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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Solar Groups Appeal Public Service Commission Decision to Impose Unwarranted Fees on Wisconsinites

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

Amy Heart                                                      Tyler Huebner
The Alliance for Solar Choice                        RENEW Wisconsin
414-510-8965 (m)                                           608-575-2201 (m)

MADISON, WI – January 22, 2015 – The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) and RENEW Wisconsin today filed an appeal of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s December decision to impose discriminatory charges against solar customers in We Energies territory. The appeal challenges 1) the total lack of support in the public record for the charges and 2) the discrimination against solar and low usage customers.

“The Public Service Commission’s own staff expert testified that there was not enough evidence in the record to approve the discriminatory solar charges,” said Amy Heart, spokesperson for The Alliance for Solar Choice. “That will be difficult to deny in the courts.”

Over 500 Wisconsin residents attended a public hearing in October to oppose We Energies’ proposal, and their outcry garnered national media attention.

“The Public Service Commission has essentially permitted a private company, We Energies, to institute a new tax on some of its customers,” said Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin. “The record doesn’t support this decision, and we look forward to an impartial review of the facts behind this case.”

“We Energies commissioned a confidential internal study of solar in Wisconsin and found that solar customers provide a net financial benefit to all ratepayers,” said Heart. “That will be difficult for the Commission to deny in the courts.”

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 market. Its members include: Demeter Power, Silevo, SolarCity, Solar Universe, Sunrun, Verengo, ZEP.

About RENEW Wisconsin:  RENEW Wisconsin leads and accelerates the transformation to Wisconsin’s renewable energy future through advocacy, education, and collaboration.  RENEW represents over 50 companies in the Wisconsin renewable energy industry.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Annual vs. Monthly Net Metering--Midwest Energy News Dives Into the Discussion

 In the last three years, several Wisconsin utilities have proposed changes to their net metering service in an effort to reduce the value proposition of solar generation for host customers. One way to accomplish this objective is to dramatically shrink the duration of the netting period. In Wisconsin several utilities have sought permission to reconcile output and consumption on a monthly basis. Twice in the last two years, a majority on Wisconsin's Pubic Service Commission have signed off on utility requests to limit the netting period to the monthly billing period, We Energies being the latest to receive approval to impose monthly true-ups.

As the article from Midwest Energy News’ Kari Lydersen below demonstrates, the greater the output from a PV array relative to the host customer's consumption, the higher the likelihood that a portion of that system's production will be compensated at a substantially reduced rate. Depending on the utility, that lower rate can be 75% less than the retail energy rate offset. This policy is particularly damaging to residential and small business solar producers, due to strong seasonal swings in both system output and consumption.

In Wisconsin, solar ‘new math’ could equal big impacts

Posted on 01/16/2015 by Kari Lydersen
Solar panels on a home near Milwaukee.
(Photo by mjmonty via Creative Commons)

For tourists, the “shoulder seasons” in the spring and fall are times to get cheap deals in ski resorts or beach towns that cater to summer and winter crowds.

For people with solar power on their homes, these seasons are when their solar installations are most likely to be producing more energy than the home actually needs. These “shoulder months,” as RENEW Wisconsin Policy and Program Director Michael Vickerman frames it, are at the crux of one of the ways solar power is under attack in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission recently approved three controversial rate cases proposed by We Energies, Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPS) and Madison Gas & Electric, which all will make it much less favorable or feasible to install solar panels on a home or small business.

We Energies, the most significant case, includes a provision that will change how the utility compensates consumers for sending energy back to the grid, by changing from annual to monthly “true-up” net metering calculations.

This may sound like an arcane modification. But Vickerman and other solar advocates say it means people will be compensated drastically less for the energy they send back to the grid during the spring and fall, and they are likely to build smaller solar installations as a result.

Unless an expected legal challenge to the Public Service Commission decision is successful, the true-up change will take effect in January 2016. WPS has done its calculations on a monthly basis since a 2013 rate case (docket number 6690-UR-122 on the commission’s website).

“It definitely is not reflective of best practices to switch from annual to monthly” true-ups, said Sara Baldwin Auck, regulatory program director of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), which publishes an annual report called “Freeing the Grid” scoring states’ net metering policies.

“Net metering policies are a compilation of multiple pieces, they all add up to favorable [or unfavorable] conditions and terms for the customers who are seeking to invest in onsite renewable energy and take more control of their energy future and energy bills. It’s a little tough to say whether the true-up issue is the lynchpin, but I will definitely say that this issue ranks higher than others as far as contributing to the overall best practices.”

The math

Typically, at the end of the year utilities tally up how much energy a customer has used and how much they have sent back to the grid from their solar installations. Then the customers are either charged or compensated for the difference, or the energy they have “banked” may be put toward the coming year’s usage.

When someone produces more energy than they have used, there’s the question of how much to pay them for that energy sent back to the grid. This is where net metering policies defined by different state laws or determined by different utilities can vary significantly.

The customer with solar panels can be compensated at the retail rate – the cost they would have paid for electricity at that time; or the “avoided cost” rate, the amount the utility estimates it saved by not having to provide that amount of power to other consumers on the grid. The rate may also be determined through a formula based on several market factors.

Retail and avoided cost rates are significantly different. Avoided cost rates for Wisconsin utilities are 3 to 4 cents per kWh, while retail rates are around 11 to 14 cents per kWh.

When a solar installation produces less energy than a home uses during the true-up period, the way surplus energy is compensated is irrelevant, since there is none. But when someone is sending significant solar energy to the grid, different rates of compensation can add up.

That’s where the shoulder seasons become important. Most Americans use their highest amounts of electricity in the summer, with air conditioners running. Winter also usually means high electricity use, with more lights on when the sun sets early and electricity sometimes used for heating the home or heating water. In the spring and fall, by contrast, household electricity use tends to be lower. That’s when solar installations are most likely to send more electricity back to the grid than the home uses.

If net electricity consumption and generation is all tallied up at the end of a year, people essentially get to “use” their springtime solar power in the summer or winter when their demand is higher. But if the balances are tallied every month, consumers will often end up getting low avoided cost rate payments for their surplus energy during the shoulder seasons, then buying more electricity at higher retail rates in summer and winter.

We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said, “Monthly net metering more accurately and more fairly values distributed generation by crediting on-peak use at the on-peak rates and crediting summer generation at typically higher summer-based rates.”

“To set the buyback rate at something higher than avoided cost for customer-generated energy would set an inappropriate price signal and would be unfair to customers without their own generation,” Manthey continued.

How much does it matter?

Vickerman said surplus energy payment and true-up policies are typically figured in when someone decides what size solar installation to put on their home. If they won’t be paid much for unused energy, they may choose a smaller installation…meaning less clean energy on the grid.

Vickerman made these points in testimony before the Wisconsin Public Service Commission in 2013 regarding WPS’s change to monthly true-ups. He noted that companies who advise customers on installing solar use sophisticated “solar math” to decide what size system is most financially efficient, and the true-up period is an important consideration in that equation.

Vickerman gave an example of a 4,500-4,900 kWh system in Green Bay. That would seem a good fit for a home using 5,000 kWh per year. But given typical monthly fluctuations, based on widely accepted models, he estimated that household would have to sell 561 kWh per year back to the utility at the lower avoided cost prices.

That would represent a loss of about $55 under monthly true-ups compared to annual calculations. That would increase by 10 percent the time it would take the solar system to pay for itself in energy savings. Faced with that situation, Vickerman said, a customer might choose a smaller solar array.

“You need to look at all the pieces,” of a net metering policy, said Baldwin Auck. “One element can really have a domino effect on whether that policy is ultimately effective in encouraging people to install these systems.”

The national scene

Baldwin Auck said that 22 states have “some form of annual true-up.” The “ideal scenario” for net metering, she noted, is “indefinite rollover,” where the excess energy someone has sent to the grid is perpetually credited to their account in a situation akin to a meter literally running backwards.

In California, state law says that a customer cannot be required to true-up more frequently than once a year. However some utilities offer customers the option to true-up monthly, saying it helps them avoid “surprise” charges once an annual bill is due.

PG&E in California, for example, calculates net metering on an annual basis, and at that time pays customers an annual rate of 4 cents per kWh for the surplus energy. Southern California Edison allows customers to receive a check for surplus energy at the end of the year or to roll over their credit into the next year’s billing cycle.

California received an A grade for net metering policies in the 2015 Freeing the Grid report. California also has more friendly solar policies on other fronts, for example only solar installations of 20 kW or less typically qualify for net metering in Wisconsin, whereas California utilities accept installations up to 1 MW.

Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and Minnesota all got B’s for net metering policies in Freeing the Grid, and Ohio got an A.

“The monthly true-up is much less common, and there is a strong correlation between states that have received an A or B grade on the scorecard, and annual true-ups,” Baldwin Auck said.

The value of electricity

Clean energy groups plan to challenge various aspects of the We Energies rate case. First they must file an administrative challenge with the Public Service Commission. If the commission denies that
appeal, they can file a lawsuit in state circuit court.

“We will ask the commission to reconsider, though we have a pretty good idea what the commissioner will say,” said Vickerman. “It’s a process we have to go through.”

The commission’s approval of the MG&E rate case is also likely to be challenged. However the MG&E case does not change the true-up period.

Another utility, Alliant Energy/Wisconsin Power and Light does not have a full rate case pending, but it recently went through a smaller proceeding before the Public Service Commission. Wisconsin Power and Light already trued-up customers with solar monthly. But they paid the retail rate rather than the avoided cost rate, so the monthly calculations raised no concerns. A change which took effect January 1 (docket number 6680-FR-107)) means that now Wisconsin Power and Light pays separate retail and avoided-cost rates.

“They were already doing the net calculations every month, but it didn’t matter when every kilowatt hour got the same credit,” said Vickerman. “Now they’re switching from a one-tier to a two-tier structure, and suddenly it matters.”

Renew Wisconsin challenged the Wisconsin PSC change, and ultimately came to a settlement that allows more customers to continue for a longer time grandfathered in under the old system. The settlement means the utility increased from five to 10 years the time grandfathered-in solar operates under the old system. And the settlement meant solar installed up until December 31, 2014 is grandfathered in, as opposed to the utility’s proposal of July 2014.

“We’re not happy with that, but on the other hand it could be much worse,” said Vickerman of the settlement.

Baldwin Auck said that in the debates over true-up policies and surplus energy rates, she hopes people don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.

With a solar installation “You’re reducing onsite consumption, and on top of that giving energy back to the grid,” she said. “The credit a customer receives for that energy should be reflective of the full value of that electricity.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Honors Set for Wisconsin Renewable Energy Leaders Awards Will Spotlight Businesses and Champions Making a Difference

(Madison) – At its fourth annual Energy Policy Summit, RENEW Wisconsin will present awards to businesses and individuals whose achievements and vision helped lift Wisconsin’s renewable energy marketplace to new heights in 2014.

Titled “Unlocking the Clean Energy Transition,” RENEW’s summit is set for January 9, 2015, and will take place at UW-Madison’s Union South.

“The people and companies we will recognize this Friday are making a lasting impression on Wisconsin’s renewable energy landscape,” said RENEW Wisconsin Executive Director Tyler Huebner. “As Wisconsin’s preeminent clean energy organization, RENEW benefits greatly from their pioneering innovations and hard work, which help prepare the ground for broader policy advances.”

“We at RENEW are honored to have the opportunity to work closely with these award winners and take inspiration from their ongoing commitment to advancing clean energy here,” Huebner said.

A list of award categories and recipients appears below.

Energy Independent Enterprise of the Year – Gundersen Health System, La Crosse – For becoming the first large health care network in the nation to offset 100% of its electricity usage with its own sources of clean energy.

Renewable Energy Business of the Year – Eland Electric Corporation, Green Bay - For planning and building in 2014 nearly one megawatt of rooftop solar generation in the Fox Valley/Northeast Wisconsin region.

Renewable Energy Champion of the Year – Matt Neumann, SunVest Solar, Pewaukee – For  outstanding public advocacy on behalf of regulatory policies and reforms that would allow renewable energy contractors to provide mainstream financing options for their customers.  

Renewable Energy Grassroots Activists of the Year – Steve and Ellen Terwilliger, Eau Claire - For organizing and co-hosting, along with Chippewa Valley Technical College, the Solar Power Wisconsin Affordable Energy Conference, a new outreach event that attracted nearly 200 people to Eau Claire in November 2014 to learn more about solar energy.

For more information on the 2015 program agenda, speakers, and registration, please visit:


RENEW Wisconsin leads and accelerates the transformation to Wisconsin's renewable energy future through advocacy, education, and collaboration. More information on RENEW’s Web site at 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Renewable Projects Selected for RENEW's 2014 Honor Roll

For immediate release              
January 5, 2015    

More information             
Tyler Huebner, Executive Director                      

Renewable Projects Selected for RENEW’s 2014 Honor Roll
Newest Wisconsin Generators Powered by Water, Cow Manure, and the Sun

(Madison) – At its fourth annual Energy Policy Summit, RENEW Wisconsin will recognize the largest, and the most innovative, renewable generation projects built in Wisconsin in 2014. Titled “Unlocking the Clean Energy Transition,” RENEW’s summit will take place January 9, 2015, at UW-Madison’s Union South.

The 16 clean energy projects inducted into RENEW’s Honor Roll added 5.92 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity in Wisconsin. Of that total, the two hydropower projects--Badger Hydro and Angelo Dam--account for slightly more than 3 MW. In the biogas category, Gundersen Health System recently energized its 600-kilowatt Sunny Side Digester installation northeast of Sun Prairie.

The other 13 generators, accounting for 2.27 MW, are solar powered. Many of the solar projects fit the definition of Community Solar, either involving a single array sponsored by customer subscriptions (a/k/a solar gardens) or a single contractor installing solar electric systems in a particular neighborhood.   

Combined, the projects will provide enough electricity to power the equivalent usage of about 2,600 Wisconsin homes.

Perhaps representative of a shift in attitudes on distributed renewable generation, two of the projects to be highlighted are owned by electric providers. One project, Kaukauna Utilities’ Badger Hydro, involved reconstructing and upgrading an existing unit, resulting in a generating capacity increase of nearly 3 MW.  Barron Electric Cooperative owns its 100 kW solar garden outright.

In addition, electric providers sponsored the construction of four solar gardens in Wisconsin, three of which—Vernon, St. Croix, and Barron--are supported by self-selecting customers. In exchange for their up-front contributions to the array, these customers receive a credit on their monthly bills.  Over the course of their subscription period, typically 15 years long, these customers should receive a financial return in the neighborhood of 4%.

In addition to the utility-sponsored solar gardens, this year’s Honor Roll includes two neighborhood-based Community Solar initiatives organized by a single installer. In Black River Falls, Ho-Chunk Nation supplied 45 solar electric systems installed by PV Systems, Inc., and serving residential households, while in the Bay View neighborhood in Milwaukee, Arch Electric energized 38 individually owned solar electric systems there.

Also to be honored are eight solar installations serving manufacturers, faith communities, a brewery, an airport maintenance facility and a public museum.

“The Energy Policy Summit is a fitting venue to honor the people and organizations that embraced the vision of energy self-sufficiency and job creation, and brought these ideas to fruition,” said RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director Tyler Huebner.

“Their solar, hydro, and bioenergy installations created jobs, reduced the flow of imported fossil fuels into Wisconsin, and demonstrated responsible environmental stewardship.  They truly deserve the recognition, as well as everyone’s appreciation,” Huebner said.

A list of the projects that earned a spot on RENEW’s 2014 Honor Roll appears on page 3.

For more information on the 2015 program agenda, speakers, and registration, please visit:


RENEW Wisconsin leads and accelerates the transformation to Wisconsin's renewable energy future through advocacy, education, and collaboration. More information on RENEW’s Web site at  

 Distributed Renewable Generation in Wisconsin
RENEW Wisconsin - 2014 Honor Roll
County of Location
(in kW)
Installer/ Contractor
Sunny Side Biodigester
Gundersen Health Systems
U.S. Biogas
Kaukauna Utilities
7,000 (2,800 new)
Boldt Construction
Angelo Dam
Western Technical College
Lunda Construction
Solar – Utility
Dairyland Power Cooperative
Clean Energy Collective
Vernon Electric
Solar – Community
Vernon Electric Cooperative
Clean Energy Collective
Vernon Electric
Ho-Chunk Nation (Black River Falls)
Ho-Chunk Nation
158 (45 systems)
PV Systems, Inc.
Bay View Neighborhood (MKE Shines)
Bay View homeowners
136 (38 systems)
Arch Electric
St. Croix Electric Cooperative
St. Croix

Barron Electric Cooperative
Barron Electric
Carr Creek
Solar – Customer-Owned

Eland Electric
Holy Wisdom Monastery
Benedictine Women of Madison
145 (125 new)
H&H Solar
Griffin Industries
Eland Electric
Astro Industries
Eland Electric
Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross
Eland Electric
Dane County Regional Airport
Energy Concepts
Ale Asylum
Milwaukee Public Museum
Convergence Energy/Arch Electric