Report recommends expansion of Focus on Energy, makes other suggestions

A new report on Wisconsin’s advanced energy industry, among other things, recommends an expansion of the Focus on Energy program, creation of a biogas equipment tax credit and development of a corporate fund of funds.

The report is titled “The Wisconsin Jobs Project: A Guide to Creating Jobs in Sensors & Controls for Advanced Energy.” It was created by the nonprofit American Jobs Project, UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Energy Institute, and the Midwest Energy Research Consortium, based in Milwaukee.

It focuses on how the state can leverage its strengths in the sensors and controls sector for economic development, making several policy recommendations.

“A number of our member companies that comprise M-WERC have advanced technology offerings in sensors and controls, and the potential for the growth in those technologies is substantial,” said M-WERC COO Jeff Anthony. “As the report notes, Wisconsin’s sensors and controls industry could support an average of 44,000 jobs each year through 2030.”

The sensors and controls industry is projected to grow almost 7 percent every year through 2022. At least 209 companies in Wisconsin, led by Johnson Controls, manufacture sensors and controls for advanced energy systems, the report shows.

To capitalize on these opportunities, report authors say state and local leaders should pursue strategies that give WIsconsin a competitive edge in this space. They say businesses are more likely to thrive “in cities and states that offer a rich innovation ecosystem, provide fertile grounds for capital investment, boast a highly skilled workforce, and offer clear policy signals.”

A section on workforce development includes three recommendations: make college programs more accessible; provide a tax credit to employers hiring apprentices; and work to retain college graduates and out-of-state talent by focusing training on Wisconsinites for in-demand positions.

Another section on investment argues the state should expand corporate venture capital — which supports startups in early- to late-stage growth — by developing a corporate fund of funds. Michigan has had success in this space with the Venture Michigan Fund.

Three policies are laid out in a section on innovation: facilitate mentorships for entrepreneurs; develop designated testing areas for large-scale energy systems; and establish a voucher program for the state’s biogas industry that would connect new projects to in-state resources.

A final section contains various recommendations relating to developing energy technologies. In it, report authors say the state should expand the Focus on Energy program to finance projects related to energy and water.

They also suggest the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin should conduct an exploratory grid study “to ensure strategic grid buildout and regulatory reform,” as well as establish “consistent net metering policies.”

Other policy suggestions include: establishing a biogas equipment tax credit; clarifying the legality of third-party ownership of biogas and solar projects; and exploring new financing models for grid modernization projects.

See the report here:

–By Alex Moe