Judge Peter Anderson reversed a decision made in 2014 by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to add a fee for distributed solar generation, one that was passed on to customers in the area served by We Energies, a utility.
The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) and Renew Wisconsin helped on the appeal to overturn the WPSC decision, because it was unfair to consumers, in particular to the ones who were supporting solar power.
“We Energies will again try to eliminate competition from solar energy. Thousands of Wisconsinites made today’s reversal possible by contacting their elected officials. TASC thanks each of these citizens for making their voices heard. We will need each of their voices once again to fight utility attacks on solar choice,” explained Amy Heart, a spokesperson for The Alliance for Solar Choice. Sunrun, Verengo, ZEP, Demeter Power, Silveo, and SolarCity are some of the members of The Alliance for Solar Choice.
Parts of Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are in the service areas for We Energies. The utility provides electricity and natural gas for these areas, and if the solar tax doesn’t sound like it would make that much difference, consider that We Energies has about 2.2 million accounts total.
Adding extra charges for solar power system owners wasn’t just an attempt to make money, it was a move that could have halted the expansion of solar power in Wisconsin,”The result of such a policy,” said Matt Neumann, owner of Wisconsin-based SunVest, would be dramatic. “It would not only end solar but remove the economic viability for any renewable energy in Wisconsin.” Neuman, whose company is the largest solar installer in the state, said the demand charge of $3.80 per kilowatt (kW) per month works out to about $220 per year for a 5 kW system, a deterrent for potential solar customers and an unfair penalty for those who have already chosen to go solar.
Solar power has dropped in price so much that it is within reach of far more people now. Some utilities and their supporters at the policy level seem to find this new potential to be threatening, so they are doing whatever they can to diminish or destroy solar power.
The other trend going in the right direction for solar power is the emerging energy storage solutions. If a pre-installation 5 kW solar power system costs about $7,000 (with a tax credit) and an energy storage device like a Tesla PowerWall is about $3,000, there are clearly many people who are going to be interested. However, if the local utility tries to slap extra charges on these well-intentioned clean energy pioneers, they may be dissuaded.
The utilities that embrace technological innovation are probably going to be the more effective ones, so they might as well open up to it and certainly not play games to try to prevent it.