WED AM News: Report details Focus on Energy impact; Winners of Wisconsin YES! youth business plan contest named

— The Focus on Energy program has helped reduce emissions equal to 15 million fewer cars in the state over the past decade, a recent report shows. 

The program helps residents and businesses in the state to install energy efficiency and renewable energy projects by providing information, resources and certain financial incentives. Projects can include improvements to HVAC systems, refrigeration, lighting, windows, water treatment and heating, and more. 

Focus on Energy is funded by investor-owned energy utilities, and the state Public Service Commission oversees the program. 

This year’s report covers calendar year 2021. It shows the program’s incentives and technical assistance have helped keep 69 million tons of carbon dioxide from reaching the environment since 2011. 

The independent evaluation report, from consulting firm Cadmus Group, found Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program resulted in a $4 return for every dollar invested through the program in 2021, according to a release. 

PSC Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq says the program’s mission is to “empower all of us to make smart energy decisions.” 

“Many of Wisconsin’s manufacturers, school districts, and large businesses employ energy managers now and many tell me when I visit that Focus on Energy incentives and technical assistance helped them expand — ensuring those companies stayed in Wisconsin,” she said in the release. 

Meanwhile, the report also indicates COVID-19 “continues to affect performance” for nonresidential installations. 

“Overall participation in the nonresidential solutions declined 16% from CY 2020, when participation started to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” report authors wrote. 

They note large industrial and agricultural projects were the “least affected,” with participation remaining steady last year compared to 2020. But commercial, industrial and new construction prescriptive offerings “appeared to be the most impacted” in 2021 compared to the prior year. 

Based on survey results, they added that “lower participation rates could be partly attributed to factors such as business closures, supply chain delays resulting in deferred or canceled energy upgrade projects, lower revenues, and staffing and occupancy reductions.” 

See the full report: 

— Two eighth grade students at Whitman Middle School in Wauwatosa have won the Wisconsin YES! youth business plan contest. 

The contest, held by the Wisconsin Technology Council, gives middle and high school students a chance to develop a business plan with feedback from a panel of judges. 

Emily Scott and William Moertl were named first-place winners in this year’s contest for a proposed company called Signfluent. They described a software application that could learn and translate sign language using a camera-based recognition system, a release from the Tech Council shows. 

“Up to 500,000 Americans and 125,000 people in Britain use sign language every day, so Signfluent stands to be [an] important innovation for that market,” Tech Council President Tom Still said in a statement. “The team hopes to work with other languages if they are successful in Signfluent’s early stages.”

Scott and Moertl will make a presentation Thursday at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference, held at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee this year. 

See the list of finalists in this year’s contest: 

See more information about this week’s conference here: 

— The Department of Children and Families says 

$20 million in grants is going to community organizations and businesses for efforts to address child care challenges. 

According to a release, 28 “cross-sector community teams” and over 100 businesses are getting funding through the Project Growth grant program after the agency received nearly 1,000 applications over a five-week application period. 

Under this program, the Dream Up! Child Care Supply-Building grants will go toward community efforts to improve and expand existing child care programs. And the Partner Up! grant program will provide funding to companies that purchase slots for their workers’ children at existing child care providers. 

See more details here: 

See an earlier story on the state’s child care challenges: 

— The U.S. EPA says it will be awarding $276,000 in funding to the state and tribal officials for beach monitoring and notification programs. 

According to a release from the agency, the EPA is preparing to award $226,000 to Wisconsin and $50,000 to Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians. 

The grant funding is awarded through the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health — or BEACH — Act. Funds can be used for monitoring beaches for bacteria, operating public notification systems, identifying sources of pollution and reporting to the agency, a release shows. 

See more details in the release: 

— In a recent study, UW-Madison researchers used a blood-based test to track how patients were responding to a variety of cancer treatments. 

The study was published recently in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and included data from 104 patients across two cohorts. These patients were being treated for renal cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer. 

Patients in the first group were all treated with immune therapies, which help the body’s own immune system fight cancer. The second cohort included patients treated with various methods including immune therapies and others. 

By using blood-based tests known as liquid biopsies, doctors are able to see how patients are faring amid treatment without needing “repeated, invasive biopsies of solid tumors,” a release from the university shows. Researchers measured tumor cells circulating in patients’ blood, and drew a connection between the activity of these cells and patient survival. 

They found that patients with increasing levels of circulating tumor cells “lived four months shorter on average” than patients with a lower rate of change, the release shows. The analysis of patients’ blood was done through the Circulating Biomarker Core in the UW-Madison Carbone Cancer Center, which is managed by study author Jennifer Schehr. 

Shuang Zhao, a professor of human oncology at UW-Madison, says these results “make a lot of sense.” 

“Circulating tumor cells are a surrogate for tumor burden,” Zhao said in the release. “If they are going up, that’s likely a bad sign. If they’re dropping, that’s promising that treatment is working.”

Study authors also looked at the ratio of two key proteins as an indicator of cancer treatment effectiveness. Matthew Bootsma, study author and researcher at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, said understanding these factors can help guide treatment decisions. 

“We hope to use this information to react faster going forward and get patients on a more appropriate therapy,” he said in the release. “That’s where the value of these real-time liquid biopsies comes into play.”

See the full study: 

See the release: 

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<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

Wisconsin Technology Council: Wauwatosa team wins annual ‘Wisconsin YES!’ youth biz plan contest with sign language app

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