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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Outstanding Comeback to Heartland Institute’s Anti-Wind Malarkey

by Michael Vickerman, Program and Policy Director 

At a rally in Cedar Rapids in June, President Trump said:  “I don’t want to just hope the wind blows to light up your homes and your factories … as the birds fall to the ground.” Trump drew a lot of flak for that statement, which reflected his personal belief that wind generation and high-end golf resorts can’t co-exist in Scotland and other locations where the Trump Organization has a presence.

Shortly after this presidential put-down of wind power, the Heartland Institute, an industry-funded mercenary outfit that promotes maximal use of fossil fuels, let loose with a predictably canned harangue echoing and amplifying Trump’s complaint. Following a familiar pattern, Heartland’s commentary, which was published in the Des Moines Register, traffics in hyperbole that is utterly disconnected to the reality of wind power development experienced by ordinary Iowans. 

On that score, Jon Kallen, a former employee at MidAmerican Energy and a self-described Republican, weighed in with a guest column documenting that reality and the many positive impacts flowing from the Hawkeye State’s embrace of wind energy. Kallen’s editorial does an outstanding job of cataloging how broadly distributed these benefits are, and, in doing so, methodically exposing the dishonesty that lies at the core of Heartland’s editorial.

In the final sentence of his editorial, Jon Kallen wrote: “Maybe our neighbors to the east will catch up someday.” He had Illinois in mind, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t be applied to Wisconsin as well.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

RENEW Urges PSC Approval of MGE’s Renewable Energy Rider

by Michael Vickerman, Program and Policy Director 

A proposal from Madison Gas & Electric to establish a renewable electricity service for larger customers has garnered strong support from RENEW Wisconsin as well as from the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group and individual companies such as Target and Airgas. After introducing the Renewable Energy Rider in its 2016 rate case, MGE submitted a revised version to the Public Service Commission this year, which triggered comments from various stakeholders.

In our comments, RENEW highlighted the growing number of companies who desire a robust renewable energy service from utilities that serve their facilities. Sixty-five of these companies adopted a set of principles to maximize the value of these purchases, both in terms of  achieving their internal sustainability goals and locking in future cost savings.

As stated in our comments, “these companies are increasingly deciding where to locate their facilities based on whether the utility is willing and able to provide them with significant levels of renewable energy. We believe these tariffs offer an economic development opportunity in the service territories where they exist, and we want Wisconsin to be a place where these corporations prefer to locate.”

The Public Service Commission will issue a final ruling on MGE’s Renewable Energy Rider in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

PACE Financing Now in Place in 19 Wisconsin Counties

by Michael Vickerman, Program and Policy Director 

Since 2016, Wisconsin counties have begun opting into an innovative program called PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy), which enables property owners to obtain low-cost, long-term loans for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and water conservation improvements. At its most recent meeting on June 16, the Dane County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution authorizing the County to join the program. In so doing, Dane joined 18 other Wisconsin counties that offer this special financing tool to leverage clean energy investments on commercial and industrial properties.

Projects financed using PACE can generate positive cash flow upon completion with no up-front, out-of-pocket cost to property owners—eliminating the financial barriers that typically prevent investment in revitalizing aging properties. The term of a PACE Financing may extend up to the useful life of the improvement, which may be as high as 20 years or more, and can result in cost savings that exceed the amount of the PACE Financing. The result is improved business profitability, an increase in property value, and enhanced sustainability.  

PACE Financing is sourced from an open lending market and secured through a voluntary PACE Special Charge, repaid directly to the lender. Like property taxes, PACE Financings may be transferred to the next property owner if the property is sold. The remaining balance of the PACE Financing is repaid by the subsequent owner, who continues to receive the benefits of the improvements from the project. Eligible commercial properties include multifamily buildings of five units or more, as well as industrial, private nonprofit, agriculture, and hospitality properties.

A voluntary initiative, PACE Wisconsin began taking shape last year when three state organizations--Green Tier Legacy Communities, the Counties Association and League of Municipalities-- joined forces to launch a Joint Powers Commission and to recruit counties to enter into the program. Member counties agree to adopt a Model PACE Ordinance when they join the Commission, which authorizes the county to impose a PACE special charge, collect payments for the special charge in installments, place those installments in the tax roll at its discretion, and delegate that authority to the PACE Commission.

For more information on Wisconsin’s PACE program, including an up-to- date map of participating counties, visit

Friday, May 26, 2017

Wisconsin’s First Solar Subdivision to Rise in New Berlin

For the first time ever in Wisconsin, prospective home buyers have the option of purchasing a brand-new house with a solar array sized to offset 100% of household electricity use. A trio of Wisconsin companies broke ground this week on a residential development in New Berlin that will integrate rooftop solar arrays into all 34 residences built there.

Representatives from Neumann Companies, SunVest Solar, and
Tim O'Brien Homes break ground on May 23, 2017 at Wisconsin's
first net-zero planned community.

Developed by Pewaukee-based Neumann Companies, the home sites at Red Fox Crossing, located on the southwest corner of S. Sunny Slope Road and W. Grange Ave., will be oriented to fully capture the solar energy available. Madison-based Tim O’Brien Homes will design and construct the solar-ready houses, and Pewaukee-based SunVest Solar will design and install each solar system, ranging from six to eight kilowatts.

Households that purchase a new house in Red Fox Crossing will finance the solar array through a 30-year mortgage with a 4% interest rate. As the tables below show, the power of long-term financing enables home buyers to reap substantial savings with the first monthly payment.  Indeed, the return on investment for these solar arrays will range between 10% and 20% for the duration of the mortgage.

When fully built out, Red Fox Crossing will have between 200 and 260 kilowatts of behind-the-meter solar capacity in operation. It is on a path to become Wisconsin’s first net zero (electricity) community.

Members of the SunVest Solar team at the groundbreaking.

“It has always been our dream to offer an energy independent community,” said Matt Neumann, principal of Neumann Companies. “We are excited to have all three companies involved in creating Wisconsin’s first net zero community.”

System Price
Focus on Energy Rebate
Federal Tax Credit (30%)
Out-of-Pocket Cost*

* after tax credits and rebate

Monthly Payments
Solar Production Value
Monthly Savings

* calculations based on We Energies current residential rates

According to a WTMJ-TV report, the Neumann team expects individual lots to be ready for permitting and construction sometime this fall, and the first home to be completed and generating electricity by next spring.

“Red Fox Crossing has the potential to be the turning point in building a more sustainable community and neighborhood in Wisconsin, versus focusing on only one home at a time,” said Tim O’Brien, president of Tim O’Brien Homes.

Neumann Companies' new office in Pewaukee, which also features solar panels on the roof.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Focus on Energy, Intervenor Compensation Win in State Budget

Co-Chairs of the Wisconsin Legislature's Joint Finance
Committee, Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. John Nygren.

Positive steps were taken today on two issues of importance for clean energy and Wisconsin power customers!

The State Legislature's Joint Finance Committee met to set the budget of the Public Service Commission for 2017-2019, which includes both Focus on Energy and intervenor compensation funds.

Both of the wins described below gained 16-0 bipartisan votes by the Committee, which is made up of 12 Republicans and 4 Democrats.

First, the budget for intervenor compensation was partially restored after a 66% cut two years ago.  The budget going forward will double to $742,500 annually.  These funds enable nonprofit and citizen-based organizations to bring technical and legal expertise to proceedings at the Public Service Commission.  RENEW Wisconsin has historically used this fund to support our advocacy in utility rate cases, power plant proposals, and numerous other proceedings at the PSC that impact renewable energy.  

In addition, the Citizens Utility Board frequently uses this fund to bring expertise to cases in order to keep utility rates as low as possible for residential and small business customers across Wisconsin.  Governor Walker had proposed this restoration of funds in his budget, and the Committee adopted it.  This is great news, and we applaud Governor Walker and members of the Joint Finance Committee for adopting this provision.

Secondly, Focus on Energy's budget will remain unchanged, allowing for the most cost-effective energy efficiency and renewables projects to be funded.   The Governor has proposed to eliminate the ability for school districts to borrow above their revenue limit to fund energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements (commonly called "Act 32" projects).  To backfill that change, the Governor proposed allocating an additional $10 million from Focus on Energy's budget for schools above what they spent last year, which would have earmarked nearly $15 million out of the total $93 million for schools alone.

Solar PV installation on Lakeland Union High School in Minocqua,
part of an energy improvement project funded under the "Act 32" school district
revenue exemption. See the full case study from SunPeak.

Concerns had been raised that schools would not be able to use that much Focus on Energy funding.  The proposed earmark could have siphoned funding away from private business installations in energy efficiency upgrades, leading to unspent dollars in the Focus on Energy program and a less cost-effective set of investments.

The Committee voted 16-0 against the Governor's proposal, leaving the Focus on Energy budgets unchanged.  This is very good news since the program returns over $3.50 for every dollar invested, and schools will still have ready access to incentives through existing programs.

This sets up an important vote later in the Joint Finance Committee schedule regarding the Governor's proposal to repeal the Act 32 school district revenue exemption.

RENEW Wisconsin was supportive of both of these successful measures through our participation in the Customers First Coalition.

The biennial budget needs the approval of both the Assembly and the Senate before being signed by the Governor.  Typically, the budget process lasts through June.

For more information on these topics and the state budget, please see RENEW's Clean Energy Summary of Governor Walker's Budget, and our recap of the 2015-17 state budget.

Finally, please support our work:  become a member of RENEW Wisconsin today!