Gov. Jim Doyle launched a new program Monday to join state leaders in hopes of increasing use of renewable energy in Wisconsin communities by 25 percent before 2025.
The plan aims to pair individual communities with the state Office of Energy Independence to increase the capacity for clean energy that would clean up the environment and reduce Wisconsin’s reliance on foreign oil.
“This is a trailblazing initiative,” said Brian Driscoll, public relations director of the Office of Energy Independence. “It is focused on what the community needs.”
According to Driscoll, the partnership is unique from other clean energy programs because it avoids applying a “cookie-cutter” solution to a complex issue.
Doyle’s program would create strategies unique to different communities by focusing on the local geographical and sociological context.
Northern Wisconsin, with its vast forests and ground biomass, would rely largely on biofuels. Other localities could focus on solar or wind energy to create renewable energy solutions.
The program has met with positive feedback from nearly 50 Wisconsin communities, as well as from various grassroots organizations, according to Doyle’s office.
“This is a win-win proposition,” said John Geenan, international vice president of the United Steelworkers. “Not only does it help our environment, but it helps by revitalizing some sectors of our economy that need it.”
Geenan added steel workers would become benefactors of the clean energy industry because enormous amounts of steel are used in wind turbine construction, in addition to technical skills needed to maintain wind farms.
United Steelworkers has worked with the Sierra Club on the Blue-Green Action Alliance, another initiative to use the clean energy industry to achieve the dual goals of a cleaner atmosphere and domestic job creation.
According to the Blue-Green Action Alliance, firms in Wisconsin could benefit from 35,144 new jobs, including 25,179 jobs in wind turbine manufacturing and 4,943 in solar manufacturing.
While community leaders were largely supportive of Doyle’s initiative, the plan’s lack of mandated standards caused some debate.
According to Sierra Club spokesperson Jennifer Feyerherm, the program is based on good ideas but lacks enforceable standards to instate clean energy.
“We’ve seen a lot of lip service to cleaning up state energy supplies, but we haven’t heard Doyle talk about removing coal,” Feyerherm said. “Wisconsin relies on coal-fired power plants around the state, including at different UW campuses.”
Feyerherm has been an active voice in Sierra Club’s initiatives to eliminate coal-fired power plants such as the Charter Street Power Plant in Madison. Sierra Club has also been a vocal supporter of wind energy and solar energy in Wisconsin.
UW’s Sierra Student Coalition Co-president Emily Fricke also expressed mixed feelings on Doyle’s program’s use of biofuels as a main source of renewable energy.
“I think in Wisconsin, biomass is a feasible option,” Fricke said. “But the release of methane has drawbacks that need to be further explored.”
Methane, a byproduct of biofuels, is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Feyerherm and Fricke said wind and solar power were their preferred alternatives.