Focus on Energy

Focus on Energy is a public program that provides Wisconsin state residents and businesses with resources, incentives and support to implement energy-efficiency and renewable energy projects.

Funded by the state’s energy utilities, this program assists almost 200,000 Wisconsin residents and businesses per year. By increasing  energy efficiency and aiding with the installation of clean energy technologies, it helps them save energy and money while reducing the amount of pollution that comes from burning fossil fuels.

Focus on Energy also provides some funding for research on environmental and economic research and development regarding Wisconsin’s energy use.

Key Points

  • For every $1 invested in Focus on Energy, there are over $6 in benefits to the state.[26]
  • Each year, Focus on Energy programs cuts millions of pounds of air pollution by saving energy.[2]
  • Focus on Energy supports thousands of jobs in Wisconsin, in industries such as manufacturing, construction and the installation and maintenance of energy efficiency systems.[1]
  • The energy-efficiency measures installed through Focus on Energy in 2012 alone will save participants over $65 billion in energy bills,[3] and will keep electricity rates lower for all ratepayers by making the electric system more reliable and reducing the need for more power plants and transmission lines in the future.
Clean Wisconsin's Work

Clean Wisconsin is dedicated to the success of Wisconsin’s unique and valuable Focus on Energy program. Clean Wisconsin played a major role in creating the Focus on Energy program when the organization served on the Public Service Commission’s deregulation advisory committee under Governor Tommy Thompson in the mid-1990s. Clean Wisconsin then helped to strengthen Act 9 in 2000, which created Focus on Energy.

In 2005, Clean Wisconsin again was appointed, this time by Governor Doyle, to the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Advisory Group, which helped to write and pass the legislation that became 2006 Act 141, a landmark law that doubled Wisconsin’s investment in energy efficiency and tripled it’s investment in renewable energy. These were critical first steps, but represent only the beginning of the energy savings that can be achieved in the state. Energy-efficiency improvements, as well as incentives for clean energy technology, not only improve our state’s air and water quality but save individual Wisconsin residents and businesses money.

In 2010, the Public Service Commission approved a funding increase for Focus on Energy. However, the legislature and Governor Walker rescinded that decision in the 2011 budget bill. Clean Wisconsin believes that the budget cuts severely and unnecessarily handicap the program and strives to restore Focus on Energy funding so that the program can continue to grow and provide even more of these benefits to our citizens, our economy and our environment. Clean Wisconsin is working with legislators and our business allies to improve and restore funding to Focus on Energy.

Questions and Answers

What is Focus on Energy?

Focus on Energy is a statewide program supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency in Wisconsin. It is funded by utilities in the state, and provides information, resources and financial incentives for a variety project types and technologies. It also funds environmental and economic research and development in Wisconsin. Through this work, Focus on Energy promotes in-state economic development, protects our environment, and helps manage rising energy costs and growing demand for electricity and natural gas within the state.

What programs does Focus on Energy offer for Wisconsin residents and businesses?

Residential programs provide cashback rewards for many types of energy efficiency and renewable energy appliances and projects as well as free services such as recycling or installation. Focus on Energy also provides residents with information, resources and personalized assessments to help improve their homes’ energy efficiency and save money.[4]

Business programs work with large and small businesses to reduce monthly energy costs and implement efficient and renewable technologies. The programs provide resources and work closely with businesses to find best management practices and other options for saving energy. Many of these programs also provide custom cash incentives.[5]

Focus on Energy also has specific renewable energy programs that provide competitive incentives for both business and residential renewable energy projects.[6]

Who is eligible for Focus on Energy Programs? 

Focus on Energy programs are available to most Wisconsin residents and businesses. The exceptions are ratepayers of certain cooperative utilities that have chosen to not participate in the program. You can view the list of participating Wisconsin utilities on the Focus on Energy website, as well as find which programs best your needs. Each individual program is designed to match the needs of residents and businesses and has its own eligibility requirements.

How does Focus on Energy support research on energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies for Wisconsin?

Focus on Energy not only provides support programs and incentives, but also funds research initiatives. The Environmental & Economic Research and Development Program (EERD) funds research on energy use, environmental and economic impacts, and improvements to efficiency programs and renewable sources.[7]

How has the Focus on Energy program benefited the State of Wisconsin and our environment?

Focus on Energy has helped improve the economy and environment of Wisconsin for over a decade. It has implemented millions of energy efficiency projects, decreased energy demand by tens of thousands of kW per year, and completed thousands of clean energy projects since its inception.  As a result, pollutant emissions from energy production for the state have decreased by millions of pounds annually since 2001. Focus on Energy programs have displaced over 6.6 billion pounds of CO2 emissions alone in the last 10 years.[8][9]

At the same time, Focus on Energy has saved program participants hundreds of millions of dollars each year and reduced the cost of energy for all Wisconsin ratepayers. In fact, a 2012 evaluation estimated $7 in benefits for every dollar invested that year. Focus on Energy also creates thousands of jobs in Wisconsin businesses involved in the manufacture, construction, installation and maintenance of energy-efficiency systems.[1]

How has Focus on Energy contributed to clean energy in our state?

More than 1 million people have participated in the Focus on Energy program, either to reduce their energy usage or produce their own clean energy. The renewable energy program of Focus on Energy has provided incentives for over 1,500 MW of solar, wind, biofuel and other clean energy projects, and boosted the state economy by over $95 million from work in 2012 alone. The projects enabled by Focus on Energy save residents and utilities money, have been estimated to return $2 to the state economy on every dollar invested, and reduce the levels of pollution and environmental damages from traditional energy sources.[1][8][10][11]

Despite the economic benefits to the state, Focus on Energy’s renewable energy programs were halted halfway through 2011. When they were reinstated in 2012 (for the 2013 calendar year), the funding level for the renewable energy programs restructured to set a maximum of $7.5 million for biomass, biogas and geothermal projects, and $2.5 million for solar thermal, photovoltaic and wind projects.[3]

When was Focus on Energy established and how has it developed?

In 1999, Wisconsin Act 9 established a public benefit fund that included Focus on Energy and the Home Energy Plus program, which provides energy assistance for low-income residents. In 2005, Wisconsin Act 141 (establishing S.B. 459) restructured Focus on Energy to prevent the diversion of funds by the Governor and legislature to cover other state programs. It did this by keeping the money within the utilities (see the SEERA committee below) and is overseen by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. It also created a process by which the PSC must review and evaluate the program every four years, at a minimum; based on that review and efficiency potential studies, the PSC could recommend increases in the program’s funding. Most of these changes took effect in July 2007.[12]

Where does funding for Focus on Energy come from?

The program is directly funded by the state’s investor-owned utilities. Under Wisconsin Act 141 and Wis. Stat. § 196.374(3)(b)(2), all state investor-owned utilities are required to spend 1.2% of operating revenue on energy efficiency programs and renewable-resource programs.[12]

How does Focus on Energy affect my utility bills?

While Focus on Energy is funded by an extra charge on each customer’s utility bill, this charge is less than 1% of each utility bill in Wisconsin. As a result of this small investment, Focus on Energy programs are implemented that directly reduce energy use and energy costs. In the evaluation report for 2012, it was estimated that the measures installed in that year alone would eventually save participants $65.8 billion on their energy bills. The high return on investment of Focus on Energy programs (over $6 for each $1 spent) results in significant benefits to the state: in 2012 for example, the $214 million in costs for Focus on Energy projects boosted the state economy by over $1,560 million.[1][3][10][13][26]

What large changes were made to the Focus on Energy program in the last few years?

In May 2011, administration of Focus on Energy was transferred from the nonprofit Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp (WECC), which had handled the program since its start. Management was contracted to Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure, part of The Shaw Group, a publicly traded Baton Rouge, La., corporation.[14] Shaw was then acquired by Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. (CB&I). Along with this change in management came changes in the specific energy-efficiency efforts that were conducted through Focus on Energy.

Also in 2011, Shaw temporarily suspended and restructured Focus on Energy’s renewable energy programs. The stated reason for these changes was growth in recent years that surpassed allocated budgets, causing a need for redesign.[15][16] In June of 2012, the Public Service Commission made a decision to require Focus on Energy to launch new renewable energy programs focusing on biomass and biogas projects (funded at $7.5 million) and shifting away from solar and wind energy projects ($2.5 million).[4][17][18]

How have recent budget adjustments impacted Focus on Energy?

In December 2010, the Joint Finance Committee approved increasing contributions to Focus on Energy; increases were set to start at $120 million in 2011 and reach $256 million by 2014. This was in reaction to growth and success in the program as well as studies indicating potential for increased energy efficiency in the state. In spring 2011, however, that decision was reversed as part of Governor Walker’s budget, and funding limits were set back to the previous level of about $100 million per year.[13][19]

What is a Public Benefit Fund (PBF)?

A Public Benefit Fund is a way to fund energy efficiency programs based on total energy spending. For example, in Wisconsin the amount of funding for the Focus on Energy program is set at 1.2% of the revenue taken in by investor-owned energy utilities. Wisconsin is currently the only Midwestern state that has a PBF.[28]   

What is an Energy Efficient Portfolio Standard (EEPS)? 

An Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, sometimes called an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS), is a requirement to meet specific energy savings targets. This is different from an PBF in that the level of funding for efficiency programs changes to meet the savings target, as opposed to the other way around. All Midwestern states other than Wisconsin that have energy efficiency goals use an EEPS to meet those goals.[28]   

What participating organizations make up the Focus on Energy program?

Public Service Commission of Wisconsin: This commission has oversight of the statewide programs.

Statewide Energy Efficiency and Renewable Administration (SEERA): The utility committee that funds statewide energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.

CB&I: Program administrator responsible for overall contract management and coordination of activities.

Wipfli LLP: Fiscal agent; receives, distributes and accounts for statewide funds under Act 141.

The Cadmus Group: Leads a team of experts in evaluation of programs.

Quick Facts
  • An evaluation of the 2011-2014 quadrennial period estimated the Focus on Energy Program had a return of $6.49 in benefits for every dollar spent.[26]
  • Between 2011 and 2014, Focus on Energy over achieved their savings goals by factors of 121%, 120%, and 111% for electric energy savings, electric demand savings, and gas savings, respectively. [27]
  • Focus on Energy provided $58 million in incentives to participants in 2014, resulting in over $1.7 billion in total net benefits to the state, including 6,205 job-years of employment over the lifetime of the installed measures.[26][27]
  • In 2014, Focus on Energy helped businesses and residents install measures that reduced their electricity use by 8,187,283,631 KWh, and their reduce their natural gas use by 357,805,563 therms.[27]
  • Focus on Energy had over 1 million participants in 2012 and has served over 2.8 million families and businesses since the program began in 2001.[2][20]
  • Between 2001 and 2011, Focus on Energy helped Wisconsinites install energy-efficiency and renewable energy measures that have reduced electrical power demand in the state by over 550 megawatts (MW), and that will save more than 35,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) over their useful lives.[3][8]
  • In 2011, Focus on Energy helped businesses and residents reduce their demand for electricity by 94,219 kW. This reduction will help save over 649 million kWh of energy each year, which is the equivalent of supplying energy to over 78,000 Wisconsin residents. Focus on Energy also helped residents and businesses save more than 26 million therms of natural gas that year.[3][21]
  • Energy efficiency and renewable energy programs implemented by Focus on Energy customers displace millions of pounds of pollutant emissions each year.[2] In 2010, this total annual displacement from installed measures included:
    • 8.7 million pounds of nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions
    • 10.7 million pounds of sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions
    • 6.6 billion pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions
    • 41.55 pounds of mercury emissions
Wisconsin Data, Trends, and Legislation

While continued economic development in the state results in increased demand for energy, increased energy prices strain Wisconsin businesses and residents. Luckily the state of Wisconsin not only has a unique capacity for extracting energy from renewable sources, but it also has a great deal of potential for increasing energy efficiency. Focus on Energy programs provide a valuable service to the state, but Wisconsin is falling behind other states in energy efficiency and recent changes in legislation make it even harder for the state to improve its standing and accomplish its set goals.

  • Wisconsin consumes the 22nd most total energy in the United States with 1,800 trillion Btu of energy consumption.[22]
  • Per capita, Wisconsin ranks 26th highest in the amount of energy used (316 million Btu consumption per capita).
  • Wisconsin consumes 2.4% of the U.S. coal with 24,453 thousand short tons consumed in 2011.[23]
  • Wisconsin is ranked 19th for most carbon dioxide emissions in the United States with emissions of 47,238,443 metric tons as of  2010.[24]

Energy Efficiency as a Resource – Comparing Wisconsin to Other States

Twenty-three states that have enacted long-term binding energy savings targets (known as “Energy Efficiency Resource Standards”, or EERS).[24] In November 2010, Wisconsin established energy efficiency and natural gas savings goals for Focus on Energy requiring investments of around 2.5% of utility revenues, however, the state legislature later enacted a law prohibiting Focus on Energy from spending more than 1.2% on energy efficiency, regardless of whether this goal was being met.

Of the 23 states, 11 have surpassed their EERS goals and another eight are well on their way to doing so.  Of our closest neighbors, Michigan and Illinois have surpassed their energy efficiency goals and Minnesota is a fraction of a percent from achieving that feat.[12][23]   

  • A 2009 study by the Energy Center of Wisconsin found that to achieve the 2% annual energy savings by 2015, Wisconsin would need to invest only about $700 million in energy efficiency to gain a return of more than $1.9 billion in net savings to Wisconsin consumers and generate 11,000 to 13,000 net new jobs.[25]
  • More than 75% of Wisconsin voters polled in February 2010 support requiring electric utilities to work with businesses and residents to increase their energy savings by 2% per year.[25]

Current Law

In 1999, Wisconsin Act 9 established a public benefit fund devoted to increasing energy efficiency in the state, promoting renewable energy and providing energy assistance to low-income households in the state. The two programs that grew out of this public benefit fund are Focus on Energy and the Home Energy Plus Program. This act also included a requirement that utilities and retail electric cooperative sell minimum amounts of renewable electricity.

In 2005, Wisconsin Act 141 modified and built on the programs established in Act 9. Wisconsin Act 141 (establishing S.B. 459) restructured Focus on Energy to prevent the diversion of funds by the Governor and legislature (e.g. to cover other state programs). It did this by keeping the money within the utilities (through the SEERA committee), carried out through private contracts, and overseen by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. It also created a process by which the PSC must review and evaluate the program every four years (at a minimum) and based on that review and efficiency potential studies, could recommend increases in the program’s funding. This act also established new, more ambitious standards and initiatives for increasing the state’s use of renewable energy sources. Most of these modifications went into effect in 2007.

In 2010, the Public Service Commission authorized a major increase for Focus on Energy by switching from a Public Benefit Fund, where funding levels are based on the amount of money spent on energy, to an Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, where funding levels are based on an energy savings target. The legislature rescinded that decision in early 2011, which resulted in reduction of the Public Benefit Fund budget as well as dismissing the Public Service Commission’s authority to change funding requirements. Clean Wisconsin is currently working with legislators and our business allies to restore funding to Focus on Energy.[28]   

Wisconsin Statute 196.374 defines and outlines all the details of Wisconsin’s energy efficiency and renewable resource programs, which are manifested in the form of Focus on Energy. This statute defines what technologies count as renewable resources, outlines what sort of programs are to be administered by the utilities and statewide, designates funding sources, describes required oversight and other technical details of the functioning of the program, and much more. Subsection (3)(b)(2) of this statute is especially significant in that it establishes the requirement that each energy utility in the state spend 1.2 percent of its annual operating revenues to fund these programs.

Cited Resources
  1. The Cadmus Group, Inc. “Focus on Energy Calendar Year 2012 Economic Impacts Report.” Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (November, 2013).
  2. Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (2011). Focus on Energy Annual Report 2010.
  3. The Cadmus Group, Inc (2013). “Focus on Energy Calendar Year 2012 Evaluation Report.”
  4. Wisconsin Focus on Energy (n.d.). “Residential Overview.” Web. Retrieved 2012 from: http://www.focusonenergy.com/Residential/
  5. Wisconsin Focus on Energy (n.d.). “Business Programs Overview.” Web. Retrieved 2012 from: http://www.focusonenergy.com/Business/
  6. Wisconsin Focus on Energy (n.d.). “Renewable energy.” Web. Retrieved 2012 from: http://www.focusonenergy.com/Renewable/
  7. Wisconsin Focus on Energy (n.d.). “Research Overview.” Web. Retrieved 2012 from: http://www.focusonenergy.com/Research/
  8. The Cadmus Group, Inc (2012). “Focus on Energy Calendar Year 2011 Evaluation Report.”
  9. Clean Wisconsin (May, 2011). “Memo to Wisconsin State Legislators on Opposition to motions to reduce funding for Focus on Energy.”
  10. State of Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau (December, 2011). “An Evaluation, Focus on Energy, Public Service Commission.” Prepared for the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. Report 11-13.
  11. American Council On Renewable Energy (September, 2012). “Renewable Energy in Wisconsin.”
  12. North Carolina State University (2012). “Wisconsin Focus on Energy Program.” Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency. Web. Retrieved 2012 from http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=WI15R.
  13. American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (October, 2012). “Wisconsin Utility Policies.” ACEEE State Energy Efficiency Policy Database. Web. Retrieved 2012 from http://aceee.org/energy-efficiency-sector/state-policy/wisconsin/220/all/191
  14. J. Newman (June 26, 2011). “Major Changes for Focus on Energy Program.” Wisconsin State Journal.
  15. T. Finkelmeyer (December 7, 2011). “Audit shows benefit of Focus on Energy program.” The Cap Times.
  16. T. Content (July 9, 2012). “Focus on Energy restarts funding for renewable energy.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  17. Focus on Energy (July 6, 2012). “Focus on Energy Launches New Programs for Wisconsin Residents and Businesses.”
  18. Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (April 13, 2012). “PSC Approves Responsible Renewables Plan.”
  19. Wisconsin Focus on Energy (June 17, 2011). “Temporary Suspension of Renewable Energy Projects for Businesses, Effective July 1st 2011.”
  20. Wisconsin Focus on Energy (n.d.). “Success Stories.” Web. Retrieved 2012 from: http://www.focusonenergy.com/About-Us/Success/
  21. U.S. Department of Energy (November 2012). “Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in My State: Wisconsin Residential Energy Consumption.” Web. Retrieved 2012 from http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/states/residential.cfm/state=WI
  22. U.S. Energy and Information Administration. “Table F28: Total Energy Consumption, Price, and Expenditure Estimates, 2010.” State Energy Data System. Web. Retrieved 2012 from http://www.eia.gov/beta/state/seds/data.cfm?incfile=sep_fuel/html/fuel_te.html
  23. U.S. Energy and Information Administration. “Wisconsin, Profile Data.” State Energy Data System. Web. Retrieved 2012 from http://www.eia.gov/beta/state/data.cfm?sid=WI
  24. American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (2012). “State Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS).”
  25. Energy Center of Wisconsin (2010). “Toward a More Energy Efficient Wisconsin.”
  26. The Cadmus Group, Inc (2015, December). “Focus on Energy Economic Impacts 2011-2014.”Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. Retrieved from https://focusonenergy.com/sites/default/files/WI%20FOE%202011%20to%202014%20Econ%20Impact%20Report_FINAL.pdf.
  27. The Cadmus Group, Inc (2015, 27 May). “Focus on Energy Calendar Year 2014 Evaluation Report.” Volume 1. Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. Retrieved from https://focusonenergy.com/sites/default/files/Evaluation%20Report%202014%20-%20Volume%20I.pdf.
  28. “Energy Efficiency Policies and Practices in Wisconsin.” (2015). Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance. Retrieved from http://www.mwalliance.org/node/1907

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