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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Milwaukee debuts solar financing program

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

A solar financing program for city residents will be unveiled Thursday at a community kickoff event at South Shore Park Pavilion.

Under the new program, Milwaukee Shines will partner with Summit Credit Union to help homeowners finance the installation costs for solar panels.

The city says a study of solar installers found financing options were a key barrier to homeowners installing panels.

"We have seen the number of solar installations increase over the past two years since our solar program began, but financing the installation can still be a challenge for homeowners," said Amy Heart, who manages the Milwaukee Shines solar program.

Solar installers and organizers of the city's solar program and the city energy efficiency program will join Mayor Tom Barrett and Ald. Tony Zielinski at the kickoff event, from 4 to 6 p.m.

Heart said she hoped that Summit Credit Union's involvement in the program would help spur a long-term change in how local lenders view investment in renewable energy.

The first 20 participants in the loan program will receive $1,000 off the cost of the solar installation. The financing arrangement will supplement incentives that homeowners and owners of multifamily dwellings with up to three units can receive, Heart said.

The loans will be available for solar electric or hot water systems. Homeowners can also take advantage of a 30% federal tax credit and a Focus on Energy incentive, Heart said.

"Between a homeowner being interested in solar and moving forward, it can be about three years," she said. "This will help a lot of installers and site assessors working in the area, and help us add solar to folks' homes around the area."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Milwaukee aldermen approve downtown streetcar line

From an article by Larry Sanders in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee aldermen voted 10-5 Tuesday to approve a modern streetcar line downtown.

In response to concerns raised by Comptroller W. Martin "Wally" Morics, aldermen agreed to limit spending to engineering for now, and to seek a review by the comptroller's office before releasing money for construction.

The measure now heads to Mayor Tom Barrett, the plan's chief advocate, for his signature.

Plans call for a 2.1-mile line, from the lower east side to the downtown Amtrak-Greyhound station, starting in 2014. Streetcars would run every 10 minutes on weekdays and every 15 minutes on weekends, late-night and early-morning hours.

The $64.6 million project would be funded by $54.9 million in long-idle federal transit aid and $9.7 million from a tax-incremental financing district, with fares, parking fees and advertising revenue covering the $2.65 million annual operating cost. The city is seeking additional federal aid for extensions that would add 1.5 miles to the line and boost the construction cost past $100 million.

RENEW Debuts Wisconsin Renewable Energy Map

For immediate release

More information
Joe Friesen, Communications Assistant
608.819.0748
jfriesen@renewwisconsin.org

RENEW Debuts Wisconsin Renewable Energy Map

Volunteer Joe Friesen started a “simple” task to organize basic information on Wisconsin’s wind farms. This task grew over time to become a database and map that documents the location of nearly every renewable energy generating system in the state. Highlighting over 1,300 installations that total more than 700 megawatts of renewable electricity, RENEW Wisconsin’s database has become the most comprehensive on-line compilation of in-state renewable energy systems.

Installations depicted on this on-line tool range from small customer-owned solar electric systems to the 162 MW Glacier Hills wind farm in Columbia County, the largest renewable energy installation in Wisconsin. The database also includes a county by county breakdown.

“The real power of this database is the ability to visually represent the data across Wisconsin,” said Friesen. “Being able to see the distribution of renewable energy systems from Racine to Ashland shows that these are proven technologies that play a critical role in Wisconsin’s energy mix.”

When Glacier Hills comes online this December, the combined output from Wisconsin’s commercial-scale wind farms will produce the equivalent energy needed to power 175,000 residences.

At 1,200 installations, more than 90% of RENEW’s database is comprised of solar electric systems placed on homes, churches, businesses and schools.

“The steady growth of small-scale renewables here is attributable to the state’s previous commitment to build a vibrant renewable energy marketplace,” Friesen said. “Unfortunately, the policies adopted years ago to accomplish that objective are now under attack from the Legislature and certain utilities. This is certain to result in a dramatic slowdown of renewable energy installation activity.”

“Legislators needn’t look any further than their own districts to see examples of renewable energy systems creating local jobs and contributing to Wisconsin’s energy security” Friesen said.

Individuals interested in helping should send details about their renewable energy installations to Joe Friesen. Pertinent details include: system capacity, name of installer, year of installation, and zip code of installation.

Joe Friesen’s volunteer work with RENEW is made possible through a program called Mennonite Voluntary Service. MVS is a nationwide program which seeks to match dedicated volunteers with deserving nonprofit organizations at a fraction of the cost of a normal full-time employee.

--END--

RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives. More information on RENEW’s Web site at www.renewwisconsin.org.

It's official: Rail line from Kenosha to Milwaukee is dead

From an article by Larry Sandler in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Meeting for the last time Monday, the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority ended plans for a commuter rail line linking Milwaukee to Kenosha, Racine and the southern suburbs.

The RTA also asked that $6 million congressionally earmarked for the KRM Commuter Link be redirected to the Milwaukee County, Racine and Kenosha bus systems, if legally possible.

Much of Monday's agenda was dictated by the Legislature. In the 2011-'13 state budget, lawmakers ordered that the Southeastern RTA and its Dane County counterpart be dismantled, along with two other regional transit authorities that had been authorized but never formed.

The three-county body was planning the $284 million KRM and would have run the rail line. Plans had called for a 33-mile rail line with 15 round trips each weekday.

Unlike Amtrak's Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha line, the KRM would have provided city-to-suburb and suburb-to-suburb service for commuters, students and shoppers. Passengers could have transferred to Chicago-area Metra trains at the Kenosha station.

Planners projected federal aid would have covered most construction and operating costs, with the rest coming from fares and a rental car fee of up to $18 a car.

But the Federal Transit Administration has held off for more than a year on approving the RTA's request to start preliminary engineering on the KRM. Federal officials have told regional planners they were unlikely to support a new rail line until the Milwaukee County Transit System was financially secure.

However, former Gov. Jim Doyle and the Legislature, then controlled by his fellow Democrats, deadlocked on finding a new way to finance transit. The new Republican-led Legislature has since approved GOP Gov. Scott Walker's budget plan to cut transit aid by 10% next year, slicing nearly $7 million from Milwaukee County buses.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Allen, Zimmern to speak at Kickapoo Country Fair, July 30

From an article from the Vernon County Broadcaster:

LA FARGE -- The Kickapoo Country Fair, taking place on Saturday, July 30, in La Farge, announced its keynote speakers are to be nationally renowned food leaders Will Allen and Andrew Zimmern.

Allen, an urban agriculture pioneer and founder of Growing Power, a farm and community food center in Milwaukee, and Zimmern, chef and star of the Travel Channel's hit series, "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern," both hail from the Midwest and have helped establish the region as a center for food culture and advocacy. Rounding out the day-long celebration will be country music headliner The Kentucky Headhunters.

Organic Valley, a farmer-owned cooperative with 1,636 organic farmers nationwide - dozens of which are located just miles from the fair grounds - created the Kickapoo Country Fair eight years ago as a healthy alternative to the traditional deep-fried fair. Nestled amid the steep hills and coulees of southwestern Wisconsin's Driftless region, this year's Kickapoo Country Fair will attract thousands of attendees for a day-long exploration of all things food, including hands-on workshops, craft and cooking classes, issues-based seminars, poetry and theater performances, farm tours, live music and more-all offered at an affordable price for families. Passes providing access to all activities are only $5 for adults, $2 for kids 12 and under, and free for kids five and under.

"We're excited to spice up this year's event with two food leaders who, similar to our co-op, have been instrumental in helping establish the Midwest‘s prominent role in the changing food movement," Theresa Marquez, chief marketing officer for Organic Valley, said. "The opportunity to hear from such renowned personalities, chefs, farmers and advocates, all while eating delicious local and organic food in the beautiful Kickapoo region, is truly a unique food experience only a dedicated community like ours could cook up."

Allen, Zimmern Take Center Stage
Will Allen, named one of TIME Magazine's "World's Most Influential People" in 2010 and recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation's "genius" grant, will take center stage at 11:30 a.m.

Allen is among the preeminent thinkers of our time on agriculture and food policy and systems and is the founder of Growing Power. Based in Milwaukee, Growing Power serves as a "living museum" or "idea factory" on sustainable food systems for the young, the elderly, farmers, producers and other professionals ranging from USDA personnel to urban planners. Training areas include everything from urban agriculture, permaculture and food distribution, to community engagement and participatory leadership.

At 1:30 p.m., Andrew Zimmern will address fair-goers with a keynote speech and cooking demonstration. Zimmern is a Twin Cities native, James Beard Award-winning TV personality, chef, food writer, teacher, and is regarded as one of the most knowledgeable personalities in the food world. As the co-creator and host of the Travel Channel's hit series "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern" and "Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre Food World," he travels the world exploring food unique to various communities. From world-class restaurants to jungle carts to Kickapoo Country Fair booths, Zimmern is all about discovering and sharing authentic, local food experiences.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Western Wisconsin cheated again by Walker's refusal of train funds

From an editorial in the La Crosse Tribune:

Gov. Scott Walker's decision to reject $810 million in federal funding for high-speed rail is turning in to the gift that keeps on giving for everyone but the residents of our part of the state.

Worse, it's costing all taxpayers in Wisconsin more than it needs to - millions and millions of dollars more, according to one analysis.

And western Wisconsin won't get so much as a train whistle out of the deal.

Earlier this week, a legislative committee in Madison agreed to spend $31.6 million on the Hiawatha rail line between Chicago and Milwaukee. The Hiawatha line makes the trip seven times daily and carried nearly 800,000 passengers last year.

Oh, did we mention that work on the Hiawatha line would have been funded as part of the $810 million grant from the federal government because it was an extension of the now-deceased high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison?

So, let's review: Wisconsin gives back $810 million. It won't receive high-speed rail. And, as a bonus, we agree to spend $31.6 million out of our pockets - much of it borrowed - for work that the feds would have funded.

But wait, there's more:

There's also the ongoing operating costs as well as the need to pay for maintenance bases and train sheds and locomotives and signals, according to an analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Added up, the analysis shows that the federal grant could have paid for up to $99 million that Wisconsin taxpayers will now have to fund.

All of that is incredible when you consider that the Walker administration objected to high-speed rail through Wisconsin because of the ongoing costs.

Tomahawk resort recognized for clean energy

From an article in the Ashland Current:

The Lakewoods Resort is receiving a clean energy award from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

Secretary of Tourism Stephanie Klett announced the $163,650 award on Wednesday. The award stems from the resort installing a bioenergy heating project, where the resort will use locally-produced wood pellets and wood chips from nearby forests to fuel its heating system. The resort is retiring an old propane boiler system and upgrading to a commercial-scale pellet boiler, which will be completed by December 2012.

According to the Department of Tourism, the project is expected to save the resort about $72,000 in fossil fuel costs in its first year of use.

"I am pleased that one of our most prominent resorts located in the Chequamegon National Forest will be investing in a local renewable energy source," Klett said. "The project will protect the natural beauty of northern Wisconsin, provide local jobs, and invest in Wisconsin's renewable resources."

The use of wood biomass can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of a commercial facility, the department reports.

Western Wisconsin cheated again by Walker's refusal of train funds

From an editorial in the La Crosse Tribune:

Gov. Scott Walker's decision to reject $810 million in federal funding for high-speed rail is turning in to the gift that keeps on giving for everyone but the residents of our part of the state.

Worse, it's costing all taxpayers in Wisconsin more than it needs to - millions and millions of dollars more, according to one analysis.

And western Wisconsin won't get so much as a train whistle out of the deal.

Earlier this week, a legislative committee in Madison agreed to spend $31.6 million on the Hiawatha rail line between Chicago and Milwaukee. The Hiawatha line makes the trip seven times daily and carried nearly 800,000 passengers last year.

Oh, did we mention that work on the Hiawatha line would have been funded as part of the $810 million grant from the federal government because it was an extension of the now-deceased high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison?

So, let's review: Wisconsin gives back $810 million. It won't receive high-speed rail. And, as a bonus, we agree to spend $31.6 million out of our pockets - much of it borrowed - for work that the feds would have funded.

But wait, there's more:

There's also the ongoing operating costs as well as the need to pay for maintenance bases and train sheds and locomotives and signals, according to an analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Added up, the analysis shows that the federal grant could have paid for up to $99 million that Wisconsin taxpayers will now have to fund.

All of that is incredible when you consider that the Walker administration objected to high-speed rail through Wisconsin because of the ongoing costs.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

National Study Vindicates Wisconsin’s Clean Energy Policies

Immediate release
July 18, 2011

More information
Michael Vickerman
Executive Director
608.255.4044
mvickerman@renewwisconsin.org

National Study Vindicates Wisconsin’s Clean Energy Policies

Nearly a decade of forward-looking strategies propelled investments in Wisconsin’s clean jobs economy above other Midwest states, according to an economic study issued by The Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan public policy organization in Washington, D.C.

Reviewing data gathered between 2003 and 2010, the Brookings analysis pegged the number of clean economy jobs in the state at 76,858, a net increase of nearly 4,000. Measured as a percentage, Wisconsin’s clean economy accounted for 2.7% of all jobs in the state, compared with 2.5% for Iowa, 2.1% for Minnesota, 1.9 % for both Indiana and Michigan, and 1.8% for Illinois. Overall, Wisconsin ranked 8th among all states and the District of Columbia in the relative size of its clean economy.

The report categorizes clean economy jobs as those in energy efficiency and renewable energy; sustainable forestry products; recycling and reuse; waste management and treatment; organic food and farming; energy efficient appliance and building manufacturing; and more.

“Clearly, Wisconsin’s commitment to clean energy has paid dividends, attracting new businesses and creating high-paying jobs that could have easily gone elsewhere,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide organization advocating for public policies and private initiatives that advance renewable energy.

These policies and initiatives include the establishment of Focus on Energy, the region’s first ratepayer-funded energy efficiency and renewable energy program, attractive buyback rates offered by utilities for renewable energy, and innovative incentives to encourage customer installation of renewables.

In addition, Wisconsin’s adoption of a 10% renewable energy standard back in 2006 spurred new utility-scale installations built by skilled tradesmen employed by local contractors. During the study period, the number of wind-related jobs in Wisconsin doubled from less than 450 to 900.

As documented in the Brookings report, the wages for these clean economy jobs run higher than the statewide average ($37,931 vs. $35,906).

“Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s clean economy is in danger of losing a good deal of its steam as a result of policy rollbacks and funding cutbacks in the renewable energy arena,” Vickerman said. “The short-sighted attacks we’ve seen in 2011 could throw the state’s clean economy into reverse next year.”

So far this year, the Legislature has reduced funding for Focus on Energy, suspended the statewide rule regulating the permitting of wind turbines, and weakened the state’s renewable energy standard by allowing utilities to count Canadian hydropower toward their requirements.

“On top of that, We Energies, the state’s largest utility, announced that it will discontinue what had been an effective renewable energy initiative,” Vickerman said. “Among other accomplishments, it was instrumental in enabling Helios USA to build a solar-electric manufacturing facility in Milwaukee’s Menomonee River Valley.” The plant now employs 50 workers.

END

RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives. More information on RENEW’s Web site at www.renewwisconsin.org.

Iowa leads the Midwest in reaping wind energy benefits, Wisconsin heads backward


By contrast, an article by Michael Vickerman details Wisconsin's Widening War on Renewable Energy.

Editorial: Wausau is the best choice for W Solar Group location

From an editorial in the Wausau Daily Herald:

Mr. Chris Hamrin, president and CEO,
W Solar Group, Inc.
Chatsworth, CA

Dear Mr. Hamrin:

We here in Wausau are eager to learn where your company will build a manufacturing plant that will employ as many as 600 people making your high-tech solar panels. We were ecstatic to learn back in January that Wausau was one of the few Wisconsin cities -- along with Eau Claire and perhaps others that have shown interest since then -- being considered for the facility.

We won't disparage Eau Claire or any other city in this great state. We don't have to. We think what we have to offer in Wausau speaks for itself.

You already know some of our key assets. Your company spokesman, Evan Zeppos, was on target when he said this about Wausau in January: "It's a very good spot as it relates to a supply chain, geography, transportation. It has a well-known reputation for having a good workforce, and it's certainly very high on the quality-of-life scale."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

Trains unnecessarily cost Wisconsin taxpayers millions due to Walker's fund rejection

From an article by Larry Sandler and Jason Stein:

Wisconsin taxpayers could wind up paying more to keep existing passenger train service from Milwaukee to Chicago than they would have paid to run new high-speed rail service from Milwaukee to Madison, according to a Journal Sentinel analysis of state figures.

The Legislature's budget committee voted 12-2 Tuesday to spend $31.6 million in mostly borrowed state money on Amtrak's Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha line, costs that could have been paid largely by an $810 million federal grant that would have extended the Hiawatha to Madison.

But Tuesday's vote doesn't cover all the spending that will be needed to keep running the Hiawatha, a growing service that carried nearly 800,000 passengers last year.

State transportation officials have estimated they would need millions more for locomotives, signals and a new maintenance base, even without expanding service beyond the current seven daily round trips.

And, like the spending approved Tuesday, all or most of those new costs would have been covered by the federal grant spurned by Gov. Scott Walker last year. That's because the Milwaukee-to-Madison service would have operated as an extension of the Hiawatha, as part of a larger plan to connect Chicago to the Twin Cities and other Midwestern destinations with fast, frequent trains.

Taken together, state taxpayers' share of the Hiawatha capital costs that would have been covered by the federal grant could total as much as $99 million, significantly more than the $30 million they would have paid for 20 years of operating costs on the Milwaukee-to-Madison segment, as estimated by former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's administration.

Walker had cited those operating costs as his main reason for opposing the 110-mph extension. Federal money would have paid all of its capital costs. And that doesn't count the other potential benefits that high-speed rail supporters have cited from the Milwaukee-to-Madison line, such as jobs, economic development, expanded tax base and improved freight rail tracks.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Northwestern Wisconsin Climate Change Workshop, September 22, 2011

Safeguarding our economy, environment, and quality of life

A workshop to build local and regional climate planning capacity in the Great Lakes

Who Should Attend: Planners and other professionals addressing land use, public health, stormwater, emergency preparedness, and natural resource management issues.

Workshops include
•Climate change impacts in the Great Lakes region
•Economic benefits of climate planning
•Planning processes and strategies
•Tools, data, and resources
•Regional examples of climate planning
•Stakeholder engagement strategies
•Strategies for incorporating resilience into current planning initiatives

Budget committee votes to spend $31.6 million on rail service

From an article by Jason Stein and Patrick Marley in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Madison - The Legislature's budget committee voted 12-2 Tuesday to spend $31.6 million on the Milwaukee-to-Chicago passenger rail service, costs that could have largely been paid by a federal grant that would have extended passenger rail from Milwaukee to Madison.

The Joint Finance Committee voted unanimously to shift $33 million within the transportation fund to cover higher than expected winter maintenance costs.

Democrats backed the passenger rail measure. But they pointed to an estimate from the Legislature's nonpartisan budget office that found that at least $22.4 million of the additional costs stem from Republican Gov. Scott Walker's move to cancel an $810 million high-speed rail line connecting Madison to Milwaukee and Chicago.

All Republicans except Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) and Sen. Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan) also backed the measure but countered that the federal government could have still paid for part of the costs and that part of the bills also stem from a questionable contract entered into by Walker's predecessor, Democratic former Gov. Jim Doyle.

Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) called the canceled contract an example of "Walker math" that is costly for the state.

"We had an opportunity to take advantage of federal funding in one of the tightest budgets in years," Taylor said.

Monday, July 18, 2011

National Study Vindicates Wisconsin’s Clean Energy Policies

Immediate release
July 18, 2011

More information
Michael Vickerman
Executive Director
608.255.4044
mvickerman@renewwisconsin.org

National Study Vindicates Wisconsin’s Clean Energy Policies

Nearly a decade of forward-looking strategies propelled investments in Wisconsin’s clean jobs economy above other Midwest states, according to an economic study issued by The Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan public policy organization in Washington, D.C.

Reviewing data gathered between 2003 and 2010, the Brookings analysis pegged the number of clean economy jobs in the state at 76,858, a net increase of nearly 4,000. Measured as a percentage, Wisconsin’s clean economy accounted for 2.7% of all jobs in the state, compared with 2.5% for Iowa, 2.1% for Minnesota, 1.9 % for both Indiana and Michigan, and 1.8% for Illinois. Overall, Wisconsin ranked 8th among all states and the District of Columbia in the relative size of its clean economy.

The report categorizes clean economy jobs as those in energy efficiency and renewable energy; sustainable forestry products; recycling and reuse; waste management and treatment; organic food and farming; energy efficient appliance and building manufacturing; and more.

“Clearly, Wisconsin’s commitment to clean energy has paid dividends, attracting new businesses and creating high-paying jobs that could have easily gone elsewhere,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide organization advocating for public policies and private initiatives that advance renewable energy.

These policies and initiatives include the establishment of Focus on Energy, the region’s first ratepayer-funded energy efficiency and renewable energy program, attractive buyback rates offered by utilities for renewable energy, and innovative incentives to encourage customer installation of renewables.

In addition, Wisconsin’s adoption of a 10% renewable energy standard back in 2006 spurred new utility-scale installations built by skilled tradesmen employed by local contractors. During the study period, the number of wind-related jobs in Wisconsin doubled from less than 450 to 900.

As documented in the Brookings report, the wages for these clean economy jobs run higher than the statewide average ($37,931 vs. $35,906).

“Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s clean economy is in danger of losing a good deal of its steam as a result of policy rollbacks and funding cutbacks in the renewable energy arena,” Vickerman said. “The short-sighted attacks we’ve seen in 2011 could throw the state’s clean economy into reverse next year.”

So far this year, the Legislature has reduced funding for Focus on Energy, suspended the statewide rule regulating the permitting of wind turbines, and weakened the state’s renewable energy standard by allowing utilities to count Canadian hydropower toward their requirements.

“On top of that, We Energies, the state’s largest utility, announced that it will discontinue what had been an effective renewable energy initiative,” Vickerman said. “Among other accomplishments, it was instrumental in enabling Helios USA to build a solar-electric manufacturing facility in Milwaukee’s Menomonee River Valley.” The plant now employs 50 workers.

END

RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives. More information on RENEW’s Web site at www.renewwisconsin.org.

National Study Vindicates Wisconsin’s Clean Energy Policies

Immediate release
July 18, 2011

More information
Michael Vickerman
Executive Director
608.255.4044
mvickerman@renewwisconsin.org

National Study Vindicates Wisconsin’s Clean Energy Policies

Nearly a decade of forward-looking strategies propelled investments in Wisconsin’s clean jobs economy above other Midwest states, according to an economic study issued by The Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan public policy organization in Washington, D.C.

Reviewing data gathered between 2003 and 2010, the Brookings analysis pegged the number of clean economy jobs in the state at 76,858, a net increase of nearly 4,000. Measured as a percentage, Wisconsin’s clean economy accounted for 2.7% of all jobs in the state, compared with 2.5% for Iowa, 2.1% for Minnesota, 1.9 % for both Indiana and Michigan, and 1.8% for Illinois. Overall, Wisconsin ranked 8th among all states and the District of Columbia in the relative size of its clean economy.

The report categorizes clean economy jobs as those in energy efficiency and renewable energy; sustainable forestry products; recycling and reuse; waste management and treatment; organic food and farming; energy efficient appliance and building manufacturing; and more.

“Clearly, Wisconsin’s commitment to clean energy has paid dividends, attracting new businesses and creating high-paying jobs that could have easily gone elsewhere,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide organization advocating for public policies and private initiatives that advance renewable energy.

These policies and initiatives include the establishment of Focus on Energy, the region’s first ratepayer-funded energy efficiency and renewable energy program, attractive buyback rates offered by utilities for renewable energy, and innovative incentives to encourage customer installation of renewables.

In addition, Wisconsin’s adoption of a 10% renewable energy standard back in 2006 spurred new utility-scale installations built by skilled tradesmen employed by local contractors. During the study period, the number of wind-related jobs in Wisconsin doubled from less than 450 to 900.

As documented in the Brookings report, the wages for these clean economy jobs run higher than the statewide average ($37,931 vs. $35,906).

“Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s clean economy is in danger of losing a good deal of its steam as a result of policy rollbacks and funding cutbacks in the renewable energy arena,” Vickerman said. “The short-sighted attacks we’ve seen in 2011 could throw the state’s clean economy into reverse next year.”

So far this year, the Legislature has reduced funding for Focus on Energy, suspended the statewide rule regulating the permitting of wind turbines, and weakened the state’s renewable energy standard by allowing utilities to count Canadian hydropower toward their requirements.

“On top of that, We Energies, the state’s largest utility, announced that it will discontinue what had been an effective renewable energy initiative,” Vickerman said. “Among other accomplishments, it was instrumental in enabling Helios USA to build a solar-electric manufacturing facility in Milwaukee’s Menomonee River Valley.” The plant now employs 50 workers.

END

RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives. More information on RENEW’s Web site at www.renewwisconsin.org.

National Study Vindicates Wisconsin’s Clean Energy Policies

Immediate release
July 18, 2011

More information
Michael Vickerman
Executive Director
608.255.4044
mvickerman@renewwisconsin.org

National Study Vindicates Wisconsin’s Clean Energy Policies

Nearly a decade of forward-looking strategies propelled investments in Wisconsin’s clean jobs economy above other Midwest states, according to an economic study issued by The Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan public policy organization in Washington, D.C.

Reviewing data gathered between 2003 and 2010, the Brookings analysis pegged the number of clean economy jobs in the state at 76,858, a net increase of nearly 4,000. Measured as a percentage, Wisconsin’s clean economy accounted for 2.7% of all jobs in the state, compared with 2.5% for Iowa, 2.1% for Minnesota, 1.9 % for both Indiana and Michigan, and 1.8% for Illinois. Overall, Wisconsin ranked 8th among all states and the District of Columbia in the relative size of its clean economy.

The report categorizes clean economy jobs as those in energy efficiency and renewable energy; sustainable forestry products; recycling and reuse; waste management and treatment; organic food and farming; energy efficient appliance and building manufacturing; and more.

“Clearly, Wisconsin’s commitment to clean energy has paid dividends, attracting new businesses and creating high-paying jobs that could have easily gone elsewhere,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide organization advocating for public policies and private initiatives that advance renewable energy.

These policies and initiatives include the establishment of Focus on Energy, the region’s first ratepayer-funded energy efficiency and renewable energy program, attractive buyback rates offered by utilities for renewable energy, and innovative incentives to encourage customer installation of renewables.

In addition, Wisconsin’s adoption of a 10% renewable energy standard back in 2006 spurred new utility-scale installations built by skilled tradesmen employed by local contractors. During the study period, the number of wind-related jobs in Wisconsin doubled from less than 450 to 900.

As documented in the Brookings report, the wages for these clean economy jobs run higher than the statewide average ($37,931 vs. $35,906).

“Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s clean economy is in danger of losing a good deal of its steam as a result of policy rollbacks and funding cutbacks in the renewable energy arena,” Vickerman said. “The short-sighted attacks we’ve seen in 2011 could throw the state’s clean economy into reverse next year.”

So far this year, the Legislature has reduced funding for Focus on Energy, suspended the statewide rule regulating the permitting of wind turbines, and weakened the state’s renewable energy standard by allowing utilities to count Canadian hydropower toward their requirements.

“On top of that, We Energies, the state’s largest utility, announced that it will discontinue what had been an effective renewable energy initiative,” Vickerman said. “Among other accomplishments, it was instrumental in enabling Helios USA to build a solar-electric manufacturing facility in Milwaukee’s Menomonee River Valley.” The plant now employs 50 workers.

END

RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives. More information on RENEW’s Web site at www.renewwisconsin.org.

National Study Vindicates Wisconsin’s Clean Energy Policies

Immediate release
July 18, 2011

More information
Michael Vickerman
Executive Director
608.255.4044
mvickerman@renewwisconsin.org

National Study Vindicates Wisconsin’s Clean Energy Policies

Nearly a decade of forward-looking strategies propelled investments in Wisconsin’s clean jobs economy above other Midwest states, according to an economic study issued by The Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan public policy organization in Washington, D.C.

Reviewing data gathered between 2003 and 2010, the Brookings analysis pegged the number of clean economy jobs in the state at 76,858, a net increase of nearly 4,000. Measured as a percentage, Wisconsin’s clean economy accounted for 2.7% of all jobs in the state, compared with 2.5% for Iowa, 2.1% for Minnesota, 1.9 % for both Indiana and Michigan, and 1.8% for Illinois. Overall, Wisconsin ranked 8th among all states and the District of Columbia in the relative size of its clean economy.

The report categorizes clean economy jobs as those in energy efficiency and renewable energy; sustainable forestry products; recycling and reuse; waste management and treatment; organic food and farming; energy efficient appliance and building manufacturing; and more.

“Clearly, Wisconsin’s commitment to clean energy has paid dividends, attracting new businesses and creating high-paying jobs that could have easily gone elsewhere,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide organization advocating for public policies and private initiatives that advance renewable energy.

These policies and initiatives include the establishment of Focus on Energy, the region’s first ratepayer-funded energy efficiency and renewable energy program, attractive buyback rates offered by utilities for renewable energy, and innovative incentives to encourage customer installation of renewables.

In addition, Wisconsin’s adoption of a 10% renewable energy standard back in 2006 spurred new utility-scale installations built by skilled tradesmen employed by local contractors. During the study period, the number of wind-related jobs in Wisconsin doubled from less than 450 to 900.

As documented in the Brookings report, the wages for these clean economy jobs run higher than the statewide average ($37,931 vs. $35,906).

“Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s clean economy is in danger of losing a good deal of its steam as a result of policy rollbacks and funding cutbacks in the renewable energy arena,” Vickerman said. “The short-sighted attacks we’ve seen in 2011 could throw the state’s clean economy into reverse next year.”

So far this year, the Legislature has reduced funding for Focus on Energy, suspended the statewide rule regulating the permitting of wind turbines, and weakened the state’s renewable energy standard by allowing utilities to count Canadian hydropower toward their requirements.

“On top of that, We Energies, the state’s largest utility, announced that it will discontinue what had been an effective renewable energy initiative,” Vickerman said. “Among other accomplishments, it was instrumental in enabling Helios USA to build a solar-electric manufacturing facility in Milwaukee’s Menomonee River Valley.” The plant now employs 50 workers.

END

RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives. More information on RENEW’s Web site at www.renewwisconsin.org.

Opponents become vocal as number of proposed sand mines increases

From an article by in the Eau Claire Leader Telegram:

Three years ago, when Patricia Popple first became concerned about sand mines, convincing others to get worked up about the topic was anything but easy.

These days the 71-year-old retired elementary school principal-turned-anti-sand mine crusader has plenty of company.


As sand mines and proposals for mines have popped up across west-central Wisconsin in the past couple of years, so too have people concerned about the impact of those mines.

Mining companies have targeted this part of Wisconsin because the qualities of much of the sand here make it usable for extracting natural gas and oil in other parts of the U.S. The facilities are called "frac" sand mines, named for the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract the fuel.

Popple, of Chippewa Falls, helped organize the group Concerned Chippewa Citizens, which worked unsuccessfully to stop a sand-processing plant being built in Chippewa Falls.

However, the group has been successful in getting out the word about the potential quality-of-life and environmental issues that could come with industrial-scale sand mining.

In recent months Popple has been contacted by people in Lake City, Minn., Winona, Minn., Red Wing, Minn., Maiden Rock, Prairie Farm, Arkansaw, Arcadia, Whitehall, Monroe, and, most recently, Tunnel City near Tomah, sites of existing or proposed sand mines.

But fracing has been a contentious issue in many areas of the country.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Wind farm plan gets green light -- in Illinois

While Wisconsin's hostility toward wind generation kills projects in the state, wind generation projects continue to create jobs and energy independence in surrounding states, according to this article in The News Gazzette, Champaign, IL:

DANVILLE — The Vermilion County Board authorized construction of the first wind turbine farm in the county Tuesday night despite objections from several local residents and incomplete information in the developer's application.

The 27-member board voted 21-1, with four members absent and one seat vacant, to grant Chicago-based Invenergy a building permit to construct 104 wind turbines in west central Vermilion County.

Invenergy also submitted on July 1 its application to the Champaign County zoning board for a special-use permit to build 30 wind turbines as part of the same project in east central Champaign County. Invenergy officials said they hope construction in Vermilion County can start by the end of the year.

The lone no vote at Tuesday's Vermilion County Board meeting came from member Terry Stal, D-District 4, who said after the meeting that he voted that way because the county should have all its agreements with Invenergy in place before the permit is issued. He said his vote reflected a procedural objection.

DOT to study walking, biking lane for Hoan Bridge

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

The state Department of Transportation will study the feasibility of creating a lane for biking and walking across Milwaukee's Hoan Bridge as part of the department's overall work on rebuilding the span.

That study is to be completed this fall, said DeWayne Johnson, the department's regional director for southeastern Wisconsin.

Johnson made his comments at a meeting of the Long-Range Lakefront Planning Committee.

The County Board created the committee to advise it on the future of O'Donnell Park, the Downtown Transit Center and nearby areas.

The board created the group after philanthropist and retired business executive Michael Cudahy floated a plan to demolish O'Donnell Park and the transit center and replace them with a hotel and office buildings. Cudahy is founder of Discovery World and co-owner of the lakefront Harbor House restaurant.

Among other things, committee members are working with DOT officials on possibly reconfiguring ramps tied to the eastern portion of downtown's I-794 and the Hoan Bridge.

That would open up more land near Lake Michigan for development.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rothschild biomass project under way, Domtar announces

From an article by Kathleen Foody in Central Wisconsin Business:

ROTHSCHILD -- The long public debate over a proposed biomass power plant in Rothschild came to an end Monday [June 20] when Domtar announced plans to move forward with the $255 million project.

The 50-megawatt power plant, a joint effort of Milwaukee utility We Energies and Domtar paper, is expected to burn 500,000 tons of the tops and limbs of trees left behind by traditional logging operations each year.

"(The final decision) puts ... everything behind us," Rothschild Village Board President George Peterson said. "We can move forward, We Energies and Domtar can move forward."

We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said crews will begin working this week at the site adjacent to the existing Domtar mill on Business Highway 51 in Rothschild.

Manthey said We Energies still hopes to have the plant completed by the end of 2013, the eligibility deadline for federal tax credits. The facility also is part of We Energies' plan to comply with state regulations requiring at least 8 percent of utilities' sales to come from renewable energy by 2015.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Believing in change: People can make a difference, Eric Hansen says

From an interview by Lee B. Roberts in the Racine Journal Times:

The spiritual aspects of climate change, rather than the technical ones, are the essence of our task as we face this complex conservation challenge, says Eric Hansen, a Milwaukee-based writer, conservationist and public radio essayist. And, conservation work —forging wide agreements on vital landscape issues, is work Wisconsinites know well and excel at, Hansen said in his public radio essay, “Copenhagen, Climate Change and Common Sense Conservation in Wisconsin,” which won him a first place commentary/editorial award from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association last year. “We’ve done it before and we can do it again.”

Hansen will share his thoughts on climate change — and our role in facing it — in a free program at Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church, 625 College Ave., during the July 24 morning service. His talk, titled “Our Ferocious Love of Life vs. Catastrophic Climate Change,” is open to the public.

As part of his conservation work, Hansen has authored books about his treks through the Upper Great Lakes, including “Hiking Wisconsin” and “Hiking Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.” His name may be familiar to Racinians from his visit to the Racine Public Library in 2009, where he gave a presentation about the beauty and magnetism of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Here’s what Hansen had to say when we asked him a few questions in advance of his upcoming presentation.

The subject of catastrophic climate change can seem overwhelming. How can we, as individuals, make sense of such a complex, global issue and our role in dealing with it?

First, all conservation, whether we are discussing the relatively complex notion of catastrophic global climate change or the familiar concepts of contour plowing and catch-and-release fishing boils down to the common sense goodness of one simple concept: what we have today we also want to be here for tomorrow.

Second, 350 is the most important number in the world. 350 is the carbon dioxide parts per million in the atmosphere that we have to get back to — to maintain the good life on earth, as we know it. We are at 390 now. Isn’t the concept of 350 the same thing as when we list five bass as the daily bag limit? Didn’t we adapt, and fine tune, fish and game regulations because they were necessary to protect a threatened resource? Now, we see the urgent wisdom of a planetwide agreement to protect an even greater resource. 350 is what we need, the level for sustainability, what we must push for.

Transit cuts concern officials

From an article in the Eau Claire Leader Telegram:

The city of Eau Claire is going to be impacted by a 10 percent cut in state transit aid in 2012, but officials have yet to determine if that is going to mean less bus service or higher fares, transit manager Mike Branco said.

"We will feel the impact of this cut," said Branco, who is working on the transit budget for next year. "We have yet to determine what we're going to do, but it's very much on our minds."

In the 2011-13 state budget, Gov. Scott Walker proposed the 10 percent cut in state transit aid, which will slice it by $9.6 million a year, starting in 2012.

Eau Claire could lose more than $200,000, according to Branco's preliminary estimate.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Legislators are exporting wind energy jobs and torpedoing all renewables

From a commentary by Jeff Anthony, American Wind Energy Association, on BizTimes.com:

The Wisconsin Assembly recently passed a bill that would enable hydroelectric power from Manitoba, Canada, to be shipped to Wisconsin to meet the state’s 2006 renewable energy law requiring 10 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy by the year 2015.

If enacted into law, the effect of the Manitoba Hydro Bill will be to ship jobs to Canada and reduce Wisconsin’s ability to meet its clean energy requirement by building more homegrown Wisconsin energy projects.

One of the bill’s sponsors, State Sen. Frank Lasee (R-De Pere), was quoted saying, “This new law will keep electric bills from going up by making it more affordable for utilities to meet green energy mandates.”

Unfortunately, he was mistaken in assuming that other forms of “green energy” will raise electricity rates in the state. If he had gotten his facts straight, he would have found that wind energy costs are at near-record lows, and many utilities in the U.S. are reaping the benefits of lower electricity rates as wind energy expands on their systems. But the facts about wind energy costs, like many other facts, apparently weren’t relevant in the rush to pass this ill-conceived bill.

What Sen. Lasee failed to mention is that his bill will also have a significant impact on Wisconsin by sending good-paying jobs that would otherwise have been created in Wisconsin – to Canada instead.

Sen. Lasee and the other state legislators who voted for the bill would have the state import electricity from Canadian energy projects that use Canadian workers. Today, Wisconsin supports 2,000-3,000 workers in the wind energy industry alone, and the Manitoba Hydro Bill now threatens many of those jobs in Wisconsin.

This is just the latest example of legislative activities that are exporting good-paying, clean energy jobs out of Wisconsin. Why?

At the beginning of the year, another onerous bill was proposed to impose extreme requirements on where Wisconsin wind projects can be located. A few weeks, later a joint committee of the legislature voted to suspend Wind Siting Rules that had been developed through a collaborative, open, and fair process. This rule was suspended by the joint legislative committee on the very day that these far better new rules would have taken effect.

Combined, these actions have jeopardized approximately 700 megawatts of wind projects that were proposed in the state, resulting in the potential loss of $1.8 billion investments and 2 million construction job-hours. And guess what – those 2 million job-hours will not show up in Wisconsin, and will likely move to neighboring states.

So what will be the next step in the “Wisconsin Jobs Export Agenda”?

Well, another piece of anti-clean energy job legislation has emerged, Assembly Bill 146, which would significantly reduce the growth of renewable energy in the state. The Wisconsin clean energy law was originally created to incentivize new renewable energy development and increase fuel diversity. AB 146 would effectively remove that incentive.

GreenBiz: California exec creating green retreat in Kickapoo Valley

From an article by Gregg Hoffman on WisBusiness.com:

Tom Lukens has been to a lot of places over his long career in horticulture and business. Now, the president emeritus of Golden State Bulb Growers is creating “a beautiful place to simply be” along the West Fork in the Kickapoo Valley.

“I believe human beings are motivated by sharing experiences,” said Lukens, who continues to serve as a senior sales rep and technical consultant for the Moss Landing, California, Golden State Bulbs company, and has started Nature Nooks Retreat.

“That motivates me here. I believe this place gives you a sense of belonging which is good for us. We’ve built the buildings to not only be energy efficient as possible, but to bring the outside to you when you are inside. . . ."

Driftless Area Project head Jeff Hastings, Trout Unlimited, UW-Madison researchers and others have helped Lukens in his development of Nature Nooks and have embraced his bio-diversity approach to stream restoration.

The green construction starts with Lukens’ home, a 1,440 sq. ft. structure that resembles Frank Lloyd Wright designs and is intended to make as small a carbon footprint as possible.

Through the use of passive and active solar, hydronic heat in the floors, energy efficient windows and materials and a little bit of wood, Lukens was able to operate the home without “a drop of petroleum” last winter.

He estimates the solar part of his system cost about $34,000 more than conventional heat systems would, but he received an $18,000 tax credit and will recover any additional costs through energy efficiency.

Lukens also has worked with local contractors and has used local materials whenever possible.

“It starts by not building a home with more space than you need,” Lukens said. “This space is plenty for our purposes. By using local materials and labor, you also save costs, contribute to the community economically and leave less of a footprint because of transportation.”

This Is The Week To Push The Streetcar Plan, Milwaukee

From The Political Environment, a blog by James Rowen:

Milwaukee's Common Council will decide this week whether to move the downtown streetcar plan forward, so let's get involved and help make it happen.

Check out www.themilwaukeestreetcar.org . . . .

Make sure you email support to mayor@milwaukee.gov with copies to Council Pres. Willie Hines at whines@milwaukee.gov and Alderman Michael Murphy at mmurph@milwaukee.gov.

Here are major benefits to the long-delayed system:

Transportation:
· Improves transit mobility to and between key residential, employment and activity centers.
· Maximizes transit accessibility and choices for residents, employees, and visitors. Accessible, low floors for level boarding for disabled, elderly, strollers, bikes. Service every 10-15 minutes.
· Has increased transit use in general in cities where it has been added to complement the existing bus system.
· Provides a downtown core starter system that can be expanded in the future to provide a larger more effective transit network (NW to 30th Street Industrial corridor; NE to Columbia St Mary’s UWM; West to Marquette, Miller Park, Research Park; S through Walkers Point, Bay View to airport; SW to Jackson Park.)

Complete post here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Wisconsin’s Widening War on Renewable Energy

Dramatic Slowdown in Market Activity Anticipated
By Michael Vickerman
July 11, 2011

What started out as an opening salvo from the Walker Administration to shackle large-scale wind projects has in six months turned into a systematic campaign to dismantle the state policies that support renewable energy development. Joining the executive and legislative branches in pursuing policy rollbacks and/or funding cutbacks against renewables are various utilities and, surprisingly, Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s ratepayer-funded energy efficiency and renewable programs.

Since January 1st, Wisconsin has seen a series of assaults against utility-scale projects and smaller renewable systems serving both residences and businesses. These include the following actions:
  • The Legislature suspended PSC 128, the statewide rule developed by the Public Service Commission last year in response to a law passed by the Legislature in 2009 ordering the agency to establish uniform standards for permitting wind energy systems. Since the March 1 suspension vote, wind development in Wisconsin has slowed to a standstill.
  • The Legislature adopted SB 81, a bill that RENEW Wisconsin describes as the “Outsource Renewable Energy to Canada Act.” SB 81 allows Wisconsin utilities to meet their renewable energy requirements beginning in 2015 with electricity generated from large hydropower plants in other states and Canada. By allowing Wisconsin utilities to become even more dependent on energy imports than they are today, SB 81 turns Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Standard on its head. Importing large-scale hydropower exports the very dollars that could have been used to harness Wisconsin’s renewable energy resources. 
  • We Energies, the state’s largest electric utility, abruptly decided in May to walk away from an agreement with RENEW to dedicate $60 million over a 10-year period in support of renewable energy development in its territory. The decision came in the sixth year of this program. We Energies plans to reallocate the unspent dollars (totaling about $27 million) to general operations. 
  • Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) instituted in April a new net energy policy designed to discourage new customer-sited renewable energy systems. Until recently WPS had been paying its customers the full retail rate for electricity that flows back on the wires, which is now about 12 cents/kWh. But under the new rate, WPS only pays three cents/kWh for electricity exported to the grid. Moreover, the utility calculates the net each month, which penalizes customers whose loads vary significantly depending on seasonal factors. Right now, the new policy only covers systems installed after March 2011, but WPS has said that it plans to apply that rate to older systems effective January 2013.
  • In its deliberations on the biennial state budget passed in June, the Legislature appended a rider to tie Focus on Energy’s annual budget to a percentage (1.2% of gross utility revenues). This action will mean a cut of $20 million in the program’s 2012 budget relative to this year’s allocation of $120 million. The Focus on Energy program provides grants and cash-back awards supporting customer investments in solar electric, solar thermal systems, small wind, biogas and biomass energy systems. 
  • Last, but certainly not least, as of July 1, Focus on Energy stopped accepting applications for business program incentives to help customers install renewable energy systems. These incentives, which average about $7 million per year, had been available since 2002 to businesses, farms, schools, local governments and other nonprofit customers. It is not clear when these incentives will be resumed and in what quantity. 
This one-two punch of policy rollbacks and funding cutbacks has cast a pall over the state’s renewable energy marketplace. At this year’s Energy Fair in Custer, Wisconsin, the prevailing mood of contractors and exhibitors was one of bewilderment tinged with anger. It is dawning on these companies that their state, which once took pride in its efforts to nurture a thriving renewable energy market, is becoming an inhospitable place to do business. The transformation is occurring with stunning speed; no business is likely to be spared from this abrupt reversal of fortune, which will hit home soon and continue for several months, if not years.

At this moment, however, the Wisconsin renewable energy landscape is humming with installation activity. New wind turbines are soaring above cornfields in Columbia County, where construction crews and operating engineers from Appleton-based Boldt Construction and Brownsville-based Michels Wind Energy assemble what will become Wisconsin’s largest wind generation facility. The towers for the Glacier Hills wind energy project are being fabricated at Tower Tech in Manitowoc. Solar hot water systems now crown the rooftops of new apartment and university buildings, while solar PV panels mounted on 14-foot-tall poles rise above a farm field in Dane County to power Epic Systems’ ground source heat pump system. A cranberry company in Monroe County is about to become the second of its kind to rely on a pair of small wind turbines for its electrical needs. Meanwhile, all across Wisconsin one can find contractors building this year’s crop of bioenergy systems that convert the effluent from dairy farms, cheese producers and wastewater treatment plants into a baseload source of electricity.

Indeed, this wave of projects, fueled principally by funding commitments made in previous years and the early part of this year, should keep contractors and installers busy through the end of 2011. Though an observer unfamiliar with this year’s travails might be deceived by this show of vitality, both installers and advocates know that this activity can’t be sustained for long without a fresh supply of oxygen in the form of policy and funding initiatives. But until state government recognizes the folly of its war against renewable energy and changes course on energy policy, the rollbacks of 2011 will suck much of the oxygen out of next year’s renewable energy marketplace, setting it up for significant contraction in the years that follow.

How Wisconsin benefits from shrinking its renewable energy business community and becoming even more dependent on finite supplies of fossil energy imported from afar is a question worth posing to our political leaders. In our view, that approach is guaranteed to turn Wisconsin into an economic backwater. Is this what they hope to achieve? Probably not. But the toll on the state goes beyond the jobs that weren’t created, the investments from overseas that went to other states, and the tax revenues that failed to materialize as projected.

An even bigger casualty of these rollbacks is Wisconsin’s ability to project itself as a center of consistency and stability, a place where policy changes affecting businesses occur gradually and over time. Not long ago, Wisconsin political leaders were capable of working on complex legislative matters in a low-key and bipartisan manner. An example of that is the Energy Efficiency and Renewables Law (2005 Act 141) signed into law in March 2006, which increased Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Standard to 10% by 2015 and protected Focus on Energy from future budget raids. That law created what seemed at the time to be a durable framework for enabling renewable energy resources to play an expanded role in the state’s energy future.

However, it is now painfully evident that the political consensus that created the five-year-old law has evaporated. The resulting vacuum has emboldened incoming legislators to fix their crosshairs on the policy mechanisms supporting investment in renewable energy. With the active assistance of politically powerful interests like the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, these legislators are now attacking Wisconsin’s pro-renewable energy policies in a manner resembling a wave of Formosan termites going through a house.

What has happened to Wisconsin’s energy policy here is a microcosm of the radically polarized political dynamic that has, unfortunately, become “the new normal” in this state. In this environment, confrontation is celebrated and compromise is shunned. Politics in Wisconsin has become a roller-coaster ride that is heavy on the sharp turns and violent dives, and light on the straightaways and gentle grades. And, with the Senate recall elections this summer and the virtual certainty of a gubernatorial recall election in the offing, this dynamic is not going away any time soon.
Needless to say, this volatility makes long-range financial commitments to upgrading the state’s energy infrastructure a challenge if not an impossibility. The suspension of the state’s wind siting rule, for example, upended a deliberate and multiyear effort to build predictability and certainty into the permitting process. With the rule in abeyance, what wind developers now face amounts to a random walk through a minefield. Small wonder that many of the developers who were active here three years ago have migrated to less explosive pastures. Indeed, high-profile rollbacks like these give the state an unwelcome reputation as being famously difficult to do business in.

Amazingly enough, despite the onslaught from political leaders and certain utilities, public support for renewable energy has held strong, according to a St. Norbert College poll conducted between April 11 and April 18 for Wisconsin Public Radio. More than three-quarters of the respondents favored additional investments in windpower, even if such expenditures would increase monthly electric bills. The rankings for each resource surveyed were: wind (77%), hydropower (60%), biomass (54%), natural gas (39%), nuclear (27%), and coal (19%). The results suggest that the hostility that the Walker Administration and the Legislature have shown to the renewable energy business community is completely out of step with the public.

Along with many other organizations and individuals, RENEW Wisconsin helped build public awareness on the value of renewable energy for jobs and energy self-sufficiency. Now in its 20th year, RENEW Wisconsin finds itself vigorously defending the many policies and practices that made Wisconsin a regional leader in the use of its native renewable energy resources. Though the future is fraught with challenges and uncertainties, about one thing we can be certain: the assaults and policy swings that come our way will not change either the citizen consensus or RENEW Wisconsin’s commitment to a future based on clean, local and sustainable energy.

Wisconsin’s Widening War on Renewable Energy

Dramatic Slowdown in Market Activity Anticipated
By Michael Vickerman
July 11, 2011

What started out as an opening salvo from the Walker Administration to shackle large-scale wind projects has in six months turned into a systematic campaign to dismantle the state policies that support renewable energy development. Joining the executive and legislative branches in pursuing policy rollbacks and/or funding cutbacks against renewables are various utilities and, surprisingly, Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s ratepayer-funded energy efficiency and renewable programs.

Since January 1st, Wisconsin has seen a series of assaults against utility-scale projects and smaller renewable systems serving both residences and businesses. These include the following actions:
  • The Legislature suspended PSC 128, the statewide rule developed by the Public Service Commission last year in response to a law passed by the Legislature in 2009 ordering the agency to establish uniform standards for permitting wind energy systems. Since the March 1 suspension vote, wind development in Wisconsin has slowed to a standstill.
  • The Legislature adopted SB 81, a bill that RENEW Wisconsin describes as the “Outsource Renewable Energy to Canada Act.” SB 81 allows Wisconsin utilities to meet their renewable energy requirements beginning in 2015 with electricity generated from large hydropower plants in other states and Canada. By allowing Wisconsin utilities to become even more dependent on energy imports than they are today, SB 81 turns Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Standard on its head. Importing large-scale hydropower exports the very dollars that could have been used to harness Wisconsin’s renewable energy resources. 
  • We Energies, the state’s largest electric utility, abruptly decided in May to walk away from an agreement with RENEW to dedicate $60 million over a 10-year period in support of renewable energy development in its territory. The decision came in the sixth year of this program. We Energies plans to reallocate the unspent dollars (totaling about $27 million) to general operations. 
  • Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) instituted in April a new net energy policy designed to discourage new customer-sited renewable energy systems. Until recently WPS had been paying its customers the full retail rate for electricity that flows back on the wires, which is now about 12 cents/kWh. But under the new rate, WPS only pays three cents/kWh for electricity exported to the grid. Moreover, the utility calculates the net each month, which penalizes customers whose loads vary significantly depending on seasonal factors. Right now, the new policy only covers systems installed after March 2011, but WPS has said that it plans to apply that rate to older systems effective January 2013.
  • In its deliberations on the biennial state budget passed in June, the Legislature appended a rider to tie Focus on Energy’s annual budget to a percentage (1.2% of gross utility revenues). This action will mean a cut of $20 million in the program’s 2012 budget relative to this year’s allocation of $120 million. The Focus on Energy program provides grants and cash-back awards supporting customer investments in solar electric, solar thermal systems, small wind, biogas and biomass energy systems. 
  • Last, but certainly not least, as of July 1, Focus on Energy stopped accepting applications for business program incentives to help customers install renewable energy systems. These incentives, which average about $7 million per year, had been available since 2002 to businesses, farms, schools, local governments and other nonprofit customers. It is not clear when these incentives will be resumed and in what quantity. 
This one-two punch of policy rollbacks and funding cutbacks has cast a pall over the state’s renewable energy marketplace. At this year’s Energy Fair in Custer, Wisconsin, the prevailing mood of contractors and exhibitors was one of bewilderment tinged with anger. It is dawning on these companies that their state, which once took pride in its efforts to nurture a thriving renewable energy market, is becoming an inhospitable place to do business. The transformation is occurring with stunning speed; no business is likely to be spared from this abrupt reversal of fortune, which will hit home soon and continue for several months, if not years.

At this moment, however, the Wisconsin renewable energy landscape is humming with installation activity. New wind turbines are soaring above cornfields in Columbia County, where construction crews and operating engineers from Appleton-based Boldt Construction and Brownsville-based Michels Wind Energy assemble what will become Wisconsin’s largest wind generation facility. The towers for the Glacier Hills wind energy project are being fabricated at Tower Tech in Manitowoc. Solar hot water systems now crown the rooftops of new apartment and university buildings, while solar PV panels mounted on 14-foot-tall poles rise above a farm field in Dane County to power Epic Systems’ ground source heat pump system. A cranberry company in Monroe County is about to become the second of its kind to rely on a pair of small wind turbines for its electrical needs. Meanwhile, all across Wisconsin one can find contractors building this year’s crop of bioenergy systems that convert the effluent from dairy farms, cheese producers and wastewater treatment plants into a baseload source of electricity.

Indeed, this wave of projects, fueled principally by funding commitments made in previous years and the early part of this year, should keep contractors and installers busy through the end of 2011. Though an observer unfamiliar with this year’s travails might be deceived by this show of vitality, both installers and advocates know that this activity can’t be sustained for long without a fresh supply of oxygen in the form of policy and funding initiatives. But until state government recognizes the folly of its war against renewable energy and changes course on energy policy, the rollbacks of 2011 will suck much of the oxygen out of next year’s renewable energy marketplace, setting it up for significant contraction in the years that follow.

How Wisconsin benefits from shrinking its renewable energy business community and becoming even more dependent on finite supplies of fossil energy imported from afar is a question worth posing to our political leaders. In our view, that approach is guaranteed to turn Wisconsin into an economic backwater. Is this what they hope to achieve? Probably not. But the toll on the state goes beyond the jobs that weren’t created, the investments from overseas that went to other states, and the tax revenues that failed to materialize as projected.

An even bigger casualty of these rollbacks is Wisconsin’s ability to project itself as a center of consistency and stability, a place where policy changes affecting businesses occur gradually and over time. Not long ago, Wisconsin political leaders were capable of working on complex legislative matters in a low-key and bipartisan manner. An example of that is the Energy Efficiency and Renewables Law (2005 Act 141) signed into law in March 2006, which increased Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Standard to 10% by 2015 and protected Focus on Energy from future budget raids. That law created what seemed at the time to be a durable framework for enabling renewable energy resources to play an expanded role in the state’s energy future.

However, it is now painfully evident that the political consensus that created the five-year-old law has evaporated. The resulting vacuum has emboldened incoming legislators to fix their crosshairs on the policy mechanisms supporting investment in renewable energy. With the active assistance of politically powerful interests like the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, these legislators are now attacking Wisconsin’s pro-renewable energy policies in a manner resembling a wave of Formosan termites going through a house.

What has happened to Wisconsin’s energy policy here is a microcosm of the radically polarized political dynamic that has, unfortunately, become “the new normal” in this state. In this environment, confrontation is celebrated and compromise is shunned. Politics in Wisconsin has become a roller-coaster ride that is heavy on the sharp turns and violent dives, and light on the straightaways and gentle grades. And, with the Senate recall elections this summer and the virtual certainty of a gubernatorial recall election in the offing, this dynamic is not going away any time soon.
Needless to say, this volatility makes long-range financial commitments to upgrading the state’s energy infrastructure a challenge if not an impossibility. The suspension of the state’s wind siting rule, for example, upended a deliberate and multiyear effort to build predictability and certainty into the permitting process. With the rule in abeyance, what wind developers now face amounts to a random walk through a minefield. Small wonder that many of the developers who were active here three years ago have migrated to less explosive pastures. Indeed, high-profile rollbacks like these give the state an unwelcome reputation as being famously difficult to do business in.

Amazingly enough, despite the onslaught from political leaders and certain utilities, public support for renewable energy has held strong, according to a St. Norbert College poll conducted between April 11 and April 18 for Wisconsin Public Radio. More than three-quarters of the respondents favored additional investments in windpower, even if such expenditures would increase monthly electric bills. The rankings for each resource surveyed were: wind (77%), hydropower (60%), biomass (54%), natural gas (39%), nuclear (27%), and coal (19%). The results suggest that the hostility that the Walker Administration and the Legislature have shown to the renewable energy business community is completely out of step with the public.

Along with many other organizations and individuals, RENEW Wisconsin helped build public awareness on the value of renewable energy for jobs and energy self-sufficiency. Now in its 20th year, RENEW Wisconsin finds itself vigorously defending the many policies and practices that made Wisconsin a regional leader in the use of its native renewable energy resources. Though the future is fraught with challenges and uncertainties, about one thing we can be certain: the assaults and policy swings that come our way will not change either the citizen consensus or RENEW Wisconsin’s commitment to a future based on clean, local and sustainable energy.

Wisconsin’s Widening War on Renewable Energy

From a commentary by Michael Vickerman, Executive Director, RENEW Wisconsin:

Dramatic Slowdown in Market Activity Anticipated
What started out as an opening salvo from the Walker Administration to shackle large-scale wind projects has in six months turned into a systematic campaign to dismantle the state policies that support renewable energy development. Joining the executive and legislative branches in pursuing policy rollbacks and/or funding cutbacks against renewables are various utilities and, surprisingly, Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s ratepayer-funded energy efficiency and renewable programs.

Since January 1st, Wisconsin has seen a series of assaults against utility-scale projects and smaller renewable systems serving both residences and businesses. These include the following actions:
  • The Legislature suspended PSC 128, the statewide rule developed by the Public Service Commission last year in response to a law passed by the Legislature in 2009 ordering the agency to establish uniform standards for permitting wind energy systems. Since the March 1 suspension vote, wind development in Wisconsin has slowed to a standstill.
  • The Legislature adopted SB 81, a bill that RENEW Wisconsin describes as the “Outsource Renewable Energy to Canada Act.” SB 81 allows Wisconsin utilities to meet their renewable energy requirements beginning in 2015 with electricity generated from large hydropower plants in other states and Canada. By allowing Wisconsin utilities to become even more dependent on energy imports than they are today, SB 81 turns Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Standard on its head. Importing large-scale hydropower exports the very dollars that could have been used to harness Wisconsin’s renewable energy resources. 
  • We Energies, the state’s largest electric utility, abruptly decided in May to walk away from an agreement with RENEW to dedicate $60 million over a 10-year period in support of renewable energy development in its territory. The decision came in the sixth year of this program. We Energies plans to reallocate the unspent dollars (totaling about $27 million) to general operations. 
  • Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) instituted in April a new net energy policy designed to discourage new customer-sited renewable energy systems. Until recently WPS had been paying its customers the full retail rate for electricity that flows back on the wires, which is now about 12 cents/kWh. But under the new rate, WPS only pays three cents/kWh for electricity exported to the grid. Moreover, the utility calculates the net each month, which penalizes customers whose loads vary significantly depending on seasonal factors. Right now, the new policy only covers systems installed after March 2011, but WPS has said that it plans to apply that rate to older systems effective January 2013.
  • In its deliberations on the biennial state budget passed in June, the Legislature appended a rider to tie Focus on Energy’s annual budget to a percentage (1.2% of gross utility revenues). This action will mean a cut of $20 million in the program’s 2012 budget relative to this year’s allocation of $120 million. The Focus on Energy program provides grants and cash-back awards supporting customer investments in solar electric, solar thermal systems, small wind, biogas and biomass energy systems. 
  • Last, but certainly not least, as of July 1, Focus on Energy stopped accepting applications for business program incentives to help customers install renewable energy systems. These incentives, which average about $7 million per year, had been available since 2002 to businesses, farms, schools, local governments and other nonprofit customers. It is not clear when these incentives will be resumed and in what quantity. 

Wisconsin’s Widening War on Renewable Energy

Dramatic Slowdown in Market Activity Anticipated
By Michael Vickerman
July 11, 2011

What started out as an opening salvo from the Walker Administration to shackle large-scale wind projects has in six months turned into a systematic campaign to dismantle the state policies that support renewable energy development. Joining the executive and legislative branches in pursuing policy rollbacks and/or funding cutbacks against renewables are various utilities and, surprisingly, Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s ratepayer-funded energy efficiency and renewable programs.

Since January 1st, Wisconsin has seen a series of assaults against utility-scale projects and smaller renewable systems serving both residences and businesses. These include the following actions:
  • The Legislature suspended PSC 128, the statewide rule developed by the Public Service Commission last year in response to a law passed by the Legislature in 2009 ordering the agency to establish uniform standards for permitting wind energy systems. Since the March 1 suspension vote, wind development in Wisconsin has slowed to a standstill.
  • The Legislature adopted SB 81, a bill that RENEW Wisconsin describes as the “Outsource Renewable Energy to Canada Act.” SB 81 allows Wisconsin utilities to meet their renewable energy requirements beginning in 2015 with electricity generated from large hydropower plants in other states and Canada. By allowing Wisconsin utilities to become even more dependent on energy imports than they are today, SB 81 turns Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Standard on its head. Importing large-scale hydropower exports the very dollars that could have been used to harness Wisconsin’s renewable energy resources. 
  • We Energies, the state’s largest electric utility, abruptly decided in May to walk away from an agreement with RENEW to dedicate $60 million over a 10-year period in support of renewable energy development in its territory. The decision came in the sixth year of this program. We Energies plans to reallocate the unspent dollars (totaling about $27 million) to general operations. 
  • Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) instituted in April a new net energy policy designed to discourage new customer-sited renewable energy systems. Until recently WPS had been paying its customers the full retail rate for electricity that flows back on the wires, which is now about 12 cents/kWh. But under the new rate, WPS only pays three cents/kWh for electricity exported to the grid. Moreover, the utility calculates the net each month, which penalizes customers whose loads vary significantly depending on seasonal factors. Right now, the new policy only covers systems installed after March 2011, but WPS has said that it plans to apply that rate to older systems effective January 2013.
  • In its deliberations on the biennial state budget passed in June, the Legislature appended a rider to tie Focus on Energy’s annual budget to a percentage (1.2% of gross utility revenues). This action will mean a cut of $20 million in the program’s 2012 budget relative to this year’s allocation of $120 million. The Focus on Energy program provides grants and cash-back awards supporting customer investments in solar electric, solar thermal systems, small wind, biogas and biomass energy systems. 
  • Last, but certainly not least, as of July 1, Focus on Energy stopped accepting applications for business program incentives to help customers install renewable energy systems. These incentives, which average about $7 million per year, had been available since 2002 to businesses, farms, schools, local governments and other nonprofit customers. It is not clear when these incentives will be resumed and in what quantity. 
This one-two punch of policy rollbacks and funding cutbacks has cast a pall over the state’s renewable energy marketplace. At this year’s Energy Fair in Custer, Wisconsin, the prevailing mood of contractors and exhibitors was one of bewilderment tinged with anger. It is dawning on these companies that their state, which once took pride in its efforts to nurture a thriving renewable energy market, is becoming an inhospitable place to do business. The transformation is occurring with stunning speed; no business is likely to be spared from this abrupt reversal of fortune, which will hit home soon and continue for several months, if not years.

At this moment, however, the Wisconsin renewable energy landscape is humming with installation activity. New wind turbines are soaring above cornfields in Columbia County, where construction crews and operating engineers from Appleton-based Boldt Construction and Brownsville-based Michels Wind Energy assemble what will become Wisconsin’s largest wind generation facility. The towers for the Glacier Hills wind energy project are being fabricated at Tower Tech in Manitowoc. Solar hot water systems now crown the rooftops of new apartment and university buildings, while solar PV panels mounted on 14-foot-tall poles rise above a farm field in Dane County to power Epic Systems’ ground source heat pump system. A cranberry company in Monroe County is about to become the second of its kind to rely on a pair of small wind turbines for its electrical needs. Meanwhile, all across Wisconsin one can find contractors building this year’s crop of bioenergy systems that convert the effluent from dairy farms, cheese producers and wastewater treatment plants into a baseload source of electricity.

Indeed, this wave of projects, fueled principally by funding commitments made in previous years and the early part of this year, should keep contractors and installers busy through the end of 2011. Though an observer unfamiliar with this year’s travails might be deceived by this show of vitality, both installers and advocates know that this activity can’t be sustained for long without a fresh supply of oxygen in the form of policy and funding initiatives. But until state government recognizes the folly of its war against renewable energy and changes course on energy policy, the rollbacks of 2011 will suck much of the oxygen out of next year’s renewable energy marketplace, setting it up for significant contraction in the years that follow.

How Wisconsin benefits from shrinking its renewable energy business community and becoming even more dependent on finite supplies of fossil energy imported from afar is a question worth posing to our political leaders. In our view, that approach is guaranteed to turn Wisconsin into an economic backwater. Is this what they hope to achieve? Probably not. But the toll on the state goes beyond the jobs that weren’t created, the investments from overseas that went to other states, and the tax revenues that failed to materialize as projected.

An even bigger casualty of these rollbacks is Wisconsin’s ability to project itself as a center of consistency and stability, a place where policy changes affecting businesses occur gradually and over time. Not long ago, Wisconsin political leaders were capable of working on complex legislative matters in a low-key and bipartisan manner. An example of that is the Energy Efficiency and Renewables Law (2005 Act 141) signed into law in March 2006, which increased Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Standard to 10% by 2015 and protected Focus on Energy from future budget raids. That law created what seemed at the time to be a durable framework for enabling renewable energy resources to play an expanded role in the state’s energy future.

However, it is now painfully evident that the political consensus that created the five-year-old law has evaporated. The resulting vacuum has emboldened incoming legislators to fix their crosshairs on the policy mechanisms supporting investment in renewable energy. With the active assistance of politically powerful interests like the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, these legislators are now attacking Wisconsin’s pro-renewable energy policies in a manner resembling a wave of Formosan termites going through a house.

What has happened to Wisconsin’s energy policy here is a microcosm of the radically polarized political dynamic that has, unfortunately, become “the new normal” in this state. In this environment, confrontation is celebrated and compromise is shunned. Politics in Wisconsin has become a roller-coaster ride that is heavy on the sharp turns and violent dives, and light on the straightaways and gentle grades. And, with the Senate recall elections this summer and the virtual certainty of a gubernatorial recall election in the offing, this dynamic is not going away any time soon.
Needless to say, this volatility makes long-range financial commitments to upgrading the state’s energy infrastructure a challenge if not an impossibility. The suspension of the state’s wind siting rule, for example, upended a deliberate and multiyear effort to build predictability and certainty into the permitting process. With the rule in abeyance, what wind developers now face amounts to a random walk through a minefield. Small wonder that many of the developers who were active here three years ago have migrated to less explosive pastures. Indeed, high-profile rollbacks like these give the state an unwelcome reputation as being famously difficult to do business in.

Amazingly enough, despite the onslaught from political leaders and certain utilities, public support for renewable energy has held strong, according to a St. Norbert College poll conducted between April 11 and April 18 for Wisconsin Public Radio. More than three-quarters of the respondents favored additional investments in windpower, even if such expenditures would increase monthly electric bills. The rankings for each resource surveyed were: wind (77%), hydropower (60%), biomass (54%), natural gas (39%), nuclear (27%), and coal (19%). The results suggest that the hostility that the Walker Administration and the Legislature have shown to the renewable energy business community is completely out of step with the public.

Along with many other organizations and individuals, RENEW Wisconsin helped build public awareness on the value of renewable energy for jobs and energy self-sufficiency. Now in its 20th year, RENEW Wisconsin finds itself vigorously defending the many policies and practices that made Wisconsin a regional leader in the use of its native renewable energy resources. Though the future is fraught with challenges and uncertainties, about one thing we can be certain: the assaults and policy swings that come our way will not change either the citizen consensus or RENEW Wisconsin’s commitment to a future based on clean, local and sustainable energy.

Wisconsin’s Widening War on Renewable Energy

Dramatic Slowdown in Market Activity Anticipated
By Michael Vickerman
July 11, 2011

What started out as an opening salvo from the Walker Administration to shackle large-scale wind projects has in six months turned into a systematic campaign to dismantle the state policies that support renewable energy development. Joining the executive and legislative branches in pursuing policy rollbacks and/or funding cutbacks against renewables are various utilities and, surprisingly, Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s ratepayer-funded energy efficiency and renewable programs.

Since January 1st, Wisconsin has seen a series of assaults against utility-scale projects and smaller renewable systems serving both residences and businesses. These include the following actions:
  • The Legislature suspended PSC 128, the statewide rule developed by the Public Service Commission last year in response to a law passed by the Legislature in 2009 ordering the agency to establish uniform standards for permitting wind energy systems. Since the March 1 suspension vote, wind development in Wisconsin has slowed to a standstill.
  • The Legislature adopted SB 81, a bill that RENEW Wisconsin describes as the “Outsource Renewable Energy to Canada Act.” SB 81 allows Wisconsin utilities to meet their renewable energy requirements beginning in 2015 with electricity generated from large hydropower plants in other states and Canada. By allowing Wisconsin utilities to become even more dependent on energy imports than they are today, SB 81 turns Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Standard on its head. Importing large-scale hydropower exports the very dollars that could have been used to harness Wisconsin’s renewable energy resources. 
  • We Energies, the state’s largest electric utility, abruptly decided in May to walk away from an agreement with RENEW to dedicate $60 million over a 10-year period in support of renewable energy development in its territory. The decision came in the sixth year of this program. We Energies plans to reallocate the unspent dollars (totaling about $27 million) to general operations. 
  • Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) instituted in April a new net energy policy designed to discourage new customer-sited renewable energy systems. Until recently WPS had been paying its customers the full retail rate for electricity that flows back on the wires, which is now about 12 cents/kWh. But under the new rate, WPS only pays three cents/kWh for electricity exported to the grid. Moreover, the utility calculates the net each month, which penalizes customers whose loads vary significantly depending on seasonal factors. Right now, the new policy only covers systems installed after March 2011, but WPS has said that it plans to apply that rate to older systems effective January 2013.
  • In its deliberations on the biennial state budget passed in June, the Legislature appended a rider to tie Focus on Energy’s annual budget to a percentage (1.2% of gross utility revenues). This action will mean a cut of $20 million in the program’s 2012 budget relative to this year’s allocation of $120 million. The Focus on Energy program provides grants and cash-back awards supporting customer investments in solar electric, solar thermal systems, small wind, biogas and biomass energy systems. 
  • Last, but certainly not least, as of July 1, Focus on Energy stopped accepting applications for business program incentives to help customers install renewable energy systems. These incentives, which average about $7 million per year, had been available since 2002 to businesses, farms, schools, local governments and other nonprofit customers. It is not clear when these incentives will be resumed and in what quantity. 
This one-two punch of policy rollbacks and funding cutbacks has cast a pall over the state’s renewable energy marketplace. At this year’s Energy Fair in Custer, Wisconsin, the prevailing mood of contractors and exhibitors was one of bewilderment tinged with anger. It is dawning on these companies that their state, which once took pride in its efforts to nurture a thriving renewable energy market, is becoming an inhospitable place to do business. The transformation is occurring with stunning speed; no business is likely to be spared from this abrupt reversal of fortune, which will hit home soon and continue for several months, if not years.

At this moment, however, the Wisconsin renewable energy landscape is humming with installation activity. New wind turbines are soaring above cornfields in Columbia County, where construction crews and operating engineers from Appleton-based Boldt Construction and Brownsville-based Michels Wind Energy assemble what will become Wisconsin’s largest wind generation facility. The towers for the Glacier Hills wind energy project are being fabricated at Tower Tech in Manitowoc. Solar hot water systems now crown the rooftops of new apartment and university buildings, while solar PV panels mounted on 14-foot-tall poles rise above a farm field in Dane County to power Epic Systems’ ground source heat pump system. A cranberry company in Monroe County is about to become the second of its kind to rely on a pair of small wind turbines for its electrical needs. Meanwhile, all across Wisconsin one can find contractors building this year’s crop of bioenergy systems that convert the effluent from dairy farms, cheese producers and wastewater treatment plants into a baseload source of electricity.

Indeed, this wave of projects, fueled principally by funding commitments made in previous years and the early part of this year, should keep contractors and installers busy through the end of 2011. Though an observer unfamiliar with this year’s travails might be deceived by this show of vitality, both installers and advocates know that this activity can’t be sustained for long without a fresh supply of oxygen in the form of policy and funding initiatives. But until state government recognizes the folly of its war against renewable energy and changes course on energy policy, the rollbacks of 2011 will suck much of the oxygen out of next year’s renewable energy marketplace, setting it up for significant contraction in the years that follow.

How Wisconsin benefits from shrinking its renewable energy business community and becoming even more dependent on finite supplies of fossil energy imported from afar is a question worth posing to our political leaders. In our view, that approach is guaranteed to turn Wisconsin into an economic backwater. Is this what they hope to achieve? Probably not. But the toll on the state goes beyond the jobs that weren’t created, the investments from overseas that went to other states, and the tax revenues that failed to materialize as projected.

An even bigger casualty of these rollbacks is Wisconsin’s ability to project itself as a center of consistency and stability, a place where policy changes affecting businesses occur gradually and over time. Not long ago, Wisconsin political leaders were capable of working on complex legislative matters in a low-key and bipartisan manner. An example of that is the Energy Efficiency and Renewables Law (2005 Act 141) signed into law in March 2006, which increased Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Standard to 10% by 2015 and protected Focus on Energy from future budget raids. That law created what seemed at the time to be a durable framework for enabling renewable energy resources to play an expanded role in the state’s energy future.

However, it is now painfully evident that the political consensus that created the five-year-old law has evaporated. The resulting vacuum has emboldened incoming legislators to fix their crosshairs on the policy mechanisms supporting investment in renewable energy. With the active assistance of politically powerful interests like the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, these legislators are now attacking Wisconsin’s pro-renewable energy policies in a manner resembling a wave of Formosan termites going through a house.

What has happened to Wisconsin’s energy policy here is a microcosm of the radically polarized political dynamic that has, unfortunately, become “the new normal” in this state. In this environment, confrontation is celebrated and compromise is shunned. Politics in Wisconsin has become a roller-coaster ride that is heavy on the sharp turns and violent dives, and light on the straightaways and gentle grades. And, with the Senate recall elections this summer and the virtual certainty of a gubernatorial recall election in the offing, this dynamic is not going away any time soon.

Needless to say, this volatility makes long-range financial commitments to upgrading the state’s energy infrastructure a challenge if not an impossibility. The suspension of the state’s wind siting rule, for example, upended a deliberate and multiyear effort to build predictability and certainty into the permitting process. With the rule in abeyance, what wind developers now face amounts to a random walk through a minefield. Small wonder that many of the developers who were active here three years ago have migrated to less explosive pastures. Indeed, high-profile rollbacks like these give the state an unwelcome reputation as being famously difficult to do business in.

Amazingly enough, despite the onslaught from political leaders and certain utilities, public support for renewable energy has held strong, according to a St. Norbert College poll conducted between April 11 and April 18 for Wisconsin Public Radio. More than three-quarters of the respondents favored additional investments in windpower, even if such expenditures would increase monthly electric bills. The rankings for each resource surveyed were: wind (77%), hydropower (60%), biomass (54%), natural gas (39%), nuclear (27%), and coal (19%). The results suggest that the hostility that the Walker Administration and the Legislature have shown to the renewable energy business community is completely out of step with the public.

Along with many other organizations and individuals, RENEW Wisconsin helped build public awareness on the value of renewable energy for jobs and energy self-sufficiency. Now in its 20th year, RENEW Wisconsin finds itself vigorously defending the many policies and practices that made Wisconsin a regional leader in the use of its native renewable energy resources. Though the future is fraught with challenges and uncertainties, about one thing we can be certain: the assaults and policy swings that come our way will not change either the citizen consensus or RENEW Wisconsin’s commitment to a future based on clean, local and sustainable energy.