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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

SC Johnson receives Gold Medal in Corporate Sustainability Leadership

by Tyler Huebner, Executive Director

On May 14th, Racine, WI-based SC Johnson was honored by the World Environment Center as the recipient of the 2015 Gold Medal for International Corporate Achievement in Sustainable Development.

This is a major award amongst large multi-national companies, and only one company is recognized each year.  SC Johnson became the second company to win the award twice, after first receiving the award in 1994. Recipients from recent years include Volkswagon Group, Unilever, IBM, and Wal-Mart Stores.

SC Johnson's global renewable energy initiatives poster
With financial support from SC Johnson, I attended the event in Washington, DC to help honor the company.  RENEW’s relationship with SC Johnson started about four years ago, when our Program and Policy Director Michael Vickerman advised the company as it was pursuing the installation of two wind turbines to help power Waxdale, one of its major factories in Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin, near Racine.  

CEO Fisk Johnson proudly supporting clean energy
Fisk Johnson, the 5th generation CEO of the family-owned company, was on hand to receive the award.  “Reaching for that ideal of trust and goodwill is what motivates us at SC Johnson, and it’s where we find our best answers and greatest successes.  This recognition today, which I accept with great pride on behalf of all of the people in our company, inspires us on even more.”

U.S. Representative Paul Ryan presented the award to Fisk Johnson, and he highlighted their investment in renewable energy resources including landfill gas and wind turbines. Ryan said, “If you drive by Waxdale, you see a capped landfill with the methane running into the generators, along with the two windmills, making sure that they are purely 100% sustainable for their factory producing these wonderful products.  That just shows you how committed this family is, and this company is, to this mission.  It’s really impressive.”

To view (most of) Paul Ryan’s remarks, check out this video: 

According to SC Johnson, Waxdale produces an average of 100 percent of its electrical energy onsite each year.  Glade®, Windex®, Pledge®, Scrubbing Bubbles®, Shout®, Raid® and OFF!® are all among the trusted household products made at Waxdale.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

RENEW Wisconsin and The Alliance for Solar Choice ask courts to rule on the legality of We Energies rate case decision

After winning two court victories in the past 12 months, RENEW Wisconsin is seeking another legal triumph. RENEW Wisconsin and The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) are teaming up in a legal challenge to a Wisconsin Public Service Commission's December 2014 decision, which approved a "tax on clean energy" for customers choosing to power their homes and businesses with renewable energy in We Energies territory. RENEW and TASC argue there is insufficient evidence in the record to support the added tax, and are asking the Dane County Circuit Court to reverse the PSC's decision.

RENEW Wisconsin and TASC filed their legal arguments on Thursday, May 14th. Our press release below highlights our arguments.

To help fund our lawsuit and our continued advocacy work for expanding clean energy in Wisconsin, please visit our website. Donate now, and help us get bigger and stronger to take on We Energies.

Solar Groups Take Next Step in Appeal of Public Service Commission Decision on 2014 We Energies Rate Case

A residential solar installation on the home of
RENEW Wisconsin members Steve and Ellen Terwilliger
MADISON, WI – May 14, 2015 – The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) and RENEW Wisconsin today took their next steps in appealing the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s December 2014 decision to add a discriminatory fee on distributed generation customers in We Energies’ territory.

The groups filed the first set of briefs Thursday, which outlined their arguments in the case. TASC and RENEW Wisconsin explain in the briefs how the record does not contain the necessary evidence to support the Commission’s approval of the additional charge on customer generation (like solar energy).

“The Court must reverse when the Commission’s action depends on any finding of fact that is not supported by substantial evidence in the record,” said Amy Heart, spokesperson for The Alliance for Solar Choice. “Here, the Commission’s own expert witness testified that there was not enough evidence on the record to approve the discriminatory solar charges.”

In fact, Heart pointed out that We Energies’ own study of the costs and benefits of solar in their service territory found that these customers provide a net benefit to all ratepayers. “Unfortunately, the Commission, knowing the benefits, still approved fees for these self-generating customer, which was legally improper,” said Heart.

This is the third case in the past three years seeking judicial review of a decision of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin that discriminates against owners of small distributed renewable energy generating systems.  In the previous two cases, the Dane County Circuit Court also remanded all or part of the new rates as lacking a factual basis in the administrative record. 

“It is important that we promote and defend Wisconsin renewable energy in all decision-making venues, and in this case that means the courts,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director. “A customer’s own investment in solar and other clean energy technologies benefit everyone, and impartial analysis in multiple states proves that. Beyond that, from a public policy perspective, there is significant job creation and economic gains for Wisconsin on the horizon if we can get these policies right.”

The We Energies rate case in fall 2014 sparked unprecedented public opposition and national attention for the three-member Commission, with over 500 Wisconsin residents in attendance at a public hearing in October. Along with the discriminatory rate changes, both groups protested Commissioner Ellen Nowak’s lack of impartiality during the proceeding.

About The Alliance for Solar Choice: The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) leads the rooftop solar advocacy across the country. Founded by the largest rooftop companies in the nation, TASC represents the vast majority of the distributed solar market.

About RENEW Wisconsin: RENEW Wisconsin leads and accelerates the transition to Wisconsin’s renewable energy future through advocacy, education, and collaboration. RENEW represents over 50 Wisconsin businesses in the renewable energy industry and hundreds of customers who have installed their own renewable energy systems.

More information:

Kelly Trombley, Associate
The Alliance for Solar Choice

Tyler Huebner
RENEW Wisconsin

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

RENEW Wisconsin submits public comments regarding Northern States Power Company's pilot solar garden program

Vernon Electric Cooperative's
Community Solar Project in Westby, WI
 Xcel Energy's Wisconsin affiliate, Northern States Power Company (NSPW), is seeking approval to launch a pilot solar garden program. This is the first formal proposal from a Wisconsin investor owned utility to offer solar subscriptions to its customers. Under the program, Xcel Energy would purchase up to three megawatts (3,000 kilowatts) of electricity from local community solar arrays in the company's service area in western and northern Wisconsin. Customers would in turn subscribe for capacity to meet their desired solar energy needs up to their annual usage and receive a monthly credit for their subscription. If approved as is, the monthly credit would be 7.4 cents per kWh for residential customers and 6.9 cents per kWh for business customers. NSPW will set the subscription price based on the results of its solicitation.

Update: On a 3-0 vote, the Public Service Commission approved Xcel's pilot program as proposed. Check our website for details about the program's rollout. 

RENEW submitted the comments below prior to the commission's deliberation of NSPW's solar garden proposal:

 222 S. Hamilton, Madison, WI 53703

May 13, 2015

Ms. Sandra Paske
Public Service Commission of Wisconsin
610 N. Whitney Way
Madison, WI  53707-7854

RE:    Application of Northern States Power Company, a Wisconsin corporation, for Approval to Implement a Community Solar Garden Pilot Program (Docket No. 4220-TE-101)

Dear Ms. Paske:

On behalf of RENEW Wisconsin, I would like to submit these brief comments on the above-mentioned application filed by Northern States Power Company (NSPW) on April 27, 2015.  Our comments are as follows.

Items we support:

  • According to a study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, about 75% of residential rooftop area is not suitable for installing solar panels, either because the roof is shaded or is not oriented properly, or because the customer doesn’t own their home or building.  We commend NSPW for offering a pilot program to begin exploring how to meet the solar energy interests of such customers.
  • This pilot program, if approved, will be useful in exploring how “community solar gardens” can be effectively designed and operated in Wisconsin by regulated electric providers.
  • We commend NSPW for deciding to acquire solar capacity through a competitive request for proposal process. This will ensure all parties that NSPW will acquire the projects’ output at a competitive, market-based cost.
  • As proposed, this program would operate outside of NSPW’s rate base, like its voluntary green pricing program.  The proposed bill credit has been set to compensate customers based on NSPW’s costs.  Customers should instead be compensated based on what their investment in solar is actually worth. Robust empirical studies have been conducted in multiple states which conclude that there are additional financial benefits of solar over the lifetime of the project. A more complete analysis of these benefits should be conducted, with NSPW and stakeholders, to improve the bill credit level.
  • We commend NSPW on offering a program that enables the participants to directly contribute to increased renewable generation capacity.  New participants in some utility green pricing programs do not necessarily lead to additional renewable energy capacity; that would not be the case here.
  • We believe success of this pilot, if approved, will be determined initially by two factors:  (1) interest from solar developers under the proposed parameters, and (2) customer interest, which will be driven by the perceived value of the offer based on the final subscription price and bill credit level. Both of these factors would be enhanced if NSPW works with stakeholders to improve the formula for calculating bill credits, as suggested above.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments.


Tyler Huebner
Executive Director

Monday, May 4, 2015

Keep CUB as Advocate for Ratepayers

The below article appeared in the Sunday May 3rd edition of the Wisconsin State Journal, and argues that the Joint Finance Committee should restore funding for CUB and other advocates to ensure ordinary ratepayers have a voice on their side.

When you spread the cost of the Citizens’ Utility Board across all of the ratepayers in Wisconsin, it’s no more than a penny a month on your utility bill.

“I actually think it’s less than that because it gets spread across electric bills and gas bills and water,” CUB executive director Kira Loehr said Thursday.

That penny provides a lot of pop for the public.

CUB has successfully argued before the state Public Service Commission against rate hikes sought by utilities. Those efforts have saved ordinary ratepayers — homeowners, renters and small business people — real money.

In the last year alone, CUB has helped convince the PSC to reduce proposed rate hikes saving customers more than $160 million. The PSC might have scaled back some of those utility requests on its own. But the professional analysis and testimony of CUB played an important role.

In fact, the PSC is not required to grant CUB the $300,000 it receives from ratepayers each year. The PSC approves the expense because it values CUB’s input and knowledge. The PSC late last year called CUB “active,” “professional,” “forthcoming, prudent and worthy of this nominal award.”

Unfortunately, CUB is now at risk. The Legislature’s budget committee just nixed the $300,000 payment and made it harder for CUB to hire outside experts to testify at hearings on behalf of consumers.

Republicans who control the Joint Finance Committee claim the change will save ratepayers money. Sure, a few pennies a year.

But that savings will be imperceptible and will certainly lead to costly hikes in utility rates over time. That’s because CUB’s four-member staff won’t be carefully following and sticking up for ratepayers in dozens of cases before the PSC.

The PSC lets utilities hire expensive lawyers and consultants to plead their cases for higher rates, with the cost of that advocacy passed on to ratepayers. So it’s only fair for ordinary ratepayers to have a voice, too.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce is spearheading the effort to scrub CUB, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The MMAC has disagreed with CUB in cases affecting how much Milwaukee businesses, versus general customers, will pay for power.

You can’t fault MMAC for trying to control its costs. But you should fault the Joint Finance Committee for trying to eliminate a strong advocate for ordinary ratepayers.

Even utilities are defending CUB’s important role.

“We felt the CUB funding worked fine,” Gary Wolter, CEO of Madison Gas and Electric, told the State Journal editorial board Wednesday.

If the Joint Finance Committee doesn’t restore CUB funding, the full Legislature should. Ratepayers need this cost-effective advocate on their side.

Read more:

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ale Asylum's New Solar Installation and Climate Change Pledge in the News

Following our press release yesterday, the Milwaukee Business Journal posted an article covering Ale Asylum's climate forward actions. Find the article online here.

Ale Asylum brewery adds solar panels and climate change pledge

Apr 27, 2015, 3:47pm CDT
Scott Paulus
The Ale Asylum brewery in Madison produces about 20,000 barrels of beer annually.
Reporter-Milwaukee Business Journal
Email  |  Twitter
Ale Asylum, the Madison brewery with a 100-kilowatt rooftop solar electric system, has become the first Wisconsin brewery to sign a declaration to fight climate change being circulated by The Ceres Foundation.
More than 50 beer producers have signed the Brewery Climate Declaration, which holds that climate change caused by air pollution poses a threat and a challenge that must be addressed.
“And in doing this right, by saving money when we use less electricity, by driving a more efficient car, by choosing clean energy, by inventing new technologies that other
countries buy, and creating jobs here at home, we will maintain our way of life and
remain a true superpower in a competitive world,” the declaration says.
For its part, Ale Asylum installed the 480 solar panels that produce about 20 percent
of the electricity needed to operate its brewery and produce about 20,000 barrels of
beer each year.
“When we built our new facility, one of our goals was to increase our sustainability efforts,”Dean Coffey, Ale Asylum brewmaster said. “These measures include recycling
spent grain to local area farmers, utilizing energy given off in the brewing process for
our tasting room, and harnessing the cold winter air to help keep our large walk-in
cooler at the proper temperature.”
Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin, said a number of Wisconsin breweries, including MillerCoors LLC and Milwaukee Brewing Co., have taken
steps to reduce energy consumption and re-purpose waste. The Brewery Climate Declaration represents a “can-do” message to be followed by the 2,800 breweries
in the U.S., Huebner said.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Ale Asylum Goes Solar, Joins Brewery Climate Declaration

For immediate release
April 27, 2015

More Information
Tyler Huebner, Executive Director

One month after activating a 100-kilowatt rooftop solar electric system, Madison-based Ale Asylum became the first brewery in Wisconsin to sign onto the Brewery Climate Declaration, a national campaign calling attention to the specific risks and opportunities of climate change on the $246 billion industry.

Launched this spring by Boston-based Ceres, a nonprofit advocacy organization, the Brewery Climate Declaration has attracted endorsements from more than 50 beer producers across the nation, ranging from local craft breweries like Ale Asylum to major international brands like Guinness and Sierra Nevada. 

According to Ceres, these breweries “are showing their leadership and commitment to brewing with the climate in mind. They are already reducing greenhouse gas emissions, using less energy, choosing clean energy, and investing in new technologies.” The declaration states: “Leading is what we’ve always done. And by working together, regardless of politics, we’ll do it again.”

On Earth Day 2015 (April 22nd), Ale Asylum hosted a celebration of their solar-powered beer along with SunPeak, a Madison-based company who developed the rooftop system, and RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide renewable energy advocacy organization. 

Overhead view of Ale Asylum's solar
installation, courtesy of SunPeak
SunPeak installer at work on Ale Asylum's new array
“When we built our new facility, one of our goals was to increase our sustainability efforts,” said Ale Asylum brewmaster Dean Coffey.  “These measures include recycling spent grain to local area farmers, utilizing energy given off in the brewing process for our tasting room, and harnessing the cold winter air to help keep our large walk-in cooler
at the proper temperature.”

“The solar panel installation came at a time where we were about to experience a huge spike in production needs,” Coffey added.  “To be able to crank out beer while reducing
greenhouse emissions is a great thing!"

Ale Asylum’s array is the newest of a quartet of recent installations in Dane County equaling or surpassing 100 kilowatts (kW). The other three systems serve the City of Monona (156 kW), Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton (146 kW), and Dane County Airport’s new maintenance facility (100 kW). 

Consisting of 480 panels facing east and west, Ale Asylum’s installation should generate about 150,000 kilowatt-hours per year, the most productive of any solar system operating in Madison today. That is equivalent to the electricity needs of about 16 average Wisconsin homes.“SunPeak’s niche is in dovetailing international experience, where solar is far more mature and established, with the U.S. market to uncover unique value creation and proposition to larger customers like Ale Asylum,” said company president Chad Sorenson.

“Ale Asylum’s solar installation and participation in this declaration demonstrate its committed corporate leadership.  Going solar saves money, and Ale Asylum is just the latest example of this growing trend in Wisconsin,” said Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin.

For more information about Ceres’ Brewery Climate Declaration, see link below.

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

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Important Announcements from April 15th Joint Finance Committee Hearing on Public Service Commission Budget

Yesterday, April 15, the state legislature’s Joint Finance Committee met to decide the budget for the Public Service Commission.

Three items of importance to the renewable energy community.

1. Studying the health effects of wind:  The Governor had proposed $250,000 to study health related impacts of wind energy.  The funding was cut for that study, but the Commission was directed to conduct a review of studies relating to health effects of wind turbines.  These studies do not have to be “peer reviewed,” and a motion to include that phrase was shot down.  If the review shows substantial negative health effects, the PSC may submit revisions to the existing rules pertaining to siting wind farms.

2. Higher utility bills likely coming your way:  Out of seemingly nowhere, and as the last order of business of the day, an amendment surfaced to cut public funding for citizen participation in cases at the Public Service Commission.  The motion was passed 12-4, with all Republicans voting for it.

In an article published in the April 19th Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tom Content reports that the amendment was the brainchild of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC). Coincidentally enough, We Energies CEO Gale Klappa is vice-chairman of the MMAC board.

As discussed in a blistering Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial from the same day, the measure will lead to higher utility bills because it would slash funding for the Citizens Utility Board, or CUB, a nonprofit organization which advocates for lower utility expenses and bill savings to customers.  In 2014 alone, CUB saved utility customers $161 million.

The editorial asks MMAC to explain to ratepayers across Wisconsin why it thinks eliminating CUB funding is such a good idea. The editorial calls on the budget committee to reconsider its "inexplicable decision to sock it to utility customers....And if it fails to do that, Gov. Scott Walker should find a way to restore CUB's funding. Utility customers need a watchdog with teeth."

The measure also cuts funding by 50% for groups like RENEW Wisconsin when we bring expert witnesses to utility cases on renewable energy issues.

3. Focus on Energy.  No action or amendments surfaced that would affect the Focus on Energy program.  This is a good thing.  However, it is highly likely that proposals to amend the program in some fashion may surface
later this year, or perhaps even later on during this budget process.

We will continue to stay abreast of these discussions as they develop.

Upcoming calendar:  Yesterday was the first meeting of the Joint Finance Committee, which is aiming to finish its work on the entire budget by Memorial Day.  The budget must be passed by both the Senate and Assembly before the end of June, therefore none of these items are finalized at this point.

More details on the above items are found below:

Results from the Joint Finance Committee meeting, April 15, 2015, relating to the Public Service Commission's budget

 Motion #48 - Wind Energy Health Study

Joint Finance Committee approved a substitute motion to delete the Governor’s recommendation, including the appropriation of $250,000 from the 2015-2017 state budget, and “instead require the PSC instead to conduct a review of studies conducted to ascertain the health effects of industrial wind turbines on people residing near turbine installations. If the review shows that there are substantially negative health effects on people living beyond the current 1,250-foot setback radius, the PSC may submit necessary revisions to the existing administrative rules to the Legislative Council Rules Clearinghouse, not later than six months after completion of the study.”

The amendment was moved by Rep. Nygren and approved on a party line vote (12-4).

Joint Finance Committee rejected a motion (#55) to insert the words “peer-reviewed” before "studies" on line 2 of Motion #48 in the above motion on a party-line vote (12-4).

Motion #29 - Intervenor Compensation

Joint Finance Committee approved a motion to cut the intervenor financing budget and “repeal the authorization for grants to nonprofit corporations that have a history of advocating on behalf of ratepayers and by reducing the compensation rate for consumer groups and consumer representatives from 100% of the cost of participating in a PSC hearing to 50% of the cost.” Approval of this motion will “decrease expenditures from the appropriation by $671,300 PR annually. These provisions would become effective on July 1, 2015, or the day after publication of the budget act, whichever is later.” The amendment was approved on a party line vote (12-4).

Background information on this program:

                 The intervenor compensation program was created in 1983 and since that time, has provided financial assistance to organizations and individuals who choose to become an intervenor for a Commission proceeding. When organizations or individuals have been granted intervenor status, they may submit testimony and exhibits, which became part of the record considered by the Commission in making decisions. Typically, intervenors use the compensation to pay for expert witnesses. The motion would require the intervenor to pay for half of the costs it incurs.

                 The intervenor compensation program was modified by 2009 Wisconsin Act 383, which authorizes an annual grant of $300,00 to a nonstock, nonprofit corporation that has a history of advocating on behalf of residential ratepayers for affordable rates. The recipient is required to use the grant “for the purpose of offsetting the general expenses of the corporation, including salary, benefit, rent, and utility expenses.” In 2011, the grant program was modified to allow the PSC to distribute the $300,000 among more than a single group and impose additional conditions and to revoke a grant. Since its creation, the Citizens Utility Board has been the only grant recipient. The motion would repeal the grant.

                 The intervenor compensation appropriation is a biennial appropriation authorized to expend up to $1,042,500 annually ($300,00 for grants and $742,500 for compensation). The actual amount expended on intervenor compensation depends on the number of docketed cases, as well as other factors. Funds for the payments are generated through the PSC’s direct and remainder assessments on public utilities.