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.
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.
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
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
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
Wisconsin Builders Association
Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin
Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee
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
Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by cell phone at (608) 695-7004.