New group promoting renewable energy to conservative lawmakers

Scott Coenen, executive director for the newly formed Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum, says the group will target Republican lawmakers with educational outreach on the benefits of renewable and alternative energy sources.

“I envision us putting on conferences here in Madison, going into legislators’ districts, as well, as this technology and these things spread a little bit more,” he said yesterday at a news conference at the Capitol. “There’s going to be an opportunity for us to show this directly to legislators, to decision makers here in the Capitol, and show them exactly how it impacts their district directly.”

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, WISCEF won’t be lobbying on any specific policy issues, Coenen says — at least not at first.

“I think our initial challenge is just to reframe this issue,” he said.

And though issue ads could be a part of the group’s strategy “in the distant future,” for now it will focus on hands-on education and advocacy, Coenen said.

Coenen has been involved in Republican politics for about a decade, working as a staff member in the Capitol for five years. He argues that clean, alternative energy sources fit with elements of the conservative ideology: cost effectiveness, jobs, economic development, national security and stewardship of natural resources.

“Massive and unprecedented cost declines in the price of solar and wind generation are shaking up energy markets,” Coenen said.

He noted the cost of solar generation has dropped 80 percent in the past 10 years, while the price of wind generation has dropped 66 percent in the past seven.

“Put plainly, solar and wind generation already are, or soon will be, cost competitive with fossil fuels,” he said.

The group will be funded by the national Conservative Energy Network, making Wisconsin the 19th state in its system, Coenen says. This network was launched in 2016, and is funded by various foundations, grants, tech companies and others from around the country.

The leadership council for this new group includes: former Gov. Tommy Thompson; former state Rep. Mark Honadel; Matt Neuman, president of Neumann Companies and co-owner of SunVest Solar; Wisconsin Counties Association Outreach Manager Jon Hochkammer; Wisconsin Young Republicans Chairman Jake Margis; Ryan Owens, a UW-Madison professor of political science; and Debbie Crave, vice president of Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese in Waterloo.

–By Alex Moe