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Friday, April 16, 2010

Backers still want passage of Wisconsin's scaled-back clean energy jobs bill

From an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Tom Content:

A stripped-down version of a bill to control carbon emissions was introduced by lawmakers on Tuesday, a measure that would sharply increase the use of renewable energy and open the door to new nuclear reactors in Wisconsin.

The revisions were drafted in response to concerns of business groups and politicians who said the original bill was too unwieldy, controversial and, potentially, costly.

Supporters said their changes will answer many of those concerns, and in a statement, Gov. Jim Doyle termed the revised bill "a good compromise that will bring down consumer costs."

"Wisconsin is a manufacturing state, and we can't afford to lose this opportunity to become a leader in solar and wind manufacturing to other states and countries like China," Doyle said.

By increasing renewable power and weaning Wisconsin's reliance on out-of-state coal and natural gas, supporters aim to boost green jobs and the economy while cutting emissions of carbon dioxide. The state now spends $16 billion a year on fossil fuels imported to make electricity.

The bill, years in the making, joins a heavy legislative docket awaiting consideration before the end of the session on April 22. Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan (D-Janesville) indicated legislators are still working on the bill.

"We're working to hopefully come together on a package," he said. . . .

Republican opponents issued a statement saying that a survey of investor-owned utilities shows that compliance costs with the proposed regulations would exceed $15 billion.

They also complained lawmakers will not have adequate time to digest the 150-page legislation and demanded another public hearing.

"There will be little time to review this complicated piece of legislation before a vote is taken," said Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon). "There will be no way most legislators will be able to fully absorb the content of a 150-page bill that was drafted in secret."

Noting that electricity rates are rising in Iowa and Minnesota to pay for more wind power, Rep. Mike Huebsch, (R-West Salem), said, "Why we should going down the path to higher energy costs is beyond me." [See RENEW Wisconsin's response.]

No more hearings
A key sponsor, Rep. Spencer Black (D-Madison) called such talk "ideological rhetoric." He said the bill wouldn't get another hearing, but that lawmakers would have enough time to review it.

Also, a group that includes Milwaukee-based We Energies and renewable energy and energy efficiency firms such as Glendale-based Johnson Controls Inc., said Tuesday it was pleased with the modifications.

"It appears that this new legislation has taken into account many of the concerns over the cost and implementation of provisions in the original Clean Energy Jobs Act," said Thad Nation, executive director of Clean Responsible Energy for Wisconsin's Economy.

Roy Thilly, president and CEO of utility company WPPI Energy in Sun Prairie and co-chair of the state global warming task force, said the initial bill represented the full recommendations of the panel and that the revised bill underscores the dramatic change in the state's economy since the task force wrapped up its work two years ago.

"They've done a really good job listening to what everybody said and they've made any number of changes," he said of the bill's authors. "It's their bill now. They made some very substantial changes and fixed a number of problems that were identified."

Environmental groups praised the compromise, saying it retained provisions that would boost energy efficiency, expand renewable energy and create jobs.

"On balance, if it's passed we will be on a good track for the next 15 years," said Michael Vickerman, executive director of Renew Wisconsin, a renewable-energy advocacy group. "Right now I'm seeing the signs of deceleration in Wisconsin's renewable energy marketplace."

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