Wisconsin’s efforts to close its budget gap could stymie the state’s goal to create more renewable energy.
“When you are reaching for a goal — and 25 percent is a reach — it doesn’t make sense to take away the one product that can help you get there,” said state Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Green Bay. “It just makes it completely unrealistic.”
Although Gov. Jim Doyle’s proposed state budget included $30 million for the Wisconsin Energy Independence Fund, a pool of money used to provide grants to companies researching and developing renewable energy tools in Wisconsin, the Joint Committee on Finance shifted that money to pay for general needs.
Doyle spokeswoman Carla Vigue said the governor would not fight to get the money back into the budget, calling it a hard cut that had to be made in tough economic times.
The loss is difficult, said Charlie Higley, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin, but he agreed it is the cost of doing business during a recession.
“What can you do?” he asked. “It’s impossible to be critical when you’re trying to fix a $6 billion hole. I sympathize with the governor and Legislature.”
Montgomery is less sympathetic. As a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming, he helped set the state’s goal of having 10 percent of its energy output derived from renewable resources by 2015 and 25 percent by 2025.
Pulling the money that provides matching grants and helps companies develop that technology, he said, could cost businesses because they would be forced to buy renewable energy or energy credits from other sources.
If utilities buy credits toward renewable energy quotas, Montgomery said, it could hamper the motivation for the state to develop its own renewable technology.
Other environmental groups are less sure the cut will leave such a deep wound. Michael Vickerman, executive director of Renew Wisconsin Inc., said money from utilities and the federal Focus on Energy program still can be put toward renewable energy development.
Although there are no financial penalties in place for utilities that fail to reach the state’s 2015 or 2025 goals, it looks bad if utilities come up short, said Peter Taglia, staff scientist for Clean Wisconsin Inc.
“Utilities don’t want to be petitioning for an exemption,” he said. “It’s not good PR (public relations).”
Alliant Energy spokesman Rob Crain said the utility’s commitment to meeting the goal is paramount.
Yet Vickerman said the state will not have a strong idea until 2011 of where all utilities stand on reaching the goal.
But even with other pools of money, such as stimulus cash, to finance renewable energy development, Vickerman said the loss of energy independence money could sting.
“There could be a perception,” he said, “that Wisconsin lacks follow-through on its funding priorities.”