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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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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Solar energy makes gains, but policy puts future in question

Posted on December 1, 2011. Filed under: Energy Finance, Energy Policy, Solar | Tags: , , |

From an article by in the La Crosse Tribune:

When the sun shines, Al Schultz makes money. Specifically, the 32 photovoltaic panels on his roof turn the sun’s rays into electricity that powers his home in Ebner Coulee. If he doesn’t need the power, he sells it to Xcel Energy.

“There is a certain peace of mind,” said the self-employed contractor. “It’s kind of a nice thought to think all your power is paid for.”

Schultz is one of a small but growing number of area homeowners who’ve taken advantage of new, cheaper solar technology, which coupled with state and federal incentives have brought residential solar electric systems within reach of more regular folks looking to lessen their dependence on fossil fuels, lower their utility bills and even make some money.

But changes on the horizon have cast a shadow over the solar industry’s future in Wisconsin. . . .

“Right now it’s out of reach for 90 percent of the home-owning population,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit that promotes economically and environmentally sustainable energy in Wisconsin. . . .

Money from Focus on Energy is still available this year, but rebates will be frozen in January as FOE implements new formulas used to evaluate cost effectiveness and rebalances its portfolio of energy savings and renewables.

Program administrator William Haas said next year’s renewable incentives won’t be decided until early spring.

Solar advocates like Vickerman say the energy policy hierarchy, which values efficiency – use reduction – over renewables in terms of cost effectiveness, is misguided.

“However much efficiency is injected, it doesn’t have any change in the resource mix,” he said. “Diversifying resource mix has value.”

Solar panels may reduce dependence on fossil fuels, but dollar for dollar, Haas said, high-efficiency lighting delivers better savings.

Dearing points out that his customers have already weatherized and bought high-efficiency appliances.

“Our customers call us after they’ve done the low-hanging fruit,” he said. “We’re expensive. This is big dollar stuff. This is the future.”

Vickerman says the future of the solar industry depends on policy.

“If we proceed without any policy changes there won’t be much happening,” he said. “You’ll see a number of solar installers go out of business.”

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State’s political climate endangers forward-thinking energy policies

Posted on August 2, 2011. Filed under: Energy Policy, Renewable energy - generally | Tags: , , |

From a commentary on Left Business Brain by Tom Breuer:

Prehistoric life forms may have been contributors to our current fossil fuel-based economy, but prehistoric thinking has no place in our modern deliberations about energy policy. That’s why a blog post published last week by RENEW Wisconsin Executive Director Michael Vickerman is so alarming.

In the piece, which appears on RENEW Wisconsin’s blog, Vickerman delineates some of the backward-thinking moves our state leaders have made with regard to renewable energy since the first of this year. They include suspending a rule that established uniform standards for permitting wind energy systems and cutting the budget of Focus on Energy, which supports investments in renewables. In addition, says Vickerman, Focus on Energy has stopped accepting applications for business program incentives that promote the installation of renewable energy systems.

Unfortunately, any time we set the clock back on renewable energy development and investment, we increase the chance that we’ll be sinfully unprepared when the fossil fuel finally hits the fan. Indeed, any energy policy worth its salt must take into account a stark Malthusian reality: A rapidly expanding world population is consuming more and more energy, gobbling up – in a matter of decades – fossil fuels that took millions of years to collect in the earth’s crust. It’s like going to Vegas and blowing your inheritance on a lost weekend, then expecting another inheritance to be deposited in your checking account on Monday. Unfortunately, no more cash is coming, and there’s nothing left to do but scan the classified ads, hoping to snag an interview for a job as Carrot Top’s gofer and personal massage therapist.

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Funding Hiatus Darkens Outlook for In-State Renewables

Posted on July 5, 2011. Filed under: Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Renewable energy - generally | Tags: , |

Immediate release
July 5, 2011

More information
Michael Vickerman
Executive Director

Funding Hiatus Darkens Outlook for In-State Renewables

For the first time in its 11-year history, Focus on Energy is no longer accepting applications from Wisconsin businesses and nonprofit entities seeking to install renewable energy systems. This new policy took effect July 1.

According to Focus on Energy officials, this suspension of financial incentives is necessary to balance demand for renewable energy systems with available funds. In 2009, Focus on Energy allocated approximately $10 million to support customer-sited renewable energy systems. More than half of that allocation went to businesses, farmers, local governments, schools, and nonprofit organizations throughout the state.

“We recognize that Focus on Energy officials have a responsibility to ensure that outflows don’t exceed revenues. However, this suspension could not have occurred at a worse time for Wisconsin’s renewable energy contractors,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin.

“Unfortunately, this move coincides with Milwaukee-based We Energies’ decision to walk away from an agreement with RENEW Wisconsin to commit $60 million over a 10-year period to develop renewable energy within its territory,” Vickerman said. ‘We Energies disclosed its unilateral action in May, barely more than halfway into honoring its commitment.”

“Given the adverse environment for renewable energy right now in Wisconsin, we hope that the interruption amounts to nothing more than a brief timeout,” said Vickerman.

“Unless funding is restored quickly, 2012 will turn out to be a very lean year for contractors and installers,” Vickerman warned.

As of this moment, the renewable energy marketplace is bristling with new installations. Installations to be completed this summer with incentives from Focus on Energy include:
• Two small wind turbines serving a Monroe County cranberry grower;
• A solar hot water system serving a new apartment building next to the Hilldale shopping complex in Madison;
• Side-by-side solar hot water and electric installations atop a new classroom building at the UW-Oshkosh;
• An engine generator fed with biogas derived from the City of Appleton’s wastewater treatment plant.

However, without a fresh supply of Focus-funded projects, Wisconsin’s renewable energy development pipeline will slow to a trickle, forcing contractors and installers to either seek work in other states or lay off employees.

Wisconsin has more than 2,500 customer-sited renewable energy installations, the vast majority of which received either financial incentives or facilitation services from Focus on Energy. In total, these installations have a generating capacity of about 20 megawatts.


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Budget commitee slashes energy efficiency funding

Posted on May 4, 2011. Filed under: Economic development, Energy Efficiency, Energy independence, Energy Policy, Jobs, Renewable energy - generally | Tags: , , , |

From an article by Mike Ivey in The Capital Times:

Cuts to key environmental programs continue in Wisconsin, with a sharp reduction in future funding for Focus on Energy, a statewide energy efficiency effort.

On a party-line vote Tuesday, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee rolled back the budget for Focus on Energy to less than $100 million annually. The monies come from a tax on electric utility revenues and are distributed to businesses and individuals for energy savings projects.

The Focus on Energy program has been administered over the past years by the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp., a Madison-based non-profit. But the contract was awarded earlier this year to the Shaw Group, a Baton Rouge, La., firm with offices in Milwaukee.

The Public Service Commission in November 2010 had proposed new energy savings goals for Focus on Energy by hiking the utility assessment. Those budgets were then approved by the Democratic majority in Joint Finance and would have upped money in the program from $120 million in 2011 to $256 million by 2014.

But with the committee action, funding for Focus on Energy will remain flat for the foreseeable future.

Co-chairman Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, led opposition to the increase, calling it a redistribution of utility ratepayer dollars.

Launched in 2001, Focus on Energy has helped residents and businesses save nearly $2 billion on their energy bills, supporters of the program say.

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Businesses urge legislators not to cut investment in energy efficiency

Posted on May 2, 2011. Filed under: Economic development, Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Jobs | Tags: , , , |

A news release from Clean Wisconsin:

Letters signed by nearly 100 businesses delivered to Capitol

MADISON – Letters signed by nearly 100 businesses as well as faith, low-income and environmental advocates were delivered to members of the Joint Committee on Finance today, asking them not to eliminatethe funding approved last year for Focus on Energy, a statewide program that helps homeowners and businesses reduce energy use.

“Focus on Energy is a successful program that creates thousands of family-supporting jobs and cuts energy bills,” said Keith Reopelle, senior policy director at Clean Wisconsin. “Cutting this funding would increase
electricity bills as homeowners and businesses would lose the opportunity to reduce their energy bills by a combined $2 billion.”

Joint Finance Committee co-chair Robin Vos has stated his intention to eliminate the funding approved last year several times. That move is likely to happen as early as tomorrow through the committee’s consideration of the state budget, despite the fact that Focus on Energy funding is unrelated to the state budget.

“We urge you to protect the PSC’s investment increase for the program and allow our businesses to grow, add new jobs, and strengthen the local economy,” reads a letter addressed to members of the Joint Finance Committee. “With a proven track record of delivering cost-effective energy savings and driving local business, Focus on Energy should be allowed to grow.”

To date, Focus on Energy has created 24,000 jobs and saved homeowners $2.50 for every $1.00 invested in the program, according to an independent evaluation. When the PSC issued its approval for the increased funding in November of last year, it referenced an energy efficiency-potential study that showed 7,000 to 9,000 new jobs would be created with a similar increase of Focus on Energy funding.

“The Focus on Energy program contributes significant resources to help businesses and residents save energy, create jobs and stay competitive in the marketplace,” said Randy Johnson, president of US Lamp, Inc. “Reducing or eliminating Focus on Energy funding would take away our state’s competitive energy advantage and position us in the bottom, not the top, of states to consider for residence or locating a business. I would urge legislators to keep the Focus on Energy funding in place for the vitality of Wisconsin.”

Newly appointed Public Service Commission Chairman Phil Montgomery issued a statement two weeks ago, on Earth Day (April 22), lauding the program and pointing out that it saved Wisconsin ratepayers $380 million on their energy bills in 2010 alone.

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Focus on Energy feels the heat

Posted on December 16, 2010. Filed under: Economic development, Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy | Tags: , , , , |

Though the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance approved funding for Focus on Energy, an article by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel describes Republican reservations about the program:

Lawmaker calls for audit; business groups against added funds
With a decision possible Tuesday [December 14] on an increase in funding for the state Focus on Energy program, a lawmaker called for an audit of the energy efficiency initiative and several business groups came out against what they criticized as “a $340 million energy tax hike.”

Business groups including Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, the Wisconsin Paper Council, Midwest Food Processors Association and the Wisconsin chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses issued a letter opposing increased funding for energy efficiency.

“Energy conservation and efficiency is a great idea, which is why so many businesses, like paper companies, already do it,” said Ed Wilusz, vice president of government relations for the Wisconsin Paper Council, in a statement. “But the existing state program appears to be working well. We doubt that the massive spending increase called for in this proposal is necessary or would be effective.”

Supporters of energy efficiency say it’s the least-cost alternative to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and a way to help the state postpone costlier expenses like investments in power plants.

The opposition by business groups comes even though large manufacturers in Wisconsin are exempt under state law from paying more to the Focus on Energy program.

The Focus on Energy program is funded through a surcharge on most customers’ electric bills. Under the PSC proposal, funding would ramp up over the next four years, raising $20 million more than current levels in 2011 and $60 million more in 2012. The increase would result in an average rate increase of 0.2% in 2011 for utility customers, and 0.7% in 2012.

Increases in funding are also proposed for 2013 and 2014 under the PSC proposal that will be reviewed Tuesday by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Allouez) said Monday he wants the Legislative Audit Bureau to conduct an audit of Focus on Energy before lawmakers agree to an increase in funding.

“Our economy is still in bad shape, and families and businesses in our state are hurting,” he said in a statement. “We need to make sure that this program is providing the benefits that it claims it is before we agree to add more funding.”

Although not audited by the Legislative Audit Bureau, the Focus on Energy program is audited regularly by independent consulting firms.

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Lawmakers back plan to scale up energy efficiency

Posted on December 15, 2010. Filed under: Economic development, Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy | Tags: , , , , |

From an article by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

In a vote along party lines, the Joint Finance Committee adopted a proposal on Tuesday to collect more money from utility ratepayers in order to expand the incentives to make businesses and homes more energy efficient.

The higher spending is projected to deliver savings to utility customers as they take advantage of stepped-up incentives to reduce energy waste, according to projections by the state Public Service Commission and the energy-efficiency research group Energy Center of Wisconsin.

The proposal will enable the PSC to collect more money on electricity bills beginning in 2011. The $20 million increase in 2011 will raise $120 million for the state’s Focus on Energy program. Further increases would boost that to $160 million in 2012, $204 million in 2013 and $256 million in 2014.

The PSC projected the increase would result in a 0.2% increase in electric bills in 2011, and that by 2013 bills would be 0.6% higher than current levels. The forecast assumes the average customer would then start to see savings on electricity bills that would drop the average customer’s bill by 1% from today’s levels by 2016.

For a typical We Energies customer now paying $99.53 a month, that would mean an increase of 20 cents a month in 2011 and another 40 cents a month in 2012, but bills on average would fall by nearly $1 a month by 2016 as homeowners take advantage of bigger efficiency incentives.

Rates for large factories and paper mills would not rise. They are exempt from paying more into the Focus on Energy program under state law.

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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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