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Renewables legislation edges closer in Wisconsin

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A new energy package for Wisconsin, which includes a renewables portfolio standard (RPS) and funding for energy efficiency and renewables is facing a rocky road to approval in the state legislature, despite strong support from major players. The package, dubbed "Reliability 2000," is the product of months of behind the scenes negotiations between every utility in the state, consumer and environmental groups and key legislators.

Republican Governor Tommy Thompson put his seal of approval on the bill in early June, as it was introduced to the powerful Joint Finance Committee as part of the state budget. The bill failed, however, on a party line tie vote with, oddly enough, all Republican legislators voting against it. "This by no means sounds the death knell for Reliability 2000," says RENEW Wisconsin's Michael Vickerman. "The bill will be introduced as stand alone legislation. When that will happen I'm not entirely certain." Although the parties are keen to see it passed, it could be delayed until fall.

The proposal includes a small renewables portfolio standard-2.2% of energy sales to come from renewables by 2010 or 1.2 million MWh of new renewables-as well as funding for energy efficiency and customer owned renewables. The RPS could result in 450 MW of wind development by 2010, or 170 MW of biomass. It is considered to be a successor to last year's Reliability Act (Act 204), passed in response to power shortages in the summer of 1997. That law paved the way for increased development of power plants and transmission lines, and also included a 50 MW set aside for renewables.

Cheaper transmission

One part of the agreement between negotiating parties so far is the creation of a statewide transmission company potentially the first in the country. State utilities that own transmission wires would roll them over into a single independent company, in exchange for shares of stock in that company. Later, the "TransCo" would become part of the Midwest Independent System Operator (ISO), which would control day to day operations.

This could eliminate "pancaking" of transmission rates within the state, where a separate fee is charged each time a power transaction crosses a utility's wires. Madison Gas & Electric, for example, pays a substantial fee to wheel power from their wind farm near Green Bay down to Madison, 140 miles away. This contributes to the high cost of power from the project, which MG&E says is about $0.09/kWh.

The deal also includes the creation of a "public benefits" fund to support low income customers, energy efficiency, customer owned renewables and energy related environmental research. The proposal is for $76.7 million a year for energy programs and $115.3 million for low income programs, $54 million of which to come from federal grants.

About $3.5 million will be available each year for renewable energy programs. The fund also includes the RPS, which as proposed will apply to all utilities in the state, both public and private, except the Wisconsin branch of Northern States Power. NSP-Wisconsin already gets about 30% of its power from hydro and biomass facilities, so would be exempt from the RPS.

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