Powering Wisconsin’s Economy with Clean Energy

, director of state policy & analysis, Clean Energy | August 30, 2011, 10:10 am EST
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Despite the political divisiveness that has dogged the Wisconsin state house this year, there is at least one issue that unites most folks in the Badger State: a strong desire to create jobs and grow the economy by investing more in local, clean, and renewable energy sources like wind and solar. I experienced this first hand on a recent trip to Wisconsin as part of the release of A Bright Future for the Heartland, a major new UCS report showing the economic and environmental benefits of significantly increasing the deployment of renewable energy and energy efficient technologies in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest.

On the road

Over the course of three days, we made 10 stops starting in Madison and moving northeast through the Fox Cities region, speaking with elected officials, business leaders, members of the media, educators, and scores of local citizens. Along the way, the folks I spoke with were primarily concerned about creating jobs and getting the local economy moving again, and were eager to discuss how the transition to a cleaner, more sustainable energy system fits into the equation. Nowhere was that more apparent than in Appleton, where more than 80 people showed up to a clean energy expo and forum co-hosted by UCS and Fox Valley Technical College.

Fox Cities region focuses on clean energy

Photo of panel discussion at Empowered: Clean Energy in Northeast Wisconsin Expo

A panel discusses renewable energy at Empowered: Clean Energy in Northeast Wisconsin Expo, held at Fox Valley Technical College, in Appleton, WI, on July 21 2011.

Attendees of the expo were invited to learn about a dozen local businesses, colleges, and organizations that promote clean energy. For example, Renewegy, a small-scale wind turbine manufacturer based in Osh Kosh, has several operating projects nearby and sources nearly all the component parts for its turbine from other Wisconsin-based companies. In addition, Northeast Wisconsin Educational Resource Alliance (NEW ERA)—a consortium of local public colleges and universities—highlighted the 40 sustainability certification programs currently offered on NEW ERA campuses, including teaching students to become wind power facility service technicians or building energy efficiency auditors.

The expo also featured a panel discussion on promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency in northeast Wisconsin. As a member of the panel, my message was simple. Wisconsin (and its neighboring Midwest states) is one of the few places in the world fortunate enough to possess a vast and diverse supply of renewable energy, combined with a well-established manufacturing base, a first-class education system, a skilled labor force, and access to transportation corridors. These are the elements that historically made the state a driver of America’s economic engine, and they give Wisconsin the same advantages in a clean energy economy.

Smart clean energy policies matter

But in order to continue the momentum building in the Fox Cities region, drive innovation across Wisconsin, and successfully make the transition to a clean energy economy in the Midwest and beyond, smart, farsighted policies are necessary. Strengthening existing standards for how much of Wisconsin’s power is generated through renewable resources (known as a renewable electricity standard or RES) and how much electricity is saved through efficiency practices and technologies are two such policies. Our analysis shows that such an approach would deliver in Wisconsin nearly 11,500 net new jobs and $2.7 billion in new capital investment, while saving families and businesses $6 billion on their energy bills over the next two decades.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s Governor and legislative leaders currently appear intent on weakening these existing policies rather than expanding them. A bill signed into law in July allows large-scale hydropower from Manitoba to be used to comply with the state’s existing RES. That’s great news for economic development in Manitoba, but undermines the deployment of Wisconsin’s renewable resources and the local benefits it would bring.

Instead of retrenchment, state leaders need to move in the other direction, and support stronger renewable energy and energy efficiency policies. They would do well to make a visit to the Fox Cities region, and see what all the excitement is about.

Posted in: Energy

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