Group seeks to bridge alternative energy, conservative ideology gap

THE CAPITOL REPORT
by WisPolitics.com

Scott Coenen, executive director for the newly formed Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum, says the group will target Republican lawmakers with educational outreach on the benefits of renewable and alternative energy sources.

“I envision us putting on conferences here in Madison, going into legislators’ districts, as well, as this technology and these things spread a little bit more,” he said Dec. 12. “There’s going to be an opportunity for us to show this directly to legislators, to decision makers here in the Capitol, and show them exactly how it impacts their district directly.”

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, WISCEF won’t be lobbying on any specific policy issues, Coenen says – at least not at first.

“I think our initial challenge is just to reframe this issue,” he said.

And though issue ads could be a part of the group’s strategy “in the distant future,” for now it will focus on hands-on education and advocacy, Coenen said.

Coenen has been involved in Republican politics for about a decade, working as a staff member in the Capitol for five years. He argues that clean, alternative energy sources fit with elements of the conservative ideology: cost effectiveness, jobs, economic development, national security and stewardship of natural resources.

“Massive and unprecedented cost declines in the price of solar and wind generation are shaking up energy markets,” Coenen said.

He noted the cost of solar generation has dropped 80 percent in the past 10 years, while the price of wind generation has dropped 66 percent in the past seven.

“Put plainly, solar and wind generation already are, or soon will be, cost competitive with fossil fuels,” he said.

The group will be funded by the national Conservative Energy Network, making Wisconsin the 19th state in its system, Coenen says. This network was launched in 2016, and is funded by various foundations, grants, tech companies and others from around the country.

The leadership council for this new group includes: former Gov. Tommy Thompson; former state Rep. Mark Honadel; Matt Neuman, president of Neumann Companies and co-owner of SunVest Solar; Wisconsin Counties Association Outreach Manager Jon Hochkammer; Wisconsin Young Republicans Chairman Jake Margis; Ryan Owens, a UW-Madison professor of political science; and Debbie Crave, vice president of Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese in Waterloo.

Crave says more support for renewable energy is needed in Wisconsin.

Her family farm operates two anaerobic digesters, which use waste products to generate electricity.

Each digester tank is 750,000 gallons, and together they produce 663 kilowatts of electricity per hour from the waste of 2,000 cows. That’s enough electricity to power the farm, the cheese factory, and over 300 area homes, she says.

“We need to work towards more support for that kind of renewable energy, and to be able to be paid for it,” Crave said yesterday at the news conference for the Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum. “Know that in the countryside – especially in Wisconsin – farmers are moving to these kinds of things.”

She says they’re doing so because of economic viability, but also because it’s the right thing to do.

“The heat, the fuel, and the electricity we produce – if we were going to buy diesel fuel for that, it’s 1,200 gallons of diesel fuel per day that we don’t have to buy,” she said.

Ryan Owen, a professor of political science at UW-Madison and another member of the WISCEF leadership council, says right-wing public leaders and private interests can collaborate for economic benefit while preserving the environment from damage caused by fossil fuels.

“We’re part of a contract,” he said. “A contract that includes the living, the dead, and those yet to be born. We have to be good stewards for them.”

He sees this as a nonpartisan issue that people on both sides of the aisle can get behind.

“As the parties take on ideologies that make them drift to one side or to the other, I think there’s an excellent opportunity there for us to bring the conversation back to a common-sense position,” Owen said.


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