The Koch Brothers and their energy company, Koch Industries, have emerged as public enemy number one to many in the renewable energy and environmental communities. The two brothers have put financial and organizational muscle behind efforts to discredit climate change science and renewable power standards.
Now it appears they are trying to profit from Wisconsin's woes -- or pave the way for others to profit.
Governor Scott Walker has been trying to pass a bill that would strip many public employees of their right to collective bargaining. But buried in the 144-page bill is a provision that would allow the state to sell off its power plants and/or outsource the management of its power plants under no-bid contracts that would not be subject to review by the state's public utilities commission.
Sort of sounds like those contracts issued at the start of the Iraq war, doesn't it? The Milwaukee, Wisconsin Journal Sentinel writes:
"The bill would empower the secretary of the state Department of Administration to sell the plants, which primarily serve University of Wisconsin campuses, including those in Madison and Milwaukee, as well as state prisons and other facilities.
"In a change from a similar proposal that Republican lawmakers sought six years ago, the bill stripped a requirement that the Public Service Commission review whether the sale is in the public interest.
"The provision primarily affects small coal-fired plants that generate steam or chilled water for heating and cooling buildings. It's hard to get an accurate assessment of their worth because they're so intertwined with the buildings they serve, said Darin Renner, an analyst with the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
"The Fiscal Bureau analyzed the facilities in 2005, the last time the proposal was before the Legislature, and estimated the total value of all the plants at $235.9 million, offset by $83.9 million in debt," it stated.
The paper reported that Koch Industries denied interest in the power plants. However, it hasn't ruled out bidding on them. Koch Industries is a fossil fuel conglomerate and the two brothers are supporters of Walker. Even so, if Koch Industries didn't bid on them, someone would, and it could amount to a windfall for the lucky company.
It's odd for a bill touted to bring fiscal responsibility to a state to include a provision for no-bid contracts, particularly ones not subject to review. Look back to those Iraq war contracts. Congress is still trying to ferret out excessive charges and fraud. The argument during the war was that the government didn't have time to conduct a bidding process. Wisconsin does not appear to be under attack from Minnesota yet. If the idea is to reduce the state's expenses, this would seem to be the wrong way to go about it.
Walker, ironically, criticized his Democratic predecessor for proposing a no-bid contract to a Spanish company for high-speed rail. High speed rail, however, can involve somewhat proprietary skills and technology. Running a power plant at the University of Wisconsin doesn't fall into that category.