An Outlook for Energy Efficiency in Wisconsin’s Clean Energy Plan

WI wind farm

On April 19, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers announced the release of the State of Wisconsin Clean Energy Plan (CEP). The first of its kind in the state, the CEP was prepared by the Wisconsin Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy as directed by Executive Order #38. The CEP emphasizes previously defined state goals through the creation of a pathway to multi-sector deep decarbonization and a transition to a strong clean energy economy that prioritizes environmental justice, a diverse workforce and technological innovation. 

The CEP complements, but remains distinct from, the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change Report. While taking into consideration the work accomplished by the Task Force, the CEP is focused primarily on the power sector along with adjacent energy-using sectors, and outlines methods and goals to shift away from their reliance on fossil fuels. As Maria Redmond, Director of the Wisconsin Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy, explains, the Climate Change Report casts a wider net and includes topics such as conservation, food systems and education—all of which important when it comes to reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions, but include components outside the direct scope of energy planning. 

The Clean Energy Plan defines four key strategies to create momentum and action towards a clean and reliable energy future: 

  1. Accelerate clean energy technology deployment 
  2. Maximize energy efficiency 
  3. Modernize buildings and industry 
  4. Innovate transportation 

At the highest level, the goal to maximize energy efficiency will be accomplished through strengthening energy efficiency standards and goals to reduce energy waste, create jobs and save consumers money on energy costs. The commitment to energy efficiency to reduce energy costs is highlighted as a crucial component in ensuring this transition is just, equitable and beneficial to all. Further, this emphasis on energy efficiency demonstrates a statewide understanding of its significance as an important utility system resource that is typically the lowest-cost system resource compared to supply-side investments.  

While it appears across the CEP, the priority strategy to maximize energy efficiency can be broken into two categories: immediate action and high impact, with certain items designated as both. These include: 

  • Immediate Action Strategies 
    • Make economy-wide investments in energy efficiency 
    • Set an energy use reduction goal 
    • Improve Wisconsin GHG emissions data collection 
    • Reduce agricultural energy use 
    • Promote creative financing options and additional energy efficiency measures for customers with low incomes 
    • Pursue a healthy whole-home approach 
    • Strengthen the Focus on Energy program 
    • Leverage federal funding for an energy efficiency grant program 
    • Support energy efficiency improvements through the WHEDA Foundation Annual Housing Grant Program 
    • Empower schools to fund or implement energy efficiency programs 
  • High-Impact Strategies 
    • Make economy-wide investments in energy efficiency 
    • Set an energy use reduction goal 
    • Set an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS) 
    • Increase Focus on Energy program funding 
    • Increase utility investments in energy efficiency (via voluntary programs) 
    • Support commercial and industrial energy efficiency 

Looking further ahead, a few future strategies are also outlined: 

  • Create voluntary on-bill tariff programs 
  • Explore state appliance and equipment energy and water efficiency standards
  • Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) to develop and administer a voluntary commercial building energy benchmarking program 

The CEP also acknowledges that direct emissions from commercial and residential buildings account for 16.8% of statewide emissions and that buildings typically have a lifespan of 50 to 60 years. As a result, the plan highlights the long-lasting impacts of updated building codes in ensuring the highest level of efficiency and reducing carbon intensity. The specific building code targets described are: 

  • Immediate Action Strategies 
    • Update building codes 
      • Implement guidelines to ensure building codes are up to date and consider the State’s carbon-reduction goals 
      • Transition away from the current Wisconsin Uniform Dwelling Code to the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) residential code 
  • High-Impact Strategies 
    • Make Wisconsin a leader on building codes by meeting and—wherever practical—exceeding the standards of the most recent IECC 
  • Future Strategies 
    • Building code updates 
      • Enable adoption of stretch codes by repealing 2013 Act 270, thereby allowing local control over building codes 
      • Adopt building codes that require electric vehicle- and solar-ready standards for commercial, residential and multifamily new constructions 
      • Transition building codes over time to net-zero energy commercial buildings 

Importantly, the CEP is explicitly labeled on its cover page as “Version 1.0,” and is referred to by staff as a “living” document. Throughout the plan, there are multiple references to its flexibility and promise of future iterations. Written commenting opportunities are open and ongoing, with state intentions to continuously incorporate and respond to feedback from Wisconsinites. 

Of equal importance is that this is not the only energy planning process happening in Wisconsin. A notable example of different statewide efforts is the previously mentioned Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change. Under the leadership of Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, the Task Force reached out statewide to gather information from residents on energy-related issues in 2019-20. Resultantly, the Task force provided 55 policy recommendations on energy and environmental issues, varying in their potential implementation processes (executive, budget and/or legislative action). 

Additionally, the Public Service Commission has an open docket, 5-EI-158, to pursue a Roadmap to Zero Carbon Investigation. This entails evaluating current government and utility goals to be carbon free by 2050 and the partnerships required to meet those commitments. An Order from September 2021 summarizes the investigation’s preliminary findings, which led to Staff organizing a workshop on performance-based regulation and affordability in January 2022. This docket remains active, with an April 2022 Order directing Commission Staff to continue exploring performance-based regulation through additional workshops and requests for public comment. 

Lastly, the Commission is setting guidance for the next four-year programming cycle for Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s statewide energy efficiency and renewable resource program implementer. The purpose of this process is to improve, evaluate, set goals and define specific components for programs while ensuring “that customers throughout the state have an equivalent opportunity to receive the benefits of Focus programs,” as put forth by Wis. Stat. § .196.374(5m)(b) and Wisc. Stat. § 196.374(2)(a)2. The PSC divided this Quadrennial Planning Process into phases, with the Commission recently releasing an order on Phase 1- Macro Policy Decisions. The Staff memo on Phase 2- Micro Policy Decisions is expected in June, with the memo on Phase 3- Focus Goals coming a few months after that. 

The CEP is another marker of Wisconsin’s commitment to its statewide decarbonization goals and helps define the required shifts across related energy-using sectors. MEEA commends the inclusion of energy efficiency and building codes in the plan and looks forward to following the next steps, namely the implementation of the various outlined policies.