Wind and solar emerge as cheapest options for powering Wisconsin

Wind turbines on farm

The days when wind and solar energy could be dismissed as “too expensive” are in the past. Welcome to the future. The numbers are clear – harvesting energy from the sun and wind is cheaper than generating energy from coal and gas. Unfortunately, public perception still suffers from the outdated opinion that renewable energy is too costly. This myth is a roadblock on our path to a clean energy future in Wisconsin. Let’s set the record straight.

Most of Wisconsin’s electricity still comes from burning fossil fuels, and we’re paying the price. $14 billion is spent out-of-state each year on fossil fuel imports. Since we produce only a fraction of our energy locally, the average cost of electricity in Wisconsin is higher than the national average. We pay about 13¢ per kWh for electricity in the Badger State. Compare that to the average 7¢ per kWh for solar or per kWh for wind. It’s clear we could be saving money by switching to home-grown clean energy.

Not only is it more expensive to produce, energy from coal and gas have enormous hidden costs. A study in the journal Climate Change indicates unsustainable electricity production may cost the US almost $1 trillion per year. These hidden costs represent health expenses, agricultural losses, property damage, and the collapse of valuable ecosystem services. While these hidden costs won’t appear on your electricity bill, the debt from ignoring them is very real. To visualize the scale of these externalities, imagine paying an additional 4–34¢ per kWh. Even by the most conservative estimates, the real cost of coal and gas is at least twice as expensive as wind and solar.

Energy from the sun and wind is free, but capturing that energy isn’t. The upfront cost of installing solar panels and wind turbines is still a barrier. In the ten years before the pandemic, installation costs for residential solar had fallen by 80%. Now, after a decade-long trend of cost reduction, the price of new solar and wind installations is trending slightly upward. This is largely the result of pandemic-era shipping and supply chain issues. Prices for fossil fuels, however, have risen much faster. For now, federal tax credits and Wisconsin’s own Focus on Energy rebate program are helping keep solar installation costs affordable for residents.

There is good news for Wisconsin residents looking to benefit from the cost savings of wind and solar. The Public Service Commission has agreed to hear testimony on third party solar financing, which would provide options for residents to lease or finance solar panels over time. Supporting third party solar financing will help increase access to affordable clean energy for all Wisconsinites. Large scale wind and solar projects are also gaining traction across the state. The recently approved Koshkonong Solar Energy Center will generate $1.2 million in local tax revenue every year. If approved, the proposed Uplands Wind project in southeastern Wisconsin is projected to provide $2.4 million per year to local communities. From rooftop solar to utility-scale wind farms, these investments in clean energy will protect our environment and save us money. By embracing the many benefits of wind and solar power we are protecting ourselves against rising fossil fuel prices and locking in low costs for decades to come.