RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: 1000 Miles in an Electric Car

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: 1000 Miles in an Electric Car

Last weekend, I drove Bergstrom Chevrolet’s all-electric Bolt from Madison to Detroit, and back. Over 1000 miles, through 4 states, in sun and snow, the Bolt and I spent a lot of time together. Hopefully you saw some of the updates on Twitter!

The Bolt has a range of 230 miles in perfect conditions. That means if it’s not cold and you’re driving carefully in the city you can get over 200 miles on one full battery charge. Unfortunately, it was in the 30s and I was mostly driving interstate highways, so 200 miles on one charge was not an option. I planned my stops assuming I could get about 150 miles per charge.

Madison to Detroit

I set off at 7:30 on Thursday morning, charged up to 80% from a pit stop at an EVgo fast charger in Monona. After about 2 hours and 120 miles, I stopped at the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, just outside Chicago to charge at another EVgo fast charger.

After 45 minutes of checking emails and walking around the mall, I got a text from EVgo saying my charge was complete. I set off to my next stop: the Lincoln Oasis in South Holland, Illinois, which was about 50 miles away. The Bolt’s battery wasn’t drained yet but there aren’t many fast chargers on the west side of Michigan, so I wanted to have as much charge as possible before leaving Illinois. This turned out to be a good choice. Inside the Oasis, I ate lunch and worked, and packed up 45 minutes later when I got the text that my car was charged up.

My next stop was in Kalamazoo, Michigan (where I was born!) to charge at a fast charger at a car dealership. Unfortunately, this fast charger was out of order, and it was the only one within 50 miles. Turns out the charger is brand new – it was just installed at the dealership for the launch of the Jaguar I-Pace all-electric car. There was a part recall that meant it was not working yet. Bummer. But, the dealership was very gracious, they let me use their level 2 charger for free and even invited me inside for a cup coffee and to use their lobby’s Wi-Fi. I hung out there for about 2 hours which added 40 miles to the battery.

At this point, I had 200 miles under my belt and had charged at 3 fast chargers and 1 level 2 charger. At 4:30pm, I left the dealership with 70 miles on the battery and a better understanding of the realities of taking an all-electric car on long road trips.

Next stop, Grand Rapids, which is about 50 miles north of Kalamazoo. My plan was to pick up my sister, who lives in the area, and quickly plug into a fast charger before heading out to Detroit. The only fast charger in Grand Rapids is also at a dealership, and also affected by the part recall. So, with 20 miles left on the battery, my sister and I resolved to get dinner and spend the night at her apartment with the Bolt plugged into a level 2 charger overnight. No harm, no foul! I was disappointed I couldn’t do the drive in one day, but knew it would be an easy 150 miles from Grand Rapids to Detroit in the morning.

On Friday morning, we woke up to the first snowfall of the year! Together, my sister and I drove from Grand Rapids to Detroit, and stopped to charge up in front of a beautiful, snow-laden fall tree.

And Back

I made almost the exact same stops on the way back. Creature of habit, no? It was an easy drive and actually much quicker because I didn’t stop to charge at the level 2 in Kalamazoo. I took a shorter way from Grand Rapids to Chicago, which avoided Kalamazoo entirely. Live and learn.

Conclusions after 1000 miles in a Chevy Bolt

So, 1000 miles later, my conclusions?

  1. It’s totally doable to take an electric car on a road trip. This was a far cry from the fastest I’ve driven from Madison to Detroit and back but it was enjoyable. The Bolt is fun to drive and I had an excuse to stop along the way which meant I could walk around a get a real meal instead of being confined to a car for 7 hours straight.
  2. With that said, for now, I suggest renting a car or using a plug-in hybrid if you’re short on time. Get an electric car to use around town and rent a car for longer trips. You’ll still save money in the long run, too.
  3. EVgo chargers rock. They all have human names, like “Paul” and “Stewart,” which I stopped at, which is fun. More importantly, they are easy to use and charged the Bolt within 45 minutes. Also, EVgo provided us a $60 credit so all of my charging was free! I didn’t use that to inform my charging decisions though, EVgo just had the most convenient locations. Thanks, EVgo.
  4. As always, there’s more work to be done! The network of DC fast chargers in the Midwest is growing, but it’s not where it needs to be for convenient long road trips. We need to work with other Midwest states to create a better network of charging stations in convenient locations so we don’t have to think twice about using an electric car for a road trip. Luckily, Volkswagen funding is available to do just that.
  5. I really dislike driving my gasoline car now. After driving the Bolt for almost a week, my car screams “inefficient.” It bugs me that when I slow down the energy is lost instead of regenerating the battery, and the delay between pressing the gas and actually moving forward seems more obvious now.

What are you driving to your Thanksgiving celebrations? If it’s electric, take my virtual high-five, and a challenge to get at least one family member to drive your car around the block to see how great it is. For the rest of us driving gasoline cars, here’s to future years where we’ll be the ones showing off our electric ride. Happy Thanksgiving!

A special “Thank You” to Bergstrom Chevrolet for letting us use their Bolt.

 

Large Solar Update: Richland County Solar Project

Large Solar Update: Richland County Solar Project

Solar farm proposals continue to spring up like mushrooms across western Wisconsin. In the last month, Tradewind Energy, a solar and wind energy developer headquartered in Kansas, submitted plans to build a 50 megawatt (MW) solar farm in Richland County near the Village of Lone Rock.

Tradewind’s project would spread across 500 acres of farmland north of U.S. Highway 14 in the Town of Buena Vista. If approved, this project will generate on average about 100,000 megawatt-hours (MWH) of electricity a year, enough electricity supply for more than 13,000 Wisconsin households.

Similar to the Badger Hollow Solar Farm proposed in Iowa County, the Richland County solar farm would deploy long rows of panels mounted on single-axis trackers. Unlike Badger Hollow, Tradewind plans to purchase the participating properties outright instead of entering into a long-term lease with the two landowners for the use of that land. In addition, Tradewind’s permitting path is different, because at 50 MW, the Richland County solar farm is not large enough to preempt local zoning ordinances. It will be the Richland County Zoning Committee and not the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin that will review proposed solar farm, and decide whether or not to issue a Conditional Use Permit.  The project site lies within a district zoned for general agriculture and forestry.

Heather Allen and I drove to Richland Center on November 5th to attend the permit hearing and communicate RENEW’s strong support for Tradewind’s proposal.  About 25 people filled the meeting room. In attendance were members of the project development team, the owners of the farmland to be purchased, more than a dozen neighboring residents, and several people living elsewhere in Richland County.

The neighbors in attendance communicated their concerns about the proposal. One neighbor raised the issue of glare and glint that might be experienced by those living in proximity to the project area. Because the project site is near a small airport serving Sauk and Richland counties, Tradewind contracted with a consulting firm to determine whether solar glint could interfere with air traffic flying into and out from the airport. The consultant concluded that the solar farm would not pose problems for pilots using the Tri-County airport near Lone Rock.

So long as solar arrays are oriented so that they could never send glare into the control tower, they can be located at or near airports. A 2014 fact sheet prepared by Meister Consultants under a U.S. Dept. of Energy grant award notes that there are 30 airport solar PV installations operating in 15 states; the numbers are certainly higher today. One of the newest airport solar projects now operating is at Appleton International Airport, where Green Bay-based Eland Electric built a 230 kW parking canopy that supplies electricity to both the terminal and to the electric vehicles parked at the charging stations.

Another issue raised by neighbors relates to the decommissioning of the project at the end of its operating life. With solar and wind projects, the permitting authority will require the developer to post a bond sufficient to cover the cost of removing the arrays as well as restoring the land to its former condition. Host jurisdictions generally don’t struggle with this issue when the facility is owned by utility or a public body. However, in cases where the proposed facility would be owned by an independent power producer, especially one headquartered in a different state or country, there is often a concern that should the company run into financial difficulties or go bankrupt, the bond could disappear or become unavailable to the host jurisdiction. As explained by company representatives at the hearing, the bond that is posted would effectively become the property of the County, off-limits to Tradewind and all other entities that acquire an interest in the array over its operating life.  This arrangement protects Richland County and ensures that the solar farm will be properly decommissioned.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the Zoning Committee decided to table discussion on the Conditional Use Permit and take the matter up again at its November 19th meeting, which will begin at 3:00 PM.  In all likelihood, the committee will vote on the Conditional Use Permit at that meeting. Prior to the Zoning Committee meeting, Tradewind will hold a community information meeting on Thursday, November 15th, at the Lone Rock Community Hall, starting at 5:30 PM. If you live in Richland County, mark your calendars for these meetings.  Richland County residents can also call or email to the County Board of Supervisors Zoning Committee in support of the project.

Please reach out to us at RENEW if you want to become a clean energy champion in your community!

Election Update

Election Update

Tony Evers Wins Close Race

Recent polling showed that the race for Governor was going to be close, and they were right!  Not until a large number of late arriving ballots came in from Milwaukee did it become clear that Tony Evers was the projected winner in a hotly contested race.  As of this morning the Walker campaign has not conceded the race as they look into the late reporting from Milwaukee and a few other reported ballot problems. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Evers has a 30,849 vote lead, which is 1.18% ahead of Walker.  Walker’s campaign can only request a recount if the election results are under 1%.  Assuming the results hold up, Evers will take office in January.  Even though the GOP retains full control of the legislature, Evers will control the State agencies and has the ability to veto anything that the Republicans in the legislature send to his desk that is not agreed to.

Public Service Commission

Of particular interest to the renewable energy industry is the effect of the elections on the Public Service Commission.  Because the PSC has staggered 6-year appointments, control of the PSC will not switch to Governor-elect Evers’ appointees immediately. This is different than state agencies like the Department of Natural Resources or Department of Administration, where Mr. Evers’ appointees will take control when appointed and confirmed by the State Senate. Governor-elect Evers will appoint a new PSC Commissioner, which also must be approved by the State Senate, for a 6 year term which will start on March 1, 2019.  It is customary and likely that this individual will become the Chairperson of the PSC. Evers would appoint another PSC Commissioner to start a term on March 1, 2021, at the end of Commissioner Mike Huebsch’s term.  Current Chairperson Lon Roberts’ term goes to March 2023.  If either of those individuals choose not to complete their term on the Commission, then Evers would select the replacement for the duration of the respective term.

Josh Kaul Apparent Winner over Brad Schimel in Attorney General Race

In an even closer race, Democratic candidate Josh Kaul has a lead of 22,673 votes, or .87% over Schimel.  If this holds up, it would be within the 1% threshold for a candidate to be able to request a recount.

Republicans Retain State Assembly

In spite of the statewide races for Governor, Attorney General and US Senate going to the Democrats, the Assembly Republicans appear to have maintained their strong 64-35 majority for the 2019-20 legislative session. One Assembly seat is close enough at this time that a recount may occur. It is between Republican State Treasurer, Matt Adamczyk, and Democratic candidate Robyn Vining.  At last count Adamczyk had a 21-vote lead with all precincts reporting.

Republicans Gain in State Senate

With 4 to 5 Senate Republican races expected to be close, many thought that they would lose one or more seats in a year that had hints of Democratic momentum.  Instead, the GOP actually gained 1 seat when Andre Jacque (R) retook the 1st Senate District seat from Caleb Frostman (D).  Frostman took the seat away from the GOP when he defeated Jacque in a special election earlier this year.  These results increase the GOP’s net majority in the State Senate to 19-14 for next session.

Tammy Baldwin Wins Impressive Victory in U.S. Senate Race

The GOP held the majority in the U.S. Senate last night, but Democratic incumbent U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin easily won reelection against Republican challenger, State Senator Leah Vukmir.  Baldwin held a 10 point margin – 55-45% – as of this writing.

All Congressional Incumbents Win Congressional Races

Other than Congressman Paul Ryan, who did not run and is retiring from the House of Representatives at the end of this session, all of the congressional incumbents won reelection.  Republicans maintained control over 5 of 8 congressional districts in Wisconsin.  Republican candidate, Bryan Steil (CD-1) held Speaker Paul Ryan’s seat for the Republicans.


RENEW Wisconsin will be actively engaging with the Governors’ office and legislature over the next few months to start developing policy initiatives that will advance renewable energy next year.

Please contact our office if you have any questions.

 

IN MEMORIAM – JOHN BAHR and DAVID BLECKER

IN MEMORIAM – JOHN BAHR and DAVID BLECKER

It is with great sadness that we mark the passing of John Bahr and David Blecker—two long-time RENEW members who dedicated themselves to advancing a clean energy future in Wisconsin.  Though coming from very different backgrounds, John and Dave joined RENEW in the mid-1990s, and became effective champions for reducing Wisconsin’s overreliance on fossil fuels and redirecting capital and labor into nascent renewable energy technologies like wind, solar, and biogas.

After retiring from a successful career, John Bahr created a one-man speakers’ bureau under RENEW’s auspices, and directed his presentations to civic groups and congregations near his home in Wauwatosa.  Traveling to churches, libraries, and meeting halls, John engaged hundreds of small audiences, challenging them to think seriously about energy sustainability. Though his passion for clean energy came about through his environmental ethic, John’s advocacy was built on a solid factual foundation, upon which he would make the case for a systematic redesign of our energy system.

To those who knew him well, David Blecker was a special and multifaceted talent whose fierce commitment to clean energy belied a gentle spirit and an infectious sense of humor.  After completing his graduate studies through UW-Madison’s Energy Analysis and Policy Program, David founded Seventh Generation Energy Systems (SGES), a company specializing in small wind systems and wind resource assessment. With the help of Focus on Energy, SGES became one of the leading small wind installers in the nation, reflecting David’s mastery over small-scale generation. But running a business was only the beginning for David. He found time to teach classes at MREA, develop course work for technical colleges, and shape Focus on Energy’s renewable energy program. He took part in numerous collaboratives involving utilities and advocates in hopes of expanding the numbers of self-generating households and businesses throughout Wisconsin. In recent years, David transitioned over to solar energy, and offered his services to local contractors in need of his expertise in designing electrical systems. Powered by an unshakeable belief in renewable energy as a force for environmental protection and social justice, David made it his mission, whether as engineer, educator, business owner, or concerned citizen, to touch as many lives as possible with it.

 

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: Electric Cars Aren’t So Spooky

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: Electric Cars Aren’t So Spooky

Happy Halloween! Let’s talk about something that isn’t spooky: driving electric! With momentum building, from hundreds of new models hitting the market soon and the Volkswagen Settlement providing an opportunity for public infrastructure, there’s no reason to get a fright over driving electric.

I’ve heard interested people point to a few reasons why they might be a little spooked by the transition to driving electric. So let’s demystify some of these potential scares.

 

Potential Scare #1: I can run out of juice!

Not to throw her under the *hopefully electric* bus, but I got a text on Sunday from a friend who said she ran out of gas on the highway. Running out of juice, whether electricity or gasoline, might be an issue with any type of car. Just like you plan your gas station stops in a gasoline car, you plan your charging station stops in an electric car. The real difference is that your garage is your primary fueling place. And, unlike gasoline cars, you can leave the car on as you refuel, which means you can leave the heat on too! No more waiting out in the cold as you pump gas. For me, the real scare is pumping gas on a cold, dark night by myself. Plugging in my car after I pull into my garage, on the other hand, is not a spooky task!

 

Potential Scare #2: Batteries are flammable!

So is gasoline! And you have to pump gasoline into your car, physically exposing yourself to its smells and dangers. The battery packs in vehicles don’t require regular human interference and are isolated into small packages, meaning that even if one of them malfunctions, it’s not likely that an entire battery pack will catch on fire. Not to mention that many gasoline car fires start as a result of a mechanical failure, which is less likely to happen with the very few moving parts in an electric car.

All cars are dangerous – that’s not new. But, did you know that electric cars can actually be safer than gasoline cars? Electric cars are less likely to roll over because they tend to have a lower center of gravity, mostly due to the heavy batteries being placed along the bottom of the car. The all-electric Chevy Bolt, which you’ll hear more about in next week’s post, was given the highest possible crash test rating and was named a 2017 Top Safety Pick. The safety of electric cars shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

 

Potential Scare #3: I’m just not as comfortable with electric cars!

I totally get that. Electric cars are somewhat new and do require a bit of behavior change from the driver. But, you can trust that electric cars are an extremely reliable, convenient, and fun swap for your gasoline vehicle. I don’t feel the need to understand exactly how my gasoline car works. I trust that when I turn the key, the car starts and I can go on my merry way. I know how to change a tire and add washer fluid to my car… anything else requires a trip to a mechanic. The good news is that an electric car doesn’t need much besides that! No oil changes, and again, fewer moving parts means less can go wrong.

What I really need, and I’m willing to venture many of you feel the same way, is a car so reliable that I never have to think about how it works. We all want a reliable and convenient car. To which I enthusiastically say, you should definitely consider switching to drive electric!

 

Driving electric isn’t so spooky after all

Driving electric doesn’t have to be scary. To prove it, next week I am going to drive Bergstrom Chevrolet’s Chevy Bolt over 800 miles from Madison to Detroit and back. If you want to follow along in real time, I’ll be taking over RENEW’s Twitter account next week, where I’ll share my experience taking an electric road trip through the Midwest!

Also, check out our new web page devoted to electric vehicles and driving on renewable energy.

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: The “Volkswagen Settlement” – A Big Opportunity for Electric Vehicles

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: The “Volkswagen Settlement” – A Big Opportunity for Electric Vehicles

In my last blog I talked about how many new electric car models are coming to market in the next few years. This is great news but also shines a light on the public charging infrastructure needed to support all these news makes and models. Here’s where the “Volkswagen Settlement” comes in.

In 2016, a federal court approved a settlement with Volkswagen (VW) requiring the car company to spend upwards of $15 billion to reduce environmental air pollutants from transportation in the U.S.

VW admitted to producing 11 million diesel vehicles between 2009 and 2016 that purposely cheated emissions tests designed to limit chemicals called “nitrous oxides,” or NOx.  NOx causes respiratory diseases like asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis.  As a result of VW’s cheating, their diesel vehicles emitted NOx at up to 40 times the federally accepted level.

The “VW settlement” is designed to decrease NOx emissions from the transportation sector to counteract the damage done while these vehicles were in operation.

 

Settlement Details

The settlement is broken up into 3 main parts:

1. VW will provide up to $10 billion to owners and lessees of VW and Audi 2.0-liter diesel cars with the NOx cheating software. Nearly 500,000 cars were affected, the largest false advertising case in US history! The deadline for owners to submit a claim has passed.

2. VW also had to put $2.9 billion into an environmental mitigation trust fund to be shared by states and tribes. States are set to receive funds based on the number of cheating vehicles in operation in the state. States are to develop their own programs for spending the money. Up to 15% of the funding can be used to support light-duty zero emission vehicle infrastructure, like public charging stations for electric cars.

3. To further reduce air emissions, VW also has to spend $2.8 billion on clean air infrastructure. $800,000 of this funding will be spent in California. To administer this fund VW created Electrify America, which is installing charging stations across the country and running a nationwide campaign promoting electric vehicles. Check out their first commercial!

More information on the settlement companies, violations, and enforcement can be found here.

 

Wisconsin’s Plan

Wisconsin was allocated $67.1 million from the environmental mitigation fund. In May, the state approved a plan for almost two-thirds of our total VW funding. Based on the plan, $42 million will be spent by June 2019 to purchase new and cleaner transit and state fleet vehicles to replace older and more polluting vehicles. The transit part is structured as a transit assistance grant, in which local governments receive a grant to upgrade or replace their transit buses but see a reduction in their state transit funding in subsequent years.

Now, I am all for clean transit but I am disappointed that Wisconsin didn’t allocate funding for electric vehicle infrastructure. Per the settlement, Wisconsin is allowed to spend $10 million on infrastructure, such as charging stations, to help drivers of light-duty cars and trucks. Of all 46 states that have submitted a plan, Wisconsin is one of 4 that didn’t choose to allocate funding to this zero-emission vehicle infrastructure.

 

RENEW’s Proposal for Wisconsin

I am excited to see Electrify America charging stations popping up across the country. That campaign in nationwide, though.

And we know that ensuring people can drive their electric vehicles and recharge them like they refuel their cars today is going to be critical to getting more uptake here in Wisconsin.  Therefore, we want to see VW funding spent on electric vehicle infrastructure right here in Wisconsin.

It is possible to change our state plan for VW settlement funding. More than one-third of the funding, over million, has yet to be allocated. And, if there is funding left over from the round, it can be re-allocated.

RENEW believes that any future VW settlement plan should include funding fast recharging stations so people can drive electric cars all over Wisconsin and know they can get anywhere they need to go.

$10 million can go a long way to support a state-wide network of charging stations! Such a network would allow Wisconsin’s electric car drivers to go anywhere in the state with confidence – in fact, we estimate that the funding could cover most of the cost to install three recharging stations each in 111 locations all over the state.  That’s enough to have one every 25 miles, giving drivers options when they are on the road.

It’s my hope that we can use “Dieselgate” to do the most good in Wisconsin. If the goal is to reduce air pollution, I don’t know if it gets any better than renewable energy powered electric transportation! Next week we’ll talk more about charging: how, where, and why driving electric is convenient, safe, and fun.

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: Momentum is Building

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: Momentum is Building

It’s an exciting time to be studying electric vehicles. From companies pledging to transition their fleets to auto manufacturers promising new models, momentum around the transition to electric cars is building.  

A number of announcements came out about electric vehicles in the past few weeks:

In addition, over the past year every major auto manufacturer made public commitments to support electric vehicles. Take a look at the hundreds of new electric cars that will be hitting the market in the next few years:

 

For the graphic we chose to include models from recognizable brands that are widely available in the United States. I did take a look at all car manufacturers across the globe and counted 222 electric car models that will be available in 2025.

That’s a lot of cars to test drive! With over 200 new electric cars by 2025, from compact cars to pick-ups and SUVs.  Soon there will be an electric car for everyone. Now that we know there are plenty of new models available soon, next time I’m going to dive into the Volkswagen emissions settlement and outline key actions we can take to support the infrastructure EV’s require.

 

Solar Farms: Homegrown, Healthy, and Smart for Wisconsin

Solar Farms: Homegrown, Healthy, and Smart for Wisconsin

In recent years, private companies and our state’s power providers have been building “solar farms” in Wisconsin.  These are large-scale solar energy facilities providing homegrown, healthy, and smart energy to Wisconsin citizens.

These new solar farms provide homegrown energy, making power right here in Wisconsin. Solar farms provide an opportunity to boost local economies and create jobs. Already Wisconsin’s renewable energy industry employs more than 75,000 workers – more than all the waiters, waitresses, computer programmers, lawyers and web developers in the state combined. This number stands to grow substantially as we explore more renewable energy development.

Solar farms are healthy – they put out no emissions or pollution, and they use no water from the ground or surface.  Many solar farms implement native meadow vegetation that prevents soil erosion, provides weed control, and produces a natural (and healthy) habitat for pollinators and wildlife.

Solar farms are smart for Wisconsin, because they are cost-competitive with traditional ways of making electricity. The cost of developing solar power projects has dropped by over 75% in the past decade. And solar power technology has improved, so that more of the sunlight is directly converted to power.

As some of these solar projects are getting underway and Wisconsin’s energy landscape is changing, RENEW Wisconsin is here to provide information and answer questions.

We’ve made a fact sheet showing all the potential solar and wind development that is being explored in the state. It also shows what our power companies are planning to do to shift towards homegrown and clean, renewable energy including solar and wind.

Beyond that, we’ve fielded dozens of questions and prepared straightforward answers that are easy to understand. In addition to having this online tool, we have 2-page and longer version of these “Frequently Asked Questions” that citizens can use.

Solar farms: homegrown, healthy, and smart for Wisconsin.  Learn more on our new Solar Farms web page!

 

 

The Path to Success for Focus on Energy’s 2019-2022 Renewables Program

The Path to Success for Focus on Energy’s 2019-2022 Renewables Program

For many years, Focus on Energy’s renewable energy incentive program has labored under an operating environment resembling a regulatory roller-coaster. It has weathered funding suspensions, mid-stream budget reallocations, and an effort to replace rebates with loans.

But that extended wild ride is finally coming to an end, the result of Public Service Commission orders that will restore stability and consistency to Focus’s renewable energy offerings.

The PSC’s ruling in June 2018 locked in $22 million in renewable energy incentives for the 2019-2022 funding cycle, split equitably between residential and business customers. That allocation amounts to a funding increase of $4.7 million, or 27%, over the previous four-year cycle.  In addition, the order granted flexibility to move funds between residential and business customers to better ensure all the funding is utilized.

A subsequent order in September 2018 locked in improvements to the business program, including a streamlined application process, a guarantee of request-for-proposals issued three times per year, and a funding set-aside for mid-size projects (between 20 and 100 kilowatts for solar power projects).

We are starting to see the results of these positive decisions!

The business program has an RFP on the street with applications due next week, on Tuesday, October 23rd, for the first round of projects that will be installed in 2019.

All in all, the PSC’s decisions tracked closely with the recommendations submitted by RENEW and its member businesses regarding funding levels and program design.

But before we dive into how it happened, RENEW wishes to thank PSC Chairperson Lon Roberts and Commissioners Mike Huebsch and Rich Zipperer for their votes in support of a strong, predictable, and consistent renewable energy program for Focus on Energy!

We would also like to thank the Commissioners’ Executive Assistants and the Commission’s Focus on Energy staff team for the role they each played in setting up success for 2019 through 2022.

The Anatomy of the Victory

Our goals for the 2018 planning process were twofold: first, to lock in a stable and well-funded operating environment for renewables; and second, to integrate needed process improvements to the incentive program targeting commercial installations. Our member businesses assisted us in formulating these recommendations which were based on an assessment of recently adopted tax and trade policies and their likely effects on customer appetite for onsite renewable generation.

Our success was made possible by the participation of several influential constituencies that weighed into the formal planning docket. For the first time in Focus on Energy’s history, associations representing general contractors, builders, and architects voiced their support for a well-funded renewable energy program.  Drawing upon his background representing contractors at the Capitol, Jim Boullion, RENEW’s Government Affairs Director, was instrumental in engaging these groups to submit a letter conveying their support for continuing current funding levels over the next four years.

In addition, renewable energy businesses and associations across solar, biogas, and geothermal technologies weighed in with support.  These businesses span the entire state, which helped us make the point that the renewable energy program serves rural and urban areas.

 

Geographic Representation of Signatories

 

Our success in 2018 was also made possible by RENEW’s organized media outreach and recognition swings across Wisconsin from 2015 through 2017.  Those events highlighted the increasing appeal of rooftop solar for commercial customers, school districts, and agricultural producers, and called attention to the Focus on Energy incentives that moved these installations to completion.

The ribbon-cuttings and award ceremonies in locations such as Racine, New Berlin, and Darlington proved effective in generating positive coverage from the press. RENEW complemented that effort with analysis documenting the renewable program’s statewide reach and effectiveness in supporting Wisconsin businesses, both at the customer and contractor level.

That effort first bore fruit in October 2016, when the PSC decided to scrap the sputtering loan program and replenish the incentive budget for 2017 and 2018 with unspent loan dollars totaling more than $8.5 million. With that commitment in place, renewable energy businesses could bank on a relatively stable and adequate funding base, and break free of the fits and starts that had hampered their ability to meet growing customer demand.

Getting the 2017 and 2018 programs in place and, through our members, showing them to be successful gave us a strong negotiating position to showcase “what is working” and to advocate for continued rebate funding for 2019-2022.

In the end, it was a combination of RENEW’s strong advocacy on behalf of our member businesses and allies, and the PSC’s desire to see the program succeed that led to this positive outcome. We are fortunate to have so many actively engaged members who understand the value of speaking up with a unified voice.

Said RENEW Executive Director Tyler Huebner: “The Commissioners definitely heard the collective comments of our industry and stakeholders to make the renewable energy program as streamlined and business-friendly as possible.  RENEW Wisconsin will continue to work with the Commission, PSC staff, and the Focus on Energy program administrators to make the programs simple for customers and the renewable energy marketplace, while ensuring cost-effective outcomes.”

Once again, thank you to our Members and Stakeholders who supported our positions, and to the PSC Commissioners, Executive Assistants, and Staff who all played instrumental roles in this process.

We look forward to a strong Focus on Energy renewable energy program for 2019 through 2022!

 

MGE and Dane County Team Up to Build Airport Solar Project

MGE and Dane County Team Up to Build Airport Solar Project

Dane County and Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) are joining forces to construct a solar power plant on County-owned land that will supply clean electricity for one customer only: Dane County. The solar array, expected to total eight megawatts of capacity, will be situated on a 41-acre parcel at the north end of Dane County Regional Airport. MGE will own the array, which will be interconnected directly to the utility’s distribution system nearby.

This project invites superlatives. When completed, it will be the largest solar power plant in Dane County, more than three times as large as Epic Systems’ 2.2 MW installation serving its Verona headquarters, and four times as large as Madison College’s 1.8 MW rooftop array at its Truax campus, which is expected to start generating electricity in November.

Thanks to its Renewable Energy Rider service, MGE has the capability of supplying commercial customers to clean electricity generated from new, offsite solar installations. Through this service, customers like Dane County can lock in a dedicated source of solar at a fixed price for up to 20 years. The cost of building a Renewable Energy Rider project would be borne exclusively by the customer or customers purchasing the electricity.  Other nonparticipating customers would be unaffected by the transaction.

In this case, MGE will recover the full cost of building the airport installation from Dane County’s energy purchases. The county has a goal to source 100% of the electricity it consumes from renewable resources. The output from the airport project should total about 25% of the County’s annual electrical usage.

Later this fall, MGE will select a general contractor to design and build this installation. The utility will also file an application for permission to supply Dane County with the project’s output. The Public Service Commission will review the terms of the agreement to ensure that the airport array is cost-neutral from the standpoint of the utility’s other customers.

Dane County and MGE jointly unveiled its partnership at an October 1st press conference at the airport. The announcement also coincided with the unveiling of the County Executive’s proposed budget for 2019, containing a number of provisions to advance the County’s development and use of renewable energy. One of them involves Lake Farm Park, home of Lussier Family Heritage Center and numerous campsites. The proposed budget allocates $435,000 to build enough solar capacity to supply 100% of the electricity and hot water used at the park.

“Dane County is a nationally-recognized leader in renewable energy adoption and innovation. From the hardest-working landfill in the state, to what will be one of the largest solar farms in the state, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “This historic solar farm will help increase local clean energy jobs, reduce carbon emissions, and reduce the tax burden on Dane County residents through lower energy bills.”

“MGE welcomes the opportunity to partner at the County’s request on this solar project and supports its efforts to achieve 100% renewable energy for its facilities,” said MGE Chairman, President and CEO Jeff Keebler.

If approved, construction of the project is expected to begin in 2019. For more information on the project see: https://www.countyofdane.com/press/details.aspx?id=4370