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.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decision protects net metering!

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decision protects net metering!

Last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) dismissed a challenge to state control of net metering. The unanimous decision made on Thursday, July 16, 2020 was great news for RENEW Wisconsin and our members.  Homeowners, business and manufacturers that generate their own solar energy can now breathe easy, knowing that the oversight for net metering policy remains in the hands of Wisconsin’s own Public Service Commission.

The New England Ratepayers Association (“NERA”) had petitioned the FERC to take control over net metering policy for the entire country. If the petition were granted, states would have lost the ability to set policy on solar electricity generated by utility customers. The challenge to state control of net metering, the policy that enables energy producers to get bill credit for the extra energy they push back on to the grid, threatened the solar investments of thousands of families and businesses in Wisconsin.

RENEW joined dozens of other clean energy advocacy organizations in a petition to dismiss the issue and encouraged Wisconsin’s political leadership to get involved.  Many elected officials from around the country joined in the fight to protect net metering including Wisconsin’s own, Attorney General Josh Kaul.

Check out the background on this story and how RENEW fought to protect Wisconsinites generating clean energy on their homes and businesses.

$10 million in funding for electric vehicle charging infrastructure threatened by Wisconsin Supreme Court decision

$10 million in funding for electric vehicle charging infrastructure threatened by Wisconsin Supreme Court decision

This morning, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that three of Governor Evers’ budget vetoes are unconstitutional. Included in the three budget vetoes was the allocation of $10 million of Volkswagen Settlement Funding for electric vehicle charging infrastructure. RENEW has been working with partners and the Department of Administration to determine the most effective use of this $10 million since the state budget passed last July.

We are extremely disappointed with this setback. We had hoped to see this money spent over the next year to build a comprehensive network of charging infrastructure that would allow Wisconsinites to easily and confidently drive anywhere in the state with an electric vehicle.

There is a silver lining: Volkswagen Settlement Funds are strictly allocated based on a federal settlement that stipulates this funding must be spent to reduce diesel and gasoline emissions. RENEW will continue to fight to ensure this money is reallocated to electric vehicle charging infrastructure, as we believe this is the best way to support the transition to a clean, homegrown transportation system.

For more information, see RENEW Wisconsin’s previous blogs about Volkswagen Settlement Funding:

July 3, 2019 • Governor Evers Signs Budget Designating VW Money to Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

May 31, 2019 • Electric Charging Station Funding Takes Another Ste

March 6, 2019 • Volkswagen Settlement Update

October 22, 2018 • The “Volkswagen Settlement” – A Big Opportunity for Electric Vehicles

What’s going on at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and what could it mean for Wisconsin’s renewable energy market?

What’s going on at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and what could it mean for Wisconsin’s renewable energy market?

An upcoming decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has the solar industry, legislators, clean energy advocates, and state regulators extremely worried over the viability of solar power for homeowners and businesses.

The New England Ratepayers Association (“NERA”) has petitioned the FERC to take control over net metering policy for the entire country. If the petition is granted, states would lose the ability to set policy on solar electricity generated by utility customers. NERA’s petition has sparked widespread opposition from states, legislators, individuals and renewable energy businesses. Attorney Generals from 15 states, including Wisconsin’s own Attorney General Josh Kaul, submitted a protest in opposition to the petition.


What inspired 15 attorney generals, three governors, and state officials from across the political spectrum to engage in a federal energy policy debate? 

For almost 40 years, states have had the authority to design and implement net metering policies. The NERA petition aims to reverse this long-standing precedent and eliminate Wisconsin’s ability to tailor utility net metering services to best fit local conditions.


What is net metering?

As defined by the Solar Energy Industries Association, net metering is a billing mechanism that credits PV system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. For example, if a residential customer has a rooftop PV system, it may generate more electricity than the home uses during daylight hours. If the home is net-metered, the electricity meter will run backwards to provide a credit against what electricity is consumed at night or other periods when the home’s electricity use exceeds the system’s output. The credit is set at the customer’s retail energy rate. Under this arrangement, customers are only billed for their “net” energy use. This practice enables utility customers who are producing their own electricity to decrease their electricity bills, and it is a powerful tool for driving investment in solar power.


What is at stake here?

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Wisconsin has 3,879 residential net metering households, 874 commercial net metering customers, and 74 industrial net metering customers. These customers are at risk of increased electric bills with the potential loss of net metering.

In addition, the 2019 jobs data from Clean Energy Trust found that before the pandemic hit, Wisconsin employed over 3,798 solar installers as part of the statewide clean energy workforce. With less financial incentive for installing solar, these jobs and other clean energy jobs would be at risk if this petition is granted.


Net metering is good for everyone

RENEW Wisconsin joined other organizations in protesting this petition to wrest control of net metering away from states and put it in the hands of a federal agency. Our protest, authored by attorneys Dave Bender and Carter Hall of Earthjustice with clients Sierra Club and Vote Solar, includes explanations of the value of net metering policies for the electric grid. Here are some essential excerpts from the protest: 

  • Net metered facilities (such as solar) provide capacity value by avoiding otherwise required generation, transmission and distribution capacity.
  • With net metering, solar has become an affordable option for almost everyone, not just high-wealth families. Net metering supports the increased use of distributed solar (such as solar arrays on the rooftop of a house or business), stimulating investment across communities while reducing the environmental and health impacts on low income communities and communities of color, who are disproportionately burdened by current forms of energy production.
  • Solar installers operate in a competitive marketplace, driving down prices and passing savings onto consumers.
  • Distributed solar has predictable energy production.
  • Allegations of cross-subsidies are unfounded and overstated.  Net metered customers often reduce their own loads and system loads during the cost-causing peak hours used to allocate costs of retail service, meaning they consume less of the fixed and demand services as measured by cost of service analysis.

Strong bipartisan support for state control of net metering

Millions of individual citizens and businesses across the country have made significant investments to generate their own electricity and have entered long-term contracts premised on the continuation of policies and programs regulated at the state level. Granting the petition would create enormous uncertainty and financial harm for our citizens and businesses at a time when they are already struggling with the economic impacts of the coronavirus.

More than 240 comments in opposition have been submitted to the FERC, and just five comments in support of taking away state control of net metering. Here are a few highlights:

Josh Kaul, Attorney General of Wisconsin said,
“Suddenly changing the rules on Wisconsinites who invested in clean energy for their homes is wrong and bad for the future of clean energy,” said AG Kaul. “The federal government shouldn’t be disrupting state programs that are good for the environment and help consumers save money.” 6/15/20

Frank Knapp Jr.  CEO and President of South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce said,
…Net metering regulation properly resides with the states… We ask that the Commission reject the NERA petition. Moving it forward only serves the purpose of big special interests that find it easier to influence one group of federal commissioners rather than legislators, regulators and consumers in 50 individual states.” ​6/11/20

Terry Kilgore, Virginia State Delegate (R-VA-1) wrote,
This case would set two bad precedents. It would move us closer to nationalized electricity regulation and give more power to unaccountable federal bureaucrats. We, as Virginians, must oppose this and fight to make sure the authority to set energy policy stays vested with Virginia’s General Assembly.” ​6/20/20


Net metering is in jeopardy. The petition, if approved, would take the state out of the picture in designing and preserving net metering as we know it. You can count on RENEW to keep working to ensure that net metering policies remain in the hands of our state regulators and are designed to fairly compensate residents and business that have installed renewable energy.

Make a donation today to support this work and all of the ways RENEW Wisconsin is protecting and advancing renewable energy in Wisconsin. 

Governor Evers Climate Change Task Force – Now is Your Chance for Input!

Governor Evers Climate Change Task Force – Now is Your Chance for Input!

In October of 2019, Governor Tony Evers announced the formation of the Wisconsin Climate Change Task Force. Led by Lt. Governor Barnes, this bi-partisan group represents lawmakers, utilities, agriculture, environmental groups, health officials, and tribes with a goal of developing strategies to help Wisconsin reduce the effects of climate change and reach 100% carbon free electricity generation by 2050.

The Climate Change Task Force has been collecting ideas from various organizations and has worked hard to identify dozens of items that could be implemented. The next step is to hear from Wisconsin residents. The Governor, Lt. Governor, and Climate Change Task Force need your input and support to find the best path forward.

RENEW has identified three key issues that we feel would have the greatest impact and best chances for success. Join this important effort by signing your name in support of these initiatives!

Third Party Financing
Wisconsin should affirm the legality of third party financed distributed energy resources in order to provide equitable access to renewable energy benefits.

Electric Vehicle Infrastructure
Wisconsin should develop a comprehensive plan for transportation electrification.

Expand Focus on Energy
Wisconsin should facilitate the installation of more renewable energy and energy efficiency measures by expanding the Focus on Energy program.  

If you have other ideas and would like to contribute more to the Climate Change Task Force, consider taking the following actions:

Provide written comments​ to the Task Force. Comments must be submitted by July 15th.

Provide live comments at the end of one of the remaining Task Force Subcommittee meetings

Provide live comments​ during the Virtual Public Listening Sessions, which will be held on June 23, June 27, July 7, July 9 and July 15. 

In August, the Task Force will review all of the comments they receive, and make their recommendations for the final report in September. The report is scheduled to be released on October 31, 2020.

If you have any questions, need more information, or would like help preparing for live comments, please contact Jim Boullion, RENEW’s Director of Government Affairs at jim@renewwisconsin.org or call at (608) 695-7004. 

RENEW Wisconsin is a proud partner of Rise Up Midwest, a coalition effort led by MREA promoting renewable energy investment and grid modernization. Rise Up Midwest supports this petition and has highlighted their own policy priorities and programs to advance their mission. 

COVID-19 Resources for Wisconsin Solar Contractors

COVID-19 Resources for Wisconsin Solar Contractors

The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in many extraordinary measures to be taken by the federal, state, and local governments such as the “Safer at Home” order prohibiting groups of people from gathering and prohibiting some businesses from operating that pose a high risk of exposing their clientele to infections. These measures have resulted in a major impact on businesses in general and the solar industry in particular.

As a new affiliate of the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) we will be bringing you updates that they they are able to share on the COVID 19 issue as well.  There is a lot of information there, but check out these webpages first:

SEIA: Permitting Options for Solar Installations During the COVID-19 Outbreak
SEIA: Guidance for Solar Installers, EPCs and O&M Service Providers on Managing Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

In Wisconsin, the construction industry, including solar, has been determined to be an “essential business” for the life-safety and infrastructure support benefits that it provides. Since this is new for everyone, the rules and guidance for how to operate in this environment are being created and amended regularly.

The leading solar and construction industry trade associations have developed excellent resources with FAQ’s on many of the important questions that contractors have such as:

Can contractors work inside buildings as well as outside?
Yes, but all essential businesses, to the greatest extent possible, are encouraged to use personal protective equipment where appropriate, use technology to avoid meeting in person when possible and engage in social distancing.

Do I need documentation to prove that I’m an “essential worker?”           (ABC of Wisconsin)
Essential workers do not need documentation to prove they are essential, according to state agency staff. Police are generally not going to be stopping individuals and asking for proof. In some rare instances, construction employees have been asked to provide documentation to prove they are essential and exempt from the “safer at home” order. While not required, it may be helpful and prudent to provide your employees with a letter explaining their exemption from the emergency order.

Do I need to request any type of exemption for my business?                   (ABC of Wisconsin)
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), which is the government agency charged with determining whether businesses are “essential,” has indicated that if your type of business is listed (i.e. construction) there is no need to get a designation to become exempt; you are already included under exempt. If your business type is listed as essential, there is no further action required.

Am I required to have written COVID-19 response plan? (ABC of Wisconsin)
While it is not explicitly required in the state’s order, the WEDC encourages each business to develop a written COVID-19 response plan that is unique to each individual business and type of work being done. 

If someone is positive with COVID-19, do I have to record in on my OSHA log? (ABC of Wisconsin)
Most likely, no. As an employer, you should determine whether there was any exposure that occurred in the work environment that caused or contributed to the test positive. As a practical matter, it is very difficult to do this and not practical to ascertain there was exposure on the worksite. OSHA would have to prove that the employee testing positive was work-related. If you have a COVID-19 case that results in a fatality or in-patient hospitalization, you would want to call OSHA. You would also likely be engaged with your local health department if this were to occur.

What steps should I be taking as a contractor employer?                             (ABC of Wisconsin)
Under the “General Duty” clause from OSHA, employers are to provide a safe and healthy workplace free from hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm.  Employers should follow the recommendations for the number of employees on a particular worksite and instruct employees on the practice of social distancing, or ensuring employees keep a six foot distance between one another while working. Employees should not share tools.

Employers should remind employees to take basic, preventative measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus at the workplace, including these recommendations:

   • Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
   • avoiding touching their eyes, nose and mouth;
   • covering sneezes or coughs with tissues, if possible, or else with a sleeve or shoulder;
   • avoiding close contact with people who are sick;
   • staying home when sick; and
   • cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and objects.

Employers should provide adequate supplies in the workplace for employees to follow these recommended practices.

CDC guidelines for protecting employees
www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html 

ABC of Wisconsin Jobs Ambassador Rebecca Kleefisch discusses how contractors are addressing job site and employee safety and not taking lightly the declaration that construction is an “essential service” in Wisconsin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebRAC98RuAk&t=53s


The following websites are currently open to the public and you don’t have to be a member of the associations to access these resources.

Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin
www.abcwi.org/covid-19-updates

Wisconsin Builders Association
www.wisbuild.org/news-1/covid19

Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin
www.agcwi.org/covid-19.html

Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee
agc-gm.org/uncategorized/coronavirus/
agc-gm.org/news/agc-of-gm-covid-19-documents/
agc-gm.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/COVID-19-Recommended-Practices.JointAGC.docx

Construction Coalition Issues Joint Statement on Jobsite Safety During COVID-19 outbreak:
“Fifteen labor and management organizations in Wisconsin committed to the health, safety and welfare of our workforce and the public by issuing specific mitigation strategies to combat the COVID-19 outbreak on jobsites.”

State of Wisconsin COVID-19 Information Webpage
govstatus.egov.com/wi-covid-19

Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services
dsps.wi.gov/pages/Home.aspx


We will bring you further updates as they develop. If you have specific questions please contact Jim Boullion, RENEW Wisconsin’s Director of Government Affairs at jim@renewwisconsin.org or by cell phone at (608) 695-7004.