fifth Annual Climate Change Forum

The fifth annual Door County Climate Change Forum will be held at Stone Harbor Resort in Sturgeon Bay on Saturday, May 19 from 9 am to 2:30 pm.

Chandler leads the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letter’s  Climate & Energy and Waters of Wisconsin Initiatives. Before joining the Academy, she worked as a scientist in the Stockholm Environment Institute’s Climate and Energy group and studied climate change adaptation through water resource management in the Andes with the International Union for Conservation of Nature. She has a master’s in Global Change Science and Policy from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and a bachelor’s in Atmospheric Science from the University of California – Berkeley.

The Climate Corner is a monthly column featuring a variety of writers from around the state and Door County addressing various aspects of the challenges and opportunities climate change presents. The column is sponsored by the Climate Change Coalition of Door County, which is dedicated to “helping to keep our planet a cool place to live.” The Coalition is always open to new members and ideas. Contact the Coalition at [email protected].

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