Journal Times editorial: Homegrown solar generation makes sense for Wisconsin
An editorial from The Journal Times about how Wisconsin could benefit from new solar legislation. Find the original posting of this article here.
Unlike many other states, Wisconsin hasn’t fully taken advantage of the potential for energy savings through the expansion of homegrown solar generation.
That could change under a bipartisan proposal by state Reps. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, and Chris Taylor, D-Madison, who are crafting legislation that would exempt owners of renewable generation at a home or business from being regulated as a public utility.
The heart of the proposal is that it would allow third-party ownership of solar systems — allowing solar companies to come in and install solar generation systems and assume the upfront costs and then have the business or homeowner repay that over time through savings on their energy bills.
It’s a plan that has been adopted in other states to good effect. Carl Siegrist, a solar energy consultant, said nearly three-fourths of the solar market last year came from third-party ownership, according to a recent story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
While the upfront costs of solar installation have dropped considerably in recent years — some reports put the drop at 50 percent — those initial costs still represent a hurdle for renewable energy, and the Tauchen-Taylor bill could help Wisconsin businesses and homeowners to clear that barrier.
According to a recent Milwaukee Business Journal report, the return on investment for solar installations is between seven and 10 years. But after that, the solar systems could provide low- or no-cost energy for another 30 years.
One of the companies that’s been a fan of third-party ownership is Kohl’s Corp., which has contracted with SunEdison for installation of solar generating panels at many of its stores in other parts of the country. The Milwaukee newspaper report said those Kohl’s department stores generate “three times as much power as all the solar electricity being generated in Wisconsin today.”
“If there was third-party ownership allowed, they would have it on every one of their stores in the state,” the report quoted Steve Johnson, a solar energy developer in Delavan.
That kind of impact not only saves energy and dollars, but it would buoy Wisconsin’s economy by creating a potential groundswell of solar installations and the attendant jobs that work would create across the state.
The fly in the ointment is opposition from the state’s utility industry, which argues that increased use of renewable energy would create “partial customers” and reduce their sales. This would result in a cost shift to regular customers because the fixed costs for poles, wires and business operations would be spread across those users.
That’s a legitimate concern and we would hope it could be addressed in the legislation, but it is not dissimilar from the effects of energy conservation and those efforts have been pushed by the state — and by utilities themselves — for decades.
A low-cost financing system to encourage the use of solar generation makes sense for the long-term energy profile of Wisconsin and we urge the Legislature to give this bill the bipartisan support it deserves.