This past Friday, January 10th, RENEW Wisconsin hosted its third annual Energy Policy Summit. The Summit was a great success and RENEW would like to thank all of the sponsors, speakers, and attendees who made it possible.
Below is an article by Thomas Content of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that recaps the Summit’s topics and speeches.
Renewable energy businesses that want to develop projects in Wisconsin are having success in other states, while looking for ways to develop more projects here.
DVO, a Chilton-based company that is the state’s leading builder of waste-to-energy digesters, is actively pursuing projects in places like Serbia, Chile and Vietnam as well as Vermont and other states, said Melissa Van Ornum of DVO.
DVO is seeing less demand to build projects in Wisconsin after utilities increased the price they would pay to buy the electricity generated by the dairy farm digesterse in the state.
Wisconsin is still the nation’s leader in development of waste-to-energy digesters, but other states are catching up fast, she said.
Matt Neumann of Sunvest Solar in Pewaukee said his company has been actively installing solar projects around the country, including Missouri. Of more 212 projects the company has in the pipeline this year, just one is in Wisconsin, he said.
Wisconsin needs to open the door to more solar through allowing third-party ownership of solar projects, which enable solar developers to own the panels and homeowners and businesses to lease the panels on their rooftops, he said.
Renewable energy supporters need to find ways to reach across the aisle to find support from the Republican Party, said Neumann,
son of former Republican Rep. Mark Neumann.
“I’m a conservative, and this should not be a partisan issue,” he said.
Nationwide, 80% of new solar installations last year came in states like New Jersey, California and Arizona that have given the go-ahead to third-party ownership.
In Wisconsin, policymakers have taken a go-slow approach to expanding renewable energy over concerns about the impact on prices paid by other utility customers.
Chris Schoenherr, deputy secretary of the state Department of Administration, said the Public Service Commission is looking into the issue, but agreed a go-slow approach is prudent.
Utilities have concerns about allowing too many solar projects, and the ripple effect on other customers if large businesses and other customers shift to generate their own power. Utilities have fixed costs that need to be paid for and policymakers need to be measured to assure that utility finances aren’t upended by distributed generation, he said.
But by not pursuing renewable energy, the state is falling behind its neighboring states, speakers at the conference said. Michigan built more wind power in 2012 than Wisconsin has built over the past 15 years, he said.
Wisconsin was among the first states to implement a renewable energy target but other states have moved to enact targets that are more aggressive than Wisconsin’s.
In Minnesota and Iowa, where utility costs are less expensive than Wisconsin, utilities are well on their way to hit 25% to 30% of their power from renewable sources.
In Minnesota, Xcel Energy is moving to build more wind farms in a bid to meet the renewable energy standard as well as reduce its overall emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, said Mike Bull of the Center for Energy and Environment in Minneapolis.
In addition, the new wind farms are projected to reduce costs for customers over time because there is no fuel price that needs to be paid when the wind blows, Sullivan said.
As a result, Xcel’s aggressive move to add wind power in 2013 represents an investment of more than $3.5 billion, said Michael Noble of Minnesota-based Fresh Energy.
“None of that was driven by mandates. None of that was driven by renewable energy standards, none of that was driven by state law,” he said. “That was all driven by economics: it’s cheaper.”
Now that Wisconsin’s utilities have largely met the state’s 2015 renewable energy standard, it may soon be time to expand that, lawmakers at the conference said.
“We must always push the bar up a little higher to see how much we can do because this is a competitive world,” said Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center.
Schoenherr, of the Department of Administration, said the time isn’t necessarily right to move forward with expanding the Wisconsin renewable standard because utility sales are flat and the state currently has enough power to meet its needs. The time to consider it would be when the state is looking to add more power plants.
But that time isn’t far off, as two state utilities announced last year they are considering building new natural gas-fueled power plants by the end of the decade.
Short of those bigger policy initiatives, the state should move first to expand funding for renewable energy projects through the state Focus on Energy program – which has suspended funding for renewables twice in recent years, said Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point.
“The last couple years have been a real roller coaster for renewable energy producers,” said Michael Vickerman, program and policy director for the Madison-based nonprofit group Renew Wisconsin.
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