Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Journal. May 26, 2024.

Editorial: Celebrate, accelerate the death of coal in Wisconsin

Wisconsin has a lot of reasons for hope in easing climate change.

First on the list is the approaching death of coal.

Burning coal emits enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Like a blanket, these greenhouse gases trap heat and strengthen storms.

Wisconsin was getting nearly two-thirds of its electricity from coal in 2005. That fell to half of the state’s power by 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And by 2022, it was almost down to a third.

For the first time, Wisconsin burned more natural gas than coal in 2022.That’s significant because natural gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal to produce the same energy.

The last coal plant in south-central Wisconsin is slated to close near Portage by mid-2026. Coal plants are closing or transitioning to cleaner fuel in Manitowoc, Oak Creek, Sheboygan and Weston. Solar and wind farms are going up in Beaver Dam, Cambridge, Darien, Grant County and Kenosha County. The Point Beach nuclear plant in Two Rivers, hydroelectric dams and biomass add to the healthier mix.

All of this makes Gov. Tony Evers’ goal of carbon-free electricity by 2050 achievable. We should celebrate — and accelerate — the progress.

State leaders wisely agreed in March to dramatically boost the number of charging stations for increasingly popular electric vehicles (EVs). Our state leaders are tapping $78 million in federal funds for additional public chargers along major highways.

State leaders also passed legislation making it easier for gas stations and grocery stores to operate charging stations. Kwik Trip announced last week it’s adding chargers to 24 of its convenience stores across the state. Culver’s and Festival Foods might host some, too.

EV drivers will soon be within 25 miles of a charger while traveling on 85% of the state’s highway system, according to the state Department of Transportation.

That will help the increasing army of EV owners in Wisconsin get where they need to go with little delay. It also will encourage more drivers to buy EVs, which provide a quieter, zippier ride with less maintenance and 70% lower emissions than gas-guzzlers.

Utilities such as Madison Gas and Electric Co. even install EV chargers at private homes without any up-front cost. Instead, the utility adds around $20 to your monthly bill until it is paid off. Another perk from power companies is a lower rate for electricity at night. This encourages EV owners to plug in when demand for energy is low.

Wisconsin consumes nearly six times as much energy as it produces, according to the EIA. Burning less coal and buying more EVs will help turn that around.

Sales of EVs grew 47% last year in the U.S., despite high interest rates. They now claim 7% of the market. Sales slowed in the first quarter of this year. But Bloomberg Business News predicts sales will increase from a record 1.2 million last year to 1.9 million this year, accounting for 13% of new vehicle purchases.

EVs have nearly doubled in the past two years in Wisconsin, with 23,314 registered as of May 1, according to the DOT. Hybrids have grown from 105,000 in 2022 to 132,000 today.

President Joe Biden is slapping tariffs on cheap Chinese-built EVs. That could slow falling prices. Biden contends it will guard against unfair competition from Chinese-subsidized brands. We’ll see.

Regardless of the impact, many EVs are affordable for average consumers. The Nissan Leaf and Mini Cooper SE Hardtop start at around $30,000 with ranges of 115 to 210 miles. The Ford Mustang Mach-E, Tesla Model 3 and Volkswagen ID.4 start at around $40,000 with ranges of 200 to 340 miles.

That doesn’t include thousands of dollars in federal tax credits. Nor does it count nearly $1,000 in annual savings on gas.

Good riddance to coal. Cheaper, cleaner, Wisconsin-based energy sources will fuel our future.

Wisconsin State Journal editorial board

The views expressed in the editorials are shaped by the board, independent of news coverage decisions elsewhere in the newspaper.