In 2019, Governor Evers issued Executive Order #38 to establish a goal for carbon-free electricity in Wisconsin by 2050. As the state regulator of utilities, the Public Service Commission (PSC) is tasked with regulating the number one sector source for greenhouse gas emissions in Wisconsin. As a result, PSC decisions play a key role in determining whether Wisconsin will be able to achieve a zero-carbon grid by 2050.
The PSC reviews utility proposals for construction projects, rate increases, and new utility programs for their customers. However, the PSC reviews these proposals separately from one another, and historically without the integration of other utility plans, carbon reduction goals, and cross-sector emission-reduction strategies. The good news is that the PSC has begun to explore how to incorporate these factors within its decision-making processes going forward.
In keeping with a recent trend of investigating policy issues (such as Electric Vehicles and Parallel Generation), this past spring the PSC opened a docket (5-EI-158) to pursue a “Roadmap to Zero Carbon.” As described in the Notice of Investigation, the PSC intends to evaluate government and utility goals to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050, recommendations from recent Wisconsin reports on clean energy and climate change, and the development of partnerships to achieve carbon-free electricity by 2050.
The Zero Carbon Roadmap docket garnered much interest from active PSC intervenors (such as RENEW), with participation from environmental, health, and business advocates as well. Members of the general public also participated with input and suggestions. PSC staff issued a memo for public comment on scoping of priorities. After gathering public input, PSC staff issued a follow-up memo to the Commissioners in August that summarized stakeholder input and provided the Commissioners with options on the next steps. The Commissioners then discussed the memo and issued an order in September to take some initial actions.
In short, the PSC decided to leverage ongoing planning processes and to investigate a potentially new approach to utility ratemaking. Below is a summary of these initial steps:
- The PSC will gather more robust carbon-reduction planning information from utilities during the current biennial Strategic Energy Assessment (SEA). Utilities will soon respond to the PSC staff’s initial data request, and PSC staff will issue a draft report by next spring for public comment;
- Additionally, the PSC will seek public input on ways in which the state’s Focus on Energy program (Focus) can better incorporate beneficial electrification, programs for low-income customers, demand response, and other utility voluntary programs into its program design over the next four years. This is called the Quadrennial Planning Process, and a PSC staff recently issued a memo for comment on scope; and
- Finally, the PSC will organize a workshop on Performance-based Regulation (PBR). This workshop will gather information and perspectives on how rethinking utility goals and investment incentives can lead to a more equitable clean-energy future. The PSC will also consider customer affordability issues in relation to the transition to a zero-carbon grid.
Even with these planning processes already underway, the book is not closed on the Roadmap to Zero Carbon docket. RENEW recently reached out to Joe Fontaine, PSC Policy Advisor, to get a better sense of next steps for the investigation docket itself. Fontaine said:
“Commission staff is excited to kick off the Roadmap by addressing four of the highest priorities identified by commenters and approved by the Commission. Each of these four areas — more transparent resource planning, development of performance-based regulation concepts, and further analysis of affordability and energy efficiency issues — can help us develop a strong general foundation to address a wider range of issues related to the clean energy transition, in this investigation as well as in other Commission dockets. Future decisions in the Roadmap will be well-informed by the analysis and stakeholder input we’re receiving at each step in the investigation. Potential next steps will be determined as we make progress on these initial priorities over the next few months.”
The PSC’s Roadmap to Zero Carbon activities is running in parallel with the Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy’s (OSCE) Clean Energy Plan drafting process. Beyond the electricity sector, the Clean Energy Plan will assess, and make recommendations on, strategies cutting across all economic sectors statewide. The OSCE recently gathered public input during several public listening sessions, focusing on 1) economic and environmental justice, 2) infrastructure and industry, 3) transit and transportation, and 4) clean energy and energy efficiency. The OSCE continues to gather written comments through its website.
RENEW is also proactively partnering with Clean Wisconsin and GridLab to conduct a zero-carbon grid study for the PSC’s consideration. While the scope is still being finalized, the study will use modeling designed to answer important policy questions, such as:
- What is the right mix of renewable resources in-state and out-of-state?
- What is a good balance between utility-scale and distributed solar resources?
- How much transmission is needed in a zero-carbon future?
- What will be the health, jobs, and economic impacts as we make this clean grid transition?
Stay tuned on these zero-carbon planning activities and upcoming study developments. RENEW plans to organize presentations and panel discussions on these topics at our Renewable Energy Summit on January 27, 2022.
 See the Department of Natural Resources’ Wisconsin Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Report of August 2020. Figure 1, on page 3, presents emissions by sector. Electricity generation is the highest emitting sector and represents 33 percent of all Wisconsin emissions.