BIG VICTORY!!  PSC Approves $7.7 Million in Renewable Energy Rebates and $10-$20 million in Biogas Spanning 2017 & 2018!

BIG VICTORY!! PSC Approves $7.7 Million in Renewable Energy Rebates and $10-$20 million in Biogas Spanning 2017 & 2018!


Today, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin authorized
approximately $7.7 million in rebates spanning 2017 and 2018 to spur small,
customer-based renewable energy projects throughout Wisconsin.
The rebates go to residential, business, and non-profit
customers of eligible Wisconsin utilities, and enable the customers to install
renewable energy technologies including solar, geothermal, biogas, biomass and
small wind systems. 

Full Spectrum Solar installs a solar PV system via the MadiSUN program

Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin, said,
“From our renewable energy perspective, Chairperson Ellen Nowak may have said
it best in her concluding remarks, stating, ‘This is a great win for
Indeed, continuing the highly successful renewable energy rebates
for 2017 and 2018 is a great win.  This
level of renewable energy rebate funding should support upwards of 500 solar
electric home installations, 70 or more home geothermal installations, and
dozens of larger business renewable energy projects for each of the next two
years.  The program will help our
residents save money and our companies stay cost-competitive.”
The Commission asked Staff to recommend how the renewables
funding should be split between residential and business projects, as well as a
review of the incentive levels in light of the fact that technology prices for
renewable energy systems, specifically solar electric systems, have been
dropping very quickly in recent years. 
RENEW Wisconsin will provide our recommendations, and those of the
renewable energy industry, to Commission Staff in the coming days.
In addition, the Commission will evaluate spending $10-$20
million to expand biogas production from anaerobic digesters on dairy
.  Staff and program administrators
will be developing biogas program options for the Commission to investigate
within 30 days, along with program options for increasing Focus on Energy’s
energy efficiency and renewable energy impacts in rural Wisconsin. 
The Commission agreed to lower its cash reserve from $30
million down to $5 million, which freed up dollars carried over from previous
years to be put into programs starting in 2017. 
Huebner said, “We applaud the Commission freeing up millions of dollars
of ratepayers’ money from previous years to be put into programs now that will
enable energy and dollar savings for customers across Wisconsin.
RENEW Wisconsin was the lead advocacy organization promoting
the continuation of the renewable energy rebates.  We provided two separate memos describing the
history and status of the renewable energy industry and its relationship with
Focus on Energy and advocating for a continuation of rebates.  In addition, a sign-on letter promoting
continuation of renewable energy rebates, which was supported by 41 businesses
and organizations from throughout Wisconsin, was delivered to the PSC as part
of the public comment period in this proceeding.
The PSC had authorized a renewable energy loan program in
2014 and allocated $10 million to it over four years.  Today, approximately two years into the
program, the PSC decided to end the program and spend the remaining funds
instead on rebates, which had outperformed the loan program in that two year
Biogas production through anaerobic digesters will also see
a boost.  The PSC re-committed to
spending $6.4 million on this technology, which it had authorized in 2014.  An initial plan to focus on smaller dairy
farms was not as effective as envisioned. 
Today, the PSC authorized the creation of an interagency working group
to identify opportunities to expand this technology and its benefits of
renewable energy production, water quality improvements, and on-farm revenue
stability, and indicated that programs between $10 and $20 million should be
investigated to spur this technology.
In its comments to the PSC, RENEW pointed out that we have
world-class companies working in anaerobic digesters right here in Wisconsin
that can help make this program a success.

Scientists propose drilling for geothermal energy in Marathon County

From an article by Chad Dally in the Wausau Daily Herald:

Wisconsin scientists hope to drill a well in Marathon County to determine the potential of using the earth’s own heat to power homes and produce renewable energy.

The Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey in October asked for permission to drill a geothermal well in one of three spots in the county: Mission Lake County Park, the Ringle Forest Unit and Leather Camp Forest Unit.

Those spots were chosen because the geology shows extensive granite deposits, which tends to hold more heat than other forms of rock such as sandstone or dolomite, said David Hart, the Geological and Natural History Survey’s project manager.

The county’s Forestry and Recreation Committee this week approved the request and opted for the Leather Camp site south of Kronenwetter because drilling there would have the least effect on recreation opportunities. The Environmental Resources Committee also will consider the request April 19.

If approved, the research well would be 6 inches in diameter and between 800 and 1,000 feet deep in Leather Camp forest, Hart said. There is limited information about Wisconsin’s geothermal resources, and the Marathon County well is one of six planned to assess potential.

Researchers would measure how the temperature increases with depth.

“I view our study as basic measurements necessary to decide whether or not we should pursue enhanced geothermal energy in Wisconsin,” Hart said. “The study will also benefit the heat pump or groundsource geothermal systems that many homeowners are installing.”

Grant program passed, thousands of renewable energy jobs saved

From an article in Renewable Energy World:

Washington, D.C. — In typical fashion, the U.S. Congress passed a suite of last-minute tax laws last night, including an extension of the Treasury Grant Program (TGP) for renewable energy project developers.

Trade groups in Washington have been pushing hard for an extension of the program, which provides a cash payment of up to 30% of equipment costs in place of the Investment Tax Credit. The grant program was responsible for a large portion of the renewable energy projects built throughout the U.S. in 2010. Originally passed as part of the 2009 stimulus package, the TGP was supposed to expire at the end of December.

Because there are still a limited number of financial institutions able to finance projects by taking advantage of tax credits, the TGP has opened up new sources of capital for project developers. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the grant program spurred over 1,100 solar projects and $18 billion dollars of investment in 2010.

“This program has successfully created thousands of jobs and opportunity in all 50 states for construction workers, electricians, plumbers, contractors that have struggled in this harsh economic climate,” said SEIA President Rhone Resch in a statement.

While the wind industry saw a significant drop in installations compared to 2009, the grant program helped keep thousands of MW on the table for 2010 and 2011. American Wind Energy Association CEO Denise Bode projected a loss of tens of thousands of wind jobs in 2011 without an extension of the TGP.

Rapids to host 2010 geothermal conference

From the conference announcement issued by the Energy Center of Wisconsin:

The Wisconsin Geothermal Association (WGA) conference will benefit anyone in the geothermal industry including engineers, designers, equipment dealers, and well drillers. With increasing public interest in geothermal technology, it is more important than ever that everyone in the industry maintain the highest standards possible. . . .

The WGA is a non-profit organization advocating for the usage of geothermal heating and cooling systems in Wisconsin. The WGA is a source of information for anyone interested in utilizing a geothermal system for a home, business, or school.
Geothermal systems have been proven to deliver excellent occupant comfort in this region, while saving energy and reducing emissions. The systems take advantage of the earth’s constant year-round ground temperature to provide heating, cooling and hot water in a variety of applications.

Conference registration.

Energizing Fort Atkinson’s Schools from the Sun and Earth

By Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin

As a result of educating themselves on the connection between energy use and atmospheric pollution, several school districts in Wisconsin are taking increasingly aggressive steps to conserve energy as well as produce a portion of what they use on-site. Some have embraced ground source heat pump systems (Fond du Lac High School), while others have installed solar hot water systems (Osceola Middle School) and solar electric systems (Paul Olson elementary school in Madison). Not to be outdone, Wausau East High School recently installed a 100 kilowatt (kW) Northwind turbine, which is now the largest wind generator attached to a school building in Wisconsin.

Yet if one measures success by substantial reductions in energy expenditures and emissions reductions, there is one school district in Wisconsin that stands head and shoulders above its peers: Fort Atkinson. Serving 2,700 school-age children in a community of 12,000, the Fort Atkinson School District operates six buildings: four elementary schools, one middle school and a high school. School officials have made no secret of their aspiration to make Fort Atkinson the most energy-efficient and self-sufficient K-12 district in the state.

Since 2005, Fort Atkinson has rigorously pursued a sustainable energy agenda that integrates, in a systematic and complementary fashion, continuous monitoring of consumption, aggressive building efficiency measures, and renewable energy capture. As articulated in its 2009 energy plan, the district’s principal goals for 2010 are nothing if not ambitious:
 Pare energy costs by 20% from 2005 levels;
 Lower carbon emissions by 25% from 2005 levels;
 Obtain EnergyStar certification for all six schools; and
 Install on-site renewable production at all six schools.

Virtually every renewable energy technology or efficiency measure available to a Wisconsin K-12 district has already been or is about to be deployed somewhere in Fort Atkinson. This lengthy list includes ground source heat pumps, solar hot water systems, lighting retrofits, tankless water heaters, retro-commissioning, occupancy sensors, window replacement, and roof insulation. On the district’s 2010 installation list are a 50 kW wind generator at the high school and a 20 kW solar electric system at Purdy elementary school.

The integrated approach pursued by Fort Atkinson leads to lower operating expenses, which in turn frees up capital for renewable technologies that have higher up-front costs but will deliver energy to the school buildings long after the initial investment is paid off. At the same time, converting sunlight and wind into useful energy sources enable building owners to reduce the variability of their utility costs. For a school district, that means not having to worry about the effect of a colder-than-normal winter on next year’s budget for textbooks.

The solar water heating systems serving the high school and the middle school neatly illustrate this benefit. The radiant energy striking the rooftop panels year-round is efficiently collected and taken inside to preheat the swimming pools in each building. Except during the winter months, the incoming solar energy is sufficient to maintain pool temperatures at 84°F. Even in January, however, the savings that a solar hot water system yields simply by preheating a pool to 70°F is substantial when multiplied over several decades.

The capital required to heat a swimming pool with solar energy is not trivial. For the 48-panel system atop the high school, the installed cost totaled $192,000, while the 32-panel installation serving the middle school came in at $115,000. Dennis Kuchenmeister, who manages the district’s buildings and grounds, estimates a 5% return on investment (ROI) for the high school’s system and an 11% ROI on the middle school’s system. According to Kuchenmeister, the hot water systems will supply about 60% of the heat going into the pools, displacing the equivalent of nearly 9,000 therms a year. The district expects to save $18,000 in avoided fuel costs per year.

Kuchenmeister’s economic estimates factor in incentives from Focus on Energy covering up to 35% of the total installed cost and matching incentives from We Energies, the local utility serving the school district. By taking full advantage of available incentive dollars, the school district was able to reduce the out-of-pocket portion of installation costs by more than 50%.

Because the annual harvest of solar energy striking a particular spot rarely fluctuates by more than 10%, a building owner can be reasonably confident of how much conventional energy an installation will displace. In contrast, the cost of heating a pool with natural gas can easily triple during a 12-month period even when usage remains constant. This in fact happened to Fort Atkinson in the 12 months preceding the installation of its two solar hot water systems in the fall of 2008.

Thus, the real value of Fort Atkinson’s solar hot water installations is in minimizing the district’s exposure to the price volatility associated with unregulated fossil fuels like natural gas. And while it’s true that natural gas prices are presently at five-year lows, they could easily bounce back to 2008 levels in a year or two, depending on events over which end-users have no control. However, by installing a renewable technology that preheats their swimming pools, Fort Atkinson has effectively insured itself against a repeat appearance of the fossil fuel rollercoaster ride that most school districts would just as soon forget.

There are two other reasons why school buildings are well-matched for solar energy installations. First, the buildings themselves are dedicated to a public function that is expected to last for several generations. In such settings it is easier to justify the additional up-fronts costs, especially if the installation also communicates a valuable lesson in sustainability to the entire community. Second, most schools, especially newer ones, have an abundance of flat, unshaded roof space that can support large arrays, irrespective of building orientation.

Real-time production data from both installations can be accessed online by visiting and searching for the live sites listed under We Energies. The district also uses Energy Watchdog, a web-based program provided by Focus on Energy to track energy usage. This program enables Fort Atkinson to document the energy and cost reductions from measures specified in its energy plan.

The middle school is also one of four schools in Fort Atkinson equipped with ground source heat pump systems that heat and cool the buildings year-round using the nearly constant temperatures in the ground. These systems heat buildings in the winter and cool them in the summer. Ground source heat pump systems are electrically powered; no heating fuel like natural gas or propane is needed to heat the four schools.

“We essentially cut the gas line to our schools,” said Kuchenmeister during a presentation on his district’s sustainable energy initiative last November in Milwaukee.

The operational costs of ground source heat pumps are substantially lower than the HVAC systems they replace. As a result of their renovation, the three elementary schools have seen their energy intensity drop by more than one-half, even though they now have air-conditioning in the classrooms. School officials estimate that all four ground source heat pump systems will save the district $90,000 annually in fuel costs.

As with solar hot water systems, Focus on Energy provides incentives for ground source heat pumps to schools, businesses and residences. The program awarded more than $96,000 towards the four systems installed in Fort Atkinson.

According to a Focus on Energy fact sheet, “a ground source heat pump system is arguably the most efficient technology for heating and cooling Wisconsin homes and businesses.” Given its embrace of that technology and others deployed in its buildings, Fort Atkinson has become, in terms of energy sustainability, arguably the most forward-thinking school district in the state.

RENEW Wisconsin ( is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization based in Madison that acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives. Michael Vickerman has been the organization’s executive director since 1991.

Solar Hot Water Systems – Fact Sheet
Fort Atkinson School District

Full Service Installers
Andy DeRocher
Mark O’Neal
Full Spectrum Solar
100 South Baldwin Street, Suite 101
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: 608.284.9495

Types of system installations:
Solar hot water, solar electric

Service Territory:
150 miles

At-A-Glance – High School SHW System
Collector space: 1,920 sq. ft (48 4’x10′ panels)
Panel manufacturer: Heliodyne Gobi
Tilt angle: 45 degrees
Annual fuel savings: 8,539 therms assuming 80% efficient gas boilers
Avoided CO2 emissions: 47 tons/year
Pool Size: 4,200 sq. ft.
Preheated water volume: 188,227 gallons
Pool operating temperature: 80°F
Incoming water temperature: 55°F
Installation cost: $192,000
Focus on Energy Incentive: $50,000
We Energies match: $50,000
System payback: 10 ¾ years
Installation date: Fall 2008

At-A-Glance – Middle School SHW System
Collector space: 1,280 sq. ft (32 4’x10′ panels)
Panel manufacturer: Heliodyne Gobi
Tilt angle: 45 degrees
Annual fuel savings: 8,763 therms assuming 60% efficient gas boiler
Avoided CO2 emissions: 49 tons/year
Pool Size: 2,635 sq. ft.
Preheated water volume: 96,921 gallons
Pool operating temperature: 84°F
Incoming water temperature: 55°F
Installation cost: $115,000
Focus on Energy Incentive: $40,400
We Energies match: $40,400
System payback: 4 years
Installation date: Fall 2008