WisBusiness: Panel seeks to protect energy conservation money
By Joanne M. Haas
MADISON -- Wisconsin's private and public sectors would be powered by more renewable energy sources in the coming years and public benefits funds would be preserved for energy efficiency work under two proposals unanimously backed Tuesday by the Governor's Task Force on Energy Efficiency and Renewables.
The first proposal would increase statewide use of renewable energy by all customers to 10 percent by 2015. With the second, task force members want to make sure what happened in this budget does not happen again. Doyle and the Republican-controlled Legislature took about $47 million from a fund earmarked for energy conservation and renewables -- so-called public benefits money -- to help balance the state budget.
The proposals were part of a package of energy recommendations carved by the 25-member task force over the past year. The pile of policy proposals will be presented to Gov. Jim Doyle in September. Task force chair Lee Cullen, a Madison-based attorney, said he has been assured by Doyle that the governor "is favorably disposed to what these recommendations are."
Doyle confirmed Cullens predictions with a statement late this afternoon. "These recommendations will help restore Wisconsin as a leader in energy efficiency and use of renewable energy sources," the statement read. "The Task Force is to be commended for developing a creative, consensus package to help reduce Wisconsin's dependence on out-of-state fossil fuels, save ratepayers money, and protect the environment."
The pile of proposals are, as member Nino Amato and others stressed, a delicate collection of policy initiatives. "Its got to be a complete package," Amato said, stressing the package as a whole must move forward.
Nobody disagreed with Amato but two veterans of the Legislature reminded the group it is impossible to guess what twists and turns proposals may take when put before the 132-member Legislature. "If people start playing games, then the results of this panel will fall apart," predicted Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison.
Former Republican state Sen. Brian Rude agreed, but reminded the panel the task force is giving consensus agreement to a package that first goes to the governor -- who then decides how to handle it. And some of the proposals could be accomplished by executive order, meaning the Legislature would not be involved.
The top two proposals to emerge today, according to Cullen, were the one seeking to increase the statewide use of renewable energy and one intensifying the role of the Public Service Commission to set targets and funding levels for energy efficiency.
Other proposals include the previously announced goal that state government make sure 10 percent of the total power it buys by the year 2006 is from renewable sources -- and 20 percent by the year 2010. The governor also previously said he would issue a similar challenge to utilities to make sure 10 percent of the power it provides to homes, businesses and other private customers is from renewable sources by the year 2015.
Another proposal calls for a sales tax and use tax exemption for renewable energy systems, and another section seeks to update and to improve the energy building codes.