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Legislative Background
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Public Service Commission (PSC) ordered the large electric and gas utilities to conduct a variety of programs to promote energy efficiency and the use of energy derived from renewable resources under its general rate-making authority and a statutory requirement that utilities spend at least 0.5% of their annual operating revenues on such programs

Public Benefits Programs
The legislature, through 1999 Wisconsin Act 9, replaced these programs with similar programs known generically as “public benefits” programs. The act provides that the Department of Administration (DOA) administer statewide energy efficiency and renewable resource programs and contract with third parties to implement the programs. Major components of the program were marketed under the name Focus on Energy and came to be known by that name.

Act 9 required retail electric utilities to fund the programs through 2 mechanisms: a public benefits fee that the utilities collected directly from their customers; and mandatory utility contributions, which the utilities recovered from customers in rates. The amount of the contributions was based on levels of utility expenditures for the programs in effect prior to the enactment of Act 9; the fee was in addition to that.

2005 Act 141
2005 Act 141 substantially revised the structure of the statewide energy efficiency and renewable resources programs administered by the DOA and utilities. The revised structure is broadly based on the structure of the programs that existed prior to Act 9. In brief, the concept was to have utilities pay directly for public benefits programs, so that the money is never placed in a state fund from which transfers could be made. This act provides that the PSC has oversight of the statewide and utility-administered programs, and directs the PSC to coordinate those programs with other programs.

Pursuant to Wisconsin Statutes 16.957(5) and 196.374(7), each municipal electric utility must collect an average of $16 per meter per year. Fifty percent of the fees charged by the municipal utility shall be used for low-income assistance programs and the remainder will be used for energy efficiency programs. Low-income programs may include assistance to low-income households for weatherization and other energy conservation services, payment of energy bills or early identification or prevention of energy crisis. Energy efficiency programs may include those programs designed to reduce the demand for natural gas or electricity or improving the efficiency of its use during any period.

A to Z Guidebook
To assist in the interpretation of the various regulations, an A to Z Guidebook: Commitment to Community Programs for Municipal Electric Utilities and Rural Electric Cooperatives has been prepared for members of MEUW (Municipal Electric Utilities of Wisconsin) and WECA (Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association). The overriding purpose of this guidebook is to provide a one-stop resource regarding Commitment to Community (CTC) programs.

Additional Information
In 2008, when POWERful Choices was approved the common practice used was to duplicate the Commitment to Community program requirements as outlined above.