Renewable energy businesses and activists entered the month of April with high hopes of seeing the State Legislature pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA), a comprehensive bill designed to propel Wisconsin toward energy independence, along the way creating thousands of new jobs and strengthening the sustainable energy marketplace. This comprehensive bill would have raised the renewable energy content of electricity sold in Wisconsin, while stepping up ratepayer support for smaller-scale renewable energy installations throughout the state.
Unfortunately, on April 22, the State
Senate adjourned for the year without taking action on the Clean Energy
Jobs Act bill, effectively killing the measure and leaving hundreds
of businesses and individuals who campaigned for the bill empty-handed.
It certainly didn’t help matters that the some of the state’s most politically entrenched constituencies banded together to fight CEJA at every stage of the process. Among the hard-core opponents were Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the Paper Council and the Farm Bureau. Their vociferous opposition scuttled bipartisanship, eliminating the possibility that a Republican legislator would vote for the bill.
Working hand-in-glove with vitriolic
right-wing radio talk show hosts, the opposition supplied their grassroots
faithful with a smorgasbord of exaggerated claims, hyperbole, outright
fantasy, and pseudoscience. The message was clear and consistent: passing
CEJA would send electric rates through the roof. Though the analysis
purporting to document the opposition’s assertions set a new low in
academic rigor, it succeeded in spooking legislators into thinking that
a vote for this bill would come back to haunt them this November.
Working just as vigorously for the
Clean Energy Jobs Act, a broad spectrum of interests answered the requests
for help. Whether they were one-person solar installation businesses
or Fortune 500 corporations like Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls, CEJA
supporters wrote letters, made phone calls, and corralled their legislators
at the Capitol on several days during March and April.
In dozens of face-to-face meetings
with their representatives, CEJA supporters made the case for this bill
by bringing out their own experiences as business owners, farmers, educators,
builders, and skilled tradesmen. They presented a local and highly personal
angle to the clean energy policy debate that many legislators had not
appreciated before. Their passion and energy were instrumental in giving
this bill a fighting chance for passage at the end of the session. Unfortunately,
the campaign could not overcome the pique of the Senate Democrats.
One legislator who kept pushing this ambitious bill up the legislative hill until the very last day was Assembly representative Spencer Black, who was one of the four principal authors of the measure. CEJA supporters are indebted to Rep. Black for his vigorous leadership and his determined efforts to round up support among his compatriots for passing this bill.
Two rays of sunlight did manage to
pierce through the heavy clouds at the close of April, prompted by the
dedication of the two largest wind turbines owned by Wisconsin
schools. In each case, the school erected a 100-kilowatt Northwind turbine
manufactured by Vermont-based Northern Power Systems. One serves Wausau
East High School while the other feeds power to the Madison Area Technical
College’s Fort Atkinson branch. The turbines will offset a significant
fraction of the electricity consumed at each school.
Located well within the city limits
of Wausau and Fort Atkinson, these 155-foot-tall wind generators eloquently
testify to the breadth and depth of public support for renewable energy
across Wisconsin. Next January, the Legislature will witness the return
of clean energy supporters with similar legislation for strengthening
Wisconsin’s renewable energy marketplace. In the meantime, we will
be working hard to achieve a very different outcome.
Michael Vickerman is the executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a sustainable energy advocacy organization headquartered in Madison. For more information on Wisconsin renewable energy policy, visit RENEW’s web site at: www.renewwisconsin.org.