He’s been out of office for almost three years, but former Gov. Scott Walker is still making decisions about utilities in Wisconsin. He’s able to do that because Gov. Tony Evers has made sure of it.
Last week the state’s Public Service Commission denied funding to the Village of Cambridge, in eastern Dane County, to hire an attorney who would help them fight a proposed 417 acre solar farm near the village.
Now, I think solar farms, and fossil fuel free energy in general, are good things. But I also believe that it’s only fair that the PSC, a quasi-judiciary body, hear arguments from opponents of projects as well as the utilities that profit from them.
There was no good reason to deny this modest request for $60,000, but the PSC deadlocked on it. Blame Evers. Here’s how that works. Commissioners are appointed for terms that overlap administrations. So, Walker had two hold over appointments that served into Evers’ term. When the first came up, Evers appointed Rebecca Valcq, a career-long regulation attorney for WE Energies, the state’s largest utility. Her conflicts of interest were staggering. It was a senseless appointment.
When the second seat came up, Evers only compounded his mistake. He appointed Tyler Huebner, the executive director of RENEW, a nonprofit that lobbies for clean energy. That may seem like the Lord’s work, and it mostly is, but like Valcq, Huebner has kilowatts of conflicts. In his old job he advocated for the Cardinal-Hickory power line through southwest Wisconsin. That’s the single biggest issue before the commission and Huebner needed to recuse himself from involvement. That means that Evers knowingly appointed a commissioner who would have to sit out the most consequential issue before the commission. Again, just senseless.
,And now Huebner also had to take himself out of the Cambridge case because he had lobbied for the solar farm in question. That left the intervenor funding decision up to Valcq and Walker’s last holdover, Ellen Nowak. Valcq said she was inclined to support the money, but Nowak was against it. On a tie vote, without Huebner who would have probably voted for the funds, the motion failed and Cambridge got nothing. Walker wins again.
As a rule, Evers has made solid appointments to his cabinet and to boards and commissions. But he’s had a glaring blindspot on the PSC, and the PSC is one of his most important sets of appointments. This will hurt him in southwest Wisconsin and now it may come back to bite him in part of Dane County, where he needs to run up big number next fall.
Evers could easily have driven him out, but the ghost of Scott Walker still haunts an important part of Wisconsin government.
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