Wisconsin Legislature Closes the Door on Wind Power

wisconsin legislature suspends wind power siting rulesIn an epic case of bad timing, last week the Wisconsin legislature abruptly suspended the state’s new rules for siting wind farms. The rules were set to take effect on March 1 after having been worked out in a public process over two years, with hundreds of stakeholders involved. The move threatens to halt the future development of wind energy resources in Wisconsin, just when the U.S. wind industry is poised for growth, aided in part by the recent spike in oil prices.

Wisconsin, Jobs, and Wind Power

According to the American Wind Energy Association, the suspension of the Wisconsin Wind Siting Rules (aka PSC128) created an environment of uncertainty for wind power investors, effectively putting a freeze on new wind developments in Wisconsin.  AWEA calculates that just adding up the impact on projects in the proposal pipeline, Wisconsin workers stand to lose 2 million hours of work, and the state’s economy is deprived of $1.8 billion in new investments.

Wind Power and Farmlands

Unlike fossil fuel operations, wind power installations can harvest energy without destroying large chunks of the environment in their host communities. Wind farms are not impact-free, of course, but they can be sited on farmlands with minimal footprint. One great example is a new wind power installation on farmland in Missouri, which is creating new jobs and returning tax revenue to the community, while providing local farmers with extra income from leasing. Translate that kind of activity to Wisconsin, and you’ve got truly sustainable economic growth.

A Growth Opportunity for Wind Power

Alternative energy is becoming more competitive with conventional energy, and the current oil price spike is giving alternatives an additional boost. Among U.S. electric utilities, the difference between green energy and conventional energy has already narrowed dramatically since 2000. In California, solar energy could soon reach parity with natural gas, and one study shows that wind power is now competitive with coal. In terms of boosting domestic manufacturing related to alternative energy, the oil price spike gives another edge to wind power. Due to the sheer size and bulk of wind turbine components, shipping is a major factor in the installed cost of wind energy. With higher oil prices comes a further increase in shipping costs, making domestic manufacturing a more attractive alternative to shipping in components from overseas.

Stakeholders and Economic Development

The Wisconsin wind power stakeholder process had great potential to push economic development forward, by defining a common ground in which diverse elements in government, industry and the private sector could discover where their interests overlap. A quick look at nearby Indiana shows what can happen. The state boasts a booming alternative energy sector that includes wind farms, a federal loan guarantee for the largest thin film solar plant in the U.S., and a stakeholder project called the Energy Systems Network, which is bringing in new jobs in electric vehicle manufacturing and related fields through its “Project Plug-In” program.

Old Energy, New Energy

AWEA has described the Wisconsin legislature’s decision as a “highly unusual and drastic move,” but given the influence of oil money in Wisconsin politics, it’s not much of a surprise. Wisconsin Governor Walker already raised eyebrows by inserting an item in the budget bill enabling the sell-off of publicly owned power plants without an open bidding process. Politics and fossil fuels have been tightly entwined in the U.S. for generations, but with the economics of alternative energy continuing to improve, the situation in Wisconsin could very well represent the last, mighty gasp of a dying industry.

Image: Wisconsin wind turbine by chief_huddleston on flickr.com.

Tina writes frequently for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

5 responses

    1. Lester, thank you for the link to the WSJ article, quite interesting – especially the throwaway line near the end regarding putting more decision making power into the Governor’s hands.

  1. Why are there so few facts in this article, and the links? The political aspects are trite, and universally true. I am a part of the renewable energy industry and witness first hand the public resistance to wind energy, crying for greater setbacks for the most part. The ‘killing birds’ canard has, for the most part, died itself.

    So, I wonder exactly which projects in WI would be directly affected by a newly proposed and greater setback? And if the original agreement was one of consensus, why wouldn’t those parties lobby the current legislature as well as engage the public? Sadly, the truth may be that the public, and especially those who might be adjacent to wind farms, really aren’t opposed to the greater setbacks. NIMBY is alive and well in most every local community and state.

    1. John Sullivan, over the past couple of weeks many thousands of Wisconsin residents have been lobbying their current legislators quite vigorously, without getting much (if any) response to their concerns, so it’s not evident that the solution you propose is a realistic one. The Wall Street Journal link provided by Lester Toil provides more detail into the impact that the new setbacks are having on the wind industry in Wisconsin. My post was focused on the response of the American Wind Energy Association to the legislature’s action, and you can find more details about their position on their website, http://www.awea.org.

  2. When are people going to start realizing that the most efficient kilowatt hour is the one that is not needed. Wind power is great…much better than coal generation. But if people actually started using energy more efficiently in the first place we would all be a lot further ahead.

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