Scott Walker, the King of Coal
Businesses and GOP voters are embracing alternative energy. Not Gov. Walker.
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.
“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.
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.