• WisBusiness

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

GreenBiz: Clean Energy Coalition addresses western Wisconsin energy issues


By Gregg Hoffmann
Bill Katra admits he ruffles “feathers on all sides” of energy, environmental and business issues.

“At times, I get the political action groups upset; at times traditional energy businesses. But, at times, they also agree with what we are saying,” said Katra, who is the “energy person” behind the Clean Energy Coalition of Western Wisconsin.

Katra , a former professor and owner of a heating and air conditioning business, believes by trying to report on energy and environmental issues from varying perspectives CEC can play an educational role and also bring groups that seem to be in opposition into a dialogue.

“The issues often are controversial,” he admits. “But, if we don’t gather information from all sides and discuss it we might not move forward in the best direction.”

As its name implies, CEC is concerned about getting energy through methods and sources that are as clean as possible. It began as a group that explored alternative energies and environmental issues. At first, it spawned smaller groups interested in specific issues. Many of those groups still exist on their own today.

CEC has also hosted seminars, with experts on a variety of energy and environmental issues. It has evolved into primarily an information gathering and dissemination vehicle, with Katra filling much of those roles.

Much of its focus remains in the environmental and green energy areas, but Katra also believes in taking a “realistic” approach to energy issues and reporting on them in a “neutral, fair” way.

“I’m proud to say that people with the political action and environmental groups will get back to me, as will those with some of the large energy corporations,” Katra said. “I believe they respect the approach we have taken with CEC and in my writings.”

Katra sends out periodic email reports to several hundred sources about various issues. His latest was on “Wind Energy in the Midwest.”

In it, he maintains, “In the Midwest, by far the most important sources of renewable energy is wind."

“If renewable Dakota wind energy is the goal of a populist politics, it -- ironically -- will be delivered primarily by huge corporate issues,” Katra wrote. “Unfortunately, the impact of ‘community based’ or ‘distributed” renewable generation is almost negligible in the Midwest.

“Instead, the new wind farms are primarily developed by powerful corporate interests that venture their capital in our Midwest. In case after case, idealistic citizens have failed to garner sufficient local finances and have failed to interest local agencies in order to guarantee local control over the region’s wind resources.”

Katra believes CEC and others should work to make sure the wind farms and transmission lines for the energy from them be developed with sound environmental principles.

Transmission lines have become a major issue in parts of western Wisconsin, with American Transmission Company seeking a route for a line to connect between Minnesota and the more populated areas to the south and east of the region.

Katra also believes that CEC and others should make their viewpoints known to politicians. In Wisconsin, this means Gov. Scott Walker, state legislators and members of Congress. “They can’t take a business as usual approach on these issues,” Katra said. “They can’t ignore climate change or act as if it does not exist. That‘s putting their heads in the sand.”

Katra calls for the Wisconsin Renewable Portfolio Standard to be raised from its current 10 percent to the Minnesota level of 25 percent. He said federal or state legislation must provide utilities with incentives to “retired old and antiquated coal-burning power plants that continue to poison our environment.”

At the same time, Katra acknowledged that coal will still be used to provide much of the nation’s power for decades, but said movement should be made to more efficient plants and to more renewables.

To the question, “What will be Wisconsin’s role in the Midwest’s new energy future?,” Katra answered, “minimal.”

“We are an energy-challenged, sparsely populated state whose fate is to be geographically situated between areas of high electricity production (the wind area of the Dakotas) and areas of high electricity consumption (urbanized areas of southeast Wisconsin and Chicago)."

He added that CEC and other groups must remain active in plans for transmission of that electricity, “otherwise, the powerful economic interests that largely control both the production and consumption of energy might be tempted to re-baptize us, ‘The Transmission State‘.”

-- Hoffmann has written many columns and features for WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com over the years. He writes GreenBiz column monthly. For more CEC reports on other issues, contact Katra at billkatra@hotmail.com.

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