From a guest editorial in by Scott Karel in the La Crosse Tribune support of Clean Energy Choice, a 2013 policy goal of RENEW Wisconsin:
Wisconsin citizens have only have two ways to purchase energy for their homes or businesses: either they buy it from the local electric utility or they pay to have their own alternative energy sources installed on their property.
This effectively gives utility companies a monopoly because most people don’t have the disposable income to install such devices on their own.
However, with a little help from state legislators, Wisconsin residents could benefit from more competition in this market while at the same time producing green energy for their own personal consumption.
Third-party owned renewable-energy systems have become an effective method to promote the growth and production of green energy at no additional cost to ratepayers or taxpayers. This system, known as “clean energy choice,” allows a third party to enter into a contract with a farmer, homeowner or business to lease their roof space.
In return, the third-party company will install, operate and maintain, at no cost to the landowner, a solar panel, manure digester, wind turbine or other renewable energy system on their property. The energy from these systems either passes directly to the customer or is sold to the local utility.
Clean energy choice systems are a benefit to all Wisconsin residents for a variety of reasons. For the customers who enter into these agreements, they are able to lock in their utility rates at a fixed amount for the length of the contract, which is typically anywhere from 10 to 20 years.
A fixed energy rate is one of the main reasons that Kohl’s department stores chose to install solar panels on around 100 of its stores located in states that expressly allow third-party ownership of renewable energy systems.
Clean energy choice also creates more competition in the energy market and promotes renewable energy without using government subsidies.
Finally, allowing third-party energy agreements will support the state’s economy by creating more business for the estimated 135 companies in Wisconsin that participate in the solar market.
Currently, laws in more than 20 states — including Illinois, Michigan and Ohio — specifically allow third-party sale of renewable energy to their customers. However, in about 20 other states, including Wisconsin, the law is unclear about whether this type of agreement is allowable.
Third-party energy companies will not attempt to enter into contracts with landowners until there is clarification on this law for fear of being regulated as a public utility.
We think that the energy certainty provided by these agreements would benefit many farmers in Wisconsin who happen to have plenty of wind or open roof space on their buildings but may not have the extra money to install their own wind turbines or solar panels. No law should prevent customers who want to have access to clean energy simply because they cannot afford to install the system on their own.
If you would like to learn more about the Clean Energy Choice legislation being advanced in the Legislature this year, contact me at skarel@wisconsinfarmers union.com or 608-234-3741.