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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

State Supreme Court Allows Wind Siting Rule to Stand

Butler Ridge Wind Farm
Iron Ridge, WI
The wind industry received some good news yesterday from a most unlikely source--Wisconsin state government—when the state’s Supreme Court affirmed the wind siting rule (PSC 119) that’s been in effect since March 2012. The ruling closes the four-year long legal challenge to the wind siting rule waged by the Wisconsin Realtors Association and the Wisconsin Builders Association.

The wind siting rule, which was promulgated by the Public Service Commission (PSC) in December 2010, specifies the strictest siting requirements that a local government can place on a wind energy installation up to 100 MW in size. The relators and builders filed a lawsuit in 2011 to invalidate the rule, contending that the PSC failed to consider the impact of wind generation on the state’s housing market. But their argument failed to persuade a Brown County circuit court, and that judge’s decision was upheld twice, first by the Court of Appeals and, finally, the state Supreme Court on a 5-2 vote. 

As Tom Content’s article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel points out, the decision will have no immediate effect on windpower development in Wisconsin, as there are no pending projects under review by a local government, nor are there any under construction. As the table below demonstrates, wind development in Wisconsin lags behind neighboring states by a substantial margin.

Sources: American Wind Energy Association, RENEW Wisconsin

Monday, June 29, 2015

One Utility Bucks the Trend

Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power
Imagine an electric utility that packages energy makeovers for its residential customers, who can obtain substantial savings from air-source heat pumps and solar electric systems which are paid for under a lease.  Imagine an electric utility that builds a microgrid powered exclusively by solar energy and battery storage, with no fossil fuels. Imagine an electric utility that is deploying digital technology to shave peak usage and passing those savings to its customers. Imagine an electric utility that is doing all those things while reducing energy rates and meeting corporate revenue targets.

That company is Green Mountain Power, an investor-owned electric utility in Vermont serving roughly the same number of customers as Madison Gas & Electric. At the same time most power companies are striving to slow down innovation, thwart conservation through restructured rates and charges, limit customer choices, and, in the case of We Energies, tax customers for using solar energy, Green Mountain Power is bucking the trend and embracing innovation and customer choice. You can read about its efforts to adapt to a changing world in a must-read article written by Bill McKibben in the June 29th issue of The New Yorker.

“A challenge in the utility culture is precisely that it’s built on guarantees,” says Green Mountain CEO Mary Powell. “Innovation happens when there are no guarantees.”  Imagine another U.S. utility CEO saying anything like that in public.

One aspect of Green Mountain Power not noted in McKibben’s article is that it is the only electric utility that a certified benefit corporation, or B-corporation.  As explained in Wikipedia, a benefit corporation or B-corporation is a “type of for-profit corporate entity, legislated in 28 U.S. states, that includes positive impact on society and the environment in addition to profit as its legally defined goals. B corps differ from traditional corporations in purpose, accountability, and transparency, but not in taxation.”

Why did Green Mountain Power elect to become a B Corp? Here’s what they said: "We became a B Corp to demonstrate our deep commitment to creating positive change in the community and the environment through our work to make clean energy more affordable and reliable. We embrace the mission to 'do good' in all things we do, put customers first, and seek to make Vermont and the world a healthier place to live. We are very honored to be the first utility to receive the distinguished B Corp certification."

Mary Powell will be a featured speaker at RENEW Wisconsin’s 5th
annual Energy Policy Summit, set for Thursday, January 21st in Madison. Come to the summit and learn how she and Green Mountain Power are redefining success in the electric power industry.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Franciscan Sisters Power Up with Brother Sun

Bishop David Ricken
100 kW Array Is Open to the Public

On the same day--June 18, 2015--the Vatican released Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change, more than 25 people gathered at Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross in Green Bay and took part in dedicating their year-old, 100-kilowatt solar installation. Bishop David Ricken presided over the ceremony, which was highlighted by the singing of "Canticle of the Sun" and the sprinkling of holy water on the panels.

Designed and built by Green Bay-based Eland Electric, the Sisters’ 416-panel array is situated at the edge of a prairie garden about 400 feet from the Motherhouse. A circular walking path cuts a sinuous path through the wildflowers adjacent to the array. Along the path are seven metal plaques explaining how solar generation works and discussing the reasons behind the Sisters’ decision to own one of the largest solar arrays in northeast Wisconsin.

Information on the installation’s benefits and performance to date is accessible at the Sisters’ web site The array has generated 155 megawatt-hours of electricity since being energized in June 2014. On a sunny summer day, the system should produce more than 700 kilowatt-hours of electricity. It is sized to supply about 30% of the electricity used at the Motherhouse each year.

Sister Donna Koch
Many donors contributed to this project, which is dedicated to the memory of anchor donors Evaleen and Joseph Neufeld. A significant cash award from Focus on Energy played a critical part in funding this installation.  The Sisters expect to fully recoup their investment in 10 years.The array is open to self-guided tours weekdays from May to October.  Hours are 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Groups of four or less do not need an appointment to visit the array. However, groups of five or more, including school groups, must call ahead for an appointment.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

RENEW's Michael Vickerman Tells Pepin, WI "All Aboard the Solar Train!"

Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin's Program and Policy Director, spoke in Pepin, WI on Saturday May 30th at a Solar Workshop. Michael's presentation, titled "All Aboard the Solar Train," discussed solar happenings in Wisconsin, and how to continue its growth here in the state. The workshop featured other experts in the solar industry, and was a great day of learning and networking.

See Michael's presentation here!

Leading up the event, Eau Claire news affiliate WQOW produced a great video on solar projects in Pepin County, and how the owners have benefited from it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

SC Johnson receives Gold Medal in Corporate Sustainability Leadership

by Tyler Huebner, Executive Director

On May 14th, Racine, WI-based SC Johnson was honored by the World Environment Center as the recipient of the 2015 Gold Medal for International Corporate Achievement in Sustainable Development.

This is a major award amongst large multi-national companies, and only one company is recognized each year.  SC Johnson became the second company to win the award twice, after first receiving the award in 1994. Recipients from recent years include Volkswagon Group, Unilever, IBM, and Wal-Mart Stores.

SC Johnson's global renewable energy initiatives poster
With financial support from SC Johnson, I attended the event in Washington, DC to help honor the company.  RENEW’s relationship with SC Johnson started about four years ago, when our Program and Policy Director Michael Vickerman advised the company as it was pursuing the installation of two wind turbines to help power Waxdale, one of its major factories in Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin, near Racine.  

CEO Fisk Johnson proudly supporting clean energy
Fisk Johnson, the 5th generation CEO of the family-owned company, was on hand to receive the award.  “Reaching for that ideal of trust and goodwill is what motivates us at SC Johnson, and it’s where we find our best answers and greatest successes.  This recognition today, which I accept with great pride on behalf of all of the people in our company, inspires us on even more.”

U.S. Representative Paul Ryan presented the award to Fisk Johnson, and he highlighted their investment in renewable energy resources including landfill gas and wind turbines. Ryan said, “If you drive by Waxdale, you see a capped landfill with the methane running into the generators, along with the two windmills, making sure that they are purely 100% sustainable for their factory producing these wonderful products.  That just shows you how committed this family is, and this company is, to this mission.  It’s really impressive.”

To view (most of) Paul Ryan’s remarks, check out this video: 

According to SC Johnson, Waxdale produces an average of 100 percent of its electrical energy onsite each year.  Glade®, Windex®, Pledge®, Scrubbing Bubbles®, Shout®, Raid® and OFF!® are all among the trusted household products made at Waxdale.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

RENEW Wisconsin and The Alliance for Solar Choice ask courts to rule on the legality of We Energies rate case decision

After winning two court victories in the past 12 months, RENEW Wisconsin is seeking another legal triumph. RENEW Wisconsin and The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) are teaming up in a legal challenge to a Wisconsin Public Service Commission's December 2014 decision, which approved a "tax on clean energy" for customers choosing to power their homes and businesses with renewable energy in We Energies territory. RENEW and TASC argue there is insufficient evidence in the record to support the added tax, and are asking the Dane County Circuit Court to reverse the PSC's decision.

RENEW Wisconsin and TASC filed their legal arguments on Thursday, May 14th. Our press release below highlights our arguments.

To help fund our lawsuit and our continued advocacy work for expanding clean energy in Wisconsin, please visit our website. Donate now, and help us get bigger and stronger to take on We Energies.

Solar Groups Take Next Step in Appeal of Public Service Commission Decision on 2014 We Energies Rate Case

A residential solar installation on the home of
RENEW Wisconsin members Steve and Ellen Terwilliger
MADISON, WI – May 14, 2015 – The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) and RENEW Wisconsin today took their next steps in appealing the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s December 2014 decision to add a discriminatory fee on distributed generation customers in We Energies’ territory.

The groups filed the first set of briefs Thursday, which outlined their arguments in the case. TASC and RENEW Wisconsin explain in the briefs how the record does not contain the necessary evidence to support the Commission’s approval of the additional charge on customer generation (like solar energy).

“The Court must reverse when the Commission’s action depends on any finding of fact that is not supported by substantial evidence in the record,” said Amy Heart, spokesperson for The Alliance for Solar Choice. “Here, the Commission’s own expert witness testified that there was not enough evidence on the record to approve the discriminatory solar charges.”

In fact, Heart pointed out that We Energies’ own study of the costs and benefits of solar in their service territory found that these customers provide a net benefit to all ratepayers. “Unfortunately, the Commission, knowing the benefits, still approved fees for these self-generating customer, which was legally improper,” said Heart.

This is the third case in the past three years seeking judicial review of a decision of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin that discriminates against owners of small distributed renewable energy generating systems.  In the previous two cases, the Dane County Circuit Court also remanded all or part of the new rates as lacking a factual basis in the administrative record. 

“It is important that we promote and defend Wisconsin renewable energy in all decision-making venues, and in this case that means the courts,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director. “A customer’s own investment in solar and other clean energy technologies benefit everyone, and impartial analysis in multiple states proves that. Beyond that, from a public policy perspective, there is significant job creation and economic gains for Wisconsin on the horizon if we can get these policies right.”

The We Energies rate case in fall 2014 sparked unprecedented public opposition and national attention for the three-member Commission, with over 500 Wisconsin residents in attendance at a public hearing in October. Along with the discriminatory rate changes, both groups protested Commissioner Ellen Nowak’s lack of impartiality during the proceeding.

About The Alliance for Solar Choice: The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) leads the rooftop solar advocacy across the country. Founded by the largest rooftop companies in the nation, TASC represents the vast majority of the distributed solar market.

About RENEW Wisconsin: RENEW Wisconsin leads and accelerates the transition to Wisconsin’s renewable energy future through advocacy, education, and collaboration. RENEW represents over 50 Wisconsin businesses in the renewable energy industry and hundreds of customers who have installed their own renewable energy systems.

More information:

Kelly Trombley, Associate
The Alliance for Solar Choice

Tyler Huebner
RENEW Wisconsin

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

RENEW Wisconsin submits public comments regarding Northern States Power Company's pilot solar garden program

Vernon Electric Cooperative's
Community Solar Project in Westby, WI
 Xcel Energy's Wisconsin affiliate, Northern States Power Company (NSPW), is seeking approval to launch a pilot solar garden program. This is the first formal proposal from a Wisconsin investor owned utility to offer solar subscriptions to its customers. Under the program, Xcel Energy would purchase up to three megawatts (3,000 kilowatts) of electricity from local community solar arrays in the company's service area in western and northern Wisconsin. Customers would in turn subscribe for capacity to meet their desired solar energy needs up to their annual usage and receive a monthly credit for their subscription. If approved as is, the monthly credit would be 7.4 cents per kWh for residential customers and 6.9 cents per kWh for business customers. NSPW will set the subscription price based on the results of its solicitation.

Update: On a 3-0 vote, the Public Service Commission approved Xcel's pilot program as proposed. Check our website for details about the program's rollout. 

RENEW submitted the comments below prior to the commission's deliberation of NSPW's solar garden proposal:

 222 S. Hamilton, Madison, WI 53703

May 13, 2015

Ms. Sandra Paske
Public Service Commission of Wisconsin
610 N. Whitney Way
Madison, WI  53707-7854

RE:    Application of Northern States Power Company, a Wisconsin corporation, for Approval to Implement a Community Solar Garden Pilot Program (Docket No. 4220-TE-101)

Dear Ms. Paske:

On behalf of RENEW Wisconsin, I would like to submit these brief comments on the above-mentioned application filed by Northern States Power Company (NSPW) on April 27, 2015.  Our comments are as follows.

Items we support:

  • According to a study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, about 75% of residential rooftop area is not suitable for installing solar panels, either because the roof is shaded or is not oriented properly, or because the customer doesn’t own their home or building.  We commend NSPW for offering a pilot program to begin exploring how to meet the solar energy interests of such customers.
  • This pilot program, if approved, will be useful in exploring how “community solar gardens” can be effectively designed and operated in Wisconsin by regulated electric providers.
  • We commend NSPW for deciding to acquire solar capacity through a competitive request for proposal process. This will ensure all parties that NSPW will acquire the projects’ output at a competitive, market-based cost.
  • As proposed, this program would operate outside of NSPW’s rate base, like its voluntary green pricing program.  The proposed bill credit has been set to compensate customers based on NSPW’s costs.  Customers should instead be compensated based on what their investment in solar is actually worth. Robust empirical studies have been conducted in multiple states which conclude that there are additional financial benefits of solar over the lifetime of the project. A more complete analysis of these benefits should be conducted, with NSPW and stakeholders, to improve the bill credit level.
  • We commend NSPW on offering a program that enables the participants to directly contribute to increased renewable generation capacity.  New participants in some utility green pricing programs do not necessarily lead to additional renewable energy capacity; that would not be the case here.
  • We believe success of this pilot, if approved, will be determined initially by two factors:  (1) interest from solar developers under the proposed parameters, and (2) customer interest, which will be driven by the perceived value of the offer based on the final subscription price and bill credit level. Both of these factors would be enhanced if NSPW works with stakeholders to improve the formula for calculating bill credits, as suggested above.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments.


Tyler Huebner
Executive Director