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Wisconsin is sliding on the energy-efficiency front.

A new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ranks Wisconsin 17th among the states.

Wisconsin was ranked No. 9 among states in 2008 and No. 11 in 2009 and 2010 but slipped to 16th last year and continues to go in the wrong direction, says Shahla Werner, director of the John Muir chapter of the Sierra Club.

“It’s not so much that Wisconsin is doing less but other states have really ramped up and are creating new jobs in the process,” says Werner.

Wisconsin now trails all neighboring states in the rankings -- which are based on factors such as its government energy-efficiency programs, clean transportation efforts and co-generation power plants.

Minnesota ranks 9th, Iowa 11th, Michigan 12th and Illinois 14th.

The top-ranked energy states are Massachusetts and Vermont. Both have enacted aggressive energy-efficiency resource standards, including targeted annual reductions in electricity and natural gas use throughout the state.

Oklahoma, Montana and South Carolina are also lauded in the report for significantly improving their rankings.

Werner says Wisconsin was on the right track in 2010 when Gov. Jim Doyle proposed and the Joint Finance Committee approved increased funding for Focus on Energy, the statewide energy-efficiency and renewable energy program that provides funds for investment in energy use reductions.

But those increases were eliminated in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget and funds were capped going forward. This came despite a legislative audit showing that every dollar invested in Focus on Energy brings in $2.30 in savings.

Werner also referenced an independent study from the Energy Center of Wisconsin that showed increased funding would create between 7,000 and 9,000 jobs each year. She noted the 55 local jobs at Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp. were lost or reassigned when the Walker administration granted the Focus on Energy contract to the Louisiana-based Shaw Group.

"Wisconsin should set ambitious energy-saving goals and increase investments in energy efficiency in order to restore our place as a nationwide leader in lowering energy bills, cleaning up our air and creating private-sector jobs for businesses,” said Werner.

But a spokeswoman for the state Public Service Commission took issue with the report, saying Wisconsin is looking at cost–effective solutions that create results.

Kristin Ruesch says utility ratepayers here are already investing over $100 million per year in Focus on Energy, with the PSC taking proactive measures to ensure the program is using those resources effectively.

“It’s important to note the ACEEE rankings are based on expenditures, not achievement,” says Ruesch. “Perhaps if the group looked at achievements instead of spending alone, the value of Wisconsin’s prudent and cost-effective investment in energy-efficiency programs would be more clear. “

Ruesch also referenced a report from the Shaw Group, which says it has reduced Focus on Energy overhead and program costs by approximately $6 million. Shaw has touted the opening of five new offices statewide and the creation or retention of more than 90 jobs statewide.

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