Renewable Energy Revamped in Wisconsin

Wisconsin adopted some modest renewable portfolio standards back in 1999 to acheive 2.2 percent renewable energy in the state by 2011. At the time, the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) goals were ground breaking, but a Task Force appointed by Gov. Jim Doyle earlier this year thinks it’s about time to upgrade the state’s goals.

A report of recommendations from the Governor’s Task force on Energy Efficiency and Renewables for the state outlines a plan to help restore “Wisconsin’s overall leadership in efficiency and renewable policy – critical components to our state’s overall energy policy,” according to the executive order signed by Gov. Doyle. Wisconsin was a national leader in energy conservation when the state passed the original RPS, along with plans to encourage electricity generation from renewable energy sources through programs such as time-of-day rates and utility conservation escrows. Now that the production tax credit (PTC) has made it more economical to develop wind power projects and, according to Doyle, the state has opportunities in the field of biomass to energy projects, there doesn’t seem to be a better time to revisit the standards for renewable energy that are already in place. Renewable energy resources currently account for 4 percent of the state’s total energy use, according to the report issued by the task force. Utilities in the state are supposed to get 1.2 percent of their energy generation from renewables by 2005 and 2.2 percent by 2011. While the state may seem to be on track, the task force would like to see the RPS goals increase to 10 percent by 2015. Extending the year of compliance should allow for any necessary infrastructure improvements. Much of the energy already available comes from hydropower facilities that are under 60 MW, however, and there are wind and biomass resources that the state has yet to really get a handle on. Hydropower resources would still count toward the new RPS goals, so long as the electricity replaces fossil-based power sources. Utilities could even count generation facilities based in other states towards their goals, so long as the facility is part of their interconnected system of power distribution. Once a utility has counted that source toward their Wisonsin RPS they can’t apply the same source to an out-of-state RPS goal. The task force also identified targets for state-agency purchases of renewable energy. State owned facilities spend nearly USD 55 million annually on electric bills, which amounted to approximately 4 percent of the electricity sold to the entire commercial sector in the state in 2003. If the task force’s recommendations are accepted, state agencies will have to work harder toward the existing goal of at least 10 percent of their energy consumption from renewable sources by 2006, and 20 percent by 2010. State leadership in the increased use of renewable energy would have a positive impact on the demand for renewable-energy resources in the state, according the task force’s report. Government facilities aren’t the only places that need encouragement to use renewable energy. Small renewable energy systems are subject to a use and sales and the task force recommends exempting these types of systems. Without the tax people who choose to put solar panels or small wind turbines on their property, or use a third-party solar water-heating service would have a reduced up-front cost on their systems. Agriculture is the predominant industry in Wisconsin, and recommendations from the task force weren’t complete without a Rural Energy Initiative. A BioEnergy and BioFuel Coordinator position would be added to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), which is responsible for coordinating federal and state programs for renewable energy projects related to agriculture. The person who works in the coordinator position would help organize funding for anaerobic digestor research and on-farm applications of the technology. Given Wisconsin’s numerous dairy farms, anaerobic digestors are a renewable technology with strong potential for the state. The task force’s recommendations are only a start. It is up to Gov. Jim Doyle and his legislation to update the state’s renewable energy goals, though there is no word as to what the next step in this process is. For more information on the task force and to read the final report visit the link below.
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