Plugged in and Powered Up at Palmyra-Eagle Area School District

Plugged in and Powered Up at Palmyra-Eagle Area School District

“About six years ago, this school district was on the verge of dissolving for a variety of reasons,” said Dr. Ryan Krohn, district administrator. “When we doubled down our efforts as a board to stay open, we said we’d invest in innovation and sustainable efforts.”

In the fall of 2022, the district applied for the Clean Bus Program Grant through the EPA, funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. As they charted their path forward, the leaders of the Palmyra-Eagle Area School District had to shift their thinking about the future, which ultimately led to electric buses.

When the school district learned about the EPA grant, they brought the idea of transitioning to electric buses to the school board. Together, district leaders and the board looked at how this change aligned with their goals of safe, healthy, and effective schools.

“We knew it was going to require new thinking, new experiences, and ultimately, we looked at this as a starting spot to transform our system,” Krohn said.

When considering the transition to electric school buses, the district looked at efficiencies that would be gained, not only in terms of the costs from fuel savings but also in terms of health, safety, and the environment. Addressing these aspects required the district to strengthen and build new partnerships with key stakeholders. This included energy utilities, local police, the transportation company they work with, and many other partners. Thanks to the support they received in return, they became the first school district in Wisconsin to start using electric buses to transport their students.

“There’s no way our school district, being led by someone like myself, was going to be able to be able to pull this off (alone),” Krohn said .”My background is not in this.”

The district was ultimately awarded $2 million dollars, enough for six electric school buses. Since receiving the buses, Ryan has been participating in webinars and other events to share the story of Palymra-Eagle’s journey. That journey and the connections they made along the way have led to the district leaders altering how they look at their 10-year capital plan. It has also led to greater engagement with the community.

“Our recent efforts, just because of this, ended up in our community donating money for a new greenhouse,” Krohn said. “We have a strong agricultural program in our school district.”

Both the electric school buses and this new greenhouse serve as educational tools for the students of the Palymra-Eagle School district. As Dr. Krohn said, it also empowers their students and engages them in thinking about the shifts that need to happen for our energy future.

Clean Energy Legislative Update • January 2024

Clean Energy Legislative Update • January 2024

Wisconsin’s state legislature has acted swiftly this January to move legislation impacting electric vehicles (EV) through the legislative process. The Senate version of the proposed EV bill, SB 791, has already passed through the Senate Utilities & Technology Committee with a recommendation for passage. Similarly, the Assembly version of the bill, AB 846, cleared the State Assembly Committee on Energy & Utilities.

The legislation also passed through the Joint Committee on Finance and Joint Survey Committee on Tax Exemptions, gathering favorable votes. Most recently, the full Senate passed their version of the bill in a 30-2 vote. The next step is a vote by the full Assembly after which the bill will go to the Governor’s desk.

As with all legislative bills, amendments and tweaks along the way are common. There have been three amendments added so far, and we are analyzing the impact of these on the original bill.

The focus of the bill is to allow non-utilities to seek payment from EV drivers based on the amount of electricity they use to charge their vehicles rather than the time it takes for the vehicle to charge. This qualifies Wisconsin public and private entities to receive federal dollars to help build charging infrastructure while also establishing operational and maintenance requirements for the chargers.

National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) funding would be available for up to 5 years, which is especially beneficial for areas where the market is not yet ready to support EV infrastructure but could in a few years. This allows the areas that currently have less EV traffic to build EV charging infrastructure to support a growing user base.

RENEW initially raised concerns about the impact the bills would have on existing EV charging facilities and the need for the state to have similar opportunities for infrastructure that local governments would. Those concerns have been addressed in part within the proposed amendments.

SB 791 and AB 846 bring Wisconsin in line with 48 other states while providing uniform access, pricing, accountability, and standards for EV Charging. We expect to see the bill become law.

Getting EV charging stations installed in WI: Options through zoning and building codes

Getting EV charging stations installed in WI: Options through zoning and building codes

The number of electric vehicles (EVs) is increasing rapidly in the U.S. and worldwide. Wisconsin saw an increase from 319 EV registrations in 2013 to 9,039 EV registrations in 2021 and 13,893 EV registrations in 2022. The increase is driven by several factors, including advances in technology, cost savings for EV owners, decisions made by state policymakers, and commitments by automakers. By the year 2030, there may be as many as 19 million EVs on the road in the U.S. 

Adopting EV charging standards can save businesses and homeowners money because it’s much less expensive to install EV charging infrastructure during new construction than it is to retrofit buildings after they are built. Municipalities need to plan for the increasing number of EVs and the cost savings of installing EV charging infrastructure during new construction so that residents can access charging stations at businesses and their homes.

What Policies Help Ensure EV Readiness?

In Wisconsin, the two main tools that take advantage of building and parking infrastructure to move us toward EV readiness are zoning and building codes. The following offers a short explanation of each policy tool, its current status in Wisconsin, and examples.

Zoning

More than fifty state and local governments in the U.S. have enacted zoning ordinance amendments or building code amendments to ensure EV readiness. Each local government decides individually which provisions to include in their general zoning ordinances. Zoning ordinance amendments for EV chargers typically have three components:

  1. EV charging definitions
  2. Designated zoning districts for EV charging stations
  3. Requirements for electrical wiring and other infrastructure for EV chargers in new construction (optional)

When deciding where EV charges will be permitted, it is important to keep in mind that, unlike gas stations, EV charging stations don’t create the risk of fuel spills, underground fuel leaks, or fumes. Example approaches include:

  1. Allowing Charging stations in all zoning districts as was done in Des Moines, IA
  2. Allowing level 1 and 2 charging stations in all districts and allowing level 3 fast chargers in industrial and highway commercial districts as was done in Chelan, WA

You can choose from the menu of zoning provisions for EV chargers in Ready for Electric Vehicles? Modifying Local Land Use Policies starting on page 8 to tailor ordinance provisions to fit your community.

State and Local Building Codes

Wisconsin has a state-level Uniform Dwelling Code (UDC) and a Commercial Code that are adopted by the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Public Services. This does not include standards for wiring or other EV charging infrastructure. Municipalities cannot alter these building codes, so they are precluded from including EV charging station requirements. This is true for the state’s Uniform Dwelling Code for one and two-family dwellings and the state’s commercial building code. 

Many states and municipalities use the International Building Code as their base code and may add additional standards to tailor the code to their community. 

  • International Building Code. The International Building Code (IBC) is updated every three years, and the 2021 code went into effect in October 2021. The IBC is a set of voluntary guidelines used by many states. The 2021 IBC calls for one EV-ready parking space, which means installing panels, outlets, and conduits capable of charging at least one full-size EV in a single-family garage overnight. Multi-family buildings will need two EV-ready parking spaces, along with more that can be easily retrofitted, a standard known as EV-capable. The decision to install an EV charger is left to the property owner. 
  • State and local building codes:
    • In the central part of the U.S., Minnesota, Kansas, and North Dakota have adopted the 2018 IBC in their state building codes.
    • In contrast, Wisconsin has its own residential code, known as the Uniform Dwelling Code (UDC) for one and two-family dwellings based on the 2009 IBC, and a commercial building code based on the 2015 IBC.
    • On August 10, 2023, the Wisconsin Senate Housing, Rural Issues, and Forestry Committee rejected an update to bring the state’s commercial building codes up to date with the 2021 IBC.
  • A Wisconsin law passed in 2013 established a uniform statewide commercial building code and prohibits municipalities from adopting or enforcing their own standards, making Wisconsin one of only three states to restrict local control, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Similarly, the Wisconsin UDC does not allow municipalities to adopt more stringent standards. The current Wisconsin building codes do not include standards for EV charging standards, and communities cannot add these standards to their building code. Wisconsin is working on updating its building codes, which are outdated. Big EV infrastructure questions in these updates are as follows:
    • Will Wisconsin adopt a UDC and commercial code that includes current EV infrastructure standards?
    • Will Wisconsin change from one-size-fits-all UDC and commercial code to allow communities to choose to tailor their building codes, which could include requiring EV-ready parking spaces?

Takeaways

Driving electric has many benefits. The number of EVs and EV charging stations are increasing rapidly. While current EV drivers in the U.S. charge 80% of the time at home, one-third of Wisconsin households rent their home and do not get to decide if EV charging is available where they park. The installation of EV charging infrastructure is four to six times less expensive when included during new construction versus a building retrofit. Because of this, EV charging standards in building codes and zoning ordinances can save businesses and homeowners money. 

Each local government decides individually which provisions to include in their general zoning ordinances. Zoning ordinances are useful tools for local governments to indicate where public EV charging is allowed or prohibited. Local governments may also choose to require electrical wiring and other infrastructure for EV chargers in new construction.

EV charging standards are not included in the current statewide Wisconsin UDC or commercial building code. Current Wisconsin laws do not allow communities to voluntarily add EV charging standards to their building codes. When tailoring EV charging standards to fit communities, we can learn from the many states and communities that have already amended their zoning ordinances and building codes to ensure EV readiness.

Lynn MarkhamCenter for Land Use Education
Clean Energy Legislative Update • December 2023

Clean Energy Legislative Update • December 2023

Though the year is coming to a close, RENEW Wisconsin’s efforts to support electric vehicle (EV) charging and community solar will continue into 2024. RENEW staff recently had the opportunity to testify before the Senate Committee on Utilities and Technology to share our support for SB 791.

We are also working with the Community Solar Coalition to get a hearing on the community solar bill. The Coalition is reaching out to leadership in the state legislature along with the chairman of the Senate Committee on Utilities and Technology to advance the bill to the next step.

EV Charging – SB 791

RENEW Wisconsin staff testified before the Senate Committee on Utilities and Technology on December 19, 2023. In our testimony we shared our support for SB 791, explaining that it will align the state of Wisconsin’s laws with the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Standards and Requirements set by the Federal Highway Administration and qualify for NEVI funds.

NEVI requires that the payment for charging your vehicle be based on kilowatt hours of electricity used rather than time. In Wisconsin, making electricity available by the kilowatt hour (kWh) is restricted for non-utilities. As it stands, the EV stations operating in the state have consumers pay by the amount of time it takes to charge rather than the amount of electricity used.

Allowing private entities to sell electricity by the kWh to charge an electric vehicle without being regulated as a utility will grant Wisconsin $78 million in NEVI dollars. These dollars are needed to fund the build-out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure and establish operational and maintenance standards.

This bill will bring Wisconsin in line with 48 other states and provide uniform access, pricing, accountability, and standards for EV Charging. More importantly, establishing the kWh standard for Wisconsin is time-sensitive as the deadline to qualify for the NEVI funds is the end of February 2024.

During our testimony, we recommend two improvements:

First, we ask for the grandfathering of all existing EV charging facilities up to the date when this new law becomes effective. We believe that early adopters of EV charging should not be forced to make costly changes to their existing systems and investments. Additionally, allowing the current economic and ownership arrangements to continue would not compete with the new systems but rather continue serving the market.

Second, we asked that the bill be modified to allow state government entities to lease land for charging or that they be able to partner with a private entity to host facilities. This change would allow charging stations to be placed in remote places that private businesses may not find suitable.

 

Clean Energy Legislative Update • November 2023

Clean Energy Legislative Update • November 2023

RENEW Wisconsin is monitoring several new bills relating to solar and wind project siting, reforms aimed at the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) and utilities, and a slew of proposals from the Forward on Climate legislative package. We are reviewing these bills to determine our position on these proposals. We are also continuing our work to support EV charging infrastructure and bills that would allow Wisconsin residents to participate in community solar projects.

Bills to Watch

On November 16, Wisconsin Democrats reintroduced their Forward on Climate legislative package. In all the package contains 20 bills, which address issues ranging from job creation to inequality. This includes bills that focus on job training grants, racial disparity impact studies, a funding increase for Focus on Energy, on-bill financing, biodigester planning grants, transportation planning, and changes to the energy building code.

RENEW is also monitoring a group of bills that would create reforms for the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin and state utilities. Some of these bills would impact how utilities notify customers of rate increases, alter procedures for complaints filed with the PSCW, impact the closure of large electric generating facilities such as coal plants, and allow the PSCW and interested parties to learn what public utilities are planning for future energy generation.

A final group of bills under review by RENEW staff would directly impact large-scale solar and wind projects. Some of the potential impacts of these bills include requirements to assess agricultural land for productivity before a project is approved, limit ownership of agricultural or forest land by foreign entities, and require notification of neighboring property owners of projects before they are deemed viable.

RENEW staff is reviewing and monitoring all of these bills and will provide regular updates on their progress.

Electric Vehicle Charging

Better access to charging stations to support the electric vehicle industry is a top priority for RENEW. We continue to support efforts to remove some of the barriers in Wisconsin. Current state law limits private companies’ ability to build charging stations by only allowing electric utilities to sell electricity to the public.

  • RENEW anticipates legislation (likely led by Sen. Howard Marklein) to be introduced this fall to remove some of these barriers.
  • RENEW is hoping the proposed legislation would allow non-utilities to provide electricity at charging stations by using the national standard of charging by the kilowatt hour rather than by the time it takes to charge.
  • RENEW staff have been in regular communication with various interested parties and we hope to see movement on this proposal soon.
  • To support these efforts, we also have preliminary plans to host educational, lobbying, and test-driving electric vehicle events through the fall.

Community Solar

Wisconsin state law limits solar installations to larger utility-built projects and smaller rooftop installations on individual homes or businesses. This leaves a gap in the options available for some Wisconsinites. Allowing community-based projects for individuals to participate in solar energy generation even if they do not own the building or have adequate sun exposure would create more equity as it relates to solar generation.

RENEW Wisconsin is part of a coalition of groups that support community solar projects, along with two bills introduced earlier this year that would allow Wisconsin residents to participate in community solar projects. SB 226 was authored by Sen. Duey Stroebel, and AB 258 was authored by Rep. Scott Krug.

  • RENEW is encouraging the chairman of the committee, Sen. Julian Bradley, to schedule a hearing in the fall in the Senate Committee on Utilities & Technology.
  • More than 30 organizations are listed as lobbyists on the proposal, with an almost equal number for and against.
  • Utility groups have strongly opposed the bills.
  • Supporters along with RENEW include the Alliance of WI Retailers, NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Association, League of WI Municipalities, WI Property Taxpayer Association, and Fieldworks Power. New supporters continue to join the effort.

 

Electric School Buses Arrive in Wisconsin

Electric School Buses Arrive in Wisconsin

The Palmyra-Eagle Area School District, in collaboration with Dousman Transport Company, has deployed Wisconsin’s first registered electric school buses. The new buses were funded through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean School Bus Program.

The community joined the district for a celebration on Wednesday, October 25, at the Irving L. Young Community Center on the Palmyra-Eagle Middle and High School campus. Palmyra-Eagle Area School District not only has the first registered electric school buses in Wisconsin but is the first district to switch over its entire fleet to electric.

Ryan Krohn, Palmyra-Eagle School District Superintendent, said, “As we look at where we’re going, in our mission statement we talk about the word innovation, and while our school district prides itself on performance excellence, there’s also a time for us to think about the future and sustainability.”

Krohn’s Full Comments:

 

The new superintendent also noted that the buses will help to keep district dollars in the classroom and support learning.

When considering whether to apply for the funding former Palmyra-Eagle School District Gray asked, “What do we save in fuel costs?”

Upon learning that number he determined quickly that it was a done deal.

“We’ve got to do this, we’re talking $50,000 – $60,000 on up in fuel savings and that’s a big number to our district here,” Gray said.

The district received $2.4 million through the Clean Bus Program to acquire all six electric school buses and install charging stations. The Clean Bus Program, which is funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021, covered the full cost of the buses for the district.

Fourteen additional Wisconsin schools, which also received Clean Bus Program funding, will receive their buses over the next few months.

By giving districts the opportunity to acquire these buses without having to use district dollars they are able to immediately start saving on fuel costs.

During the celebration one bus driver noted that fully charging the bus they were driving only cost $4. For perspective that’s less than a single gallon of diesel at the time of writing.

The implementation of electric buses will lead to healthier communities and smoother, quieter rides for students. Fully charged, the electric buses, manufactured by IC Bus, can travel around 135 miles. This transition to electric school buses means healthier, quieter rides for the approximately 325 Palmyra-Eagle students who currently take the bus to school.

“In all my years of administration I’ve never seen such excitement over yellow buses,” Gray said.