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We Energies air-monitoring station

The We Energies air-monitoring station at Seven Mile Road, east of Highway 32 and just west of the Union Pacific Railroad near the Oak Creek Power Plant, is shown on Feb. 3, 2016.

MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers wants utilities providers to go further in their emissions-cutting commitments.

We Energies, Alliant and Madison Gas & Electric — which combine to provide nearly all of the utilities across the state — have each already committed to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent over the next 30 years. On Thursday, Evers said he wants all carbon emissions from state utilities to be entirely eliminated by 2050.

According to its website, just over one-fourth of all the electricity We Energies provides comes from “carbon-free sources.”

But getting to 100 percent carbon-free in the next three decades might be too tall of an order. It’s too early to tell, according to a We Energies spokesman.

Our power right now

Currently, more than three-quarters of the state’s power comes from fossil fuels. About 15 percent comes from the Point Beach Nuclear Plant, which is owned and operated by a Florida company, NextEra Energy Resources.

In December, Xcel Energy, which serves about 250,000 customers in western Wisconsin, became the nation’s first major utility to commit to eliminating all carbon emissions by 2050. Exactly how it plans to do that remains uncertain.

“Engineers would tell you it is technically feasible,” Mark Stoering, president of Xcel Energy’s operations in Wisconsin and Michigan, said earlier this year. “There are some practical challenges.”

A We Energies spokesman said the company still needs more info before formulating an opinion on Evers’ plan.

“We are interested in the specifics of the proposal,” Brendan Conway, We Energies’ manager of media relations, said in an email, “but the main thing we’re focused on today is our commitment to a balanced, affordable and reliable approach to achieving a clean energy future that will reduce costs to customers, lower carbon emissions and preserve fuel diversity.

“We have already taken steps that have significantly reduced carbon emissions. We will continue to work with the state, environmental groups and our industry partners to achieve our mutual goals,” Conway said.

We Energies has a three-fold plan for reducing its emissions:

  • Closing down antiquated, less efficient coal-fueled units.
  • Constructing “advanced technology” power plants that use natural gas.
  • Invest in zero-carbon, renewable power generation.

Following their lead

If the Legislature and utility providers go along with Evers’ request, Wisconsin still wouldn’t be the first state to make this commitment.

Hawaii has established a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. Last year, California adopted a bill mandating carbon-free electricity by the same deadline.

Minnesota and Michigan have set targets of 80 percent carbon reduction by 2050.

Sticking to his guns

Evers’ proposal matches one of the major points he campaigned on last year.

In October, the Washington Examiner reported that Evers was one of a contingent of Democrats campaigning for “a total phaseout of fossil fuels.”

Then in January, he spoke at a renewable energy conference, saying: “Climate change is real, and an imminent threat to our state and our economy in Wisconsin. We have to do more to incorporate science into those decisions and to our work ... For too long, we’ve been kicking the can down the road as it relates to science and innovation in this area.”

The first-term governor also went along with 19 other governors in joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group that is aiming to implement parts of the international Paris Agreement on climate change, from which President Donald Trump removed U.S. participation.

Kurt Bauer, the CEO of business lobby Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, criticized the decision last month: “Unfortunately, Gov. Evers’ choice to join the U.S. Climate Alliance is just another decision that will negatively impact our state’s economy.”

“We have already taken steps that have significantly reduced carbon emissions. We will continue to work with the state, environmental groups and our industry partners to achieve our mutual goals.” Brendan Conway, We Energies manager of media relations

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Adam Rogan (SCHS '14, Drake U. '17) has been covering homelessness, arts & culture and just about everything else for the JT since March 2018. He enjoys mid-afternoon naps, loud music played quietly and social media followers @Could_Be_Rogan

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