Tom Content wrote and posted the following article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the day before the Joint Committee on Finance voted along party lines (12 Democrats in favor, 4 Republicans against) to approve funding for Focus on Energy:

Lawmaker calls for audit; business groups against added funds

With a decision possible Tuesday on an increase in funding for the state Focus on Energy program, a lawmaker called for an audit of the energy efficiency initiative and several business groups came out against what they criticized as “a $340 million energy tax hike.”

Business groups including Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, the Wisconsin Paper Council, Midwest Food Processors Association and the Wisconsin chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses issued a letter opposing increased funding for energy efficiency.

“Energy conservation and efficiency is a great idea, which is why so many businesses, like paper companies, already do it,” said Ed Wilusz, vice president of government relations for the Wisconsin Paper Council, in a statement. “But the existing state program appears to be working well. We doubt that the massive spending increase called for in this proposal is necessary or would be effective.”

Supporters of energy efficiency say it’s the least-cost alternative to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and a way to help the state postpone costlier expenses like investments in power plants.

The opposition by business groups comes even though large manufacturers in Wisconsin are exempt under state law from paying more to the Focus on Energy program.

The Focus on Energy program is funded through a surcharge on most customers’ electric bills. Under the PSC proposal, funding would ramp up over the next four years, raising $20 million more than current levels in 2011 and $60 million more in 2012. The increase would result in an average rate increase of 0.2% in 2011 for utility customers, and 0.7% in 2012.

Increases in funding are also proposed for 2013 and 2014 under the PSC proposal that will be reviewed Tuesday by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Allouez) said Monday he wants the Legislative Audit Bureau to conduct an audit of Focus on Energy before lawmakers agree to an increase in funding.

“Our economy is still in bad shape, and families and businesses in our state are hurting,” he said in a statement. “We need to make sure that this program is providing the benefits that it claims it is before we agree to add more funding.”

Although not audited by the Legislative Audit Bureau, the Focus on Energy program is audited regularly by independent consulting firms.