A new report from the Brookings Institution sizing up the health of the nation's green economy shows Wisconsin ranks 13th in the number of green jobs, with Madison ranking fifth among cities.
Problem is that many of these jobs will likely disappear as a result of recent policy rollbacks and funding cuts that critics say have already begun to decimate the state's clean energy infrastructure.
"There is a concerted effort to drive out clean energy jobs," says state Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Middleton). "Companies specializing in renewable energy are getting creamed right now."
Since taking office in January, Gov. Scott Walker's administration and the GOP-controlled Legislature have, among other things, suspended the wind turbine siting rule, cut millions of dollars from a statewide program that helps bring down costs of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for companies and local governments, and enacted a law allowing utility companies to satisfy renewable energy requirements by importing hydroelectric power from Canada.
A pending bill would allow utilities to bank renewable energy credits in perpetuity, which would effectively extend the 2015 deadline for adding new sources of renewable energy indefinitely.
Walker's spokesman didn't respond to requests for comment.
Michael Vickerman of RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit devoted to clean energy strategies, says the industry's mood "varies from contractor to contractor, but it's pretty grim. We're the only state to drive out its renewable energy businesses."
Vickerman says that many companies have contracts that will sustain them through the end of the year, but with funding and policy support drying up, many will be forced to close their doors.
"We're going to document situations where there are layoffs or where companies relocate to states where their prospects are unchanged," he says. "Walker should be congratulated by governors of other states for pushing business into their greener pastures."
Mike Joyce, project engineer for Full Spectrum, a Madison company specializing in solar electric hot water heaters, is reluctant to anticipate the long-term impact of the Republican policies. But, he says, "The business climate is changing, and not in our favor."
Vickerman says that Wisconsin's green economy ranking will no doubt plummet, noting that the data used in the recent report was through 2010. "The trend had been positive until this year," he says. "I think we'll see growth in other states, and a lot of that will be companies relocating from Wisconsin."