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Green Cheeseheads Oppose Cheaper, Cleaner Canadian Hydro

by Marlo Lewis on May 20, 2011

in Features

Green groups in Wisconsin are attacking a bill that would allow utilities and electric cooperatives to comply with the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) by importing hydroelectricity from Manitoba, Canada, today’s Climatewire reports. The bill (SB 81) passed in the state Senate earlier this week.

Talk about dumb and dumber. Wisconsin’s RPS mandates that 10% of the state’s power come from renewable sources by 2015. A soviet-style production quota, an RPS props up electricity sources — such as wind and solar power — that can’t compete on the basis of cost and quality. As economic policy, an RPS is about as cheesy as it gets.

But as long as a state is going to have an RPS, why not at least allow electric service providers to obtain renewable electricity at the lowest price and the highest quality? That is the objective of SB 81.

As Climatewire explains, Canadian hydropower costs less than Wisconsin-based wind and solar power. Canadian hydropower also has a smaller carbon footprint, because it does not need to backed up by natural gas generation when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. Keep in mind that the main rationale for RPS programs is the supposed need to mitigate global warming by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

So why are green cheeseheads opposing SB 81?

“If we all depend on Manitoba hydropower, we will be creating jobs in another country,” said Keith Reopelle, a senior policy director at Clean Wisconsin, an environmental group. In the long run, this could make it harder to reduce greenhouse gases in Wisconsin, he said, since the state will not have the renewable manufacturing base it might have otherwise.

Actually, prohibiting imports of lower-priced hydropower will create jobs elsewhere by making the Wisconsin economy less competitive. Conversely, allowing Wisconsin firms to get more bang for their electricity buck will make the state a more attractive place to do business.

As for long-term GHG emissions, who the heck knows whether shutting out Manitoba hydropower would help build a “renewable manufacturing base” in Wisconsin? So far, U.S. and European RPS programs have mainly benefited lower-cost manufacturers in China — the world’s leading GHG emitter.

Besides, manufacturing is an energy-intensive process, so adding any kind of manufacturing base to a state where coal fuels two-thirds of all power plants would likely induce a net increase in GHG emissions.

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