MON AM News: PSC awarding Refueling Readiness Grant funding; Environmental groups critical of new natural gas storage plans

— The state Public Service Commission will be awarding up to $215,000 in December through Refueling Readiness Grants.

The program helps fueling facilities stay open during power outages and weather emergencies. 

Fourteen applicants are requesting a total of around $275,000, a release from the agency shows. Funds will go toward the creation of fueling points of distribution or designated disaster fueling facilities, which are meant to improve the resilience of the state’s fuel infrastructure. This round of grants will focus on county and tribal land without existing generator capability. 

Grant funds can be used to pay for electrician labor, electrical panels and various accessories that support access to fueling during power outages. 

“These grants will not only provide peace-of-mind to residents but also offer support to our first responders and utility line trucks during an emergency,” said PSC Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq. “It is important that we continue to invest in facilities that provide essential services during power outages.”

The PSC has awarded $195,000 for 22 grants through the program since 2016, the release shows. Funding for the program comes from the U.S. Department of Energy through the State Energy Program Formula Grant. 

Facilities that can dispense fuel directly into motor vehicles as well as those that can dispense it into larger transport vehicles are eligible for the grant program. That includes convenience stores providing both unleaded and diesel fuel, and bulk petroleum storage facilities with capacity for less than 50,000 barrels that get shipments by rail, barge or truck. 

The concept for fueling points of distribution comes from emergency energy planning efforts conducted in Oregon, according to Megan Levy, resilience strategist and energy assurance coordinator for the Wisconsin Office of Energy Innovation. She spoke about the program during a recent webinar, explaining that Oregon officials used the concept in planning for the possibility of a major tsunami that could damage coastal infrastructure and threaten fuel availability. 

While Wisconsin faces different weather events and causes for potential power outages, state officials tested a similar concept in 2018 through a three-day exercise called Dark Sky. 

“That simulation really showed that these fueling locations would be critical to being able to bounce back, and bounce back quickly,” Levy said. 

See more details on the grant program here: 

— Environmental groups are slamming the PSC for approving a proposal from We Energies for new liquified natural gas storage facilities in Ixonia and La Grange. 

But commissioners said during a meeting last week that the Sierra Club made dubious claims about the future of the natural gas market in expressing its opposition to the project. PSC Chair Rebecca Cameron Valcq questioned the group’s projections of lower growth for natural gas demand, saying “the math doesn’t work for me.” 

In response to the commission’s approval, Sierra Club Wisconsin Director Elizabeth Ward said the decision “directly contradicts climate science, the Paris Accord, President Biden’s climate commitments, and the Governor’s commitments on climate change.” 

Marco Marquez, Wisconsin program manager at Action for the Climate Emergency, says investing “hundreds of millions of dollars into fossil fuels will only harm our planet and worsen conditions for those on the front lines of the climate crisis here in WI.” 

The company says the projects will improve system reliability, deliverability and resilience “in support of rising demand for rising gas” among customers in Wisconsin, Valcq said. Each facility is estimated to cost $185 million, with a total cost of $370 million for both projects. 

“I firmly believe that the transmission in our industry is going to require an all-of-the-above approach, and for me, that means doubling down on energy efficiency, but it also includes maintaining natural gas as a resource, at least for now,” Valcq said. 

See more on the project proposal: 

— The Department of Safety and Professional Services is now accepting applications for grants that help state residents pay for repairs or replacement of septic systems. 

Once these private wastewater treatment systems begin to fail, they can leak hazardous bacteria and microbes into the surrounding environment. According to DSPS, the cost of repairing or replacing these systems can be in the thousands of dollars, and this program helps cover those expenses for those with “limited resources.” 

DSPS says it’s administered the Wisconsin Fund since 1978, though the program ended at the end of the 2019-2021 biennium and no grants were awarded this year. Funding was reauthorized through 2021 Wisconsin Act 67, though grant applications weren’t accepted during the 2021-22 budget year. 

In reopening program applications, DSPS announced it will be awarding two years worth of grants in this round of funding, with a total of $1.68 million available. Applications are being accepted through Jan. 31, and funds will be disbursed after July 1, a release shows. 

Eligibility is based on factors including household income and the age of the septic system. The Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, the city of Franklin and 67 Wisconsin counties participate in the program, according to the agency. 

“We recognize that this funding is invaluable for many rural communities,” DSPS Secretary Dawn Crim said in the release.

See the release: 

— The seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases in the state has increased slightly over the past several days, reaching 2,057 cases per day at latest count. 

The seven-day average for cases had been largely declining after reaching a recent peak of 2,942 cases per day in late September, the Department of Health Services site shows. 

Meanwhile, the seven-day average for new deaths from the virus has remained above 10 deaths per day since early September amid the ongoing surge in cases. A total of 8,597 people in the state have died from COVID-19, according to DHS. 

DHS reports 58.1 percent of the state’s population have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 55.1 percent are fully vaccinated. 

The Wisconsin Hospital Association dashboard shows 947 patients in the state are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, including 252 ICU patients. The total number of hospitalized patients had been falling since reaching a recent peak in early October, but also saw an increase over the past week or so. 

See the latest case numbers from DHS: 

— Wisconsin cheese production in September was 1.9 percent higher than in September 2020, a recent report from the USDA shows. 

The report shows total cheese production in the state was above 288 million pounds in September, compared to around 283 million pounds a year prior. 

That increase was driven by higher volumes of cheddar and Italian cheeses, while the amount of mozzarella produced decreased over the year. 

Cheddar cheese production in the state rose from around 59 million pounds to over 60 million pounds, for an increase of 2.3 percent. And Italian cheese production went from over 136 million pounds to over 138 million pounds, for an increase of 1.3 percent. 

Meanwhile, production of mozzarella fell 2.8 percent over the year, from over 90 million pounds to 88 million pounds, the report shows. 

See the full report here: 

— Spooner is getting a $119,000 grant from WEDC to support a redevelopment project for a new “green space” downtown. 

As part of the project, the city’s former post office will be demolished, creating a corridor for easier access from downtown to the city’s Railroad Park and two museums. William Marx, Spooner city administrator, says the location used to be a park before the post office was built in 1962. 

“It’s going to make the whole experience of shopping downtown better,” Marx said in the WEDC release. “If they are in town to visit the museum, perhaps they will visit the stores.”

In addition to the state grant, the city’s Railroad Park Board received a donation of $10,000 from the Business Improvement District for elements of the project, the release shows. 

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s Community Development Investment Grant aims to support economic development efforts, with a focus on downtown projects. The agency has awarded more than $26 million in grants to 87 communities around the state since the program began in 2013. 

See the release: 


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