About the Power Sector Opportunities Fact Sheet Series

This series of fact sheets aims to shed light on these opportunities by illustrating the CO₂ emissions-reduction potential from measures in a variety of states. For example, states could build off of existing initiatives like renewable portfolio standards, energy efficiency standards, and other policies as well as use tools like greater efficiency at coal plants, increased use of combined heat and power, and fuller utilization of unused capacity at natural gas plants. We show how emissions savings from these existing policies and infrastructure stack up against the reductions that could be required under forthcoming standards.


President Obama announced the first-ever National Climate Plan for the United States in June 2013. Under the plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will set carbon pollution standards for power plants. In September 2013, EPA introduced emissions standards for new power plants and is expected to announce standards for existing plants in 2014. Once EPA establishes those standards, states will develop and implement their own plans to achieve the necessary emissions reductions.

In this fact sheet, WRI examines how Wisconsin can use its existing policies and infrastructure to reduce power plant emissions.

Executive Summary

WRI analysis finds that Wisconsin can reduce its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions 43 percent below 2011 levels by 2020 by extending its clean energy policies past 2015 and making better use of existing infrastructure. These reductions would meet or exceed ambitious EPA power plant emissions standards. Although EPA has not yet announced what its power plant emissions standards will look like, WRI based its analysis on two hypothetical standards. Under these scenarios, Wisconsin would be required to reduce its CO2 emissions in the range of 28 to 33 percent below 2011 levels by 2020.

CO2 reduction opportunities using clean energy policies include:

  • Increasing renewable energy. Wisconsin has a renewable energy standard in place requiring 10 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewables by 2015. By meeting this requirement and continuing to add new renewable generation beyond 2015, Wisconsin can reduce CO2 emissions by 6 percent below 2011 levels in 2020.

  • Saving energy. The state’s Focus on Energy program helps electricity customers save energy. By continuing this program at current levels beyond 2015, Wisconsin can reduce CO2 emissions by 9 percent below 2011 levels in 2020.

CO2 reduction opportunities using available infrastructure include:

  • Using more combined heat and power (CHP). Wisconsin has the potential to build more CHP systems—which use waste heat to generate electricity more efficiently than the average power plant—at sites like universities, hospitals, and dairy farms. Increasing the use of CHP by about 60 percent could reduce CO2 emissions by 11 percent below 2011 levels in 2020.

  • Increasing the use of existing natural gas plants. Wisconsin’s most efficient natural gas plants–combined cycle (NGCC) units—generated much less electricity than they were capable of producing in 2011. Running existing NGCC plants at 75 percent can reduce CO2 emissions by 9 percent below 2011 levels in 2020.

  • Increasing existing coal plant efficiency. Existing coal plants could save energy by upgrading their equipment and making other operational improvements. Increasing coal plant efficiency by 2.5 percent could reduce CO2 emissions by 1 percent below 2011 levels by 2020.

Wisconsin has already taken steps to reduce emissions in the short term. Taking additional action to extend its policies beyond 2015 could help the state achieve greater emissions reductions and adhere to ambitious standards, should EPA pursue them. For example, continuing to achieve energy efficiency savings of about 1 percent per year is a cost-effective way to position the state to achieve stringent standards in the long term. Weakening or repealing existing measures would make meeting emissions standards more difficult.