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Wisconsin Republicans divided on energy policy

Less than a month after Republicans declared it was wrong to reduce the energy costs of some at the expense of everyone, members of the party are considering doing just that.

On May 2, Republican members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee curtailed contributions Democrats wanted to make to programs that give grants to Wisconsin residents and small businesses. The primary recipient of the money is Focus on Energy, a nonprofit consortium of utilities and the state Public Service Commission.

The grants pay for energy-efficient installations that ultimately reduce the utility bills for some homes and businesses. The panel agreed to contribute $100 million a year during the 2011-13 biennial budget, but blocked the Democrats’ plan – previously approved last year when Democrats still held majorities – that would have escalated the amount to $256 million by 2014.

State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, said the benefits for the few people who received grants did not justify raising energy rates for everyone – something the Legislative Fiscal Bureau agreed would happen, though it offered no specific estimate for how much extra the average energy customer would have paid to support the program.

“There are a small number of people who will get that grant,” Vos said. “If you’re lucky enough to be one of them, perhaps, good for you. But am I willing to increase energy costs by hundreds of millions of dollars so a small number of people can be beneficiaries? I’m not.”

Nonetheless, as the Journal Sentinel reported, Republicans are weighing a bill that would raise energy rates on homeowners and businesses so the state could offer discounts to corporations that move to Wisconsin.

Although Republicans have introduced the bill, they have not garnered universal support for it. Rep. Mark Honadel, R-South Milwaukee, expressed to The Journal Sentinel concerns similar to what Vos said about the Democratic proposal for energy grants.

“We don’t want to all of a sudden have grandma in South Milwaukee paying extra to subsidize some business,” Honadel told the newspaper.

If the bill eventually passes, though, it would be an awkward reversal on a position Republicans clearly articulated only a few weeks ago.

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