Madison Gas & Electric joins utilities working toward a carbon-free 2050

Published on May 15, 2019 by Chris Galford

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As of this week, a new goal drives Madison Gas & Electric (MGE): eliminating carbon emissions from its electricity offerings by 2050.

This new, net-zero carbon plan puts the Wisconsin energy company in line with a growing number of other U.S. utilities setting similar goals. The plan was announced Tuesday by MGE’s Chairman, President and CEO Jeff Keebler at the company’s annual shareholder meeting.

It is essentially an expansion of plans already underway. MGE, which serves 153,000 electric customers in Dane County and 161,000 natural gas customers in seven Wisconsin counties, has already cut CO2 emissions 23 percent since 2005, and had aimed to reduce levels by at least 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050.

Keebler recognized the ambition inherent in the net-zero carbon plan, but said the technologies needed to achieve this are not yet commercially available or cost-effective. Citing the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), he noted the need to reduce emissions if the world wants to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.

“Since introducing our carbon reduction targets, we have always said that if we can go further faster by working with our customers we will,” Keebler said. “We believe it is important to articulate a long-term goal that is both visionary and based on the best climate science available.”

To get there, the CEO established a need and willingness to work with climate scientists – specifically, members of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. Their work will hold up MGE’s work to those bars set by the IPCC, providing analyses for the company to consider.

At the same time, the company has launched a series of new operations that will fuel a shift toward renewable energy. Those include a recently built 66 megawatt (MW) wind farm in Iowa and last year’s purchase of a share in the Forward Energy Center wind farm in Wisconsin.

MGE also has solar projects underway. It is constructing two large-scale solar projects alongside WEC Energy Group, of which MGE will own 100 MWs. The company has rolled out a community solar project in Middleton, Wis., and plans to expand it in the days ahead. MGE is also actively partnering with Wisconsin’s Dane County on a solar installation as part of its Renewable Energy Rider program, which allows MGE to partner with large customers to customize renewable energy solutions.

Additionally, the utility has begun moving increasingly into smart technology for its electricity offerings and electric vehicle (EV) support as well. Specifically, MGE is focused on growing the EV market and has built one of the Midwest’s largest EV charging station networks. The company also offers EV home charging and workplace charging programs.

“These remain our objectives as we continue to build customer and shareholder value on our path to deep decarbonization,” Keebler said. “MGE has a history of engaging our customers and communities. We actively continue work to deepen that engagement to achieve our goals. Our net-zero carbon goal is a reflection of our commitment not only to long-term sustainability, rooted in the latest climate science, but also a reflection of our commitment to our customers and communities.”

The goal puts MGE on a cleaner path forward. The company said its strategies for achieving decarbonization include adding new renewable energy resources and reducing the use of fossil fuels. MGE is a minority owner of two coal plants, and said it has reduced its ownership share in the Columbia Energy Center near Portage, Wis. MGE has stated it desires no additional coal resources at this time.

Moving away from fossil fuels also puts MGE in greater alignment with the majority of its service territory, much of which have created zero-carbon goals for their communities.

The IPCC last year reported that greenhouse gas emissions need to drop by 45 percent within 10 years, followed by a drop to near zero figures across the board by 2050 if the world hopes to limit the most dangerous effects of climate change.