Wisconsin's Clean Energy Jobs Act could be a job killer -- but not from energy efficiency or renewable energy, as some are claiming, against all evidence. The nuclear portion of the bill is far more likely to raise electric rates by opening the door to building expensive new nuclear reactors and allowing for prepayment schemes to fund them.
I was born and raised in Wisconsin but have spent the past decade in Savannah, Ga., working with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. I've seen firsthand how the push for risky new nuclear reactors has impacted Southeastern states. It's not an experience that Wisconsinites would want to replicate.
In recent years Georgia, Florida and South Carolina have all passed legislation to encourage building new nuclear reactors. What's happened next -- particularly in Florida and South Carolina -- is that ratepayers already dealing with tough economic times have seen their electricity bills increase.
In Georgia, the legislation was touted as a "clean energy" measure. Quickly, the wide and strong support for "clean energy" was co-opted and redirected to promote new nuclear reactors. The state's Public Service Commission jumped on the pro-nuclear bandwagon during proceedings to explore new energy development. When Georgia Power, subsidiary of the Southern Co., said it wanted to build new nuclear reactors, the PSC was happy to oblige -- even though the utility's options included much less risky, more affordable and more environmentally responsible choices such as energy efficiency and renewables.
Then last year, the Georgia legislature added insult to injury. It passed controversial anti-consumer legislation that forces ratepayers to pay for new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in advance. Even if the reactors are never built, utility customers won't get their money back. This type of financing, commonly called Construction Work in Progress (CWIP), is really a nuclear industry bailout or a tax for services often not rendered.
Wisconsin already allows CWIP financing for utility projects. So if the Clean Energy Jobs Act removes the state's long-standing and common sense restrictions on building new nuclear reactors, Wisconsin families and businesses could be forced to pay this unfair nuclear tax.
In Florida and South Carolina, the story is similar to what happened in Georgia. Their legislatures talked about creating new jobs or developing clean energy sources to address the grave threats posed by global warming. Both states passed anti-consumer legislation requiring customers to pay now for new nuclear reactors. And struggling families and businesses are being forced to foot the bill -- even though the proposed reactors have yet to receive the needed federal licenses.
In Florida, utility estimates for two new reactors are more than $17 billion. That's more than three times the cost that was projected just a few years ago. Customers of one utility, Progress Energy, are now paying over $6 each month for two proposed nuclear reactors that are already behind schedule and over budget. By 2018, the nuclear tax on ratepayers' bills will rise to more than $30 per month. Again, that's before any new electricity is produced. It will be many years -- if ever -- before utility customers start benefiting from the power they're paying for today.
As you can imagine, Florida ratepayers aren't happy and the economy is struggling. And policies that were once touted as "clean energy" and "job creating" measures are now huge political liabilities for the legislators who pushed them on the state.
Wisconsin needs to learn from these lessons. The parallels between what happened in Southeastern states and the choices facing Wisconsin today are striking.
There is much to like about the Clean Energy Jobs Act (Assembly Bill 649 and Senate Bill 450), but the good energy efficiency and renewable measures could easily be overshadowed in practice by the high cost of new nuclear power. Legislators must protect Wisconsin families and businesses by removing the pro-nuclear provisions from the bill.