By Tom Content
Supporters of renewable energy are weighing in urging the state Public Service Commission to reverse course and rethink a decision that suspended incentives for business and homeowners to install solar power systems.
The state Focus on Energy program announced last month that it would suspend the granting of renewable incentives for the second time in three years.
Program administrators cited a recent ruling by the PSC that gives preference to renewable energy projects that use biomass or biogas, which are more cost-effective than wind and solar projects. The PSC's decision ties funding of any solar projects to biomass projects, which take longer to develop. Because of the longer lead times, solar funding will stop while more biomass projects get closer to being built, according to Focus.
The PSC was initially considering a final decision on the matter this week but that decision is now expected later this month. Instead, the agency asked for public comments, and the response was significant.
Renew Wisconsin, an advocacy group, says 630 people or businesses have weighed with comments on the matter,
“It’s really an impressive outpouring of support to continue these incentives,” said Tyler Huebner, who joined Renew Wisconsin as executive director earlier this year. “It’s clear that the PSC’s move to suspend incentives struck a nerve with the public.”
The incentives are provided by the state Focus on Energy program, an initiative that’s overseen by the state PSC as well as the state’s utilities. Focus on Energy was created to help utility customers receive incentives to make homes and businesses more energy-efficient and install renewable energy systems.
The PSC's rationale is to ensure ratepayers' dollars are spent wisely. Most of the Focus on Energy program's budget is allocated toward energy efficiency projects, which deliver a stronger payback than renewable energy systems.
The move comes as utilities are also scaling back their commitment to customer-sited renewable generation. We Energies of Milwaukee in 2011 suspended a $6 million a year commitment to renewable energy, saying it was focusing its renewables spending on large projects like the state’s two biggest wind farms and a biomass power plant set to open this year in north-central Wisconsin.