Bill would reward power companies for exceeding renewable energy standards
Central Wis. lawmakers introduce legislation that would help local papermaker
Written by: Nathaniel Shuda and Central Wisconsin Sunday 
WISCONSIN RAPIDS — In the wake of the soon-to-be owner of one of central Wisconsin’s largest employers announcing it will take downtime to offset high utility costs, central Wisconsin lawmakers are doing their part to help.
Verso Paper Corp., which announced earlier this month it plans to purchase NewPage Holdings Inc. for $1.4 billion, temporarily will shut down its Bucksport, Maine, facility because of high natural gas prices and low demand for paper, a spokesman for the Memphis, Tenn.-based coated papermaker told the Bangor Daily News last week.
Just three days before the Jan. 5 announcement about the pending NewPage acquisition, central Wisconsin’s legislative delegation visited the NewPage mill in Wisconsin Rapids to talk to company officials about the importance of a bill that would exempt companies that already use significant amounts of renewable energy from a state law that requires companies to continuously increase their reliance on renewable energy.
The bill would exempt electric utilities and retail electric cooperatives that already exceed the state’s renewable energy standards from having to increase their renewable energy portfolios even more, according to a Legislative Reference Bureau analysis of the bill. The bill was introduced by state Sens. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, and Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, as well as Reps. Scott Krug, R-Rome; Bob Kulp, R-Stratford; and Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point.
“You already have the NewPage generation at double that (current standard),” said Lassa, noting NewPage subsidiary Consolidated Water Power Co., which owns five hydroelectric dams along the Wisconsin River, already has a renewable energy portfolio of about 16.5 percent. “So, under current state law, they would have to jump that by another 6 percent, when the original state law intended that it be 10 percent.
“This (current law) will just make it more expensive to produce paper because they’re the largest customer for Consolidated Water Power Co.,” Lassa said. “I would think that whether it’s NewPage or Verso, they’d still be interested in not having to increase the amount of renewables that they’re using.”
NewPage employs about 1,700 people in central Wisconsin at facilities in Wisconsin Rapids, Biron and Stevens Point. Consolidated operates dams in Wisconsin Rapids, Biron, Stevens Point, Whiting and DuBay.
The Verso-NewPage announcement strengthens the need for the legislation and would help Wisconsin’s struggling papermaking industry, Krug said. The bill had a public hearing Thursday in front of the Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities, which unanimously passed the measure.
“When you’re seeing company after company coming in and trying to operate here, and they can’t for some reason ... we need to do something,” he said.
Any type of changes that could help save money for companies that already exceed the state’s renewable energy limits would help keep jobs in central Wisconsin, especially in light of the pending Verso purchase, Shankland said.
“I think it’s a time that’s most critical for central Wisconsin legislators to work together with the state and local stakeholders to ensure we help keep jobs in central Wisconsin, and we can do that by helping the company grow,” she said.