Archive for February, 2012

Loss of Focus on Energy incentives hurts businesses, owners say

Posted on February 29, 2012. Filed under: Energy Policy, Focus on Energy/Public Benefits, Solar | Tags: |

From a story by Liz Welter in the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune:

Local businesses making gains in renewable energy might be damaged seriously if the Focus on Energy incentives for customer-sited renewable energy systems aren’t reinstated.

Several central Wisconsin-area business owners have appealed to the state Public Service Commission to restore full funding for the renewable energy program that reduces the cost of solar, wind and biomass installations for utility customers.

“We have seen a definite downturn in sales as a result” of the suspension by Focus on Energy on renewable energy incentives, said Josh Stolzenburg, founder and co-owner of North Wind Renewable Energy LLC, based in Stevens Point.

North Wind Renewable Energy designs, sells and installs solar electric and solar thermal systems for homes, businesses and farms throughout central Wisconsin.

The Focus incentives to install renewable energy systems ended in 2011 when the dollars committed to renewable resources projects surpassed the amount budgeted for incentives, said Kristin Ruesch, PSC communications director. Focus on Energy was created in 2001 to help homeowners and businesses reduce energy costs. The PSC is the state’s oversight body for program.

Through a $29,000 Focus incentive in 2010, James Jozwiak of Marshfield was able to partially fund a solar electricity system to power his fledgling Spencer-based business. A $53,000 federal grant combined with a bank loan completed the funding for a $115,000 solar system, which generates a maximum of 20 kilowatts of power.

“Without the Focus incentive and the grant, my (solar-energy system) installation costs would have been prohibitive,” Jozwiak said about his renewable energy system, which was purchased from and installed by North Wind Renewable Energy. It powers the facility where Jozwiak makes a product called Black Magic, which is a soil enhancer and fertilizer made from earthworm castings.

“Incentives are important, as they allow more people such as myself to install renewable energy systems,” he said.

Read the open letter appeal to the Public Service Commission and see the 150+ people and organizations who signed it.

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RENEW Wisconsin Sets 2012 Energy Policy Action Plan

Posted on February 29, 2012. Filed under: Renewable energy - generally |

RENEW Wisconsin affirms that the road to a sustainable economy in Wisconsin runs through the state’s own clean renewable energy sources. Integrating locally available renewables into our economy engages a vast supply chain of local manufacturers, distributors and installers, farmers, builders, entrepreneurs, and related professional workers. Local renewables secure relatively clean, risk-free and low-maintenance energy to a state with no fossil fuel reserves. They also help keep energy dollars circulating within Wisconsin. It is imperative that we expand our commitment to renewables. An energy economy that depends on imported oil to haul finite supplies of coal from Wyoming and Pennsylvania is a dead-end for Wisconsin businesses, demanding ever rising fuel costs and exporting billions of dollars and jobs to other states. And energy efficiency, though a significant source of ratepayer savings, won’t correct the underlying vulnerability of a fossil-heavy resource mix.

Going into 2012, the policy framework that had supported steady growth in the renewable energy marketplace is being dismantled, as Wisconsin utilities and state government backpedal. The political and business consensus that brought us Wisconsin Act 141 in 2006 (10% RPS, restructured Focus on Energy, state government mandates) has broken down almost completely. But the policy case for the consensus remains as strong as it has ever been. To overcome the current challenges, to value clean renewable energy properly and to empower the businesses and citizens that make that happen, RENEW Wisconsin will press for the immediate implementation of durable policies that appropriately value renewable energy’s contribution to economic development, job creation, environmental protection, and customer choice. In so doing, we will employ the most effective messages and messengers for putting renewable energy back on track in Wisconsin and regaining the momentum that once made Wisconsin a model state.

To retake the initiative on clean renewable energy, we commit to the action plan in 2012
that appears below:

Organize stakeholders to articulate a public policy message on clean renewables
Policy decisions are made in a variety of legal, administrative, and institutional settings. RENEW will represent renewable energy supporters and stakeholders in these settings to convey formulated positions on policies that can potentially advance or weaken Wisconsin’s renewable energy marketplace. RENEW will provide the organized voice on renewables in Wisconsin through public advocacy and social media campaigns.

Increase funding for renewable energy in Focus on Energy program
Focus on Energy (Focus), the statewide energy efficiency and renewable energy program, has been a critically important driver for local clean renewable energy production and is a key factor why installation activity is higher here than in other Midwest states. In July 2011, Focus suspended awarding incentives for non-residential renewable energy projects, with no certainty of their return. Beginning in 2012, no clean renewable energy incentives are available through the Focus program. RENEW will launch an organized campaign targeted at Focus on Energy decision-makers to restore financial support to renewable energy systems serving Wisconsin’s residential, businesses, and nonprofit entities.

Taking the lead on wind permitting rules and issues in Wisconsin
The Wisconsin legislature passed the Wind Siting Law (2009 Act 40) to create one overarching siting law for all wind turbines subject to local review (≤ 100 MW). The law directed the Public Service Commission (PSC) to develop administrative rules that would establish certainty and consistency in the way local governments review and regulate wind energy systems. The PSC adopted a compromise rule in December 2010. Perversely, the Wisconsin Legislature suspended the rules in March 2011, precipitating many wind developers to suspend their operations in the state and focus their efforts elsewhere. RENEW will continue to shine a light on the economic and environmental damage caused by the rule suspension as part of a wider effort to get the administrative rules accepted as public law.

Advance third-party ownership of clean renewable energy systems
For economic reasons, most small-scale renewable energy facilities in the country are owned and installed by third parties. It is often easier for third parties to take advantage of federal credits and business depreciation, while relieving the property owner of the responsibility of financing the system and building it. RENEW will advance a policy fix that removes the legal ambiguities surrounding the sale of energy from third-party-owned systems to host customers.

Net energy billing policy overhaul
Net energy billing allows utility customers who produce clean renewable energy on-site to sell excess output back and receive the full retail rate for it up to the customer’s full usage. Codified in 1992, Wisconsin’s net energy billing policy has become woefully out-of-date, lagging behind other states that actively encourage customer generation of clean renewables. One of RENEW’s highest priorities is to push for a 21st century framework that increases maximum eligible system size and eliminates unnecessary and costly interconnection requirements.

Revive utility commitments to expand renewable energy
Until recently, many of Wisconsin utilities were leaders in the Midwest and nation in encouraging distributed clean renewable energy applications in their territories. However, many Wisconsin utilities are now backsliding on their initiatives and, in one instance, abandoned a major clean renewable commitment agreed to as part of a settlement agreement. RENEW will challenge these decisions at regulatory hearings, in court, at utility stockholder meetings, and in the popular media to reinstate and/or commit to new utility initiatives for advancing renewables.

Promote attractive renewable energy buyback policies
Nearly 50,000 utility customers in Wisconsin support clean renewable energy through paying higher rates each month for their electricity. As confirmed in recent polls, more than 75% of the population supports a greater commitment to clean renewable energy development. RENEW is working with partners to translate that demand for renewables into buyback policies and rates that encourage additional supplies of renewable energy from local producers.

Defend and repair Wisconsin’s 10% Renewable Energy Standard
RENEW formulated, and helped mobilize support for, a 10% renewable energy standard on electric utilities by 2015. Adopted in 2006, this modest standard is under attack from utilities, certain large industries, and hostile elements in the Legislature. Over RENEW’s objections, the standard was amended in 2011 to allow utilities to count generation from large Canadian hydro sources toward their renewable requirements. RENEW will work with allied organizations and policymakers to fight off other efforts to weaken Wisconsin’s six-year-old standard and to propose new polices that support in-state distributed renewable applications.

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Ritger-Preder Wind Turbine Powers Family Farm in Southeastern Wisconsin

Posted on February 16, 2012. Filed under: Energy Finance, Food, Sustainability, Wind |

“Sustainable family farm operation powered by renewable wind energy”
February 16, 2012

The rising cost of oil and fertilizers, coupled with growing concerns over the use of pesticides and hormones, have spurred the growth of sustainable farming operations across the United States.

Jeff and Kathy Preder—owners and operators of the Jeff-Leen Farm in Random Lake, Wisconsin—became part of that movement in the late 1990’s, when they set out “to produce the healthiest food products possible, in a sustainable manner, without the use of growth hormones, antibiotics, or steroids.”

But the Preder’s vision of a sustainable farming operation included more than just low-input food production. With the help of Random Lake attorney and renewable energy champion Ed Ritger, the Preders are now powering their farm with clean, renewable wind energy…Read more here.

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RENEW to PSC: Specify a date for resumption of renewable program

Posted on February 15, 2012. Filed under: Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Renewable energy - generally |

Letter to Public Service Commission Regarding Focus on Energy
Support for Renewable Energy
February 14, 2012

In July 2011, Focus on Energy stopped accepting applications for funding new renewable energy installations owned by businesses, schools and local governments. Later that year, Focus on Energy expanded the suspension to cover residential customer-sited renewable energy systems as well. So far in 2012, Focus on Energy has not resumed accepting applications for new systems. While some installation activity is still occurring, the pipeline of previously approved renewable energy systems is starting to run low.

On January 30, RENEW Wisconsin presented an open letter to the Public Service Commission (PSC) requesting the rapid restoration of Focus on Energy financial support for renewable energy resources at historic levels. ( Signed by over 150 businesses, organizations, local officials and schools, the open letter was a clear and unequivocal statement of our desire to get back to work and expand the sustainable energy marketplace, strengthening Wisconsin’s economy and creating jobs and business opportunities in the process. Shortly thereafter, the PSC responded to our letter with one signed by Gas and Energy Division Administrator Robert Norcross, which is posted on its web site and other on-line forums.

The PSC letter begins with a defense of the funding suspension, which was prompted by the over-commitment of program dollars to renewable energy projects approved in previous years. The problem arose from a lack of internal controls at the program administrator level to balance approved obligations with available funding. As expressed in a July 2011 press release, RENEW acknowledged the agency’s responsibility to correct that deficiency and to ensure that future outflows do not exceed revenues.

We also support the PSC’s recent decision to allow public policy to influence and shape Focus on Energy’s renewable energy offerings. As noted by the PSC, the regulatory test used to determine Focus on Energy’s cost-effectiveness does not adequately capture the full range of benefits that renewable energy provides. To overcome these limitations, the PSC adopted new evaluation criteria to help the program administrator determine which renewable technologies should be funded in the future, and at what levels.

While an improvement, the new evaluation criteria may not be robust enough to support a renewable energy allocation at historic levels (roughly 10% of Focus on Energy’s annual revenues). It will be a challenge for the PSC to compensate for the significant weight that the PSC’s cost-effectiveness test gives to short-term energy savings, even with this new formula in place. This emphasis on short-term energy savings in the PSC’s cost-effectiveness test invariably puts renewable energy at a disadvantage compared with energy efficiency.

The theme of cost-effectiveness is reiterated throughout the PSC letter, leaving the reader with the impression that renewable energy is still something of a sideshow activity and certainly not an economic engine ready to power Wisconsin’s future. RENEW respectfully disagrees with that characterization. We take the audacious view that conventional generation sources have seen their heyday and that electricity supply additions in the future will center on renewable resources. With that in mind, we believe it makes more sense to measure the cost-effectiveness of distributed renewable energy against utility-scale renewable energy investments as opposed to energy efficiency investments.

In drawing comparisons between these two categories of renewable energy investments, a number of conclusions stand out.

1. When loads are flat and are expected to remain flat for the foreseeable future, distributed renewables are less likely to result in overcapacity and excess generation than utility-scale facilities.
2. Distributed renewable energy investments supported by Focus on Energy will occur within Wisconsin. This is an attribute that smaller-scale renewables share with energy efficiency, but not necessarily with utility-scale renewables.
3. With utility-scale renewable generating facilities, the entire cost of the investment is recovered through rates. With customer-owned renewable generation facilities supported by Focus on Energy, a significant fraction of the installation cost is borne by the owner.
4. The availability of customer-supplied capital for renewable energy capacity additions is enhanced through Focus on Energy incentives. Utility-owned renewable capacity additions have no effect on the availability of customer-supplied capital.

In our view, incremental increases in distributed renewable energy generation can result in long-term capacity substitutions that can justify retirements of older fossil generation units, something that energy efficiency by itself cannot achieve. But this benefit is not monetized in standard cost-effectiveness tests. This fact alone argues for an alternative approach to measuring the cost-effectiveness of renewable energy.

One element left unstated in the PSC’s letter is a date certain for the resumption of Focus on Energy funding support for renewables. The absence of a specified resumption date creates a climate of uncertainty that will likely result in project cancellations and workforce reductions. We urge the PSC to specify a target resumption date at the earliest moment possible.

Finally, we wish to respond to the following statement in the letter: “While the Focus on Energy program has an impressive payback, the over-inclusion of renewables in the portfolio has the potential to reduce the cost-benefit below the mandatory 1.0 ratio.”

This statement verges on hyperbole. It would take a combination of improbable events for that outcome to become a mathematical possibility, let alone reality. Even in early 2011, with renewable energy accounting for 25%-30% of total program allocations, the program was never in danger of achieving a negative cost-benefit ratio. Avoiding overstatements like the one above would go a long way toward rebuilding the confidence that the renewable energy community once had in Focus on Energy.

In the meantime, we at RENEW would be happy to provide assistance to the program administrator in evaluating the cost-effectiveness of future renewable energy investments in Wisconsin.


Michael Vickerman
Program and Policy Director

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Pierce County wind farm plan still in limbo

Posted on February 11, 2012. Filed under: Wind |

From an article by Jeff Holmquist in the Pierce County Herald:

The future of a proposed wind farm project in St. Croix County remains in doubt, even as progress is being made on an application before the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

The $250 million Highland Wind Project was first proposed about four years ago, when Emerging Energies of Wisconsin LLC approached the Town of Forest in northeast St. Croix County about its idea to install about 40 wind turbines on various properties. Studies of wind in the area proved that the region is well suited for the generation of wind energy. Average wind speeds in the town are about 16 to 17 mph, which is sufficient to turn a large turbine and thus generate electricity.

Since completion of the study, the company worked quickly to gain the necessary agreements, easements and approvals.

The project came to a screeching halt, however, when some township residents objected to having the large turbines scattered throughout the municipality. Some claimed the turbines posed a health risk, while others didn’t want the rural atmosphere of Forest to be compromised.

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Great Lakes Wind Can Invigorate Wisconsin’s Economy

Posted on February 8, 2012. Filed under: Wind |

From a news release issued by the Sierra Club:

Madison, WI – Today, decision makers, community members, utilities, developers, and advocacy groups met in Madison for a stakeholder meeting about the promise offshore wind in the Great Lakes.

“Great opportunities await Wisconsin in the form of an incredible natural resource – the winds of Lake Michigan right here on our shores,” explains Mary Ann Christopher, a partner at Michael Best & Friedrich in Milwaukee and member of the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative. “Europe and Asia are leading the way with almost 4,000 MW of off-shore wind in operation and almost 6,000 MW more under construction. Wisconsin can follow suit, bringing jobs, investments, and clean energy home by developing offshore wind in the Great Lakes.”

Experts from both sides of Lake Michigan gathered to discuss how we can responsibly develop offshore wind while reaping economic benefits.

“Offshore wind development in the Great Lakes and off the Atlantic Coast is likely to create jobs in Wisconsin in manufacturing, shipbuilding, boat building, wind farm construction, port operations, and maintenance of offshore wind farms,” noted Bob Owen, an energy consultant from Middleton.

“Wisconsin’s breadth of relevant manufacturing and wind construction expertise is unparalleled in the Great Lakes Region. Wisconsin could be a leader in freshwater offshore wind technology and related employment.”

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Wisconsin lawmakers weary of wind setback issue

Posted on February 7, 2012. Filed under: Energy Policy, Wind |

From an article by Dan Haugen on Midwest Energy News:

Wisconsin’s politically contested wind-turbine siting rules would quietly go back on the books if the state’s legislature doesn’t take up the issue this session.

While it’s premature for wind energy supporters to declare victory, the rules’ opponents appear to have little appetite for reopening the controversy, according to observers.

“This is an issue they don’t want to have anything to do with right now,” says Michael Vickerman, director of Renew Wisconsin, a renewable energy advocacy group. “It’s kind of reached the radioactive phase.”

The first-in-the-nation rules were aimed at streamlining the messy, often shifting patchwork of local setback rules, which govern the distance wind developers need to leave between turbines and adjacent homes. A 2009 law instructed regulators to comes up with a statewide setback policy. After two years of hearings and debate, they issued rules restricting turbines from within 1,250 feet of neighboring residences.

On the day the rules were to take effect last March, however, a Republican-controlled legislative committee voted along party lines to suspend the statewide rules. Gov. Scott Walker instead proposed an 1,800-foot setback from the nearest property line, which the American Wind Energy Association said would essentially shut down the state’s wind industry.

Since then, wind developers have cited regulatory uncertainty in suspending or canceling five major developments totaling $1.6 billion in economic investment. Vickerman says wind energy supporters have successfully highlighted the economic consequences of Walker’s action, which is why party leadership seems to have lost interest in the fight.

“These guys are afraid because the issue has boomeranged on them,” says Vickerman. “Scott Walker does not really want to be known as someone who has killed jobs by basically shutting down the commercial wind industry in Wisconsin, and neither do the legislative leaders.”

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RENEW leads Wisconsin’s renewable energy sector

Posted on February 6, 2012. Filed under: Renewable energy - generally |

From a story by Matt Grasson on Today’s Energy Solutions:

As with any successful project, there needs to be a strong leader. For Wisconsin’s renewable energy sector, that leader is RENEW Wisconsin. RENEW Wisconsin is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting economically and environmentally sustainable energy policies and practices within the state.

During their 20 years, RENEW Wisconsin has helped increase funding for the Focus on Energy program, coordinated a Midwest Wind Siting project, and created the Online Wind Energy Center.

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PSC must establish wind energy rules

Posted on February 1, 2012. Filed under: Wind |

From an editorial in the Green Bay Press-Gazette:

A committee wants Brown County to ask the state to pay medical bills for anyone becoming sick because of wind turbines, but we don’t think it’s the county’s place to make such a move.

The human services committee voted last week to seek emergency aid for families near the Shirley Wind Farm in the town of Glenmore, blaming the state for allowing what supervisors said was “irresponsible placement” of wind turbines. Several people testified to the committee that they or their neighbors have experienced conditions such as anxiety, depression and weight loss and fear they have been exposed to a greater cancer risk.

We feel for local residents who believe their health has been compromised by wind turbines. But until the state establishes setback rules and other regulations governing wind turbines, the county’s effort in this case is futile. . . .

If county supervisors want to make recommendations on setback limits or other issues involving wind turbines, they should do that and forward their opinions to the state. But a resolution seeking compensation for medical bills comes with the assumption that the wind turbines caused the problems in Glenmore. That’s a conclusion that hasn’t been determined.

Brown County has been a focus area for wind energy companies in recent years. The landscape is conducive to the placement of turbines because the topography helps produce a steady wind flow. An advocacy group — Brown County Citizens for Responsible Wind Energy — has lobbied for greater setback distances, saying turbines too close to residences and schools pose potential health problems.

The opposition led Illinois-based Invenergy Inc. to withdraw its plans to build a 100-turbine wind farm in the towns of Morrison and Glenmore.

The wind energy industry cites, with good reason, the fact that wind turbines provide a useful and necessary energy source. They also provide financial compensation for land owners who agree to have wind turbines erected on their property.

Still, some opponents say the negatives outweigh the benefits. Some have also claimed the turbines lower property values.

The responsibility for establishing wind energy rules rests with the Public Service Commission. A legislative committee suspended the PSC’s proposed turbine siting rules 11 months ago and instructed the state agency to work on a compromise that would be acceptable to both sides. PSC spokeswoman Kristin Ruesch told the Green Bay Press-Gazette Monday that no such compromise has been reached. She also said she doesn’t think the issue of medical bill payments has been part of the discussions.

We urge the PSC to accelerate the discussions to reach a compromise that will be acceptable to both sides and the state Legislature.

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