City puts energy program under microscopeThe City Council listened at its meeting Tuesday night to River Falls’ Conservation and Efficiency Coordinator Mike Noreen summarize a five-year review of Powerful Choices, a program relating to energy-conservation incentives and education.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
The City Council listened at its meeting Tuesday night to River Falls’ Conservation and Efficiency Coordinator Mike Noreen summarize a five-year review of Powerful Choices, a program relating to energy-conservation incentives and education.
The council asked for a review at one of its July meetings when faced with approving a more-than-average $55,000 grant from the program.
Powerful Choices is funded by a less-than 1% share of electric-utility revenue, about $110,000 annually.
Several council members wanted to know more about how the funds are used and what benefit they create.
Noreen said Powerful Choices is the name of both the overall program and the advisory group that administers it, which he said does not disburse funds but makes recommendations to the Utility Advisory Board.
Noreen said funds pay for conservation, efficiency, renewable energy and low-income programs, as well as in-school science-based education for kids.
The then-Utility Commission voted to start Powerful Choices in 2007 on the heels of the governor’s Off-the-Grid initiative and several green-energy projects in River Falls.
People may recognize or remember the annual LED light exchange at City Hall or utility-customer appreciation and education events.
Noreen explained that Powerful Choices is “education on the demand side,” and that most grants through it worked alongside the state’s Focus on Energy program.
For hypothetical example, a solar-panel project could yield benefit from both programs by qualifying for different kinds of incentives, including the utility buying back locally produced clean energy at a higher rate.
Noreen and the Powerful Choices advisory team helps residents, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and institutions learn more about it, including over-time estimates of money and kilowatt hours.
Council Member Tom Caflisch asked how he’d determine the savings and how he could know that.
Council Member Scott Morrissette said he was concerned at seeing a cash balance in the account, leading him to believe it is either overfunded or doesn’t have enough ‘takers’ of the incentives.
City Administrator Scot Simpson acknowledged there is a policy question to be determined by the council of how much money should be going into the Powerful Choices account and what results River Falls wants from the program.
Noreen replied that engineering calculations are used to determine the savings over time. He said the city tries to get $2 back for every $1 it puts into the program, keeping a lot of money in River Falls.
He said, “We do look at Powerful Choices as economic development. We are trying to make River Falls better, and a green community is good for business.”
Simpson said the advisory board had requested a Powerful Perspectives workshop in the spring with the City Council. It voted to approve the five-year review and confirmed that the $110,000 for Powerful Choices has been included in the 2013 budget.
The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the budget, which includes a city tax-levy increase of about 2.3%, and approve the 2013 budget at its Nov. 13 meeting.