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May/June 2021 Issue

Also in this issue: COVID Local Fiscal Recovery Funds May Impact Levy Limits     |     Legal Nonconforming Use Survives if Use Continues in Any Way, Even if Owner Promised to End the Use     |     Boardman Clark Welcomes Storm Larson

Public Service Commission Launches Road Map to Zero Carbon Investigation

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (Commission) has launched a new docket (PSC Docket 5-EI-158) to investigate how the State of Wisconsin transitions to zero-carbon electricity.  The investigation intends to evaluate a range of energy-related topics, including recent plans announced by the State’s five largest utilities to reduce carbon emissions 100 percent by 2050; recently issued recommendations from the Wisconsin Energy Distribution and Technology Initiative (WEDTI) on how to accelerate clean energy efforts to benefit consumers; recommendations from the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change (Municipal Law Newsletter, January 2021); and the Governor’s own Clean Energy Plan, which directs utilities and state agencies to work toward achieving 100 percent carbon-free electricity consumption by 2050. 

The exact scope of the investigation has yet to be determined, as the Commission seeks input from public utilities, customer groups, environmental groups and others on how best to prioritize the issues. 

Potential areas of focus include the continuing transition of utility scale generation resources to renewable energy; the increased deployment of customer-owned energy resources such as roof-top solar; technological innovations in distribution system planning, battery storage and microgrids; new customer-focused programming and tariffs to promote energy efficiency, load management, and the use of electric vehicles, among other things; and advancements of the wholesale power markets and transmission planning.

Some of these areas of focus contemplate a potentially enhanced role for municipalities and local governments.  In Joint Comments filed by a coalition of Wisconsin municipalities and local governments comprised of Dane County and the Cities of Green Bay, La Crosse, Racine, Eau Claire, Milwaukee and Madison (Local Government Coalition), the Commission is encouraged to use the investigation to find ways to enable public utilities to partner with local governments interested in taking more control over their energy needs, for example by creating incentives to support energy efficiency in buildings, promoting customer-owned energy generation,  developing pilot projects around energy storage and microgrids, and accelerating the electrification of the heating and transportation sectors.

The Local Government Coalition also encourages the Commission to investigate the “utility as conductor” concept developed as part of the WEDTI recommendations.  This concept — also cited by WPPI Energy and Municipal Electric Utilities of Wisconsin in their comments to the Commission — recognizes the role utilities can play in coordinating new technologies at the distribution system level to enhance reliability, save costs and provide environmental benefits in ways that are fair for all customers.

Although it is as yet unclear how the Commission will proceed, the Roadmap to Zero Carbon investigation promises to generate a great deal of information from a variety of perspectives that may be worth monitoring by municipalities who are in the process of pursuing or developing their own clean energy initiatives.

This newsletter is published and distributed for informational pur- poses only. It does not offer legal advice with respect to particular situations, and does not purport to be a complete treatment of the legal issues surrounding any topic. Because your situation may differ from those described in this Newsletter, you should not rely solely on this information in making legal decisions.

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