As part of its tenth annual Renewable Energy Summit, RENEW Wisconsin will recognize individuals and organizations who have made significant and lasting advances in renewable energy development here in Wisconsin.
Titled “Building the Clean Energy Mosaic,” this year’s Summit will be hosted virtually over three days from Tuesday, January 12th through Thursday, January 14th, 2021. The theme of this year’s event, “Building the Clean Energy Mosaic,” will highlight the diversity of technologies, people, and scale needed to shape our clean energy future.
Roster of 2020 awardees
Renewable Energy Business of the Year
Northwind Solar Cooperative, Amherst
Renewable Energy Catalysts of the Year:
Sid Sczygelski & Ali Wolf, Aspirus Health, Wausau
Charles Hua, Madison
Renewable Energy Champion of the Year
Oregon School District
Renewable Energy Pioneer of the Year
Renewable Energy Project of the Year
Two Creeks Solar Park, Manitowoc County
NextEra Energy Resources (developer)
Wisconsin Public Service Corp. (joint owner)
Madison Gas and Electric (joint owner)
Renewable Energy Business of the Year
NorthwindSolar Cooperative has been a fixture in Central Wisconsin’s renewable energy marketplace since 2007, operating principally in the residential and small commercial segments. Throughout its history, Northwind has been acutely conscious of the value of community ties. Northwind’s PV systems are a common sight in Amherst. The company has operated the Grow Solar – Central Wisconsin group purchase program for four straight years, designing and installing more than a megawatt of solar capacity for 168 residential customers. After the company reorganized itself as a worker-owned cooperative structure, Northwind committed to building a new headquarters building in Amherst Business Park that showcases its talents and services. With 44 kW of PV capacity and multiple battery configurations, Northwind’s new headquarters building invites prospective customers to pursue solar + storage as the energy package of the future.
Renewable Energy Catalysts of the Year
Aspirus Health is a health care organization serving much of central and northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, with 10 hospitals, 50+ clinics, labs and other service-providing facilities within its system. In 2018 Aspirus launched a systemwide initiative to identify and implement strategies for slashing its energy overhead and scaling back its carbon footprint. Sid Sczygelski, chief financial officer of Aspirus, chairs this initiative, while Sustainability Director Ali Wolf directs and coordinates this ambitious undertaking. Their goal is to reduce carbon emissions systemwide 80% by 2030. Going into 2021, Sczygelski, Wolf and the Aspirus sustainability team have made great progress to date. Aspirus has integrated into its buildings more than 900 kilowatts of solar PV on its rooftops, saving more than $600,000/year in energy expenses. In 2021, Aspirus plans to double its use of solar energy systemwide and complete construction on its most energy-efficient facility yet, a clinic in Wausau.
In 2017, students and staff at Madison West High School started work on a campaign to power their school with a rooftop solar PV system. That year, Charles Hua, then a junior, took the helm of West Green Club and launched a fundraising and outreach campaign that blossomed into one of the largest youth-led sustainability efforts in Wisconsin. From June 2017 through 2019, the West Green Club raised nearly $90,000 from staff, students, parents and local foundations, accounting for nearly 50% of the cost of their 128 kW solar PV system. Installed last summer by Westphal Electric, Madison West’s solar system is now the largest array supplying electricity to a Madison Metropolitan School District building. The example set by Hua and West Green Club helped inspire the school district to adopt a 100% renewable goal for all of its facilities. Hua is now a junior at Harvard University.
Renewable Energy Champion of the Year
Long a leader in pursuing solar power for its operations, Oregon School District took advantage of an opportunity in 2018 to push the envelope on sustainability at its new Forest Edge Elementary School in Fitchburg. Collaborating with HGA’s Madison office, an architectural and engineering design firm, the school district financed and saw to completion the first net zero energy public school in Wisconsin. Equipped with a 646 kW rooftop solar array, a ground-source heat pump system and onsite battery storage, Forest Edge is an all-electric building. There is no gas connection to the school. Completed in the fall of 2020, Forest Edge represents a quantum leap in capturing, controlling and maximizing the economic value of sunshine and ground temperatures to heat, cool and power a building where many people congregate.
Renewable Energy Pioneer of the Year
Impatient with federal and state government inaction on climate change, Dane County decided to roll up it sleeves and get to work, starting in 2017 with the creation of the Office of Climate Change and Energy. The County’s approach to reducing fossil fuel use has been aggressive and remarkably systematic for a local government. A number of these actions bore fruit in 2020. These include:
Throwing the switch on a biogas processing plant in April that converts gas from landfill waste and cow manure into a pipeline-grade renewable fuel;
Releasing a Climate Action Plan, also in April, containing recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions countywide 45% by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050;
Partnering with Madison Gas and Electric to host a 9-megawatt solar array on airport property and purchase the output from that project, under a long-term contract; and
Purchasing property in the Town of Cottage Grove to host a larger solar array that will enable the County to offset all of its electricity usage with zero-emission power.
Renewable Energy Project of the Year
Developed by Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources in Manitowoc County, the 150-megawatt Two Creeks Solar Park was energized last November. It is now the largest power plant in the state of Wisconsin that is fueled by the sun. Jointly owned by Wisconsin Public Service and Madison Gas and Electric, Two Creeks effectively doubled solar generation capacity in Wisconsin, and its output will equal the electrical consumption of 33,000 residential households. Two Creeks was the first solar power plant to receive approval from the Public Service Commission, and the first to be approved as a utility-owned asset. Seeing Two Creeks to completion opens the door to a new chapter in electric power, one highlighted by the emergence of solar power as the cleanest, more affordable and least risky supply option available to Wisconsin electric providers.
This year’s summit program will also draw attention to other milestones and notable achievements in 2020, including the following:
The Public Service Commission approved two large solar farms—Badger State Solar and Paris Solar—that will add 349 MW of solar power to Wisconsin’s electric generation portfolio;
Madison Gas and Electric completed two smaller solar farms in its service territory, with a combined capacity of 14 MW, to supply several customers under contract and expand its shared solar program;
Grants from RENEW’s Solar for Good program resulted in 27 new solar installations across the state totaling 1,265 kW of operating capacity.
Two Eau Claire high schools—Memorial and North—celebrated the completion of their 126 kW solar arrays supported by Solar on Schools, a joint venture between the Couillard Solar Foundation and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association.
Eagle Point Solar installed 400 kW(AC) of PV capacity, serving four City of La Crosse-owned buildings.
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.
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.
RENEW Wisconsin has named Heather Allen as Executive Director. Ms. Allen was hired as RENEW’s Program Director in July 2018 and has been acting as Interim Executive Director since March, when RENEW’s prior Executive Director, Tyler Huebner, was appointed by Governor Tony Evers to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.
Prior to joining RENEW Wisconsin, Ms. Allen worked as the Legislative Analyst for the City of Madison’s Common Council. She brings to RENEW a cumulative 15 years of experience developing policies and programs at the Clean Lakes Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the City of Madison.
“With Heather at the helm, RENEW is well-positioned to steer Wisconsin’s clean energy transition on a path towards a broader distribution of its benefits,” said Michael Vickerman, Policy Director at RENEW Wisconsin. “As state and local governments, schools, businesses, farmers, tribes, affinity groups, and individuals become more invested in clean energy, RENEW will be working with them to realize a future in which renewable energy is available and accessible for anyone who desires it.”
“Heather is an ally for solar installers and customers across Wisconsin,” Burke O’Neal at Full Spectrum Solar added. “She is dedicated to improving access to renewable energy for homeowners, businesses, local governments and nonprofit organizations.”
“I’m thrilled to congratulate Heather Allen on becoming Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin,” said Deb Erwin, Manager, Regulatory Policy, Xcel Energy. “As a national leader in the clean energy transition, Xcel Energy knows the importance of working together with partners to make our vision a reality. We look forward to working with Heather to bring all the benefits of the clean energy transition to Wisconsin.”
Eric Udelhofen, RENEW Wisconsin Board of Directors Chair and Project Developer at OneEnergy Renewables, a RENEW business member added, “The RENEW Board is thrilled that Heather Allen has accepted the offer to become our new Executive Director, and is very excited to continue working together with Heather to advance RENEW’s mission of advancing renewable energy in Wisconsin. Heather is a fierce advocate for our issues and will be able to step in and be an effective advocate and leader from day one.”
Ms. Allen said, “As we look ahead to the next five years, there is so much opportunity for clean energy. Price drops in wind and solar and public interest in generating clean emission-free electricity have paved the way for growth and innovation in new technologies. Electric vehicles, batteries, and demand response solutions are reshaping the energy landscape to allow for a more responsive, sustainable, and affordable grid.”
“We are committed to increasing equitable access to the benefits of renewable energy so that all Wisconsinites have a clear stake in our energy system. I envision a future in which Wisconsin becomes a renewable energy leader and a model for other states.” She added,“This is the moment to seize the opportunity to shift towards renewable energy, keep billions of dollars in Wisconsin, and reinvest in our local economies.”
Ms. Allen is the producer and host of Wisconsin Energy Broadcast (WEB) on WORT 89.9 FM, a monthly broadcast, where she discusses clean technology and renewable energy in the Midwest.
Ms. Allen received a Bachelor of Science in Biological Aspects of Conservation and International Relations from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and Master of Arts in International Environmental Policy from Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
Other advocates and industry professionals also expressed their congratulations on Ms. Allen’s appointment:
It is always a pleasure to work with Heather. Her gift is being able to draw in people with many different perspectives and experiences. She continues to expand the coalition of allies who can advocate effectively for clean energy in Wisconsin.
Jennifer Giegerich, Government Affairs Director, Wisconsin Conservation Voters
Heather Allen’s understanding of the multifaceted challenge of climate change mitigation clearly drives her dedication to achieve climate justice. As a physician advocating for the health of my patients via equitable climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions, I have found Heather’s expert understanding of large-scale renewable infrastructure development to be invaluable. Heather has also always been a pleasure to work with, demonstrating unparalleled passion, prompt and professional communication and collaboration skills, and an enduring work ethic. I am thrilled to hear of her permanent appointment as Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin.
Andrew Lewandowski, Pediatrician, GHC-SCW, Steering Committee Member, Wisconsin Environmental Health Network
Heather has been a delight to work with as Wisconsin Interfaith Power & Light has collaborated with RENEW through her to bring a message of Good News to people of faith who care about sustainable energy.
John Helt, Former Board President, WI IP&L
I’ve been fortunate to work with Heather Allen for more than four years now and I know that she’ll be an outstanding Executive Director for RENEW. Heather is smart, diligent, responsible, hardworking, a great communicator, and has so much integrity! Congrats to RENEW on a great hire and a bright future.
Keith Reopelle, Former Director of Dane County’s Office of Energy and Climate Change
Excellent choice, Renew Wisconsin continues Forward in very capable dedicated hands! Congratulations Heather!
Bob Bishop, Farmer
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.
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.
WASHINGTON, D.C. and MADISON, Wis. – The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the national trade association for the U.S. solar energy industry, announced today that RENEW Wisconsin is now a formal SEIA state affiliate.
RENEW Wisconsin becomes the 18th SEIA state affiliate.
“We are thrilled to welcome RENEW Wisconsin to our network and we look forward to collaborating on policy efforts that get the state’s solar market moving again,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA. “As we work toward recovery from COVID-19, Wisconsin has the potential to become a regional solar leader and generate thousands of new jobs for hard-working people in the state.”
Today, Wisconsin is ranked 34th nationally with 209 megawatts of installed solar electric generating capacity. There are nearly 3,000 solar jobs in the state and those jobs are at risk as a result of the global pandemic.
“RENEW Wisconsin is excited to build our network as a new SEIA Affiliate,” said Heather Allen, Interim Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin. “Our SEIA partners around the country are an invaluable resource as we protect renewable energy now and find opportunities to advance renewable energy in Wisconsin when this health crisis is over. Investments in solar power will keep vital dollars and family-sustaining jobs in our communities, and offer cleaner, healthier air for all of Wisconsin.”
RENEW Wisconsin is a nonprofit organization that promotes renewable energy in Wisconsin. The group works on policies and programs that expand solar power, wind power, biogas, local hydropower, geothermal energy and electric vehicles. Since 1991 RENEW Wisconsin has been a champion for clean energy solutions in the Badger State.
SEIA has developed strategic partnerships with numerous state and regional advocacy non-profits, known as SEIA Affiliates. These organizations have demonstrated leadership on policy and regulatory matters, actively engaged with the solar industry in their respective territories and offered grassroots support for SEIA’s federal campaigns, among other accomplishments. We are proud to call them our partners in growing the U.S. solar industry.
About SEIA®: The Solar Energy Industries Association® (SEIA) is leading the transformation to a clean energy economy, creating the framework for solar to achieve 20% of U.S. electricity generation by 2030. SEIA works with its 1,000 member companies and other strategic partners to fight for policies that create jobs in every community and shape fair market rules that promote competition and the growth of reliable, low-cost solar power. Founded in 1974, SEIA is a national trade association building a comprehensive vision for the Solar+ Decade through research, education and advocacy. Visit SEIA online at www.seia.org.