Wisconsin's wind energy and manufacturing community is bracing for what could be a major blow to the industry.
Gov. Scott Walker has introduced "Special Session Assembly Bill 9," a bill that would trash state wind farm siting reform statutes developed in a consensus-based process just last year.
Instead of the 1,250-foot setback from residences required by last year's consensus, the new proposal would require an 1,800-foot setback, not from homes, but from property lines, for all wind turbines. This will shut down the wind energy industry in Wisconsin – and there is no rationale, scientific basis for imposing such an extreme setback whatsoever.
The increased setback distance - which would be by far the most restrictive state-wide setback provision in the United States - is totally unrealistic given the size of property parcels in Wisconsin. The proposed setback distance is both without scientific merit and is punitive – designed to shut down the wind energy industry.
As a result of this bill, if passed, no wind projects proposed or under construction would move forward. This would mean the loss of over 700 megawatts of clean, wind energy projects currently planned in the state, $1.8 billion dollars of investment in the state and at least two million job-hours of wind project construction employment. Can you say "job-killer?"
Why is Gov. Walker intent on seeing jobs flee the state? Didn't he state the opposite in his campaign for governor?
Even more damaging would be the impact on the future of wind turbine component manufacturing in Wisconsin, which has been growing steadily for the past few years. 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" and welcoming to wind energy, like Iowa, Kansas, and Texas, are reaping the bulk of the associated manufacturing jobs.
A growing number of Wisconsin companies have moved into the wind energy industry over the past few years to the point where 2,000-3,000 residents were employed in the wind energy industry at the end of 2009, counting both direct and indirect jobs in the industry in Wisconsin. The Spanish firm Ingeteam selected Milwaukee after an exhaustive search across the U.S. to locate a new manufacturing facility to build electrical generators for wind turbines. One of the reasons they considered in locating their new facility that will open this Spring (and ultimately employ 275 people in Milwaukee) is the proximity to wind turbine projects. With the new legislation proposed by Governor Walker, we should expect no new facilities to follow Ingeteam's example.
Finally, there is the impact on rural communities. Just within the past few days, RENEW Wisconsin reported that owners of Wisconsin's four largest wind energy projects paid out nearly $2.8 million, in 2010 alone, in rent to landowners hosting turbines and payments in lieu of property taxes to local governments. Those payments strengthen local communities across the state, especially when the state is having to cut back on spending due to the sluggish economy. As a RENEW Wisconsin spokesperson said, "It's a much better deal for the state than sending dollars to Wyoming and West Virginia for the coal imported to Wisconsin to generate electricity."
For all of the reasons noted above - investment, manufacturing jobs, revenue to local communities, and keeping energy dollars in-state - wind energy presents an unparalleled opportunity for Wisconsin. At least 21 factories are already at work manufacturing components for the wind energy industry and two more have been announced. What about energy supply? According to resource assessments from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Wisconsin's wind resource could provide over four times the state's total current electricity needs.
A Special Session on Jobs is a great and timely idea, but it makes no sense to use it as a vehicle to hamstring one of the few industries that is actually growing and bringing new jobs to Wisconsin. As a city, we've already lost Talgo, the manufacturer of light rail trains and those jobs will never materialize in Milwaukee as a result – the proposed bill would drive even more jobs out of the city and state. If anything, state officials and decision makers should be bending over to find ways to work with the wind energy industry to bring more wind projects, businesses, jobs, revenue, energy and opportunities and build a better future for Wisconsin.
Gov. Walker needs to explain his wanton attack on the wind energy industry in Wisconsin – and needs to explain why he is intent on driving jobs out of Wisconsin to neighboring states like Minnesota and Illinois.
Jeff Anthony is the director of business development for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the national trade association for the wind energy industry in the United States, and he resides in Milwaukee.