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Friday, February 20, 2015

RENEW and Businesses Testify in Senate Hearing on Focus on Energy

Yesterday, our executive director, Tyler Huebner, testified before the Wisconsin Senate's Natural Resources and Energy Committee in an informational hearing on the Focus on Energy program which delivers energy efficiency and renewable energy rebates and information to individuals, businesses, farmers, and local governments throughout Wisconsin.  The Committee was interested in learning about the progress and current operation of the program.
Melissa VanOrnum of DVO, Inc, an anaerobic digester
company based in Chilton, testifying before the committee.

In addition to our own testimony, RENEW invited business members DVO, Inc of Chilton, Eland Electric of Green Bay, and BIOFerm of Madison to testify about the benefits of Focus on Energy to their businesses and to the customers they serve.

RENEW and our members testified that the Focus program for renewable energy is a key market driver to get customers to invest in renewable energy projects.  We discussed the job creation elements of the program, how the Focus program leverages 5-10 times the amount of private funds to get projects done, and the businesses discussed powerful stories from their customers' projects and their own business growth.

The hearing went very well.  Testimony also came from representatives of the Focus on Energy program, Cadmus, who conducts the evaluations of the program, Customers First! Coalition, Wisconsin Utilities Association, Clean Wisconsin, Johnson Controls, CREE Lighting, and others.

RENEW's testimony is printed below.

Testimony of RENEW Wisconsin on the Focus on Energy Program
Before the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee

My name is Tyler Huebner, and I am the executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization which promotes renewable energy and represents Members including individuals and over 50 businesses in Wisconsin’s renewable energy industry.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

Renewable energy technologies have been offered in Focus on Energy since 2002.

Eligible renewable energy technologies include:
• Biogas such as anaerobic digesters for dairy farms
• Biomass
• Ground source or geothermal heat pumps
• Small wind energy systems
• Solar photovoltaics
• Solar water heating

Installing these types of energy systems enable businesses, farmers, local governments, schools, and individuals to become more self-reliant for the energy needs, become more energy independent, save money, and plan their energy costs for the future.

Funding for renewable energy rebates has averaged $5 to $6 million per year to customers, over the years from 2007 to 2014.

The Focus on Energy rebates are an important stimulus to get customers interested in the program, and get them to act and invest their own funds into projects.

The renewable energy program leverages significant levels of private funds. In 2012, for example, $5 million in incentives from Focus on Energy leveraged over $40 million in additional funds.

Overall, the Focus program, per a 2012 evaluation of economic impacts, supports over 1,400 jobs per year in Wisconsin, with more jobs created in future years too due to the savings. The renewable energy portion actually accounted for more jobs per dollar than the energy efficiency funds. Focus on Energy, because it is funding just a portion of overall project costs, provides a large jobs multiplier for the amount of funding spent.

The rebate structure of the Focus program has led to its success in the marketplace over the past 12 years. Using incentives has proven most successful way to obtain the participation in the program. The renewables rebates were renewed for 2015 and 2016, with a decision from the Public Service Commission in 2016 which will determine if rebates will be available in 2017 and 2018.

Going forward, we look forward to also making the new $10 million renewable energy revolving loan program a success, too. This loan program is modeled after a successful program run in Iowa. From our early conversations with our Member businesses, it may work much better for some technologies like solar, than others, particularly digesters, given their larger investment needs. If the loan program is successful, it will help banks get more comfortable with lending for renewable energy technologies through the education and technical assistance the Focus on Energy team will provide.

The new $6.4 million dairy digester program is also promising, as it will explore how to make the digester technology work on smaller farms. With approximately 12,000 small to medium sized dairy farms, identifying workable technologies and projects may be able to open up this new market for digesters.

The renewable energy program has gotten consistently more cost-effective over the years. The most recent evaluations show renewable energy provides a 2-to-1 overall effectiveness when economic benefits including job creation are included, and is now just shy of 1.0 on energy-only cost-effectiveness. Solar PV, for the first time ever, had a cost-effectiveness above 1.0 in 2013.

In closing, the renewable energy program is program that creates jobs, that drives investment into Wisconsin’s economy, and that enables businesses, farms, local governments, and individuals to become more energy independent and more in control of their future energy costs.


Monday, February 9, 2015

RENEW lawsuit yields favorable ruling, again, for customer-owned renewable energy systems


Circuit Court Judge sends 2013 decision from Wisconsin Public Service rate case back to the Public Service Commission

For the second time in 12 months, a Dane County Circuit Court judge has overturned Public Service Commission (PSC) rulings that restrict net metering, a key policy that drives customer investments in renewable energy. The Judge’s order remands two decisions back to the PSC for “further fact-finding and to establish a sufficient record,” but does not immediately change the net metering program.

A 100 kilowatt Solar electric system on Griffin Industries in Green Bay
(Photo provided by Eland Electric)
The lawsuit, advanced by RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit renewable energy advocacy organization based in Madison, challenged two PSC approvals rendered in Wisconsin Public Service Corporation’s 2013 rate case. These decisions paved the way for Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) to reduce payments for clean electricity generated by their customers.

The first decision allowed WPS to greatly reduce the size of the renewable energy system qualifying for net metering, from 100 kilowatts to 20 kilowatts. This change restricts many businesses, schools, and other medium-sized electricity users from participating in the program.

The second decision granted the Green Bay-based utility’s proposal keep their netting period at 30 days, which forces customer-generators to reduce the size of their solar systems to avoid being paid 3 cents per kilowatt-hour for the electricity they export to the grid. As of 2013, WPS’ peer utilities in Wisconsin used annual netting, allowing customers to bank and utilize credits throughout a 12-month period.

In its brief, RENEW argued that WPS failed to offer any substantial evidence in support of its requests to alter its net metering structure for the purpose of reducing compensation to customers with solar and other renewable energy systems. After reviewing the rate case record, Judge Rhonda Lanford agreed with RENEW’s arguments, noting that the “record produced is devoid of substantial evidence” and insufficient to support an agency finding of fact.

“It is important that we promote and defend Wisconsin renewable energy in all decision-making venues,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director. “These are complex issues at a time of great change in the electricity industry. Commission decisions need to be based on real, rigorous, and impartial evidence and analysis.”

In June 2014, the same judge struck down a 2012 PSC decision allowing Milwaukee-based We Energies to limit the availability of its net metering service to solar customers, citing a lack of evidence in the hearing record.

“Solar energy has become an affordable alternative for customers who desire to manage their electric bills effectively and supply themselves with clean energy,” added Huebner. “Solar system owners provide many benefits to other utility customers, such as producing locally generated electricity at the highest-use times of the day. The Commission needs to account for these benefits that solar energy provides in utility rate cases, so that customer-owned renewable energy systems are compensated at fair value.”

RENEW Wisconsin and The Alliance for Solar Choice, a national solar advocacy group, recently filed suit in the same Circuit Court against the PSC in the 2014 We Energies rate case. In that case, We Energies was granted approval to overhaul their net metering programs to charge an extra monthly fee to residential and small business customers that generate some or all of their own power, and switch to monthly netting. RENEW and TASC’s arguments are consistent with this case: the utility and PSC have not provided or relied upon sufficient evidence or analysis to justify the decision.

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

Monday, February 2, 2015

RENEW's Michael Vickerman Keynotes Wisconsin Farmers Union Event


On January 23rd RENEW's Program and Policy Director Michael Vickerman gave the keynote address at the 84th annual state convention of the Wisconsin Farmers Union in Eau Claire. Michael's talk was titled "Moving Solar Forward" and was part of a half-day of sessions on solar energy for Wisconsin farmers. His presentation can be found here.

Thanks to the Wisconsin Farmers Union for having Michael speak and for helping move solar forward in Wisconsin!