Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Scott Walker, the King of Coal

Businesses and GOP voters are embracing alternative energy. Not Gov. Walker.

By - Jan 17th, 2017 12:07 pm
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Scott Walker and Energy

Scott Walker and Energy

It’s 2017 now and the world is radically different that it was in 2010 when Scott Walker was elected governor, but you wouldn’t know it by his policies. His administration continues to have no interest in solar and wind power. Indeed the state now gets 63 percent of its energy from coal, up from about 55 percent when he took office. That’s largely because the Kewaunee nuclear power plant was closed, but it’s also because the state has been asleep on solar and wind power for six years.

Meanwhile the cost of these power sources have plummeted. “The average long-term contract price for wind power paid by utilities has dropped 60 percent since 2009,” Bloomberg.com reports. “The solar price drop has been even steeper, falling 65 percent.”

States surrounding Wisconsin have embraced wind power: Iowa has 6,209 mega-watts of wind energy, Illinois has 3,842, Minnesota 3,235, Indiana 1,895 and Michigan 1,531, while Wisconsin has just 648 megawatts.

The picture isn’t much better for solar power where Indiana has 120 mega-watts of solar, Illinois has 57, Minnesota 27, Iowa 25, and Wisconsin has just 22 megawatts, ranking it ahead of only Michigan (18 megawatts). No Midwestern state has added less solar power, the Solar Energy Industries Association told Bloomberg.

“We’re behind,” says Tyler Huebner, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin. “The potential for alternative energy in Wisconsin is basically limitless. We have plenty of hills and spots where we can put up wind turbines. We have plenty of roof tops and plenty of land to put up solar panels.”

Wisconsin had begun to attract companies looking to do wind power, but a law passed by Walker and the Republicans in 2011 delayed any development for a year and called for a more stringent review. It sent a negative signal to wind companies, Huebner says, “and there’s been no state signal to counteract that and bring companies back,” he says.

Since then, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services review of the scientific literature has found no human health concerns with wind turbines, but there has been no movement by the Walker administration to embrace wind power.

Members of the state Public Service Commission appointed by Walker have been unfriendly to alternative energy. The PSC approved a plan by We Energies to charge a fee for homeowners installing solar power, which would have discouraged solar installation, only to have the courts overrule the fee.

Walker and Republicans cut the Focus on Energy program providing rebates for homeowners and businesses installing energy saving features, including alternative energy, slashing the annual funding from more than $4 million to just $2 million in 2011 and 2012. Since then the funding has been restored to its former level, a small bright spot.

“If you add up all the steps and all the signals coming out of the current administration, it’s not welcoming, that’s for sure,” Gary Radloff, a policy analyst at the Wisconsin Energy Institute, told Bloomberg. Wisconsin’s become “an island of renewable-energy stagnation amid a sea of growth,” he added.

The Walker administration has pointed to other forms of alternative energy it has backed, including “tax breaks and loans for biodigesters that create power from farm waste as well as small-scale generators that let diesel trucks reduce idling,” Bloomberg noted.

But the real action on the alt energy front is solar and wind, and the governor has been all but mute on the issue.

You might call Walker the King of Coal. Just nine states in America are more dependent on coal than Wisconsin and those tend to be states like West Virginia, Kentucky, Wyoming and North Dakota, which are big producers of coal. Wisconsin imports all its coal, importing pollution to this state and exporting potential jobs to coal producers while failing to grow home-grown alternative energy jobs.

That leaves Walker out of step with businesses that are embracing solar and wind power, including Wisconsin companies like S.C. Johnson, Rockwell Automation, Kohl’s, Sorim Company, Letterhead Press, O&H Danish Bakery and many others. Nationally, 71 of the biggest 100 corporations have launched renewable energy plans.

Walker is also out of step with average voters: 70 percent believe the U.S. should put more emphasis on wind energy production, and 76 percent support increased solar production.

He is also out of step with his Republican base: the same survey found 60 percent of conservatives support support taking action to accelerate clean energy use.

But Walker’s positions are doubtless supported by the Koch Brothers, whose profits are generated by fossil fuels. And the Kochs have rewarded Walker with $5.6 million in campaign donations from 2010 through 2014, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks all donations to state politicians. That total is likely to grow when the group updates its numbers.

And Walker will need more such donations for his 2018 run for reelection and for a possible second try for president. As a result, alternative energy seems to be booming everywhere but here. When it comes to solar and wind power, Wisconsin is clearly not open for business.

31 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Scott Walker, the King of Coal”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    “Nationally, 71 of the biggest 100 corporations have launched renewable energy plans.”

    I just heard a story about this a week or so ago. It was about how more and more corporations are investing in alternative energy, and it’s not because they are radical environmentalists who want to lose money to boost their image. It’s because they expect it to pay off handsomely in the future and believe it will save or earn them lots of money.

  2. Virginia says:

    Vincent, Scott Walker also makes decisions that he expects will “pay off handsomely in the future.”

    Except Walker remains focused on rewarding and complying with his Big Donors and ensuring they will continue padding his campaign coffers.

  3. Mark Potochnik says:

    Correction:
    {Minnesota’s solar energy capacity is skyrocketing after a breakthrough year. It took about 10 years to go from virtually nothing to 35 megawatts of capacity in 2015, but last year that jumped to 250 megawatts. }
    We just LOVE sending money out of state. $12B per year for fossil fuels….

  4. John Casper says:

    Mark, thank you.
    Is the link to $12B per year in one of Bruce’s links?
    Thanks.

  5. Rich says:

    …a law passed by Walker and the Republicans in 2011, specifically to cater to rural voters pissed off that their neighbor got picked by the power company or chose to receive rent for the wind turbine tower and they didn’t…

    There, fixed that for you.

  6. Mark Potochnik says:

    Bunch of $12B links
    https://www.google.com/search?num=50&newwindow=1&q=wisconsin+spends+%2412+billion+on+fossil+fuels&oq=wisconsin+spends+%2412+billion+on+fossil+fuels&gs_l=serp.3…39197.47439.0.48280.14.14.0.0.0.0.643.3265.3-2j3j2.7.0….0…1c.1.64.serp..7.1.642…30i10k1.P9lf4eIZ_C0

  7. John Casper says:

    Mark, many thanks.

  8. Mark Potochnik says:

    While Iowa is HUGE on wind power. They have plans to go MUCH bigger. Like 85 to 95% on wind power.
    MidAmerican Energy to Install 1,000 Wind Turbines
    http://whotv.com/2017/01/12/midamerican-energy-to-install-1000-wind-turbines/

  9. Mark Potochnik says:

    Big Tesla factory in Nevada. Will eventually hire 6,500-10,000. Makes batteries and now electric drivetrains. Elon Musk claims that they will need 100 more of those factories. But that is for green energy. We don’t need any stinking jobs! LOL! They are now hiring 550 more workers for the Tesla Model 3. But we will keep that Wyoming coal coming. They pay 0 state income taxes and property taxes are about 1/3 of what we pay. Why? Because WE pay it for them….
    Instead of income, we cut cut cut! Outsource out of state meanwhile!
    Big solar panel factory in New York. Sorry. We don’t need jobs!

  10. tim haering says:

    Yare yare daze, Bruce. Don’t you realize that Walker is JOhn Galt? Now that he’s retired his debt, he can finish work on his static electricity motor. He’s THIS close.

  11. nb says:

    1) But think of all that sand we can sell. Huge! 2) In all seriousness, let’s start to ask WHY SW is opposes the replacement of 20th century energy sources with 21st century solutions. Take a guess.

  12. ringo muldano says:

    Tim Haering: that’s hilarious, but I have friends in Madison actually working on static elec motor – funded by NSF.

  13. John Casper says:

    ringo,

    Are these your friends?

    “New motor under development by UW-Madison spinoff”

    http://news.wisc.edu/new-motor-under-development-by-uw-madison-spinoff/

  14. ringo muldano says:

    Yup. Crazy smart EE’s. Lots of great innovation happening in WI. They also got state support.

  15. Gleason says:

    Futuristic energy production could well be a fad. We in Wisconsin understand things that are dug from the ground and prefer trading sand for coal. In principle, if we export enough sand, the problem of Wisconsin descending into a third-world backwater will be solved once and for all. Will the last truck out please turn off the lights.

  16. John Casper says:

    ringo, I didn’t see the WEDC mentioned in your link.
    Have they given Ludois any money?

  17. ringo muldano says:

    John, CTC. WI has a competitive program for WI-based SBIR/STTR Phase I and Phase II award recipients (DOE, NSF, DOD, NIH). Ludois Co. continuing with Phase II – NSF.

  18. John Casper says:

    ringo, thanks.

    In 2011, they got patent protection UW Alumni fund. NSF gave in 2014. Then they got $100,000 “from the Weinert Applied Ventures in Entrepreneurship course, another School of Business resource.”

    Are they trying to piggyback on increased lightning strikes?

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/nov/13/lightning-strikes-will-increase-due-to-climate-change

    Be funny if Gov. Walker’s WEDC was giving money to a climate change sensitive technology.

    Absence of rare earth minerals is big.

    I, however, agree with Gleason. Don’t see anything in this technology unique to Wisconsin.

    Why isn’t Gov. Walker begging Congress for money to get rid of the quagga mussels? Would commercial fishing bring in a $billion annually to Wisconsin?

  19. ringo muldano says:

    Alas. Sh*tHeads swearing in. Nothing is real.

  20. John Casper says:

    ringo, won’t Mike Pence be worse?

  21. ringo muldano says:

    Not if you like xtian pop music, which is very popular in Indiana. Getting ubiquitous here in Wisco too. God-awful music that stuff. Should only be played on German-made organs.

  22. John Casper says:

    ringo, can you link to some Christian pop music played on a “German-made” organ?

    Thanks in advance.

    Back on Wednesday you wrote, something that sounded like it was from Gov. Walker’s media kit: “Lots of great innovation happening in WI.”

    Do you have any examples?

    If C-Motive is getting money from the WEDC, why isn’t it mentioned in the article? http://news.wisc.edu/new-motor-under-development-by-uw-madison-spinoff/

    Did you miss this $810 million dollar mistake? “High-speed rail funds scatter to other states”

    http://archive.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/111602539.html

    That would have really helped your buddies in Madison.

    How long before President Pence can sign TPP legislation?

  23. JayS says:

    Due to flat demand WE Energies is idling the Pleasant Prairie Coal plant and the Kewaunee already idle too. Both of these huge capital investments still have years of useful life available. Why build any additional capacity, with the associated huge capital outlay, until we need more electricity or these plants reach the end of their useful life?

    Do you have any math that says bulldozing existing traditional power plants and replacing them with alternatives will lower electric bills for Wisconsinites ? WE Energies rates are already higher than average across the country. Let’s bring the alternatives on-line only when the demand for electricity increases beyond our currently idled capacity or as replacements at the end of the useful life of our ‘traditional’ power-plants.

  24. JayS says:

    Due to flat demand WE Energies is idling the Pleasant Prairie Coal plant and the Kewaunee is already idle too. Both of these huge capital investments still have years of useful life available. Why build any additional capacity, with the associated huge capital outlay, until we need more electricity or these plants reach the end of their useful life?

    Do you have any math that says bulldozing existing traditional power plants and replacing them with alternatives will lower electric bills for Wisconsinites ? WE Energies rates are already higher than average across the country. Let’s bring the alternatives on-line only when the demand for electricity increases beyond our currently idled capacity or as replacements at the end of the useful life of our ‘traditional’ power-plants.

  25. John Casper says:

    JayS,

    Do you have any “math” that says how much “useful life” humans have “available” after famine? How do you grow stuff without a stable climate?

    Do you have any “math” that says how much “useful life” humans will have after the wave of tropical diseases hits?
    “Is America ready for a new wave of tropical diseases?”
    http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/13/health/america-tropical-disease/

    Centralized energy generation is so pre-9/11. Anyone with a drone and some TNT can take one out.

  26. Jason says:

    Who is the real boogie man? The Koch brothers don’t own a coal company, Mr. Murphy. I see George Soros does. The same George Soros who has given hundreds of millions of dollars to left wing causes. So, is Scott Walker encouraging businesses and individuals to give to the Democratic Party. Is Scott Walker funding the marches against Trump in Washington D. C. Where is the logic? Scott Walker is suppose to give tax payer funding to wind turbines that butcher endangered birds? Shame on you, shame.

  27. John Casper says:

    Jason,

    You’re not a conservative.

    Why do you “save-the-birds” folks hate windows?

    Along with high tension wires and cars, they’re the real threat.
    http://www.sibleyguides.com/conservation/causes-of-bird-

    “Shame on you, shame.”

  28. JayS says:

    John Casper,
    Kewaunee is an idled existing Nuclear plant = Zero CO2 (global warming contributor) when converting fuel to electricity. And no global warming contribution from construction and/or manufacturing of any new/replacement alternative power generation sources.

    Again, I did not say don’t change to alternative sources of electricity generation. I did say lets scale out of traditional electric generation sources only when demand increases or at the end of the useful life of our current traditional power generating infrastructure.

    There are still many technological challenges to solve with a move to rely more on alternative electricity supply sources. All you have to do is research what is going on in Hawaii and Germany.

  29. John Casper says:

    JayS,

    1. Why did you ignore what I wrote about 9/11?
    2. Why put fissile material and nuclear waste at the headwaters of the slow moving river that the Great Lakes is?
    2. Why can’t nukes make money?
    2.1. Is it because no private insurers want the risk without federal support?
    2.2 Is it the costs of fresh water for cooling?
    3. Does the earth have about a century’s worth of fissile material remaining?
    3.1 Does Russia have most of that?
    4. How do you keep nuclear waste out of the water table?
    4.1. Where do you store it?
    5. How much of the electricity generated by We Energies is lost through transmission in our out-dated grid?
    6. Using old nukes to make green hydrogen makes some sense to me.
    6.1 Can we retrofit natural gas lines to carry hydrogen?
    7. After WW1, Billy Mitchell told the Defense Department that battleships were obsolete. They court-martialed him in 1925.
    8. In 1941 Japanese carriers put our Pacific battleships on the floor of Pearl Harbor–forever.
    9. Like battleships, most of the capital in centralized generation can’t be rescued.
    10. AFAIK, the current technical choke point with intermittents is storage. Obviously we need a new grid. Obviously we can’t immediately idle fossil fuel generators.
    11. The demand for green energy is immense, because of all the carbon we have to sequester.
    12. Eleven people are known dead in Georgia because of tornadoes in January.

  30. JayS says:

    John Casper,

    All interesting points;you should write an article.

  31. Mark Potochnik says:

    I am huge huge huge on renewable energy. Solar and wind. I was out the other morning. It was incredibly dark. And the winds were calm. Which means either traditional power plants or battery storage. That is the reality of renewables. I’m big on going off grid, relying on yourself. But you have to deal with the realities. But they are working big time on storage. LiOn is now at $400/KWH. Headed to $100/KWH. Which means off grid will be even more possible. I’m also big on EVs and the possibility of powering transit.
    Another point. The size of the grid means that it will take a while to convert. There have been months where renewable energy has been 100% of NEW generation.
    And again. 1st step is ALWAYS conservation. Doesn’t mean living in the dark…. Now that I have 100W equivalent light bulbs consuming 5.2W. 6w watt bulbs consuming 3.5W.

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