MON AM News: Concerns raised about solar imports investigation; DHS leader highlights need for more behavioral health professionals

— Renew Wisconsin is raising concerns about a federal investigation into “alleged unfair trade practices” targeting solar energy products imported from southeast Asia. 

The renewable energy advocacy group highlighted the U.S. Commerce Department’s investigation into certain solar products imported from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. A release notes 80 percent of all U.S. solar panel imports come from these countries. 

The investigation was launched in response to a complaint by a California manufacturer called Auxin Solar, which argued the imports from the four southeast Asian countries represent “pervasive backdoor dumping” by China, the Associated Press reported. 

If the federal agency determines rules aimed at blocking products from China are being violated, Renew Wisconsin says “very high tariffs” will likely be enacted on these products, putting many solar projects in jeopardy. 

Heather Allen, the group’s executive director, is urging U.S. lawmakers from Wisconsin to “stand up for Wisconsin jobs, Wisconsin farmers, and Wisconsin’s rural economy and urge the Commerce Department to issue a negative ruling.” The investigation could run through the end of summer, the release shows. 

“Not even a month has gone by, and it is already disrupting solar projects at all stages of the development pipeline,” Allen said Friday in a release. “We are concerned that this investigation can do serious damage to the solar build-out now underway as well as undermine Wisconsin’s Clean Energy Plan.” 

Renew Wisconsin’s warning comes as state officials recently approved the latest phase of Alliant Energy’s clean energy transition plan, covering six projects in Dodge, Grant, Green, Rock, and Waushara counties, according to the release. It shows 60 percent of the utility-owned solar capacity approved by the Public Service Commission in the past three years will serve Alliant’s customers in the state. 

The group argues the “collateral damage from this investigation will likely spread to the Alliant solar portfolio” through construction delays and higher costs. 

See more details here: 

— Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake says “there is no question” the state needs more behavioral health providers to address issues worsened by the pandemic. 

She called for greater investments in efforts to expand this segment of the workforce, such as training programs for a wide range of behavioral health roles. 

Speaking Friday during a webinar hosted by the Wisconsin Policy Forum, Timberlake said this field is “perhaps broader than we maybe first understood it to be,” including mental health care providers, substance use disorder specialists, recovery coaches and peer specialists with first-hand experience. 

“We know that there are programs that are making excellent use of people who are bachelor’s degree-prepared,” she said. “They may not have a master’s degree, they may not have a doctorate, but there is a role they can play.” 

Timberlake explained the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic have spotlighted “what was always true, as well as exacerbate some of the underlying conditions” contributing to mental health problems.

WPF Policy Researcher Mark Sommerhauser noted drug overdoses reached record levels in 2020 with more than 1,500 related deaths in Wisconsin, while the rate of alcohol-induced deaths in the state had already been rising above the national average for a decade. 

Maria Perez, vice president of behavioral health at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers in Milwaukee, said the center has seen a “significant, steep incline” in the number of patients coming in for help. The center has identified higher levels of drug and alcohol addiction as well as domestic violence since the pandemic began, she said. 

The health center currently employs 65 mental health professionals and has been steadily adding treatment trainees “because we really need to fortify our workforce to respond to the demands we’ve been seeing,” Perez said. 

Timberlake acknowledged the behavioral health workforce shortage is “a people problem more than it’s a dollars and cents problem,” but added, “we need to be continuing to invest money and additional resources” into training programs and provider networks. Some of that support could come from the over $400 million in opioid settlement funds the state is expected to receive over the next several decades, she said.

“We want [becoming] a licensed clinical social worker to be every bit as attractive to a high school student today as choosing some other career path,” she said. “Some of making those pathways attractive does relate to the revenue that is invested in these programs. We put our money behind what we value.” 

The agency recently held listening sessions around the state on how its share of opioid settlement funds should be used. 

See details here: 

— The Wisconsin National Guard says its mission to assist at long-term care sites and other health care facilities will be “winding down” in the coming days. 

In response to surging COVID-19 numbers and high patient volumes late last year, more than 160 members of the Wisconsin National Guard completed two-week nursing assistant training programs and were assigned to locations around the state, a release shows. 

According to Friday’s announcement, this staffing effort helped increase Wisconsin’s post-acute care capacity by nearly 270 beds, lessening the strain on the health care workforce. 

Now that the need for their help has waned, these troops will be returning to civilian life. Some of them plan to remain in the health care industry, the release shows. 

Since the start of the pandemic, the state National Guard says it has helped administer more than 1.2 million COVID-19 tests and 230,000 vaccines as part of the “largest sustained domestic mobilization” in its 185-year history. 

See the release: 

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— The deadly strain of avian influenza spreading in the state has now been found in nine counties, with the latest in backyard flocks in Fond du Lac and Oconto counties. 

These flocks, while relatively small, are the latest to be depopulated to limit the virus spreading in Wisconsin. Highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI, is more likely to kill infected birds than other strains. 

Meanwhile, HPAI has been found among wild birds in 15 counties, and DATCP is urging those with commercial or domestic flocks to keep their birds indoors when possible to reduce exposure. 

See the release: 

See DATCP’s page on the virus here: 

See a recent story on potential impacts of HPAI: 

— Gov. Tony Evers announced at least 9.3 million trees have been planted in Wisconsin since he signed an executive order last year aimed at addressing climate change. 

The order pledged to plant 75 million new trees in rural and urban parts of the state and conserve 125,000 acres of forest by 2030. 

According to a report from the Department of Natural Resources, the agency provided more than half of the seedlings planted since the pledge was made. That includes 2.7 million planted on private lands, 1.1 million on DNR lands, over 500,000 in county forests, 42,000 in school forests and over 45,000 given to elementary school students. 

The DNR also says it has distributed 31.4 million seeds, which are estimated to grow into 3.5 million more trees. 

DNR Secretary Preston Cole says the effort leverages trees and forests as “a critical nature-based solution” to climate change. 

“When fully realized, the Governor’s pledge is estimated to store nearly 29 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over the next 50 years in our forests and trees,” he said in a release. “That’s about the same amount of carbon dioxide produced by 6 million cars in a year.” 

See the agency’s report: 

See the release: 


# 2 of Wisconsin’s largest utilities seek to raise rates as part of clean energy transition

# Maydm head Christina Outlay works to get underrepresented youth into STEM

# Retail showdown: Activist investor Jonathan Duskin in faceoff with Kohl’s board.



– Wisconsin among states supporting year-round E15 sales


– Building Commission to take up dorm renovations, center for the blind 


– Wisconsin’s arts and culture jobs rebounding, report says


– UW-Platteville places in national soils contest


– Ojibwe tribes oppose efforts to delist gray wolf

– Wisconsin has planted 9M trees toward Gov. Tony Evers’ pledge to plant 75M by 2030

– Bird flu identified in Oconto and Fond du Lac counties


– UW Credit Union planning Oconomowoc branch


– Northern Mexican-inspired Sabor Regio makes tacos with ‘a royal taste’


– First look at Froedtert & MCW’s small-scale hospital in Mequon: Slideshow


– UAW, NRDC sue Postal Service over delivery vehicle contract with Oshkosh Defense


– Region’s manufacturing growth continues, but outlook worsens


– Mining company seeks permit in Marathon County


– Startup co-founded by legislator aims to remember fallen veterans through collectors cards


– Marquette University students win back-to-back real estate competitions

– Vassallo’s Drew Tower proposal in Wauwatosa sent back to design board

– Paul Davis building in Pewaukee sold for $20.8 million


– Proxy advisory firm backs two new names for Kohl’s board, but not ‘sweeping changes’

– Proxy advisory firm ISS backs Macellum’s push for boardroom change at Kohl’s

– The Buzz: Festival Foods to take over former Shopko building in Kimberly


– Fredrickson breaks through, Ragona repeats at Eau Claire Marathon


– Demolition of We Energies coal plant in Pleasant Prairie nearly finished; buyer under contract

– We Energies seeking rate increase driven by clean energy investments


– Tom Still: Exact Sciences story grows globally while remaining intensely local


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UW-Stout: Week of Service helps to build community connections