State’s political climate endangers forward-thinking energy policies

Prehistoric life forms may have been contributors to our current fossil fuel-based economy, but prehistoric thinking has no place in our modern deliberations about energy policy. That’s why a blog post published last week by RENEW Wisconsin Executive Director Michael Vickerman is so alarming.

In the piece, which appears on RENEW Wisconsin’s blog, Vickerman delineates some of the backward-thinking moves our state leaders have made with regard to renewable energy since the first of this year. They include suspending a rule that established uniform standards for permitting wind energy systems and cutting the budget of Focus on Energy, which supports investments in renewables. In addition, says Vickerman, Focus on Energy has stopped accepting applications for business program incentives that promote the installation of renewable energy systems.

Unfortunately, any time we set the clock back on renewable energy development and investment, we increase the chance that we’ll be sinfully unprepared when the fossil fuel finally hits the fan. Indeed, any energy policy worth its salt must take into account a stark Malthusian reality: A rapidly expanding world population is consuming more and more energy, gobbling up – in a matter of decades – fossil fuels that took millions of years to collect in the earth’s crust. It’s like going to Vegas and blowing your inheritance on a lost weekend, then expecting another inheritance to be deposited in your checking account on Monday. Unfortunately, no more cash is coming, and there’s nothing left to do but scan the classified ads, hoping to snag an interview for a job as Carrot Top’s gofer and personal massage therapist.

Fellow Americans, in this new millennium, we face the energy equivalent of being forced to give lengthy deep-tissue oil massages to Carrot Top. (Hopefully, that wakes people up in a way that Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth never could.)

Of course, while Vickerman is perhaps too genteel to come out and say it so bluntly, this all smacks of our presiding potentate’s apparent scheme to give the fine residents of Mississippi hope that they won’t have to be ranked 50th in absolutely everything forever.

Then again, Vickerman doesn’t pull any punches regarding the political tone that’s prevailed since the governor swept into office in January:

“What started out as an opening salvo from the Walker Administration to shackle large-scale wind projects has in six months turned into a systematic campaign to dismantle the state policies that support renewable energy development.

In other words, the zeitgeist has changed, and the new mantra might as well be “full speed ahead off the cliff.”

Vickerman continues:

“Politics in Wisconsin has become a roller-coaster ride that is heavy on the sharp turns and violent dives, and light on the straightaways and gentle grades. …

“Needless to say, this volatility makes long-range financial commitments to upgrading the state’s energy infrastructure a challenge if not an impossibility. The suspension of the state’s wind siting rule, for example, upended a deliberate and multiyear effort to build predictability and certainty into the permitting process. With the rule in abeyance, what wind developers now face amounts to a random walk through a minefield. Small wonder that many of the developers who were active here three years ago have migrated to less explosive pastures.”

What makes this all the more frustrating and perplexing is that a recent Brookings Institution study ranked Wisconsin a respectable 13th in the nation in providing “green” jobs. So we know how to do this stuff, and environmentally friendly industry is clearly a plus for our economy.

Of course, no one says we all have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels tomorrow, but transitioning to a renewable-energy economy is not as pie-in-the-sky as you might think. For instance, renewables already account for more than 40% of Sweden’s energy consumption. We can – and eventually will be forced to – increase the amount of energy we get from renewables. (After all, if it’s not renewable, eventually it’s going to be gone.)

But to do that, we have to heed our state’s motto and make a concerted effort to move forward, not put our blinders back on.

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