By Keith Reopelle

What’s number one on your mind headed into the Nov. 4 election? There are many important considerations, and one issue that will have a lasting effect on Wisconsin’s future is how our leadership moves forward in support of clean energy.

At a time when our state and nation remain deeply divided on many issues, clean energy and energy efficiency unite people of all political stripes. It’s definitely something candidates should be talking about. How we chart our energy future in Wisconsin has great potential to benefit our economy and our quality of life.

A recent bipartisan survey of more than 400 Wisconsin voters found that nearly four in five agree that Wisconsin utilities should diversify beyond coal and other dirty fuels to provide more power from solar, wind, biomass and other sustainable sources.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin sends more than $12 billion out of state each year to purchase dirty fossil fuels for our energy needs. Increasing our commitment to clean energy and energy efficiency could help Wisconsin become more energy independent, clean our air and water, and create thousands of jobs.

In Wisconsin, state laws determine how much of our electricity comes from renewable sources like wind and solar power. Additionally, programs like Focus on Energy, the statewide energy efficiency program, help homeowners and businesses save millions of dollars on energy bills.

Our elected leaders have a lot of influence over our energy goals and the sources of energy we choose to meet those goals.

One of the most visible examples of that came in 2012, when heated debate over Wisconsin’s wind siting rules led seven major wind projects to halt over what one project manager termed “regulatory uncertainty.” Even though the siting rules were ultimately unchanged, we lost seven projects that together would have created hundreds of construction jobs and were estimated to have a combined capital investment of more than $1 billion.

Today, there are 35 wind farms under construction throughout the Midwest – but none in Wisconsin.

While Wisconsin’s Renewable Portfolio Standards (or RPS) once made our state a clean energy leader, we’ve fallen drastically behind other states. The current RPS was established in 2005 with bipartisan and business support as a call for Wisconsin utilities to gain at least 10 percent of our electricity from sustainable sources like wind, solar and biomass by 2015.

Even though we hit that target two years early, in 2013, we have failed to keep up with neighboring Minnesota and Illinois as well as more than two dozen other states, and it will continue to hurt us as the clean energy marketplace develops nationally.

Especially in light of the EPA’s recent proposal to reduce carbon pollution among our nation’s utilities, these are issues we need to take much more seriously. It starts with electing leaders ready to make the right choices for Wisconsin’s energy future.

Keith Reopelle is Senior Policy Director for Clean Wisconsin.