Legislators are exporting wind energy jobs

The Wisconsin Assembly recently passed a bill that would enable hydroelectric power from Manitoba, Canada, to be shipped to Wisconsin to meet the state’s 2006 renewable energy law requiring 10 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy by the year 2015.

If enacted into law, the effect of the Manitoba Hydro Bill will be to ship jobs to Canada and reduce Wisconsin’s ability to meet its clean energy requirement by building more homegrown Wisconsin energy projects.

One of the bill’s sponsors, State Sen. Frank Lasee (R-De Pere), was quoted saying, “This new law will keep electric bills from going up by making it more affordable for utilities to meet green energy mandates.” 

Unfortunately, he was mistaken in assuming that other forms of “green energy” will raise electricity rates in the state. If he had gotten his facts straight, he would have found that wind energy costs are at near-record lows, and many utilities in the U.S. are reaping the benefits of lower electricity rates as wind energy expands on their systems. But the facts about wind energy costs, like many other facts, apparently weren’t relevant in the rush to pass this ill-conceived bill.

What Sen. Lasee failed to mention is that his bill will also have a significant impact on Wisconsin by sending good-paying jobs that would otherwise have been created in Wisconsin – to Canada instead.
Sen. Lasee and the other state legislators who voted for the bill would have the state import electricity from Canadian energy projects that use Canadian workers. Today, Wisconsin supports 2,000-3,000 workers in the wind energy industry alone, and the Manitoba Hydro Bill now threatens many of those jobs in Wisconsin.

This is just the latest example of legislative activities that are exporting good-paying, clean energy jobs out of Wisconsin. Why?

At the beginning of the year, another onerous bill was proposed to impose extreme requirements on where Wisconsin wind projects can be located. A few weeks, later a joint committee of the legislature voted to suspend Wind Siting Rules that had been developed through a collaborative, open, and fair process. This rule was suspended by the joint legislative committee on the very day that these far better new rules would have taken effect.

Combined, these actions have jeopardized approximately 700 megawatts of wind projects that were proposed in the state, resulting in the potential loss of $1.8 billion investments and 2 million construction job-hours. And guess what – those 2 million job-hours will not show up in Wisconsin, and will likely move to neighboring states.

So what will be the next step in the “Wisconsin Jobs Export Agenda”? 

Well, another piece of anti-clean energy job legislation has emerged, Assembly Bill 146, which would significantly reduce the growth of renewable energy in the state. The Wisconsin clean energy law was originally created to incentivize new renewable energy development and increase fuel diversity. AB 146 would effectively remove that incentive.

The American Wind Energy Association has called on the Wisconsin Assembly not to act on AB 146, and instead to reconsider efforts to create and protect jobs in Wisconsin’s wind energy industry.  
Today, Wisconsin has a number of thriving and growing businesses in the renewable energy field, especially in the renewable energy supply chain and wind turbine component manufacturing sectors. AB 146 would threaten those companies and the workers they employ in Wisconsin. Is the state legislature prepared to take further actions to threaten manufacturing jobs that exist today in the wind energy industry?

If Wisconsin is serious about economic development and growing jobs in the state, it must look to establish a stable environment for wind project development and for wind turbine component manufacturing in the state. Turbine manufacturers and makers of major components want to locate factories (and jobs) close to where projects are being installed. States that are “open for business” to the wind energy industry, like Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan, are reaping the benefits of these associated manufacturing jobs.

Together, the wind energy industry stands united in urging the Assembly to dismiss AB 146 and to begin to take steps to re-establish Wisconsin as a good place to do business for the wind energy industry. The legislature needs to decide if it wants to continue to send jobs out of state and out of the country, or if it is serious about creating good jobs for our workers right here.

Jeff Anthony is the director of business development for the American Wind Energy Association and is a resident of Wisconsin. He lives in Milwaukee.

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