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Will Wisconsin Companies Change Operations With U.S. Out Of Paris Accord?

Susan Bence
We Energies' Menomonee Valley plant.

We Energies uses a variety of means to produce power. But for decades, coal-burning plants were the company's backbone. WUWM wondered whether the utility would beef up its use of coal, now that President Trump is walking away from the Paris climate agreement.

We Energies Spokesman Brian Manthey says don't expect to see additional coal burning. "It's important for our customers that we don't have all of eggs in one fuel basket."

Manthey says We Energies has been working to diversify its portfolio.

"What we're looking at is an eventual goal of getting to where maybe we'll have a third of our energy or electricity produced by coal, a third by natural gas and then a third by the carbon-free emissions, such as nuclear and renewables. And the reason we want to do that is you don’t want to have the volatility that may occur in any one of those particular fuels to affect the costs for customers," he says.

Manthey says another reason the company will continue providing a mix is that We Energies already is well into a long-term plan to reduce carbon emissions. It began a couple of decades ago and includes the development of wind farms and the conversion of some coal-burning plants to natural gas.

We Energies launched its efforts before either the Wisconsin or federal government had laws on the books regulating carbon. But Congress had been talking about the possibility. Manthey says the company expects it still will be required to cut emissions in years to come, regardless of Trump's stance on the Paris climate accord.

"We do feel that despite what the most recent action was by the administration, we feel that it is inevitable there will be some kind of carbon regulation that will be out there. If we're in a good position to start with, that will then help mitigate any cost or reliability concerns going forward," he says.

Steve Baas of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce adds this thought about Trump's decision: "On a practical level, I'm not sure it's going to have a whole lot of impact on the way we do business here."

Baas says President Trump made a bigger splash with local businesses when he announced he intended to scale back the Clean Power Plan. That was the Obama administration measure that sought to make big cuts in carbon emissions nationwide. It was one of the measures Obama hoped would help bring the U.S. in compliance with the Paris climate agreement.

"Some of the provisions in the previous administration's plan were, I think, of greater concern from a cost standpoint, an operations standpoint. And so I think from an impact standpoint for our members, seeing the (Trump) administration's actions on the Clean Power Plan were probably more of a relief or a welcome signal for our manufacturing-heavy economy," Baas says.

Baas says companies tend not to react dramatically or make huge changes immediately based on any new president's policies. He says businesses and advocacy groups like the MMAC have a longer-range perspective, knowing that legislation and orders from the White House come and go. Baas says after all, companies plan to remain in business for decades, while each president has just 4-8 years in office.

Ann-Elise is WUWM's news director.
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