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Report: Midwest Move From Coal to Wind and Other Renewables

September 22, 2010

MADISON, Wis. - As climate and energy legislation stalls in Congress, some industry experts aren't waiting for clean energy solutions. A recent report commissioned by the Civil Society Institute compares what it calls a "Business as Usual" model – relying on fossil fuels – to one that eliminates coal production completely by the year 2050, maintains some level of natural gas and nuclear power, and invests heavily in such renewable energy sources as wind.

Critics have argued that investment in wind energy is not cost-effective, but the report's lead author, Geoff Keith of Synapse Energy Economics, says that's an outdated notion.

"What we found is that, when you're looking at a time frame that long, it's really quite feasible, and it's not that expensive in the out years."

The report estimates that by transitioning to renewable energy sources, consumers would be spending, on average, just over $2 more per month in 2020, but by 2050, they would be saving almost $4 per month.

According to Keith, relying on conventional fossil fuels like coal would be much more expensive in the long run than investing in renewable energy, because existing power plants will need to be updated to meet environmental standards.

"They're going to have to install new emission controls for nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury, and this is going to be hundreds of billions of dollars nationwide in new investment in emission controls for these plants."

These pollution controls would do nothing to address carbon emissions, says Keith, which he views as an even costlier environmental challenge.

Keith says the Midwest region, especially central and western states like Wisconsin, are blessed with tremendous wind resources.

"So, in a shift away from coal and toward renewables, the region would see a lot of economic growth via development from new wind plants, and they would also enjoy a huge reduction in air pollution and CO2 emissions."

The Midwest snapshot of "Beyond Business as Usual: Investigating a Future Without Coal Power," can be found at http://bit.ly/aB9g4k.

Sharon Rolenc, Public News Service - WI