Regulators Approve Permit for Wood County Solar Farm

Regulators Approve Permit for Wood County Solar Farm

At its first open meeting of 2021, the Public Service Commission (PSC) cleared the path for Wisconsin’s next solar farm, a 150 megawatt (MW) project near Wisconsin Rapids in Wood County, to proceed to construction. Developed by Savion Energy, the Wood County Solar Farm is one of six Wisconsin solar farms totaling 675 MW that Alliant Energy-Wisconsin Power and Light seeks to acquire for its own generating fleet.

Wood County is the sixth solar farm proposal to be granted a siting permit from the PSC since April 2019, when the agency approved Wisconsin’s first two solar farms, Two Creeks and Badger Hollow. With the authorization of the Wood County project, total solar power capacity approved by the PSC climbed above one gigawatt (see Table 1).

With this favorable ruling, four of the six solar farms that Alliant Energy plans to acquire now have permits. In addition to Wood County, the other permitted solar farms are Crawfish River, a 75 MW project near Jefferson, North Rock, a 50 MW project near Edgerton, and Richland County Solar, a 50 MW project near Lone Rock, also developed by Savion Energy (see Table 2).

Two other proposed solar farms—the 200 MW Grant County project near Potosi and the 150 MW Onion River project near Oostburg in Sheboygan County–are moving through the regulatory review process. The PSC is expected to issue rulings on those two projects, along with Alliant’s application to own and operate all six solar farms, over the next three months.

Presently, the site is mostly a red pine plantation grown for the pulp and paper industry. Assuming a favorable outcome to Alliant’s application (Docket No. 6680-CE-182), work will commence this spring to clear the site of the existing stand of trees and grade the land.

Though the parcel has been a working tree farm since 1938, development pressure has been intensifying in recent years.  In 2012, the Wysocki Family of Companies applied for permits to establish a 3,500-cow dairy operation on that property, and over time the proposal grew to approximately 5,300 cows.  The residents of the Town of Saratoga fought the dairy proposal vehemently, in part to protect drinking water wells that supply many of the local families.  The solar farm has received wide support in the community.

The construction timetable calls for the completion of the solar farm in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Table 1: PSC-approved solar power projects since 2019
Project name Capacity

(in MW)

Applicant County
Two Creeks 150 NextEra Energy Manitowoc
Badger Hollow 300 Invenergy Iowa
Point Beach Solar 100 NextEra Energy Manitowoc
Badger State Solar 149 Ranger Power Jefferson
Paris Solar 200 Invenergy Kenosha
Wood County 150 Savion Wood
Total 1,049  

 

Table 2: Solar power projects proposed for Alliant-WPL’s generation portfolio
(Docket No. 6680-CE-182)
Project name Capacity

(in MW)

Applicant Siting permit status
Wood County 150 Savion Approved
Grant County 200 NextEra Energy Docket underway
Onion River 150 Ranger Power Docket underway
Crawfish River 75 Ranger Power Approved
North Rock 50 National Grid Approved
Richland County 50 Savion Approved
Total 675  

 

RENEW Wisconsin 2021 Summit Honors Renewable Energy Leaders

RENEW Wisconsin 2021 Summit Honors Renewable Energy Leaders

As part of its tenth annual Renewable Energy Summit, RENEW Wisconsin will recognize individuals and organizations who have made significant and lasting advances in renewable energy development here in Wisconsin.

Titled “Building the Clean Energy Mosaic,” this year’s Summit will be hosted virtually over three days from Tuesday, January 12th through Thursday, January 14th, 2021. The theme of this year’s event, “Building the Clean Energy Mosaic,” will highlight the diversity of technologies, people, and scale needed to shape our clean energy future.

 

Roster of 2020 awardees

  • Renewable Energy Business of the Year
    • Northwind Solar Cooperative, Amherst
  • Renewable Energy Catalysts of the Year:
    • Sid Sczygelski & Ali Wolf, Aspirus Health, Wausau
    • Charles Hua, Madison
  • Renewable Energy Champion of the Year
    • Oregon School District
  • Renewable Energy Pioneer of the Year
    • Dane County
  • Renewable Energy Project of the Year
    • Two Creeks Solar Park, Manitowoc County
    • NextEra Energy Resources (developer)
    • Wisconsin Public Service Corp. (joint owner)
    • Madison Gas and Electric (joint owner)

Renewable Energy Business of the Year

Northwind Solar Cooperative has been a fixture in Central Wisconsin’s renewable energy marketplace since 2007, operating principally in the residential and small commercial segments. Throughout its history, Northwind has been acutely conscious of the value of community ties. Northwind’s PV systems are a common sight in Amherst. The company has operated the Grow Solar – Central Wisconsin group purchase program for four straight years, designing and installing more than a megawatt of solar capacity for 168 residential customers. After the company reorganized itself as a worker-owned cooperative structure, Northwind committed to building a new headquarters building in Amherst Business Park that showcases its talents and services. With 44 kW of PV capacity and multiple battery configurations, Northwind’s new headquarters building invites prospective customers to pursue solar + storage as the energy package of the future.

 

Renewable Energy Catalysts of the Year

Aspirus Health is a health care organization serving much of central and northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, with 10 hospitals, 50+ clinics, labs and other service-providing facilities within its system. In 2018 Aspirus launched a systemwide initiative to identify and implement strategies for slashing its energy overhead and scaling back its carbon footprint. Sid Sczygelski, chief financial officer of Aspirus, chairs this initiative, while Sustainability Director Ali Wolf directs and coordinates this ambitious undertaking. Their goal is to reduce carbon emissions systemwide 80% by 2030. Going into 2021, Sczygelski, Wolf and the Aspirus sustainability team have made great progress to date. Aspirus has integrated into its buildings more than 900 kilowatts of solar PV on its rooftops, saving more than $600,000/year in energy expenses. In 2021, Aspirus plans to double its use of solar energy systemwide and complete construction on its most energy-efficient facility yet, a clinic in Wausau.


In 2017, students and staff at Madison West High School started work on a campaign to power their school with a rooftop solar PV system. That year, Charles Hua, then a junior, took the helm of West Green Club and launched a fundraising and outreach campaign that blossomed into one of the largest youth-led sustainability efforts in Wisconsin. From June 2017 through 2019, the West Green Club raised nearly $90,000 from staff, students, parents and local foundations, accounting for nearly 50% of the cost of their 128 kW solar PV system. Installed last summer by Westphal Electric, Madison West’s solar system is now the largest array supplying electricity to a Madison Metropolitan School District building. The example set by Hua and West Green Club helped inspire the school district to adopt a 100% renewable goal for all of its facilities. Hua is now a junior at Harvard University.

 

Renewable Energy Champion of the Year


Long a leader in pursuing solar power for its operations, Oregon School District took advantage of an opportunity in 2018 to push the envelope on sustainability at its new Forest Edge Elementary School in Fitchburg. Collaborating with HGA’s Madison office, an architectural and engineering design firm, the school district financed and saw to completion the first net zero energy public school in Wisconsin. Equipped with a 646 kW rooftop solar array, a ground-source heat pump system and onsite battery storage, Forest Edge is an all-electric building. There is no gas connection to the school. Completed in the fall of 2020, Forest Edge represents a quantum leap in capturing, controlling and maximizing the economic value of sunshine and ground temperatures to heat, cool and power a building where many people congregate.

 

Renewable Energy Pioneer of the Year


Impatient with federal and state government inaction on climate change, Dane County decided to roll up it sleeves and get to work, starting in 2017 with the creation of the Office of Climate Change and Energy. The County’s approach to reducing fossil fuel use has been aggressive and remarkably systematic for a local government. A number of these actions bore fruit in 2020. These include:

  1. Throwing the switch on a biogas processing plant in April that converts gas from landfill waste and cow manure into a pipeline-grade renewable fuel;
  2. Releasing a Climate Action Plan, also in April, containing recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions countywide 45% by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050;
  3. Partnering with Madison Gas and Electric to host a 9-megawatt solar array on airport property and purchase the output from that project, under a long-term contract; and
  4. Purchasing property in the Town of Cottage Grove to host a larger solar array that will enable the County to offset all of its electricity usage with zero-emission power.

Renewable Energy Project of the Year


Developed by Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources in Manitowoc County, the 150-megawatt Two Creeks Solar Park was energized last November. It is now the largest power plant in the state of Wisconsin that is fueled by the sun. Jointly owned by Wisconsin Public Service and Madison Gas and Electric, Two Creeks effectively doubled solar generation capacity in Wisconsin, and its output will equal the electrical consumption of 33,000 residential households. Two Creeks was the first solar power plant to receive approval from the Public Service Commission, and the first to be approved as a utility-owned asset. Seeing Two Creeks to completion opens the door to a new chapter in electric power, one highlighted by the emergence of solar power as the cleanest, more affordable and least risky supply option available to Wisconsin electric providers.


This year’s summit program will also draw attention to other milestones and notable achievements in 2020, including the following:

  • The Public Service Commission approved two large solar farms—Badger State Solar and Paris Solar—that will add 349 MW of solar power to Wisconsin’s electric generation portfolio;
  • Madison Gas and Electric completed two smaller solar farms in its service territory, with a combined capacity of 14 MW, to supply several customers under contract and expand its shared solar program;
  • Grants from RENEW’s Solar for Good program resulted in 27 new solar installations across the state totaling 1,265 kW of operating capacity.
  • Two Eau Claire high schools—Memorial and North—celebrated the completion of their 126 kW solar arrays supported by Solar on Schools, a joint venture between the Couillard Solar Foundation and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association.
  • Eagle Point Solar installed 400 kW(AC) of PV capacity, serving four City of La Crosse-owned buildings.

 

Support for Renewable Energy Included in Omnibus Appropriation and COVID-19 Legislation!

Support for Renewable Energy Included in Omnibus Appropriation and COVID-19 Legislation!

On Sunday December 27th, President Trump signed a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill that includes support for clean energy programs and the extension of two important renewable energy tax credits. The law provides support for the advancement of solar, wind, energy storage, research and development, and energy efficiency.

The renewable electricity Production Tax Credit (PTC) and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) have been instrumental to advancing renewable energy in the United States and the extension included in the recent omnibus bill will help ensure clean energy’s continued growth. The tax credits for wind and solar, in particular, are expected to spur vital economic investment.

Catherine Morehouse of Utility Dive noted that the “legislation will extend the PTC and ITC for land-based wind for one year at 60% of the project’s full value … and give offshore wind projects for the first time a 30% ITC for projects that began construction starting January 1, 2017 through December 31, 2025.”

Abby Hopper, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), sent a summary of key solar and energy storage provisions to local SEIA Chapters like RENEW Wisconsin. Below are highlights from her report:

Federal Tax Bill 2020 – Key Solar And Storage Provisions

    • Federal Tax Credits Extended: The solar investment tax credit (ITC) will remain at 26% for projects that begin construction in 2021 and 2022, step down to 22% in 2023, and down to 10% in 2024 for commercial projects while the residential credit ends completely. Companies beginning construction on projects in 2021 will still have a four-year period to place their projects in service to take advantage of the ITC, with the statutory deadline for projects placed in service reset to before January 1, 2026.
    • Reduce Barriers to Solar Adoption: $35 million appropriation for the Department of Energy (DOE), directing the Solar Energy Technologies Office to “reduce market barriers…to the adoption of solar energy technologies,” including “the development of best practices, models, and voluntary streamlined processes for local siting and permitting of distributed solar energy systems to reduce costs.” 
    • Increase Funding for Solar Research: Boosts annual spending targets to $300 million per year through 2025 for DOE programs that improve solar PV energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness, increase manufacturing and recycling of solar panels, and fund programs to integrate solar power into the grid;
    • Invest in Energy Storage Research: Directs $100 million per year through 2025 to a newly created Energy Storage System Research, Development, and Deployment Program at DOE, aimed at R&D to improve technologies ranging from distributed batteries and control systems for grid integration, long-duration storage technologies such as pumped hydro and compressed-air energy storage.

Learn more about the details of the new law at GreenTechMedia which provides deeper analysis of the solar and wind tax credit impacts.

RENEW Wisconsin is thrilled to see this package come together and get signed into law.  This new investment in clean energy is welcome news for Wisconsin’s renewable energy workers and has the potential to drive economic activity and clean energy investment in the coming years.

First PSC-approved solar farm up and running

First PSC-approved solar farm up and running

The Two Creeks Solar Park, located in Manitowoc County, was energized last week, becoming the state’s largest generating station powered by the sun. Developed by Florida-based NextEra Energy, Two Creeks is jointly owned by two Wisconsin electric utilities: Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPS) and Madison Gas and Electric (MGE). WPS owns and operates a 100 megawatt (MW) share of the 150 MW power plant, while MGE has the remaining 50 MW share.

Located next to the Point Beach Nuclear Plant, Two Creeks effectively doubles the amount of solar generating capacity in Wisconsin to 300 MW, and will, over the next six months, produce more electricity than the combined output from all other existing solar systems in Wisconsin. Expected to produce more than 300,000,000 megawatt-hours a year, Two Creeks will generate about one-half of one percent of the state’s overall supply of electricity, which is the equivalent of what 33,000 residences consume annually.

Along with the 300 MW Badger Hollow Solar Farm in Iowa County, Two Creeks received approval from the Public Service Commission (PSC) in April 2019. These two were the pioneering solar farm proposals that navigated through the PSC’s power plant siting process and won approval from the agency. At the same meeting, the PSC granted a joint request from WPS and MGE to acquire Two Creeks.

Since then, the PSC has given the green light to two more solar farms totaling 249 MW in capacity, including NextEra Energy’s 100 MW Point Beach Solar Farm next door to Two Creeks. Point Beach Solar is under construction and should be completed in the fall of 2021.

Construction work on Two Creeks commenced on August 2019, kicked off with a groundbreaking ceremony that drew Gov. Tony Evers and the two utility ceos. Governor Evers’ appearance came less than a week after he issued Executive Order 38, articulating a goal of “ensuring all electricity consumed within the State of Wisconsin is 100% carbon-free by 2050.”

Building Two Creeks was no small undertaking. It involved punching thousands of posts into the ground to support horizontal tracking systems spreading across 800 acres of relatively flat terrain. Mounted on these rotating poles are more than 500,000 panels that follow the sun as it crosses the sky going east to west. Between the first rays of sunlight and the last ones before sunset, these panels soak in the sunshine and convert it to electricity.

A plant like Two Creeks will begin displacing higher-cost power at the moment it is energized, and these savings will grow significantly over the course of its 30-to-50-year life. True, the utilities will need to recover the cost of building the solar farm, somewhere in the vicinity of $195 million. But the savings utilities expect to reap from avoided fossil fuel purchases and pollution control expenditures will more than outweigh their investment in a zero-carbon generation source. Seen in this light, large-scale solar is indisputably the most cost-effective supply option that an electric utility can pursue going forward.

The benefits from Two Creeks extend beyond ratepayer savings. Manitowoc County and the Town of Two Creeks, the jurisdictions hosting the solar farm, expect to reap a combined $600,000 in local aids each year while the project remains in service. That number grows to $18,000,000 over the course of 30 years, which is the projected minimum lifespan of Two Creeks.

Solar is a noncombustible energy resource that does not emit any gaseous emissions or particulates when converted to electricity. Deploying solar at the scale of Two Creeks will capture significant public health and air quality benefits by avoiding emissions that are associated with conventional fossil generation plants. In another PSC proceeding involving a 15O MW solar farm in eastern Wisconsin, the developer anticipates annual emissions reductions in the following categories of pollutants: (1) nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 195,000 pounds; (2) methane (CH4) by 20,000 pounds; (3) nitrous oxide (N2O) by 5,000 pounds; and (4) carbon dioxide (CO2) by 405 million pounds.

Decarbonizing the state’s fleet of power plants is also a job creation strategy. The PSC estimates that somewhere between 200 and 300 jobs were created during the project’s construction window. It’s quite likely that many of the workers involved in the building of Two Creeks are now hard at work constructing the adjoining Point Beach solar farm.

In the annals of Wisconsin electric utility history, Two Creeks represents a noteworthy milestone, as the first solar farm to clear the PSC’s power plant review process and become a valuable addition to the state’s portfolio of power plants. And it took only 18+ months from the crossing of the regulatory finish line for Two Creeks to start sending power into the grid.

Two Creeks can also be viewed as the lead entry in a parade of large solar farms seeking to cross the same regulatory finish line and proceed to construction and completion. Looking out over the next 12 months, the PSC will review and make decisions on six solar farm applications totaling 1,150 MW (see table below).

Project name Developer County Capacity

(in MW)

Anticipated  decision date
Paris Invenergy Kenosha 200 11/2020
Wood County Savion Wood 150 12/2020
Grant County NextEra Energy Grant 200 4/2021
Onion River Ranger Power Sheboygan 150 5/2021
Darien Invenergy Walworth/

Rock

250 7/2021
Apple River National Grid Polk 100 9/2021
Springfield National Grid Dodge 100 9/2021

 

Within that same 12-month window, we expect two more PSC-approved solar farms—Badger Hollow I (150 MW) and Point Beach (100 MW) to cross the finish line and begin generating electricity.

What we’re seeing here is the emergence of a new resource paradigm that is ushering in a major wave of public works construction across the state. As this transition unfolds, solar power will become widely recognized as a linchpin in the state’s economy, extending through this decade and beyond.

PSC Finalizes 2020 Grant Program

PSC Finalizes 2020 Grant Program

Update: The Request for Proposals (RFP) pursuant to the 2020 grant cycle of the Energy Innovation Grant Program has been posted on the Public Service Commission’s web site. You can access the RFP here. The due date for grant submissions is January 22, 2021.


October 19, 2020

The Public Service Commission approved $7 million in funding that will be awarded through the 2020 round of the Energy Innovation Grant Program (EIGP). The EIGP awards financial assistance that supports the Office of Energy Innovation’s mission relating to energy efficiency, renewable energy, transportation, planning and resilience. In the previous round in 2018, the EIGP distributed nearly $5 million to more than 100 recipients. EIGP presently has a cash balance of more than $26 million.

The final order (PSC REF# 398392) was issued on October 16th, setting forth elements including (1) eligibility criteria; (2) eligible activities; (3) program budget; (4) procedures for tracking and reporting; and (5) development of the Request for Proposals (RFP).

The most important decisions rendered by the Commission are itemized below, interspersed with tables providing greater granularity on the program design and schedule.

Key decisions

  • The following entities are eligible to seek funds through this program: manufacturers of all sizes; and cities, villages, towns, counties, K-12 school districts, tribes, municipal water and wastewater utilities, municipal electric utilities, municipal natural gas utilities, University of Wisconsin System campuses and facilities, Wisconsin Technical College System, public or nonprofit hospitals, and 501(3)(c) nonprofits (collectively MUSH Market).
  • A budget of $7 million was authorized for the upcoming round. This represents an increase of $2 million from the previous round. The allocations for each of the four program activities are listed below.
  • Projects involving all statutorily defined renewable energy resources are eligible for funding.
  • The additional $2 million were allocated to Activities 1 and 2.

 

Optional Available Funds Per Activity for 2020 Program Year
Activity Maximum grant request Available funds per activity
1. Renewable Energy + Energy Storage 22% up to $250,000

(solar PV only)

$2.5 million
$500,000 (other RE)
$250,000 (energy storage system)
$500,000 (solar + storage)
$750,000 (other RE + storage)
2. Energy Efficiency + Demand Response $1 million $3 million
3. Electric + RNG Vehicles + Infrastructure $100,000 $1 million
4. Comprehensive Energy Planning $100,000 $500,000
Total $7 million

 

The Commission also approved a timeline for the upcoming round of funding, the milestones of which appear in the table below.

 

Tentative 2020 Energy Innovation Grant Program Year Timeline
Date Activity
9/2020 PSC consideration of 2020 Grant Program Design – final order issued
10/2020 Final order issued; Circulate RFP 90-day application period
1/2021 Applications due
2/2021 Review and score proposals
Spring 2021 2020 EIGP Award recommendations considered; announce awards
Spring 2021 Contract negotiations; sign award agreements

 

17 More Wisconsin Nonprofits to be Powered by Renewable Energy through RENEW Wisconsin Solar for Good Program

17 More Wisconsin Nonprofits to be Powered by Renewable Energy through RENEW Wisconsin Solar for Good Program

RENEW Wisconsin’s Solar for Good program has awarded over $190,000 in cash grants and materials to Wisconsin nonprofits for installing on-site solar energy systems. Seventeen organizations will install 719 kilowatts of clean, renewable electricity leading to nearly $1.4 million in renewable energy investments in Wisconsin.

The following organizations have been offered Fall 2020 Solar for Good grants to install new solar electric systems: 

All Saints Lutheran Church, house of worship, Fitchburg.

Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, after-school youth programming, Madison.

Community Clothes Closet, free clothing provider, Menasha. 

Couleecap Inc, poverty alleviation, Westby.

Ezekiel Lutheran Church, house of worship, River Falls.

Friends of Sauk County Fairgrounds, historic preservation, Baraboo.

Grace Evangelical Free Church, house of worship, Viroqua.

Habitat for Humanity of Dane County, affordable housing provider, Madison.

Habitat for Humanity Restore, affordable housing support, Beaver Dam.

Just One More Ministry, food pantry, Glendale.

Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity Restore, affordable housing support, Greenfield.

Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, house of worship, Madison.

The BRICK Ministries, poverty alleviation and food pantry, Ashland.

Walnut Way Conservation Corps, community conservation organization, Milwaukee.

Yerkes Future Foundation, education and historic preservation, Williams Bay.

Two organizations have asked to remain anonymous at this time. 

This round of Solar for Good grants features a diverse group of organizations from across Wisconsin. The Boys and Girls Club of Dane County will install over 250 panels at their Madison-based facility and plan to demonstrate the benefits of solar energy to the young people they serve. An 11-kilowatt array will be installed at the BRICK Ministries in Ashland with the help of donated solar panels from One Energy Renewables, a large-scale solar developer. And a 60-kilowatt array is planned at the famous Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, home of the world’s largest refracting telescope used for astronomical research.

“The grant and the installation of solar panels underscores the ongoing value of Yerkes Observatory as a place for scientific discovery and education,” stated Dianna Colman of Yerkes Future Foundation. “Students and visitors will experience firsthand the impact of solar power…even on a building dating back to 1897.”

In addition to the Couillard Solar Foundation, Solar for Good’s founding funder, this cycle of grants also received backing from the Array it Forward initiative at First Unitarian Society in Madison. The First Unitarian Society won a Solar for Good grant in 2018 and wanted to share the benefits they received from their solar array with other nonprofits across Wisconsin. Array it Forward is made possible through donations solicited from their congregation and the community.

Solar for Good shares our values and priorities for stabilizing our climate and speeding our transition to renewable energy,” said Carol Phelps, a contributing donor to Array it Forward. “This will make life better for the children of the world…when people unite to tackle climate change, there is great hope for the future.”

The 17 nonprofit organizations are a part of Solar for Good’s 7th round of funding. Since its inception in 2017, Solar for Good has offered solar grants to 96 Wisconsin-based nonprofits. 

When each of the solar projects are energized, these nonprofits will have added over 4 megawatts of clean, renewable energy to Wisconsin’s electric mix, enough to power approximately 900 homes. Solar for Good projects will represent a total of $9.2 million of private investments in Wisconsin renewable energy over the past three years.

 

About Solar for Good RENEW Wisconsin’s Solar for Good initiative fosters the expansion of solar power among mission-based nonprofits and houses of worship in Wisconsin. Through a generous partnership with Couillard Solar Foundation and Array it Forward, RENEW Wisconsin awards grants and solar panels to nonprofit organizations, helping them switch to clean, renewable, solar energy. 

About RENEW Wisconsin RENEW Wisconsin is a nonprofit organization which promotes renewable energy in Wisconsin. We work on policies and programs that support solar power, wind power, biogas, local hydropower, geothermal energy, and electric vehicles. More information on RENEW’s website: www.renewwisconsin.org.

Focus on Energy: A Uniquely Wisconsin Success Story

Focus on Energy: A Uniquely Wisconsin Success Story

Now entering its 20th year of operation, Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program is widely recognized as a model public benefits program delivering energy savings to utility customers. This statewide program, funded entirely through utility bills, provides incentives and other services to help households, businesses, and nonprofits invest in energy efficiency measures and supply themselves with clean energy.

Take Capital Brewery as an example. With financial support from Focus on Energy, the Middleton brewery and beer garden installed in 2014 a high efficiency heat recovery system with controls and a 13 kilowatt (kW) solar electric system on its roof. Thanks to these investments, Capital Brewery saves more than $4,500 each year on its heating and electricity bills.

Capital Brewing’s Wisconsin peers are also capturing the energy value of sunshine. Breweries such as Central Waters, Ale Asylum, New Glarus, Bare Bones, and Lakefront have parlayed incentives from Focus on Energy into investments in onsite solar power. In so doing, they demonstrate that incorporating sustainability and carbon reduction into their operations is good business and can often be a competitive advantage.

According to its web site, Focus on Energy has enabled millions of ratepayers to save $730 million in avoided energy costs since the program’s inception. Moreover, it has been a consistently powerful economic engine for the state of Wisconsin, yielding between $4 and $5 in economic and avoided pollution benefits for every $1 spent by the program.

But to fully appreciate Focus on Energy’s reach and impact, it’s worth reading through the dozens of energy efficiency and clean energy success stories made possible by program incentives. As these testimonials and case studies make clear, Focus offerings have something of value for every electric customer in Wisconsin, no matter how large or small they may be.

On the renewable energy side, virtually every solar photovoltaic (PV) system powering Wisconsin residences and small businesses today received a rebate from this unique, ratepayer-funded program. Nowadays, with solar installation prices down to about a quarter of where they were 10 years ago, Focus on Energy can award rebates to many more customers than in the past. Notwithstanding the ongoing pandemic, 2020 is shaping up to be a record-breaking year in the residential solar market, fueled by $2.3 million in incentives from Focus on Energy.

The popularity of its solar incentives is putting a strain on Focus on Energy’s budget going into 2021. Under its current four-year plan, the program reserves $5.5 million each year for all qualifying renewable energy investments, out of an annual budget overall of about $95 million. Increasing its overall budget would require approval from state legislators. Absent such action, Focus on Energy has little choice but to pare residential rebate levels down to $500 per installation going forward.

Electric providers throughout Wisconsin contribute 1.2% of their gross revenues into Focus on Energy. Though they are not required to participate, all of the municipal utilities and nearly half of the electric cooperatives in Wisconsin also fund the program, to the tune of $8 a year per meter.

As the overseer of Focus on Energy, the Public Service Commission (PSC) is very mindful of the demands placed on the program, and its crucial contribution to reducing fossil energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. To that end, PSC Chair Rebecca Valcq is asking Governor Evers to put an additional $100 million into the program, starting in July 2021. According to the PSC, the increase would cost residential households less than a $1/month.

“These programs reduce emissions,” Valcq said. “They reduce the need to go out and look at building generation and transmission projects. These programs create jobs.”

Signed into law by Governor Tommy Thompson back in 1999, Focus on Energy has enjoyed strong bipartisan support throughout its history. Considering how broadly its benefits have been spread throughout the state, increasing the program’s budget should be something both Republicans and Democrats can agree on.

Michael Vickerman is policy director of RENEW Wisconsin

 

It’s National Drive Electric Week!

It’s National Drive Electric Week!

National Drive Electric Week, celebrated from September 26 to October 4, is a 9-day long event raising awareness about the environmental and social benefits of driving all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars. In its tenth annual commemoration, National Drive Electric Week events will include webinars ranging from topics on how to get started with an electric vehicle (EV) to making ownership more inclusive. 

RENEW Wisconsin, in partnership with Wisconsin Clean Cities, will be hosting the fourth and final webinar of our Virtual Electric Series on September 30 from 1:00PM to 2:00PM. The Local Utilities & Infrastructure Webinar will feature utility experts as they talk about incentives and programs offered to help Wisconsinites drive electric.

Why Drive Electric? 

From 2017 to 2018, EV sales grew 80% across the nation, with a total of 1.18 million EVs on the road by the end of March 2019. Wisconsinites drive electric vehicles for many reasons, some cite the safety and speed and others love the efficiency and environmental benefits of EVs. 

For Madison resident Matthew Ploeger, driving an EV means having the perfect car for a road trip. Ploeger, who owns both a Tesla Model S and a plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt, said he particularly enjoys the safety features of his Tesla, as well as the smooth and quick acceleration. 

“I love being able to drive the Tesla … and make use of the supercharger network, which makes a road trip fantastic,” Ploeger said. “We can go for 180 to 200 miles, stop for 25 to 30 minutes to charge, stretch our legs, get something to drink, and then we’re back on the road in 30 minutes with 80% charge and we go another 175 to 190 miles.”

Echoing that sentiment, Bayfield resident Roger Aiken enjoys driving his roomy all-electric Chevy Bolt, which he says is an ideal way of travelling with his two labradors and his wife, Susan. Pre-COVID, he drove 20,000 miles a year, getting 107 electric miles per gallon.

Living in a hilly neighborhood, Aiken has found that his EV drives more efficiently than a gas powered car, as his car generates electricity as it’s going downhill, so that he can use that energy for driving uphill.

EVs are efficient, especially when powered by the sun

Madisonite David Brow says his all-electric Tesla Model S is easy to maintain and fun to drive. He and his wife chose to drive electric for the environmental benefits. Brow has solar panels on his home, which means his car is powered by the sun! Solar powered EVs minimize emissions and create a cheap way to produce energy. Even without access to renewable energy, EVs don’t produce any tailpipe emissions, limiting the amount of smog-forming pollutants in the air and having a positive effect on human health.

Similarly, Lee Gasper-Galvin of Sun Prairie cites her vehicle’s efficiency as a primary reason why she chose to drive electric. 

“I drive electric because electric vehicles are much more efficient than internal combustion engine vehicles,” Gasper-Galvin said. “For example, this Tesla Model 3 has a 95% efficient electric motor, as compared to an internal combustion engine vehicle, which is only 20-30% efficient.”

Other ways to ride

Choosing to drive a car is not the only way to drive electric. 

Jim Holmes, a Marshall resident, rides an electric motorcycle and an electric lawnmower. He said his electric motorcycle is his preferred way to ride, as it is low-maintenance and can go 90 miles per one full charge. 

Holmes chose to invest in an electric lawnmower not only because of the convenience of not having to get gas, but also because of the added  environmental benefit.

Whatever you choose to drive, EVs have a plethora of individual and environmental benefits, such as savings on fuel and maintenance costs, and reduced emissions and cleaner air.  EVs are becoming increasingly popular, and driving electric has never been easier. EVs are becoming increasingly popular, and driving electric has never been easier. For more information, visit renewwisconsin.org/electric-vehicles

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: Racine Getting Electric Buses

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: Racine Getting Electric Buses

UPDATE: Racine is set to get 2 additional new electric buses for a total of 8!  Racine is leading the pack in investing in electric buses. The second round of Wisconsin’s Volkswagen Mitigation Program Transit Capital Assistance Grants were announced on September 9, 2020. This round, totaling $18 million, was awarded to Beloit, Wausau, Sheboygan, Madison, Eau Claire, Racine, Green Bay, and La Crosse. The funding will allow those cities to purchase a combined 34 transit buses.

Racine is again the only city that has opted for electric buses, getting funding for 2 more electric buses and the infrastructure to re-charge them. With this additional funding, Racine will be able to purchase 8 all-electric transit buses with Volkswagen Mitigation Program funding.

Between the first and second rounds of the Transit Capital Assistance grants, the Volkswagen Settlement Program has spent $50 million to bolster the State’s public transit systems. The total funding available to Wisconsin through the Volkswagen Settlement is $67.2 million, which leaves about $17 million yet to be awarded.


Published December 14, 2018

Racine is set to get 6 new electric buses!

The RENEW Wisconsin Volkswagen Settlement Blog reviews the Volkswagen Settlement and how Wisconsin allocated two-thirds of our settlement funding. A large portion of the funding is going to the Transit Capital Assistance Program for cities and counties to replace aging diesel buses.

Transit Capital Assistance Grant Recipients

The grant recipients have been announced! $32 million of settlement funding is set to replace a total of 58 polluting diesel buses in 9 cities and 1 county.

At least 6 of those buses will be electric, all in Racine. Appleton, Eau Caire, Green Bay, Janesville, La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee County, Sheboygan, and Wausau are also award recipients.

Per the award announcement, Racine is set to receive $6.2 million for the 6 buses and overnight charging stations. Racine also wanted to install a fast charger toward the end of the route out to the “Wisconn Valley.” The awards aren’t yet final, giving parties time to negotiate grant terms.

Racine’s Electric Buses

Racine’s application states, “the new buses will attract commuters by providing a quiet, high tech experience commensurate with the new economic opportunities and technologies in the service area.” Of course, by “new economic opportunities and technologies,” they are referring to Foxconn. Which makes sense – a key aspect of the competitive grant program was to connect employees to employers. Foxconn voiced their support by signing on to Racine’s application.

It will likely be more than a year before the new buses are operating. Once they are in operation, the new electric buses will replace the oldest, most polluting, diesel buses in Racine’s fleet.

Benefits of Electric Buses

No matter where they operate, electric buses are a win for all stakeholders.

  • There’s no diesel smell and no loud engine. Electric buses are more comfortable to ride in!
  • Electric buses are cheaper to operate. Lower fuel costs and less maintenance means extremely reduced costs to operate.
  • Fewer emissions mean a cleaner community for everyone. Whether you are a bus rider or not, everyone will benefit from the reduced emissions from switching to electric buses.
  • Clean, electric buses can be powered by renewable energy. We can create the energy to run our transit right here in Wisconsin instead of sending billions of dollars out of state for fossil fuels.

I’m excited to see more electric buses being added to transit fleets in Wisconsin. They truly are a win for all transportation stakeholders – the riders, owners, and community at large.

 

Draft Strategic Energy Assessment Elicits Strong Public Response

Draft Strategic Energy Assessment Elicits Strong Public Response

In June, the Public Service Commission requested public comments on the latest iteration of its Strategic Energy Assessment (SEA), a study that profiles the state’s electric power industry and surveys how the economic and regulatory landscape will likely evolve over the next six years.  The PSC is required by law to update its assessment every two years. The PSC gave the public until August 14th to file comments to the draft study.

In contrast to previous renditions of this process, which were quiet affairs, this year’s draft assessment (Docket 5-ES-110) elicited a veritable torrent of comments from the public. This unprecedented volume of responses reflects a broadening understanding that electric providers are making significant changes to their resource mix to reduce carbon emissions, and that this clean energy transition must continue.  With the PSC approving a significant quantity of zero-emission generation in other proceedings, it is heartening to see so many individuals and organizations encouraging the PSC to do more of the same.

Unfortunately, the draft SEA shies away from acknowledging the market realities and environmental constraints that are, today, driving utility procurement decisions quite clearly toward clean energy. This did not go unnoticed. As RENEW noted in its comments, the draft SEA is distinguished more by what is absent from the discussion than by the contents within it.

Chief among the blind spots is the document’s complete silence on climate science and the Governor’s Executive Orders #38 and #52, which enumerated a number of initiatives and goals to put the state on a zero-carbon pathway. Issued in August 2019, Executive Order #38 created a new office within state government, the Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy (OSCE). Over the last nine months, OSCE has been working closely with the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change, assisting this body in formulating strategies for tackling the effects of climate change in Wisconsin.

OSCE director Maria Redmond submitted comments consisting of recommendations for improving the usefulness and educational value of the SEA.

While reporting on what the utility providers are doing, the PSCW should capitalize on the opportunity to integrate several multi-sector, local, state, and regional efforts to reduce energy consumption, transition to clean energy. The SEA compliments the work of the OSCE and could be a useful tool to measure and verify progress towards meeting our carbon reduction goals. The SEA could also be used to directly address and report on Wisconsin’s progress on reducing the impacts of climate change. As currently written, the assessment does not analyze the overall risks (business as usual) versus the benefits of the transition to a clean energy economy or addressing climate change.

RENEW struck a similar theme in its concluding remarks.

We encourage Commission staff to engage the newly created Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy in a productive way, and find other sources of information beyond the utility responses to data requests. Certainly, RENEW would, if asked, gladly assist Commission staff in the gathering of relevant information prior to the document-drafting process. As noted in the introduction, the Strategic Energy Assessment is the closest thing in the state to a public planning process involving the state’s electric providers. It’s crucially important that this and future iterations of the SEA weave in policy threads that will illuminate pathways to achieving the clean energy goals and objectives that numerous public and private entities in Wisconsin have adopted.

The breadth and volume of comments submitted to the PSC is directly attributable to RENEW’s work to engage stakeholders and the public on the current SEA, highlighted by a webinar organized and led by RENEW policy director Michael Vickerman. The webinar on July 14 presented a primer on the draft SEA, and provided suggested points that could be raised in comments. More than 50 individuals representing numerous organizations in Wisconsin and beyond registered for the webinar. The slide deck prepared for the webinar can be found here.

In 2018, a mere two weeks elapsed between the comment filing deadline and the issuance of the final SEA. This time around, we expect more significant re-writes and additions to the draft.

RENEW thanks the organizations and individuals who weighed in with comments. We are hopeful that the public response to the draft SEA will materialize into needed improvements in the final document.