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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Madison Community Foundation Supports New RENEW Wisconsin Endowment for an Energy Analysis and Policy Student Intern

For immediate release                
November 24, 2015                   

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Tyler Huebner, Executive Director

Madison Community Foundation Supports New RENEW Wisconsin Endowment for an Energy Analysis and Policy Student Intern

RENEW Wisconsin (RENEW) has been awarded a 33% cost sharing grant of $34,000 from the Madison Community Foundation. The grant will fund a perpetual endowment to support a UW-Madison Energy Analysis and Policy (EAP) student intern working at RENEW.

“This grant is a perfect match between RENEW and the UW-Madison’s EAP program supporting RENEW’s renewable energy policy research. The Madison Community Foundation support allows us to permanently hire an impassioned student from one of the top energy graduate programs in the country to analyze policies that will spur the use of clean renewable energy in Wisconsin,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW’s executive director.

RENEW has a history of hiring EAP student interns who have worked on cutting edge renewable policy issues such as third party financing, utility rate cases, community solar, and more.

Don Wichert, a major donor to the endowment, RENEW Board Member, and 1987 graduate of the EAP program, praised the Madison Community Foundation in supporting this permanent support of the EAP program.  “This grant will help RENEW leverage other EAP alumni and RENEW member support setting up a great opportunity to work together for RENEW and the EAP program. This program will allow the EAP program to recruit the top students in the country to work on cutting edge renewable policy issues with RENEW,” said Wichert.

“This project furthers two of the Madison Community Foundation’s key goals – to help steward the environment and to inspire philanthropy.  RENEW Wisconsin’s endowment campaign will create a sustainable fund to attract bright students and help them develop real world experience through critical analytical and policy analysis.  It is a perfect way to celebrate RENEW’s 25th anniversary and enrich their environmental programming,” said Tom Linfield, Madison Community Foundation Vice President of Community Impact.


RENEW Wisconsin leads and accelerates the transformation to Wisconsin's renewable energy future through advocacy, education, and collaboration.

Madison Community Foundation uses its local knowledge and assets to inspire giving, support meaningful initiatives, and connect people for the common good. Since 1942, foundation staff have helped people realize their philanthropic goals, allowing them to support charitable interested anywhere in the world. The community foundation also awards grants throughout Dane County to build communities. More information is available online at www.madison

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Public Service Commission Sharply Trims WPS’ Fixed Charge Request

For immediate release                    
November 19, 2015

More Information                  
Tyler Huebner, Executive Director

Public Service Commission Sharply Trims WPS’ Fixed Charge Request

State regulatory agency grants Wisconsin Public Service only a $2 monthly increase instead of the $6 requested

In today’s open meeting, the Public Service Commission sharply trimmed Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service’s request to increase monthly mandatory charges on small electricity customers from $19 to $25. Instead, the Commission settled on a $2/month increase, to $21/month, while agreeing to study the issue in greater depth.

One year earlier, the Commission approved a request from WPS to hike its mandatory fixed charge from $10.40 to $19 per month for residential and other small customers.

Commissioners Phil Montgomery and Mike Huebsch initially signaled interest in granting no increase at all.  A compromise was reached with Chairperson Ellen Nowak to increase the fixed charge by $2 per month, to $21, a 10% increase.

“We are pleased that the Commission has slowed down and granted a much smaller fixed charge increase than what WPS had requested,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director.  “This sends a signal that the Commission is responding to customers who have expressed a wide variety of concerns about these high fixed charges.  In fact, 368 people voiced their opinion publicly and none supported higher fixed charges. We hope the analysis that’s conducted by the Commission leads to a broader discussion of how to design rates in a way that leads us towards an energy future that benefits all of Wisconsin.”

“Rate designs with high fixed charges punish those customers who can least afford to pay more for their electricity. They take away the ability to control one’s utility bills, and they make it harder for customers to save money through conservation measures and more efficient appliances.  This is at bottom an issue of consumer fairness, and many more consumers than usual spoke up,” said Huebner.

In the rate case, RENEW presented research demonstrating that regulators in other states were not supportive of utility requests to hike fixed charges. 

See more at:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

RENEW Wisconsin Statement on Madison Gas & Electric’s 2030 Framework

Today, Madison Gas & Electric announced a framework that includes expanding the company’s investment in renewable energy to meet 30% of their electricity needs by the year 2030.

In addition, the company indicates a plan to give customers more control, and continue to engage the customers and communities they serve going forward.

“This new framework is a good step forward for Madison Gas & Electric Company and for the communities they serve.  MG&E’s goals of providing 25% renewable energy by 2025 and 30% by 2030 are achievable,” said Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin.

“We agree that ongoing collaboration will be needed to identify the best ways to meet the goals of this new framework.  Ensuring customer opportunities to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and incorporating equity, fairness, and control over
customer bills, should continue to be part of the conversation and collaboration going forward.”

MGE has made more information available at

Record Number of Xcel Energy’s Wisconsin Customers Voice Opposition to Hike in Mandatory Fixed Charge

November 18, 2015

More Information

Tyler Huebner, Executive Director

Record Number of Xcel Energy’s Wisconsin Customers Voice Opposition to Hike in Mandatory Fixed Charge

99.8% of public commenters (528 out of 529) dislike the fee hike from $8 to $18 per month

Xcel Fixed Charge Proposal Drove Hundreds to Voice Their Opinion

The final tally is in, and it is clear that Xcel Energy’s Wisconsin affiliate, based in Eau Claire, has proposed an incredibly unpopular change in how it wishes to bill customers going forward. 

Following the footsteps of other Wisconsin utilities, Xcel’s Wisconsin utility has proposed to raise its monthly “fixed charge,” which every residential and small business customer pays before using any electricity at all, from $8 to $18 per month.

In total, 529 public comments were filed, a seventeen-fold increase in public participation over any Xcel rate case in the previous five years. RENEW Wisconsin’s review shows that 528 (all but one commenter) disapproved of Xcel’s proposed hike in fixed charges.

“It is clear that Xcel’s customers overwhelmingly oppose this hike in mandatory fixed charges.  These high fixed charges are a Robin Hood in reverse scheme:  the lowest users of electricity end up paying substantially more, while high users of electricity see dollar savings,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director.

Public comments were made through the Public Service Commission’s online system, in person at the public hearing on September 16th in Menomonie, or through written mail.

In the public comments, a wide variety of concerns were aired.  Senior citizens, fixed-income, and low-income advocates worry that they will have to choose between paying for electricity, food, or medicine. Energy conservation and renewable energy advocates oppose paying high unavoidable fees while seeing the variable energy rate decrease, making the payback longer than it should be for energy- and money-saving investments.

 These perspectives can be seen from the selection of public comments included below:

“I am a senior and living on a rigidly fixed income and will not be able to survive in my home if utility costs continue to inflate.” -- Cynthia Martinson, Washburn WI

“While the rest of the Country is moving forward, promoting clean energy, Wisconsin utilities are moving us backwards with proposals that undermine clean energy and energy efficiency. If approved, Xcel's mandatory fixed charge would increase to $18 per month, up from $8 today--a 125% increase, and Xcel's Wisconsin customers would be facing much higher bills than their neighbors in Minnesota.”
-- League of Women Voters of Ashland & Bayfield Counties

“I find it outrageous that in every bill from Xcel there is an insert with information on how to reduce my electricity use so that I can "save" money but at the same time, the mandatory fixed charge will be increased--probably to make up for any money Xcel loses by my conservation efforts.”
–Judy Blackstone, Eau Claire

“As an Xcel Energy shareholder, I urge the Public Service Commission NOT to approve the proposed 125% mandatory fixed charge rate increase. This steep, unfair and unnecessary increase will be too much to bear for the poorest and most vulnerable among us; those with low incomes and the elderly.”
-Dan Stickler, Eau Claire

“Where is that extra $10.00 going to come from? It will come from the food budget- people will go hungry one more night per week; it will come from the medication budget- people who take prescriptions will cut pills in half, or take the medications every other day.” -Joanne Rudrud, Altoona

“I am thankful the MN Public Service Commission rejected the 19% increase here, and implore the WI Public Service Commission to reject the 125% increase across the border.”
–Debra Bourne, Minneapolis

“The fixed charge increase XCEL is asking for is unwarranted, totally against the utilities' best interests, [and] extremely unfair to the public.”
- William E. Bastian, La Crosse

“Currently 41% of all student enrolled in our schools are using free or reduced lunch. Some schools, like Longfellow Elementary, are as high as 74%. These are the people who are going to be hit the most by any increase in rates. Keep in mind, these are just household using the assistance, it doesn`t count households living with financial difficulty who choose, for whatever reason, not to take the assistance.”
-Chue Xiong, Eau Claire School Board Commissioner.

Previous RENEW Wisconsin analysis also shows that Wisconsin is an outlier on this issue:  no other state has approved such dramatic hikes in monthly fixed charges.  Learn more at

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Eau Claire Cooperative’s Community Solar Project Goes Live

For immediate release                             
November 17, 2015 
More information      
Tyler Huebner, Executive Director                                            

Eau Claire Cooperative’s Community Solar Project Goes Live
Wisconsin’s newest solar garden is also the state’s largest
Lynn Thompson, President and CEO of ECEC, shows
Michael Vickerman and Ben Paulos the solar project.
With the flip of a switch, Fall Creek-based Eau Claire Energy Cooperative (ECEC) now owns and operates Wisconsin’s newest and largest Community Solar project.  Consisting of 2,816 panels with a rated capacity of 872 kilowatts (DC), the array will produce approximately 900,000 kilowatt-hours a year, roughly the equivalent of what 90 households would consume in a year.

For the moment at least, it is the third largest solar array in Wisconsin (see table below).

River Falls-based Able Energy Company constructed ECEC’s system. Later this year, Able will commence construction on a 250 kW solar array in Minnesota for People’s Energy Cooperative.

“Eau Claire Energy’s project makes a statement on solar energy that couldn’t be clearer,” said Tyler Huebner, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a renewable energy advocacy organization headquartered in Madison. “If you’re searching for a utility project that delivers clean energy and long-term savings to its subscribers while creating good-paying jobs with in-state businesses, you’ll find an excellent example in Fall Creek.”

“Solar energy is here to stay and we encourage other electric providers to embrace that reality,” Huebner said.

Under a typical community solar project, electricity customers help finance the building of a large project through an up-front subscription fee that is paid back in full (with a modest return) through monthly on-bill credits.  A centralized solar array enables all utility customers, including those who rent or are lacking sufficient solar exposure, to support the expansion of solar generation in their community.

Since early 2014, six Wisconsin electric cooperatives have built and energized solar gardens totaling more than 1.5 MW (see table below). For information on community solar activity in Wisconsin, visit RENEW’s web page at

Friday, October 30, 2015

BREAKING NEWS: Judge overturns “tax” on clean energy in Wisconsin

Today, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Peter Anderson overturned a key ruling that would have led to We Energies electric customers who generate some of their own power having to pay extra fees back to the utility.  RENEW Wisconsin and The Alliance for Solar Choice joined together to challenge the Public Service Commission (PSC) ruling on this fee.
Milwaukee solar installers putting
in a rooftop solar system, via 

“The judge today determined that there was not sufficient evidence to support the decision made by the Public Service Commission, and ruled that he is vacating these fees,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin Executive Director.

In Fall of 2014, We Energies proposed that a customer who creates some of their own power to reduce their usage of electricity would be forced to pay an additional fee of $3.79 per kilowatt of power capacity per month.  For a typical 5 kilowatt solar installation on a home, that would have amounted to about $19 a month, or $227 per year, and a 27% reduction in energy bill savings.  Customers using biogas or hydropower would have faced a higher fee, $8.60 per kilowatt of power capacity.

The Public Service Commission, Wisconsin’s state agency that regulates utilities like We Energies, approved the proposal in December 2014.  They became just the second regulatory agency in the country to do so, after Arizona, where a small $5 per month fee was approved on solar customers.

The fees were set to begin in January 2016, but will not go into effect.

The Judge asked the parties (TASC, RENEW, We Energies, and the PSC) to draft an order consistent with his verbal statement.

The Judge’s decision is the third time in two years that PSC decisions governing customer-owned renewable generation have been overruled by the Dane County Circuit Court.

“Renewable energy is good for Wisconsin. When customers produce their own power, it increases our energy independence. When customers produce their own power, it increases energy security. A growing renewable energy industry will create jobs and bring investment to the state. Renewable energy is growing in states all over the country, and states right next door to us like Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota, and hopefully this decision will enable more of We Energies customers to take advantage of all the benefits of clean energy,” concluded RENEW’s Huebner.

RENEW Wisconsin leads and accelerates the transformation to Wisconsin’s renewable energy future through advocacy, education, and collaboration. More information on RENEW’s web site at 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

“Robin Hood in Reverse” Is Back: WPS Customers Oppose Hike in Mandatory Fixed Charges

For immediate release                                 
October 20, 2015
More information

Tyler Huebner, Executive Director

Nearly 370 people made public comments. None support this policy change.

Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPS), a utility based in Green Bay, proposed in May to further increase the mandatory fixed charge for electricity that each residential customer has to pay each month.  In 2014, WPS was approved by state regulators to raise this fee from $10.40 to $19, and they are now proposing to further hike the fee to $25 per month.

In total, this represents a 140% increase in the monthly mandatory “fixed charge” that each customer would have to pay.

Nearly 370 individuals spoke out against this proposal. Of significant note, not a single individual or organization who took the time to make a public comment is in support of these higher mandatory fees. Public comments were accepted online electronically, in paper format, and taken at a public hearing on September 9th in De Pere.

“It is clear that Wisconsinites overwhelmingly oppose WPS’ continued attempts to raise these mandatory fixed charges.  These high fixed charges are a Robin Hood in reverse scheme:  the lowest users of electricity end up paying substantially more, while high users of electricity get a windfall,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director.

In the public comments, a wide variety of concerns were aired, from seniors, low-income, fixed-income, energy conservation, and renewable energy perspectives. These perspectives can be seen from sample comments included below:

- “The senior community often live on the edge. With expenses for food, rent, medications & utilities constantly rising, saving money to pay these bills is extremely difficult. It is impossible to save on utilities when the base rate keeps rising. Careful usage does not work in this case. Please be aware of this as you decide what to do with the current rates. We could sit in the dark & our rates would still increase.” – Laura Frost, Wausau

- “Even if I turn down my heat, turn off my lights, and convert to solar or wind power I will be charged the same amount as someone who doesn't make any of those efforts.” – Janis Schmitz, Brussels, WI

- “Every year St. Vincent de Paul runs out of money in their budget that they have set aside for energy assistance… If we continue to raise the mandatory rates like this, these organizations that try to help the poor and the elderly are just going to run out of money, and they're going to be left behind without heat.”  – Jackie Thiry, Green Bay

- “What about all the people on fixed incomes? They often have to forego medications to pay utility bills.  – Geri Deprey, Green Bay

- “The increase in the mandatory customer charge and the modest reduction in energy rates hit low electricity users harder than high electricity users….  It is contrary to state energy policy. Wisconsin`s energy priority law states that to the extent feasible and cost-effective, electricity needs should be met first with energy efficiency and second with non-combustible renewable energy like solar. By reducing one`s savings from pursuing conservation and clean energy alternatives, this billing design encourages increased consumption of fossil fuels.” – Christine Morrissey, Appleton

- “I am living on a fixed income. I am 73 years old. I am already struggling to keep up with my rent, day to day needs and my electricity as it now stands. You will create a very uncomfortable and no win situation for me if I have to keep coming up with more money. I am required to keep my electric current to continue living in my apartment. I have no where else to go if I get evicted.” – Judith Specht, Green Bay

- “My family lives on my disability payment alone, as my wife must spend the majority of her time tending to me. Anything that impacts our budget has an extraordinary effect on our lives, literally taking food from our table. Please consider all of the families like ours that will be effected by this proposed rate hike, if it is granted. Thank You.” –Scott Horton, Oshkosh

"I believe that we are paying enough. Period. I live and work in a rural area. Many of my students struggle for basic needs. How can you justify another raise in our rates? When is enough--enough?
We are talking basic necessities -- we need light, we need heat. Our incomes are not keeping pace with the increases that are forced upon us. Please, stop."- Jann Sharpe, Oconto

Analysis by RENEW Wisconsin shows Wisconsin is an outlier on this issue.  “Although 35 utilities across 19 different states have proposed increases in mandatory fixed fees in the past two years, only in Wisconsin have large hikes been granted.  Fourteen utilities have been denied entirely, while eighteen have been granted small increases, from $0.10 to $4.30 a month for customers,” concluded RENEW’s Tyler Huebner.

The graphic above depicts 35 investor-owned utilities which have requested increases to the monthly fixed charge each customer must pay in 2014 or 2015.  The 14 utilities on the left-hand side were completely denied their request to increase the charge.  The middle 18 utilities were granted increases from $0.10 to $4.30 per month.  To the right, the three largest blue bars, all for Wisconsin utilities, show higher fixed charge increases of $6/month and more.  The two red bars depict 2015 proposals from Wisconsin utilities.