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Lawmakers question renewable energy goals

Paul Snyder
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It is a mistake for Wisconsin officials to focus on their goal of generating 25 percent of energy from renewable sources without keeping in mind the other 75 percent, according to state lawmakers.

“If, in 16 years’ time, we’ve got coal or nuclear plants being retired, we need to know what we’re replacing that with,” said state Rep. Jim Soletski, D-Green Bay.

Still, Soletski said, the state’s 25 percent by 2025 goal makes it difficult to break the focus on renewable energy — even for him. Soletski joined state Rep. Ted Zigmunt, D-Francis Creek, in Manitowoc on Monday to announce a bill that would expand the state’s renewable standards to include solar hot-water heaters and solar light pipes, which capture and convert the sun’s energy to power lighting systems in buildings.

Zigmunt said utilities that use and promote the technologies would be eligible for the state’s renewable resource credits, which will count toward efforts to get the state to its 25 percent goal.

The bill is a good tool, said Brian Manthey, We Energies spokesman, but not likely to drastically help utilities concerned with achieving the state’s other goal of generating 10 percent of Wisconsin’s energy from renewable sources by 2015.

“Solar technology has not advanced to utility-scale yet,” Manthey said. “We’ve had some great customer programs, but this isn’t going to make a large dent at this point.”

The state is only six years away from its 10 percent deadline, so the tried-and-true projects will take precedence, he said. As of now, Manthey said, Wisconsin is at about 3 percent.

We Energies’ portfolio of renewable projects includes the 145-megawatt Blue Sky Green Field wind farm near Fond du Lac. The 165-megawatt Glacier Hills wind farm in Columbia County is under review by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

But Manthey said the utility still would need three or four more wind farms of the Glacier Hills size to reach the 2015 goal. Although We Energies likely will add biomass and solar projects to its portfolio, he said, those projects will not generate as much electricity as wind.

The state is taking steps to allow for more wind farm development, but state Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, D-Manitowoc, said the focus on achieving the 10 percent by 2015 goal and the 25 percent by 2025 goal is unnecessarily aggressive.

“It’s built on the house of cards that is this theology of global warming, which I’d still argue is unproven,” he said. “As a result, you get all these man-made standards, and we end up not talking about the most cost-efficient sources of power, but power that’s only economically viable when it’s purchased to meet these standards.”

That kind of skepticism is exactly what will make it difficult to persuade the Wisconsin Legislature to commit money to renewable energy in tough economic times, Soletski said.

“We’re not going to get to 25 percent without a lot of investment and determination, and it’s not going to be cheap,” he said. “It’s going to be even harder to sell when the people who will benefit are 20 years into the future. It’s a discussion we still need to have.”

No one will deter investing in renewable energy completely, Ziegelbauer said, but common sense has to go hand-in-hand with the renewable energy goals.

“There are political and ideological reasons for setting these goals,” he said. “But I find it troubling at a time when we’re so worried about the economy.”

One comment

  1. I agree. I want to take common sense steps toward helping the environment but it needs to be balanced with cost to consumers. This RPS thing seems too aggressive given the economy and the expense.

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