By Michael Mignano, BlueGreen Alliance
Things are going well in some respects in Wisconsin. But the state’s economy, like much of the nation, is still struggling. While the unemployment rate was below the national average at 7.9 percent in August, it has actually crept up from a 2011 low of 7.3, and currently there are an estimated 240,000 Wisconsinites out of work.
While other states are seeing job growth from the wind energy sector and wind energy supply chain — states like Ohio, which we looked at yesterday in this post — Wisconsin leaders, particularly Governor Scott Walker, seemed bound and determined to drive away any job growth related to wind energy.
Back in 2009, Wisconsin enacted a law to provide uniform siting across the state to ensure the state was seen as “open for business” for wind project development. But since the Walker administration took office, it seems they’ve been trying to put a “closed for business, don’t come again” sign out for wind developers.
In January of 2011, Walker offered a bill to dramatically increase the setback — the amount of space necessary between a wind turbine and an adjacent property line — from roughly 1,250 feet from the nearest house to 1,800 feet from the nearest property line. While Walker’s bill didn’t’ pass, the current siting rules are in limbo and other efforts continue to negatively effect siting of wind turbines in the state from other lawmakers.
This anti-wind attitude is confusing because, before he was elected, Walker pledged he would create 250,000 jobs in the state. The anti-wind policies promoted by him and his political allies in the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate have actually cost the state potential jobs. Several projects have pulled out of development, including Midwest Energy’s Calumet County wind farm and Invenergy’s 150-megawatt site in southern Brown County.
Things have gotten so bad that the Illinois Wind Association actually started an “Escape to Illinois” campaign to attract developers to the state instead of Wisconsin.
While the siting rules remain unclear, the benefits to jobs and the environment of wind energy to Wisconsin are abundantly clear. This chart shows the economic benefits to the state of moving to wind: $1.1 billion in economic benefits, 3,041 new local jobs during construction and 425 long-term jobs.
Short-sighted efforts like those of Walker and others working against wind are detrimental to long-term economic growth and environmental health. While there are some in Wisconsin standing in the way of progress on wind, there are hundreds of thousands more looking to renewable energy and other 21st century industries to provide them economic opportunities now and in the future. Gov. Walker and others should listen to their needs and voices and lead the way to a cleaner energy future in the Badger State.
Editor’s Note: This column comes to us as a cross post courtesy of BlueGreen Alliance. Author credit for the post goes to Michael Mignano.