By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A new conservative group hoping to persuade wary Republicans of the benefits of renewable energy announced the official start of its campaign on Wednesday in Wisconsin.
Organizers of the Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum say the endeavor is part of a national push that began in Michigan four years ago to win over Republicans who have been reluctant to fully embrace the economic benefits of solar, wind and other renewable energies.
The time is right for such a push because renewable energy is now cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels, said Scott Coenen, executive director of the group. Coenen said he will be talking with Republicans at every level to convince them that renewable and clean do not need to be “dirty words on the right.”
For too long, Coenen said, Republicans have allowed Democrats to lay claim to the issue and drive the message. The Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum is designed to change that and bring Republicans into the conversation, he said.
Renewable energy can be about job creation, economic development and sustainable cost-saving energy, said Coenen, who acknowledged it has been a tough sell for some.
“There’s a fair amount of shoulder shrugging and general questions about it,” he said. “Nobody associates renewable energy with Republicans.”
But Coenen, 27, said he thinks the message will resonate with millennials and other younger conservatives like himself.
“We just don’t come in with the preconceived notions and mental baggage the others do,” he said.
The group is organized as a 501c3 non-profit and won’t be registering as a lobbying group. Instead, Coenen said its priority will be to inform decision-makers. Its leadership council includes well-known Republicans and business leaders throughout the state, including former Gov. Tommy Thompson; former state Rep. Mark Honadel; Debbie Crave, the vice president of Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese; and Matt Neumann, president of Sunvest Solar and Neumann Companies Inc.
Ryan Owens, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and leads a new think tank on campus named after Thompson, is a member of the leadership council and appeared at a news conference held at the Capitol on Wednesday to announce the start of the Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum’s endeavors.
Owens said he hopes the new group will help bring public and private officials together to institute beneficial bipartisan policies.
“There’s an excellent opportunity for us to bring this conversation back to a common sense position that Wisconsinites can get behind and that will benefit us all,” Owens said.
Crave, who also attended the news conference, said she hopes the council will draw attention to the need to raise money to help businesses that want to invest in renewable energy but can’t afford t.
“There isn’t support for renewable energy, there’s just talk for renewable energy,” she said.