WisBusiness: Doyle pledges support for energy conservation

By Brian E. Clark

Gov. Jim Doyle did his best to patch things up with the state’s utility community Monday, pledging his long-term support for energy conservation and renewable resource programs.

Doyle was harshly criticized by groups ranging from the Sierra Club to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce earlier this year for shifting more than $55 million from the ratepayer-funded Focus on Energy effort to the state’s general fund.

In remarks to a Wisconsin Public Utility Institute meeting Monday, Doyle did not directly apologize for raiding what is also called Public Benefits Program.

But his tone was conciliatory when he said the cuts were forced on him by a projected $1.6 billion budget deficit for the next two years.

“I know that many of you in this room might not agree with how I’ve funded the (program) in the budget,” he said. “But these tough budget times have called for tough choices.”

Doyle also pointed out that the conservation program has received $250 million since it started four years ago.

“And under my budget there would be $75 million spent on energy conservation,” he said.

Charlie Higley, head of the Citizens Utility Board, said he was pleased with the governor’s comments.

“I was encouraged,” said Higley. “We needed to hear that the governor feels conservation and renewable resources are important.”

“He was upfront about the budget deficit,” Higley said. “He was sincere about having his hands full. Now it’s time to move forward.

Higley said he hopes ratepayer money in coming years can be earmarked for conservation efforts and that those funds will be off limits to the governor and Legislature.

“I’d like the state’s Public Service Commission to be in charge of the money, and have it be untouchable just like money is for new power plants,” he said.

Janet Brandt, executive director of Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp., the non-profit group that runs Focus on Energy, said she and others remain disappointed ratepayer dollars were diverted to the general fund.

“What is important, though, is to get things right in the long run,” he said. “We need to be focused on the big picture so we are pleased he voiced strong support for planning, energy efficiency and renewables.”

Doyle lauded the Focus on Energy effort as “very successful.”

In 2004 alone, he said the program had cut growth in demand for electricity in Wisconsin by about 10 percent.

And he praised an Energy Efficiency and Renewable Task Force recommendation that could result in the production of enough electricity from renewable resources by 2015 to supply the needs of 850,000 homes, while cutting 5.5 million tons of greenhouse gases.

Doyle also pledged to work toward the task force recommendation of having the state buy 10 percent of its energy from renewable resource by 2006 and 20 percent in 2010.

“Using the state’s purchasing power will help create a stable demand for renewable energy,” he said.

The move will also save the state money, he said, for some 96 percent of the state’s electricity is generated by fossil fuels from other states.

“We need to reverse this trend and keep those dollars here in Wisconsin,” he said.

In addition, he said state government – which has an annual electric bill of $55 million – can become more efficient.

“I see (task force recommendations) as good, common sense ideas. When taken as a whole, they will make Wisconsin a leader again in energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources,” he said.

Doyle said he hoped the proposals do not become splintered but instead end up on his desk as a package that he can sign into law.

“The goal of striving for energy independence is worth every effort,” he said.