The only way the state Legislature can foul up a proposal offering incentives to municipalities that site power plants is to pass it too soon.
The companion bills, authored by state Sen. Ron Brown, R-Eau Claire, and state Rep. Mark Gottlieb, R-Port Washington, would allow the state to pay host municipalities up to $3,200 per megawatt annually. It’s an idea that wipes out the Not In My Back Yard mentality and opens the door to solving an energy crisis that is quickly rising to the top of the state’s to-do list.
The proposal is overdue. Power plants are big, controversial, property-tax-devouring monsters, and it’s a disservice to slam one down in a community’s back yard without quality compensation.
This bill effectively sweetens the deal for municipalities by offering them more money, but it’s not without critics. Mario Mendoza, assistant to Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, points out that the payment formula in the proposal neglects high-tech, clean, low-megawatt plants.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Madison Gas & Electric Co. plan to build a $180 million, 150-megawatt cogeneration plant. That’s a lot of money for not so many megawatts.
But the gas-fired plant is unique. It will provide heating and cooling services to UW-Madison and electricity to MG&E while at the same time recapturing energy that other plants normally lose. It’s innovative, forward-thinking, environmentally friendly and, unfortunately, destined to realize less in state payments than its similarly priced counterparts under the proposal.
There’s not much room for unique under a bill that favors megawatts over plant value. It also adds extra incentive for base-load plants, those that operate at least 60 percent of the time. In Wisconsin, all base-load plants are coal-fired.
So put yourself in the shoes of some common council member facing the prospect of a power plant in the community. At least right now, you can get less in state funds for an innovative plant or more for a coal-fired facility. Which would you choose?
Gottlieb and Brown have presented a solid bill that inadvertently maintains a status quo in power plants that is coming under fire more and more. Gottlieb said he "would be open" to accommodating plants such as that planned in Madison.
We hope that means a few new lines in the bill providing incentive not just for energy in Wisconsin but clean energy.