Tuesday Trends sample: Sustainability rising, biomass mixed and Focus on Energy falling

Below is an excerpt from the most recent edition of WisBusiness Tuesday Trends. The full version of this weekly look at the state of Wisconsin business is now available for free to anyone who signs up for the Tuesday Trends mailing list. The full product includes several items in each of the rising, mixed and falling categories plus a look at upcoming business events across the state.

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RISING

Sustainable manufacturing: State officials and business owners rally in support of the Wisconsin Profitable Sustainable Initiative, a pilot program overseen by the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership that proponents say generates $54 million in economic impact. Started under the Doyle administration in April 2010 — and funded largely through federal stimulus dollars and some state money — the program provides assistance to small and mid-size manufacturers looking to increase sustainability. The 45 companies currently involved have invested a total of $3.6 million so far, according to WMEP, and are expected to reap $26.9 million in savings and $23.5 million in retained and increased sales over the next five years. Program manager Randy Bertram says that’s a 31 to 1 return on the state’s initial $1.75 million investment. Although the PSI program is not specifically designated in the budget, backers hope Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-majority state Legislature will see fit to continue funding the project because of its potential to boost manufacturing revenue in the state. They also note that the budget does increase Commerce Department money for overall business expansion — which could tie into the program.

MIXED

Rothschild biomass plant: Domtar Corp. announces a $255 million biomass energy facility in central Wisconsin is underway following approval by the Montreal-based paper company’s board. The board agreed to changes in the project mandated by the state Public Service Commission last month after We Energies had reached the same conclusion. But the challenges facing the long-debated project appear far from over after a group headed by Rothschild-based group Save Our Air Resources challenges the DNR’s approval of the plant in Marathon County Circuit Court. Attorneys for the group charge that the DNR erroneously interpreted the applicable law and approved the plant permit based on a request for a contested hearing alone, and that their decision should be reversed. The group also says the plant will increase toxic air emissions in the area and accuses Domtar of being “a prime example of everything wrong with biomass electricity generation.”

FALLING

Focus on Energy: Walker also declines to use his veto pen to restore changes to the Focus on Energy program opposed by some businesses and environmentalists. The budget now ends a measure enacted last year that would have required utilities to increase their contributions to Focus on Energy to $120 million in 2011, $160 million in 2012, $204 million in 2013 and $256 million in 2014. Instead, companies will pay $120 million in contributions for the current year before reverting to $100 million in subsequent years. The program was a boon to many businesses, 120 of which asked for a veto from Walker. But officials with the state’s largest business lobby said that while the program did have its benefits, the assessment increases were “too much, too soon.”