Since all natural disasters occur locally, impacting communities of all shapes and sizes, it is critical to provide resources to communities so they can prepare and respond to these natural disasters.

Supported in part by funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin - Office of Energy Innovation (OEI) continues to make strides in enhancing energy security for local and tribal governments across the state with its Statewide Assistance for Energy Reliability and Resiliency (SAFER2) initiative. 

Through SAFER2 and in partnership with Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM), OEI is working with local, county, and tribal emergency managers to:

  • Improve collective understanding of the resilience of the state's critical energy infrastructure. 
  • Provide templates for fuel and energy emergency plans. 
  • Cement understanding of roles and responsibilities of state, tribal, and local partners during an energy emergency. 

Nearly 60% of survey respondents indicated their emergency response plans did not contain measures that specifically addressed energy emergencies.

This project is supported by formula and competitive funding from DOE's State Energy Program (SEP), providing a great example of how a state energy office can employ both funding streams for a more significant impact.

For many county and tribal emergency managers in Wisconsin, limited capacity and expertise relevant to the energy sector are major barriers to comprehensive and effective contingency planning. The SAFER2 project team surveyed tribal and county emergency managers across the state and found that nearly 60% of respondents indicated their emergency response plans did not contain measures that specifically addressed energy emergencies. 

WEM conducted the survey, which allowed the project team to achieve a high response rate of 80% due to existing relationships with tribal and local emergency managers.

Local Energy Security and Resilience Roundtables

With the support of a $300,000 SEP competitive award grant, the project team hosted regional roundtables throughout the state and is now recruiting at least five tribes and communities to update emergency plans and participate in deep-dive analyses customized to local energy security needs and goals. 

OEI conducted these roundtables in collaboration with WEM and Wisconsin Clean Cities, a coalition of public, private, and non-profit entities in the state that supports efforts to enhance energy and economic security. 

Ultimately, the project team will provide recommendations for energy technology integration into local mitigation plans, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, micro-grids, and solar-plus-storage on critical facilities.

A group of individuals sitting at a table.
The first SAFER2 tabletop exercise with stakeholders in Wausau, Wisconsin.
Photo courtesy of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

Phillip Rentmeester, director of Marathon County Emergency Management, spearheaded one of the first partnerships with WEM and OEI as part of the SAFER2 initiative. 

Through this partnership, Marathon County Emergency Management officials updated the county's Emergency Fueling Plan and participated in the first SAFER2 tabletop exercise in 2019, which focused on the implementation of the plan.

As a result, emergency managers throughout the state have since expressed interest in reviewing and learning from Marathon County's Emergency Fueling Plan.

"Working with OEI and WEM on the plan and the exercise reminded me that preparedness is a shared responsibility involving different agencies, departments, and the private sector," said Rentmeester. "You're not alone in your preparedness efforts. Look for partners and to other emergency managers for support and assistance and tap into great resources like the SAFER2 grants." 

On April 8, 2022, OEI and WEM co-hosted an Executive Level Tabletop Exercise with multiple public and private stakeholders within the state—the Governor's Office, the Deputy Adjutant General, Wisconsin National Guard, Public Service Commission, Department of Administration, Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, and the Department of Natural Resources.

Participants in the exercise worked through a hypothetical scenario in which an extreme cold weather event disrupts the natural gas system and strains natural gas supply for home heating and power generation. 

This exercise should help key stakeholders better understand their roles, responsibilities, and resource needs concerning energy security during a natural disaster and how better prepared local governments can be a huge asset to overall recovery and resilience. 

The project team used this exercise as an opportunity to bring lessons and insights gained from regional roundtables and years of work with local governments through SAFER2 to state leaders.

Statewide Innovative Resilience Programs

Wisconsin is also investing SEP formula funds into two innovative resilience programs that complement the SAFER2 initiative. 

Critical Infrastructure Microgrid and Community Resilience Center Pilot Grant Program

In 2021, OEI launched the Critical Infrastructure Microgrid and Community Resilience Center Pilot Grant Program to further its energy security goals. With the support of more than $900,000 in SEP formula funds, OEI selected 15 projects to study the feasibility of microgrids for resilience in communities and critical facilities throughout Wisconsin, such as hospitals, airports, water and wastewater treatment facilities, and more. 

For more information on these projects, visit the OEI interactive project map

Refueling Readiness Grant Program

In fall 2021, OEI launched the third grant cycle for the Refueling Readiness Grant Program. This program bolsters the ability of emergency vehicles to refuel during natural or man-made disasters by funding projects to establish resilient fueling stations. 

For this grant cycle, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin received 15 applications requesting over $270,000 in funding. After review by a three-member panel, the Commission funded all projects.

A Leader in State and Local Resilience Efforts

Wisconsin continues to be a leader in state and local resilience efforts, and these initiatives highlight the benefits of the important partnership between OEI and SEP. Investments in resilience for our communities are more important than ever as climate change threatens to make extreme weather events more frequent and severe. 

DOE looks forward to continuing its support for OEI and helping ensure a resilient energy future for Wisconsin communities.

Read more about SEP competitive awards.

DOE's State Energy Program provides funding and technical assistance to states, territories, and the District of Columbia to enhance energy security, advance state-led energy initiatives, and increase energy affordability. The State Energy Program emphasizes the state's role as the decision maker and administrator for program activities within the state that are tailored to their unique resources, delivery capacity, and energy goals.