Dairy Farmers Scrutinizing Transmission Expansion in Wisconsin
Promises of lower rates are wearing thin with 1940’s era service, higher bills and delayed efficiencies.
Despite a sizable number of dairy operations in Southwest Wisconsin with wiring that has not been significantly improved since installation under the Rural Electrification Act (REA) in the 1940’s and 50’s, interest in making these improvements, even with utility help, has been unexpectedly low. That is, until recently.
A similar awareness spike concerning soaring electricity costs and utility spending priorities occurred in Vernon County in 2012 when the seventh high-capacity expansion transmission line in Wisconsin was proposed for that area. “It really woke us up,” recalls Town of Stark Chair, Keith Ashley-Wright. “Since Badger-Coulee was proposed and locally withdrawn, the number of energy efficiency and solar projects has really taken off.”
Responses to transmission expansion in Vernon County evolved as local governments studied the accountable wording in utility documents, “When a transmission project is not needed to provide adequate power or reliability, anywhere, it causes one to think about protecting other communities too. It encourages every household, farm and business to consider actions they can take to keep non-crucial utility expansion and spending under control.” states Ashley-Wright.
The possibility of an eighth high-capacity expansion transmission line, Cardinal-Hickory Creek, running through Dane, Iowa, Grant Counties and Dubuque County in Iowa is one of the reasons Jim Campbell looked into wiring modernization for his organic dairy operation launched by his grandfather in 1951 near Rewey, Wisconsin. Campbell recently justified adding solar to replace half of his grid electricity use but found the costs to make his electrical service safer and more efficient were much larger than he can afford, even with the $10,000 maximum match his utility could offer.
Dairy operations pay large electric bills. A national energy auditing firm found that modest energy-conserving enhancements result in savings from 10% to 35% . There are not yet studies of potential savings for Wisconsin dairy operations but indications are Campbell’s farm is far from alone.
At an August gathering of fifteen dairy farm operators arranged by Montfort Village President Jim Schmitz in North Andover, many expressed concerns about equipment they use everyday and utility service lines in need of improvements. In particular it was noted that all but one of the farms still operated on less efficient single phase power and some using the same poles their grandfathers helped install in REA days.
Only two of the farm owners had heard of Wisconsin’s energy efficiency program, Focus on Energy. As with the re-wiring grants, rebates on efficient equipment are often too small to realize improvements. These restraints as not as pressing in other states that rejected transmission expansion at the turn of the century and, shifted electric customer investment emphasis to energy efficiency instead .
Since 2005, Wisconsin electric customers have spent an average of about $430 million a year on previously approved expansion transmission lines  and only a tenth of that amount on energy efficiency rebates that have been proven to save $3.30 for every dollar invested  . For each of the seven, PSC-approved expansion transmission lines added in Wisconsin since 2005, transmission builders claimed the lines would save money. Official records show that rates and fee increases clearly accelerated as charges for the debt on the lines began to pour in 
Like many milk producers, Campbell uses conservation techniques with his aging equipment to keep input costs down as much as possible and like the rest of Wisconsin, his electricity use has slowly declined. He feels progress is unnecessary slowed by lagging emphasis on re-wiring and energy efficiency programs putting Wisconsin dairy farmers at disadvantage. “It does not seem right that I work to bring down my overall use and utilities are steadily granted new expansion transmission projects that keep my rates and bill totals increasing anyway.”
Jim’s reason for adding solar goes beyond electricity savings over time. “When the sun shines, I do not have to use power from the grid that is mostly fossil fuel generation. I cannot get this CO2 emission accountability with remote renewable energy from the grid.” His utility's current solar policy restricts the size of his solar array to 20 kilowatts and he would like to see this limitation removed eventually so his pasture grazed organic operation can realize full self-sufficiency.
Following a December 12, 2017 Public Information Meeting sponsored by local governments and organizations questioning the need for the expansion transmission line, the Grant County Board of Supervisors Board will meet on December 19 to consider two resolutions in response to the proposal. The Public Information Meeting meeting starts at 6:30 pm at the Youth and Agriculture Building at Grant County Fairgrounds in Lancaster, WI and the County Board Meeting starts at 10 am at the Administration Building, 111 S. Jefferson Street, Lancaster, WI
Jim Campbell feels that both the information request and simple opposition resolutions are in order but is adamant that transmission builders should be required to show electric customers the benefits they would receive if the same millions builders want customers to spend on transmission expansion was invested, instead, into energy efficiency, modern load management and developing local renewables, “What is the logic of guaranteeing transmission builders profits when no locations are short of power and a large part of our shrinking need is unnecessarily wasted?”
 Kill the Kilowatts, Jim Dickrell, Dairy Herd Management Editor, AGWeb/Farm Journal, October 31, 2012. http://bit.ly/NationalDairyFarmSavingsEst
 Several sources of data compiled, p.10
 MISO presentation, February 2017, Customers First! Power Breakfast. Excerpted chart, p. 27
 Focus on Energy 2015 Evaluation Report Vo. 1, May 20, 2016, Excerpt from p.57, 58
 Transmission investments compared to rates with data from several sources compiled p.25
25 Wisconsin Counties Support PACE Low Interest Financing for Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, and Water Conservation Projects For Commercial Property Owners
By Monica Sella
Energy efficiency improvements are a key component in reducing carbon emissions, lowering consumer costs, and mitigating the need for large-scale utility capital investments including high-voltage power lines.
In 2016, Wisconsin joined 20+ states nationwide to participate in the PACE program, or Property Assessed Clean Energy, a national program instrumental in facilitating energy efficiency improvements for residential and commercial property owners. Wisconsin’s PACE program allows commercial property owners to obtain low-cost, long-term loans for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and water conservation improvements with no upfront costs. It’s entirely voluntary and at no cost to taxpayers.
Over 20 Wisconsin counties currently participate in the PACE program including Dane, Iowa, and Sauk counties. There are a number of pre-qualified, participating lenders to choose from, or commercial property owners can encourage their lender of choice to get involved. To take part in the PACE program and become a member of the PACE Wisconsin Commission, communities must pass a resolution authorizing execution of the JPA (Joint Powers Agreement) and (for County members) passage of the Model PACE Ordinance through your county board of supervisors. For more detailed information, visit http://www.pacewi.org/local-governments-faq.html
Commercial property owners who take part voluntarily in PACE programs repay their improvement costs typically over 10 to 20 years via property assessments, which are tied to the property itself and not the property owner and are paid as an addition to the owners' property tax bills. If a property is sold, the next property owner may take on the PACE financings.
Currently, residential PACE programs have been established in CA, FL, and MO. According to PACE Nation, residential PACE programs nationwide during the period 2010-2017 accounted for $4,200 million investment dollars, 170,000 home upgrades, and 34,500 new jobs. Commercial PACE programs exist in 21 states, including Wisconsin. Nationwide, Commercial PACE programs during the same period accounted for $493 million investment dollars, 1097 commercial projects, and 7,395 new jobs.
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