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Green Jobs and the New Wisconsin Economy | Opinion

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by John Imes, Wisconsin Examiner

Addressing climate change will drive new economic opportunities and create jobs as traditional industries are reshaped. Green jobs are the kind of family-supporting jobs that once anchored the American middle class, but in industries like energy efficiency, renewable energy, alternative transportation, advanced manufacturing, water use, food and agriculture.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is a game changer, resulting in investments of $369 billion in energy security and climate initiatives over the next ten years. The law provides a historic opportunity for Wisconsin to accelerate the transition to affordable clean energy, electric vehicles and fleets, energy-efficient buildings, advanced manufacturing, agricultural innovation, and environmental justice to significantly reduce emissions, create thousands of jobs, cut costs for consumers, strengthen energy supply chains and improve the health of our communities. 

As Track Leaders for the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters’ Climate Fast Forward event on Monday, Oct. 17, at Monona Terrace, our job is to bring diverse stakeholders together and identify the key actions that will reduce emissions by tens of millions of tons while creating thousands of family-supporting jobs. 

Fortunately, Wisconsin has the goods to be a leader in green jobs and the new economy. 

Our strong work ethic, particularly good infrastructure, research capabilities, outstanding natural resources (including agriculture and forest products), plus a manufacturing heritage and environmental leadership tradition can all be harnessed to accelerate actions to become a national leader. For example:

Clean energy projects, including 8,000 megawatts (MW) of solar, 1,500 MW of wind, and nearly 3,000 MW of advanced battery storage are already in the offering, ready to be fast-tracked.So is low-cost, community solar for all, including small businesses, municipalities, educational institutions, hospitals, churches, and other nonprofit organizations that will benefit from provisions in the IRA law.Smart grid technology upgrades to the transmission network plus undergrounding high voltage, direct current transmission in highway rights-of-way will reduce land use conflicts and environmental impacts of traditional powerlines.Our nationally recognized Focus on Energy program can tap and quickly distribute Wisconsin’s share of $10 billion in rebates, grants, and other incentives to make housing, including affordable multifamily housing healthier and more energy efficient.Expanded green job training and apprenticeship programs will train and connect a new generation of young people for work within the growing clean energy economy.Research and business development of clean energy technologies, electric vehicle manufacturing, energy efficiency, and sustainable practices will stimulate additional capital expenditures and job creation that helps attract and keep young talent in Wisconsin.Fast-Tracking the $79 million WIEV plan will establish an electric vehicle corridor of fast-charging stations to give Wisconsin a competitive, first-mover advantage.Investing Wisconsin’s fair share of the $30 billion in IRA funds in agricultural conservation programs and renewable energy will incentivize sustainable practices, reduce greenhouse gases like methane, capture carbon, and benefit farmers’ and rural cooperatives’ bottom lines. 

 We’ll be exploring these strategies and more during the WI Academy conference. The result we hope will provide a path forward on emission reduction goals and commitments including the cost-effective early closure of legacy coal facilities in Wisconsin. This alone would reduce carbon emissions and other pollutants by many tens of millions of tons while creating new economic opportunities and many thousands of family-supporting jobs. 

We can have a clean economy that works for everyone, invests in innovation, and rewards those that lead on creating a more just and sustainable world. By investing in clean energy, clean transportation, clean manufacturing, and natural carbon solutions while we green our infrastructure and electrify our building stock, we can address climate change and create a more resilient, vibrant, and thriving Wisconsin. 

This story was written by John Imes, Co-founder of the Wisconsin Environment Initiative, where this story first appeared.

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