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Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

September 4, 2018

Wisconsin State Journal, Sept. 2

No-coal goal is impressive, imperative

One of Wisconsin’s largest utilities has set a date for giving up coal.

Congratulations to Alliant Energy for helping to lead our state and nation into a clean-energy future, despite a president who would rather ignore science and steer America’s power supply backward.

Alliant, a Madison utility company serving customers in parts of Wisconsin and Iowa, announced plans this month to stop burning coal for electricity generation by 2050. That’s more than three decades from now, and some environmentalists complain the timeline isn’t fast enough.

But setting a date for giving up this dirty fuel that is filling our atmosphere with greenhouse gasses and warming the planet definitely represents progress.

Alliant also has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, and to double its use of renewable energy sources by 2030. Alliant now fuels 33 percent of its power supply with coal. That will fall to 23 percent by 2024, and disappear by 2050, according to the utility.

Alliant plans to supplant coal mostly with solar power — the cost of which has fallen by 70 percent in recent years. By 2030, Alliant plans to increase its use of renewable energy sources from 16 percent to 33 percent.

Stubborn critics of advancing the state’s and nation’s energy supply to cleaner and ultimately less expensive options warn that solar, wind and other renewable sources of power can’t supplant coal. They ask: What happens when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow?

The simple answer of today is that natural gas will cover the base load. And natural gas emits only about half of the carbon pollution as coal. Moreover, battery technology will improve in the future to make solar and wind more efficient and better able to supply energy from reserves.

Only a decade ago, Alliant wanted to build a coal plant in Wisconsin, which the Public Service Commission wisely rejected. Now Alliant is looking forward — the opposite direction as President Donald Trump, who “digs coal” and wants to roll back government incentives for utilities to seek innovation.

Trump pulled out of an international agreement to reduce carbon emissions last year, and more recently moved to dismantle federal goals for utilities to reduce carbon emissions. Besides contributing to climate change and more chaotic weather — including heavier rain and flooding, which Wisconsin is suffering this summer — burning lots of coal can trigger higher rates of asthma and other health issues.

Like Trump, Gov. Scott Walker has done little to position Wisconsin for a clean-energy future. Instead, these Republican leaders have ceded leadership — along with the economic benefits that come from innovation — to other states and countries, including China.

The good news is that the private sector and the public is ahead of the politicians on this issue. And increasingly, those leaders who resist a smarter and more efficient power system will pay a price at the polls, especially with younger voters.

The energy world is changing fast — and for the better — with wind and solar projects quickly becoming the most cost-effective way to generate electricity. In fact, Alliant is freezing its base electric and natural gas rates through 2020.

More power companies should follow the utility’s fine example.

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The Journal Times of Racine, Sept. 2

Foxconn water deal must advance

The City of Racine saw the largest unemployment decrease in the state over the past year, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

The data show that Racine’s unemployment rate dropped from 5.6 percent in July 2017 to 4.9 percent in July 2018.

That is great news for our community. It’s only expected to get better as the Foxconn Technology campus is built, whether Racine residents end up working at Foxconn or at another nearby company created because of Foxconn.

At a ceremony Thursday marking the start of vertical construction on the Foxconn site, Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said the project is “transforming Racine, Racine County and Mount Pleasant.”

“We want to lift up our employers and those people who have been challenged with employment barriers to get them out of poverty and for sustained success,” Delagrave said.

But in order for the project to continue to advance, Racine must join with Mount Pleasant and reach an agreement to allow for the extension of sewer and water.

On Aug. 16, area officials released the details of a $100 million intergovernmental water agreement between Mount Pleasant, the City of Racine and the Racine Water Utility.

In the deal, Racine would receive more money for buses and public safety and a new city-village boundary commission would form.

In anticipation of heavier demand for police, fire and emergency services as the Foxconn TID area develops, Mount Pleasant will allocate $150,000 per year from the TID to Racine’s public safety services. The payments will continue for the life of the TID, which could continue until the fall of 2047 but also could end before that.

Also, with the expected ridership increase from growth in TID 5, next year Mount Pleasant will increase its funding for RYDE, the city’s bus system, by $100,000. Thereafter, for the life of the TID, funding will be based on actual usage by Mount Pleasant riders.

The Mount Pleasant Village Board has unanimously approved the intergovernmental deal. It was sent from there to the Racine City Council.

Racine Mayor Cory Mason said in a statement: “I am encouraged by the additional resources proposed in the agreement. Ultimately the decision will be made by the full City Council.”

The City’s Committee of the Whole met on the proposal in closed session for about 90 minutes on Aug. 21, but no decision was made. Council President Jason Meekma said the committee will hold another closed session on the proposal in September.

The agreement is a big deal; it makes sense that Racine aldermen want to make sure they fully understand the terms. But extending the sewer and water is in the best interests of the city, as well as the community as a whole.

Already, there have been announcements of housing developments underway in the city, as well as announcements of developers buying large chunks of land around the Foxconn area. Racine’s unemployment numbers show the worker-training initiatives are paying off.

There is still so much more our community will gain from the Foxconn development. Racine will play an integral part in that growth by allowing for the sewer and water extension.

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Kenosha News, Aug. 30

A key issue in governor’s race: Local or increasing state control?

Among the key issues in the governor’s race, local vs. increasing state control should be on your mind.

Would you rather have your mayor, elected council members and elected school board members making decisions, or would you prefer legislators and the governor making decisions impacting locals?

A 2016 memo by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau showed that 128 provisions that represent unfunded mandates or restrict decision-making power of local governments were approved in the three Wisconsin legislative sessions since 2011.

Republicans at the time pointed out some of the bills were sponsored or supported by Democrats, and some resulted in lower taxes.

Should that continue?

Tony Evers, Democrat for governor, says no. “Scott Walker and the Legislature believe they know better than our local communities, and it’s just plain wrong,” Evers wrote in response to our questions for the candidates.

The eight Democrats running for governor made a point to say more control should go to local government during an early August debate in Milwaukee, days before the primary.

Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian highlighted this in an interview with the Kenosha News, published last Sunday.

“This is going to be a very important election because certain changes need to happen in Madison regarding local government,” he said. “The state, for some reason, has been taking away local control from the cities and other municipalities. And that really needs to stop.”

He cited as an example inaction by Walker and legislative leaders to support proposed bills that would close tax loopholes, which allow national retail chains to pay less than their locally assessed share of property taxes. That results in greater tax burdens being shifted onto small businesses and homeowners.

“Everyone needs to understand through the election process we can make changes,” Antaramian said.

We’ve discussed closing the “dark store” loopholes in editorials and have encouraged Kenosha County residents to vote in the non-binding referendum on the November ballot to send a message to Madison, where legislative leaders have not put the bipartisan-supported bills up for a vote.

There are other examples. Should elected school boards decide when schools open, rather than the state-mandated after Labor Day opening? Should local leaders have options to raise revenue?

Amid all of the ads and soundbites of this governor’s race, this issue should be debated.

And you should decide where it ranks for you — compared with other issues — to have local elected leaders able to act on more that matters for your community.

The Nov. 6 election will present two very different paths for Wisconsin, and local vs increasing state control is one example.

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