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Climate change isn’t a new idea, nor is the use of clean and renewable energy, but in recent years the topic has generated more momentum and has been on the forefront of people’s mind.

Earlier this week, Mayor Tom Barrett, Ald. Scott Spiker (District 13) and other community leaders unveiled the city’s new solar energy project, which is the largest solar energy system in Milwaukee’s history. The project spans nine acres and is located on a landfill close to General Mitchell Airport.

This is land that can’t be used for other purposes, Barrett said during the press conference on Tuesday, March 16. It’s a win-win situation for city residents, for the planet and for WE Energies, he said.

“My administration is committed to growing Milwaukee’s economy while protecting the environment,” Barrett said. “In my mind, these two go hand-in-hand. We can grow the economy and we can protect the environment at the same time.”

Climate change can play a part in extreme weather which can damage property and harm the economy, Barrett said, citing the storm from last January, which damaged the port. It’s urgent that the city reduce its use of fossil fuels, and accelerate new, clean energy projects, he said.

Climate change is a global issue, but change happens on the local level, Barrett said.

In 2009, Milwaukee aimed to have at least 25% of its power fueled by renewable energy by 2020. As part of its mission to reduce its greenhouse gas admissions, elected officials and community partners are working together to establish energy projects. This project was introduced last year and currently produces clean renewable energy.

Barrett noted that most of the electricity and power in Milwaukee is supplied by We Energies.

“We need We Energies to be part of the solution and they have been,” Barrett said. “We Energies funded this system, not taxpayer’s dollars.”

We Energies is also providing the city with an annual lease payment around $90,000, which will be used to fund future clean energy projects including energy efficiency measures and electric vehicles.

Climate change is not at the forefront of people’s mind at the moment, Spiker said.

“I don’t want to be an alarmist, but if you thought the pandemic was bad, the future without real change and real action on environmental sustainability can be troublesome,” he said. “We need to take a win wherever we can get it and today we have a win.

Today we have progress on the battle against climate change.”

Tom Metcalfe, president of We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service, said this project is a small part of the investment the company plans to make over the next five years. We Energies recently announced a $2 billion program that will go toward clean energy projects.

“These investments that we’re making are critical to Wisconsin’s energy future,” Metcalfe said. “It’s all part of our strategy to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, we’ve already reduced our emissions by 50% since 2005 and we’re on track to reduce them a further 70% by 2030 and to be net carbon neutral by 2050.”

The project is part of We Energies’ Solar Now program, in which it partners with municipalities, government agencies and industrial and commercial customers to create clean energy for facilities.

“It’s a really exciting time for Wisconsin,” Metcalfe said.