Focus on Energy/Public Benefits

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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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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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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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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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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PSC’s cost-benefit test unfairly penalizes renewables

Posted on October 20, 2011. Filed under: Energy Policy, Focus on Energy/Public Benefits, Renewable energy - generally, Solar |


An e-mail exchange between Burke O’Neal (Full Spectrum Solar), Robert Norcross (Public Service Commission of Wisconsin – PSC), and Niels Wolter (Madison Solar Consulting) illustrates the agency’s institutional bias against renewable energy in Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program.

Excerpts from O’Neal’s e-mail (Harming WI Industry: Poor Handling of Focus on Energy Renewables Program) to the PSC and Governor Walker:

Full Spectrum Solar employs seventeen people directly in good paying construction jobs in WI. Many more are employed indirectly as subcontractors and in manufacturing and distribution of the products we use. We are very concerned about the handling of the renewable energy program by the Shaw Group. Nearly all the Focus on Energy incentives for renewable energy systems require that they be installed by the end of this calendar year, but there is no indication whether there will be any renewable energy programs at all next year. In fact, the Shaw Group has not even selected subcontractors to administer this program next year! This uncertainty, along with the normal year-end rush to secure federal tax credits, is creating a massive push to get systems installed by the end of this year. This is requiring installers to hire additional employees and take on additional vehicles and tools, without any assurance of future work. If there is no Focus renewable program at the beginning of next year, but a possibility of a future program, every potential customer will put their work on hold. It is hard to imagine a funding approach that would be more destructive to the renewable energy industry in Wisconsin than what seems to be getting set up by Focus on Energy.

Excerpts from the response of Robert Norcross, Administrator, Gas and Electric Division at the PSC:

The Commission appreciates hearing your perspective on the Focus on Energy renewable programs. While I understand your concerns, changes to the renewable programs are necessary to ensure their sustainability in the long run. Administrative rules require that the portfolio of Focus on Energy programs achieve a cost-benefit ratio of at least 1.0, based on the Total Resource Cost test. With the exception of biomass, no renewable resource measure meets this criteria. In the past, inclusion of non-cost-effective renewable resources was deemed appropriate as the goal of Focus on Energy was to assist in building the renewable infrastructure. Previously, this has not greatly affected the cost-effectiveness of the overall portfolio of programs because renewable projects were a fairly small component of Focus on Energy. However, in 2011 there was a significant increase in renewable projects approved. This resulted in about twice the entire 2011 renewable budget being committed by mid-year. It also put the entire Focus on Energy program in jeopardy of not being cost-effective.

Niels Wolter then offered his analysis of the PSC’s reliance on the Total Resource Cost test and the resulting consequences:

The TRC test is not from the customer’s perspective. It does not include a solar electric system owner’s federal tax benefits, nor does it consider their electric bill reductions. Rather it considers the system from a broader societal perspective. That means that the value of the generation is what it costs a utility to generate the power and meet demand (marginal cost). So what was an economically viable system for a customer may become non viable from the TRC perspective.

Read more about the TRC test here (starting on page 6-5).

Interestingly given how these cost tests work, reducing the Focus on Energy incentive level, does not improve the solar electric program’s benefit cost ratio. If the Focus program has a given amount of incentive funds and demand for incentives outstrips supply, then reducing the incentive per kW would result in more people installing systems, and the Focus program’s portfolio (all the technologies they support) benefit cost ratio would be further reduced. In other words, the reduced incentive would result in more people making the non economic decision (based on the TRCt test) of installing a solar electric system, and pull down the TRC of the entire Focus program. So reducing incentive levels is not a solution to this issue… strangely raising the incentive levels would. But that’s not going to happen.

The TRC tests seems to be an alternative reality that no one lives in… and strange things can happen there.

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One Step Forward, 10 Steps Back?

Posted on October 4, 2011. Filed under: Economic development, Energy Efficiency, Focus on Energy/Public Benefits, Jobs, Wind |


From an article by Ronnie Garrett in Corporate Report Wisconsin:

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Those are words my kids hear a lot. We think about what we buy, opting for recyclable materials or recycled content instead. We think about what we throw away, opting instead to find someone who can use it or a place to recycle it. And we think about the energy we use. In our home you don’t get air conditioning 24/7 during the summer — even when it’s 98 degrees outside — and you don’t get to jack up the heat to 80 because you’re cold during the winter.

So it frustrates me a great deal when I hear about things that show our state legislature isn’t taking conservation efforts as seriously as it should.

Take for instance the fact that in the past six months, three wind farm developers with a combined investment of more than $600 million, have stopped operations in Wisconsin. The developers cited regulatory uncertainty and a perception that Wisconsin offers a hostile business environment for “green” energy as the reasons why.

And while Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to end Wisconsin’s recycling as we know it was denied by the state Legislature, the budget bill did cut funding for local recycling by 40 percent, which will result in communities making cuts to their services or charging fees to make up the lost revenue.

In June a coalition of 124 businesses signed a letter asking the governor to veto the portion of the state budget that rolled back funding to Focus on Energy, a statewide energy efficiency and renewable energy program. In spite of this grassroots effort, that claimed the focus also created jobs for the state, the cuts remained in the state budget.

Ironically, these things came to fruition around the same time that a report issued by The Brookings Institution reported Wisconsin’s clean energy jobs at nearly 77,000. Among the clean energy jobs categorized in the report were those in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and recycling and reuse. The report also cited Focus on Energy for the attractive buyback rates offered by utilities for renewable energy and the innovative incentives that encourage customer installation of renewables.

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Sierra Club urges Joint Finance Committee to support increased energy efficiency investments

Posted on December 14, 2010. Filed under: Economic development, Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Focus on Energy/Public Benefits, General, Utility rates | Tags: , , |


From a news release issued by the Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter:

Madison: The Joint Finance Committee will consider the Public Service Commission’s (PSC) recent recommendation to increase Focus On Energy Funding today in the State Capitol. The PSC recently voted to
increase investment in Focus on Energy (FOE) and set new goals that together would decrease energy use 1.5 percent annually by 2014.

The Sierra Club strongly supports this common-sense investment in energy efficiency that will create thousands of jobs and save customers money on their utility bills. For every dollar invested in energy efficiency, homeowners and businesses have saved around $3. FOE has created over 16,000 jobs and saved homeowners and businesses over $275,000,000 since its inception in 2000.

Under the proposed Focus on Energy investment, ratepayers can expect to save about $15 per month on their energy bills over the next 4 years. Increasing Wisconsin’s commitment to energy efficiency programs will also create at least 4,000 jobs each year. Approving goal-based increases in energy efficiency will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

“Creating goal-based energy efficiency funding for Focus on Energy will create thousands of jobs and decrease the $16 billion we sent to other states to fuel our energy needs in 2008,” said Shahla M. Werner, PhD, Director, Sierra Club John Muir Chapter. “Supporting the Public Service Commission’s ecommendations will clean up Wisconsin’s air and create thousands of jobs at a time when our economy most needs this type of forward-thinking invest investment,” said Caryl Terrell, Energy Efficiency Team Chair, Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter.

The Sierra Club strongly disputes the negative claims by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. There is a key provision for industrial users that caps contributions at 2005 levels, and investing in efficient equipment protects industries from price spikes. Independent analysis also shows that although rates may go up with increased energy
efficiency investment, bills go down. The Sierra Club urges the media to check the claims of the opposition.

“Examining their shaky claims will reveal that the facts related to real Wisconsin jobs, real energy savings, and real reduced operating costs are with us,” added Werner.

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