MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A utility-backed bill to cut funding for Wisconsin's energy-efficiency program is short-sighted and would hurt customers in the long run, the program's supporters contend.
Wisconsin's electric utilities back the bill, which would cut funding for the Focus on Energy program by $7 million at a time when electricity costs in Wisconsin have risen above the national average.
Utilities and state regulators say the proposed cut would return money to ratepayers, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1VZ4zWK ) reported. The bill passed the state Assembly last month and is scheduled to be considered by the Senate on March 15.
But the program's supporters cite its savings, pointing out that the program has delivered $3 of savings to customers for every $1 spent.
"It's very short-sighted to vote on a bill that's going to reduce Focus on Energy's program budget by $7.2 million," said Theresa Lehman, director of sustainable services at Miron Construction. "Our clients use that money every year."
Lehman said at a time when capital spending budgets are tight, the program offers incentives that help customers cut their costs by allowing them to afford the upfront expenses of switching to more efficient LED lighting.
St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton is saving $30,000 a year by upgrading the lighting in its corridors, Lehman said. Another client, Lake Mills Elementary School, received $100,000 in incentives from the program and is now saving $85,000 every year on its energy costs, she said.
Supporters of the cut, including Wisconsin utilities and manufacturing groups, say it fixes a problem that effectively charges some utilities twice for the program.
Investor-owned utilities are paying into the program based on a percentage of sales, and then municipal utilities -- which buy power from investor-owned utilities -- are paying into the program separately, at a rate of $8 per meter. Currently, the program is funded based on 1.2 percent of investor-owned utilities' total sales.
The proposed change would collect program funding by retail rather than total utility electric sales, so investor utilities aren't paying for both their customers' and municipal customers' contributions to Focus on Energy.
"Our concern is the formula and getting rid of the double charge," We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said. Total funding for the program would increase over time as utility power sales rise, he said.
Madison-based Alliant Energy and Milwaukee-based WEC Energy Group, parent of We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service, are backing the bill. All three of the utilities estimate they would see savings of about $2 million a year.
PSC spokeswoman Elise Nelson contends the change is about equity and fairness and "would put $7 million back in ratepayers' pockets."