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State seeks diversity in renewable energy

Paul Snyder
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Randy Hopper is putting his muscle behind new wind farm legislation, but the state senator says Wisconsin will never meet its renewable energy goals if it does not embrace other options.

“We have to get pretty aggressive now,” said Hopper, R-Fond du Lac. “But the one thing we can’t do is put our eggs in one basket because that will land us in the exact same boat we’re in right now.”

Still, Hopper is co-sponsoring a bill creating a statewide wind turbine siting law that gives the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin final say over all wind farm developments.

Simultaneously, the PSC is investigating solar power’s potential in Wisconsin. The agency’s Solar Collaborative Work Group — comprised of utility, union, environmental and energy advocacy leaders from around the state — met Monday for the first time.

PSC Chairman Eric Callisto said he wants the solar group’s final report ready for PSC review in nine to 12 months.

“Solar is going to be an important piece of our renewable portfolio, and will become more important over the long term,” he said. “But cost is still the major issue we have to deal with, and there will have to be long discussions and arguments about its economic impacts on Wisconsin.”

H&H Solar Energy Services Inc., Madison, installs solar systems on buildings, as opposed to constructing large solar fields, said company spokesman Chris Collins. The systems generate between 5 and 15 kilowatts of energy at about $9,000 per kilowatt, he said.

While H&H’s business is growing for the relatively small systems, Collins said, it could be several years before solar power can be a viable part of the state’s energy grid.

“When you look at roof units, you don’t really have to worry about zoning issues, noise or environmental concerns,” he said. “But the efficiencies of solar power still aren’t as good as they could be.

“I know there are guys in lab coats all over the world trying to figure it out and find the silver bullet. But prices are still pretty high and that’s going to be an issue in trying to reach utility grid parity.”

Wisconsin’s renewable energy goal calls for 10 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2015. But

Hopper said the state is only at about 2.5 percent. If the wind farm bill stalls, as it did in the last legislative session, the pressure will only intensify to find renewable energy, he said.

If that happens, Callisto said, Wisconsin likely will try to buy energy from out-of-state wind sources. But Wisconsin cannot let its attention on solar diminish, he said.

“We have to find a way to do it in the most cost-effective manner,” Callisto said.

State Rep. Phil Montgomery, a Green Bay Republican who is co-sponsoring the wind bill, said if the state maintains a renewable energy balance, 10 percent by 2015 is still possible.

“We just can’t implement policy that’s hellbent on one technology,” he said. “Because if you do that without questioning effects on reliability, affordability or the environment, you run into trouble, and it affects the whole market.”

Hopper agreed, but said Wisconsin cannot afford to forsake wind as an energy option.

“There’s a good indication it’s going to get (passed) this time,” he said. “But we need more. We’re very focused on one renewable source, and that’s dangerous.”

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