'No Body's Right, If Everybody's Wrong' - Wisconsin's Republican Governor Opposes Biomass Power


"The new 29MW Charter Street facility will use 250,000 tons of biomass fuel each year" Caption and image credit:BrighterEnergy.org

Wisconsin's newly-elected Republican Governor is opposed to funding the planned biomass-fired portion of a flex-fuel power plant on the UW Madison campus. He wants the cheaper, natural gas fired part to go forward, however, which will translate to cleaner emissions and capital cost savings.

From an earlier post, here is the background: "At a time of serious State budget deficit, a declining forest products industry, and continued high dependence on fossil-fueled electricity, University of Wisconsin's flagship campus in Madison is proposing to build a combined biomass & natural gas-fired, heating, cooling, and power generation plant. ... There's an important economic development subtext: make it a prototype project to help drive the state's entire economy toward a more sustainable future." Do newly elected Republicans just hate trains and bio-fuels and anything else promoted by environmentalists? Or is more going on?
The Wisconsin State Journal, writing about Governor-elect Scott Walker's order to de-fund a biofuels boiler,

...Walker said he wants to shift plans to installing a natural gas boiler rather than the boiler that would burn alternative naturally grown fuels such as wood chips or switch grass. Such a move, Walker said, would save the state $100 million of the total $250 million cost of rebuilding the university's central heating and cooling plant so that it no longer burns coal.
Besides saving $100 million, Madison's air and transportation network will be a lot cleaner with just a gas fired unit. This decision is not a win win, though.

The visionary part of the original design - a project endorsed by the exiting Democratic Governor - was to spread project benefits, including fuel supply chain jobs, across the state. It was a prototype test of how sustainable development might proceed in a state with virtually no fossil fuel resources. Specifically, farmers in the agricultural south could sell corn stover and switch grass fuels to the plant and loggers in the densely wooded north could sell wood chips.

The pattern.
Governor-elect Walker is on record as opposed to high speed train development in Wisconsin. Quoting from an earlier post by Brian, which cites the NY Times for this:

In Wisconsin, which got more than $810 million in federal stimulus money to build a train line between Milwaukee and Madison, Scott Walker, the Milwaukee County executive and Republican candidate for governor, has made his opposition to the project central to his campaign.

Mr. Walker, who worries that the state could be required to spend $7 million to $10 million a year to operate the trains once the line is built, started a Web site, NoTrain.com, and has run a television advertisement in which he calls the rail project a boondoggle. "I'm Scott Walker," he says in the advertisement, "and if I'm elected as your next governor, we'll stop this train."


What's going on here, really?
Is this simply a reflection of the fear and uncertainty Americans have about the economy and their wish for a simple way to return to the good times - by 'balancing the budget'? In part, yes. The State does have a badly out of whack budget and a citizenry which in large part demands serious spending cutbacks.

A new governor has only a few months in which to establish a public personality and make clear that he/she will make good on campaign promises. Governor-elect Walker is simply doing what he promised, which means cutting investments in infrastructure, among other things.

Wisconsin has no coal mining or natural gas drilling industries whose interests would make them lobby against small bio-fuel boiler.

What about influence of national Republican party leaders? Brian's suggestion that such opposition has to do with taking down any and all signature Obama Administration projects may have some validity (see link above on rail opposition).

Republicans have a point about letting the private sector lead on new tech. Several wood gasification boilers for power are planned already for northern Wisconsin. As reported in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Xcel Energy Corp. has won state approval for a project that would replace a coal-fired boiler in Ashland on Lake Superior with a biomass gasifier power plant.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee-based We Energies is planning to build two biomass-fueled power plants by 2013, at a cost of $500 million.

(Note: these private projects don't address the higher power demands of the southern part of the State, and don't spread benefits to the ag sector.)

You can't force a changed vision on the majority.
There is no common vision of how sustainable development will proceed, and especially not about the vision that gets written about so much on Grist or TreeHugger and the like, and largely ignored by the US print and broadcast media.
.
Those who don't want change can be counted on to vote against change. Those with a radical new vision of the future - as was amply demonstrated by the just finished mid-term elections - can not be counted on to vote.

"Nobody's right if everybody's wrong"
This conflict over a changing future very much reminds me of the ancient Buffalo Springfield tune, For What It's Worth.

Reading the lyrics now - 43 years after the first culture war in America - the song feels like a perfect anthem for today. See background on Wikipedia here.

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