Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Wisconsin's moribund wind industry finally shows signs of waking up, possibly due to a falling-out between its governor and the Koch brothers.

Clean Power

Wisconsin Wind Industry Finally Shakes Off Koch Brothers

Wisconsin’s moribund wind industry finally shows signs of waking up, possibly due to a falling-out between its governor and the Koch brothers.

The great state of Wisconsin has been a wind energy wallflower despite its prime location in the windy midwestern US. That adds up to a lot of missed economic opportunities, but jobs in the wind industry could come to Wisconsin whether state policymakers like it or not. Wisconsin’s neighbors are gearing up for billions in new wind farms and some analysts predict that the resulting surge in manufacturing jobs will trickle over state lines.

That would be a big help for the “Open for Business” state. Wisconsin has consistently lagged behind the national pace for job creation, though last year its Forbes “Best States for Business” ranking crawled up from the low 40’s to a still-dismal #31.

Wisconsin wind energy map Koch brothers

More Wind Energy Jobs For Wisconsin…

The story behind Wisconsin’s languishing wind industry is a five-year tale of frustration that began in 2011, when state legislators abruptly tore up a painstakingly crafted set of proposed wind farm siting rules.

That same year, the wind industry began surging across the US, even in fossil-friendly states like North Dakota.

Just last spring, Bloomberg took note of Wisconsin’s foot-dragging compared to other states, in the context of the state’s overall economic malaise:

Five years after [Republican Governor Scott] Walker took office, renewable energy in Wisconsin is lagging the boom in the rest of the country and industry blames the two-term governor for the shortfall. Walker and his appointees have pushed new restrictions on windmills, cut tax incentives and research funding…

On the bright side, the American Wind Energy Association depicts Wisconsin as a “national leader” when it comes to wind-related manufacturing jobs.

Wind related manufacturing is where some wind industry observers are pinning their hopes. In a recent story, Wisconsin Public Radio cites Justin Barrett, who teaches wind energy technology at Lakeshore Technical College:

“There’s going to be a lot of manufacturers and installers trying to get parts and things really fast, and I think that’s probably going to be one of the bigger challenges, is for people just to keep up with the supply chain,” he said.

…Or Not

Barrett’s take on the prospects for manufacturing job growth in Wisconsin is based on a sound premise. Just beyond the border is Iowa, the epicenter of midwestern wind energy development thanks partly to the support of billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

Regional grid operator MISO has also been a huge fan of wind energy, helping to keep the industry hopping in the midwest.

However, a Wisconsin manufacturer cited by WPR warns that wind related manufacturing jobs have so far failed to materialize in significant numbers in the state.

In addition, Barrett’s optimistic take applies to just one aspect of the job-creating potential for wind energy. He prepares his students for on-site wind farm jobs by telling them to plan on moving out of state for work.

On The Other Hand…

However, it seems that cracks are beginning to appear in Wisconsin’s anti-wind armor. The state hasn’t seen a new wind farm in five years, but at least two are now in development.

Spain-based EDP Renewables North America is planning a 49-turbine wind farm in Lafayette County. It hasn’t even begun construction, yet the regional supplier Dairyland Power Cooperative has already snapped up at least some of its 98 megawatt capacity.

In St. Croix County, a 44-turbine wind farm just got the green light from Wisconsin regulators earlier this summer.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, at least three other wind farms are in the pipeline, adding up to 360 megawatts.

So, what brought about the change of heart? Pressure from local and regional utility operators may have had a lot to do with Wisconsin’s newly revived interest in exploiting its considerable wind resources.

The newly soured relationship between Governor Walker and his political benefactors, the Koch brothers, may have also been a factor. Walker had enjoyed the largess of the fossil-centric industrialists in his successful pursuit of the governor’s office and throughout the following years. That connection helps explain his reluctance to promote the state’s wind resources.

Last April, word also leaked out that Walker was the Koch brothers’ favored candidate to win the Republican presidential primary, a prize that would have guaranteed access to the reported $1 billion the brothers were prepared to pour into the general election.

However, the Walker-Koch relationship took a sharp turn south just a few months later, after Walker persisted in pursuit of a stadium deal vigorously opposed by the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity.

Relaxing the state’s anti-wind policies could be payback for the stadium pushback, so stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

Image: Wisconsin wind map via US DOE.


Appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Technician, or Ambassador — or a patron on Patreon.
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


You May Also Like

Clean Transport

The Ford E-Transit van EV is taking off like a rocket, which makes it all the harder to explain why the US Postal Service...

Clean Power

The US House Oversight and Reform Committee kicked off its investigation of the fossil fuel industry’s decades-long climate change disinformation campaign last fall by...


Wisconsin utility companies want the government to outlaw solar-powered EV chargers on private propertiy!

Clean Power

There are two new Wisconsin bills with a focus on solar-powered electric vehicle chargers making their way through the Wisconsin state legislature. AB 588...

Copyright © 2021 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.