This is a tale of two states, Iowa and Wisconsin. These states border each other, and they have many similarities.
Both are milk producers and corn producers. Both are composed of people with solid Midwestern values. Both have Republican governors, at least one Republican U.S. senator and at least one part of the state Legislature controlled by Republicans. But there are big differences in their approach to renewable energy.
Iowa Republicans see renewable energy as a way to lessen reliance on foreign oil and create jobs. Wisconsin's elected Republicans see it as a threat to their alliance with the American Legislative Exchange Council, an influential lobbying group composed of big businesses that support oil and coal production.
Wind energy provides 27 percent of Iowa’s electrical energy. Wind energy provides a little over 2 percent of Wisconsin’s electrical energy. Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley has said, “Wind energy will stand up next to any other form of energy when it is given a fair shake.”
But in Wisconsin, prospective wind energy companies have withdrawn plans to build wind farms because of lack of support by the administration of Gov. Scott Walker. That means a loss of low-cost, renewable energy and a loss of skilled, good-paying jobs.
A resource assessment conducted by the National Renewable Energy Lab found that Wisconsin’s wind resources could provide over four times the state’s current electricity needs. The Stevens Point Journal reports that “growing American wind power enhances U.S. security and strengthens U.S. energy independence. It’s the patriotic thing to do.”
A recent article in the Des Moines Register compared the effect on energy cost and provision of jobs between construction of a power line carrying wind energy versus a pipeline carrying crude oil from North Dakota. The article states that the wind energy proposal would produce more long-range employment and have no negative environmental impact. The wind energy proposal “offers an economic boost healthy in all respects. Wind and solar energy create none of the pollutants that contribute to climate change, drain our reserves of resources, and poison our wells and drinking water.”
In May, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed Senate File 2340, a key tax incentive bill for solar energy. The law triples the size of Iowa’s successful solar tax incentive program and makes additional improvements to the program. The legislation received support at the statehouse, with the Iowa Senate passing it with a unanimous vote of 46-0 and the Iowa House passing it with a vote of 88-4.
And the Iowa Supreme Court has approved, without penalties, the rooftop installation of solar panels. Deutsche Bank recently released a report concluding that solar will reach grid parity (meaning it will be more cost effective than traditional electricity sources) in states such as Iowa by 2016. But in Wisconsin, the Walker-controlled Public Service Commission approved a 75 percent increase in monthly fixed charges and changes that will pile additional charges on customers who choose to install solar energy panels starting in 2015.
According to the Wisconsin Gaze, “an effort is currently underway by WE Energies and Madison Gas & Electric to impose prohibitive fees on solar panel users in order to discourage the growth of clean energy.” This is an effort that might very well be successful because of Walker’s stand against clean energy. And Wisconsin’s Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, a climate change-denier, is part of a group of legislators who support legislation that includes penalizing individual homeowners for installing solar panels.
In contrast, Midwest Energy News reports that Matt Neumann, son of former Republican candidate for governor Mark Neumann, is a big supporter of solar energy. “Neumann uses conservative touchstones to describe the state of things. For him, it’s a lack of ‘liberty’ that prevents a property owner from choosing how to power his or her home or business.”
Governing should be focused on the common good, not on promoting the interests of big oil companies. The common good in this regard is insuring that we have clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, good sustainable jobs and a healthy environment for future generations.
Unfortunately, Republican elected officials in Wisconsin have lost sight of the common good.