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Power play

 

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.

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