Wisconsin Libertarian Party surprises observers with endorsement of solar proposal

”Most of us don’t trust the environmental movement because they’ve cried wolf forever and ever,” Wisconsin Libertarian Party chair Paul Ehlers told a surprised local media over the weekend. ”There are all kinds of philosophical disagreements, but at the end of the day this was pretty much a no-brainer.”

Ehlers was discussing his party’s endorsement of a proposal by local clean energy group RENEW to enable the state’s electricity customers to lease solar panels and other domestic-size renewable energy generators. Ordinarily, the Libertarian Party’s conservative leanings bring them into direct confrontation with green issues, but this one – revolving largely around the issue of self-determination – struck a chord.

As a result, Wisconsin’s Libertarians have lent their weight to the proposal. RENEW Wisconsin spearhead The Clean Energy Choice Initiative, which argues that most energy customers in the state cannot afford to install solar panels, and is calling for third-parties to pay for their installations and sell the energy produced to the customer.

In a state where the government is Republican-controlled, the backing of the Libertarians could help such a green proposal gain traction. ”What we’re proposing doesn’t involve a new mandate or an extension of existing mandates,” said RENEW Wisconsin’s program and policy director, Michael Vickerman. ”It’s not in any way related to existing or future subsidies. It’s not an intrusion in the marketplace. It’s actually a liberation of the marketplace. So we felt this issue should fit in their wheelhouse.”

Such an unlikely alliance is not unprecendented in the U.S. Recently in the state of Georgia, clean energy advocates teamed up with the Georgia Tea Party to compel the state’s Public Service Commission to require its sole investor-owned utility Georgia Power – to significantly increase its solar power provision.

The Republicans’ argument was simple: their belief is that consumers have the right to choose where they purchase their electricity from, and should not be forced to rely on a single supplier, particularly with solar costs falling. ”The free market has been one of the founding principles of the Tea Party since it began, and a monopoly is not a free market,” said Debbie Dooley, co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party.

In fact, such was the alliance’s success that they formed the aptly named Green Tea Coalition, which has helped advance solar energy across numerous U.S. states, including Arizona. In Wisconsin, RENEW and the other 90 members that comprise the Clean Energy Choice Initiative have been buoyed by the Wisconsin Libertarian Party’s unlikely support. ??

”We have some credibility now,” enthused Vickerman. ”We can talk to Republican legislators in a way we couldn’t in the past.”