Focus on Energy incentive program shifts focus to biomass

Posted on Apr 23, 2012 :: Insight on Business, Web Exclusive.
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The Public Service Commission approved a new plan for the Focus on Energy renewable resource program that changes the emphasis of the program to biomass and biogas-type energies. Those types of technologies will receive 75 percent of the funding through the Focus on Energy renewable resource program, and the remaining percentage will fund eligible wind and solar projects.

The commission said it will allow the current Focus on Energy program administrator to follow through on $8 million worth of 2012 commitments that were approved by the previous program administrator. About $2.7 million of those funds have already been paid out in the first quarter.

The PSC’s decision came after Focus on Energy’s business incentive program was temporarily suspended last year because spending on the program had exceeded allocated budgets.

“Focus has succeeded in building an in-state marketplace for renewable resources over the last decade,” said Robert Norcross, Gas and Energy Division Administrator for the PSC, in a response to an open letter from the nonprofit RENEW Wisconsin, which has criticized the changes. “Now that the market exists, it is necessary to examine the amount of Focus’s budget that is dedicated to renewables to prevent incentives from artificially inflating the costs of these technologies.”

The nonprofit RENEW Wisconsin has been critical of the suspension and of the new focus, which it says has “consigned solar and small wind to a minor role for the next couple of years.”

“We are strong supporters of biogas and biomass energy systems, but this allocation goes too far in that direction,” said Michael Vickerman, RENEW’s director of programs and policy. “Even under the best-case scenario, solar and small wind will see a significant reduction of incentive support.”

The PSC set an annual budget of up to $10 million for spending on renewable resources, provided that the renewable components help maintain the program’s benefit/cost ratio in 2013/2014 ($2.30 saved for every $1 spent).

“The new mix in the Focus on Energy program recognizes where our state’s strengths in renewables are,” says Commission Chairperson Phil Montgomery. “The agricultural and forest products industries are two of the largest and most important industries in the state. Weighting the renewables component of Focus on Energy towards biomass and biogas technologies, which have higher overall benefits, makes sense for Wisconsin.”

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