Clean Air Act Settlement with Wisconsin Utilities Includes Funding for Renewables

An exciting new settlement in Wisconsin leads the way for millions in funding for clean energy. The EPA’s press release is below. Also check out Tom Content’s blog post summarizing the settlement. Detailed information can be found here.

Clean Air Act Settlement with Wisconsin Utilities to Reduce Emissions by More Than 50,000 Tons Annually 

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Justice, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Wisconsin announced a Clean Air Act (CAA) settlement with Wisconsin Power and Light Company (WPL) that will significantly reduce air pollution from three coal-fired power plants located near Portage, Sheboygan, and Cassville, Wis. 



Policies that can Restore Wisconsin’s Bioenergy leadership

From testimony given to Senate Committee on Energy Consumer Protection and Government Reform on April 10, 2013

RENEW Wisconsin has been leading and representing businesses, organizations, and individuals that seek more clean, renewable energy in Wisconsin since 1991.

I have been involved in bioenergy for over thirty years in designing and administering policies and programs at the Wisconsin Energy Office, as director of the Focus on Energy Renewable Energy program, and for the past year with RENEW. I have personally been involved in many of Wisconsin’s more than 100 biogas facilities over my career. These facilities include municipal wastewater treatment plants, landfill gas operations, dairy operations, and food waste.

Wisconsin has the natural resources, the supply chain infrastructure, the mix of industrial and agricultural producers, and a past history of success to once again lead the nation in biogas production and utilization. Currently, New York, Pennsylvania, and California are about to overtake our lead if they have not already done so. All it takes for Wisconsin to regain the lead is the right public policies that can overcome the remaining economic and institutional barriers.

RENEW believes that Wisconsin has the very doable potential to quadruple the number of biogas facilities in the next ten years from roughly 100 to 400. This would allow Wisconsin to have a similar number of biogas facilities per capita as Germany, the world biogas leader. RENEW prepared a list of 12 specific policies that together can retake Wisconsin’s leadership role in biogas and allow us to quadruple the number of local, environmentally beneficial, and job creating biogas facilities.

The four policies that are most important and have an immediate potential include:

  • Allowing third party contracting arrangements that would reduce the financial and technical barriers to biogas system hosts;
  • Allowing reasonable and flexible interconnection requirements as defined in RENEW’s current petition at the PSCW in docket 05-GF-233. For example, current requirements allow utilities to designate the type of telemetry (a communication link between generator and substation).
    • By designating the most expensive type of telemetry (fiber optics) instead of other much less expensive, but just as reliable options, utilities can increase the cost of a biogas system by hundreds of thousands of dollars and effectively kill projects.
  • Higher buyback rates or production tax incentives that recognize the social benefits of:
    • locally produced energy
    • environmental benefits to air, water, and land
    • the economic benefits of building and operating biogas here in Wisconsin.
  • Property tax reductions, similar to those given to wind and solar

We urge the Senate Committee on Energy, Consumer Protection, and Government Reform to seriously consider recommending these policies to your legislative colleagues and to agencies that have jurisdiction over these responsibilities.

It’s time to move forward and create the climate that once again makes Wisconsin the national leader in biogas.

Thank you.

Don Wichert, Interim Executive Director, RENEW Wisconsin


False Picture on Renewable Energy

The opinion piece below was published in the March 30, 2013 Milwaukee State Journal

A seismic shift occurred in the U.S. electric power industry this January. For the first time since the federal government began tracking new power plants, renewable energy sources – biogas, solar and wind – accounted for 100% of generating capacity added that month.
This milestone does not please fossil fuel interests, who are alarmed over the prospect of losing market share to clean energy. To reverse this trend, they have launched a national campaign involving the planting of so-called studies in selected states that falsely demonize renewable energy.
One such report, prepared by Beacon Hill Institute, a Massachusetts think tank that is openly hostile to pro-renewable energy policy, surfaced in Wisconsin last week. Like all its other reports on state energy policy, the analysis is a heavy-handed attempt to reverse-engineer data points to fit the preordained conclusion and generate the headlines that the fossil fuel interests want to see.
An objective analysis would compare the cost of complying with Wisconsin’s modest 10% standard with all the other utility projects undertaken during the same time. But Beacon Hill’s analysis studiously avoids mentioning the new coal-fired power plants and pollution controls for old coal plants that are the primary cost drivers behind recent rate increases in Wisconsin. Utilities have dedicated over $5 billion to building or upgrading coal plants since 1999, dwarfing their investments in renewable generation. But you won’t find a word about that in this report.
You also won’t find any mention of the many new jobs, businesses and manufacturers leveraged by renewable energy standards in Wisconsin and other states. These include:
 • Chilton-based DVO, which has become one of the leading designers and installers of farm-based biodigester projects in the nation.
 • Milwaukee-based Helios, USA, which in just three years has become a supplier of competitively priced solar electric modules.
 • Broadwind, whose Manitowoc facility now fabricates towers for windpower projects throughout the Great Lakes region.
It is not difficult to inventory the growth of Wisconsin’s clean energy supply chain from the ground up and determine how much of that was driven by state policy. A more rigorous study would have done so while providing evidence to support its contention that Wisconsin’s renewable energy policy caused a net reduction of jobs. In contrast, Beacon Hill relied on black-box computer models instead of phone surveys to reach its counterintuitive results.
As an economics professor once said to me: “If you torture your models enough, they will confess to anything you want them to.”
Had this been an intellectually honest effort, the study would have credited renewable energy policies for increasing income to farmers while providing millions of dollars’ worth of property tax relief to towns and counties. But that would have risked reaching the opposite conclusion: renewable energy policies here and in neighboring states have delivered tangible economic benefits to Wisconsin.
The false picture projected by this report crumbles when compared with the reality of Iowa’s energy experience. If renewable energy is so expensive, how does Iowa manage to generate 25% of its electricity from wind power while holding its rates 20% below Wisconsin’s rates on average? It’s worth pointing out that Mid-American, Iowa’s largest electric utility, is the largest owner of wind energy projects among all U.S. utilities, yet its electric rates remain in the single digits.
Yes, the fossil fuel interests are clearly worried, and they are resorting to outright disinformation such as Beacon Hill’s Wisconsin “study” to obscure the facts. Wisconsin’s renewable energy standard has indeed been an economic success.
Notwithstanding Beacon Hill’s efforts, voters like renewable energy and want to see more solar, bioenergy and wind powering Wisconsin’s economy. According to a bipartisan January 2012 poll, over 80% of voters sampled support policies requiring that 30% of Wisconsin’s electricity come from renewable sources.
If lawmakers are sincerely interested in economic growth, they should expand the standard beyond 10%.
Michael Vickerman is program and policy director of RENEW Wisconsin, a sustainable energy advocacy organization.

BioForward: From Pi Day to Biogas

Below is a post from Nicole Sandler on the BioForward blog. If you’re interested in bio in Wisconsin, checkout their website for more information. See this article in it’s original posting here.

My first post for Biotech in Wisconsin was scheduled for the week of March 11, which as many scientists know includes Pi Day. As we were exchanging ideas about a potential topic, I got an email from Laura Strong, who runs a cancer drug development company in Madison and created this blog, that said:

“I was thinking of something “fun” for Pi Day (March 14) like a pie contest, which got me thinking about cow pies. Cow pies led to a recollection that manure is being converted to energy – a sort of biotech mix of ag and energy…”
In case you aren’t familiar with Cow Pies, they are a candy made of pecans covered in caramel and chocolate. So there you have it – from the transcendental π to delicious desserts to actual cow poop to renewable energy!CowPie
Some initial searching on the topic of biogas revealed two data-rich documents, both relevant and informative. They serve as the sources for this basic background on where the state of Wisconsin stands on the concept of harvesting animal and plant waste to produce renewable fuel.
But first a quick explanation for those in the dark (like myself) on what exactly is meant by biogas. Biogas is produced from biomass, which can be thought of as animal and plant waste. As a renewable energy source biomass can be used directly or converted to a biofuel in any of three ways – thermal conversion, chemical conversion or biochemical conversion. Think of humans burning wood to make fire to produce heat. That is one of the most basic examples of how we use a biomass source to make energy.
Biogas is a gas that is produced by the breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen – the biologists in the crowd recognize this as anaerobic digestion or fermentation. Typical sources of such biodegradable materials include manure, sewage, municipal waste, plant materials and crops; in other words, biomass. Biomass that is suitable for biogas production is referred to as “feedstock,” a term that figures prominently in the comprehensive reports and data available on this topic.
One such strategic report, Wisconsin Strategic Bioenergy Feedstock Assessment, was published last year by the Wisconsin Bioenergy Initiative (WBI). The report highlights that Wisconsin has a wide range of biomass, from crops to food and dairy processing facilities to dairy farms. Dairy manure was described as the “lowest hanging fruit” for biomass in Wisconsin. Based on detailed economic modeling, the report suggests that despite a strong forest product industry in WI, use of wood as biomass would impact prices.
The lead author of the report and Director of the WBI is Gary Radloff. Radloff is also Director of Midwest Energy Policy Analysis with the Wisconsin Energy Institute and considered an Expert in energy policy. When asked to comment on the role that biogas can play in our state, he had this to say:
“Wisconsin has the opportunity to a be a national leader in biogas energy with its robust dairy sector, large food processing sector, along with local government facilities such as wastewater treatment plants and landfill sites. Yet it may take some additional supportive public policy to push the opportunity to success due to current challenges in the energy economic marketplace today.”
Another influential organization working for more renewable energy is RENEW Wisconsin. RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit sustainable energy advocacy organization that leads and represents statewide businesses, and individuals who seek more clean, renewable energy. Don Wichert, the organization’s interim executive director, provided some updated numbers to illustrate just where the state of Wisconsin stands on biogas:
“As of a few years ago we could boast of at least 100 biogas facilities – including over 35 wastewater treatment pants, 10 landfills, 40 animal digesters that use dairy manure and another 10 or so that use food waste.” Interestingly, one of these, at UW-Oshkosh, is the first commercial-scale dry fermentation anaerobic biodigester in the nation, and it provides the campus with five percent of its current energy and heating needs.
In other words, biogas is not new to the state of Wisconsin.Wisconsin Biodigester
As Wichert explains, these biogas facilities basically function by taking the waste, converting them to a 50:50 mix of methane and carbon dioxide which is then put that into an engine that turns a generator to produce electricity.
“We have a pretty solid basis for being the national leader in biogas production,” says Wichert. “Already we are very close to having the most in any state, and we could expand the number by a factor of four within the next ten years.” What this will require however, are a “few different policy tweaks.”
The Wisconsin State Energy Office also is involved in furthering the potential of biogas as a renewable energy source and recently published a forward-looking plan in partnership with Baker Tilly. The end result is a report backed up by a set of tools to do an initial evaluation of the viability of biogas projects, specifically in the areas of cheese production and dairy farms. While the economic modeling tool is a bit advanced, the map overlaps feedstocks and existing power/energy infrastructure.
Wisconsin seems to be striving to make its mark as a leader in harnessing biomass for renewable energy. With strong interest and resources, perhaps we could tap into the local biotech sector to address some of the quality of biomass concerns and help improve the conversion processes.
Wisconsin does have a few of these companies, most notably Virent, which was developed around its BioForming® platform. The novel process is able to accommodate renewable feedstocks required by Virent’s customers and in doing so converts plant-based materials into a wide range of petroleum-free products.

See the original posting of this article here.

January 2013: 100% new energy generating capacity was renewable

This brief article was originally posted room the Iowa Energy Center. See the original article here.

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) reports that in January 2013, 100 percent of new electric generating capacity was renewable. The full dataset from FERC outlines the January additions: 958 megawatts of wind, 267 of solar, and 6 megawatts of biomass, totaling 1,231 megawatts of capacity.

The megawatts of wind and solar from January 2013 outnumbered the megawatts of natural gas and coal in January 2012. While this is exciting news, it is unlikely that this renewable-only trend will continue for the rest of 2013.

Below are two pie charts showing the new capacity in January 2012  and the new capacity in January 2013. Click on the charts for interactive content courtesy of