From a letter from RENEW Wisconsin to Senators Jeff Plale and Mark Miller, co-chairs of the Select Senate Committee on Clean Energy, who held a hearing on the Clean Energy Jobs Act bill on January 27:

Dear Senators Miller and Plale:

Thank you for holding a hearing yesterday of the Select Committee on Clean Energy on SB 450 (the Clean Energy Jobs Act bill). You heard a great deal of substantive commentary about much of the bill, particularly the sections dealing with energy efficiency and the expanded Renewable Energy Standard.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the discussion on the proposal to institute Advanced Renewable Tariffs in Wisconsin. Early in the hearing, a speaker framed the issue as “asking a little old lady in Cudahy to subsidize an expensive system in Mequon.” From that point, the discussion devolved into a kind of semi-orchestrated gang-tackling on this issue that continued unabated until I was called upon to speak, some seven hours and forty five minutes after the hearing began. While RENEW members who work for or with solar, wind and biogas energy installation companies were present during the hearing and had registered to speak, none were called prior to myself. All but two (Full Spectrum Solar and Ed Ritger) had to leave before the hearing ended.

Now, I don’t believe the first speaker, a labor leader, had intended to belittle the companies that install customer-sited renewable energy systems or dismiss their contribution to Wisconsin’s economy and environment. Nevertheless, the “little old lady from Cudahy” theme took a life of its own, and as a result, the very important issues of how to support these systems through utility rates and whether these rates should be mandated had become thoroughly trivialized by the end.

Allow me to repeat some of the points I made at yesterday’s hearing:

1. The vast majority of the distributed renewable generating units installed in Wisconsin serve schools, dairy farms and other small businesses, churches and local governments.

2. Utilities are not in the business of installing these systems themselves.

3. In many cases the renewable energy installation went forward because there was a special buyback rate available to accelerate the recovery of the original investment made by the customer. Yesterday, I gave the example of the Dane County community anaerobic digester project that, once operational, will treat manure taken from several nearby dairy farms in the Waunakee area and produce two megawatts of electricity with it. The electricity will be purchased by Alliant Energy through a voluntary biogas tariff worth 9.3 cents/kWh. Unfortunately, Alliant’s biogas program is fully subscribed and is no longer available to other dairy farmers, food processing companies and wastewater treatment facilities served by Alliant.

4. Companies that install solar, wind and biogas energy systems are quintessentially small businesses, many of them family-owned. Renewable energy contractors and affiliated service providers constitute one of the few market sectors where young adults who have acquired the necessary skills to do the job well can find meaningful work at decent pay.

5. By its very nature, distributed renewable energy delivers nearly 100% of its economic punch to the local economy.