THU AM News: Experts discuss ways to reduce volatility in energy markets, reach clean energy goals; RENEW launching statewide ad campaigns

— Experts say more renewable energy production, greater reliance on nuclear power and adoption of electric vehicles could help reduce volatility in energy markets and achieve clean energy goals. 

“As we and Europe and our allies and partners all shift to clean energy, we become less vulnerable to terrible tragedies like what’s happening in Ukraine,” RENEW Wisconsin Executive Director Heather Allen said yesterday during a webinar hosted by and 

She joined a panel of experts to discuss the future of the Midwest energy landscape as gasoline prices around the country hit record highs, driven in part by the conflict in Ukraine. 

“The faster we shift to clean energy, the less we will be vulnerable to things like this,” Allen said. 

But Paul Wilson, the department chair and Grainger professor of nuclear engineering in UW-Madison’s Department of Engineering Physics, noted the difficulty with reaching carbon-free energy using renewable resources and storage innovations alone. 

While energy storage and renewable energy generation are becoming less expensive, he pointed to the “spans of low wind and solar periods” as a challenge, highlighting the need for “some sort of firm low-carbon” energy supply. 

“I don’t think nuclear is the next thing to be built in Wisconsin,” he said yesterday. “I think solar and wind are the obvious next choices. But we do need to keep our eye on the prize down the road of getting to very high penetrations of low-carbon technologies; we’ll need to start adding in things other than those sources to really make it all come together.” 

He explained two nuclear reactors in Point Beach are providing about 15 percent of the state’s electricity and are looking to extend their licenses for 20 more years. While he said “there’s not [an] immediate urge” to build more nuclear plants in the state, he noted La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative recently announced a partnership exploring new nuclear technologies with a company called NuScale Power. 

Xcel Energy, which provides about 250,000 Wisconsin residents with electric and gas service through Northern States Power Company, also recently announced a potential arrangement with NuScale to operate a small-scale reactor being built in Idaho. These small modular reactors are designed to be less expensive, require little to no downtime for refueling and require less emergency planning for potential evacuations in case of emergency, Wilson said. 

“I think all of those things put together make it a very attractive technology, but it’s brand new and nobody’s built one before, right? And so there’s a lot of uncertainty still,” he said. 

Aaron Annable, manager of foreign policy and diplomatic services at the Canadian Consulate General in Chicago, said his country’s government is “very actively looking at small modular reactors.” He said the Canadian Ministry of Natural Resources has created an “SMR action plan, to keep us on track toward accelerating progress” in that area. 

Both Annable and Wilson highlighted the potential role for these technologies in remote and indigenous communities as an alternative to burning diesel fuel. Annable said this application is “probably still a few years off” but said related discussions with these communities have begun. 

Meanwhile, Xcel Energy Manager of Energy & Environmental Policy Kathryn Valdez discussed the company’s goals of reaching carbon-free electricity for customers by 2050 and 80 percent reduction by 2030. Plans for doing so involve cutting coal from its Midwest operations by 2030, “significant renewable additions,” and extending nuclear plant assets, she said. 

“But that doesn’t get us all the way there, so the day we launched that vision, we also began to really dig in on what are the 24/7 technologies that we’ll need in addition to those wind and solar solutions,” she said, pointing to “aggressive” research into zero-carbon fuels such as hydrogen or a synthetic gas. 

In the short-term, Allen noted solar and wind power have been “beating coal economically,” and while natural gas has also been cost-competitive in recent years, rising prices for natural gas are incentivizing more wind and solar development. 

Valdez said Xcel’s Wisconsin customers “may want to be prepared” for higher energy bills due to the cost of natural gas being driven upward by the war in Ukraine. Still, she said only around 20 percent of the electricity the company provides comes from natural gas, providing “some cost protection” for customers. 

Wilson added “not all of the state is as lucky as Xcel’s customers” and relies more on natural gas for electricity. 

“I think many parts of the state are going to see increased electricity prices, increased gas prices … for most of the rest of the state, we’ve been growing natural gas pretty dramatically as we turn off some of the other supply,” he said. 

Both Allen and Wilson touted the importance of transitioning to electric vehicles, noting everyone in society benefits from lower emissions. Plus, they said electric vehicles are becoming even more environmentally friendly as more of the energy grid draws from renewable resources. 

“Once you own an EV, if you can hold onto it for 10 years, you’re going to get to take advantage of the grid getting cleaner day by day,” Wilson said. “Every time a new solar field is put up, every time a new wind farm is put up, your car gets cleaner and cleaner without you doing anything.” 

— RENEW Wisconsin says it’s spending just under $20,000 on a series of print and digital ads promoting renewable energy investments in the state. 

The Madison-based organization yesterday announced the launch of two statewide campaigns, titled Clean Energy Works for Wisconsin and Clean Energy is Made in Wisconsin.

Along with the ads, set to run in May and June through a number of publications around the state, RENEW has posted “shareable communications assets” to its website for use by other advocacy groups. These include templates for social media posts and downloadable graphics. 

Jodi Jean Amble, communications and events director for RENEW, said the ads are funded by grants the organization has received for education and communications outreach. 

“The paid campaigns are currently only set to run through June, but RENEW plans to use these messages throughout 2022 and beyond,” she said in an email. “Our plan is to support both campaigns with op ed placements from various clean energy messengers across the state. The ‘Clean Energy Works for Wisconsin’ campaign will also include profiles of Wisconsin clean energy workers, the first of which should be released next week.” 

See an example of one of the ads set to run in the Capital Times in Madison: 

See the landing pages for the campaigns here: 

See the release: 

— State officials have announced the WisCaregiver Careers program is being expanded with $6 million in additional funding. 

This workforce development program was launched in 2018 to help address the shortage of certified nursing assistants at nursing homes in the state. The current iteration is funded with a $400,000 Fast Forward grant from the Department of Workforce Development. That’s according to a release from Gov. Tony Evers and the state Department of Health Services. 

In yesterday’s announcement, officials said the current program is expected to exceed its goal of training 500 new CNAs by June. With the $6 million in new federal funding — from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Nursing Home & Long-term Care Facility Strike Team program — the effort will be expanded starting this summer, the release shows.

The program is administered by the Wisconsin Health Care Association and LeadingAge Wisconsin.

Rick Abrams, CEO of the WHCA and Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living, says member organizations are “finding vacancies upwards of 30 percent” for CNAs and nurses. 

He explained the WisCaregiver Careers program is unique as participants are hired before the training begins. 

“In a lot of these programs, the folks go through the training and then they try to get a job,” he said yesterday in an interview. “Here, the facility will hire the candidate first and then put him or her through the training. So while certainly people may drop out of the training, they may find they don’t like it … by having them employed and paying them their hourly wage, it’s going to increase the number of successful candidates.” 

Employers recruited to the program are expected to host as many as 3,000 new CNA training slots, with funds going toward retention bonuses, employer reimbursement, mentorships and more. Per the release, more than 181 employers have registered to participate so far. 

“We feel very excited and confident that because of the employment-first model, we’re going to have some great success here,” Abrams said. 

See the release: 

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— Schools are spending federal pandemic relief money on technology, COVID-19 preparedness and addressing long-term closures as nearly $2 billion remains unclaimed.

A Wisconsin Policy Forum report shows the federal government allotted nearly $2.4 billion to Wisconsin school districts and charter schools for pandemic relief. Most schools have chosen to spend the money on three key areas, but the majority of available funds are still up for grabs as schools have claimed most of the money available in the first two federal programs. Schools have until September 2024 to claim most of the remaining funds.

The nonpartisan research group found schools used money from the $174 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief I funds mainly for three areas. They spent 41.9 percent on educational technology, 32.8 percent on preparedness and response to COVID-19, and 18.8 percent on addressing long-term school closure. Schools have until September this year to claim the less than 10 percent of remaining funds.

In contrast, schools have only claimed 20.8 percent of the $686 million in ESSER II funds. The report shows schools mainly spent that money on the same three areas as they used ESSER I funds for, but with different priorities. They have until September next year to claim the remaining money.

The largest share of ESSER II funds, 36.4 percent, went toward addressing long-term school closure issues while 29.4 percent funded preparedness and response to COVID-19 and 20.7 percent went to educational technology.

Schools have until September 2024 to claim the remaining ESSER III funds. The Wisconsin Policy Forum report shows only 0.6 percent of the $1.5 billion have been claimed. Restrictions on those funds require schools to spend 20 percent of the money to mitigate learning loss.

The report also shows districts with student bodies with less than 25 percent of students coming from low-income households spent a larger share of their ESSER I funds on preparedness and response to COVID-19 than schools with student bodies with less than 50 percent of their students coming from low-income households.

Districts with a greater share of students from low-income households spent nearly half of their ESSER I money on educational technology while districts serving between 25 percent and 50 percent of students from low-income households split their ESSER I spending more evenly.

See more from the report at 


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