By Keith Reopelle and Charlie Higley
In early May, the Joint Finance Committee voted to significantly cut funding for Focus on Energy, the successful statewide energy efficiency and renewable energy program. This cut promises to result in higher energy bills, fewer jobs and more pollution in Wisconsin; with the budget having just reached his desk, Gov. Walker should veto this cut.
Focus on Energy was created in 2001 to help homeowners and businesses reduce energy costs through energy efficiency and renewable energy. Over 2 million Wisconsin residents and businesses have participated in the program since its inception, saving a total of $2 billion on their energy bills. For every $1 invested in the program, Wisconsin homeowners and businesses have saved $2.50.
The program does much more than reduce bills for participating businesses and homeowners, though. Focus on Energy 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 currently spends $17 billion on dirty, out-of-state fossil fuels every year. Much of that money is spent on coal and natural gas to generate electricity. Investing in energy efficiency is the No. 1 way we can reduce that amount and keep money flowing within our own economy.
Beyond helping to keep energy bills affordable, Focus on Energy boosts Wisconsin’s economy by creating jobs. Since its inception in 2001, the program has created thousands of jobs for electricians, plumbers, heating and cooling contractors, and similar professions. The funding cut from the program by the Joint Finance Committee was expected to create an additional 7,000 to 9,000 jobs.
Recognizing the immense economic value of Focus on Energy, nearly 100 businesses sent a letter to the Joint Finance Committee in May urging legislators not to cut funding for the program.
“[Focus on Energy] has added thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in additional business, delivered millions in energy savings in a cost-effective manner, and helped make Wisconsin more energy independent,” reads the letter. “With a proven track record of delivering cost-effective energy savings and driving local business, Focus on Energy should be allowed to grow.”
Unfortunately, the Committee voted along party lines to cut funding for the program, against the advice of Wisconsin business owners.
Gov. Walker recently demonstrated he understands the many benefits of energy efficiency when he committed $100 million to make state buildings more energy efficient. Such an increase will help the state government save money by reducing energy bills.
Gov. Walker should now make sure that Wisconsin homeowners and businesses have the same opportunity as state government to save money and create jobs by vetoing the Joint Finance Committee’s shortsighted cuts to Focus on Energy.
Keith Reopelle is the senior policy director at Clean Wisconsin. Charlie Higley is the executive director of the Citzen’s Utility Board.