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Clean energy bill lacks details

By Paul Snyder

Critics of Wisconsin’s clean energy bill are calling for a sharper focus on specific job creation numbers and a detailed explanation of how much the proposal will cost.

“The cost is something we need to know and taxpayers need to know,” said state Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon. “I don’t think anybody’s against green jobs, but I’m not quite sure how many there are going to be.”

Fitzgerald joined state Reps. Michael Huebsch, R-West Salem; Phil Montgomery, R-Green Bay; and Scott Gunderson, R-Waterford, in sending letters this week to the secretaries of the state departments of Commerce and Natural Resources and to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin requesting cost and job tallies associated with the bill.

The bill, based on recommendations made in 2008 by the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming, is in committee in the state Senate and Assembly. The omnibus bill sets a course for Wisconsin’s future energy consumption, establishing renewable energy goals through 2025 and requesting changes to state building codes and vehicle emission standards.

The bill also encourages development of green energy power plants, and that’s a problem because many utilities don’t need the plants, said Todd Stuart, executive director of the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group.

“There’s already a ton of capacity at utilities around Wisconsin,” he said. “There are some cases here where if it weren’t for these mandates to build more renewable energy, there might not be major power plants built for another 10 years.

“Will there be jobs as a result? Of course there will be jobs. But if we’re going to make significant investments to the state’s infrastructure, we want numbers to inform the decision.”

Stuart said his group reviewed PSC documents, including analyses of the most recently approved power plants, and surveyed private utilities to arrive at a $16 billion estimate for power plant and transmission construction prompted by the bill.

“Is that exact?” he said. “No. But you start looking at some of these different factors, and the numbers get close to that mark.”

It’s too soon and unfair to sum up the costs of the bill, said state Rep. James Soletski, D-Green Bay.

“I doubt it’s going to be $16 billion,” he said. “And the reason I doubt it is because the legislation isn’t done yet. We’re in the hearing process now. We’re listening to what people’s concerns are.

“What’s out there now is not what’s going to be coming up for a vote on the floor, and I know that because there are amendments I want to see made.”

Soletski, one of the bill’s four co-sponsors, said there will be a cost analysis attached by the time the Senate and Assembly vote on the bill.

PSC spokesman Tim Le Monds said the commission just received the lawmakers’ letter and intends to respond.

Spokesmen for Commerce and the DNR were unavailable.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for specific numbers, Soletski said, and there’s nothing wrong with healthy debate. But, he said, criticism is meaningless if bill opponents don’t offer solutions.

“Look, I want to see the numbers too, and we’re working to get them,” he said. “But I also want input, not people standing on the sideline chucking stones at the back of our heads while we’re trying to do something.”

One comment

  1. On the heals of Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Portfolio (RPS) passed into law (Act 141) for Wisconsin’s program for alternative energies including sun, water, wind and bio-mass fuels, is the ambitiously comprehensive joint legislation, aka Clean Energy & Jobs Bill (AB-649/SB-450), a “work in progress.” It brings Wisconsin closer to addressing our economic security in this Peak Oil economy. Alternative clean energy promises to deliver economic security from impending oil depletion coupled with green jobs and a healthy ecology, all in one clean breath of fresh air needed to displace the Great Recession of our time. Clean decarbonizing fuels have the additional benefit of reducing oil use.

    But ducks are lining up two rows in an “artsy-fartsy” way: those that desire to add Advanced Feed-in Tariff (ARTs) into the bill and the opposition that wants to eliminate low-carbon fuel standards (LCFS).

    LCFS is a performance standard that is based on the total amount of carbon emitted per unit of fuel energy. Eliminating LCFS is based on the “free lunch theory.” Those supporting deletion of LCFS from the bill want free open markets to buy and sell cheap fossil-fuel based energy without the obligation or responsibility to pay for the social costs of jeopardizing Wisconsin’s future economy and economic drain associated with imported oil, whether from Canada or the mid-east, with even lesser concern for Wisconsin’s ecology. While this argument plays out, it becomes evident that in the end, only a level play field for LCFS’s will come under a national policy, and that’s failed so far. The Midwest Governor’s and the Great Plains Institute must realize that big business will simply go to other states where corporate welfare finds greener pastures, for at least as long as fields don’t burn off from global warming or until an national LCFS standard is created.

    On the other hand is the promise land of ARTs, based on “dilution is the solution to tax pollution.” The benevolence of the Wisconsin’s PSC is needed to shift the burden of alternative energy cost into the grid, and grind of oil. In North America this simple idea is known by many different names: Electricity Feed Laws, Feed-in Laws, Feed-in Tariffs (FITs), Advanced Renewable Tariffs (ARTs), Renewable Tariffs, and more recently Renewable Energy Payments. Regardless of the name, they are this nation’s most successful policy mechanism for stimulating the rapid development of renewable energy. Who wants ARTs? The stakeholders are alternative bio-fuel utilities, farms, buildings, and individuals who produce homegrown energy such as sun into photovoltaics on buildings and manure into anaerobic digesters on farms, or wind into a few windmills here and there.

    LCFS and ARTs in Wisconsin offer a combination of regulatory and market mechanisms that both make for a more politically acceptable and more durable solution than a strictly regulatory approach. LCFS and ARTs are initiatives to codify lifecycle concepts into law, innovations that must increasingly be part of Wisconsin’s emission-reduction policies. In the end, Wisconsin legislature is called to action to sucessfully wave its magic wand in balance between the spoil of oil and a new green economy.

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