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Wisconsin regulators look to align energy efficiency, climate goals

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Wisconsin regulators are moving ahead with a plan to align the state’s energy conservation program with the governor’s climate goals.

The Public Service Commission voted 2-1 Thursday to adopt broad parameters for setting priorities and targets that will guide the state’s $100 million Focus on Energy program.

Under the policy priorities approved, the PSC will consider not only whether the program is set up to reduce energy use but also how those savings can cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The commission will also consider programs that encourage the use of electricity to replace technologies that burn fossil fuels, such as furnaces and vehicles, as well as offerings for low-income customers and collaboration with existing utility programs designed to trim energy use and peak demand.

Ellen Nowak


Commissioner Ellen Nowak, the PSC’s lone Republican appointee, said she could not support what she called “mission creep,” and that the program should focus on reducing energy consumption, not carbon emissions.

“The concern is this is going to become a vehicle to implement the goals of the task force,” Nowak said. “I don’t think the focus program should be something to get to a zero carbon policy, which is not a feasible end game for the state.”

Chair Rebecca Valcq said the commission has long used Focus on Energy to support emerging technologies, such as anaerobic digesters, and noted that each of the five largest investor-owned utilities has committed to phasing out fossil fuel generation.

Rebecca Valcq


“We can either choose to be proactive and look at what that change is going to do to our system,” Valcq said. “Or we can ignore what they’ve announced and we can pretend that it’s business as usual and that we shouldn’t be looking at different ways to legally use our Focus on Energy dollars.”

The commission will now begin considering more detailed questions about how to craft, implement and measure goals for the program, taking into account recent studies of the potential for efficiency gains and rooftop solar generation.

The final plan will set Focus on Energy policy for the years 2023 through 2026.

Gov. Tony Evers has set a goal for the state’s electricity to be carbon neutral by 2050, which is in line with what climate scientists say is needed to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

Late last year a task force appointed by the governor issued dozens of policy recommendations that would allow the state to better prevent and prepare for climate change, including greater promotion of conservation and efficiency.

The PSC has previously agreed to investigate the use of energy efficiency as a way to further those goals as part of an effort to understand the ramifications of utility plans to spend billions of dollars building wind, solar and battery storage systems to replace coal-fired power plants.


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