That windfall and the corresponding new jobs would help offset the nearly $8 billion that flows away from the state each year to pay for traditional fossil- fuel based power, said Mark Jacobson, a representative of the Chicago wind farm developer Invenergy.
His comments came in front of state lawmakers who met Tuesday to consider a massive overhaul in Wisconsin’s energy policy. The proposal’s centerpiece is a mandate to have at least 10 percent of the state’s electricity coming from clean, renewable sources by 2015.
While acknowledging the measure’s obvious environmental benefits, business- minded Republican lawmakers sought to play up the economic upside of building wind farms.
"That’s a staggering amount of investment in this state, in clean energy that’s competitive now," said Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, chairman of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Information Technology Committee.
As it stands today, wind power and other forms of renewable energy make up less than 4 percent of the amount of electricity Wisconsin uses, and wind farms remain mostly small, experimental endeavors.
That would all change if the 10 percent minimum, known as a "renewable portfolio standard" were adopted, said Beth Soholt, executive director of Wind on the Wires, an industry group based in St. Paul, Minn.
"Many wind developers are interested in investing large amount of capital in Wisconsin, but they need the market signal and certainty that a renewable portfolio standard provides," Soholt said.
Wisconsin ranks eighth nationally in producing rotors, generators and other would-be components of turbines, said Bill Holland, a spokesman for the Apollo Alliance, a national group funded by labor unions and environmental policy groups.
The legislation would be a boon to that heavy manufacturing sector, he said.
Twenty states and the District of Columbia have some form of renewable energy requirements, including Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. Some liberal policy groups opposed some of the trade-offs made to garner industry support for the renewable goal.
Under the legislation, the state Public Service Commission would not be forced to undertake any new efficiency efforts as long as the 10- percent-by-2015 goal is on track, something Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Ashwaubenon, said was important to build consensus.
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