Summer 2006Published Article

Promotion of Renewables Presents Opportunities for Wisconsin Agriculture

WFCA Industry News Quarterly, Volume 3, Issue 3

Using manure to light homes. Using corn to fuel cars. Using soybeans to power buses and other diesel trucks. Given our petroleum-based economy, it is not that many years ago that concepts such as these were met with skepticism and witticisms about “nutty professors”.

Run the movie forward.

Now, due to the leadership, entrepreneurship and commitment of numerous people in agriculture, Wisconsin has several operating ethanol plants (with more under construction and on the drawing board), a burgeoning manure-to-energy industry and increasing interest in biodiesel plants and soybean crush facilities. That’s not to even mention the wind farm and other biomass projects utilizing renewable resources as well.

And when Governor Doyle signed Senate Bill 459 the Energy Efficiency and Renewables Act (Wisconsin Act 141) into law on March 17th, the commitment to renewable energy sources in Wisconsin got deeper. This landmark legislation integrates energy efficiency and renewable energy into Wisconsin’s energy policy.

Senate Bill 459 is based on the recommendations of Governor Doyle’s Task Force on Energy and Renewables. The Task Force was created in 2003 as a collaboration of broadly based energy representatives including customer groups, utilities, environmentalists, municipal providers, cooperatives, businesses, labor and legislators from both parties. The bill was passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support and moved swiftly through the legislative process in recent weeks.

Pursuant to the new law, by the year 2015, Wisconsin’s electric utilities must increase the amount of power produced from renewable energy sources to 10 %. Renewable energy sources include such things as biomass, wind, hydroelectric and solar power. The law also requires state-owned facilities to purchase 20% of their energy from renewables by 2011.

This new law requires the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) to submit a budget request to provide additional funding for research and development of anaerobic digesters at farms participating in the Discovery Farms initiative. This will enhance Wisconsin’s developing manure-to-energy industry. The law also requires that a pilot test be conducted to determine the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of using equipment that burns corn plant matter for residential space heating.

Wisconsin is in the midst of a cycle of energy infrastructure construction brought on by the threats of reliability that occurred in the late 1990s and the increasing demand for electricity brought on by a growing economy and population. Enacting state policies that promote energy efficiency and conservation will help improve Wisconsin’s ability to modernize our energy infrastructure, create jobs, and invest in our rural economy.

Wisconsin’s public utilities will be looking for ways to comply with the new 10% requirement. Given the length of time needed for permitting and constructing larger facilities, it is likely the state’s utilities will immediately begin developing their plans for compliance. Businesses who build renewable facilities should consider approaching the state’s utilities with information on their product. Those developing new renewable technologies should investigate whether any state (or federal) funding is available for R&D. Lastly, those agribusinesses producing the raw materials used in biomass facilities, should investigate how best to position themselves in this emerging marketplace.

For more information regarding the Energy Efficiency and Renewables Act, please contact David A. Crass at 608.283.2267, or

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