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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Another Week, Another Lost Opportunity

Public Service Commission Denies RENEW's Request to Streamline Interconnection Rules

Another week, another lost opportunity for Wisconsin to move forward on energy self-sufficiency, job creation, and conserving natural resources.

Back in February 2013, RENEW Wisconsin, along with 89 supporters, submitted a petition to the Public Service Commission to revisit highly technical "interconnection rules," also known as PSC 119.

RENEW and its supporters wanted to streamline these processes, add consistency across utility territories, and reduce costs.  RENEW’s work was part of a collaborative effort under a Department of Energy “SunShot” grant.

On November 15, Wisconsin's Public Service Commission issued a written order denying RENEW Wisconsin's petition to improve these rules.  This occurred even though Wisconsin recently received a “D” in a nonpartisan report titled “Freeing the Grid” comparing the interconnection practices in all 50 states. To put that grade in perspective, every state immediately bordering Wisconsin received a “B” or a “C.”

One potential biodigester project was told that the cost of
upgrading the local grid to accommodate the project would
run nearly $750,000.  This exorbitant price quote effectively
killed the project.

Here are some examples of why these rules are so important:
  • One potential biodigester project was told that the cost of interconnection would be nearly $750,000. This exorbitant price quote effectively killed the project.  
  • In addition, many utilities nationally are removing the need to include an external disconnect switch for residential and small-scale renewable energy systems, such as a solar installation on a typical home. This would save project costs and help customers make the decision to purchase these types of systems.
Wisconsin currently scores a “D” on our state’s interconnection 
rules, according to the “Freeing the Grid” report. The 
improvements we suggested would have helped us improve our 
report card!

Wisconsin’s interconnection rules were last updated in 2004.  Since then, the federal government issued a “best practices” document in 2006, and a national organization called the Interstate Renewable Energy Council has also recently issued best practices and model interconnection procedures for states to adopt.

In short: the timing was right, the resources were available, and a broad cross-section of supporters were lined up in support of the effort.

Unfortunately, this is another lost opportunity to move Wisconsin forward. 

Read the PSC's order and Commissioner Eric Callisto's dissent (starting on page 5) here.

Additional background information: Interconnection rules governs how small solar, wind, and biodigester renewable energy systems are connected to the grid to ensure safety and reliability of the entire grid and utility employees working on electrical lines. These rules also offer assurance to potential customer-generators that their systems will be reviewed under a standardized framework which sets forth reasonable timelines for application review and decision-making. RENEW’s Summer Policy Intern, Rikaela Greane, prepared a more comprehensive article on the background of interconnection for our July Member newsletter.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

RENEW testifies against SB 167

Senate bill would make it easier to sue over alleged negative impacts of wind turbines

 RENEW Policy Director, Michael Vickerman presented testimony today against SB 167, a bill which would allow persons living within 1.5 miles of a wind turbine to sue for damages to health and property values, purportedly due to the proximity of the turbine. Vickerman argued that such a bill would effectively end wind development in Wisconsin:

"No other state has adopted, or is considering the adoption of, a policy that puts wind generators and host landowners at risk of being sued for alleged damages. No other state has established, or is considering the establishment of, such extreme setbacks in order to eradicate a legitimate business activity that supports thousands of jobs in the United States, including many here. This begs the question, how much business activity would actually occur in Wisconsin if the Legislature granted state residents the right, on the basis of an alleged hardship, to sue the owners of coal-fired power plants, high-voltage transmission lines, metallic mines, non-metallic mines, landfills, waste transfer stations, airports, railroads, truck stops, metal fabrication plants, paper mills, food processing facilities, and confined livestock operations so long as the offending facility is located within 1.5 miles of the complainant?"

Read Michael Vickerman's entire testimony

See the 11/19/2013  Capital Times article on SB 167


Monday, November 18, 2013

RENEW Wisconsin Blasts PSC Over Solar Vote Flip-Flop

Chair Reverses Himself One Week After Pro-Solar Vote

Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin Policy Director

At its open meeting on November 14, 2013, Public Service Commission (PSC) Chair Phil Montgomery reversed his own vote taken a week earlier that would have strengthened Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) Corporation’s net metering service starting January 2014.  

A week earlier, Montgomery stated his preference for ordering WPS to loosen a key restriction applicable to new solar systems. He was joined by Commissioner Eric Callisto in that discussion. But at the later meeting, Montgomery reversed himself, and sided with Commissioner Ellen Nowak.  

As a result of Montgomery’s about-face, WPS will continue to offer the most restrictive net metering service in the state, which will depress Wisconsin’s already struggling solar market even further.

In testimony presented in WPS’s 2014 rate case, RENEW Wisconsin, a clean energy advocacy organization, argued that the utility’s net metering service puts prospective solar generators at a disadvantage relative to other utility customers. RENEW’s testimony included figures revealing a steep drop-off in the number of solar electric systems built in WPS territory beginning in 2012.

The generally accepted practice among utilities is to calculate the net between production and consumption over a 12-month period.  Alone among Wisconsin utilities, WPS calculates the net each month, a practice that lengthens system payback.

“Though a complicated and highly technical policy, net metering is the principal driver for customer installations of solar.  Net metering for solar is like rollover minutes for your cellphone, and details like calculating the rollover annually versus monthly really matter,” said Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin. “It’s clearly in Wisconsin’s interest to establish a policy environment for solar energy that is predictable, easy to understand, and uniformly applied from one utility to the next,” Huebner said.

At the initial open meeting on November 6, Commissioner Montgomery expressed support for those principles. As captured in the Wisconsin Utility Regulation Report, “Montgomery said his preference was to direct the applicant to adopt an annual netting structure for this tariff consistent with what the commission decided in [We Energies]’s last rate case  . . . .”

Statement of Tyler Huebner:

“The facts in this case did not change between the Commission’s voice votes on November 6 and 14, and the need for a stronger and more uniform net metering policy did not diminish. But this breathtaking decision erases the PSC’s one positive decision on WPS’s treatment of solar energy, and the result will be yet another step backward.” 

“For those solar installers in central and northeast Wisconsin who initially cheered the PSC’s decision, Montgomery’s flip-flop comes as a bitter pill to swallow. Indeed, the welcome mat that once greeted start-up solar businesses here has all but disappeared.”

Let’s take a step back and look at the broader picture on electricity generated from the sun.  Nationally solar adoption increased a whopping 76% from 2011 to 2012, yet in Wisconsin the number of systems connected to the grid declined by 40%.  Approximately 14,000 jobs were created nationally in the industry in 2012, a 13.2% annual employment jump, taking the national total to 119,000 jobs.  Next, 92% of American voters agree that it is important for the U.S. to develop more solar, and 84% of Wisconsin voters support a three-fold increase in the amount of electricity the state gets from renewable sources like solar. Finally, based on research from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, solar energy creates twice as many jobs for every dollar invested as coal, and more than twice that of natural gas.”

“Solar is a growing industry, an industry that creates more jobs per dollar invested than its competitors, and the people want it badly.  Yet, in a state that claims it’s open for business, a state where we want and need to create jobs, our public officials are impeding progress. What a huge lost opportunity for the state. We have to go no further than Iowa to hear a completely different tune, where Republican governor Terry Branstad said just two weeks ago, ‘As a leader in wind energy and renewable fuels, Iowa should be at the front of the pack in implementing programs that encourage the use of solar energy as well.’”

“This is the third decision that has severely hampered clean energy and Wisconsin job creation in as many months. In September, the PSC voted to suspend Focus on Energy renewable energy incentives through the end of the year, ensuring that millions of dollars earmarked for this purpose will go unspent this year. Then in October, the PSC rejected our petition to initiate a new proceeding for improving the state’s interconnection rules.  These rules determine how easy or difficult, and how expensive or cost-effective, it is for a potential owner of a renewable energy system to connect into the electric grid.  Wisconsin’s rules haven’t been updated since 2004, even though  technology has changed a lot since then.  For example, that was four years before the first iPhone even came out. The PSC fumbled an opportunity to step in and streamline these administrative procedures.”

“These three recent decisions are job-killing decisions.  If you don’t think Wisconsin is falling behind on the policies that make solar energy flourish, take a look at how Wisconsin fares against its neighboring states.   “For any public official that wants to create jobs in Wisconsin, give us a call, we can help you.”

Ranking Midwestern States on Solar Policies and Practices
How Does Wisconsin stack up against neighboring states?
Net metering grade
Interconnection grade

Source: Freeing the Grid 2013: Best Practices in State Net Metering Policies and Interconnection Procedures, Interstate Renewable Energy Council, 2013.  Net metering policy for renewable energy systems is like rollover minutes for your cellphone:  it ensures that owners of renewable energy systems get full credit for the power they generate.  Interconnection rules determine how easy or difficult, and how expensive or cost-effective, a state’s rules are regarding connecting distributed energy generators (such as solar, wind, and biodigester systems) to the grid.  Wisconsin’s interconnection rules haven’t been updated since 2004.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

SOLAR: Construction begins on what will become the second-largest solar electric generation project in Wisconsin.

From the November 12th article by Tom Content
"Construction is beginning in Jefferson on a utility-scale solar project that will be one of the largest in Wisconsin."
"Chicago-based Half Moon Ventures hired S&C Electric Co. for engineering and construction of the project, which will generate 1 megawatt of electricity, or enough to power 150 homes."
Read the full article

Also see Half Moos Solar's press release announcing the project.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

We Energies' 50 MW Domtar Biomass Project Placed in Service

A 50 MW baseload facility should produce about 350 million kilowatt-hours of electricity in a year. That comes to one-half of one percent of annual electricity sales in Wisconsin (almost 70 billion kWh).

This marks the last utility-owned renewable energy project in the development pipeline. To the extent that any Wisconsin electricity providers will need to add to their supplies of renewable electricity to meet the 2015 requirement, those supplies will be purchased from nonutility generators.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The solar system: Advocates say solar still a good bet for businesses

One of two Solar America Cities in Wisconsin, Madison has attracted a cluster of businesses, consultants and supporters working to light up the local economy with the power of the sun. InBusiness Greater Madison Editorial Director Joe Vander Plas interviews the people that are leading the solar power shift in Madison, including Full Spectrum Solar Director Burke O'Neal, American Family Insurance Facilities Director Mark Pauls, City of Madison Facilities and Sustainability Director Jeanne Hoffman, RENEW Wisconsin Program and Policy Director Michael Vickerman, Sustain  Dane Interim Executive Director Jessie Lerner, Willy Street Co-op Operations Director Wynston Estis and Kate Schachter of Union Cab.

Full Spectrum Solar Storefront
Full Spectrum Solar | Photo Credit: InBusiness Magazine
"Despite fewer incentives for installing solar energy systems, advocates say it's still a good bet for businesses- and getting better all the time." -  InBusiness Greater Madison