By Keith Reopelle & Charlie Higley
In the spring of 2011, Governor Scott Walker and legislative leaders significantly cut funding to Focus on Energy, the statewide 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 costs of the program, and legislators should act quickly to restore lost funding in order to maximize the cost-saving potential of the program.
Focus on Energy was created in 2001 to help homeowners and businesses reduce energy costs through energy efficiency. Since its inception, over 2 million Wisconsin residents and businesses have participated in the program.
The statewide program helps keep energy bills affordable for everyone in Wisconsin 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 $12.5 billion every year on imported electricity and dirty, out-of-state fossil fuels. Much of that money 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 amount and keep money circulating within our own economy.
The recent 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 the costs of the program.
For every $1 invested in the program, Wisconsin residents and businesses save over $2 on their energy bills, according to the audit. This helped save over $264 million on energy bills in 2010 alone. Since it’s inception, Focus on Energy has helped residents and businesses save over $2 billion.
That’s a lot of money and reason enough to increase investment in the program, but it’s not the only benefit from the program. By reducing the need for coal-fired power plants, Focus on Energy helps improve air quality and protect the health of our families. In fact, reduced power plant emissions resulted in over $17 million in environmental benefits in 2010, according to the audit.
Finally, the audit acknowledges that Focus on Energy helps spur job creation 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 legislative audit in hand, they now have the opportunity to remedy this mistake.
This week, legislators began circulating a bill that would restore the Public Service Commission’s ability to reinstate funding to Focus on Energy. 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 creates more jobs. That’s something that deserves support from legislators on both sides of the aisle.
Keith Reopelle is the senior policy director at Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. Charlie Higley is the executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin.