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County clean energy resolution hitting some snags

BROWN COUNTY – A resolution aimed at establishing an energy commission in Brown County is causing some controversy as proposed edits aren’t sitting well with area groups.

A long-term comprehensive energy plan has been in the works in Brown County since 2018 when the county teamed up with Wisconsin Conservation Voters in an effort to seek clean energy options – with the most recent push starting this May with the creation of a resolution.

After making it through the Planning, Development and Transportation Committee earlier this year, the resolution found its way to the full county board in September for a possible vote.

However, after several last-minute proposed edits from District 23 Supervisor Ray Suennen, the board voted to send it back to committee for further discussion.

Casey Hicks, Wisconsin Conservation Voters (https://conservationvoters.org/) northeast organizer, said the county is sending mixed messages with the edits made to the resolution.

“The county should make sure that it’s using correct definitions when passing resolutions that will ultimately guide future work,” he said.

The first of two major changes causing concern for conservation groups include language which defines natural gas as a clean energy option.

“Natural gas is being incorrectly defined as clean energy when it still has a carbon footprint,” Hicks said.

A member of the Planning, Development and Transportation Committee, District 7 Supervisor Tom Frieberg said a lot has changed since the resolution was first introduced.

Friberg said the committee recognizes natural gas is not recognized by the federal government as a source of clean energy, but it also recognizes some research which categorizes it as a cleaner, transitional energy source – serving as a buffer for the transition to 100-percent clean energy.

The second edit includes the addition of a clause which discourages future wind generation facilities within the county.

“There is a lot of hesitancy among supervisors to consider wind energy due to the public backlash from the Shirley Wind Farm,” Friberg said. “The inclusion of that whereas statement is meant to address that hesitancy and the concerns their constituents may have.”

Hicks said the clause creates a catch-22.

“The concern from supervisors should be that all constituents feel that their input is considered in any future decisions for projects,” Hicks said. “This statement does the opposite by immediately discouraging one form of clean energy that could be considered when developing a plan to reach the resolution’s stated goal of 100-percent clean energy.”

The main objective is to bring a resolution to the full county board to rally majority support.

Friberg said he believes these edits will help accomplish that.

“While I do disagree, and will be voting against including those whereas statements regarding natural gas and wind energy, at the end of the day I want to see this commission get off the ground and begin its work to transition Brown County to 100-percent sustainable energy,” he said. “If it looks like those whereas statements need to be included for it to pass the full county board, I will be voting for it.”

The resolution also includes the creation of an energy commission consisting of seven members – two county supervisors and five with relevant expertise in the energy field.

Members would be appointed by the county executive.

The commission would be charged with developing long-term clean energy plans.

“The whereas statements within the resolution are non-binding and can be changed at a future date,” Friberg said. “The county cannot prohibit private individuals from seeking out clean energy solutions from wind. The commission would still be able to propose plans to the Planning, Development and Transportation Committee and county board that include wind energy. Whether it is considered by those bodies is another story. On the same side of the coin, the inclusion of natural gas as a form of clean energy does not mean the commission has to pursue plans that include natural gas.”

Hicks said he is reluctant to believe changes will be made in the future once the resolution is approved.

“Most often, local governments don’t go back to change resolutions, they pass a new one,” he said. “The county should be thinking about how this is a guiding document that has longevity. Passing a resolution, which does not have to be rewritten within one to two years, or requires passing a new resolution altogether, will best serve the county and its residents.”

Friberg said the resolution would serve as a guide to the Clean Energy Commission for its work.

“The real direction and work of the Clean Energy Commission will be determined by the people appointed to it,” he said. “Our plans for the commission are for it to be staffed by experts and individuals who understand the severity of climate change and the importance of a quick transition to 100-percent clean energy by 2050.”

Wisconsin Conservation Voters assisted the City of Green Bay in creating its Sustainability Committee, and is working with the Green Bay school district on its own clean energy resolution.

“Brown County is in a unique position to either move clean energy development forward as other local governments in Wisconsin have done or they’ll make it harder to continue the progress already made,” Hicks said. “We’re hopeful that Brown County supervisors will look to show leadership and make these necessary changes so that we’re well-positioned to take advantage of future opportunities to create jobs, protect ratepayers and climate change-related pollution.”

The full board is expected to discuss, and possibly vote on, the resolution at its Jan. 13 meeting.