02 Jun Wisconsin ignores Energy Priority Statute’s call for conservation and efficiency
Gomer Pyle to the State of Wisconsin: “Citizen’s Arrest! Citizen’s Arrest!”
Before I discuss the fact that the State of Wisconsin has failed to enforce its own state energy source priority statutes, I probably need to explain the Gomer Pyle joke.
For those of you too young to remember and for those who never had time to enjoy the golden age of television, Gomer Pyle was a slightly slow automobile mechanic in mythic Mayberry, NC on the Andy Griffith Show, a comedy. Anyway, Gomer, who was always being pestered by the deputy of Mayberry Barney Fife, finds out that he can perform a citizen’s arrest if he catches someone from Mayberry breaking the law. After watching Barney Fife (one of TV’s greatest characters) do an illegal u-turn in town, Gomer starts chasing Deputy Fife down the street yelling: “Citizen’s arrest! Citizen’s arrest!”
This is a long, humorous way of pointing out that the State of Wisconsin has been ignoring Wisconsin State Statutes Wis. Stat. 196.491 (3) (g) and Wis. Stat. 1.12 (4). Wisconsin Statute 196.492 (3) (g), which states that “To the extent cost-effective, technically feasible and environmentally sound, the [Public Service] Commission shall implement the priorities under statute in making all energy-related decisions.” Wis. Statute 1.12.4 (4) has established the following priorities: “(4) Priorities. In meeting energy demand, the policy of the state is that, to the extent cost-effective and technically feasible, options be considered based on the following priorities, in the order listed:
(a) Energy conservation and efficiency.
(b) Noncombustible renewable resources.
(c) Combustible renewable energy resources.
(d) Nonrenewable combustible energy resources in the order listed:
(1) Natural gas.
(2) Oil or coal with a sulfur content of less than 1 percent.
(3) All other carbon-based fuels.”
Even the most well-informed energy expert cannot fault the wisdom of the priorities as stated above. The fact that energy conservation and efficiency is the quickest, least expensive and most environmentally friendly energy is without debate.
This leads to the inevitable question: How has the state found itself in the position of short cutting its own statutes? Like all such stories, the path to the answer leads past many well-intentioned state activities. The Public Service Commission is the right place to start any discussion as it is still legally responsible for the implementation and enforcement of the Energy Priorities statutes.
Over the last decade, the PSC has seen its energy efficiency staff in Electricity and Natural Gas Departments reduced from 8 people to 1. When coupled with the transfer of the $160 million in public benefits money to the Focus on Energy Program, the Focus Program de facto had become the Wisconsin government agency responsible for the implementation of the Priorities statutes.
There is one problem with this scenario: No one seems to have realized that the transfer of responsibility had occurred, nor did anyone bother to reconcile the new realities with the Energy Priority statute.
Since 2001, Focus on Energy has been conducting business in such a way that energy efficiency was often demoted in terms of priorities. As a consequence, Wisconsin now finds itself in a situation where well over 2,000 Megawatts of natural gas and coal power plants and 420 Megawatts (MW) of wind power are on the drawing board while only 55 MW is on the books for energy efficiency, and even that is only thanks to the conditional PSC approval of WE Energies “Power the Future” initiative for southeastern Wisconsin. Recent studies done by private industry suggest that as much as 1500 megawatts of energy efficiency can be derived in Wisconsin’s industrial sector alone.
As important, the State of Wisconsin has not conducted its own research into the current state of the “cost-effective, technically feasible and environmentally sound” technology for energy efficiency in over 10 years. This means the State of Wisconsin has been flying blind about energy efficiencies. In addition, Focus on Energy has been following a course that has emphasized “market transformation,” (i.e. trying to make lasting changes to market structure, dynamics of market providers, and customer behavior).
What should the State of Wisconsin do to avoid a “citizen’s arrest?” It should place the resources necessary in the hands of the Public Service Commission, so that they can complete a new study of energy efficiency. Then, the Governor’s Taskforce on Energy Efficiency and Renewables should recommend that overall responsibility for Energy Efficiency be returned to the PSC, where the PSC will set targets and work closely with Focus on Energy to achieve them. Finally, the State of Wisconsin should develop an energy plan that uses a balanced approach to supplying future energy needs, whereby “alternative energy” as a combination of energy efficiency and renewables provides a viable option instead of new power plants alone.
As such, it would be reasonable to expect Wisconsin to have an equal amount of alternative energy, with 420 Megawatts of energy efficiency and 420 megawatts of renewables, in its plans for energy sources to meet future needs.
Then, this practical initiative would allow the State to target as much as 10% of its energy from alternative sources by 2005 and 20% by 2010, without worrying about Gomer Pyle, economic viability or legal gadflies.
Stephen Heins is Vice President of Corporate Communication at Orion Energy Systems. He can be contacted at
***** The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of the Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.