PRESS EDITORIAL: Enlisting in the battle to defeat carbon

Did your hear about the Saukville power plant We Energies plans to build?

No kidding. It’s true. It won’t be quite as impressive as the $664-million gas-fired monster of an electricity-generating plant that sprawls on 52 acres acres of the Port Washington lakefront, but in some ways it will be more advanced. In fact, you could call it the power plant of the future.

The utility wants to install a solar panel array in the Village of Saukville.

The installation would produce only enough electricity to power about 100 houses (490 kilowatts compared to the 1,150,000 kilowatt output of the Port Washington plant), but it would help enlist the state in the renewable energy revolution.

The Saukville Village Board last week voted to allow the utility to set up the solar panels on village-owned land in the Dekora Woods Business Park for an annual rental fee of $21,356.

The project would be one of the first in Wisconsin under the Solar Now program, which calls for solar panel installations on rooftops of businesses, nonprofit organizations and schools and on other rented sites to augment the power grid serving the state.

This is a small, incremental approach to solar energy (though not a cheap one with a cost of $128 million over 30 years), but it’s an encouraging sign of progress by the state’s largest utility in embracing renewable energy.

That is needed, because We Energies does not have a stellar record in encouraging renewable energy.

Five years ago it outraged customers who generated some of their own electricity with solar panels by proposing to put a surcharge on their electricity bills.

A court put a stop to that, but the utility tried it again this year before backing down in the face of furious opposition from clean energy advocates.

Now the utility says it is committed to generating 80% of its electricity through renewable energy sources, primarily solar power, by 2050.

This makes as much economic sense as environmental sense. The cost of producing solar energy has dropped steadily in the last decade—by more than 80%, according to some estimates. Building renewable energy production facilities is already cheaper than operating existing coal-fired plants.

Nationally, renewable energy is surging as a rapidly growing industry and a major employer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the fastest growing jobs in America are solar and wind power technicians.

The Trump administration’s scuttling of air pollution regulations to save coal jobs may have put off the inevitable for the few remaining coal workers for a few years, but coal is doomed as an energy source, if not by environmental imperative, then by the law of economics.

Solar and wind energy costs have fallen so fast that three-fourths of U.S. power plants that burn coal could be replaced by renewal energy facilities now and still save customers money, according to Energy Innovation, a nonpartisan think tank.

By 2025, almost every existing coal plant in the U.S. will cost more to operate than sources of solar and wind energy.

Coal is on the way out—and good riddance. Its demise is being hastened by a movement among states to set high renewable energy standards, in some cases requirements of 100% carbon-free energy in the next 30 years or sooner.

Gov. Tony Evers aims to have Wisconsin join them.

The governor earlier this month signed an executive order creating the Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy with the goal of  achieving carbon-free energy by 2050.

Evers acted after the Legislature removed his carbon-free initiative from the state budget.

The legislators who cut it from the budget have vowed to hinder the attempt to carry the effort out through the executive branch.

One of their spokesmen, perhaps thinking he was being clever, ridiculed the governor’s renewable energy plan as unrealistic because the sun doesn’t always shine or the wind always blow.

Better informed observers know that storage of sun and wind energy is already possible and will become more practical and affordable as technology advances.

Even those who don’t understand how renewable energy works should be cheering the remarkable progress in sun and wind-powered electricity, for it is a bright spot in the gloomy picture of the coming consequences of climate change.

Global warming is here—last year was the hottest in the recorded history of Earth—but the advance of clean energy technology shows that the humans who caused it have effective means to fight it.    

A patch of ground in Saukville covered with ranks of solar panels may soon be going into battle.   


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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