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Doyle signs bill to end raids on energy conservation program

The state's energy conservation program for homes and businesses will be fully funded next year — after years of raids by Gov. Jim Doyle and lawmakers — under legislation Doyle signed Friday.

Doyle and Republicans who control the Legislature have used $102 million from the fund over four years to plug holes for other spending priorities such as education and medical assistance in the state budget.

The legislation signed by Doyle in Green Bay outlaws future raids of the program, which is funded by charges on customers' utility bills. The program, called Focus on Energy, offers incentives and technical assistance to help homes and businesses save energy.

The provision is part of a larger bill that will increase the state's use of renewable energy such as wind and solar power. The bill requires 10 percent of the state's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2015, the state to update building codes to encourage energy efficiency and state agencies to use more energy from renewable sources.

Supporters say fully funding the conservation program — expected to be $85 million in the budget year that begins July 1, 2007 — will hold down energy rates over time. Businesses will be able to hold down energy costs and save jobs while the demand for energy will not rise as fast, meaning utilities won't have to build as many power plants, they say.

The program has three components: It gives... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
Doyle and Republicans who control the Legislature have used $102 million from the fund over four years to plug holes for other spending priorities such as education and medical assistance in the state budget.

The legislation signed by Doyle in Green Bay outlaws future raids of the program, which is funded by charges on customers' utility bills. The program, called Focus on Energy, offers incentives and technical assistance to help homes and businesses save energy.

The provision is part of a larger bill that will increase the state's use of renewable energy such as wind and solar power. The bill requires 10 percent of the state's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2015, the state to update building codes to encourage energy efficiency and state agencies to use more energy from renewable sources.

Supporters say fully funding the conservation program — expected to be $85 million in the budget year that begins July 1, 2007 — will hold down energy rates over time. Businesses will be able to hold down energy costs and save jobs while the demand for energy will not rise as fast, meaning utilities won't have to build as many power plants, they say.

The program has three components: It gives businesses incentives and assistance to install energy-efficient equipment, it works with homebuilders and residents to design and run energy-efficient homes, and it installs renewable energy such as solar panels and wind machines.

A coalition of businesses and environmentalists criticized Doyle and lawmakers' diversion of the funds during the last two two-year budgets, arguing the transfers amounted to a hidden tax on utility ratepayers.

"I believe so strongly in the ability of conservation to help hold down rates and I'm delighted the Legislature has decided to make this statement," said Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, who was an outspoken critic of the raids and sponsored the legislation signed Friday. "We can't stop what's been done already, but for the future it will be off limits."

The transfers meant the program had to scale back services at a time when energy costs were skyrocketing and demand for services went up, said Janet Brandt, executive director of the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp., which administers the program.

One eliminated program gave homeowners incentives for getting rid of extra refrigerators, she said, while a lack of funds meant less money to help business projects. Brandt said the legislation "will put Wisconsin back on the map for aggressively pursuing efficiency as a cost-effective resource."

Doyle spokesman Dan Leistikow said the fund transfers helped the state cope with the worst deficit in its history while avoiding deep cuts to public education. He said the program was able to maintain basic services and the state is in a better position now "to make an even more significant investment in energy efficiency."

Supporters say that for every $1 spent in the program, the state saves $3 in energy, and they point to a number of success stories. Stora Enso, which has several paper mills in Wisconsin and 3,700 employees, is saving $4.2 million every year in energy costs with the program's help, according to Cowles' office.

Tim Laatsch, a company vice president, said the increased funding is good news for businesses.

"It certainly provides an opportunity for anybody making capital investment in their facilities to focus on energy, something that everybody's crying for," he said. "It doesn't matter what you're manufacturing. Everybody's talking about the high cost of energy."


Source: http://www.twincities.com/m...

MAR 21 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/1777-doyle-signs-bill-to-end-raids-on-energy-conservation-program
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