Leveraging Success Story: Wisconsin

by Rebecca Stewart

As the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) reaches the end of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) period on March 31, 2012, States and local agencies are looking to the future. To sustain the program and ensure the uninterrupted provision of quality services to low-income people, the network is exploring innovative partnerships and initiatives. WAP creates good, green jobs and helps reduce our reliance on foreign oil. Additionally, no one wants to scale down the ramped up programs and lay off trained workers, especially as the effects of the recession persist. The uncertainty of future Department of Energy (DOE) funding exacerbates these concerns. States around the nation have taken the lead in connecting with energy efficiency and low-income stakeholders to find alternate means to fund the WAP in a post-Recovery Act age. Below is the fourth of a series of four State profiles, demonstrating how they leverage significant funds to bridge the gap between low-income energy efficiency retrofit needs and available resources, as well as to continue the pace and breadth of the Recovery Act WAP going forward.

Due to the harsh Wisconsin winters, the need for WAP in Wisconsin is great and, unfortunately, not met by DOE funding. The state budgeted nearly $56 million in state funds to bridge this gap in PY2010. The effort began in the late 90’s with the state, utilities, Public Service Commission, and the Wisconsin Community Action Program (WISCAP), the association for local Community Action Agencies in the state, discussing the use of a public benefits fee to expand the program. In 1999, the legislature passed a bill to collect a low-income assistance fee for the energy assistance and weatherization programs. The funds are collected through ratepayers’ energy bills and split between Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (53%) and WAP (47%).

These funds are combined with other funding sources and used for regular WAP services. In PY2010, they will contribute to the weatherization of 5,174 units.

All regulated utilities are required to take part in this program. Co-ops and municipal utilities can decide if they want to participate or not. If not, they have to submit their own plans demonstrating a commitment to community to the state and then institute the agreed upon programs. The fee amount varies each year and the state determines the low-income need through an analysis which takes into account fuel costs, income levels, and other factors. In PY2010, the fee had a 3% or $3.15 per month cap on residential bills and 3% or $750 per month cap on commercial accounts from the participating utilities.

Currently, Wisconsin is still not meeting the needs of their low-income population and continues to partner with utilities to see what they can collect from both commercial and residential customers for these efforts. However, the large amounts currently collected will certainly assist in offsetting the lack of Recovery Act funds in the future.