Free Tuesday Trends sample: Renewable energy rising, cheese producers mixed, coal falling

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Rising

Renewable energy: The state’s utility regulatory agency announces Wisconsin has reached its required level of renewable energy use two years ahead of schedule. A report to the Public Service Commission shows the percentage of Wisconsin’s energy derived from renewable sources eclipsed the 10 percent threshold in 2013. State law originally set 2015 as the target, and PSC commissioners say the state’s utilities are well-positioned to maintain that standard going forward. Environmental groups hail the news, pointing to the report as evidence that the state can absorb the newly proposed limits on power plant emissions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Meanwhile, the latest Wisconsin Economic Scorecard poll — a quarterly survey from the UW-Milwaukee Center for Urban Initiatives and Research, Milwaukee Public Radio and WisBusiness.com — finds a strong majority of respondents favor increasing development of renewable energy sources in Wisconsin. The poll finds 68 percent favor bolstering renewable energy, while just 24 percent are satisfied with current efforts.

Mixed

Cheese producers: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration learns a hard lesson in recent days: Don’t mess with the cheesemakers. Almost immediately after raising the possibility of banning the use of wood boards to age cheese, the FDA backs down, saying it will instead work with artisan cheese producers to see what types of cheese can be aged safely on wood shelving. The FDA originally claimed the practice was unsanitary and posed a health risk, drawing howls from officials in cheese producing states who pointed out it’s been done that way for years. The process helps give some cheeses their taste, but the FDA cited New York operations for using the boards even though state laws there permit the process and there have been no recalls due to unsanitary wooden boards. Officials from cheese-producing states praise the FDA’s reversal and decision to work with cheesemakers. Still, the threat isn’t over, and lawmakers from various cheese-producing states are talking about a bipartisan amendment that would prevent the FDA from banning the practice.

Falling

Coal: The EPA’s call to cut greenhouse emissions 30 percent by 2030 has fired up cries of a war against coal with warnings from some about the possible impact on jobs. That includes a place like Wisconsin, which ranks 14th nationally for reliance on coal-fired power plants. Those facilities accounted for 51 percent of Wisconsin’s power in 2012, compared to a national average of 37 percent. Still, those who have reviewed the proposed global warming rule from President Obama’s EPA say Wisconsin’s power plants are already close to the halfway point of meeting that goal. Alliant Energy CEO Patricia Kampling says the moves to limit carbon emissions are “definitely ambitious” but do-able because because flexibility in the plan would allow utilities to implement the goals in a “cost effective” way for customers — noting it would also help if natural gas prices stay affordable. Others are more concerned how it will affect rates. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce has said it’s likely to join others in fighting the plan in the courts. Environmentalists, however, believe the rule creates the opportunity for innovation, and the EPA cites the possible economic benefits such as growth in the renewable energy sector. The rule is set to be finalized in June 2015.