Should Wisconsin do more to promote renewable energy?

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Welcome to "Political Posturing," featuring opposing views on current issues important to Wisconsin's business community. In this column, Wisconsin Business Alliance Executive Director Lori Compas and conservative columnist David Blaska offer their opinions from the left and the right, respectively.

Clean energy would benefit the environment and economy

BY LORI COMPAS

As Wisconsin lags behind the rest of the Midwest in job growth, and as the effects of climate change become more apparent, now is the perfect time for our state to encourage development in industries that offer good jobs and also reduce our reliance on coal. We should do more to encourage growth in the renewable energy sector, and the Clean Energy Choice initiative is a great place to start.

The Clean Energy Choice initiative simply clarifies Wisconsin law to allow business owners and other residents to conveniently obtain renewable energy on their own property at no extra cost to ratepayers and taxpayers. More than 20 states, including our neighboring states of Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa, have enacted the equivalent of Clean Energy Choice, which means they expressly allow third-party ownership of renewable energy systems. In other words, businesses in those states can reap the benefits of renewable energy — including stable energy costs over time — without having to assume the risk and hard work of owning a renewable energy system themselves. In those states, business owners and homeowners can contract with third parties who install, operate, maintain, and own renewable energy systems on their premises.

It’s working well next door. “Michigan is building on its historic auto manufacturing strengths to grow its renewable energy industry, providing new employment for the state’s highly skilled workforce,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Michigan and other states that allow these third-party arrangements now have the most active markets in the country for small renewable energy systems, and Wisconsin should join them.

To learn about how your firm can become a more efficient and innovative energy consumer, attend “Carbon 101: Why your business should care” on the morning of Oct. 3 at CUNA Mutual Group, Madison. This free event features EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman, Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council’s Tom Eggert, and a panel of trailblazing business leaders who will explain how their firms have stood out from the crowd in terms of sustainability. To learn more, visit WisconsinBusinessAlliance.com/Carbon101.

Lori Compas is a small business owner and the executive director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Business Alliance, WisconsinBusinessAlliance.com.

 

Don’t reap the renewable-energy whirlwind

BY DAVID BLASKA

Whoever said “free as the wind” never tried to wring electricity from it. Or studied bats. By next year, Wisconsin electric utilities will be required to increase their renewable energy output by 8% above their 2001-03 average. That’s one Jim Doyle law that Scott Walker didn’t touch.

To reach that goal, Milwaukee-based We Energies built a wind farm just east of Randolph in Dodge County. Glacier Hills Wind Park began spinning in December 2011. Its 90 turbines populate 17,350 acres of farmland to generate 162 megawatts — enough electricity to power 45,000 residential homes. That’s a lot of whirring windmills on prime farmland for a lot of money — $452 million.

By comparison, the RockGen natural gas power plant was built south of Cambridge 13 years ago at a cost of $190 million. It produces 460 megawatts — or three times the juice of the wind farm. The wind towers stand 262 feet high, upon which spin three blades, each 148 feet long, reaching 410 feet high into the sky. Wind farms have roiled the enviro community almost as much as Act 10 crazies up the teachers union. The bird-watchers regard the turbines as Cuisinart blenders of destruction. Although three threatened species of birds were determined to visit the area, We Energies got a pass on birds getting pureed. No one could answer the wind farm’s impact on bats, so We Energies must do a $150,000 study.

Should Wisconsin do more to promote renewable energy? Only if you’re willing to pay for it — either on your utility bill or via subsidies hidden in your income tax. Rooftop solar costs 15 cents per kilowatt hour, wind costs 5 cents (7 to 8 cents without tax breaks), gas and coal cost 3 to 4 cents. In Wisconsin, the wind generally blows a third of the time. Solar is effective one day in five. Fossil fuels burn round the clock. To pay for the wind project and to improve the air quality at its coal-fired power plant in Oak Creek, We Energies raised its customer rates 6.2%.

Wind isn’t the only alternative energy source with problems. Ethanol takes food out of babies’ mouths, hydroelectric dams ruin trout streams, and manure digesters — at least in Dane County — explode. Perhaps some future Steve Jobs will develop a household appliance like Doc Brown’s “Mr. Fusion” in the movie Back to the Future. Just add banana peel, coffee grounds, and an empty beer can.

David Blaska is a Madison columnist and In Business blogger. Find his blog at ibmadison.com/Blogger/Bring-It.

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