Wind and Cows Work Well Together

The beginning of the New Year brings legislators back to Madison to open a new legislative session. A flurry of bills are being introduced and every imaginable interest group is finalizing their legislative agenda and bringing their concerns to the Capitol. Many groups are organizing grassroots campaigns to encourage local people to contact their legislators.

In my home neighborhood a wind energy development firm is writing to encourage local farmers and other land owners to contact me in support of wind-power.

Renewable energy is on nearly every legislators ‘to do’ list. Although challenges vary across the state, there is almost universal agreement that we need to move beyond our current fossil fuel based economy. Wisconsin is moving forward with leadership from the Office of Energy Independence, the Global Warming Task Force and state agencies.

Last week I met with the Director of the Office on Energy Independence and learned a bit more about the opportunities and challenges Wisconsin faces as we move toward a green economy.

The diversity of our state provides incredible opportunities for the development of renewable energy. Technology is making new options viable.  Investors and local entrepreneurs are supplying capital and ideas that could put Wisconsin on the cutting edge of the green revolution.

Liabilities, like manure or waste from landfills, could power our home and industry. Natural resources, like the sun, the wind and the earth (through geo-thermal energy) could provide the jobs we need to grow our economy and the power to run our televisions.

Unfortunately, just when it seems we are on the edge of learning how to work together and embrace the diversity of renewable energy sources, I learned of some competition between those who would profit from wind development and those who would like to invest in other forms of renewable energy. While competition is healthy and often spurs innovation, efforts to shut down competitive alternatives may not be in the public’s best interest.

Thinking back on why renewable energy efforts ground to a halt in the 1970s, I recall stories of the oil industry buying up fledgling alternative energy companies and ending the innovation that – had it been allowed to develop – might have put the United States further ahead today.

Now it seems investors in different types of renewable energy are pitted against each other. A certain wind developer has gone so far as to misconstrue my column on alternative energy from cow manure as me being opposed to wind-power.

Well, any dairy farmer knows cow manure and wind, in the right place on the right day, are both a good thing.

No one alternative energy source, by itself, can generate the power we need to be fossil fuel independent. Pitting one type of renewable energy against another makes no sense and what we must do is take advantage of every opportunity and option available.

In the old world of politics, many interest groups conclude, as a legislator, you are either totally with them or completely against them.  If a legislator’s thoughts are not identical, they will attack. Often it is in the group’s interest to take positions to the extreme. This is all part of the process of political spin.

Beware of people who want to push things to the extreme. Beware of people who have a monetary interest in the outcome of a debate.

Environmentalists across the country are wrestling with legitimate siting issues for sources of alternative energy. Not all locations are created equal. We need landfills, but the decision-maker on where the landfill goes should not be the landfill developer.

I expect to see several new initiatives on alternative energy and I expect we will have success advancing renewable energy, in all its wonderful diversity. My job is to take into account all interests. I do believe there is plenty of room for both the sky and the pies in our new green world. 

State Senator Kathleen Vinehout serves the 31st Senate District. She can be contacted by mail at Senator Kathleen Vinehout, P.O. Box 7882 Madison, Wisconsin 53707-7882 by phone at 877-763-6636 (toll free) or email at Sen.Vinehout@legis.wisconsin.gov