Tommy Thompson, conservative group launch effort to promote renewable energy

Source: By Jason Stein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel • Posted: Friday, December 15, 2017

MADISON – With former Gov. Tommy Thompson at its head, a group of conservatives is launching an organization in Wisconsin to promote new sources of electricity and new technologies.

The Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum is tied in with a national network and an influential Madison lobbying firm, the Capitol Group.

Scott Coenen, the group’s new executive director, insisted the group would be focused not on lobbying for bills but on converting Republicans to the potential benefits — and jobs — coming from technologies such as solar and wind power.

“Conservatives need to emphasize the development of cheap, reliable and cost-effective energy,” said Coenen, a former aide to GOP Sen. Howard Marklein of Spring Green. “To do that, we need to recognize that advances in technology increasingly mean renewable and alternative energy fits that description: cheap, reliable and cost-effective.”

Coenen said that, after starting in Michigan in 2013, the Conservative Energy Network  has grown to 19 states in just four years. The group released a survey a year ago showing broad public support for increasing the use of renewable fuels.

That included support for state utility rules known as net metering, which ease the path both for homeowners to add solar and dairy farmers to generate electricity from manure digesters.

Tyler Huebner, executive director of the longstanding group Renew Wisconsin, said there is momentum for renewables in the state, pointing to the recent completion of a 98-megawatt wind farm in southwestern Wisconsin. Having conservative voices advocating for these technologies could help, he said.

“That could pay dividends,” Huebner said.

Besides Thompson as chairman, the forum’s board includes Debbie Crave of Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, a dairy farm that includes two manure digesters and a cheese plant. Using the manure from 2,000 Holstein cows and heifers, the digesters generate enough power to run the plant, factory and 300 homes, Crave said.

She said her farm doesn’t get paid any premium for the power even though it’s renewable.

“We’ll move forward with or without the government grants, but we sure would appreciate more support and being paid for that,” she said.

The forum’s board also includes: former state Rep. Mark Honadel; University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Ryan Owens, who directs the university’s Tommy Thompson Center for Public Leadership; and businessman Matt Neumann, who is the son of former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann.

Coenen said the group will favor an “all of the above” strategy for energy production that would include renewables such as biofuels as well as natural gas, hydro-electric and nuclear power.

In the national group’s survey last year, the pollster avoided asking voters about their opinions on global warming.

Mark Pischea, leader of the Conservative Energy Network, said last year that support for action on climate change doesn’t drive GOP support for clean energy the way it does for Democrats.

Many Republicans remain skeptical of climate science findings that show a link between burning fossil fuels and warming global temperatures. President Donald Trump announced this year that the United States was pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, an international accord to cut down on carbon emissions.

“What we’ve found as conservatives working in this arena … climate can often be a barrier to a productive conversation, given the politics around climate, especially on the right,” Pischea said then.