Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) wants to end funding to a university renewable energy program that works to find ways to convert wood chips and grasses grown in Wisconsin into sources of energy.
Walker is proposing to cut $8.1 million over two years from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, a move that would cut a total of 35 jobs from the center, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. Along with working to develop new sources of energy in Wisconsin, including native grasses and corn stalks, the research center helps fund research in fields such as energy efficiency and power generation.
State funding of a research institution can help the institution get federal grants, Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, told the Journal Sentinel. He didn’t say, however, whether or not he thought Walker’s defunding would impact Wisconsin’s ability to get federal energy grants.
“It is common practice that federal agencies handing out grants expect a state or private match,” Still said. “They are looking for skin in the game.”
Companies have also used the research center for better lab equipment. GluCan, a company based in St. Louis, didn’t have the money to buy the equipment it needed for a project involving using a biologically-based chemical instead of a petroleum-based one in papermaking, and was able to receive lab equipment and space as well as research funding from the research center.
Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick told the Journal Sentinel that the proposal to end funding to the research center was part of a plan to issue block grants to the University of Wisconsin system, a strategy that she said would give university administrators more autonomy.
The university system, she said, “has the ability to fund this program out of their block grant if they decide it is a priority.”
Walker may not be keen on making sure state funding is available specifically for the bioenergy research center, but he is interested in more research being done on wind turbines. Earlier this year, Walker included $250,000 to study the health impacts of living near wind turbines in Wisconsin in his budget proposal. Tyler Huebner, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, told ThinkProgress at the time that more research on the possible health impacts wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but he wants whatever research that is done to be peer-reviewed. Walker’s proposed study would be completed by the state’s Public Service Commission, so Huebner is worried that it may not be as scientifically sound as he’d like.
Walker has a history of being skeptical of renewable energy’s benefits. He said in a campaign letter in 2010 that wind power was “an expensive, inefficient source of electricity and thus any further construction of wind turbines simply is not a policy goal or objective that should be pursued further.” Walker also introduced a bill in 2011 that sought to restrict wind farm development in Wisconsin.