Groups push to reinstate suspended Wis. renewables incentive

By Anna Austin | April 03, 2012

A suspended renewable energy incentive program in Wisconsin has businesses, residents and supporting organizations frustrated with the state Public Service Commission. 

Since 2011, the Focus on Energy Program has provided financial incentives as directed by state law to renewable energy projects including biodigesters, wind and solar systems. It was temporarily suspended for businesses in July 2011 by program administrator Shaw Environmental, which cited lack of funds due to the program’s outstanding popularity.

Though the program was supposed to be reinstated before the end of the year, that has yet to occur, and groups such as RENEW Wisconsin and Clean Wisconsin are encouraging stakeholders and the public to speak up.  "It is now the spring of 2012, and neither Shaw nor the Public Service Commission, which oversees Focus, have said a peep about when they will again offer incentives, as required by law," said Don Wichert, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin.

The PSC responded to program suspension concerns by admitting that while the Focus on Energy program currently has an impressive payback, the over-inclusion of renewables in the portfolio has the potential to reduce the cost benefit. PSC also said it is working with Shaw Environmental on redesigning the renewable portion of the program. 

Shortly thereafter, the PSC announced plans to drastically reduce program funding for Focus on Energy’s Environmental and Economic Research Program from $2 million to $100,000, prompting Clean Wisconsin to petition the PSC to reopen and reconsider the funding level docket. Since then, more than 200 comments have been submitted to the PSC requesting that the program be reinstated, but when and if that will happen remains unclear.

According to RENEW Wisconsin, the program administrator’s lack of experience is part of the problem. The group has offered ideas to improve the program, including separate contractors to administer the renewable energy program and energy efficiency program.