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Debate Continues to Swirl Around Clean Power Plan

S Bence
Valley Power Plant stacks in Milwaukee at sunrise.

EPA regional administrator Susan Hedman has made multiple trips to Wisconsin during the evolution of the Clean Power Plan. Wednesday in Milwaukee, more than 80 people wanted to hear what she had to say.

Released in its final form in August, the Clean Power Plan is designed to reduce carbon emissions in the United States. Hedman says the EPA anticipates slashing emissions at existing power plants 32 percent by the year 2030.

Two dozen states,  including Wisconsin, have filed suit to try to halt the regulation.

Despite the pushback, Hedman maintains her agency is acting comfortably within its authority under the Clean Air Act, to impose new pollution limits on power plants.

“There are huge costs if we don’t reduce our carbon emissions, in terms of flooding, increased health impacts and so we need to look at the whole picture,” Hedman says.

Hedman says some critics are overestimating the cost of reducing Co2 emissions.

“In addition the Clean Power Plan is going to be a major incentive for technical innovation. We’ve already seen the solar and wind industry taking off and also the business opportunity for combined heat and power in a state like Wisconsin are huge,” Hedman says.

Local businessman Thomas Schroeder is ”laser beam” focused on innovation.

He says he’s working with a physicist who has perfected and patented a “wave generator,” and Schroeder is about to talk it up in Europe.

“It takes the waves and it generates electricity and it works. The electric company in France is very interested and they want to know how soon they can get three of them,” Schroeder says.

Schroeder says waves may not be Wisconsin’s energy solution but possibilities abound.

“It’s there. You’ve got to think about how you’re going to get that technology. And just cast aside, saying ‘nah, I don’t want to do that. I want to sue, I want to fight.’ Let’s stop the fighting, let’s stop the suing. Let’s all work together to help the problem get solved,” Schroeder says.

Oscar Bloch says he can understand the concerns of Wisconsin utilities, but hopes they push forward anyway. He used to work as a regulator with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

“For several years utilities have been in a turmoil about which direction to take in future as a business. Some people perceive that as a threat in other words they’re saying, disruptive competition from distributed generation with renewable energy even competition from too much energy efficiency lowers their revenues,” Bloch says.

Many manufacturers here also worry about how the Clean Power Plan might impact their bottom line – if they have to pay more for the energy they need.

Patrick Henderson is director of government affairs for QuadGraphics.

He did not get answers on Wednesday.

“I have no greater clarity of how I should go back with our energy folks and our scheduling folks who are scheduling jobs around the country the print work to be able to tell them we’re going to have an advantage in this part of the country or that part of the country,” Henderson says.

The printing company was born in Wisconsin, but now operates in 28 states.

“We’re going to continue to invest in Wisconsin. We just announced 500 new jobs in Wisconsin. A press just went on line a month ago. Now we just have to hope that policy doesn’t go in the wrong direction and hurt our investment,” Henderson says.

Henderson says QuadGraphics already pays higher energy costs in Wisconsin than in other states.

And while the EPA says states will need to begin meeting new emission limits starting in 2022, Wis' Attorney General's office insists the Clean Power Plan is detrimental to the state's economy.

The debate won't end any time soon.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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