MON AM News: Powering Wisconsin formed to protect ‘status quo’ around wind, solar projects; Evers budget provision would extend bar hours during Republican National Convention

— A newly formed lobbying and advocacy organization called Powering Wisconsin aims to “protect the status quo” around wind and solar development in the state. 

That’s according to Peder Mewis, regional policy director for the Clean Grid Alliance, based in Minnesota. Powering Wisconsin is a new initiative of the CGA, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. 

In an interview Friday, Mewis praised the state’s regulatory process for new renewable energy projects under the Public Service Commission. 

“We feel that the process has worked very well, and I think, generally speaking, we would like to keep the process working the way it is,” he told “We think it’s pro-growth, it’s a stable permitting environment, it provides certainty.” 

The Clean Grid Alliance operates in nine states in the Midwest to advance large-scale renewable development in the region. It’s also involved in technical work such as long-range transmission planning and more, Mewis explained. He said the coalition behind Powering Wisconsin includes some of the major wind and solar project developers in the region, including Invenergy, Savion, NextEra Energy and others. 

Funding for the CGA comes from other national and regional organizations as well as association dues from its 56 industry members, which includes “nearly all” of the large-scale renewable developers that operate in the Midwest and throughout the country. 

While Wisconsin had been relatively quiet on the renewable front for years, that has changed in recent years as “we started to see solar development really take off across the region,” Mewis explained. 

“We always thought of solar as being kind of a southern and western United States type thing, but as the price for solar started coming down, Midwestern states started to look very attractive,” he said. “And with that, Wisconsin was a very attractive place for solar for a variety of reasons.” 

Early last year, CGA member companies approached Mewis to discuss targeting Wisconsin with a coordinated lobbying and communications effort, he said. 

As part of Powering Wisconsin, the group has contracted with Michael Best Strategies to conduct lobbying in the state. Mike Kuglitsch, a former Republican state lawmaker who previously chaired the Assembly Energy and Utilities Committee, will lead those efforts. And Mewis said he will occasionally visit Madison for lobbying purposes as well. 

Meanwhile, external communications will be led by Joe Fadness, principal with Michael Best Strategies. 

“Our message … is going to really emphasize that these developments, these projects are good for rural Wisconsin,” Fadness said. “We can do it in a way that protects private property rights, helps fund local governments with resources, money that their cash-strapped budgets often lack, and do it in a way that helps spur economic activity and jobs.” 

See the release announcing the new effort: 

See the Powering Wisconsin website: 

— Municipalities in 14 Wisconsin counties would be allowed to delay closing time for bars and restaurants to 4 a.m. during the week of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee next summer, under a Gov. Tony Evers budget item.

The proposal comes after two previous failed attempts over the last three years to extend bar hours.

The guv’s office said including the proposal in the budget for the RNC was a matter of consistency after supporting a similar effort ahead of the pandemic-influenced 2020 Dem convention in Milwaukee.

The offices of legislative leaders didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did a spokesperson for the RNC host committee.

Scott Stenger, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Tavern League, said his group had no part in getting the latest provision added to the budget. He also said the group had no problem with it.

“I still have a hard time understanding why two in the morning is not late enough. But we’re supportive of having a flexible closing time around the convention,” he said.

Past arguments in favor of extended hours during a national political convention have been fairly simple. Convention business regularly keeps delegates on the floor until close to midnight. And by the time they get back to their hotels, there’s not a lot of time to celebrate the day’s activities before last call at 2 a.m. on a weekday.

Ohio and Pennsylvania approved laws to extend bar hours during the 2016 GOP convention in Cleveland and the Dems’ convention in Philadelphia.

What’s more, backers have pitched it as a matter of competitiveness and being in the same league as other cities that host such prominent events. When national conventions go to places such as New York City, they don’t have to shut down the party so early.  

The counter from health groups: there are other ways for delegates to get a drink, and extending bar hours could lead to an increase in drunken driving.

Currently, closing time for bars and restaurants is 2 a.m. on weekdays and 2:30 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Under the budget provision, municipalities could extend that to 4 a.m. between July 15, 2024, a Monday, and July 19, 2024, the following Friday. It would apply to 14 counties: Kenosha, Racine, Walworth, Rock, Milwaukee, Waukesha, Jefferson, Dane, Ozaukee, Washington, Dodge, Columbia, Sheboygan and Fond du Lac.

That’s a similar footprint to 2020, when a bill to extend closing time for bars and restaurants during the Democratic National Convention that summer in Milwaukee went through several versions before it passed the Assembly 84-13. 

At one point, the bill was changed to apply statewide during the week, and provisions were added to place regulations on wedding barns and other private event venues.

Both the statewide provision and the regulations of wedding barns were stripped out before final passage. An amendment was also added to place a $25 to a $50 surcharge on drunken driving arrests that would go to a fund at DOT to help pay for the Safe Ride program offered by the Tavern League. The guv’s budget proposal didn’t include a similar provision.

But the bill died when the state Senate canceled its final regular floor period of the session in March as the COVID-19 pandemic took off. It became a moot issue when the Dem convention turned into largely a virtual event.

Two years ago, Evers included a provision in the budget that would’ve allowed municipalities across the state to delay closing time to 4 a.m. for up to four weeks a year. The argument for that approach was it would allow municipalities to accommodate such events without having to come back to the Capitol each time for special permission. 

The Tavern League opposed that provision, and it was pulled from the budget.

— The nonprofit organization Ascendium is donating $2.5 million to the Black Business Hub project, the Urban League of Greater Madison announced. 

According to a release, the project has now raised more than $24 million of its $26 million goal. At a groundbreaking event for the project held last year, organizers said it was expected to open this spring. 

“We look forward to watching entrepreneurs develop and thrive in our community,” Ascendium’s Chairman, President and CEO Richard George said in the release. 

See more on the project: 

See a related story from last year: 

<br><b><i>Top headlines from the Health Care Report … </b></i> 

— The Wisconsin Hospital Association says Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposal acknowledges the financial challenges facing health care providers in the state. 

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