Midwest Governors Made Historic Progress on Climate in 2023. Here’s How They Can Build on That Momentum in 2024.

2023 was a historic year for climate progress in the Midwest, with billions unlocked in new clean energy investment, major legislative actions to increase clean energy deployment, and the enactment of two new 100 percent clean energy laws.

This week, key Midwestern clean energy governors begin their State of the State speeches, with Gov. Tony Evers' address this evening. As these governors look back on 2023 and forward to 2024, they should take a much-deserved victory lap for the influx of new clean energy investments coming to their states and lay out additional key policies to build on last year’s progress.

While the Great Lakes states are rightfully known as the hub of industry in America,  our economies have suffered rapid disinvestment at the hands of pollutive industries over the past half-century. But 2023 marked a renaissance of new, booming clean energy industry in the Midwest. States in the industrial heartland passed nation-leading climate legislation and centered landmark labor standards and environmental justice policies in the process. 

If 2023 was the year of historic climate action, 2024 must be the year of momentum. Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. Midwest governors must capitalize on last year’s progress and seize the opportunity to bring new jobs to our region, revitalize our economies, and lead in the fight against climate change. 

Looking Back at 2023—A Banner Year for State Climate Action 

Wisconsin: Addressing Wisconsin tonight, Gov. Tony Evers can point to a notable show of executive climate action last year with the launch of a commission to establish the state's first green bank—the Wisconsin Green Innovation Fund. The Green Bank will help the state leverage public and private financing to invest in projects that provide environmental and clean energy solutions to businesses, reduce pollution, lower energy costs for families, and expand access to clean, affordable energy options. Additionally, a recent order from the Wisconsin Supreme Court to adopt new legislative maps as a result of excessive gerrymandering could help rebalance the state legislature as early as next year. This could be monumental for climate progress in the state, as Republican legislators have removed several climate-focused agency appointees and repeatedly blocked many of the recommendations included in Evers’ Wisconsin Clean Energy Plan, including critical investments in clean energy and commonsense building code updates

Michigan: When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers her State of the State address on Wednesday, she can highlight the state’s new nation-leading clean energy legislation, including a 100 percent clean energy standard, increased statewide energy efficiency targets for gas and electricity, reform to utility regulatory policy, and the modernization of the process to site new wind and solar projects in the state. Additionally, the legislation included some of the strongest labor standards ever seen in a climate package and will establish a state Just Transition Office to support workers through the state’s clean energy transition. Together these policies will make Michigan a national leader in clean, carbon-free, and renewable energy. Analysis from 5 Lakes Energy showed that policies like the ones passed, in addition to other climate action at the state level, could bring billions of more dollars in investment coming out of the Inflation Reduction Act and lower household energy costs by at least $145.

Illinois: When Gov. J.B. Pritzker addresses Illinois in February, he can spotlight new legislation that will protect new Illinois-based clean energy projects from attempts to block development through local ordinances and bans. The governor signed the legislation after 15 of the state’s counties with some of the most land available for wind and solar had passed, or was about to pass, restrictions on new clean energy development following the passage of a landmark clean energy law in 2022. Many of the campaigns launched against efforts to build out renewable power to meet Illinois’ 100 percent clean energy goal were tied to fossil fuel interests and aimed to block the creation of new jobs and investments for the Prairie State. 

Minnesota: In Gov. Tim Walz’s address later this year, he can celebrate signing laws that put the state on track to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2040, establishing a green bank, and investing historic amounts of money into clean transportation and cleaning up pollution. Minnesota’s new transportation funding law will generate a projected $440 million per year that will enable meaningful changes to public transit, reduce wait times for buses and trains, and accelerate the build-out of an electric bus system while also incorporating climate impacts into transportation project selection. Additionally, the governor enacted a new policy aimed at addressing the cumulative impacts of pollution in diverse, low-income communities.

Priorities and Next Steps in 2024

Siting and transmission: New clean electricity standards put Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota on the fast track to a carbon-free grid. Now, Midwest states need to work together to build the clean energy infrastructure needed to reach these goals and reap the benefits. In 2023, both Michigan and Illinois passed promising legislation to reform the antiquated, cumbersome processes to site new wind and solar projects. These policies also pave the way for communities to reap the economic benefits of new investments and project construction. In 2024, states need to further reform their siting processes to build out the mass amounts of clean energy and transmission lines needed to carry the energy our communities want and need. 

Workforce development, re-training, and labor standards: Midwest states are becoming the frontline of the clean energy transition and “re-industrialization.” Just this year, several major project announcements came as a result of the Inflation Reduction Act and state climate policies, including:

  • DeKalb County in Illinois saw a suite of new solar investments from energy utilities thanks to incentives from the state’s climate legislation.  
  • XCel (Minnesota’s biggest utility) announced plans for a major expansion of their wind operations and broke ground on the Sherco solar project, the 5th largest solar installation in the U.S., which replaces the coal-fired power plant next door.  
  • Meridian Wind Park in Midland, Michigan—near the former Dan E. Karn Power Plant coal plant—began operations this year, representing a $300 million investment in clean energy. The 225-megawatt wind park has 77 wind turbines and most of it was built by Michigan workers.

With this increased need for clean energy projects, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to grow our workforce, bring in new investment, and reinvigorate local economies. But workforce training needs to keep up. We need to ensure states have policies and programs in place so these jobs create pathways to careers for people transitioning out of the fossil fuel sector by funding apprenticeships. States should also follow the lead of Michigan and Illinois and attach prevailing wage and project labor requirements to new utility-scale clean energy projects to protect new clean energy workers. 

Cumulative Impact: Investment and Environmental Remediation Where Needed Most: As the clean energy transition accelerates across the country, states should enact permitting reform that incorporate a cumulative impact analysis before siting new facilities, equitably rolling out clean energy funding and incentives, and ensure equitable workforce development and training as more people begin to move away from jobs in fossil energy and gas cars, and into clean energy careers. Like Minnesota’s new law intends, we need to ensure the clean energy transition helps to rectify and not exacerbate the historical burden of pollution and lack of investment in low-income communities in the Midwest.

Tackling transportation pollution: While the electricity sector saw major progress to cut emissions in 2023 nationally, transportation emissions continue to climb. With the unprecedented influx of federal climate and infrastructure investments, states need to invest in projects that offer people cleaner options to safely and affordably get around. And those projects should focus on mitigating vehicle pollution that has disproportionately harmed low-income and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities. Midwest Governors should start by setting strong highway emissions reduction targets under the Biden administration’s recently finalized performance measure that calls on states to set their own declining emissions targets.


As governors take a look back at historic sessions for climate action, we look forward toward another year of key policies, ambitious targets, and community engagement. With unprecedented federal funding available and landmark clean energy policies in place, Midwest governors have never been better positioned to drive economic growth and meet their climate commitments. But they need to keep up the momentum in 2024 to build upon last year’s success and secure the region’s position as a national leader in clean energy jobs and industry.