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By Dave Umhoefer August 10, 2014

Duey Stroebel says compromise vote by opponents cost $788 million

Republicans running for Congress in east-central Wisconsin are competing for the title of most uncompromising conservative.

Take candidate Duey Stroebel’s attack on fellow state lawmakers Glenn Grothman and Joe Leibham in the hotly contested Aug. 12. 2014 GOP primary.

The online ad features Grothman explaining, during a candidate forum, a vote he cast in the state Senate that required utilities to sell more electricity generated from wind and other technologies.

"There was a bad mandate in the state of Wisconsin," Grothman says in the clip.  "Sometimes when you’re  in Madison you’re stuck with taking a compromise vote."

A snarky-sounding narrator jumps in:

"Compromise? A compromise vote that cost $788 million? If career politicians Glenn Grothman and Joe Leibham are willing to compromise on conservative principles in Madison, what would they compromise on in Washington?"

Did Grothman and Leibham, both state senators, support a change that cost consumers $788 million?

In 2006, both voted for a bill requiring electric providers to increase the amount of renewable electricity they sell by two percentage points above their current level by 2010, and by six percentage points above their current level by 2015.

The legislation established a statewide goal that 10 percent of all electricity sales in Wisconsin be from renewable resources by 2015. That goal was met in 2013, two years early, the state Public Service Commission announced.

(Legislative records show that in 1998 Grothman voted for the original mandate, which set a 2.2 percent goal. Leibham was not yet in the Legislature. Stroebel, a state representative, was elected in 2011.)

So, no doubt about their votes.

Was the 2006 vote a compromise?

The vote on the measure came at a time when Republicans controlled the Legislature, but Democrat Jim Doyle was in the governor’s chair.

A Republican sponsor, state Sen. Robert Cowles of Green Bay, credited passage  to compromises made by utilities and manufacturers to customer and environmental groups. A combination of high energy prices, the improvement of wind- and solar-power technologies and political will helped, he said at the time, according to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel stories.

Grothman says the vote prevented a mandate that would have been set at higher than 10 percent, but Renew Wisconsin policy director Michael Vickerman recalls that no higher number was on the table.

The measure passed 32-1 in the state Senate (and unanimously in the Assembly).

State Sen. Tom Reynolds, R- West Allis, cast the lone no vote, saying the legislation would drive up energy bills. Cowles countered it would lead to $2 billion in investments from energy companies that would drive down the cost of producing renewable energy.

In 2012, Grothman appeared to sour on the mandate, saying he wanted to freeze it at 2012 levels because windmills had become controversial among residents in his district.

What about the price tag?

To back up the $788 million figure, the Stroebel ad cites a March 2013 study released by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a conservative-oriented think tank. With some Democrats proposing a 25 percent requirement, WPRI said it was timely to study what it calls the "often forgotten" costs of using more renewable energy.

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To do the research, WPRI turned to The Beacon Hill Institute, a Boston-based research group interested in limited government. It tangled with environmental groups in Wisconsin in 2009 after criticizing the cost of efforts to fight climate change.

The Beacon study did not tally the actual cost to that point to consumers of the renewable mandate.

Instead, it used forecasting techniques and various assumptions to predict what the mandate would cost in the four years from 2013 to 2016.

The conclusion: $788 million.

Paul Bachman, Beacon Hill’s research director and co-author of the study, told PolitiFact Wisconsin the number could be smaller than $788 million because after the study was completed, the state announced that utilities had reached the 10 percent goal earlier than expected.

The Beacon study had assumed renewable energy sales would continue to increase as the 2015 deadline approached.

The state Public Service Commission in 2014 commented on the impact of that 10 percent goal being met early. "A solid argument could be made that any additional renewable energy added to electric provider portfolios past 2013 will not be driven by (the state mandate)," the agency said.

The impact of the mandate should level off or perhaps even decrease at some point, the PSC said.

So the $788 million, just a projection to begin with, may well turn out to be high.

But that and other numbers in the study appear to be in the ballpark, at least, based on the state Public Service Commission’s studies of actual costs that have been incurred so far.

Actual costs studied

The PSC’s own studies look backward in time at the costs of the renewables mandate.

The cost of the mandate was $532 million over the five years from 2008 through 2012, the agency has calculated, said Andrew Kell, an analyst in the PSC’s division of regional energy markets.

In 2012 alone it was about $184 million.

One last issue.

The ad’s shorthand phrasing -- "compromise vote that cost $788 million" -- could suggest that the legislation already has cost $788 million.

But even if we consider just the actual costs so far, the $788 million figure might be on target.

Why? Because the mandate’s been in place since 1998 -- 15 years. Considering that the $532 million figure covers just 5 years, it’s reasonable to assume the 15-year total is higher.

Our rating

Stroebel’s ad says Glenn Grothman and Joe Leibham cast a "compromise vote that cost $788 million" in higher electricity costs.

They cast that vote, and higher costs have followed.

The claim needs some clarification, though, because of the many factors involved in determining the actual cost and whether the claim, as stated, referred to past or future costs.

We rate the claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

Stroebel campaign ad, video, published July 30, 2014 on YouTube

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel stories by Thomas Content

Interview with Andrew Kell, policy analyst, and Nathan Conrad, communications director, state Public Service Commission, Aug. 7, 2014

Interview with Paul Bachman, Director of Research, The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University, Aug. 7, 2014

Interview with Michael Vickerman, Program & Policy Director, Renew Wisconsin, Aug. 7, 2014

Interview with Steve Rebillot, Campaign Director, Stroebel for Congress, Aug. 6, 2014

Public Service Commission, Reports on the Rate and Revenue Impacts of the Wisconsin Renewable Portfolio Standard, 2012 and 2014

Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and Beacon Hill Institute, "The Economic Impact of Wisconsin’s Renewable Portfolio Standard," March 2013

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Duey Stroebel says compromise vote by opponents cost $788 million

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