Wisconsin going wrong way on energy efficiency

Madison—As Gov. Jim Doyle publicly embraces the energy-efficiency recommendations of his Task Force on Energy Efficiency and Renewables, behind the scenes he is proposing to cut nearly half of the designated funding for the state’s primary avenue for energy efficiency, the Focus on Energy program. His proposed budget would reduce funding for Focus on Energy from $62 million per year to about $36 million-an annual cut of about $26 million. From the standpoint of the health of the state’s economy, this is the worst possible place to reduce public investment. With the state facing steadily rising energy prices and the prospect of building several large new power plants, it cannot afford to shortchange energy efficiency, which is the only near-term answer to these problems and which provides major economic benefits to the state.

Energy efficiency should be a top priority for Wisconsin. Lacking any fossil fuel reserves of its own, Wisconsin must import 100 percent of the oil, natural gas and coal it consumes. This results in a huge dollar drain on the state’s economy, as consumers and businesses send over $10 billion per year out of the state to import energy. Investing in energy efficiency keeps more money in consumers’ pockets and in local economies. A recent study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) showed that by investing in a moderately aggressive energy efficiency plan, Wisconsin could net $1.2 billion in energy savings and create over 3000 new jobs by 2010. All these benefits are experienced in Wisconsin, not exported to other states.

Energy efficiency also has potential to address the natural gas crisis facing Wisconsin. Reducing demand for natural gas through energy efficiency helps bring natural gas prices down. The same ACEEE study shows that by 2010, Wisconsin could save $400 million annually from reduced natural gas prices as a result of energy efficiency gains.

“Raiding funds from the Focus on Energy Program to balance the state’s budget is not the answer to Wisconsin’s energy problems, “ said Alecia Ward, Executive Director of the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA). “Wisconsin used to be the Midwest model for energy efficiency programs and spending, but drastic cuts to energy efficiency funding in the past two state budgets have tarnished the state’s reputation.” Wisconsinites need only look across the border to see the contrast. Last September, MEEA honored Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota for his commitment to energy efficiency and his support for improving the Minnesota Conservation Improvement Program (CIP).

Alliance to Save Energy President Kateri Callahan added that the diversion of funds from Focus on Energy is “bad public policy and undermines Wisconsin’s strong history of promoting energy efficiency.”

Created in 1999, the Focus on Energy program is funded by a small, flat fee on retail electric bills. The funds are used for a wide variety of energy efficiency programs for residents and businesses throughout the state. The key underlying rationale for the program is that saving energy is cheaper than buying energy supplies. For example, it costs less than half as much to save a kWh of electricity through energy efficiency programs than it does to build, fuel and operate a power plant. Rigorous evaluations performed by Focus on Energy show that it yields at least $3 of benefits to Wisconsin citizens for every dollar spent on the program. “Failing to fully fund this program and the energy efficiency investments it makes possible will damage Wisconsin’s energy consumers, economy and the environment. Wisconsin can and must do better than that,” concluded Dr. Dan York, Senior Research Associate with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

The Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, and the Alliance to Save Energy call upon Gov. Doyle and the Wisconsin state legislature to reclaim their leadership role and safeguard Wisconsin consumers by restoring full funding for Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy Program.

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