Wisconsin Public Radio
Federal Data

State’s Coal Use Increased In 2017!

More than half of power came from coal. But change is underway.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Jan 15th, 2019 12:06 pm
A pile of coal. Photo by Dave Reid.

A pile of coal. Photo by Dave Reid.

New federal data shows Wisconsin used about 7 percent more coal in 2017 than 2016 and that the fossil fuel provided more than half of the state’s energy that year. But change is already underway.

Since the most recent data period, three coal-powered plants in Pleasant PrairieSheboygan and Green Bay have shut down.

Greg Nemet, a professor of public affairs and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison La Follette School of Public Affairs, estimates the first two plants burned about 10 to 15 percent of the state’s coal.

“Ten years ago, or even five years ago, it would have been — I would say — shocking to people that we would close down coal plants that still have many years of lifetime left in them and close them down prematurely because they’re no longer economically competitive,” said Nemet. “The economics no longer favor coal. The environment doesn’t do very well with coal, and if we care about clean air and clean water, we have other alternatives.”

Utility companies in Wisconsin have turned toward natural gas. Although a fossil fuel, natural gas burns cleaner than coal, which Nemet said makes it a potentially valuable energy source while the state transitions more fully to renewable sources, such as wind and solar.

Wisconsin’s coal consumption has decreased by 28 percent since its peak in 2005, and overall emissions have dropped by a fifth, according to the federal data. Nemet said although any increase in coal consumption, such as from 2016 to 2017, is undesirable, the past decade seems more promising.

“In the long term, if we’re talking about shifting to a more sustainable energy system with more renewables — but especially with less air pollution and less CO2 emissions — the trend since 2005 is in the right direction,” said Nemet.

In an email, Alex Ignatowski, a public information officer for the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, wrote that the 2017 increase met the “baseload generation needs of a growing economy,” and that overall, “the trend in Wisconsin is toward renewables, gas generation and energy efficiency. In the last four years, multiple coal plants have closed while new wind and solar projects are being proposed on a more frequent basis.”

Still, Wisconsin lags behind its neighbors in terms of emissions, and Nemet and others say annual decreases must accelerate in order to fully address climate change.

Listen to the WPR report here.

Federal Data: Wisconsin Burned More Coal In 2017 Than 2016 was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

One thought on “Federal Data: State’s Coal Use Increased In 2017!”

  1. Thomas Williams says:

    Let’s hope the Evers Administration resurrects the rules originally worked out before Scotty boy and his ilk took over regarding wind power! With more wind than the “windy city” we should be looking to build windmills on the lake and elsewhere as renewable sources of power!

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us