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Churches and other nonprofits in We Energies’ service area will have difficulty following the renewable-energy example of the Unitarian Universalist Church West in Brookfield, because the utility unilaterally ended the incentive program which helped the church absorb the cost of a solar system installed in 2008.
The end of the utility program resulted in WE receiving a C on a renewable energy report card issued by RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide renewable energy advocacy organization.
“We Energies agreed with RENEW and other groups to spend $6 million/year over 10 years to encourage the use of renewable energy in its service area. As part of the program, over 100 nonprofit organizations installed renewable energy systems.
In 2011, however, WE simply announced the end of the program after only five years,” said Don Wichert, RENEW’s executive director and the report card director, at a news conference in front of the church.
“The money was critically important to our ability to install a solar system and was needed because nonprofits are not eligible for the federal tax credits” said Amy Taivalkoski, a congregation member who headed up the project along with Dennis Briley, another member. “The grant of $27,500 covered about a third of the total cost.”
“We were very thankful to receive the grant, which allowed us to show other congregations how to fulfill a vision for a just, sustainable world. It’s unfortunate that the WE program won’t be there to help them as it helped us,” added Rev. Suzelle Lynch, minister of the more than 700-person congregation.
WE earned a C (2.4 out of 5) overall on the report card for its renewable energy efforts in 2011, but had the lowest score of all utilities graded. The state’s other major utilities’ grades ranged from C to B/C -- Alliant, C (2.6); Madison Gas & Electric, B/C (3.0); Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, C (2.7); and Xcel, B/C (3.0).
“2011 was a year in which Wisconsin’s investor owned utilities cut back on their previous good performance supporting renewable energy,” said Wichert. “At this point in 2012 it appears that this poor performance trend continues.”
“It’s surprising and disappointing because recent opinion surveys indicate that the vast majority of Wisconsin’s population, including utilities ratepayers and stockholders, prefer renewable energy,” according to Wichert.
RENEW graded utilities on six criteria: amount of renewable electricity sold; green energy purchasing programs; ease of connecting to the utility system; prices paid for renewable electricity; legislative activities; and other programs offered voluntarily to customers.
Wisconsin utilities performed best in meeting the state’s renewable electricity standard. All of the utilities already meet or expect to meet the 10% standard by 2015, although some have the majority of the power coming from out of Wisconsin.
RENEW scored gave WE the following grades for 2011:
B Amount of renewable electricity sold (also called renewable energy standard)
B Green energy purchasing program for customers
B Ease of interconnecting to the utility system
F Price paid for electricity purchased from renewable energy systems
F Legislative activities on renewable energy policy
C- Other programs offered voluntarily to customers.
This was the first time RENEW conducted a grading system, but RENEW plans to continue the process in the future because people are interested in how well their utilities support renewable energy.
“The annual survey can be used by Wisconsin utilities and others to see which areas are lacking and how they can improve their grades. Adoption of renewable energy supports local jobs, lower emissions of pollutants, and energy security. These are attributes everybody wants. There is no reason that Wisconsin utilities should be performing at average levels in clean energy,” said Wichert.
RENEW Wisconsin is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that leads and represents businesses, organizations, and individuals who seek more clean renewable energy in Wisconsin. More information on RENEW’s Web site at www.renewwisconsin.org.