Names Behind the Numbers

Names Behind the Numbers

Last fall, I was asked to help promote a series called Names behind the Numbers, profiling Wisconsin’s renewable energy workers. One of the interviews featured April Smith (pictured above), a construction worker on the Quilt Block Wind Farm in Darlington, WI. In describing her work she said  “All the people, the company, and the community — everyone looked out for each other” and I thought “that’s Wisconsin.”

I grew up in the northeast corner of Iowa County, in the Wisconsin River valley in a small town called Arena. My grandmother cleaned houses, my dad was a mechanic turned landscaper, and my uncles worked road construction. I was surrounded by the grit and community that defines the Wisconsin work ethic; I was taught to work hard, work together, and get the job done.

Now I am one of Wisconsin’s clean energy workers. I joined the RENEW Wisconsin staff a year ago with an untraditional background: an arts education, a theater and music career, and eight years of marketing for a general contractor in Chicago. I knew little about renewable energy, but I cared about the environment and wanted to help build a cleaner future for my children.

According to the Department of Energy’s 2017 US Energy and Jobs Report Wisconsin, over 67,000 people are already working in clean energy, and renewable energy job growth is six times faster than overall job growth in the state. Wisconsin has the opportunity to increase renewable energy substantially in the coming decades, and create tens of thousands of jobs along the way.

After April’s story was published, I was able to attend the Quilt Block dedication and ribbon cutting in Darlington, WI. I witnessed firsthand a community (comprised of local landowners, businesses, educators, government officials, and EDP Renewables) working together to build a 98 MW wind farm, enough to power 25,000 Wisconsin homes with clean energy. This project created approximately 100 full-time jobs during construction and 12 permanent jobs.

I recently attended an outdoor BBQ at the local office of the proposed Badger Hollow Solar Project in Monfort, WI. This was an opportunity for local landowners to get together and see which of their neighbors would be growing a solar crop. There, I met Tracy Fillback, the local liaison hired to address questions and concerns from the landowners and the community as this project progresses. She spent the last few years at home raising her children and now she’s starting a new chapter as part of of the Badger Hollow Solar project. She is another example of renewable energy job opportunity in Wisconsin.

Wind developers are scoping out new projects in rural parts of the state and in recent weeks two proposals for large scale solar farms have joined Badger Hollow Solar at the review stage of development. While we can’t predict the exact number of jobs this will mean for Wisconsin, these companies and workers will spend millions of dollars on locally-sourced gravel, concrete, construction supplies, food, lodging and other services. Increasing renewable energy is one of the best economic development moves Wisconsin could make, particularly for its rural communities.

Wisconsin’s renewable energy workers are building a cleaner future for our children and they’re doing it the Wisconsin way; with tenacity, community, and hard work. Renewable energy can support our local economies and be as homegrown as the crops in our fields, if our communities can continue to embrace the possibilities.


Wisconsin Nonprofits Receive Grants Toward  $1.2 million in New Solar Energy Projects

Wisconsin Nonprofits Receive Grants Toward $1.2 million in New Solar Energy Projects

RENEW Wisconsin’s Solar for Good program is issuing grants to 15 Wisconsin nonprofit organizations to install new solar electric systems. The grants total over $145,000 and will fund 10% to 20% of each organization’s project. The overall value of these new solar arrays is set to exceed $1.2 million.

Planned for installation over the next twelve months, these projects expect to add over 460 kilowatts (kW) in new solar power. The size of each project will vary based on the needs of the organization.

This is the second round of Solar for Good grants, following Fall 2017’s inaugural opportunity when sixteen organizations were offered grants. The program is primarily funded by solar philanthropists Cal & Laurie Coulliard of Deerfield through their Coulliard Solar Foundation.

“Nonprofit organizations are leaders, gathering places, and signs of hope across our Wisconsin communities.  By helping them produce their own solar energy, we are empowering them to showcase solar energy’s capabilities and continue their leadership role for the people they serve. We are very proud of these nonprofits and can’t wait to see their shining solar projects get completed!” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director.

The following organizations have been offered Solar for Good grants to install new solar electric systems:

Alice’s Garden, community and urban farm, Milwaukee
Community Homestead Inc, special needs organization, Osceola
First Unitarian Society of Madison, house of worship, Madison
Heartland Housing Inc., community housing, Milwaukee
Heartland Montessori School, early childhood education, River Falls
Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, outdoor education program, Menasha
Memorial United Church of Christ, house of worship, Fitchburg
Quasimondo Physical Theatre, arts education and training, Milwaukee
St. Bridget Catholic Church, house of worship, River Falls
VFW Post 8483, veterans service organization, Madison
Walnut Way Conservation Corp, environmental conservation organization, Milwaukee
Worldbuilders Inc., humanitarian organization, Stevens Point

Two organizations have asked to remain anonymous at this time.

Solar for Good plans to issue another round of grant funding in fall 2018. Individuals who want to learn more about the program can visit our website.

About RENEW Wisconsin

RENEW Wisconsin is a nonprofit organization which promotes renewable energy in Wisconsin. We work on policies and programs that support solar power, wind power, biogas, local hydropower, and geothermal energy. More information is available on RENEW’s website.


A Victory for Renewable Energy in Wisconsin

A Victory for Renewable Energy in Wisconsin

Focus on Energy’s Renewable Energy Program Funded for 2019-2022

Today, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin made preliminary decisions to allocate approximately $5.5 million in incentives per year to the renewable energy programs within “Focus on Energy” for the years 2019 through 2022.

The decisions came as part of the four-year planning process for the Focus on Energy program. Focus on Energy delivers incentives and education to help utility customers reduce energy usage and save money through energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and projects. The total budget for the statewide Focus on Energy program is approximately $100 million annually.

RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director Tyler Huebner stated, “Today’s decisions to fund the Focus on Energy renewable energy incentive programs at adequate budget levels will set up the solar, geothermal, small wind, and bioenergy markets for a successful four-year period.  We advocated for a consistent, predictable program and the PSC delivered, which is a win for customers and the growing industry of small businesses who do this work all across the Badger State. Based on recent experience, this level of funding should incentivize approximately 2000 homes and perhaps 600 or more businesses and nonprofits as they pursue renewable energy projects throughout the next four years.”

“Renewable energy creates jobs in Wisconsin, develops home-grown power sources, and enables a cleaner environment for future generations,” said Huebner.

Today’s verbal decisions and discussion:

• Allocated approximately $5.5 million per year for renewable energy incentives for 2019-2022.
• Established that four sub-markets will be served:  residential, small business, mid-sized business, and larger business projects. The mid-sized business program will be new for 2019.  Nonprofits and local governments fall into the “business” categories as well.
• Allows flexibility to meet market demand in these four sub-markets
• The residential and small business programs will continue to be first-come, first-serve programs.  The mid-sized business and large business programs will start out being run through a request-for-proposal process.
• A study being conducted on the renewable energy programs may inform improvements to the program when it is completed.
• Opportunities to support rural and agricultural communities using $5 million in unspent funds will be explored, with a staff memorandum on possible options to be developed by July 1.  $20 million was previously allocated towards biodigesters, with $15 million being awarded to the BC Organics project in Brown County in 2016.

“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,” said Huebner.

Want to champion renewable energy victories like this?

RENEW Wisconsin April Legislative Blog

RENEW Wisconsin April Legislative Blog

Now that the snow has finally melted and spring is here RENEW Wisconsin is ramping up its activities around the state of Wisconsin.  This last week was especially busy for me as I visited central and western Wisconsin to learn about renewable energy across the state and to meet and talk about the trends in renewable energy with our elected officials.

Portage County Democratic Headquarters Solar Ribbon Cutting

On Sunday, April 22nd, the Democratic Party of Portage County celebrated Earth Day 2018 by holding a ribbon cutting event for the brand new solar array that they installed on their headquarters building in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. The event was moderated by State Representative Katrina Shankland and more than 40 people were in attendance. This was the first solar array on any Democratic Party office in the State of Wisconsin. They are betting there will be plenty more very soon!

RENEW member Doug Stingle of North Wind Renewable Energy installed the system.  Doug explained some of the technology behind the 7.4 kW array and showed how it will offset an anticipated 67% of the Democratic Party office’s annual electrical usage.

To close the event, Rep. Shankland introduced me and asked me to give an update on what RENEW Wisconsin is working on to advance renewable energy in the state.

Tour of Chippewa Valley Technical College

On Monday, April 23rd I was very excited to visit the Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) and their Energy Education Center and get an interesting tour of the facility by Adam Wehling, Dean of the Agriculture, Energy and Transportation Department.

Joining me on the tour were Deb Erwin of Xcel Energy and three local state legislators from the Eau Claire area; Representatives Kathy Bernier (Lake Hallie), Warren Petryk (Eleva) and Rob Summerfield (Bloomer).

The Energy Education Center offers diverse training in various energy generation, energy distribution and energy efficiency technologies.  The renewable energy certificate is integrated into their other trades programs such as Electrical Power Distribution, and HVAC Technician.

All three legislators were very interested to hear about the tremendous reduction we are seeing in price of wind and solar energy and fast growth that those technologies will see in Wisconsin in the near future and working together to address the challenges and opportunities that these emerging technologies will present.

Leading the Charge Conference

On April 23rd and 24th I continued my North-West Wisconsin renewable energy tour in Eau Claire and participated in a local government summit hosted by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters titled “Leading the Charge” that explored emerging issues in local energy planning and resilience in Wisconsin communities.

Speakers from across the state discussed their local efforts to increase energy efficiency and how local governments can use renewable energy and efficiency to reduce emissions and increase energy resiliency.  Other sessions discussed solar energy financing programs for private businesses, residences and local governments, the future trends in energy usage such as electric vehicles and the jobs and training necessary to grow the renewable energy industry in Wisconsin.

One on One with Senator Patty Schachtner

On April 24th, following the Local Government Summit, I stopped in to see Wisconsin’s newest State Senator Patty Schachtner (Somerset) to introduce myself and to talk about some of the issues facing renewable energy in the next few years.  Senator Schachtner drew national attention when she won a special election in the 10th State Senate district to replace Senator Sheila Harsdorf who retired from the seat in December to assume the position of Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection.

Biogas Digester Tour

On Wednesday, April 25th I joined RENEW Wisconsin member Jessica Niekrasz of Clean Fuel Partners for a tour of their biodigester facility located just north and west of Madison.  On the tour was General Donald Hoffman, a retired four-star general of the United States Air Force who is doing research on the fast-developing world of renewable energy technologies and how they can make our nation more secure. Also joining the tour was Jon Plumer, who is a member of the Lodi Town Board and is running for election in the 42nd Assembly District which is also located just north of Madison.

RENEW Goes to Washington

RENEW Goes to Washington

I had a great visit to Washington, DC the week of March 12th for a conference on Energy Policy hosted by the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). While there, I also made time to visit Wisconsin’s congressional delegation. I was able to give our elected officials the latest information on the exciting growth of renewable energy in the last few years and the even faster growth that we expect renewables to experience in the future, especially in Wisconsin.

The ACORE Policy Summit was a great opportunity for me to learn about the renewable energy issues happening in Washington and around the country. Speakers included Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), FERC Commissioner Robert Powelson, and Department of Energy Under Secretary Mark Menezes. I also met with many trade association leaders representing renewable energy such as the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) as well as corporations who are leaders in the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency such as Amazon.

Among the hot topics I discussed with the congressional offices were the federal Omnibus spending bill and the significant cuts that were proposed to the Department of Energy in their renewable energy budget and funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-e). (In the final Omnibus Bill deal signed by the President on March 22nd, congress not only restored the budgets of both programs, but increased them significantly!).

While visiting, I also thanked the following members of the Wisconsin delegation who signed a letter encouraging the EPA to approve applications for biogas-based electricity to qualify as a renewable fuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard program: Congressmen Mark Pocan (D-2nd), Ron Kind (D-3rd), Glenn Grothman (R-6th), Sean Duffy (R-7th) and Mike Gallagher (R-8th). This “electric pathway” would greatly assist many Wisconsin farmers to continue responsibly managing their manure and preventing runoff and ground water issues while creating renewable energy. Senator Tammy Baldwin is working hard to put together a Senate version of this letter to the EPA and I would encourage everyone to contact Senator Ron Johnson and encourage him to sign onto the letter as well.

Overall, it was a very productive and educational trip! The overriding theme that came out of the trip is that renewable energy is just now hitting its stride. It is going to get even less expensive, more reliable, grow faster and become an even more important component of the US and world energy mix!

The image above shows me with Congressman Glenn Grothman following our meeting.

PRESS RELEASE: Solar for Good Announces New Grants 
to Install Solar Energy for Nonprofits

PRESS RELEASE: Solar for Good Announces New Grants 
to Install Solar Energy for Nonprofits

Monday March 12, 2018, Madison.

For More Information
Katherine Klausing, RENEW Wisconsin
608-255-4044 x5, 614-406-1105

Solar for Good, an initiative from the renewable energy advocates at RENEW Wisconsin, will offer grant funding this spring to assist nonprofit organizations with installing solar panels on their facilities.

The program is funded through a donation from philanthropists Cal and Laurie Couillard of Deerfield.

“The solar energy boom is having a positive impact throughout Wisconsin, from keeping more of our energy dollars in our pockets to protecting our natural resources,” said Katherine Klausing, Engagement Manager at RENEW Wisconsin. “That’s why we want to help local nonprofit organizations and houses of worship, who are working every day to improve our communities, join the solar movement. By installing their own solar PV systems, these organizations will be able to generate their own clean, renewable energy, save money on their utility bills, and reinvest the energy cost savings back into their work. “

This spring, Solar for Good will award a total of $110,000 in grants to nonprofit organizations and houses of worship to assist them in installing solar photovoltaic systems. The grant program will fund up to 20% of the cost of a solar array, with a grant cap of $10,000 for solar arrays sized less than 75 kW and a grant cap of $20,000 for arrays 75 kW and above.

Solar for Good will also offer small grants for technical assistance, including professional solar site assessments and engineering services, to get projects started and see them through to success. The program plans to offer both a spring and a fall grant cycle each year and be sustained for three years or more. RENEW Wisconsin and Solar for Good aim to use the grants to help organizations going solar to spread the word about their solar investments and educate their communities about the benefits of solar.

In 2017, the program offered grants to 16 nonprofit organizations across Wisconsin, including a food pantry, a shelter for homeless veterans, and several houses of worship. When all the projects are completed, the grants will have supported over $1.2 million in solar investment and added 573 kilowatts (kW) of new solar electric projects to the state.

“We were thrilled to have received a Solar for Good Grant,” said Barbara Roder. Her congregation at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Fond du Lac was one of the 2017 grantees. “This incentive was just what we needed to move us from thinking about solar to doing it.”

How to Apply

Organizations can learn more and apply HERE.

In order to be eligible, the organization must be a registered nonprofit organization located in Wisconsin, be in good financial standing, be ready to install solar and agree to participate in educating community members about the benefits of solar energy. If approved for a grant, all fundraising, design and installation for the solar project must be completed within 12 months.

Applications for this round of funding must be received by Monday April 9, 2018. Decisions and funding announcements will be made by Wednesday April 15, 2018.

For organizations looking at solar for the first time, technical assistance grants are available to fund a solar site assessment (up to $250) or engineering review (up to $500) for their solar array. These applications will be reviewed separately from the applications for grants for solar installation and will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.