December 2016 DIRECTOR’S NOTE

Looking back at Energy on Wisconsin News in 2016, articles about solar dominated followed in decreasing order by policy & utility rate cases, energy efficiency, business/economy, wind and green building. Here’s a review of the energy highlights for Wisconsin. 

 Wisconsin solar system installations increased in 2016 utilizing several financing approaches: third-party solar, community solar, solar group purchasing and power purchase agreements. Darlington School District installed the largest school array with a third party arrangement offsetting 20-30 percent of their electric use in each of 2 buildings. Excel Energy commissioned 2 megawatts of community solar in La Crosse and Eau Claire areas. More than 120 household solar electric systems will be installed as a result of solar group buys. Utility investments in solar installations soared to nearly 25 megawatts with Alliant’s 2.3MW project in Beloit and Dairyland Power’s 14 projects totaling more than 19MW. Wisconsin businesses, including Letterhead Press that installed a 337 kilowatt array in New Berlin, continue to invest in solar. The pending Clean Power Plan (with a stay by the Supreme Court in February) and federal Investment Tax Credits for renewable energy reinforced by customer demand helped drive the strong activity in solar energy.

 Headwinds blew in favor of wind projects in Wisconsin after 5 years of no new wind. Highland Wind Farm in St. Croix County got regulatory approval for the $250 million 2.3 MW, 44 turbine project (although local opposition remains stiff). Two new wind projects- $200 million, 99 MW farm by Dairyland Power in Lafayette County and WPPI Energy in Sun Prairie may come on line in 2017. While wind development by surrounding states has increased by an average of 45 percent, Wisconsin has seen 3 percent growth (AWEA).

The trend to increase the fixed base rate portion of electricity bills on customers of Wisconsin investor owned utilities continued. Yet, energy efficiency is the third largest resource (18%) of the US electric power sector (ACEEE report).  Focus on Energy continues to fund energy efficiency incentive programs while funding for LED street lights moved to the State Energy Office. The Wisconsin Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing program launched in 2016, where local lenders finance 100 percent of commercial energy efficiency, solar and water conservation upgrades through a special municipal charge. Eleven counties joined this program and the first applications by businesses have been submitted. Recognizing the business case for energy efficiency and green building, CBRE earned a  triple LEED Platinum certification for operations and management of their Gateway West Sustainable Facility building in Brookfield. The WI Commercial Building Code Council (CBCC) has been reviewing the codes, which provides an opportunity to increase commercial energy efficiency statewide.

 The State Office of Energy Innovation released the Wisconsin Biogas Survey Report (May 2016) in a year when several anaerobic digesters that produced electricity in Wisconsin were decertified due to utility nonrenewal of their power purchase agreements and a static Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). A new initiative to invest in anaerobic digestion as a means of preventing water contamination while producing energy was launched by the governor’s office (see below).

 While Wisconsin has nearly 25,000 clean energy jobs, according to Clean Jobs Midwest “…the state has the smallest clean energy workforce in the region as a percentage of the state’s workforce”. Small and medium enterprises participate actively in the sectors that are the focus of the green economy like renewable energy production, smart metering, building refurbishment, cleaner cars, wind and solar installations and battery development. That is where jobs are created. Wisconsin can grow jobs through the clean energy economy like our neighboring states. Look toward continued progress in 2017.

Sherrie Gruder