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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Small businesses hit hard by energy program cuts and changes

From an article by Judy Newman in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Focus on Energy, a statewide program that promotes energy efficiency, is in the midst of big changes: new management by an out-of-state corporation, suspension of a popular rebate program, and sharp funding cuts in the pending state budget.

Nearly 20 people already have lost their jobs, mostly in Madison, as a result of the management change.

Meanwhile, dozens of small Wisconsin businesses that specialize in setting up solar panels and wind turbines fear for their futures because of the slashed allocation and rebate removal.

“It’s a lot of economic activity and jobs in Wisconsin. It’s a lot of energy efficiency, as well,” said Keith Reopelle, policy director for Clean Wisconsin.

Focus on Energy was created in 2001 to provide education, resources and cash incentives to Wisconsin residents and businesses to increase the use of energy-efficient products and systems, from furnaces to solar panels to vending machines.

In the past 10 years, more than 91,000 businesses and more than 1.7 million residents used the program and saved $2.20 for every dollar spent, according to Focus data. . . .

Since taking over Focus on Energy on May 9, one of Shaw’s first decisions, with PSC support, was to suspend payments to businesses that install renewable-energy systems, as of June 30.

Contractors like Seventh Generation Energy Systems were stunned.“It’s pretty devastating,” said James Yockey, chief executive officer. “It probably took out six to 10 projects that we were looking to close ... for work in the fall and the coming spring.”

Several of the projects were wind turbines for farmers. “I think the incentives are decisive in people saying yes,” Yockey said . . . .

Program supporters have appealed to Gov. Scott Walker to veto the Focus budget cut, including a letter signed by 124 Wisconsin businesses. As of Friday, there was no word on his response. Walker is scheduled to sign the budget today.

“Cutting Focus on Energy will result in higher electricity bills and fewer jobs,” Randy Johnson, president of U.S. Lamp, a Green Bay energy-efficient lighting design company, said in the letter.

Seventh Generation’s Yockey said he hopes to avoid laying off any of his 16 employees by aiming his business at other states, and that could mean moving the company. “We prefer to be located in Madison but the bottom line is: we’ll see where the business takes us,” he said.

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