WisBusiness.com: PSC chair signals support for cap and trade

By Tracy Will

For WisBusiness.com

MADISON — The head of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission told a gathering marking the 39th Earth Day Wednesday he was cautiously optimistic a cap-and-trade bill would emerge from a Democrat-run Congress.

PSC Chair Eric Callisto told a Nelson Institute forum he preferred a system of cap and trade instead of a carbon tax. The institute is named after Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, a former Wisconsin governor and U.S. senator.

“We have six states and Canadian provinces working toward a cap-and-trade solution, (and this) process will educate people in Washington how we do things in the Midwest about working together on cap and trade,” he said. The carbon tax “is on life support,” he said, adding that he was “cautiously optimistic on the cap and trade” making it through the Congress.

Callisto said energy issues wrapped in terms of climate change and renewability were fundamental to the commission’s treatment of state utilities.

“These are recurring threads in (the PSC’s) recent decisions. We treat renewability and climate change as a chance to take reasonable regulatory risks,” Callisto said.

Former Wisconsin PSC Chair Charles Cicchetti recalled 1970s environmental issues.

“The sobering realization that we are still at it,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that things haven’t gotten better, that things haven’t worked, but that we are still at it,” said Cicchetti, also a co-founding member of Pacific Economics Group and formerly professor of government, business, and the economy at the University of Southern California.

Cicchetti said several issues from the 1970s have been resolved and that energy has replaced pollution as the major issue confronting the environment.

Johnson Controls vice president for renewable energy systems Donald Albinger said his company has become “an evangelist about energy efficiency.”

“We spend about 90 percent of energy in buildings. We have a great opportunity for change … and energy efficiency,” Albinger said.

Beyond improving energy efficiency in buildings, Albinger said small individual steps in behavior — such as shutting off water when brushing teeth, turning off power strips and recycling unused cell phones — can produce big gains.

“Whether you do it to save money, or for your children, or for global concerns, these are low-hanging fruit that will reap huge energy savings,” he said.