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Cheers, boos follow renewable energy bill (VIDEO)

By Sean Ryan

A manufacturer and union predict more construction work from a state renewable energy bill, while business groups argue the measure would drive jobs out of Wisconsin.

The bill would support energy-conservation projects by increasing the amount the state charges ratepayers. It also would set a 2025 deadline for 25 percent of state electricity to come from renewable sources, such as wind or solar.

Wind turbines spin at the Butler Ridge Wind Farm in south-central Wisconsin recently. (Photo by Joe Yovino)

Wind turbines spin at the Butler Ridge Wind Farm in south-central Wisconsin recently. (Photo by Joe Yovino)

Supporters of the bill, such as solar panel manufacturer Helios USA LLC and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Wisconsin local unions, are rallying for the bill.

The proposed changes, especially the conservation mandate, mean jobs for electricians, construction laborers and pipe fitters, said Dave Boetcher, government affairs coordinator for the local unions.

“That’s where the work is,” he said, “and, honestly, efficiency, dollar for dollar has more jobs tied to it than renewable systems.”

But business associations across the state, led by the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, are targeting the conservation rule. The bill would let the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin levy a fee on energy bills to pay for such conservation projects as building retrofitting.

The state raises about $90 million through the program now, but Scott Manley, WMC environmental policy director, said it could rise to more than $700 million a year if the bill passes.

That increase, plus the rate increases utilities would need to build new projects for a 25 percent renewable energy goal, would drive out companies that use a lot of electricity, Manley said. The association on Friday circulated a petition from 41 Wisconsin business associations, including the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin and Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin Inc., asking legislators to reject the bill, dubbed the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

The bill is a global warming policy, Manley said, and was not created to generate jobs.
“What’s going on here is that the groups that support this bill are trying to give it an extreme makeover,” Manley said.

Legislators this month are considering revisions to the bill with the intention of bringing a revised version back for a vote before the Legislature’s session ends in April, said Sen. Jim Sullivan, D-Wauwatosa.

Renewable-energy goals proposed in Wisconsin and enacted in surrounding states are helping Helios USA build its first solar panel manufacturing plant in Wisconsin, said CEO Steve Ostrenga. He would not say where the plant would be built, but said it would have about 40,000 square feet and create at least 50 jobs within three years of opening.

Ostrenga said state renewable energy laws made it easier for him to get financing for his project because the goals give lenders confidence people will buy Helios’ solar panels.

“They’re showing commitment by applying policy to it that puts firmness in the market,” Ostrenga said. “That is giving us confidence to make a capital expenditure.”

The bill could generate some new jobs for companies that produce energy-efficiency products, but it will drive more jobs out of Wisconsin by hurting other manufacturers, said Todd Stuart, executive director of the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group.

“You raise any costs, it’s going to hurt a manufacturing-dependent state,” he said. “There is really no other way around it.”

Boetcher said predictions the bill will drive up energy rates are overblown. Switching to renewable energy projects will generate savings for state utilities by decreasing the amount of coal and natural gas they buy, he said. The money will instead be spent on projects in the state, he said.

“We will gain a lot, and we’re hoping Helios grows as big as possible and, heck, we’ll build Helios,” Boetcher said. “But the bigger thing is where our communities gain.”


  1. Electrical demand in the US declined 3.6% last year and there is not any electrical shortage. Higher cost renewable capacity brought on line will require lower cost conventional capacity to shut down with the loss of jobs and the manufacturing supporting conventional generation. Many of the jobs created by Solar PV are installer and solar panel manufacturing. Solar PV panels are marketed with a life expectancy of 20-25 years. What happens when the capacity is all installed and the only demand is from economic growth?

    In a Gobal Economy the nation transitions to a Global Standard of Living, real jobs are jobs that create a product that can be exported. Otherwise, wealth is only redistributed. Households cannot survive spending more than income and neither can countries.


    Some opposition to the Clean Energy & Jobs Act (SB 450 & AB 649), under the auspices of a memo to the Senate Select Committee on Clean Energy, dated March 11th, discussed in above article, rests on allegations of increase in the cost of energy under the proposed Clean Energy & Jobs bill could not find more contradiction when compared the recent energy cost study report by Wisconsin PSC released on Feb 19th:

    Cut & paste into your browser to read overview of PSC energy cost analysis —

    The PSC study concludes in all likelihood Wisconsin will be spending more on electricity in the long run if we don’t act to embrace renewable portfolio standards and take more aggressive action on energy efficiency.

    Somehow the cited WPRI/Beacon Hill Institute study used as a basis to argue increased energy costs by some of the opposition could not be more off-key from our own State’s PSC energy analysis, as discussed and compared in the PSC report.

    “Every year, $16 billion leaves Wisconsin to pay for fuel to run our vehicles and heat our buildings,” Commerce Secretary **** Leinenkugel said. “We are not a state with coal, oil or natural gas, but we are a state with enormous manufacturing expertise, rich agricultural and forest land, and tremendous ability to research and innovate. The Clean Energy Jobs Act is designed to harness this potential to improve our economy, save money and confront climate change.”

    Maybe it’s a good to time to find common ground that matches up in the interest of a securing a stable energy economy for Wisconsin, as we enter the post-peak oil era and leave behind cheap fossil fuel, that threatens us even more than a warm bottle beer from global warming could.

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