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Utilities aim to cut Wisconsin’s program for energy efficiency

A utility-backed bill to cut funding for Wisconsin’s energy-efficiency program is short-sighted and would hurt customers in the long run, the program’s supporters contend.

Wisconsin’s electric utilities back the bill, which would cut funding for the Focus on Energy program by $7 million at a time when electricity costs in Wisconsin have risen above the national average.

But utilities and state regulators maintain that the proposed cut would return money to ratepayers. The bill passed the state GOP-led Assembly last month and the Republican-controlled Senate is scheduled to take it up on March 15.

The program’s supporters cite its savings, pointing out that the program has delivered $3 of savings to customers for every $1 spent.

“It’s very short-sighted to vote on a bill that’s going to reduce Focus on Energy’s program budget by $7.2 million,” said Theresa Lehman, director of sustainable services at Miron Construction. “Our clients use that money every year.”

Lehman said at a time when capital spending budgets are tight, the program offers incentives that help customers cut their costs by allowing them to afford the upfront expenses of switching to more efficient LED lighting.

St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton is saving $30,000 a year by upgrading the lighting in its corridors, Lehman said. Another client, Lake Mills Elementary School, received $100,000 in incentives from the program and is now saving $85,000 every year on its energy costs, she said.

Wisconsin utilities and manufacturing groups, however, say that the program effectively charges some utilities twice, which is unfair to them.

Investor-owned utilities are paying into the program based on a percentage of sales. Then municipal utilities, which buy power from investor-owned utilities, are paying into the program separately, at a rate of $8 per meter. Currently, the program is funded based on 1.2 percent of investor-owned utilities’ total sales.

The proposed change would collect program funding by retail rather than total utility electric sales, so investor utilities aren’t paying for both their customers’ and municipal customers’ contributions to Focus on Energy.

“Our concern is the formula and getting rid of the double charge,” We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said. Total funding for the program would increase over time as utility power sales rise, he said.

Madison-based Alliant Energy and Milwaukee-based WEC Energy Group, parent of We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service, are backing the bill. All three of the utilities estimate they would see savings of about $2 million a year.

 

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