Getting Serious About CO2 -Part II

State Efficiency Programs vs. Regional Transmission Expansion Planning

       Through Fall 2019 and early Winter 2020, a team of five, volunteer citizen public intervenors accomplished what no organizations, public utilities, government entities or law firms had previously achieved. 1 They uncovered and exposed costs and benefits of region-wide utility expansion “planning” designed to study the addition transmission lines, remotely located power plants towards the goal of reducing CO2 emissions over time.

        This article takes their findings and allows Wisconsin and Midwestern electric customers to: (1) see how these proposed costs would affect their personal electric bills and associated CO2 emission reductions and (2) compare these results with much smaller rebate additions to their state energy efficiency programs and, (3) Combine this with “going solar” at their home or business. Before getting to the personal calculator, lets examine some shocking findings the intervenors learned about planning done by utility interests through the Midcontinent Independent System Operator or, MISO:

  • Most utilities in the Midwest don’t do energy planning. They rely, primarily, on annual, collective, Midwest Transmission Expansion Planning (MTEP) conducted for and by utility interests. 2 The planning assumes that utilities will spend many billions on new power plants and these assumptions are never submitted for professional review by impartial parties.
  • MISO’s planning does not include input from affected electric ratepayers who would pay down the high interest debt on the utility investments over coming decades.  Before the State of Iowa began its review of MISO’s Cardinal Hickory Creek transmission proposal that intervenors participated in, Iowa State Representative Charles Isenhart asked MISO planners to meet and talk with Iowa ratepayers and elected officials who wanted to learn about costs, CO2 emission impacts and other information. MISO rejected the request of the elected official whose district was directly impacted.
  • The opening paragraphs of MISO’s planning publicity asserts that MISO MTEP planning is designed to create net benefits. For more than 10 years, state utility commissions in the Midwest have falsely assumed that “net” means ratepayers would receive savings from MISO’s planning.  Instead,”net” refers only to very small, potential wholesale power savings over 40 years under favorable economic conditions eventually offsetting the building costs of the transmission line. The potential pennies per month in wholesale cost savings does not account for about $16.60 per month ratepayers would assume over 15 years for the new power plant-related costs. 3
  • Klopp also found that, savings from “cheap wind energy” would not exceed 35 cents per month savings for the average Midwest household. This isolated calculation not only ignores the $16.60 per month to pay for the the new power plants but that an equal amount of that new generation is added fossil fuel generation.4 
  • It was confirmed in the proceeding that wind generation provided only 8% of the power in Midwest outlets in 2018 and that fossil fuel generation is still providing about 70%.5
  • In return for ratepayers committing $200-272 billion towards new power plants, MISO utilities forecast that regional CO2 emissions would drop a mere 3.8%-5.8% in the year 2031 for the 42 million customers these utilities served.6.
  • Using discovery and cross-examination to uncover other assumptions in the planning, intervenors found that utilities forecasted investment in energy efficiency and distributed solar to not grow from current levels through 2031. As a result, lowered demand for power from efficiency improvements in home and businesses is ignored along with developments of solar and battery storage for the next 15 years.7

Where Do Midwest States Currently Stand in Terms of CO2 Reduction Goals?

        The below graphic shows three conditions: CO2 reduction progress from 2005-2018 (brown line), post-2018 reduction based on continuing our existing measures (orange line) and the red line shows the additional measures required to reach a significant 50% reduction in power plant related CO2 emissions in the year 2031 relative to 2018. 2018 was used because its the last year of reliable data and 2031 matches the reference year of MISO’s planning which make comparison of benefits more accurate.

      Existing measures producing a decline in CO2 emissions of 2% per year is based on continuing the 2005-2018 trend in emissions from Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin. The red line, “Additional Measures” target of a 50% reduction from 2018 to 2031 gives states a respectable start towards 100% reduction by 2050. The 1.8% per year decline in annual electricity use required to hit this target is within the performance realm of the better state energy efficiency programs.

The energy reduction capabilities of energy efficiency programs in the US are annually tracked by the American Council for Energy Efficient Economies.8 Selected, 2018 state data has been assembled in the below table and averaged. Across the seven states, an averaged payment of $1.59 per month has been reducing annual energy at the rate 1.06% per year. Massachusetts’ Accelerated program is included to show that considerably higher reduction rates are possible.

By offering very attractive rebates for efficiency and distributed solar improvements, public instruction of conservation skills and by financially rewarding MA utilities to meet reduction targets, 2005-2018 CO2 emissions in Massachusetts have decreased at a rate almost three times faster than in Midwest states. Massachusetts is now embracing battery storage and modern load management in order to, “not only change how we supply energy, but how we use energy as we shift our focus to strategic electrification and reducing peak demand in order to create a cleaner electric grid” 9 Judson said. With roughly the same number of electric customers as WI, MA will invest $2.8 billion over three years towards end user improvements to obtain $8.6 billion in savings and other benefits. New power plants only add cost with no net return.

Compare Regional Utility Spending vs. Energy Efficiency/Solar Investments USING YOUR ELECTRIC BILL

    Download the spreadsheet to your computer with the below steps and to make personal adjustments to it.

  1. As shown below, click once on “File” to open the pull down window.
  2. Hold the cursor over the word “Download” until a window opens.
  3. Click on the string, “Microsoft Excel (.xlsx)”
  4. A download window will open allowing you store the file where you want it on your computer.
  5. Double-click on the downloaded file to open it.

To customize the Calculator to match your electric bill, access a recent electric bill. Find the number reflecting your total monthly usage in kilowatt-hour or “kWh” units. If you cannot find it, the average monthly residential usage for Wisconsin is about 700 kWh. Find the rate per kWh you pay and write this number down, If you cannot find the rate, the Wisconsin average is .14 dollars or 14 cents. Look for the “facility fee” or “electric service charge,” amount on your bill. If you cannot find it, use $8.00. Follow the below steps to enter these numbers into the calculator sheet that looks like this:

  1. In the Step 1 section, double-click in the white box. Enter “KWh” monthly number of monthly use,
  2. In the Step 2 section, hover the cursor to the right of the number in the larger white box until an arrow appears, Click on the arrow and select the amount you will spend on Focus on Energy from the choices provided, Select $4.26 for an accelerated program, $2.71 for a program that is double the current size, $1.15 to match the current program funding and $6.60 for the maximum accelerated amount.
  3. Also in the Step 2 section, hover the cursor to the right of the number in the white, “Your kWh Rate” box. Click on the arrow and select a dollar value close to your rate. Double-click in the white box in the lower right and enter the amount of your electric service charge.
  4. The financial and CO2 emission impacts of adding a right-sized SOLAR array to your house, farm or business are automatically estimated in the bottom section, ADDED HOME SOLAR FOR NET ZERO CARBON. If you have another cost per watt you want to use for the solar installation, enter in the box to the right of “Change Price as Needed.”

     Comparing the Impacts

The middle section is a comparison of your electric bill total, today, to two spending paths: With Energy Efficiency and with Proposed $200-$272 Billion for Regional Utility Expansions. The comparisons feature future, estimated Electric Bills in the year 2031, percentage cost increases (excluding solar) relative to doing nothing. At the far right is the total CO2 reduction the measures would make in year 2031. Differing CO2 reduction from just the two paths, are displayed under “Additional CO2 Reduction.”

The bottom section shows the benefits that would come from “going solar” at home or business in combination with the Focus on Energy or other energy efficiency program spending selected in step 2. The solar installation is automatically sized to match or offset the amount of power needed to operate the house or business to produce zero net carbon emissions. The combined efficiency and solar resources realize a virtual” or mathematically -computed, 100% reduction in CO2 emission impacts. Increasingly, adding battery storage to home and business systems will enable actual, 0% carbon impacts. The section also computes the very substantial energy saving or losses and the amount of one’s monthly electric bill in 2031.

Below is a comparison of the economic and environmental impacts of the different spending paths based on 2018 average, residential use of 700 kWh per month at Wisconsin’s average rate and service fee.

The Energy Efficiency path assumes $4.20 per month going to a modern “accelerated” state efficiency program producing a net -1.8% per year decline in electricity use. About half of this amount goes to one’s utility to reward its measures to reduce demand and hit CO2 emission reduction targets. In striking contrast, the Utility Expansion path adds $11.62 per month to pay for $240 billion in ew power plants to meet, avoidable, rising demand that MISO, regional utility planning depends on.

Set Your Own Standard and Inform Your Wisconsin Lawmakers About Your Progress

        In his first proposed budget as Wisconsin Governor, Tony Evers proposed lifting the 1.2% spending cap on Wisconsin’s under-founded Focus on Energy Program. Lawmakers let this improvement slip-by– not because of opposition to his suggestion but for lack of ratepayers speaking up for it. Over the last several months, calls to increase Focus on Energy rebates have accelerated. The measure is a high priority in the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change discussions and a top recommendation of the Wisconsin Academy following their Climate Fast Forward Conference discussions. In its current Strategic Energy Assessment, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission observes that Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program is the #1 program in the US based on energy use reduction per dollar invested. The PSC states it has found a way to (very modestly) increase funding to the Focus on Energy program to try an accelerate it under the existing paltry amount of $1.15 per month.

       Because we have focused ratepayer dollars on expanding our utilities’ assets, household affordability of electric service in Wisconsin is probably the highest in the Midwest when the high service fees are factored in. The high cost is making Wisconsin businesses increasingly uncompetitive with similar businesses in other states. As soon as Lawmakers recognize the net greater affordability over time, the profound emission reductions and the local job growth that would stem from a modern, accelerated efficiency program, they will vote to approve one. It is mostly a question of how soon will they act, not whether they will act.

       Large changes usually come from the bottom-up. Wisconsin utilities are resistant to a modern energy efficiency program because current state laws encourage them to promote growth in use which, today, means more waste and emissions. As Massachusetts has demonstrated, there is plenty of money for utility profits on the better path. It is decrease in demand that makes coal power plants cost ineffective and shut down– not more, “lower cost” power. In truth, all wholesale power is “cheap,” from 2.6 to 4 cents per kWh, or only 25% of the electric bill. As SOUL’s recent comments to the PSC demonstrate, the utilities’ default “planning” to add $3.2 billion in new power plants, even with many renewable ones, is extraordinarily cost and environmentally in-effective.10 Mirroring regional utilities’ lethargic environmental planning, Wisconsin utilities project only a 2.5% reduction in CO2 emissions from 2020-2030.

Wisconsin, cannot wait to change– to wait for the rising political will of rightfully angered communities responding to backwards high voltage expansion transmission lines and locally debilitating five square mile solar power plants in order to achieve fair and respectful energy laws. Affordability and expedience aims to waste less and need less. A better world is passionate about our better selves with voices far louder and more effective than spurts of frustration, anger and silent cynicism.


  1. Citizens, Mike Deutmeyer, Linda Grice, Chris Klopp, Dena Kurt and Iowa State Representative,Charles Isenhart.
  2. Midcontinent Independent System Operator, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midcontinent_Independent_System_Operator  The annual MTEP plan is voted upon by for-profit utility interests with state regulators and consumer group stakeholders abstaining from formal approval.
  3. This finding is explained, step by step, in Intervenor Chris Klopp’s Post Hearing Brief for the Iowa Utility Board proceeding starting on page 12, https://efs.iowa.gov/cs/groups/external/documents/docket/mday/mde3/~edisp/2017136.pdf#page=12
  4. Starting at p.25, Intervenor Klopp Post Hearing Brief Before the Iowa Utility Board https://efs.iowa.gov/cs/groups/external/documents/docket/mday/mde3/~edisp/2017136.pdf#page=25
  5. See “Energy Output Share (%)” in Table A1: Capacity, Energy Output and Price-Setting by Fuel Type, 2017–2018, 2018 STATE OF THE MARKET REPORT FOR THE MISO ELECTRICITY MARKEThttps://www.potomaceconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/2018-SOM-Appendix_Final.pdf#page=12
  6. 13.4 to 20.5 million fewer tons of the estimated 350 million total called upon by 42 million customers these utilities serve. Figure 7-5: Forecasted Carbon Reduction from the MVP Portfolio by Year, https://efs.iowa.gov/cs/groups/external/documents/docket/mday/mda0/~edisp/1880065.pdf#page=40 (MISO Ellis Direct Exhibit 3)
  7. MISO MTEP17 FUTURES ASSUMPTIONS DOCUMENT, Table 11: DSM Program Impacts (Red Not Selected), .pdf p.179 https://efs.iowa.gov/cs/groups/external/documents/docket/mday/mda3/~edisp/1915912.pdf#page=179
  8. American Council American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, The 2019 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, https://www.aceee.org/sites/default/files/publications/researchreports/u1908.pdf Other studies and resources at:  https://www.aceee.org/
  9. https://www.masslive.com/news/2019/02/massachusetts_plans_to_further.html
  10. SOUL Comments 05-ES-110 https://apps.psc.wi.gov/pages/viewdoc.htm?docid=395039 and demonstration spreadsheets https://apps.psc.wi.gov/pages/viewdoc.htm?docid=395040

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