The head of the Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum says Republicans in the state have a “political opportunity” in clean energy given widespread support seen in poll results. 

“We do polling every year across the country, we do polling here in Wisconsin, it doesn’t matter if you’re polling right-of-center voters, middle or left-of-center, clean energy is very universally popular,” Executive Director Scott Coenen said recently during Renew Wisconsin’s annual Renewable Energy Summit in Madison. “75, 80 percent — the numbers are always there. People like this stuff.” 

GOP lawmakers in the state have recently introduced bills related to community solar projects and third-party financing, as well as electric vehicles and EV charging stations. While some have seen more movement than others, Renew Wisconsin Director of Government Affairs Jim Boullian said these efforts represent “some real breakthroughs” with more conservatives eyeing clean energy issues. 

Coenen explained that Republicans and Democrats are approaching these topics from very different perspectives, and that has a big impact on related messaging. 

“In all materials, the supporting stuff we put together for all of those kind of right-of-center renewable energy, clean energy bills, you will not see the word climate mentioned once. Not once, right? Not a motivating factor,” he said, noting that applies to both GOP voters and political leaders. 

By avoiding the question of climate and focusing on factors like competition, consumer choice, free market opportunities, jobs, infrastructure investment and national security, Coenen says lobbying efforts aim to appeal to Republican values. 

“That doesn’t necessarily build bipartisanship or common ground necessarily, but it at least I think gets everybody rowing in the same direction, right, and does it matter why we’re rowing that boat if we’re all kind of moving in the same direction? Not necessarily,” he said. 

Assembly Minority Leader Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, said during last week’s event that she appreciates the work done by Coenen and Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, to advance some of these issues. 

“Really glad that conversation has expanded, continued,” she said. “While it may not be the way that I would draft the bill, I’m glad to see progress, I’m glad to see discussion happening in the Capitol.” 

She also pointed to Dem bills aimed at cutting the state’s carbon footprint, creating jobs and reducing inequities in the state. And she highlighted the “Forward on Climate” package of bills introduced late last year by Dem lawmakers, building on the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change. 

Meanwhile, Cowles provided an update on some of the bills he’s helped introduce. While some progress has been made with bills on electric vehicles, he noted legislation related to third-party financing and community solar development haven’t fared as well. 

“They’re not moving at this point, so gotta keep pushing them to have a hearing on those bills,” he said. 

He noted a bill that would use Volkswagen settlement funds for electric vehicle charging grants recently cleared the Senate Committee on Transportation and Local Government, adding, “I’m feeling pretty good about that bill at the moment.” And the Senate Committee on Utilities, Technology and Telecommunications will hold a hearing this week on a bill related to EV charging station regulations. 

“I’m feeling reasonably good about that bill making it,” Cowles said. “We’ve got to have more of these charging stations out there to be participant in the electric car revolution, and I think more and more legislators are seeing this.” 

–By Alex Moe

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