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Monday, May 5, 2014

John Imes: The way forward to a more resilient Wisconsin


By John Imes
Wisconsin lags behind other states when it comes to making smart choices for our environmental future while also pursuing competitive advantage.

Business and civic leaders, researchers, communicators, and concerned citizens who are creating a brighter future for a thriving Wisconsin will meet in Madison on May 6 to discuss how a thriving Wisconsin depends on clean and abundant water, and on energy sources that meet our needs, but don't make climate change any worse.

This public forum, "Resilient Wisconsin Day," will include panel discussions to explore advances in energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy that can shape a greener future and opportunities for safeguarding our state's freshwater ecosystems. Workshops for participants will examine climate change and improving approaches to food, water, and energy sustainability.

In the closing address, Torbjörn Lahti, co-founder of Sweden's first "eco-municipality," will lead the charge for sustained -- and sustainable -- progress toward a thriving Wisconsin.

The forum is part of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letter's efforts to develop a Road Map for the state's climate and energy future. A broad-based Wisconsin group is exploring options that offer a way forward on cleaner energy sources, better environmental results, and a more productive business climate. The aim is to promote a wider conversation on these topics.

Preliminary options identified in the Road Map include:

Increase overall energy efficiency in Wisconsin by 2 percent a year:

* The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that a 2 percent incremental improvement in energy efficiency each year will over 10 years (extrapolated for Wisconsin): Save $3.4 billion on utility bills; reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2 million metric tons and create more than 4,000 energy related jobs, including local jobs retrofitting buildings for weatherization that can't be outsourced.

* Another study found a 2 percent reduction in Wisconsin industrial energy use would reduce those same emissions by over 400,000 metric tons per year. Quad/Graphics, Johnson Controls, Miller Coors, Gundersen Health System, and other innovators are among the Wisconsin companies profiled in the Road Map as leaders in efficiency and sustainable practice.

* The unprecedented three-fold spike in the cost of propane this winter is a reminder of how vulnerable Wisconsin is to supply-chain disruptions. Imagine the thousands of jobs we could create from weatherizing the nearly 250,000 homes heated by propane in the state.

Commit to a minimum 1 to 1.5 percent overall average annual increase in renewable energy generation in Wisconsin starting in 2015. Wisconsin ranks among the worst of 29 states that have a Renewable Energy Standard. Other Midwest states are moving forward and embracing solar, smart biomass, and strategic wind. For example:

* Minnesota is on track to have 25 percent of total electricity sales generated from renewable resources by 2025 and proposals have been introduced for a standard of reaching up to 40 percent by 2030.

* In 2012 alone, the state of Michigan installed more wind energy capacity than Wisconsin will have in total through the year 2015.

* Iowa, which has over 5,000 MW of wind energy installed (27 percent of its energy production), has 30 percent lower electricity rates than Wisconsin, which gets only 2 percent of its energy from wind.

* Wisconsin's manufacturing heritage -- including its tool and die and machining capabilities, and access to markets -- is tailor-made for clean energy manufacturing and development. Right now, however, most of that business and job creation is going to other states in the region.

Other options in the Road Map include tax credits and incentives for energy efficient commercial and residential buildings and public school districts; the use of a revenue-neutral "feebate" funding mechanism to spur clean energy development; and actions related to transportation, utility leadership, and investments in public and private research and development.

Wisconsin is still well positioned for success in a high-end, cleaner energy economy. With decisive leadership, the right policies, and investments in Wisconsin's future, we can achieve our aspirations for a more resilient Wisconsin; one that attracts more clean energy jobs and investment and furthers our state's long tradition of environmental stewardship.

If you go ...

Resilient Wisconsin Day is presented by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters in partnership with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, and with generous support from the Joyce Foundation, the Brico Fund, and the Sally Mead Hands Foundation, and other sponsors. Registration online until noon on May 5 at http://resilient-wisconsin-day.bpt.me/


-- Imes is executive director for Wisconsin Environmental Initiative and a member of the Climate & Energy Road Map advisors group.

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