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.