Bordered on three sides by navigable waterways, Wisconsin lies between Lakes Superior and Michigan to the north and east and the Mississippi and Saint Croix Rivers to the west. The state lacks fossil fuel resources of its own but ships coal and petroleum products from its many ports. The Great Lakes port at Superior transports coal from Wyoming and Montana to the east through the Great Lakes-Saint Lawrence Seaway system. Petroleum products and coal are also shipped from other Wisconsin ports across the Great Lakes-Saint Lawrence Seaway System and along the Upper Mississippi River System. The state’s fertile soil and rich agricultural economy make it a leader in the market value of its agricultural products. Wisconsin’s corn crop feeds the state’s ethanol refineries, and manure from some of the state’s more than 1 million cows is converted to energy in anaerobic digesters. With more than 16 million acres of forestland, Wisconsin has an ample biomass resource, and dams throughout the state supply hydroelectric power. Wind resources have been developed on the ridges in eastern Wisconsin near Lake Michigan and in the state’s Western Uplands region.

Despite winters that are cold and snowy, with temperatures in the northern part of the state falling to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit almost every winter, Wisconsin’s energy consumption per person is only slightly above the national average. Industry is the largest energy-consuming end-use sector in the state. Wisconsin’s industrial base includes the manufacture of machinery, metals, and food products. An important dairy state, Wisconsin produces one-third of the cheese made in the nation. Beer is the state’s most valuable processed beverage product.

Renewable Energy

Quick Facts

  • Wisconsin’s industrial sector, which includes energy-intensive industries like the manufacure of machinery, metals, and food products, was the largest energy consuming sector in 2013, accounting for about one-third (32%) of the state’s energy end-use consumption.
  • Coal has dominated electricity generation in Wisconsin.  In 2015, coal provided 55.9% of the state’s net electricity generation.
  • Point Beach nuclear power plant’s Unit 1 reactor, one of the oldest operating reactors in the United States, started commercial operations in 1970.  In 2005, Point Beach’s operating license was extended 25 years (for a total of 60 years).
  • In 2015, 8.4% of Wisconsin’s net electricity generation came from renewable energy resources, split among biomass, wind, and conventional hydroelectric power.
  • In 2016, Wisconsin ranked seventh in the nation in ethanol operating capacity at 537 million gallons.

Wisconsin leads the nation in the number of animal waste-to-energy systems.

Wisconsin’s renewable electricity generation comes from hydroelectric, biomass, and wind power plants, but those renewable resources, including hydropower, provide less than one-tenth of the state’s total net electricity generation. Almost one-third of Wisconsin’s renewable electricity generation comes from biomass. The state leads the nation in the number of animal waste-to-energy systems, with on-farm digesters that can turn manure into fuel. Wind energy also provides almost one-third of Wisconsin’s renewable generation. The state’s onshore wind energy resource is modest, with the greatest wind energy potential in the east, along Lake Michigan. Additional wind resource potential exists offshore in the Wisconsin portion of that Great Lake. Of the approximately 3,900 dams in Wisconsin, about 150 are used to generate hydroelectric power. Large hydroelectric dams were constructed in the 1950s and earlier, but new hydroelectric facilities are being created by adding generators at existing dams. Wisconsin has a small amount of electricity generation from its solar resource. Although almost all of the solar generation in Wisconsin is from distributed sources with less than 1 megawatt of capacity, the state also has utility-scale generation from solar photovoltaic (PV) facilities. Several new solar PV facilities, some with as much as 2.5 megawatts of capacity, are expected to come online in 2016.

Wisconsin is using its agricultural resources to move toward its renewable goals. Capitalizing on its status as one of the nation’s leading corn-producing states, Wisconsin produces more than 500 million gallons of ethanol per year and is among the top 10 ethanol-producing states. The state’s nine ethanol plants are primarily located in agriculturally rich southern and central Wisconsin. The state also has three facilities that produce biodiesel from corn, soy, and canola oils.

Wisconsin is trying to attain energy sustainability through the development of its renewable resources. Wisconsin established an Energy Office in 2003 and the Office of Energy Independence in 2007 to lead the state’s efforts in clean energy. Wisconsin’s goal is for all new installed electricity generation capacity to come from renewable energy resources to the extent that it is cost-effective and technically feasible. In 1999, Wisconsin was the first state to enact a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) without restructuring its electric utility industry. Legislation enacted in 2006 set an overall statewide goal of 10% of retail sales from renewable resources by the end of 2015 for all electricity providers. Percentage requirements varied by provider, and power generated out of state could be counted toward the goal as long as it was sold to Wisconsin consumers. After 2015, the RPS requires that each electricity provider maintain, at a minimum, their 2015 percentage of retail sales from renewable resources. In June 2016, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission will determine if the RPS goals have been met.


Coal is the primary fuel for electricity generation in Wisconsin, accounting for more than half of the state’s net generation. Natural gas-fired power plants have contributed an increasing share of the state’s net generation since 2004, reaching one-fifth of the total net generation for the first time in 2015. Nuclear reactors and, to a lesser extent, hydroelectric power, biomass, and wind, supply almost all of the state’s remaining net generation. Until recently, two nuclear power plants supplied about one-fifth of Wisconsin’s electricity generation. However, the Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant ceased operations in May 2013. Nuclear power now supplies about 15% of the state’s total net generation. To meet demand, Wisconsin is a net electricity importer.

Wisconsin’s retail sales of electricity are spread almost equally across the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors. Per capita electricity use in Wisconsin is near the national average, despite the cold winters, in part because of the heavy reliance on natural gas for home heating. Only about one in seven Wisconsin households rely on electricity to heat their homes.

Natural Gas

Two-thirds of Wisconsin households use natural gas for home heating.

Wisconsin has no natural gas production. Although eastern Wisconsin is within the boundaries of the Michigan Basin, a bowl-shaped geologic structure centered in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, Wisconsin does not have any of the Basin’s prolific natural gas reserves. Wisconsin’s natural gas needs are met by several interstate pipelines.Much of Wisconsin’s natural gas supply is from production in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, and Kansas, with additional supply from Canada. Wisconsin does not have any natural gas market centers, and natural gas is delivered to the state’s consumers from U.S. market centers in other Midwestern states and from western Canada. Natural gas enters Wisconsin by pipeline primarily from Illinois and Minnesota. Typically, about one-third of the natural gas volume that enters Wisconsin exits the state, most of it continuing on to Michigan.Wisconsin has no underground natural gas storage fields.

Wisconsin’s residential and industrial sectors are the state’s largest natural gas consumers, but use by the electric power sector more than doubled between 2011 and 2015.About two-thirds of Wisconsin households use natural gas as their primary fuel for home heating.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (Apr 2016)

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