The Proper and Prudent Public Discussion of Electricity Costs in Wisconsin
Badger-Coulee Appeal, October 10, La Crosse, WI
No public discussion stands to affect our electricity costs and environmental goals more than the possible appeal of the Badger-Coulee transmission line decision.
In 2015, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) rejected multiple public objections and stamped approval of the costly, 170 mile, high-capacity expansion line between La Crosse and Madison. Oral arguments challenging and defending the approval will be heard in 3rd District State court in La Crosse on October 10th. At question is whether the PSC is required by law to publicly justify how our energy dollars are spent and our environmental goals met.
The PSC is not rushing to clarify its reasoning in approving the project. Instead, the PSC is asking the court to grant the agency "great deference” in their judgments despite the agency’s refusal to study potential need under current flat and declining electricity use and other irregularities.
The agency does not dispute that the energy growth assumptions it used to economically justify the Paddock-Rockdale 345 kV line in 2008 never materialized. Rather than discuss how the agency will prevent repeating the same mistake in Badger-Coulee, their request for "great deference” aims to avoid discussions about the bottom line altogether. Such deference would effectively say to the court, to the public, and to the electric customers that such decisions are too complicated for all of us to understand, so we must defer to their “superior" judgment.
The PSC takes this position despite five years of steady requests for transparency and cost analysis from more than 90 local governments, 12 state lawmakers, and record public participation in public hearings. With electricity use flat and declining, most states are shifting investments to energy efficiency, modern load management and local power development because, unlike utility expansion, they guarantee savings and rapid CO2 reductions. Electric customers, who would assume debt for Badger-Coulee over the next 30-40 years, do not take lightly any dismissal of economic and environmental accountability.
Proven, lower cost solutions emphasizing efficiency improvements in our homes, farms and businesses were charted by state lawmakers in 2009 when they approved a $1 per month increase in Focus on Energy rebate pools. Though the lawmakers’ request met PSC inaction in 2010, public discussions with state lawmakers revived as utilities starting asking for historical fixed fee increases to pay for expansion and ballooning utility debt.
Opposition to highly questionable transmission expansion is erupting in every hill and dale in southwest Wisconsin as transmission builders propose another high capacity expansion line between Madison and Dubuque. Cardinal Hickory Creek would be the eighth high capacity line approved in our state in ten years. Persons from these communities will be joining court observers in La Crosse.
The appeal brought by the Town of Holland is already successful in exposing attempts by a state agency to discourage public discussion of prudent electricity cost accountability. This “day in court” presents a rare opportunity to let one’s presence speak for every concerned electric customer in the state.
No matter the outcome on the 10th, it is very possible that we will look back at the PSC’s attempt to justify Badger-Coulee as a key turning point in our energy future. Oral arguments start at 1:45 pm at the La Crosse County Court House, 333 Vine St.
Judy Brey, Reedsburg, WI
Don Campbell, Dodgeville, WI
Richard and Kim Cates, Spring Green, WI
Rob Danielson, La Farge, WI
Brian and Nicole Feyrer, Middleton, WI
David Giffey, Arena, WI
Laurie and Richard Graney, Platteville, WI
Michael and Julie Kauper, Middleton, WI
Andy and Entela Lushaj, Middleton, WI
Michael McDermott, Black Earth, WI
David Stanfield, Blue Mounds, WI
Todd Timmerman, Platteville, WI
David Wernecke, Baraboo, WI
Lila Zastrow and David Hendrickson, Seymour, WI
DIY SOLAR WORKSHOP
(rescheduled due to flooding)
with Pete Gruendeman
Sat., October 29, 10AM, La Farge, WI
Many energy users are striving to lower their energy use to help stop unnecessary power lines and frac sand mining. Many are equally aware of contributing to environmental harm with every dollar they spend on electricity or gas. I would like to share with you a novel way to profoundly reduce your household dependency on dirty grid power and natural gas while saving thousands in coming years.
As a DIY enthusiast, my workshop will promote a unique application of existing technologies that people with basic power tool and electricity understandings can use to slash their negative environmental impacts up to 33%. Once materials are in hand it takes about 3 to 4 days a dedicated work.
The project involves directly wiring the output of 6-8 off-the-shelf solar panels to the bottom heating element an electric hot water heater. If you have a natural gas or propane hot water heater, another electric tank is added to pre-heat the water before it reaches the gas or propane unit. The system I installed last January for my personal use used only 15 cents of electricity from the grid over the last 7 months. Unassisted, the water heater would have used more than 1100 kWh’s of power.
Thirty-five years ago "solar water" was only done with the large, black, solar panels that circulated water. Many households found these systems too complex, expensive to install and requiring too much maintenance. My system has none of these challenges and will save me about $4,400 over the next 20 years. It cost me $2,100.
The installation requires a sunny location of about 150 square feet for the photovoltaic panels and another person with electricity experience to confirm your wiring with you. Licensed electricians will either shudder at the notion of directly powering a hot water tank with DC power or deeply appreciate the elegance. My favorite part is there is no reason to get the electric company involved as the PV system is not “grid-tied.” Most DIYers can rack and mount the 45 pound solar electric panels on their roof, garage or stand in the yard.
Judging from personally building three PV--> DHW systems, 2,000 Watts of PV is about the right amount to provide hot water for a family of four. Here is a basic budget:
* Solar Panels and mounting hardware $2,000- $2,500
* 8 gauge copper wire $50- 120
* Controller (optional) $300- 350
* Disconnect Box $30
* High Temp Shut-Off Switch $50-$350
* If you not have an electric water heater: 80 gallon water heater
$800 (Best with a standard 11.5 NPS element thread)
The project I helped Mike plan for his house in Stoddard, WI uses 1,600 Watts of PV, and cost $2,650, complete. He did all of the installation on his own wiring it to an existing 50 gallon electric water heater. He and I agree that an 80 gallon tank and 2,000 Watts of solar PV would improve environmental and monetary benefits over time. The savings from using much less, dirty, grid power will re-pay our investments in 10 to 13 years. Persons who pay federal taxes can take a tax credit up to 30% of the investment and reduce the pay back period to 7-10 years.
I hope you will be able to join us at the free workshop sponsored by SOUL of Wisconsin.
Photovoltaic Direct to Electric Hot Water
Workshop w/ Pete Gruendeman
Sat., October 29, 10 AM - 12 Noon
S3803 Corps Rd, la Farge, WI
There is no charge for the Workshop
Email info@SOULWisconsin.org to make a reservation
Area Meetings- Cardinal Hickory Creek
Grassroots and local government efforts opposing the possibility of yet another high capacity transmission line across Wisconsin lands and communities
Congratulations to the Town of Belmont (Lafayette Co. WI) who adopted a PSC Information Request Resolution on September 20th to help ensure transmission builders provide cost benefit analysis of all energy options and the PSC conducts their own analysis for the Environmental and Economic Impact Study. Citizens from the Town of Lima and Belmont are reaching out to neighbors in adjacent towns encouraging the towns to consider adopting the resolution. Interested citizens are encouraged to attend meetings at:
- Town of Platteville (Grant Co.) Monday, October 10th at 7:00 p.m, at the Township Shed on County D South.
- Town of Blue Mounds (Dane Co,) October 3, at 7p.m - Town Hall, 10566 Blue Vista Road
- Village of Mount Horeb Board (Dane Co.) October 5, at 7p Village Hall 138 E Main Street
Driftless Defenders will hold its next meeting on Wednesday, October 26 at Dodger Bowl at 318 King St. in Dodgeville. For more information and a copy of the most recent newsletter, contact Robin Schumacher at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Achieving Fair Allocation of Grid Costs
by Rob Danielson
Former WI Public Service Commissioner Mark Meyer recently joined
acting Commissioners in declaring that fair distribution of utility grid costs depends on getting the rate right for solar power produced in our homes, farms, businesses and in community solar gardens.
It disappoints me to see Myer foreground the economic rights of a tiny number of well-intending individuals without mentioning a single advantage bestowed on utility interests. As electric customers, we are the only parties that pay for grid expense. As a former public servant, Meyer is in excellent position to help ratepayers understand how costs are accumulated, paid for and make fresh suggestions.
Even before our use of electricity started to drop, the PSC pegged our rising rates on a 15 year ”spending cycle” for new power plants and transmission expansion. Now, to continue paying off the debt that will persist for 30 years and longer, the PSC has allowed utilities to run up fixed fees to cover the drop in use. The result is making families who are trying to conserve pay more while giving high-use households effective rate reductions. We have a lot of utility debt. Totaling up just the fee increases since 2012, Wisconsin households will pay $7 billion more over the next 30 years.
The higher costs and environmental consequences have revived “waste not - want not” values. Even with meager rebates for energy efficiency and solar compared to adjacent states, Wisconsin electric customers are collectively using less and less power. So why are the utilities so committed to “waste more - want more” utility infrastructure?
Pin this on your 1990 refrigerator: Foremost, for-profit electric utilities seek to keep customers on-grid paying down the massive debt they profit from. Every time the PSC permits a new transmission line, substation or power plant, utility interests are guaranteed 10-13% interest, plus operation, maintenance and other collections over the 30-40 year mortgage periods. The PSC does not tally up and print the billions in debt amassed. It allows utilities to hide long term indebtedness by publicizing only initial construction costs for new projects.
Records show that energy efficiency and solar are, by far, the most cost-effective measures to slash CO2 emissions and control costs and utility debt. Wisconsin lawmakers must create precise PSC policy that allows these end-user improvements to fairly compete with utility infrastructure proposals and do their magic. Legislators can insure that all electric customers pay fair share of the accumulated utility debt through these goals:
- Make utilities compete with debt-free, end user investments to prevent the PSC from adding non-essential, utility debt;
- Triple available rebates in our energy efficiency and renewable energy program. The required $1 per month would dramatically reduce use and return billions in net savings. If Wisconsin lawmakers approve the same Focus on Energy increase they did in 2009 (rejected by the PSC in 2010), we would meet more than 50% of the EPA’s CO2 reduction goals, save $16 billion in energy costs, spur $50 billion in economic benefits and create 380,000 new jobs over the next 30 years;
- Stop increasing facility fees. Apply the golden rule to utility debt with customers paying proportionally to the amount of electricity they consume. This requires much smaller rate increases over the next 5-7 years than those induced by new debt and growing waste. Solar customers would pay their full fair share of debt in the cost of grid power they use at night and on cloudy days.
Most non-solar households greatly prefer buying clean power produced by their solar neighbors instead of fossil fuel-laden grid power. Home, business and community solar improvements add no collective debt, lower grid costs and so deserve the same, retail, rate utilities are paid.
Eventually all of the above will happen because it’s the only spending path we can afford. The essential lobbying efforts that finally tip the scale will not come from organizations or energy specialists but regular customers who understand where energy dollars need to go.
Ho-Chunk Nation Approves Rights of Nature Amendment
Following a vote of full membership, the Ho-Chunk Nation will be the first tribal nation in the United States to formally amend their constitution to grant that “Ecosystems and natural communities within the Ho-Chunk territory possess an inherent, fundamental, and inalienable right to exist and thrive.” The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) assisted the nation draft the amendment the applications of which the tribe will begin to plan at the Traditional Ecological Knowledge
conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin, at Viterbo University on October 14th.
Bill Greendeer, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and the Deer clan, proposed the amendment. He explained, “Passing the Rights of Nature amendment will help us protect our land."