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Energy policy in Wisconsin

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Energy policy in Wisconsin
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Quick facts
Energy department:
Wisconsin State Energy Office[1]
State population:
5.7 million
Per capita income:
Energy consumption
Total energy consumption:
1,789 trillion BTU[2][3]
Per capita energy consumption:
313 million BTU
Energy spending
Total state energy spending:
$24.36 million
Per capita energy spending:
Residential natural gas price:
$8.27 per thousand cubic foot
Residential electricity price:
13.92 cents per kWh
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Energy PolicyEnergy policy in the United StatesFracking in WisconsinEnergy and environmental news

Wisconsin has no fossil fuel reserves (oil, coal, natural gas), but is the nation's leader in conversion of manure into energy. Creating energy policy in the state depends on natural resources, or lack thereof, as well as circumstances like geography, electricity generation, consumer use, politics and influence from environmental groups and industry organizations. Decisions by policymakers in state and local government, utilities and regulatory agencies affect local citizens environmentally and economically. Providing reliable and affordable energy affects home heating bills, disposable income, job creation and the overall cost of doing business in the state.

How energy is produced and consumed also has an impact on the environment and pollution. Energy policy in Wisconsin, and many other states, focuses on decreasing emissions and dependence on fossil fuels by increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy. As the infrastructure for producing and delivering renewable energy sources is not as advanced as it is for energy generation from traditional sources, these policies often require subsidies to make the produced energy affordable, and their effects are difficult to measure.

Energy policy involves trade-offs between providing an affordable, consistent energy supply on the one hand, and limiting pollution and protecting the environment, on the other. How states attempt to balance these two differs between states, and often boils down to costs to consumers versus costs to the environment. This article provides general energy information about the state as the context within which energy policy is made, as well as information about major legislation and public and private groups that play a role in setting energy policy in the state.

See also: Energy policy in the United States for more information on energy policy.
See also: Fracking in Wisconsin

Energy overview

State facts

Below are quick facts about Wisconsin's energy climate.


  • is a net electricity importer.
  • does not have any fossil fuels.
  • has renewable energy in the form of biomass and biofuels, hydroelectric energy, wind and solar energy.
  • ranks ninth in the nation for ethanol production, for which Wisconsin is a net exporter.
  • leads the nation in converting manure into energy with anaerobic digesters.
  • has one nuclear plant, one small oil refinery and 10 ethanol plants.
  • mandates that 10 percent of all electricity come from renewables by 2015.[4]

In Wisconsin

  • households consume about 15 percent more energy than the U.S. average, but spend 5 percent less for energy than the U.S. average.
  • two thirds of the electricity consumed comes from coal.
  • natural gas is the main source of energy used in home heating.
  • renewable energy sources made up 8.4 percent of net energy generation in 2013.
  • industry is the largest energy-consuming sector in the state.[4]

Available energy resources

Wisconsin has no traditional energy resources such as oil, coal or natural gas. Because of the state’s access to Lake Superior, the Mississippi and the Saint Croix rivers it ships oil and coal. This lack of traditional energy resources means Wisconsin is a net energy importer, bringing in all the coal, natural gas and petroleum consumed in the state.[5]

Wisconsin has renewable energy resources that contributed 8.4 percent of the energy for electricity in the state in 2011 according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Wisconsin is the second largest dairy state, providing ample manure, which is being turned into fuel using anaerobic digesters. The state is also very fertile with a strong agricultural economy, and heavily wooded lands in the north, both of which provide fuel for biomass. In 2000, Wisconsin had no ethanol production, but is now one of 32 states offering incentives for producing ethanol.[6] The first large-scale ethanol facility began producing ethanol in 2001 and now there are ten such facilities. Wisconsin's annual ethanol production capacity has reached 470 million gallons, making it the ninth largest ethanol producing state in the nation. Ethanol made primarily from corn is one of the few energy sources that Wisconsin produces and sends out of state. Currently, one bushel of field corn will yield approximately 2.7 gallons of fuel ethanol. The State Energy Office is also exploring the production of biofuels from other cellulosic feedstocks, such as corn stover, grasses and wood waste.[7]

Consumption and prices

Energy consumption in Wisconsin
WI energy sector usage chart.png

     Transportation       Residential     Industrial       Commercial
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As shown on the pie chart to the right, in 2011 roughly one quarter of Wisconsin’s energy use was for transportation, and one quarter for manufacturing; the rest was used mostly in residential and commercial buildings--for heating, cooling, lighting and other functions. Agriculture accounts for a small fraction of total energy use in Wisconsin. Most of the energy used in the state is in the form of petroleum (used primarily for transportation), followed by natural gas and electricity.[9]

Petroleum is used primarily in the form of gasoline and diesel fuel in Wisconsin, and prices of both track very close to the national average.[10] According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's February 2014 report, the federal excise tax is 18.40 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.40 cents per gallon of diesel fuel. In addition to that, Wisconsin collects a total tax of 32.90 cents on every gallon of gasoline, diesel and gasahol fuel, which ranks it at the 14th highest in the United States.[11][12] Reformulated gasoline is required only in the southeastern portion of the state. However, E10, the 10 percent ethanol-gasoline blend, is available at most retail gas stations. More than 130 stations statewide sell E85, the 85 percent ethanol blend.[4]

Comparisons tables

See also: State Energy Rankings to compare all 50 states

The table below compares Wisconsin’s consumption and spending for energy, as well as prices for natural gas and electricity, and carbon emissions to those of Minnesota, which has similar population, resources and consumption needs because of climate and geography. Also given are the U.S. averages and the state rankings. All rankings are from highest to lowest, so, for example:

  • Wisconsin’s rank of 20th in carbon emissions means that carbon emissions are higher in Wisconsin than in Minnesota, which has a ranking of 24th.
  • Likewise, per capita income in Minnesota is higher than the national average, and much higher than in Wisconsin, which at 27th ranks 15 places behind Minnesota’s ranking of 12th in per capita income.
  • These two states are very similarly placed in the mid-rank on population, overall energy consumption and spending.
  • Per capita energy consumption in Wisconsin (at 24th) is somewhat lower than in Minnesota (at 18th).
  • Per per capita spending in Wisconsin is significantly lower because it ranks 32nd to Minnesota’s ranking of 23rd.
  • Both states have very low natural gas prices, with Wisconsin's price slightly lower than Minnesota's. (A ranking of 49th means that Wisconsin has the second lowest price in the nation.)
  • Electricity prices are significantly higher in Wisconsin which was ranked at 14th highest price. (This means that only 13 states have higher electricity prices.)
Consumption and Expenditures Comparisons Summary
Type WisconsinMinnesotaU.S. Figures
FigureU.S. Rank*FigureU.S. Rank*Totals
Population5.7 million205.4 million21313.9 million
Per Capita Income Average$40,53727$46,22712$42,693
Total Consumption1,789211,8672097,301 quadrillion BTU
Per Capita Energy Consumption3132434918312 million BTU
Total Spending on Energy$24,35620$24,31621$1,394,088 million
Per Capita Spending on Energy$4,26632$4,54723$4,474
Price of Residential Natural Gas, dollar per thousand cubic feet$8.2749$8.6444$12.48
Price of Electricity, cents per kWh13.921412.202012.31
Total Carbon Dioxide Emissions, million metric tons (2010)99.22093.4245,631
*Rank is from highest to lowest.

The relatively low per capita spending on energy in Wisconsin can be attributed to the fact that over two-thirds of homes use natural gas for their main source of heating. Therefore, while Wisconsin homes each consume 103 million BTU of site energy, which is 15 percent more than the U.S. average, they pay 5 percent less for energy than the U.S. average.[4]

Just over 65 percent of homes in Wisconsin use natural gas to heat their homes. Electricity is the second most common home heating sources, at 14.7 percent. Liquid petroleum gases heat almost 11 percent of homes in the state, fuel oil heats 3.3 percent and other sources heat the remaining 5.9 percent.

Consumption of energy for heating homes in Wisconsin
Source Wisconsin 2011 U.S. average 2011
Natural gas 65.3% 49.5%
Fuel oil 3.3% 6.5%
Electricity 14.7% 35.4%
Liquid Petroleum Gases (LPG) 10.8% 5%
Other/none 5.9% 3.6%

Production and transmission

Wisconsin produced 318.1 BTU of energy in 2011. Of that 38 percent came from nuclear and just over 22 percent came from biofuels. The remaining 39 percent came from what the U.S. Energy Information Administration classifies as 'other,' which is "assumed to equal consumption of all renewable energies except biofuels."[13]

Energy production by type in Wisconsin, 2011
Type Amount Generated
(trillion BTU)
% of State % of USA
Nuclear 121 38.04% 1.46%
Biofuels 71.1 22.35% 3.7%
Other 126 39.61% 1.77%

Electricity produced and consumed in Wisconsin is primarily from coal, which produces three fifths of the total energy consumed in the state. Most of the coal used in electricity generation is shipped into Wisconsin by rail from Wyoming.

Nuclear power provides almost one fifth of electricity and is produced at the Point Beach nuclear plant, which was built in 1970, and is licensed to operate until 2025. In May 2013, the only other nuclear power plant in the state closed after 40 years of operation due to economic circumstances.[14]

Natural gas is used to produce around 13 percent of electricity, with the remainder coming from renewable energy sources. Natural gas is supplied mainly by several interstate pipelines and comes mainly from Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Kansas and Canada. The interstate pipeline companies that move the gas from the production area to local utilities and through to other states include: ANR Pipeline Co., Great Lakes Gas Transmission Ltd., Northern Natural Gas Co., Viking Gas Transmission Co. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulates the rates they charge, the services they provide to the local distribution centers (LDCs) and the construction of new pipelines.[15]

In Wisconsin there are currently 81 municipal electric utilities and 15 private electric utilities. For natural gas there is one municipal utility and 10 private natural gas utilities. Primarily three utilities own, built and operate the electric transmission system in Wisconsin: American Transmission Company (ATC), Xcel Energy Dairyland Power Corporation (DPC), ATC is responsible for the transmission facilities in eastern Wisconsin. Xcel Energy and DPC are responsible for the facilities in western Wisconsin.[16]

Where electricity comes from in Wisconsin[17]
Type Amount generated (MWh) % of state** % of U.S.**
Petroleum-fired 2,000 0.04% 0.01%
Natural gas-fired 634,000 12.98% 0.06%
Coal-fired 2,974,000 60.88% 0.17%
Nuclear 895,000 18.32% 0.11%
Hydroelectric 88,000 1.8% 0.03%
Other renewables 263,000 5.38% 0.13%
Total net electricity generation 4,885,000 100% 0.12%
**Note: Because the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) does not include all of a state's energy production in these figures, the EIA totals do not equal 100 percent. Instead, we have generated our own percentages.

Energy policy

Policy Issues

The price of electricity in Wisconsin has been rising because almost two-thirds of electricity in Wisconsin comes from coal, which is heavily regulated due to its carbon emissions. "Wisconsin electricity rates have climbed above the national average and now stand second-highest in the Midwest, as utility customers pay billions to expand coal-fired power plants and install pollution controls on them."[18] Several new studies claim that in coal-dependent states like Wisconsin higher electricity prices are the result of the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that mandate a minimum amount of renewable energy (which is more expensive than coal or natural gas) be used for generating electricity.[19][20][21]

See also: Fracking in Wisconsin

Energy policy is made, executed and influenced by many organizations, both public and private, and is codified in the laws and regulations of the state. Each state’s energy policy involves trade-offs in which energy production and prices are weighed against environmental concerns and efficiency. Wisconsin has been relatively aggressive regarding energy efficiency and renewable energy use. It was one of the first states to enact a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that required investor-owned utilities and electric cooperatives to obtain a minimum of the electricity sold to customers from renewable energy resources. Electric power suppliers may comply in several ways: by generating electricity from renewable sources, buying electricity from another generator that uses renewable sources, or buying credits from another supplier that has generated or bought more electricity from renewable sources. Qualifying renewable technologies include solar, wind, geothermal, biomass (including landfill gas), small hydropower (less than 60 megawatts), tidal and wave action, and fuel cells using renewable fuels. The state also mandates that energy suppliers pay for programs aimed at reducing use of traditional energy sources, and increasing energy efficiency. They are allowed by law to pass these costs on to customers.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving energy efficiency policy in the United States. Each year, they rank each state by their energy efficiency policies. Wisconsin ranked 23rd on the Energy Efficiency Scorecard produced by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.[22] There are differing estimates about the economic impact of these mandates in terms of costs that may affect prices and jobs, as well as the impact on the environment and pollution. Thus, for example, there are new studies of what is called the "rebound effect" which refers to the fact that "some of the theoretically estimated gain in energy efficiency will be eroded as consumers consume additional goods and services."[23][24]

Major legislation

  • Wisconsin Act 414 (1993) created a priority list of energy sources and required the Public Service Commission (and other agencies) to implement the priorities in making all energy-related decisions and orders. It also addressed the efficient use of energy in public and private buildings, small scale solar and wind energy generation, and related topics.[25]
  • Wisconsin Stat. 16.045(5) (1994) requires state agencies, to the extent feasible, to purchase and use E10 or alternative fuels in the state fleet. Executive Order 141 was issued in 2006, requires all state agencies to reduce the use of petroleum-based gasoline in the state’s vehicle fleet. It requires a 20 percent reduction of unleaded fuel use by 2010 and by 50 percent by 2015, and the reduction of diesel fuel by 10 percent by 2010 and 25 percent by 2015. Vehicles should be fueled with ethanol blend gasoline (E10, a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline, or E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) or biodiesel, as much as possible.[26]
  • Wisconsin Act 9 (1999) established programs to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy and to provide energy assistance to low-income households, both administered by the Department of Administration. It also created a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), a requirement that electric utilities and retail electric cooperatives sell minimum amounts of renewable electricity, expressed as a percentage of the total electricity a utility or cooperative sells. The RPS established by Act 9 was a minimum of 2.2 percent by 2012.[27]
  • Wisconsin Act 141 (2005) modifies and builds on the policies created by the above two acts, but does not establish distinctly new energy policies. This act mandated not only higher renewable energy standards, and industry funded community programs. The act also transferred oversight of the statewide energy efficiency and renewable resources program called Focus on Energy to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. The act establishes a new and more ambitious RPS, intended to result in 10 percent of state wide use of electricity being from renewable sources, and requires that investor-owned electric and natural-gas utilities spend 1.2 percent of their annual gross operating revenues on energy efficiency and renewable resource programs. According to Act 141 municipal and retail electric cooperative utilities must collect an average of $8 per meter to fund energy efficiency programs and participate in the Focus on Energy Program, or can elect to operate their own Commitment to Community programs.[28][29][30]
  • Wisconsin Statute 1.12 (2006) entitled "State Energy Policy" requires state and municipal government to consider “conservation of energy resources as an important factor when making any major decision that would significantly affect energy usage." All new or replacement projects should be designed to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable sources. It also specifies how new transmission facilities should be sited to "the greatest extent feasible that is consistent with economic and engineering considerations, reliability of the electric system, and protection of the environment."[31]
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Government agencies and committees

  • The Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC), an independent regulatory agency that has been regulating Wisconsin public utilities since 1907, including those that are municipally-owned. Types of utilities regulated include electric, natural gas, water, combined water and sewer utilities, and certain aspects of local telephone service. More than 1,100 utilities are under the agency's jurisdiction. Most of these must obtain PSC approval before they set new rates; issue stocks or bonds; or undertake major construction projects, such as water wells, power plants or transmission lines. The PSC is composed of three full-time Commissioners who decide the cases brought to the PSC for changes in utility operations, rates and for construction projects. Commissioners are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate for staggered, six-year terms. The commissioners’ office under the direction of a chairperson, who is appointed by the governor for a two-year term, has oversight of all PSC staff related activities. The Gas and Energy Division is responsible for all major aspects of the PSC’s regulation of Wisconsin’s electricity and natural gas utilities.[33]
  • The Wisconsin State Energy Office coordinates the state's energy policy development and activities. Its goal is to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, increase renewable energy generation, and invest in clean energy manufacturing to retain and create jobs. The state uses U.S. State Energy Program (SEP) funds to capitalize the Clean Energy Manufacturing Loan Fund, a loan program that helps clean energy companies wanting to retool, undertake a major clean energy project, or reduce use of fossil fuels in their industrial processes.[34][35]
  • The Department of Natural Resources is responsible for sustaining and enhancing Wisconsin's natural resources and environment. The department is managed by the Wisconsin Secretary of Natural Resources. The department has six divisions that cover issues from air quality to forestry to managing state lands.[36][37]

Major organizations

  • The Wisconsin Energy Institute is a research institute founded in 2006 at the University of Madison. Its mission is to provide "an objective forum to exchange ideas on energy issues, and to focus, integrate and transfer knowledge to better understand challenges and identify needs in energy sources, technology, use and impacts." Its research is focused on feedstocks, carbon neutral electricity, liquid transportation fuels, energy storage, policy, economics and environment.[38] In 2013 the Wisconsin Energy Institute published a study urging the state to set clear policy to diversify its energy portfolio by encouraging investment and development of new clean energy technologies. The authors claim the lack of a strong policy is hurting Wisconsin's competitiveness in an emerging renewable energy economy, and keeping Wisconsin hostage to rising electricity prices associated with coal generation.[39] Utility companies disagree saying that electricity prices will rise even faster if there is a smaller pool of consumers to cover the capital costs of existing coal generating plants.[40]
  • The State Energy Efficiency and Renewables Administration (SEERA), a non-profit made up of Wisconsin investor-owned utilities formed to fulfill their obligations under Act 141. SEERA is required to fund Focus on Energy and to contract on the basis of competitive bids, with one or more persons to administer the programs.[41]
  • The Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, Inc. (WIEG) is a non-profit association of large energy consumers that since the 1970s has been advocating for policies that drive cost competitive and reliable energy, and retain and expand business in the state. Their mission is "to educate and influence legislators and regulators so that cost effective, efficient and properly allocated energy decisions keep Wisconsin competitive to retain and expand jobs." The group educates members on the details of energy issues, provide support for their individual efforts to share their concerns with utility, regulatory and legislative personnel. They also participate directly in regulatory and legislative proceedings, and have affected various legislative challenges and policies. They testified against the state’s global warming bill, Wisconsin AB 649/SB 450 that officially died at the end of the 2010 legislative session.[42]
  • RENEW Wisconsin leads and represents businesses, organizations, and individuals seeking more clean, renewable energy in Wisconsin. They have been in existence for 21 years and lobby for progressive renewable energy policies and regulation through advocacy, education, and collaborative initiatives. RENEW Wisconsin represents 115 renewable energy companies doing business in Wisconsin.[43]
  • The Energy Center of Wisconsin is a non-profit organization founded in 1989 that concentrates on efficient use of energy resources, and attempts to change how the market and policymakers approach energy efficiency. They train the workforce in improving energy usage in order to promote "economic and environmental sustainability," according to their mission statement.[44]

In the news

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Wisconsin Energy News Feed

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See also

External links


  1. Wisconsin State Energy Office, "Home," accessed April 8, 2014
  2. These figures come from the U.S. Energy Information Administration's State Profiles and Energy Estimates, Wisconsin Overview. Statistics for population and per capita income are for the year 2012; consumption and spending estimates are for 2011; and prices are for October 2013. Updated pricing information is available on the state's EIA profile. Prices will be updated on this page biannually.
  3. U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Wisconsin Overview," accessed February 5, 2014
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 U.S. Energy Information Administration, Wisconsin Profile Analysis, December 18, 2013
  5. U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Wisconsin Profile Analysis," December 18, 2013
  6. For a list of all incentives, laws and regulations related to alternative fuels and advanced vehicles for Wisconsin see the Alternative Fuels Data Center, "State Summary, Wisconsin," accessed February 14, 2014
  7. WI State Energy Office, "Ethanol," accessed February 14, 2014
  8. This chart depicts the state's energy consumption as reported by the EIA for 2011. Click the image to enlarge.
  9. U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Wisconsin State Profile," accessed February 3, 2014
  10. To compare current gasoline prices in Wisconsin to the U.S averages, go to
  11. U.S. Energy Information Administration "Petroleum Marketing Monthly" February 2014
  12. The Tax Foundation, "State Gasoline Tax Rates, 2009-2013," March 21, 2013
  13. U.S. Energy Information Administration, “State Energy Data System, Production,” accessed February 18, 2014
  14. Milwaukee Journal, “Wisconsin nuclear reactor ends nearly 40 years of generating power,” May 7, 2013
  15. Public Service Commission, "Natural Gas," accessed February 6, 2014
  16. Public Service Commission, "Utility Statistics in Wisconsin," accessed February 4, 2014
  17. These figures come from the EIA State Profiles and Energy Estimates U.S. Energy Information Administration, 'Wisconsin Overview," accessed February 5, 2014
  18. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin behind the curve on clean energy," June 2, 2013
  19. Manhattan Institute, "The High Cost of Renewable-Energy Mandates," February 2012
  20. According to a report called "The Status of Renewable Electricity Mandates in the States," (dead link) by the free-market Institute for Energy Research, the cost of electricity in states with RPS were on average 38 percent higher in 2010 than in states with not RPS.
  21. WPRI, "The Economic Impact of Wisconsin's Renewable Portfolio Standard," March 2013
  22. American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, "State Energy Efficiency Policy Database," accessed February 27, 2014
  23. International Risk Governance Council, "The Rebound Effect: Implications of Consumer Behavior for Robust Energy Policies," accessed March 3, 2014
  24. Scientific American, "How Bad Is the Rebound from Energy Efficiency Efforts?," May 21, 2013
  25. Wisconsin State Legislature, "2005 Wisconsin Act 414," accessed February 13, 2014
  26. Wisconsin State Government, "Wisconsin Biofuels and Alternative Fuels Use Report 2011 Annual Report," accessed February 13, 2014
  27. Wisconsin State Legislature, "2913 Wisconsin Act 9," accessed February 13, 2014
  28. Focus on Energy, "About," accessed February 12, 2014
  29. Wisconsin Legislator Briefing Book for 2013 - 2014, "Chapter 29, Utilities and Energy," accessed February 5, 2014
  30. Wisconsin State Legislature, "2005 Wisconsin Act 141," accessed February 5, 2014
  31. Wisconsin State Legislature, "Wisconsin Statute 1.12," accessed February 10, 2014
  32. Wisconsin State Legislature, "Wisconsin Legislator Briefing Book for 2013 - 2014, Chapter 29, Utilities and Energy," accessed February 5, 2014
  33. Public Service Commission, "Electric Industry Overview," accessed February 4, 2014
  34. National Association of State Energy Offices, "Wisconsin," accessed February 4, 2013
  35. Wisconsin State Energy Office, "Home," accessed February 4, 2014
  36. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Facebook Page, "Info," accessed July 20, 2012
  37. Department of Natural Resources, "About," accessed July 24, 2012
  38. Wisconsin Energy Institute, "WEI Research Overview," accessed February 4, 2014
  39. Midwestern Energy, "How to Keep Wisconsin and the U.S. Competitive in a Changing Energy World," accessed on February 17, 2014
  40. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online, "Wisconsin behind the curve on clean energy," June 2, 2013
  41. American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, "Wisconsin Utility Policies," accessed February 4, 2014
  42. Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, "About," accessed February 5, 2014
  43. RENEW Wisconsin "Home," accessed February 5, 2014
  44. The Energy Center of Wisconsin, "Who We Are," accessed March 20, 2014