MEMO TO REPORTERS: Wisconsin Misses Out on Jobs, Economic Benefits Because of Scott Walker’s Hostility to Wind Energy

Aug 03, 2014

As Wisconsin ranks dead last in the Midwest in private sector job creation, and just 35th in the nation since Scott Walker took office, Scott Walker and his Republican legislature have repeatedly shut down opportunities for Wisconsin to invest in the technologies of the future and reap the resulting environmental and economic benefits.
Walker’s open hostility to clean energy is surely part of the reason Wisconsin has gone from a leader to a laggard in the Midwest, and continues to trail the national economic recovery. Before even taking office, Walker famously shut down high speed rail, sending thousands of good-paying jobs and millions in federal funds to other states. Ever since, Walker has continued to hobble the clean energy industry, including wind energy.

Wisconsin has a wealth of renewable energy resources that remain underdeveloped. For example, the state ranks 17th in the nation when it comes to potential wind energy and 20th for Megawatts of wind-generation installed (648 MW in 2013). We have the capacity to produce four times the state’s current electricity needs using wind alone, but in 2012, we only generated 2.4 percent of our electricity using wind.  

Compared to states like Iowa, South Dakota, and Kansas, which in the same year each produced more than 20 percent of their electricity from wind, its easy to see that Wisconsin is missing out on jobs and opportunity by failing to invest in clean energy.

Many of our neighbors in the Midwest understand this, whether they have a Republican or a Democrat in the governor’s office.

Last May, MidAmerican Energy announced plans to invest an additional $1.9 billion in wind projects in Iowa — the single largest economic development investment in the state’s history, according to Republican Gov. Terry Branstad.

MidAmerican notes that the project will be built at no net new cost to its customers, and in fact, will reduce customers’ rates by $10 million by 2017.

The Des Moines Register reports that, “[t]he wind expansion will enhance economic development and provide in excess of $360 million in additional property tax revenues over the next 30 years, officials said. Landowner payments totaling $3.2 million per year also are expected as a result of the expansion.”

Gov. Branstad also said that the state’s openness to expanding wind energy helped attract even more businesses to the state, citing Facebook and Google as companies who planned to build and expand in Iowa, in part because of the state’s wind capacity.

Illinois, which as of April 2012 ranked fourth in the nation installed wind capacity, is feeling the benefits of wind energy as well.

According to an economic analysis by the Center for Renewable Energy at Illinois State University, the 23 largest wind farms in Illinois:

  • Created approximately 19,047 full-time equivalent jobs during construction periods with a total payroll of over $1.1 billion.
  • Supports approximately 814 permanent jobs in rural Illinois areas with a total annual payroll of nearly $48 million.
  • Supports local economies by generating $28.5 million in annual property taxes.
  • Generates $13 million annually in extra income for Illinois landowners who lease their land to the wind farm developer.
  • Will generate a total economic benefit of $5.98 billion over the life of the projects
Example after example shows that Wisconsin should develop its renewable energy potential and grow more manufacturing and technology jobs to support the industry. As of 2011, wind and solar power industries combined accounted for over 12,000 Wisconsin jobs.

Instead, Scott Walker and Republicans in the legislature have taken Wisconsin’s clean energy industry backwards, much like they’ve taken our economy.

In 2011, Walker dissolved the state’s Office of Energy Independence and suspended the state’s wind-siting rule — a bipartisan piece of legislation with significant stakeholder input — disrupting 11 planned wind farms representing at least $1.8 billion in investments and approximately 1,000 jobs in Wisconsin. Walker also capped Focus on Energy, a program started under former Gov. Tommy Thompson that supports energy efficiency and renewable energy, rejecting the Public Service Commission’s request for additional funding and suspending incentives for wind and solar installations. 

Despite Scott Walker’s unwelcoming business climate for clean energy technology, capital investment in Wisconsin wind power is approximately $1.3 billion and wind energy supports as many as 1,000 jobs, according to the American Wind Energy Association.  But we can do better. With our strong manufacturing base and pool of skilled and talented workers, Wisconsin has tremendous potential to expand on its untapped wind power potential and create the jobs of the future — if we have a champion for wind energy and its economic benefits in the governor’s office.