Were the state’s renewable energy goals weakened during the final days of the legislative session?
The answer depends on how you view a new bill, signed into law by Gov. Jim Doyle last week, which expands the definition of “renewable energy source” without increasing the amount of renewable energy that must be used by the state’s utilities.
“We went backwards, not forwards,” said state Rep. Spencer Black (D-Madison), a champion of clean energy. “If you don’t increase the percentage of renewable energy that must be used, and you include the new technologies, you decrease the amount of wind and solar to be used.”
A Last-Minute Amendment without Public Debate
The bill had been proposed last year with little fanfare. A public hearing was held last September to add some new technologies to the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS)—the state’s definition of what is a renewable energy source.
That designation is very important to a “clean energy” company, because it allows the company to sell its electricity to a utility and help that utility reach the 10% goal. Without that designation, the electricity isn’t as desirable to utilities that need to decrease their reliance on fossil fuels such as coal.
Last fall, the new technologies didn’t seem to raise too many alarms—for example, it included solar light pipes manufactured by Orion Energy Systems in Manitowoc.
Besides, the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA), which would have raised the state’s renewable energy goals from 10% to 25% by 2025, was attracting far more attention than this rather innocuous bill.
But just hours before the vote on April 15, a controversial amendment was added to the bill by Sen. Majority Leader Russ Decker, Milwaukee Sen. Jeff Plale and Green Bay Sen. David Hansen to include even more technologies. Among them is “synthetic gas created by the plasma gasification of waste,” a cutting-edge technology that takes just about any kind of waste, heats it so intensely it turns into a gas, then uses that gas to create electricity that can be sold to utilities and put on the power grid.
Without public debate, the state Senate approved the amended bill 25-8 and the Assembly followed suit a week later on a voice vote with no record of who voted “aye” or “nay.”
Doyle signed it last week without revision, although he did note that it was “a difficult one to sign” since CEJA—with its higher standards—died in the state Legislature.