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.
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!
September was a busy month for me and RENEW Wisconsin. I attended more than 30 meetings, seminars and site visits all over the state. Many of them involved learning about Wisconsin’s exciting and fast growing renewable energy industry and building relationships with the talented people who help make it go. There were also numerous meetings with state and local policy makers as well as the leadership of many influential trade associations, unions and advocacy groups. Working together, we are starting to develop ideas for the 2019-20 legislative session that will help advance the use of clean, renewable energy that will create jobs, economic growth and save money for everyone!
Customers First! Power Lunch – Go Electric!
September got off with a “high voltage” start at the Customers First! Coalition Power Lunch, with the theme of “Go Electric”. Over 120 attendees learned about the latest developments and benefits of electric vehicles and “efficient electrification” – replacing direct fossil fuel use with electricity in a way that reduces overall emissions and energy costs. Efficient Electrification holds significant potential benefits for Wisconsin customers, utilities, and environmental advocates alike. PSC Chairman Lon Roberts gave the opening keynote speech and several panels with utility executives and state legislators Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) and Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin) dove deeper into the technical and policy issues that will need to be addressed to keep up with these fast-growing trends. The program was interesting enough that WisconsinEye, the not-for-profit State Capitol broadcast network, recorded the event.
Emmi Roth Solar Panels
On September 11th I joined State Representative Travis Tranel at the Emmi Roth Cheese plant in Platteville to cut the ribbon on their new 1,600 panel solar system. The system will provide 15% of their electric use. “There are many companies trying to live up to sustainability goals,” said Jim Pullen, General Manager at Eagle Point Solar, who installed the system. “Emmi Roth is part of a group that actually makes these goals a reality and invests in the environment.” The company also recently invested in a new anaerobic digester at the same location in Platteville, Wisconsin, in an effort to lower operational costs and remain environmentally responsible for the waste being produced during their cheesemaking operations. According to Tim Omer, president and managing director at Emmi Roth, “We have a very strong commitment to sustainability. We want to have the lowest possible carbon footprint we could have in the industry.”
Butler Ridge Wind Farm
On September 17th, Pauline Meyer and Nic Cravillion, policy staff from Congressman Mike Gallagher’s office, and Dodge County Board member Russ Kattke joined me at a tour of the Butler Ridge Wind Energy Center in Dodge County. This was a behind the scenes tour of one of Wisconsin’s premier wind farms and was hosted by NextEra Energy Resources. Butler Ridge’s 36 turbines generate 54-megawatts of clean, renewable energy to power more than 13,500 homes. Wisconsin based Faith Technologies, who installed the ground grid and in-tower wiring, and The Boldt Construction Company were two of the prime contractors on the project.
Conservative Energy Forum Summit on “Advancing Wisconsin’s Clean Energy Economy” and Clean Energy Week Proclamation by Governor Walker
On Thursday, September 27th the Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum hosted a summit onclean energy developments in Wisconsin. PSC Commissioner Lon Roberts opened the meeting discussing the bright future of renewable energy. Several guest panels discussed Utility Scale Clean Energy – A Turning Point for Wisconsin Utilities, and Decentralizing Energy & Encouraging Private Sector Investment. Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch also spoke about the great things happening for clean energy in Wisconsin and how renewable energy fits so well into a conservative political viewpoint. At the end of her talk, Kleefisch presented a proclamation from Governor Scott Walker designating September 24th to September 28th as Clean Energy Week in Wisconsin. This echoed the clean energy week activities around the country.
September 29 event to highlight area renewable energy projects.
Madison, WI – On Saturday, September 29th, RENEW Wisconsin will host its 6th annual “Ride with RENEW” bicycle tour of renewable energy projects, with this year’s ride taking place in Milwaukee, WI. All event proceeds support RENEW Wisconsin’s ongoing work to advance renewable energy in Wisconsin.
Riders will travel approximately 25 miles on paved roads and bike paths to visit innovative wind, solar, geothermal, and biogas energy generation facilities in Milwaukee.
The total tour time will be approximately 6 hours (including stops at renewable energy sites) and actual riding time will be 2 to 3 hours.
Participants will get an inside look at some of the area’s leading renewable energy projects and will enjoy breakfast, lunch, and beverages along the way. They will visit with installers and workers who are advancing renewable energy every day, and hear from customers about why clean energy works for their pocketbooks and their businesses.
The day’s tour will include:
- Gather at Ingeteam parking Lot a 9:00 a.m. departure. – Ingeteam has a LEED Gold, 138,000 square foot industrial facility and is a leading manufacturer of wind and solar energy products.
- Milwaukee Public Museum – MPM features 234 solar panels on its south-facing tower wall. The panels are linked to a kiosk located on the ground floor that provides near-real-time data on the energy generated by the panels.
- Discovery World Science and Technology Center – Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin is a youth-oriented science and technology museum and aquarium in downtown Milwaukee and features geothermal heating and cooling.
- Port of Milwaukee Wind Turbine – The City of Milwaukee’s Environmental Collaboration Office (ECO) and the Port of Milwaukee partnered to install a 100 kilowatt wind turbine at the Port. Installed by Kettle View Renewable Energy, the turbine provides more than 100 percent of the electricity needed by the Port administration building.
- Escuela Verde – This public charter school, designed to support students interested in sustainability, student-led learning, and restorative justice, was a recipient of a 2017 Solar for Good grant. In 2018, 60 solar panels were installed by SunVest and Current Electric on the roof of the school.
- School Sisters of Saint Francis – The Milwaukee branch of the School Sisters of Saint Francis partnered with Arch Electric to install 1,086 solar panels on the rooftop of the St. Francis Sacred Heart building in 2017. Producing 375 kilowatts of solar, the solar array is able to help offset more than 12 percent of the electricity consumed at the Sacred Heart facility.
- Potawatomi Biodigester – This waste-to-energy project converts waste materials generated by the food and beverage industries to electricity. The electricity produced is sold to WE Energies as renewable energy.
- The ride will conclude at City Lights Brewery for refreshments at around 4:00 p.m.
Registration for the ride is open through September 28th. The cost is $40 for members of RENEW Wisconsin, $50 for non-members, and $70 to both register for the ride and become a member of the organization for one year. All donations to RENEW Wisconsin for this charity bike ride are matched up to $15,000 by generous donors John & Mary Frantz of Madison!
Individuals and businesses can donate to RENEW Wisconsin or in support of a rider, sign on as an event sponsor, or volunteer on ride day.
“We are very excited to tour some of Milwaukee’s best renewable energy projects on Saturday, September 29th,” said Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin. “This tour allows us to showcase a variety of ways to produce homegrown, clean energy right here in Wisconsin including wind, solar, and even food waste. This is a really fun event where you can meet great people, help a good cause, and learn together about clean energy in Wisconsin.”
Sponsors of the Event include Arch Electric, HGA, SunVest, Bounce Milwaukee, Discovery World, Milwaukee County, Summit Credit Union, SunPeak, UW Engineering Professional Development, Current Electric, H&H, Milwaukee Shines, Wegner CPAs, and Open Circle Unitarian Church – Fond du Lac.
There is still time to sponsor if your business or organization wishes to do so.
Quilt Block Wind Farm
On August 9th, Vanessa Tutos, Director of Government Affairs for EDP Renewables hosted me and a large group of legislators, legislative staff and other interested people on a tour of their Quilt Block Wind Farm near Darlington, Wisconsin.
During a pre-tour briefing, Vanessa and the EDP Renewable staff gave an overview of the facility and how it works. Darlington Mayor Dave Breunig also participated in the briefing, explaining the many benefits that the Quilt Block facility brings to the local communities, including not only the town and county tax revenues, but the good paying jobs at Quilt Block and the many community businesses that benefit such as restaurants, hotels and other shops.
In attendance were State Senator Howard Marklein and Rep. Todd Novak. Legislative staff: Garrett Huffman, Rep. Kuglitsch (Assembly Utilities Committee Chair); Kyle Koenen and JJ Sherman, Sen. Kapenga staff; Brian Radday, Sen. LeMahieu staff (Senate Utilities Committee Chair); Evan Miller, Sen. Cowles staff (Senate Energy Committee Chair); Dave Breunig, Mayor of Darlington; Alex Ignatowski, Wis. Public Service Commission; Ryan Owens, Tommy Thompson Center on Public Leadership – UW Madison; Jon Hochkammer, Wisconsin Counties Association; Rob Richard, Wisconsin Farm Bureau; Tim Hoven, EDPR
School Sisters of St. Francis
On Tuesday, August 22nd, the Wisconsin Association of Energy Engineers invited me and Jane McCurry of the RENEW Wisconsin staff to tour something old and something new, all in one location, the School Sisters of St. Francis campus in Milwaukee. The Sisters recently installed a 375-kW solar array with 1,086 panels on several of their buildings.
Sister Carol Rigali, Coordinator of the province leadership team, specifically asked that the panels be made in the USA. As Mike Cornell of Arch Electric explained, they acquired the panels from Seraphim Solar USA, from Jackson, Mississippi. Sister Carol said that St. Francis expects to save $1.5 million in energy costs over the life of the system, but that was only one reason they did the project.
She noted that in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis specifically mentioned installing solar panels as one way to care for creation. “This solar energy project will enable us to lessen our energy consumption and to invest in our care of the earth.” The chapel was finished in 1914 but looks as amazing as the day it was built. The art and architecture inside compare to some of the best churches anywhere in the world. Now they have a state-of-the-art solar generation system that will help them achieve their mission now and into the future. Preserving the past by embracing the future! Nicely done Sisters!
Wisconsin Agriculture Coalition
On Monday, August 27, I was joined by RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director Tyler Huebner, Scott Smith from Madison Gas & Electric and Neil Palmer from Invenergy to give a briefing to the Wisconsin Agriculture Coalition about the latest developments in renewable energy and how it may affect their members. The Agriculture Coalition is a group of association executives and government affairs staff who meet regularly to discuss legislative and regulatory issues in which they have a common interest.
I opened the meeting by discussing the changing economics and politics of renewable energy and let them know that they are going to be seeing a lot of activity in Wisconsin. Tyler then gave an overview of renewables in Wisconsin that will especially impact farms and agriculture related businesses such as solar and wind farms and biogas generation. Scott gave the utility perspective on why they are all adding large scale renewables to their portfolio and the benefits that they see for their customers. In particular, he noted that the driving force was the impressive price drop of over 75% for solar power in the last 10 years.
Finally, Neil spent some time explaining how Invenergy goes about developing a utility scale solar project, from identifying good locations with access to substations and landowners with enough flat, open land who are interested in leasing their property, to the steps and timing of the regulatory process. We also had a good discussion about the “frequently asked questions” that they may be hearing from their members and how to answer them. In summary, everyone in attendance received a good, general understanding of the amazing changes that are happening in the renewable industry and that RENEW Wisconsin is their source for reliable, fact-based information!
Members of the Ag Coalition include:
- Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation
- Wisconsin Farmers Union
- Dairy Business Association
- Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association
- Midwest Food Products Association
- Wisconsin Agri-Business Association
- Wisconsin Association of Professional Agricultural Consultants
- Wisconsin Cattlemen Association
- Wisconsin Pork Association
- Wisconsin Soybean Association
- Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association
- Wisconsin Corn Growers Association
- The Cooperative Network Associations