State bills that would set renewable energy goals and a new course for climate correction get their momentum from the promise of job creation.
One Wisconsin lawmaker wants proof it is not an empty promise.
“I want to know what kind of jobs there will be and who’s going to pay for them,” said state Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon. “It’s not like we’re creating incentive for companies to come here. We’re creating standards, and we need people to administer and enforce them.”
Ott said he is worried renewable energy legislation — such as a bill in the works based on recommendations from the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming — is unnecessary and might not lead to as much construction work as people might think.
“I’m not saying I don’t think we should have wind or solar in our energy mix,” he said. “But we don’t need the legislation mandating it. The market takes care of itself. We’re building turbines.
“It’s easy to say, ‘This will create jobs,’ but no one ever gives any specifics.”
State Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, said the sour economy makes it difficult to be specific about construction work. He is working on the global warming bill and said he expects to introduce it this fall.
One of the items in the bill, he said, will be a directive to the Wisconsin Department of Commerce to develop higher standards for energy-efficient buildings.
“There’s going to be a tremendous construction benefit,” he said. “Buildings are going to have to be built or retrofitted to new standards, and owners will want energy-efficient buildings. I know the trades have already developed a considerable amount of expertise, and now it will become standard.”
But Ott remains skeptical, he said, because renewable energy projects, such as wind farms, only give contractors temporary bursts of work.
The Legislature cannot be blamed if there are not many opportunities, said Eric Truelove, director of sustainable design services for Madison-based The Renschler Co.
“It’s going to be driven by the market,” he said. “Contractors are waiting for developers to put up jobs, and developers are waiting for lenders or dealing with a lot of empty floor space already. I think green, red, whatever jobs become available, contractors are going to jump.”
Many companies have in-house specialists familiar with green-building techniques, Truelove said, but if there are more jobs, contractors will hire more workers with that knowledge.
And it all starts with state laws setting a course for the market to follow, Truelove said. The industry needs direction, he said.
“The days of saying, ‘Let the industry regulate itself,’ are over,” Truelove said. “It obviously didn’t work in the financial market, and it won’t work in the construction market. You need standards, you need a level playing field for everyone. Otherwise, that 10 percent is going to come in looking for little loopholes and ruin it for everyone.”
Charlie Higley, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin, agreed.
“It’s important for Wisconsin to set goals, policy and direction,” he said. “You’ll have companies saying, ‘We can’t afford these investments,’ and trying to weaken these bills. If you can’t turn and say, ‘These are our goals,’ it just slows everything down.”
Still, Ott said he is not convinced. He said California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 required 151 new state positions at a cost of $35 million, which was paid for by taxpayers. The jobs, he said, amounted to little more than administrative paperwork.
“If that happens here, and you’re lucky enough to get one of those jobs, you benefitted,” he said. “The trouble is everyone else has to pay for this green job.”