Small businesses hit hard by cuts and changes in Focus on Energy

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

From an article by Judy Newman in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Focus on Energy, a statewide program that promotes energy efficiency, is in the midst of big changes: new management by an out-of-state corporation, suspension of a popular rebate program, and sharp funding cuts in the pending state budget.

Nearly 20 people already have lost their jobs, mostly in Madison, as a result of the management change.

Meanwhile, dozens of small Wisconsin businesses that specialize in setting up solar panels and wind turbines fear for their futures because of the slashed allocation and rebate removal.

“It’s a lot of economic activity and jobs in Wisconsin. It’s a lot of energy efficiency, as well,” said Keith Reopelle, policy director for Clean Wisconsin.

Focus on Energy was created in 2001 to provide education, resources and cash incentives to Wisconsin residents and businesses to increase the use of energy-efficient products and systems, from furnaces to solar panels to vending machines.

In the past 10 years, more than 91,000 businesses and more than 1.7 million residents used the program and saved $2.20 for every dollar spent, according to Focus data. . . .

Since taking over Focus on Energy on May 9, one of Shaw’s first decisions, with PSC support, was to suspend payments to businesses that install renewable-energy systems, as of June 30.

Contractors like Seventh Generation Energy Systems were stunned.“It’s pretty devastating,” said James Yockey, chief executive officer. “It probably took out six to 10 projects that we were looking to close ... for work in the fall and the coming spring.”

Several of the projects were wind turbines for farmers. “I think the incentives are decisive in people saying yes,” Yockey said . . . .

Program supporters have appealed to Gov. Scott Walker to veto the Focus budget cut, including a letter signed by 124 Wisconsin businesses. As of Friday, there was no word on his response. Walker is scheduled to sign the budget today.

“Cutting Focus on Energy will result in higher electricity bills and fewer jobs,” Randy Johnson, president of U.S. Lamp, a Green Bay energy-efficient lighting design company, said in the letter.

Seventh Generation’s Yockey said he hopes to avoid laying off any of his 16 employees by aiming his business at other states, and that could mean moving the company. “We prefer to be located in Madison but the bottom line is: we’ll see where the business takes us,” he said.

Madison wind installer wins national award

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Immediate release: June 28, 2011
More info: Jim Yockey 608-770-9660

Wisconsin business wins National Small Wind Installer of the year

MADISON – Seventh Generation Systems Integration was awarded the National Installer of the Year honor at the 7th Annual Small Wind Conference in Stevens Point, WI on June 16th. This recognition of national scope is given to the company for their positive contribution to the growth of the distributed wind industry.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, small wind turbine installations grew 15% in 2009. Wisconsin is well suited for small wind, defined as turbines of 100 kilowatts or less, because of the rural landscape and economy. Until recently, state incentives helped grow the small wind industry through Focus on Energy, supported by a strong presence in the Midwest Renewable Energy Association.

The small wind industry has seen its share of challenges since Seventh Generation began in 2002. As an emerging industry, small wind manufacturers are always keeping up with industry standards and customers’ needs. The honor of receiving the Small Wind Installer of the Year comes as a result of working exceptionally well with manufacturers and state programs to serve the needs of rural Wisconsin.

Currently, Seventh Generation has installed more than 30 small wind turbines ranging in size from 10kW to 100kW, for a collective installed capacity of more than 1megwatt. Seventh Generation works primarily with farms, camps, schools, and businesses to match technology to the customer’s energy requirements. Along with the engineering and design of renewable energy systems, the company is recognized as a leader in resource monitoring and analysis. More about the organization can be found at


State’s Hostility Toward Renewables Escalates; “Leaders” Lag Citizenry on Wind Support

Monday, June 27, 2011

Two articles from Catching Wind, a newsletter published by RENEW Wisconsin with funding from a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy:

State’s Hostility Toward Renewables Escalates
At the urging of Wisconsin utilities, several lawmakers have introduced a bill to allow a renewable energy credit (REC) to be banked indefinitely. If adopted, this measure (AB146) would constitute the most devastating legislative assault yet on the state’s renewable energy marketplace, which is already reeling from the suspension of the statewide wind siting rule this March and the loosening of renewable energy definitions to allow Wisconsin utilities to count electricity generated from large Canadian hydro projects toward their renewable energy requirements.

“Leaders” Lag Citizenry on Wind Support
Public support for wind energy development has held strong against the attacks launched by Governor Walker and the Legislature’s new Republican majority, according to a poll conducted between April 11 and April 18 by the St. Norbert College Survey Center for Wisconsin Public Radio.

Asked whether Wisconsin should "increase, decrease or continue with the same amount" of energy supply from various sources, 77% favored increasing wind power, the highest of any option (60% favored increasing hydropower, 54% biomass, 39% natural gas, 27% nuclear, and 19% coal).

120 businesses urge funding support for job creation through energy efficiency and renewable energy

Friday, June 24, 2011

From an article by Charles Davis in the Green Bay Press Gazette:

Thousands of future jobs are at stake if Gov. Scott Walker doesn't veto a provision in the state budget that limits funding for the Focus on Energy program, local business leaders said Wednesday.

"I see it being a real detriment to our business and our customers going forward if we don't have these funding increases," said Jeff Klonowski, regional manager of Kaukauna-based Energy Federation Inc., which supplies lighting fixtures, foam and weather-stripping materials to area contractors.

But supporters of the provision object to the amount of the funding increase, not the program.

"The Focus on Energy program certainly had a lot of benefits, but the huge increase in assessments that were put in place at the end of last year, we think, were too much, too soon," said Scott Manley, director of environmental and energy policy for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state's largest business lobby.

Walker received a letter Wednesday signed by more than 120 businesses asking that he veto that provision in the state budget bill. His office responded with a one-line statement: "We'll evaluate that provision and make any veto-related announcements once the decisions have been finalized."

The program
The statewide Focus on Energy program is funded by tax assessments on utility bills and provides grants to help homeowners and businesses pay for energy-efficient upgrades. It also helps pay for consultants to advise property owners on which type of upgrades would be practical and cost-effective. Each year, utility companies contribute 1.2 percent of revenue — about $100 million total — to the program.

The state Public Service Commission proposed in December raising the utility bill assessments from $94 million in 2010 to $256 million by 2014.

The proposal calls for utilities to increase their contributions to $120 million this year. That amount is fixed even if Walker does not veto the provision. However, assessments would drop to around $100 million in 2012, instead of the initial proposed increase of $160 million for that year.

Image by Clean Wisconsin

Energy program cuts called short-sighted

Thursday, June 23, 2011

From an article by Mike Ivey in The Capital Times:

Stanley Minnick runs a one-man consulting company in Madison called Third Power Energy Solutions.

Minnick founded the company earlier this year with the primary aim of helping businesses, non-profits and residents save money on their energy bills.

But just as Minnick is getting his business up and running, the state has cut funding for Focus on Energy, which provides grants to help pay for conservation efforts like solar power installations or high-efficiency lighting.

"The timing on all of this is just awful," says Minnick. "We're supposed to be growing the state economy and help new business get going. It just doesn't make any sense."

The new state budget cuts funding for the state Focus on Energy from $120 million to less than $100 million annually. It also rolls back annual increases approved in December 2010 by former Gov. Jim Doyle's Public Service Commission that would have upped funding to $256 million by 2014.

The monies come from a 1.2 percent tax on electric utility sales -- an arrangement the investor-owned utilties have begrudingly accepted though hardly embraced.

Minnick says those grants, which go to utility customers who make energy improvements, have provided stability to the conservation industry and helped businesses make investments they might not have pursued otherwise.

The cuts were approved last month by the Joint Finance Committee and included in the budget signed by Gov. Scott Walker last week.

"It's unfortunate this ended up mixed into the budget because I don't think a lot of Legislators had time to really look at it," says Keith Reopelle, senior policy director at Clean Wisconsin.

Clean energy advocates note that Wisconsin sends $17 billion of state annually to purchase coal, oil and natural gas. They say that every $1 invested in Focus on Energy reduces energy bills for consumers by at least $2.50. They also credit the program with creating 24,000 jobs in the state.

Southeastern Wisconsin leaders ask state to restore mass transit funding

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

From an article in BizTimes Daily:

A coalition of southeastern Wisconsin civic, educational and business leaders is asking the state Legislature to restore state funding for mass transit in the region.

The coalition sent a letter to state senators and Assembly members Monday, calling on legislators to refrain from making the cuts outlined in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill. The letter said mass transit is vital to the economic future of southeastern Wisconsin economy.

The letter was co-signed by Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman; Cudahy Mayor Anthony Day; St. Francis Mayor Al Richards; South Milwaukee Mayor Tom Zepecki; Racine Mayor John Dickert; Oak Creek Mayor Richard Bolander; Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele; Greater Milwaukee Committee President Julia Taylor; Racine Area Chamber of Commerce President Michael Kobylka; South Suburban Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Wesener; KenoshaArea Business Alliance President Todd Battle; University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Chancellor Michael Lovell; University of Wisconsin-Parkside Chancellor Deborah Ford; Milwaukee Downtown Executive Director Beth Nicols; Devin Sutherland of Downtown Racine Corp. BID #1; Mike Fabishak of Associated General Contractors Greater Milwaukee; and Tom Rave of The Gateway to Milwaukee.

The letter stated:
“In the current economy, creating, maintaining, and connecting people to private sector jobs is a top priority. The state budget proposal to drastically reduce state funding for already severely strained transit systems in SE Wisconsin would threaten economic growth by making it harder or impossible for workers to get to jobs and discourage employers from locating or expanding in Wisconsin. . . .

Walker says ‘yes’ to roads we don’t need

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

From a column by Dave Zweifel in The Capital Times:

Whether it’s a result of recent bad winters or just the impact of more and more traffic, local roads and streets have taken a serious beating throughout Wisconsin.

Potholes, sunken manhole covers and deteriorating concrete and asphalt are taking their toll on cars and the nerves of the people who ride in them. Many communities and counties have fallen behind on road maintenance in recent years because of budget shortfalls.

But we’ll just have to learn to live with the disintegrating roads and streets thanks to yet another curious set of priorities on the part of the Scott Walker administration.

The new Wisconsin budget, which is headed full speed to implementation, includes massive cuts to Wisconsin schools, fewer dollars for the working poor, more tax breaks for big business and, yes, less money to help the state’s already-beleaguered municipalities fix streets and roads. (Madison is on the verge of losing $1 million.)

Instead, the budget that’s being fashioned by the Walkerite-dominated Joint Committee on Finance will effectively shift transportation dollars away from the locals and into the hands of the big road builders who gave so generously to get Walker elected.

While local road aid is headed for what looks like a $35 million cut, some $328 million more is being earmarked for new highway construction by shifting automobile sales tax revenue, which has historically gone to the general fund, into the transportation budget. Further, more dollars for big highways are being freed up by shifting public transit out of the transportation budget and into the general fund, where public transportation will be more vulnerable to indiscriminate budget cutting.

Peak Oil Meeting, June 9

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Please join us for the Madison Peak Oil Group (MPOG) monthly brown bag meeting this Thursday! (It was delayed one week this month.)

Time: 12:00 noon on Thursday, June 9th
Place: 222 South Hamilton Street, Madison
RENEW conference room on the lower level

Please renew your annual MPOG membership if you have not done so yet. Suggested level $15 – more if you can afford it. Make out your check to Madison Peak Oil Group and give it to Ed Blume in person…or mail to him at 222 South Hamilton Street, Madison WI 53703

(1) Introductions
(2) Financial Report
(3) Announcements, Upcoming Events

June 17-19: Midwest Renewable Energy Association Fair

June 24: Statewide Transit Advocates meeting
Best Western Inn on the Park, Madison
Exact time to be announced: most likely mid-day or afternoon
Contact Kerry Thomas to get on mailing list: (262) 246-6151

July 8-10: EcoFair 360, Walworth County Fairgrounds

July 28: Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers summit, Wisconsin Dells
Contact Mike McCoy to get on mailing list:
MPOG members are hereby encouraged to join ProRail/WisARP (Sorry but the website is kinda flakey)
Membership = $20/yr. Make out your check to ProRail and send to:
ProRail Membership, P.O. Box 5401, Madison, WI 53705-0401

(4) Reports, Summaries

June 1-4: Congress for the New Urbanism

(5) State Government Issues

Status of Renewable Energy – Mike Vickerman

Status of RTA and Transit

(6) Electrified Steel Interstate – Alan Drake concept
I recommend we make this a top priority for MPOG
Please review this before meeting:

Summary of EXCELLENT meeting on June 2nd

Now online: Wisconsin Renewable Quarterly

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Wisconsin Renewable Quarterly, the newsletter of RENEW Wisconsin, features these article:

Siting Rule Suspension Rocks Wind Industry
In a move that sent shock waves through the wind industry in Wisconsin, a joint legislative panel voted on March 1 to suspend the wind siting rule promulgated by the Public Service Commission in December 2010.

Community Biogas Project Fires Up
Home to 400 dairy farms, Dane County recently dedicated a community-scale manure-to-methane generating system designed to reduce nutrient runoff into the Yahara Lakes.

Insty Prints: Mpower ChaMpion
But if I can help other businesses make some of the harder choices by being more vocal, then I’m willing to help.

Manitoba Hydro: A Washout?
On behalf of our members and the many businesses and individuals who support the continued expansion of Wisconsin’s renewable energy marketplace, RENEW Wisconsin is here to express opposition to AB 114 (and its companion SB 81), and urges the Legislature not to pass this bill.

Verona Firm Begins Work on “Epic” PV
With the commissioning of its 1,300-module solar electric canopy spanning its parking deck, Epic Systems joins an elite group of Wisconsin companies embracing on-site energy capture to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. At 360 kilowatts (kW), Epic’s new photovoltaic system is the largest solar array in Dane County and the third largest in Wisconsin.

Calendar of Renewable and Energy Efficiency Events
June 17-19, 2001 The Energy Fair. Custer, WI. The nation’s premier sustainable energy education event. Three days of workshops, demonstrations, and exhibits highlighting renewable energy and sustainable living. For details see

July 8-10, 2011 EcoFair360. Elkhorn, WI. Join hundreds of exhibitors and presenters and thousands of attendees who will Make Green Happen for three days of education, exploration and inspiration. For details see

July 16, 2011 Western Wisconsin Sustainability Fair. Menomonie, WI, Dunn County Fair Grounds. Exhibitors from business, government, and non-profi t groups, speakers, workshops, music, energy effi cient vehicles, a photo contest, and a tour of the Cedar Falls Dam. See for more information.

July 30, 2011 8th Annual Kickapoo Country Fair. LaFarge, WI. The Midwest’s Largest Organic Food and Sustainability Festival. Food, music, bike and farm tours, cooking demonstrations, theater, kids’ activities, dancing. More information at

October 1, 2011 Solar Tour of Homes and Businesses. All across Wisconsin. Owners open their doors to let people see how renewable energy is practical, reliable, and affordable in today’s economy. The homes and businesses often include other energy efficiency and renewable technologies. For details see

October 26, 2011 Wisconsin’s Solar Decade Conference. Milwaukee, WI. Now in its seventh year, the Wisconsin
Solar Decade Conference is your opportunity to see fi rsthand the latest developments in the world of solar energy. For details see

Coal companies shape lessons in public schools

Friday, June 03, 2011

From an article by Kevin Sieff in The Washington Post:

In the mountains of southwestern Virginia, Gequetta Bright Laney taught public high school students this spring about a subject of keen interest to the region’s biggest employer: the economics of coal mining.

“Where there’s coal, there’s opportunity,” Bright Laney told her class at Coeburn High School in Wise County.

Her lessons, like others in dozens of public schools across the country, were approved and funded by the coal industry. Such efforts reflect a broader pattern of private-sector attempts to influence what gets taught in public schools.

Eager to burnish its reputation, the energy industry is spending significant sums of money on education in communities with sensitive coal, natural gas and oil exploration projects. The industry aims to teach students about its contributions to local economies and counter criticism from environmental groups.

These outreach efforts have drawn scrutiny after news in May that Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher of children’s books, distributed fourth-grade curriculum materials funded by the American Coal Foundation. The “United States of Energy” lesson plan, which the foundation paid $300,000 to develop, went to 66,000 fourth-grade teachers in 2009. After critics raised questions about potential bias, Scholastic announced that it will no longer publish the material in question.

Environmentalists and public education groups say the Scholastic example highlights the increasingly cozy relationship between industry groups and public schools. They also criticize what takes place in classrooms such as Bright Laney’s, where industries fund lessons that echo their interests.

“We’re talking about catering our public school curriculum to those who can pay for it,” said Josh Golin, program manager at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, based in Boston. “It raises questions about the foundation of our public education system.”

Written on the wind: Glacier Hills open house offers up-close look at project

Thursday, June 02, 2011

From an article by Lyn Jerde in the Portage Daily Register:

TOWN OF SCOTT - Along with names, dates and shout-outs to favorite sports teams, the writing on the turbine blade included a warning: "Watch out."

Mark Barden wrote it, in permanent black marker.

The warning, he said, is aimed at any birds that might fly near the blade once it's turning, 400 feet in the air.

Wednesday's open house at the Glacier Hills Wind Park was Barden's first up-close look at the components of the 90 electricity-generating wind turbines that have begun to rise in the skyline in northeast Columbia County.

But it won't be his last look. Barden said three of the towers will be on his land in the town of Scott, just outside of Cambria.

He said he doesn't share the health and safety concerns about the wind towers that many of their opponents cited in seeking to block the construction of Glacier Hills - things such as constant low-level noise and shadow flicker.

"I'm more worried," he said, "about the red lights at night," he said. "When I look in the sky and try to find constellations, all I'll see is the red beacons (on the towers).

"But," Barden added, "we'll deal with that."

Barden was one of several hundred people who attended the open house, which included indoor easel and tabletop displays, and a tour - on foot or by school bus - of one of the four towers that, as of Wednesday, had two of its four segments erected.

Mike Strader, site manager for the We Energies project, said that, barring wind or other inclement weather, plans call for adding the top two segments to at least one of the towers today, with the hub, cell and three blades of the turbine to follow soon.

More photos on RENEW's Facebook page.