Commentary: Monopolies behaving badly — my Wisconsin trip

Georgia conservative activist Debbie Dooley is the founder of the Green Tea Party.

Atlanta Tea Party activist Debbie Dooley is a founder of the Green Tea Coalition.

By Debbie Dooley

I was recently invited to visit Wisconsin by the state’s local chapter of the Solar Energy Industries Association. I jumped at the opportunity. I’ve always had a close affinity with Wisconsin, due to the grand tradition of football stars from the University of Alabama—my alma mater—playing for the Green Bay Packers. (Namely Eddie Lacy, one of the team’s star running backs.)

The other connection I have with Wisconsin? Gale Klappa, chairman and CEO of Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Energy Corporation and chairman, president, and chief executive of Wisconsin Energy’s principal utility, We Energies. Prior to these posts, Klappa was Vice-President of Atlanta-based Southern Company, the parent company of Georgia Power – Georgia’s largest electric utility.

Enjoying two beautiful fall days, I spent most of my time in the Waukesha area, but also made a trip north to visit a renewable energy company in Chilton, Wisconsin, which is just south of Green Bay. Here’s what I saw on my trip.

It’s a simple fact that free-market conservatives oppose monopolies. Conservatives may be stuck living with monopolies in Wisconsin, but they don’t have to tolerate the misuse of monopoly power. Currently, We Energies is abusing its power by restricting customer access to solar—perpetuating energy security vulnerabilities. We Energies is also abusing fairness, by generating record shareholder returns while proposing to sharply increase prices on those with a fixed-income (just as Wisconsin residents my age start to retire). The company is also stifling innovation by blocking third-party ownership for solar and attacking the integrity of net metering.

Innovative manufacturing and service businesses

On my trip, I also visited two businesses that can serve as a model for free-market energy across the nation. First, I visited a dairy farm that has partnered with Chilton, Wisconsin-based DVO Inc., a company that manufactures anaerobic digesters. DVO has installed nearly 100 digesters—with 10 additional projects under construction—at over 70 sites in 16 U.S. states. This particular dairy farm had a manure digester. What I saw was quite simply, recycling at its best. The digester uses manure to create electricity, which the farm can sell back to the grid. But that’s not all. The process also generates liquid fertilizer and a solid material that can be used as bedding for the dairy cows. Quite literally, nothing goes to waste. I would love to see more of this technology used in Georgia.

I also visited Marshall Auto Body in Waukesha. It’s a huge auto body shop that has solar on its roof—you can even check out the shop’s real-time electricity production and usage on its website. Additionally, while I was there, I got to ride in a Tesla—my dream car. It was truly a highlight of the trip.

At both businesses, innovation was everywhere I looked. Entrepreneurs were using advanced technology to create, embrace, and thrive from the freedom that comes from generating your own power. It makes sense; liberty and freedom are deeply held principles that every American craves.

Conservatives fired up about free market energy solutions

During my visit, I also had the fortunate opportunity to meet with several conservatives working on free-market energy. Matt Neumann, for example, co-founded SunVest Solar with his father. Matt’s a strong conservative, and an example of something I see everywhere I go these days: conservatives in the field of solar energy. It’s really a natural fit for conservatives. They’re business people and they’re trying to bring the free market to renewable energy.

I also met with Kevin Crosswhite, Wisconsin state director for the Energy and Enterprise Initiative. Kevin is what I like to call “the future of America,” and an example of what Republicans need to consider when developing their energy policies. Kevin represents how many young conservatives feel about energy in 2014; they embrace decentralized energy, and they embrace solar. Kevin symbolizes just the tip of the iceberg of what the Republican Party could do if it changed its anti-environment image.

I also enjoyed the pleasure of speaking with several of Wisconsin’s news media at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Waukesha Freeman, WUWM FM and WTMJ AM about the potential for solar and free-market energy.

This wasn’t all I saw on my trip of course. Just like you can’t visit Georgia without enjoying a fresh peach, you can’t visit Wisconsin without sampling the cheese and picking up a few Wisconsin-themed souvenirs. I picked up an adorable stuffed cow for my grandson and a uniquely Wisconsin coffee mug—now my favorite mug since it’s the perfect reminder of my fantastic visit—from the airport. (Though I desperately searched—without success—for an Eddie Lacy jersey.)

But setting aside cheese and peaches, the people of Wisconsin and Georgia have a lot in common. When Georgia’s monopoly utility proposed a massive expansion of electrical generation with no solar—we stood up and let them know. Ultimately, they made changes that will bring 800 megawatts of solar online by 2016. Since then, the solar industry has created 1,500 jobs. As a conservative, you can’t really argue with those numbers.

Wisconsinites have a similar opportunity to stand up for free-market energy today. We Energies should not restrict customer access to solar or stifle American innovation by blocking third-party ownership for solar and attacking the integrity of net metering. Wisconsin residents can submit comments online by October 7 or attend the public hearing in Milwaukee on October 8. I urge conservatives across Wisconsin to make their voice heard in support of solar, cow power, and other free-market energy sources.

Thank you to everyone I had the honor to meet during my trip to Wisconsin. My trip was wonderful and I hope to visit again real soon.

Debbie Dooley is a founding member of the national Tea Party and a leader of the Atlanta Tea Party, and a founder of the Green Tea Coalition, a conservation-minded wing of the Tea Party movement.

Editor’s note: Fresh Energy, where Midwest Energy News is based, provided communications support to the Wisconsin Solar Energy Industries Association for Ms. Dooley’s visit.

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