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.
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.”