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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Madison Community Foundation Supports New RENEW Wisconsin Endowment for an Energy Analysis and Policy Student Intern

For immediate release                
November 24, 2015                   

More Information
Tyler Huebner, Executive Director
608.255.4044
tyler.huebner@renewwisconsin.org


Madison Community Foundation Supports New RENEW Wisconsin Endowment for an Energy Analysis and Policy Student Intern


RENEW Wisconsin (RENEW) has been awarded a 33% cost sharing grant of $34,000 from the Madison Community Foundation. The grant will fund a perpetual endowment to support a UW-Madison Energy Analysis and Policy (EAP) student intern working at RENEW.

“This grant is a perfect match between RENEW and the UW-Madison’s EAP program supporting RENEW’s renewable energy policy research. The Madison Community Foundation support allows us to permanently hire an impassioned student from one of the top energy graduate programs in the country to analyze policies that will spur the use of clean renewable energy in Wisconsin,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW’s executive director.

RENEW has a history of hiring EAP student interns who have worked on cutting edge renewable policy issues such as third party financing, utility rate cases, community solar, and more.

Don Wichert, a major donor to the endowment, RENEW Board Member, and 1987 graduate of the EAP program, praised the Madison Community Foundation in supporting this permanent support of the EAP program.  “This grant will help RENEW leverage other EAP alumni and RENEW member support setting up a great opportunity to work together for RENEW and the EAP program. This program will allow the EAP program to recruit the top students in the country to work on cutting edge renewable policy issues with RENEW,” said Wichert.

“This project furthers two of the Madison Community Foundation’s key goals – to help steward the environment and to inspire philanthropy.  RENEW Wisconsin’s endowment campaign will create a sustainable fund to attract bright students and help them develop real world experience through critical analytical and policy analysis.  It is a perfect way to celebrate RENEW’s 25th anniversary and enrich their environmental programming,” said Tom Linfield, Madison Community Foundation Vice President of Community Impact.

-----End----

RENEW Wisconsin leads and accelerates the transformation to Wisconsin's renewable energy future through advocacy, education, and collaboration.

Madison Community Foundation uses its local knowledge and assets to inspire giving, support meaningful initiatives, and connect people for the common good. Since 1942, foundation staff have helped people realize their philanthropic goals, allowing them to support charitable interested anywhere in the world. The community foundation also awards grants throughout Dane County to build communities. More information is available online at www.madison comunityfoundation.org.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Public Service Commission Sharply Trims WPS’ Fixed Charge Request

For immediate release                    
November 19, 2015

More Information                  
Tyler Huebner, Executive Director
608.255.4044
tyler.huebner@renewwisconsin.org

Public Service Commission Sharply Trims WPS’ Fixed Charge Request

State regulatory agency grants Wisconsin Public Service only a $2 monthly increase instead of the $6 requested

In today’s open meeting, the Public Service Commission sharply trimmed Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service’s request to increase monthly mandatory charges on small electricity customers from $19 to $25. Instead, the Commission settled on a $2/month increase, to $21/month, while agreeing to study the issue in greater depth.

One year earlier, the Commission approved a request from WPS to hike its mandatory fixed charge from $10.40 to $19 per month for residential and other small customers.

Commissioners Phil Montgomery and Mike Huebsch initially signaled interest in granting no increase at all.  A compromise was reached with Chairperson Ellen Nowak to increase the fixed charge by $2 per month, to $21, a 10% increase.

“We are pleased that the Commission has slowed down and granted a much smaller fixed charge increase than what WPS had requested,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director.  “This sends a signal that the Commission is responding to customers who have expressed a wide variety of concerns about these high fixed charges.  In fact, 368 people voiced their opinion publicly and none supported higher fixed charges. We hope the analysis that’s conducted by the Commission leads to a broader discussion of how to design rates in a way that leads us towards an energy future that benefits all of Wisconsin.”

“Rate designs with high fixed charges punish those customers who can least afford to pay more for their electricity. They take away the ability to control one’s utility bills, and they make it harder for customers to save money through conservation measures and more efficient appliances.  This is at bottom an issue of consumer fairness, and many more consumers than usual spoke up,” said Huebner.

In the rate case, RENEW presented research demonstrating that regulators in other states were not supportive of utility requests to hike fixed charges. 

See more at: http://www.renewwisconsin-blog.org/2015/10/robin-hood-in-reverse-is-back-wps.html

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

RENEW Wisconsin Statement on Madison Gas & Electric’s 2030 Framework

Today, Madison Gas & Electric announced a framework that includes expanding the company’s investment in renewable energy to meet 30% of their electricity needs by the year 2030.

In addition, the company indicates a plan to give customers more control, and continue to engage the customers and communities they serve going forward.

“This new framework is a good step forward for Madison Gas & Electric Company and for the communities they serve.  MG&E’s goals of providing 25% renewable energy by 2025 and 30% by 2030 are achievable,” said Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin.

“We agree that ongoing collaboration will be needed to identify the best ways to meet the goals of this new framework.  Ensuring customer opportunities to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and incorporating equity, fairness, and control over
customer bills, should continue to be part of the conversation and collaboration going forward.”

MGE has made more information available at mge.com/Energy2030.



Record Number of Xcel Energy’s Wisconsin Customers Voice Opposition to Hike in Mandatory Fixed Charge

November 18, 2015

More Information

Tyler Huebner, Executive Director
 608.255.4044
 tyler.huebner@renewwisconsin.org

Record Number of Xcel Energy’s Wisconsin Customers Voice Opposition to Hike in Mandatory Fixed Charge

99.8% of public commenters (528 out of 529) dislike the fee hike from $8 to $18 per month

Xcel Fixed Charge Proposal Drove Hundreds to Voice Their Opinion

The final tally is in, and it is clear that Xcel Energy’s Wisconsin affiliate, based in Eau Claire, has proposed an incredibly unpopular change in how it wishes to bill customers going forward. 

Following the footsteps of other Wisconsin utilities, Xcel’s Wisconsin utility has proposed to raise its monthly “fixed charge,” which every residential and small business customer pays before using any electricity at all, from $8 to $18 per month.

In total, 529 public comments were filed, a seventeen-fold increase in public participation over any Xcel rate case in the previous five years. RENEW Wisconsin’s review shows that 528 (all but one commenter) disapproved of Xcel’s proposed hike in fixed charges.

“It is clear that Xcel’s customers overwhelmingly oppose this hike in mandatory fixed charges.  These high fixed charges are a Robin Hood in reverse scheme:  the lowest users of electricity end up paying substantially more, while high users of electricity see dollar savings,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director.

Public comments were made through the Public Service Commission’s online system, in person at the public hearing on September 16th in Menomonie, or through written mail.

In the public comments, a wide variety of concerns were aired.  Senior citizens, fixed-income, and low-income advocates worry that they will have to choose between paying for electricity, food, or medicine. Energy conservation and renewable energy advocates oppose paying high unavoidable fees while seeing the variable energy rate decrease, making the payback longer than it should be for energy- and money-saving investments.

 These perspectives can be seen from the selection of public comments included below:

“I am a senior and living on a rigidly fixed income and will not be able to survive in my home if utility costs continue to inflate.” -- Cynthia Martinson, Washburn WI

“While the rest of the Country is moving forward, promoting clean energy, Wisconsin utilities are moving us backwards with proposals that undermine clean energy and energy efficiency. If approved, Xcel's mandatory fixed charge would increase to $18 per month, up from $8 today--a 125% increase, and Xcel's Wisconsin customers would be facing much higher bills than their neighbors in Minnesota.”
-- League of Women Voters of Ashland & Bayfield Counties

“I find it outrageous that in every bill from Xcel there is an insert with information on how to reduce my electricity use so that I can "save" money but at the same time, the mandatory fixed charge will be increased--probably to make up for any money Xcel loses by my conservation efforts.”
–Judy Blackstone, Eau Claire

“As an Xcel Energy shareholder, I urge the Public Service Commission NOT to approve the proposed 125% mandatory fixed charge rate increase. This steep, unfair and unnecessary increase will be too much to bear for the poorest and most vulnerable among us; those with low incomes and the elderly.”
-Dan Stickler, Eau Claire

“Where is that extra $10.00 going to come from? It will come from the food budget- people will go hungry one more night per week; it will come from the medication budget- people who take prescriptions will cut pills in half, or take the medications every other day.” -Joanne Rudrud, Altoona

“I am thankful the MN Public Service Commission rejected the 19% increase here, and implore the WI Public Service Commission to reject the 125% increase across the border.”
–Debra Bourne, Minneapolis

“The fixed charge increase XCEL is asking for is unwarranted, totally against the utilities' best interests, [and] extremely unfair to the public.”
- William E. Bastian, La Crosse

“Currently 41% of all student enrolled in our schools are using free or reduced lunch. Some schools, like Longfellow Elementary, are as high as 74%. These are the people who are going to be hit the most by any increase in rates. Keep in mind, these are just household using the assistance, it doesn`t count households living with financial difficulty who choose, for whatever reason, not to take the assistance.”
-Chue Xiong, Eau Claire School Board Commissioner.

Previous RENEW Wisconsin analysis also shows that Wisconsin is an outlier on this issue:  no other state has approved such dramatic hikes in monthly fixed charges.  Learn more at http://www.renewwisconsin-blog.org/2015/10/robin-hood-in-reverse-is-back-wps.html.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Eau Claire Cooperative’s Community Solar Project Goes Live



For immediate release                             
November 17, 2015 
 
More information      
Tyler Huebner, Executive Director                                            
608.255.4044


Eau Claire Cooperative’s Community Solar Project Goes Live
 
Wisconsin’s newest solar garden is also the state’s largest
 
Lynn Thompson, President and CEO of ECEC, shows
Michael Vickerman and Ben Paulos the solar project.
With the flip of a switch, Fall Creek-based Eau Claire Energy Cooperative (ECEC) now owns and operates Wisconsin’s newest and largest Community Solar project.  Consisting of 2,816 panels with a rated capacity of 872 kilowatts (DC), the array will produce approximately 900,000 kilowatt-hours a year, roughly the equivalent of what 90 households would consume in a year.

For the moment at least, it is the third largest solar array in Wisconsin (see table below).

River Falls-based Able Energy Company constructed ECEC’s system. Later this year, Able will commence construction on a 250 kW solar array in Minnesota for People’s Energy Cooperative.

“Eau Claire Energy’s project makes a statement on solar energy that couldn’t be clearer,” said Tyler Huebner, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a renewable energy advocacy organization headquartered in Madison. “If you’re searching for a utility project that delivers clean energy and long-term savings to its subscribers while creating good-paying jobs with in-state businesses, you’ll find an excellent example in Fall Creek.”

“Solar energy is here to stay and we encourage other electric providers to embrace that reality,” Huebner said.

Under a typical community solar project, electricity customers help finance the building of a large project through an up-front subscription fee that is paid back in full (with a modest return) through monthly on-bill credits.  A centralized solar array enables all utility customers, including those who rent or are lacking sufficient solar exposure, to support the expansion of solar generation in their community.

Since early 2014, six Wisconsin electric cooperatives have built and energized solar gardens totaling more than 1.5 MW (see table below). For information on community solar activity in Wisconsin, visit RENEW’s web page at http://renewwisconsin.org/action/CommunitySolar.htm.