Legislature should restore funding to Focus on Energy

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Keith Reopelle & Charlie Higley
Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In spring 2011, Gov. Scott Walker and legislative leaders significantly cut funding to Focus on Energy, the energy efficiency program that helps residents and businesses lower energy bills. A recent legislative audit demonstrates that the benefits of Focus on Energy more than double the programís costs, and legislators should quickly restore lost funding in order to maximize the programís cost-saving potential.

Focus on Energy was created in 2001 to help homeowners and businesses reduce energy costs. More than 2 million Wisconsin residents and businesses have participated in the program.

The statewide program helps keep energy bills affordable for all Wisconsinites by reducing energy use and preventing the need to build expensive new power plants and transmission lines that we all pay for with increased electricity bills.

In addition, Focus on Energy helps reduce the amount of money we spend to fuel our power plants. Wisconsin spends $12.5 billion every year on imported electricity and dirty, out-of-state fossil fuels. Much of that is spent on coal, oil and natural gas to generate electricity and heat our homes. Investing in energy efficiency is the No. 1 way we can reduce that and keep money circulating within our own economy.

The audit released by the bipartisan Legislative Audit Bureau confirms that Focus on Energy successfully lowers energy bills and provides environmental and economic benefits that far outweigh program costs. For every $1 invested, residents and businesses save more than $2 on energy bills, according to the audit. This helped save more than $264 million on energy bills in 2010 alone. Since its inception, Focus on Energy has helped residents and businesses save more than $2 billion.

Thatís a lot of money and reason enough to increase investment in the program, but itís not the programís only benefit. By reducing the need for coal-fired power plants, Focus on Energy helps improve air quality and protect our health. In fact, reduced power plant emissions resulted in more than $17 million in environmental benefits in 2010, according to the audit.

Finally, the audit acknowledges that Focus on Energy helps create jobs and increase business sales. An earlier study estimated that the funding cut from the program would create 7,000 to 9,000 new jobs in Wisconsin.

By voting to significantly cut funding for Focus on Energy last spring, legislators turned their backs on an opportunity to lower energy bills, reduce pollution and spur job creation. With the recent audit in hand, they now have the opportunity to remedy this mistake.

Legislators have begun circulating a bill that would restore the Public Service Commissionís ability to reinstate Focus on Energy funding. This bill is the first step on the path toward lower energy bills, and it deserves the support of our leaders.

By working to restore funding cut from Focus on Energy, our elected leaders can help residents and businesses save money, improve the quality of our environment and create more jobs. Thatís something that deserves support from legislators on both sides of the aisle.

Keith Reopelle is senior policy director at Clean Wisconsin, the stateís largest environmental advocacy organization. Contact him at kreopelle@cleanwisconsin.org. Charlie Higley is executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin. Contact him at higley@wiscub.org.

Last updated: 9:55 am Monday, December 17, 2012

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