Kathleen Falk: County shows Walker how to create green jobs

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

From a commentary by Kathleen Falk in The Capital Times:

We elect governors to solve problems, not create them.

Unfortunately, when it comes to energy and green jobs, Gov. Scott Walker is making things worse. Here’s how:

One of the big drags on our state’s economy is the amount of money we spend for energy. Right now we send $12.5 billion every year to out-of-state companies to power our businesses and homes and to fuel our vehicles.

Walker is making this problem even worse:

• Walker stopped construction of a new biomass power plant. This renewable energy plant would have produced power locally with the added benefit of buying biomass from local farmers or utilizing waste wood.

• Walker shelved the wind energy siting rules devised through years of negotiation. That cost about 1,100 Wisconsin jobs and dried up $600 million in investments by driving three wind farm companies out of state.

• Walker eliminated the state’s Office of Energy Independence and gutted programs that encourage companies to become energy efficient. He outsourced “Focus on Energy” money to a Louisiana-based company to run the program.

My work as Dane County executive shows what we can accomplish when we work together rather than working to gain personal power and tearing people apart.

I was a frugal county executive — not only does it come naturally since I’m German/Irish from Milwaukee, but the top executive must be careful with taxpayers’ money.

Over a decade ago, faced with the problem of highly polluting methane produced at the county landfill, I found a solution: We converted the methane to electricity and sold it to the local utility — enough to power 4,000 homes a year, eliminate burning 16,000 tons of coal, and earning over $3 million a year for taxpayers.

I also led the charge to retrofit old government facilities, producing energy and cost savings. Dane County boasts solar panels at the airport, zoo, park buildings and county offices. Underneath the new county nursing home is a geothermal system that cools and heats the buildings.

We brought green jobs to Dane County through Cow Power. Dairy is almost a billion-dollar part of the county’s economy. Helping the dairy industry grow and at the same time preventing pollution from hurting our lakes and streams makes real economic sense.

Working with farmers, a private Wisconsin company, the local utility and county government, our county built the first community manure digester in our state. It uses manure from 2,500 cows, produces green energy that fuels the equivalent of 2,500 homes, and keeps phosphorus out of county lakes. It’s so successful that we are now on to a second digester! The Environmental Protection Agency has us speaking to other states in the Midwest so they can do the same thing.

The governor ought to be working with farmers and private companies to replicate Cow Power around the state.

The governor ought to build the biomass plant.