Although much of supplier Dairyland Power's generating capacity originates with coal-fired plants, renewable energy is playing an ever-increasing role in operations, Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services President and CEO Steve Healy told the local co-op's annual meeting audience late last month.
All states mandate renewable energy as part of utilities' generation, Healy said during the meeting in the Ellsworth High School Cafetorium. Related displays were set up around the room.
"In Wisconsin, a 10 percent renewable energy portfolio standard must be met by 2015," he said.
As of 2004 (the most recent figures available), the six percent level had been attained here, most in biomass and hydro, Healy said.
Another type familiar to farmers comes from methane digesters, which convert manure through a digester into propane. Benefits go back to the farm.
"We're just getting into wind," he said, indicating 20 mega watts are to be added within the next 12-to-18 months. Power generated by this means is available only about 30 percent of the time with a good wind source.
The Evergreen program is an established effort of this kind, he said. The legislature has also mandated low-income energy assistance be provided to eligible patrons.
Later, Healy reported on two issues in the legislative area that are important to co-ops. Fuel neutrality affects the market for electric heat.
Electrician licensing is a shortcoming in Wisconsin, as there's no statewide definition for it like with plumbers. The only licensing regulations for electricians in this state are set by local municipalities.
Global climate change has become a reality to be dealt with, he said. A legislative bill has been introduced in Wisconsin addressing coal-burning's impact and the work of a Clean Coal study group is underway. The state's Public Service Commission has issued a new strategic energy assessment.
Pierce Pepin Board Chairman Ronald Johnson further discussed global warming and another topic raised by Healy, the Focus on Energy program. Co-op participation in that program awaits an overhaul expected this summer, Johnson said. The sign-up period occurs in October, so there will still be time to enroll.
As for the warming, he contended every co-op is interested in cleaner air, but costs must be a consideration. Eighty percent of the electric industry is presently coal-fired.
While nuclear would be a clean system, it's currently illegal to even plan such a plant in Wisconsin. Nuclear waste has been identified as a concern; yet, all such waste that's been generated to date wouldn't cover one football field, he understood. France's industry is 80 percent nuclear and the systems in all of Europe are 60 percent nuclear. He wondered if it's time to pursue this option.
Patron Bruce Robinson later commented the nuclear power issue in this country is more political than technical. Canada builds these plants and China has 18 of them. Because there's a limit to how much nuclear fuel is available, action should be taken soon. Meantime, spent nuclear rods can be recycled, he reminded.
Get more on this story in this week's print edition of the Pierce County Herald.