MON AM News: Recently approved projects paving the way for future solar development; WisBusiness: The Show with Derek Riley and Remzi Arpaci-Dusseau

February 23, 2020

In the most recent installment of “Meeting in Middle America,” Millennial Action Project founder Steven Olikara interviews Reps. Adam Neylon, R-Pewaukee, and Robyn Vining, D-Wauwatosa.

— Four solar farms recently approved by the Public Service Commission are expected to contribute up to 2 percent of Wisconsin’s electricity usage. But renewable energy advocates and landowners say these projects are paving the way for continued growth.

“It could be a precursor of a substantially even more amount of solar energy to come as we look ahead down the road a few years,” said Tyler Huebner, executive director at Renew Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization that advocates for renewable energy.

Once the four projects are operational, they are expected to produce enough power for 178,000 Wisconsin homes annually.

“From where we are today, the approval and building that much solar is really an order of magnitude increase in the solar capacity for the state,” said Huebner.

Huebner told that Wisconsin has an estimated 25 new solar projects and about 4,500 MW in the earlier stages of development.

In 2019, three utility-scale operations were approved by the Public Service Commission: Two Creeks in Manitowoc and Kewaunee counties, Badger Hollow in Iowa County and Point Beach in Manitowoc County.

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— The latest episode of “ The Show” spotlights two computer scientists — Derek Riley, director of the computer science program at the Milwaukee School of Engineering and Remzi Arpaci-Dusseau, chairman of the department of computer sciences at UW-Madison.

Also, Liz Schrum presents Tech Metrics, which chart key indicators and events in the Wisconsin economy.

In a separate commentary, Tech Council President Tom Still talks about the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan and how this year, more entries came from outside Dane County and one third of the applicants are women.

Watch the full show here: 

— In the most recent installment of “Meeting in Middle America,” Millennial Action Project founder Steven Olikara interviews Reps. Adam Neylon, R-Pewaukee, and Robyn Vining, D-Wauwatosa. 

This episode follows the recent launch of the new podcast show, which is recorded and produced at UW-Milwaukee Lubar Entrepreneurship Center in partnership with and WAGET and Bridge&Build are sponsors. The latest discussion centers on the importance of reaching across political lines to move the state forward. 

“You’re exposing people to a more constructive dialogue, and it’s not just about an us-versus-them mentality,” Olikara said. “It’s not an adversarial kind of relationship. It’s more about opening your mind and trying to learn.” 

Find the audio version of the show at Apple Podcasts and Spotify, and watch the latest episode here: 

— Gov. Tony Evers’ Joint Enforcement Task Force on Payroll Fraud and Worker Misclassification will meet Tuesday to approve the creation of an expanded contractor registration program.

That program, one of four recommendations the panel is set to sign off on, would require all individuals representing themselves as contractors in Wisconsin to register with the Department of Safety and Professional Services. This would also include a fee to cover the cost of administering the program. 

Former Dem Gov. Jim Doyle’s task force recommended a similar program in 2009, but it was eliminated in July 2013 under former GOP Gov. Scott Walker.

The task force will also recommend creating an interagency team to up cooperation between the departments of Workforce Development, Revenue, Justice and Financial Institutions and the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance.

The team would be required to meet regularly with the goal of improving data sharing between agencies to the extent permitted by law and targeting insurance fraud.

Another recommendation to be approved Tuesday is to increase the capacity of the DWD to investigate and enforce the laws regarding worker classification. 

This would authorize new positions to hire more field auditors and increase training resources.

The fourth recommendation is to develop a penalty structure for worker classification violations that discourages repeat violations. The penalties would be scaled by the size of the business which the task force defines as number of workers. 

Finally, the task force recommends educating workers and employers on the rules, requirements and penalties associated with worker misclassifications. 

Evers launched the task force in April 2019 to address payroll fraud in Wisconsin. For example, some businesses pay employees in cash or classify them as independent contractors to avoid taxes and paying for benefits.  

The task force also plans to discuss increased enforcement of labor trafficking issues, allowing DWD’s equal rights division to investigate third-party violations of labor standards and civil rights laws, and a voluntary, no-penalty audit opportunity to help businesses come into compliance. 

— The state Assembly has approved legislation that would create additional steps to address PFAS contamination.

But the legislation didn’t go as far as two bills that overwhelmingly cleared an Assembly committee earlier this week.

Rep. John Nygren, whose district has been found to have high PFAS groundwater contamination, called the bill a step forward. But he also said much more needs to be done to protect Wisconsinites.

“I don’t want to walk away from this opportunity without getting some answers and certainty for my constituents,” the Marinette Republican said.

— The state Assembly has also approved a pared-back bill to extend closing time for bars by two hours until 4 a.m. during the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee this July.

The bill’s author Rep. Rob Swearingen, R-Rhinelander, said the changes were an attempt to win over some Senate Republicans who had expressed reservations about the proposal, including the possibility it would lead to a spike in drunken driving during the weeklong event.

The bill had first been changed to allow the extended hours across Wisconsin in an attempt to win support from out-state lawmakers. But the amendment pulled it back to the original 14 counties targeted for the extended hours: Kenosha, Racine, Walworth, Rock, Milwaukee, Waukesha, Jefferson, Dane, Ozaukee, Washington, Dodge, Columbia, Sheboygan and Fond du Lac.

Plus, the Assembly has passed a proposal to raise the legal age to buy nicotine and tobacco products from 18 to 21.

The bill’s author Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, said the bill was required for law enforcement officers to comply with a recent national law that did essentially the same thing.

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Rep. Sara Jacobs


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