MADISON – Guess which governor said the following:
a. “It’s time to win the race to become the energy capital of the world.”
b. “To lead, we must innovate… and provide new sources of energy to power our lives and propel our state’s economy forward.”
c. “Let’s show the nation how to move even more boldly toward energy independence.”
d. “Our calling card to the 21st century must be the New Energy Economy.”
e. “The policies that helped us catch the pack in first-generation ethanol should now be modified so we can lead in the biomass ethanol that comes next.”
If you answered Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, who will deliver his annual State of the State speech Tuesday night, you’re correct in concept. But the specific authors of those quotes are (in order) Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, and Indiana Gov. Mitchell Daniels Jr.
From coast to coast, governors are hopping on the biofuels bandwagon. That’s not an unexpected phenomenon, given renewed emphasis from the White House and widespread concern about petroleum reserves, energy security and global climate change. But it’s worth noting that when Doyle urges Wisconsin to become more aggressive in its pursuit of “energy independence,” the state will likely have plenty of company.
And that’s as it should be. No state, acting alone, will deliver the answer to the nation’s need for a more independent energy future. Nor will initiatives by Washington initiatives alone do the trick. That’s the genius of the federal system. Our federal government – working in concert with laboratories of innovation in the states, and with the private sector – has historically provided answers to national problems. Energy is no exception.
However, some states are better positioned than others to help. The explosion in economic development around medical biotechnology is a current example. More than 40 of the 50 states have “biotech” strategies in place – but the reality is that most economic activity is centered in fewer than 20 states (Wisconsin included) that have the research base, the tech transfer mechanisms and the private companies necessary to compete.
For similar reasons, Wisconsin has a chance to be a leader in biofuels and other alternative energy solutions. The state has an industrial, agricultural and academic research foundation that would be the envy of many. It has agricultural and forest land to yield the raw material – especially the kinds of wood products, wood waste and plant fibers needed to produce “cellulosic ethanol,” which scientists believe holds more promise than corn ethanol.
Most important, Wisconsin companies are experienced in delivering value-added products to a global market. It’s why the growth in Wisconsin exports has exceeded the U.S. average in each of the past three years.
In his State of the State address, Doyle will propose creating the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and dedicating $40 million in his 2007-2008 budget to renewable energy such as solar, wind, hydrogen, biodiesel and ethanol. Doyle wants the state to generate 25 percent of its power and transportation fuels from renewable sources by 2025.
“The scope and consequences of global warming are so massive that the responsibility for action rests not only with our leaders in Washington, but with all of us,” Doyle told the Associated Press. “With new technology, and a commitment to renewable fuels, Wisconsin can lead the way – reducing global warming and helping this nation kick its addiction to foreign oil.”
The Office on Energy Independence will coordinate the state’s efforts to grow Wisconsin’s bio and renewable economies and advise the governor and cabinet agencies on ways to meet the goals of Wisconsin’ “Declaration of Energy Independence.” The office will report directly to Doyle and include staff from the Departments of Administration Division of Energy, Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, Natural Resources, and the Public Service Commission.
This need not be more bureaucracy, but a mechanism for coordinating existing state efforts and leveraging what’s taking place in the private sector. Other states will likely throw more money at the issue, so it’s important for Wisconsin to get the most out of existing resources.
The competition to create the nation’s new energy future will be intense – but there’s plenty of room for states such as Wisconsin, which is a net energy user under the status quo, to become a net energy producer. That’s good for our economy, and the world.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.