MADISON — Republicans on the
Legislature's powerful budget committee approved a bill Wednesday
that would relax portions of Wisconsin's sulfur dioxide
regulations and rework utilities' obligations to pay into the
state's renewable energy program.
The bill would eliminate
requirements that major utilities submit annual plans for
complying with sulfur dioxide emission requirements to the
Department of Natural Resources and the Public Service Commission.
It also would eliminate a requirement that if the DNR believes
emissions will exceed 325,000 tons annually the agency must
recommend to lawmakers whether the state should adopt an
The measure also re-shapes how much
money utilities must pay into Focus on Energy, the state's
renewable energy program. Currently, investor-owned utilities must
pay 1.2 percent of their operating revenues into the program
annually. Retail energy companies that participate in the program
pay $8 per customer meter. Under the bill, utilities would pay 1.2
percent of their retail sales only, a change that would cost the
program $7 million annually.
The bill's author, Rep. Mike
Kuglitsch, a New Berlin Republican, said in written remarks to the
Assembly energy committee last week that the bill will help
utilities operate more efficiently.
Sulfur dioxide is a gas generated
by the combustion of fossil fuels and industrial processes and can
cause respiratory problems. The sulfur dioxide changes in the bill
generated little discussion among Joint Finance Committee members
during a hearing Wednesday, though. According to a memo from David
Siebert, director of the DNR's Bureau of Environmental Analysis
and Sustainability, federal regulations have largely superseded
Wisconsin's regulations and state utilities' emissions don't
approach those limits.
The Focus on Energy changes
generated more heat. Bill Skewes, executive director of the
Wisconsin Utility Association, told the committee the bill would
ensure the same amount of energy isn't assessed twice, once at the
wholesale level and again at the retail level, saving customers
money since utilities recoup their pay-ins through their rates.
Rep. Chris Taylor, a Madison
Democrat, said she couldn't understand why legislators would want
to cut a successful program that has helped keep customer rates
down by staving off construction of new power plants.
"It's not a good thing for
public health. It's not a good thing for environmental
health," Taylor said. "I don't know why we want to cut
The committee ultimately passed the
bill on a 12-3 vote, with all three Democrats on the panel voting
The vote clears the way for full
votes in the state Senate and Assembly.
Alliant Energy, Madison Gas and
Electric Company and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the
state's largest business group and a staunch Republican ally, all
have registered in support of the bill. Clean Wisconsin, an
environmental group, has registered against it.