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Study: Wis. lags behind neighbors in clean energy

MILWAUKEE (AP) – Wisconsin has lagged behind other Midwestern states when it comes to clean energy and should do more to take advantages of the resources it has: cow manure, food waste and companies developing onsite power systems, according to a new study.

The study from the Wisconsin Energy Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison noted the state’s power rates are now above the national average and the second-highest in the Midwest. It says that’s partly because utility customers are paying to expand coal-fired power plants and install pollution controls on them – even though Wisconsin has no coal reserves of its own. It also has no natural gas fields.

Gary Radloff, the institute’s director of Midwest policy analysis, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the state should instead focus on doing more with the resources Wisconsin has: cow manure, food waste and companies developing on-site power systems.

The state already has many digesters that convert manure and food waste to power, but Radloff said more would be built if the state allowed third-party financing, in which the companies that install the systems pay the upfront costs, rather than the home or business owner.

“We think to level the playing field, that’s a critical thing for Wisconsin,” said Murray Sim, vice president of Clean Energy North America of Milwaukee.

Utilities generally have opposed such a move because it would reduce their overall sales, which they say would result in greater costs for customers who aren’t part of the renewable projects.

“Customers with distributed generation consume less power from the utility, essentially becoming partial requirement customers,” Bill Skewes, head of the Wisconsin Utilities Association, wrote in a letter to lawmakers on the issue. “As the amount of energy they purchase from the utility goes down, so does their contribution to the fixed costs.”

Others criticized the Wisconsin Energy Institute report as a return to the policies of former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. Radloff worked on bioenergy projects for the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection under Doyle. He said he wrote the report after policy-makers asked him to look at which energy policies are working around the nation and world.

He said states like Wisconsin that rely heavily on fossil fuels need to rethink what they are doing “because high-carbon energy solutions are going to continue to become more costly.”

“We are living in a great energy transition,” Radloff said. “Most people probably don’t see the change in their day-to-day lives, but they will eventually. That’s because it is incremental change today.”

Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com

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