Saying the state needs a long-term energy plan, Democrats in the state Legislature are proposing to expand utilities’ use of renewable energy to supply power to their customers.
The bill being unveiled this week would increase the state’s renewable energy target to 30% by 2030.
Wisconsin utilities have already essentially complied with the 2015 mandate, which requires that 10% of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources that year.
Lawmakers on a conference call with reporters said Wednesday they they realize their bill won’t get traction this year, but that this is the right time for a discussion of a long-term energy plan, as the federal Environmental Protection Agency is developing plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.
The bill, yet to be introduced, would also for the first time create a requirement that Wisconsin utilities buy a certain amount of power from waste-to-energy digester projects that process food industry waste and cow manure into energy.
Utilities are paying farmers less to buy power from manure digesters in recent years, a trend that could prompt digesters to shut down and the state to lose its top ranking nationally in construction of these energy projects, said Melissa Van Ornum of digester manufacturer DVO in Chilton.
They also said Wisconsin has lost out on investment opportunities and jobs by not moving more aggressively to infuse more renewables into the state power mix.
“This bill puts our state back in the game with a strong renewable energy policy,” said Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point.
“It’s good public policy because Wisconsin in particular has no fuels of its own, so we are putting billions of dollars sent to other states in order to be able to generate our current electricity,” said Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona.
Miller said the bill won’t get any traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature but said it’s time for politicians to be discussing long-range energy policy ahead of the November elections.
Legislative Republicans have also unveiled proposals on renewables in this session, with Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) proposing to freeze the renewable mandate at 2010 levels and Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere) proposing to allow nuclear power to qualify as a renewable resource.
Business groups including the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Wisconsin Paper Council and Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group issued statements criticizing the proposed legislation, saying it would drive up costs for utility customers.
“Wisconsin already has among the highest energy rates in the Midwest,” said Jeff Landin, president of the paper council. “These extremely expensive energy mandates would only serve to drive these rates even higher, thus jeopardizing our competitiveness and stifling our job creation efforts.”
“The proposed legislation recycles Gov. Doyle’s global warming task force package,” said Todd Stuart, executive director of WIEG, in the statement. “Forcing additional capital expenditures with these mandates would drive rates higher and harm Wisconsin’s economic competitiveness.”
But states that have more aggressive renewable targets have lower rates than Wisconsin, said Shankland, adding Wisconsin is losing out on economic development from clean energy sources as developers build wind farms in those states.
“We’ve seen the jobs and the cost benefits of wind as hugely beneficial to the states that have embraced wind, and we’re seeing now that the utility sector particularly is embracing … wind energy as an extremely valuable hedge as they plan their future resource mix,” said Paul White, president of Minnesota-based Project Resources Corp., a developer of wind and solar projects.
Bill Skewes, who leads the Wisconsin Utilities Association, said his members are also concerned about the compliance costs linked with the proposal.
“Wisconsin is ahead of schedule to get 10% of our energy from renewables by 2015 so our current RPS is working well,” he said. “Increasing it to 30% would require building more infrastructure than we currently need to meet electric demand, putting upward pressure on electric rates at a time our economy is trying to recover.”
Tyler Huebner, executive director of the advocacy group Renew Wisconsin, welcomed the bill, including its proposals that encourage more develompent of small-scale distributed generation projects.
“Wisconsin was one of the first states to pass a renewable energy standard like this back in 2006, but now we’re quite a ways behind our neighbors, and the gap is certain to widen unless we pursue and pass worthy legislation like the Wisconsin Renewable Energy Act,” Huebner said. “It’s time to put renewables back to work in Wisconsin.”