September 12, 2012

GOP lawmaker wants to freeze state’s renewable energy mandate

By Thomas Content of the Journal Sentinel | 11 September 2012

A legislator who represents a part of Sheboygan County where a small wind farm has been proposed wants to freeze the state’s renewable energy mandate.

Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) said he plans to introduce legislation that would freeze the state’s renewable energy mandate at 2012 levels.

The renewable mandate requires that 10% of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2015. Utilities have already complied with the 2010 mandate, which required that 6% of the state’s power come from renewable sources, such as wind farms, landfill gas projects and biomass.

Grothman called the 10% requirement a mistake that is raising electricity prices and “tearing at the fabric of Wisconsin communities when new windmills are proposed.”

Renewable energy supporters said they do not expect the bill to gain traction, given public support for clean energy.

Grothman said he was responding to concerns raised by constituents who are mobilizing to protest a four-turbine wind farm proposed by Emerging Energies of Wisconsin, a Hubertus wind farm developer.

“The major people we’ve got to look out for are the landowners,” he said.

Grothman said he’s talked with representatives of the state’s electric utilities and was told “they’d be pleased” with his bill.

Representatives of several state utilities declined to comment on the proposal, but emphasized they are either already in compliance or on track to comply with the standard not only in 2015 but for several years beyond it, without additional investments.

“It’s out of touch with reality,” Keith Reopelle, senior policy director at the conservation group Clean Wisconsin, said of Grothman’s proposal. “It misses the important point that clean energy holds the promise of many jobs and economic benefits for the state of Wisconsin.”

Across the state, utilities have invested billions of dollars to add renewable energy to meet the 2015 standard.

New statistics from the state Public Service Commission show that the state’s utilities generated nearly 9% of electricity from renewable sources last year.

Of the state’s 118 electricity providers, 110 of them are in position to meet the standard, and the eight others have plans in place to comply, said Kristin Ruesch, PSC spokeswoman.

Don Wichert, executive director of the advocacy group Renew Wisconsin, said four of the state’s five major utilities have enough renewable energy in place that they are already in compliance with the 2015 mandate.

The exception is Milwaukee-based We Energies, which is trailing the state average, with renewable generation of 3.75% as of 2011. The utility has used power purchases and renewable energy credits to help it comply with the mandate.

To comply with the 2015 standard, We Energies last year opened the state’s largest wind farm, the Glacier Hills Wind Park. The state’s largest utility is on track to open a biomass power plant in Rothschild late next year. That will help the utility remain in compliance through 2018, utility spokesman Brian Manthey said.

Wind farm projects in Wisconsin have generated more opposition than in other parts of the country, in part because wind farms are located on smaller pieces of land and neighbors who don’t receive payments from wind farms live closer to turbines than they do in less densely populated wind farm locations like Iowa.

Wichert, of Renew Wisconsin, said the state is behind other states when it comes to renewable energy. Iowa already has 20% of its electricity from renewable sources, and Minnesota and Illinois both have 25% renewable power standards on the books.

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