Energy Policy

RENEW Lauds PSC for Making Decision on Renewable Energy

Posted on May 4, 2012. Filed under: Energy Policy, Focus on Energy/Public Benefits |


Ten-month delay harmed renewable energy businesses

RENEW Wisconsin (RENEW) praised the state’s energy regulators for responding to pleas from renewable businesses and potential customers to make a decision and get people working again.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) released an April 26 decision on funding for renewable energy incentives to homeowners and businesses in the next three years.

The PSC decided to allocate $10 million per year in incentives for renewable energy installations in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Beginning in 2013, three-quarters of the funds will be reserved for energy systems using biogas, biomass combustion, and geothermal heat pumps. The remaining 25% will fund incentives for solar and small wind installations.

Ten million dollars per year for renewable energy incentives is a reasonable starting place and is consistent with previous funding for incentives provided by Focus on Energy (Focus), the utility-ratepayer-supported energy efficiency and renewable energy program in Wisconsin, according to Don Wichert, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit advocacy organization that leads and represents businesses, organizations, and individuals who seek more clean, renewable energy in Wisconsin.

“After nearly 10 months of needless uncertainty and delay, renewable energy activity has now nearly come to a complete halt in Wisconsin,” Wichert said.

“Many Wisconsin renewable energy companies told the PSC that the delay in the decision and lack of transparency have been a nightmare, forcing some renewable installers to lay off workers and move their business activity to other states, especially when the Focus program administrator, Shaw Environmental, ended all incentives for renewable technologies at the beginning of 2012,” Wichert said.

“RENEW hopes that the PSC’s response to renewable energy businesses means that it will resume collaboration between Focus and Wisconsin’s renewable energy community,” he said.

“In a time of decreased resources and increased demand, RENEW believes it is imperative for Focus decision makers to involve people who know the industry best,” said Wichert.

“Without a collaborative process, the industry and customers will always be second guessing the decisions and the assumptions behind them. It doesn’t have to be a one-way, top-down approach. The renewable energy industry is just trying to make a living and should be involved.”

END

RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that leads and represents businesses, organizations, and individuals who seek more clean renewable energy in Wisconsin. More information on RENEW’s Web site at www.renewwisconsin.org.

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Catching Wind updates latest news on wind in Wisconsin

Posted on April 5, 2012. Filed under: Energy Policy, Wind |


Catching Wind, a newsletter from RENEW Wisconsin, includes the following updates on wind in Wisconsin:

Siting rule survives challenge, takes effect
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.

Community wind sweeps into western Wisconsin
Two privately owned utility-scale wind turbines are set to rise this spring near Organic Valley Cooperative’s distribution center in Cashton, home of Wisconsin’s first Community Wind project. Called Cashton Greens, the wind project is a joint venture of LaFarge-based Organic Valley and La Crosse-based Gundersen Lutheran Health System.

St. Croix County Wind Project seeks PSC approval
In a first for the Badger State, western Wisconsin, specifically, St. Croix County will provide the backdrop for a high-profile permitting battle over a utility-scale wind energy project. The 41-turbine project would be located in the towns of Forest and Cylon, about 30 miles northeast of Hudson.

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Frustration Floods PSC over Suspension of Renewable Energy Funds

Posted on April 2, 2012. Filed under: Energy Policy, Focus on Energy/Public Benefits |


Immediate release
April 2, 2012

More information
Don Wichert
dwichert@renewwisconsin.org
608.255.4044, ext. 1

Frustration Floods PSC over Suspension of Renewable Energy Funds

More than 200 individuals and businesses submitted comments decrying the long delay in restarting the renewable energy programs of Focus on Energy, a nationally recognized program that reduces the cost of solar, wind, and biomass installations for Wisconsin utility customers.

Focus on Energy suspended its support for customer-sited renewable energy systems for businesses last July, when rising demand for renewables outstripped available funds, according to Shaw Environmental, the program administrator. When it announced the funding suspension last June, Shaw told installers that incentives would resume before the end of 2011. In January 2012, funding for residential renewable energy systems ended.

“It is now the spring of 2012, and neither Shaw nor the Public Service Commission (PSC), which oversees Focus, have said a peep about when they will again offer incentives, as required by law,” said Don Wichert, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit advocacy organization that represents businesses, organizations, and individuals who want more clean renewable energy produced in Wisconsin.

“The protracted delay in resuming incentives speaks to Shaw’s lack of experience in managing a renewable energy program. While Shaw struggles to ‘learn on the job’, dozens of contractors and small businesses are experiencing financial hardship as installation activity grinds to a halt,” added Michael Vickerman, director of policy and programs for RENEW.

“A separate contractor should administer the renewable energy program. Under the current arrangement, renewables and energy efficiency are lumped together under one administrator and are forced to compete against each other for the same pot of funding,” said Vickerman.

“The number of comments shows the huge amount of frustration over lost business and jobs for installers, as well as citizens who support and want to install renewable energy systems,” Wichert said.

James Kerbel, owner of Photovoltaic Systems LLC in Amherst, wrote: “I have seven employees on layoff and some are still collecting unemployment. I also have 20-plus bids out to customers who want to move ahead with a solar electric system, but will not move until they see the new Focus on Energy incentives.”

“My employees can’t wait forever for work,” Kerbel said. “I need an answer very soon or I will lose all these trained employees. They need to work, not have their lives in turmoil like this. I need an answer as soon as possible, please.”

State Senator Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) posted a comment. “To benefit and not damage efforts to grow local jobs and the Wisconsin economy, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin should direct Shaw Environmental, the state-contracted administrator of the Focus on Energy program, to immediately restore a comprehensive and robust incentive program for renewable energy system installations,” Schultz wrote.

“I would very much LIKE to put up a Solar PV system. And will if you can get the FOE incentives program going again!!” commented Martha Christensen of Madison.

All public comments can be accessed by clicking on Documents at http://psc.wi.gov/apps40/dockets/content/detail.aspx?dockt_id=5-GF-191 .

END

RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that organizes and represents businesses, and individuals who want more clean renewable energy produced in Wisconsin. More information on RENEW’s Web site at http://www.renewwisconsin.org.

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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 http://www.renewwisconsin.com. Join or donate today! Click here.

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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.  (http://www.jsonline.com/business/wisconsin-falling-behind-on-energysaving-efforts-vv4akt3-140393773.html)

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.

Sincerely,

Brett Hulsey, State Representative  

Fred Risser, Sate Senator

Kelda Roys, State Representative

Louis Molepske, State Representative

Terese Berceau, State Representative

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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 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. (http://tinyurl.com/7ss7qgc) 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. http://tinyurl.com/norcrossletter

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.

Sincerely,

Michael Vickerman
Program and Policy Director

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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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Small Businesses Request Resumption of Renewable Energy Support

Posted on January 31, 2012. Filed under: Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Focus on Energy/Public Benefits, General, Renewable energy - generally |


(more…)

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Legislature should restore funding to Focus on Energy

Posted on January 27, 2012. Filed under: Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Renewable energy - generally |


From a guest commentary by Keith Reopelle and Charlie Higley in the Janseville Gazette:

In spring 2011, Gov. Scott Walker and legislative leaders significantly cut funding to Focus on Energy, the energy efficiency program that helps residents and businesses lower energy bills. A recent legislative audit demonstrates that the benefits of Focus on Energy more than double the program’s costs, and legislators should quickly restore lost funding in order to maximize the program’s cost-saving potential.

Focus on Energy was created in 2001 to help homeowners and businesses reduce energy costs. More than 2 million Wisconsin residents and businesses have participated in the program.

The statewide program helps keep energy bills affordable for all Wisconsinites by reducing energy use and preventing the need to build expensive new power plants and transmission lines that we all pay for with increased electricity bills.

In addition, Focus on Energy helps reduce the amount of money we spend to fuel our power plants. Wisconsin spends $12.5 billion every year on imported electricity and dirty, out-of-state fossil fuels. Much of that is spent on coal, oil and natural gas to generate electricity and heat our homes. Investing in energy efficiency is the No. 1 way we can reduce that and keep money circulating within our own economy.

The audit released by the bipartisan Legislative Audit Bureau confirms that Focus on Energy successfully lowers energy bills and provides environmental and economic benefits that far outweigh program costs. For every $1 invested, residents and businesses save more than $2 on energy bills, according to the audit. This helped save more than $264 million on energy bills in 2010 alone. Since its inception, Focus on Energy has helped residents and businesses save more than $2 billion. . . .

Keith Reopelle is senior policy director at Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. Contact him at kreopelle@cleanwisconsin.org. Charlie Higley is executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin. Contact him at higley@wiscub.org.

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