Archive for March, 2012

See who contacted the PSC and add your comment!

Posted on March 28, 2012. Filed under: Energy Policy, Focus on Energy/Public Benefits |

272 days since Focus on Energy “suspended” the renewable energy business program!

88 days since Focus on Energy “suspended” the renewable energy residential program!

Dozens of people submitted comments asking the PSC to restart Focus on Energy renewable incentive.

Have you?

You’ll be in good company if you comment. Go to this PSC Web page, then click on “Documents” to see who already signed.

You have only until the end of next week, March 30 to tell the Public Service Commission to RESTART the incentives

Remember when Wisconsin used to give incentives, as directed by state law, to people, organizations, and businesses that installed renewable energy systems – solar, wind, biodigesters, and more – through Focus on Energy, which the Public Service Commission oversees.

Not any more!

Since the first of this year, Focus on Energy stopped giving renewable incentives to homeowners as well!

Incentives would again be offered in the spring, said Shaw Environmental, the state-contracted administrator of Focus. Not!

Put a comment in the PSC’s official proceeding (5-GF-191) for Focus on Energy. Click here to get to the comment form.

Here’s a sample message to deliver:

The Focus on Energy program used to have a successful renewable energy incentive program, but now the program has been completely dropped. Homeowners and businesses that want to improve the environment, support local jobs, and promote energy independence need the incentives and services to make installations affordable and easy to implement.

RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501 (c) (3) organization that advocates for businesses, organizations, and individuals who want more clean renewable energy in Wisconsin. More information on RENEW’s vision, 2012 action plan, and how to become a member can be found on RENEW’s Web site at Join or donate today! Click here.

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Session wrap-up: Wind lives! Bad bills stopped!

Posted on March 22, 2012. Filed under: Renewable energy - generally |

A wrap-up of the 2011-2012 legislative session from Michael Vickerman:

As RENEW Wisconsin’s new Program and Policy Director (see footnote below), I would like to report on recent results of the 2011-2012 legislative session. Though the session as a whole presented Wisconsin’s renewable energy community with unprecedented challenges and a few setbacks, we were able to fend off a number of bad proposals in the final days. Had these proposals been adopted, Wisconsin’s ability to support and host investments in renewable energy would have been permanently damaged.

As you probably know, the Legislature adjourned March 16 without taking any follow-up action on the wind siting rule (PSC 128). In doing so, the Legislature allowed the rule, which had been in a state of suspension for more than a year, to take effect. PSC 128 is now in effect, and it can’t be suspended by future Legislatures. More than four years has elapsed since RENEW spearheaded the process of forging a coalition (initially called the “Campaign for Sensible Wind Permitting”) to pass a bill requiring uniform standards for permitting wind turbines. Much blood, sweat and tears went into that legislative campaign (renamed “Wind for Wisconsin”) which culminated in the passage of 2009 Act 40 with bipartisan support. Then followed the drafting and redrafting of the siting rule itself, which proved to be more difficult process than we had first imagined.

Nevertheless, the PSC issued a strict but workable rule in December 2010. Even though what had emerged from the rulemaking process was a product of compromise and deliberation, the rule came under fire virtually the moment the Legislature convened in January 2011. After holding a stacked-deck hearing in February, the Legislature suspended PSC 128 on March 1, the day the rule was to take effect. Shortly thereafter, antiwind legislators circulated bills to repeal the rule outright (SB 50 and AB 72).

On a separate track, Sen. Frank Lasee, a Republican from Brown County, introduced a series of bills aimed at permanently crippling the wind industry in Wisconsin. Though these bills went nowhere, they succeeded in presenting an unwelcoming face to wind developers, and they responded by suspending or cancelling about a half dozen prospects throughout the state.

By March this year, it seemed to us that the momentum had shifted in our favor. Since the suspension of PSC 128, more than 17 or so newspapers had written editorials decrying the destructive nature of Lasee’s jihad and reiterated their support for a clear and consistently applied permitting process – exactly what PSC 128 rule was intended to provide. The signals coming from the legislative leadership strongly suggested that none of the antiwind bills referred to committee, including SB 50, the senate bill to permanently repeal PSC 128 and direct the PSC to issue a new rule , would be scheduled for a floor vote in the final two weeks of session.

But something happened around March 1st that changed the political calculus, and to everyone’s surprise, SB 50 appeared on the Senate calendar for the week of March 5. Theories abound as to why Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald reversed himself and allowed SB 50, which the wind industry viewed as the functional equivalent of a death warrant, onto the Senate floor. Unconfirmed reports attribute this last-minute switcheroo to extreme pressure that Sen. Lasee and his allies (former senator Bob Welch, now lobbyist for the Brown County antiwind group, and the Wisconsin Realtors Association, which had contributed generously to Republican office-seekers in the fall 2010 elections) exerted on Sen. Fitgerald.

When the Senate took the floor that Tuesday, the outlook looked grim. It appeared that the antiwind faction had at least the minimum 17 votes required to pass the bill. Wind energy supporters had little time to turn an unpromising situation around and build a firewall of support. But in those few hours they succeeded in denying Sen. Lasee the 17th vote he needed to send this bill to the Assembly. The following day, Lasee admitted defeat, and SB 50 was referred back to committee, a startling turnaround from the situation 24 hours earlier. The bill stayed there until its death the following Thursday, when the State Senate gaveled itself into the history books.

Notwithstanding PSC 128’s roller coaster ride culminating in the late-session cliffhanger vote that staved off its repeal, Wisconsin can now say, for the first time since 2007, that it is open for business in the wind energy development arena.

We are indebted to the law firm of Cullen, Weston Pines and Bach for their heroic efforts in keeping wind development alive in Wisconsin. Special thanks are in order for Lee Cullen, Jeff Vercauteren, Curt Pawlisch, and Chris Kunkle for building a firewall of support for PSC 128 that held firm under the extreme pressure applied by antiwind forces.

Further information on wind siting:
RENEW Cheers End of Wind Siting Impasse
March 16, 2012

Legislature lets wind turbine placement rules stand
March 19, 2012

AB 146 (Extending the Life of Unused Renewable Energy Credits)
Under current law, a Wisconsin electric provider can bank an unused Renewable Energy Credit (REC) for up to four years before using it to comply with Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Standard. If not used within that four-year window, the REC expires. Last May, a bill was introduced (AB 146) to eliminate the shelf life of an unused REC. Passage of this bill would allow REC’s to be bankable into perpetuity, which would have the effect of diminishing the need for new sources of renewable electricity.

The Assembly Energy and Utilities Committee held a hearing on the bill in September. Among those in support of AB 146 were Wisconsin Utilities Association and various individual utilities. Among those joining RENEW in opposition to the bill were the American Wind Energy Association, Wind on the Wires and several independent wind developers; Wisconsin Counties Association; several private waste haulers; Dairy Business Association; Clean Wisconsin; Sierra Club; Citizens Utility Board, and the American Lung Association in Wisconsin. As events unfolded, the committee never did vote on AB 146. The bill died last Thursday, and is not likely to be resurrected in 2013.

Allowing Third-Party Sales of Energy to Host Customers

In an effort to expand and invigorate small-scale renewables in Wisconsin, RENEW asked two legislators (Rep. Gary Tauchen of Bonduel and Rep. Chris Taylor of Madison) to sponsor the drafting of legislation to authorize sales of energy from third party-owned renewable energy systems to host customers. The legislation would accomplish that objective by exempting renewable energy systems that serve the owners of the premises where they’re located from being regulated as public utilities. The exemption would be narrowly constructed to restrict the sale of that energy only to the host customer or the local utility.

Last Thursday, the Legislative Reference Bureau produced a revised bill draft that appears to be ready for introduction … next year, when a new Legislature is convened. In the meantime, RENEW plans to solicit support for this bill from such influential constituencies as farm groups, local governments, WMC, and large commercial enterprises. While the utilities may not support this kind of legislation, they could decide not to oppose the bill, especially if we build a bipartisan coalition of supporters.

1 In June, the Legislature took two steps back on renewable energy policy. First, it passed a bill watering down the state’s Renewable Energy Standard by allowing large-scale Canadian hydroelectric generation to become eligible renewable energy generators. Later that month, the Legislature approved a substantial cut to the annual budget of Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program. The budget for 2012 will be $20 million less than last year’s budget, which will diminish the supply of financial incentives available to support customer-sited renewable energy systems.

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Tell the PSC to restart the Focus renewable incentives

Posted on March 20, 2012. Filed under: Focus on Energy/Public Benefits | Tags: |

Spring is here, but the Focus on Energy Renewable Energy Incentives are not!

Wisconsin used to give incentives, as directed by state law, to people, organizations, and businesses that installed renewable energy systems – solar, wind, biodigesters, and more – through Focus on Energy, which the Public Service Commission oversees.

Not any more!

Last June 2011, Focus on Energy announced a “limited suspension” of incentive payments to businesses that want to install a renewable system.

Since the first of this year, Focus on Energy stopped giving renewable incentives to homeowners as well!

Incentives would again be offered in the spring, said Shaw Environmental, the state-contracted administrator.  Not!  Spring begins today, and Focus on Energy still needs to restart the incentives program.

Tell the Public Service Commission to RESTART the incentives:

Here’s a sample message to deliver in your email or on the phone:

The Focus on Energy program used to have a successful renewable energy incentive program, but now the program has been completely dropped.  Homeowners and businesses that want to improve the environment, support local jobs, and promote energy independence need the incentives and services to make installations affordable and easy to implement.

RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501 (c) (3) organization that advocates for businesses, organizations, and individuals who want more clean renewable energy in Wisconsin.   More information on RENEW’s vision and 2012 action plan, and ways to become a member can be found on RENEW’s Web site at www.renewwisconsin.comJoin or donate today!  Click here.

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From “the expected to the controversial” at Solar Energy Forum

Posted on March 20, 2012. Filed under: Solar |

A report on the Solar Energy Forum by Carl Siegrist, Renewable Energy Strategist,

We had a very lively discussion during the Solar Energy Forum at the 9th Annual Green Energy Summit in Milwaukee on March 7. The topic was Solar Energy Opportunities: Transitioning to a Mature Solar Market. The exchange of ideas ranged from the expected – the challenges of dwindling incentives – to the controversial – the looming trade war with China over solar “dumping.”

As the moderator, I was pleased to have Nick Hylla (MREA), Mark Wilkerson (Helios Solar Works), and Matt Neumann (SunVest Solar) on the panel and to be able to fill in for the 4th panelist, Jeff Vercauteren (Cullen Weston Pines & Bach) who could not be there. Although there was not a total consensus on all issues, I did hear some patterns emerge.

1) Chinese solar manufacturers are flooding the U.S. market products, which allegedly are being sold at below cost. This has resulted in lower cost modules and helped installers sell more projects but at the expense of domestic manufacturing. This is an extraordinarily complicated issue and a group of U.S. manufacturers formed the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing, which filed petitions with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission charging illegal “dumping” of crystalline silicon solar cells into the U.S. market (see We should expect to hear more about the outcomes later this spring.

2) The installed price of solar PV has come down dramatically over the past year. A variety of incentives and credits from utilities, Focus on Energy, and the federal government (Investment Tax Credit or ITC) originally helped drive the market and lower costs in Wisconsin but many incentives have disappeared. The ITC is scheduled to end in 2016. No one – manufacturer, installer, or consumer – should ever assume that incentives are stable. There was agreement that ultimately ending incentives for solar – and all energy sources – would be desirable. And there was acknowledgement that solar incentives won’t be what they used to be. Costs reductions in the future will have to come primarily from balance of system costs that include installation labor, inverters, racking, permitting, and interconnection, as well as continued efficiency in both module output and scaling of manufacturing.

3) Although selling solar PV on the basis of “payback” or return on investment is still important, and looking to price parity with retail electric rates is desirable, the true attributes of solar – energy independence and a cleaner environment – need to be better explained to potential customers. Few people try to calculate “payback” before the purchase of a granite counter top, a new car or a smart phone.

4) Passage of a 3rd party solar ownership policy in Wisconsin might be possible in the next state legislative session and some bipartisan support on this is likely. It makes little sense for government or regulators to intrude into a decision on contractual arrangements between a property owner and the supplier of solar power on private property, i.e. whether one owns or leases the solar equipment or buys the power from a 3rd party owning the equipment on the customer’s property for their own use.

If you missed attending the Solar Energy Forum, the presentations should eventually be available from a link at Even if you view them through this link, you will have missed the majority of information: the questions, answers and conversation. So plan to attend next year’s forum.

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RENEW Cheers End of Wind Siting Impasse

Posted on March 16, 2012. Filed under: Wind |

More information
Michael Vickerman
Director, Program and Policy

RENEW Cheers End of Wind Siting Impasse
Improved Regulatory Climate Will Attract New Projects

Capping a bitter four-year struggle, the Legislature cleared the path for wind energy development to resume in Wisconsin under clear and consistent rules.

By adjourning without passage of bills restricting wind development, the Legislature allowed a statewide permitting rule developed by the Public Service Commission (PSC) to take effect. That rule, which the PSC issued in late 2010 after extensive deliberation and public comment, was suspended by a legislative oversight committee on March 1, 2011.

“During the PSC rule suspension, wind development slowed to a virtual standstill, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars in construction and manufacturing opportunities, as well as a significant revenue hit to landowners and local governments,” said Michael Vickerman, Program and Policy Director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide organization advocating for more clean renewable energy.

For 2012, wind energy companies in each of the states surrounding Wisconsin are constructing hundreds of megawatts of new generating capacity, compared with a projected addition of five megawatts here, enough to power only 1,000 houses, according to Vickerman.

“We hope this outcome will end the wind industry’s exodus to greener pastures. As with any other economic sector, the wind industry will flourish in a welcoming environment where the rules of the road are clear and consistently applied. We believe that the long-delayed rule will provide the certainty needed by investors, contractors, local governments, and landowners.”

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Legislators ask for financial report on Focus on Energy

Posted on March 15, 2012. Filed under: Energy Policy, Focus on Energy/Public Benefits |

A letter to Public Service Commissioner Ellen Nowak from State Representatives Brett Hulsey, Kelda Roys, Louis Molepske, Terese Berceau, and Senator Fred Risser:

March 13, 2012

Commissioner Ellen Nowak
Public Service Commission
610 North Whitney Way, 3rd Floor
Post Office Box 7854
Madison, WI  53707-7854

Dear Commissioner Nowak:

The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau conducted an audit on the Focus on Energy program last year and determined that every tax dollar spent on program incentives and activities produced a benefit of $2.30.  State energy figures show Wisconsinites sent $12.5 billion out of state each year for gasoline, coal and natural gas, causing the loss of over 100,000 jobs leaving our state.  That assessment was reached using data available through 2010.

We are interested in learning the results for the year of 2011 for the Focus on Energy program.  Last year, we saw substantial changes to the program, including the selection of a new administrator and a decision to suspend incentives for renewable energy systems beginning last July.  As you know, the Legislature rolled back the funding increase scheduled for 2012 and this has hurt many businesses in Wisconsin.

The ongoing suspension of assistance through the Focus on Energy program for 2012 is causing a major disruption for hundreds of renewable energy companies in our state that had previously worked with the program as a partnership in providing clean energy, economic development and energy independence.  Furthermore, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy issued a report singling out Wisconsin as a state that is headed in the wrong direction.  (

The importance of the Focus on Energy program to Wisconsin’s economic well-being cannot be overstated.  In order to make informed decision on Focus on Energy’s future, the State Legislature will need the latest financial information on the program’s budget and the results of the programs energy incentives and activities.

Therefore, we would appreciate your providing us with Focus on Energy’s 2011 expenditures and savings relative to budgeted amounts and the actual dollars spent on renewables in 2011 and the estimated savings.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  We look forward to hearing from you.


Brett Hulsey, State Representative  

Fred Risser, Sate Senator

Kelda Roys, State Representative

Louis Molepske, State Representative

Terese Berceau, State Representative

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GOP bid to block wind power rules fails

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

To steal a line from Billy Crystal in The Princess Bride, the bill is mostly dead, but not completely dead. In other words, it’s possible that the bill could again come to the floor for another attempt to pass it, but it’s very, very unlikely.

From a story by Patrick Marley and Lee Bergquist of the Milwuakee Journal Sentinel:

Madison – Rules for the wind industry crafted when Democrats ran state government will likely go into effect after a Republican effort to block them failed Wednesday in the state Senate. . . .

The wind industry rules were written by the Public Service Commission, but Republicans temporarily stopped them from being implemented after they took over the Legislature after the November 2010 elections. To permanently prevent the rules from going into effect, Republicans needed to pass a new bill by next week, when the legislative session ends.

Senate Republicans put forward a bill requiring the PSC to write new wind rules, but they pulled the bill back Wednesday because they didn’t have the votes to pass it. Sen. Frank Lasee (R-De Pere) said there was no way to get the measure passed, leaving the rules written by Democrats to soon go into effect.

Republicans control the Senate 17-16. All the Democrats and Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) opposed blocking the rules, meaning Republicans were one vote shy of passing their bill.

The wind bill came up short on votes a day after mining legislation failed because Schultz sided with Democrats against that measure.

Schultz said he opposed blocking the wind rules because the wind industry, which has operations in his district, needs certainty after recent years of tumultuous policy-making for wind energy.

“If we send this back (to the PSC), we just further indecision on this,” he said.

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ACTION ALERT! Wisconsin Senate set to vote on overturning wind-siting rule

Posted on March 6, 2012. Filed under: Wind |


The Wisconsin Legislature is scheduled to wrap up its regular session calendar on March 15th. With the end of session approaching, there has been a lot of legislative activity, as lawmakers attempt to push through legislation before time runs out.

Unfortunately, it comes as great concern that Senate leadership has scheduled a full Senate vote on Senate Bill 50 — legislation that would repeal PSC 128, the consensus guidelines for siting wind farms on which the future of wind energy in our state relies.

Also, we have just been informed by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s office that the bill will be scheduled for a floor vote today.

If this bill passes, Wisconsin would immediately lose jobs. It would kill $1.8 billion of potential investment in Wisconsin, translating into millions of lost hours in construction labor as well as manufacturing jobs producing wind turbine components. This comes at a time when Wisconsin was ranked this week as 50 out of 50 states for generating private-sector jobs – that’s right, every other state in the country ranked better at private-sector job generation than Wisconsin, which actually lost jobs during that period.

These wind rules resulted from two years of hard work and compromise. They provide a critical foundation for future wind power development in Wisconsin. If these important rules are repealed, Wisconsin’s future wind projects and industry jobs will be lost. See background information and suggested talking points farther below.

Please call the following Senators’ offices IMMEDIATELY, and tell them to “VOTE NO ON SENATE BILL 50!”

Jon Erpenbach: 1–608-266-6670
Kathleen Vinehout: 1-608-266-8546
Dale Schultz: 1-608-266-0703
Rich Zipperer: 1-608-266-9174
Rob Cowles: 1-608-266-0484
Michael Ellis: 1-608-266-0718

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Don Wichert at 608.255.4044 at RENEW Wisconsin

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