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Friday, October 30, 2015

BREAKING NEWS: Judge overturns “tax” on clean energy in Wisconsin

Today, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Peter Anderson overturned a key ruling that would have led to We Energies electric customers who generate some of their own power having to pay extra fees back to the utility.  RENEW Wisconsin and The Alliance for Solar Choice joined together to challenge the Public Service Commission (PSC) ruling on this fee.
Milwaukee solar installers putting
in a rooftop solar system, via 

“The judge today determined that there was not sufficient evidence to support the decision made by the Public Service Commission, and ruled that he is vacating these fees,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin Executive Director.

In Fall of 2014, We Energies proposed that a customer who creates some of their own power to reduce their usage of electricity would be forced to pay an additional fee of $3.79 per kilowatt of power capacity per month.  For a typical 5 kilowatt solar installation on a home, that would have amounted to about $19 a month, or $227 per year, and a 27% reduction in energy bill savings.  Customers using biogas or hydropower would have faced a higher fee, $8.60 per kilowatt of power capacity.

The Public Service Commission, Wisconsin’s state agency that regulates utilities like We Energies, approved the proposal in December 2014.  They became just the second regulatory agency in the country to do so, after Arizona, where a small $5 per month fee was approved on solar customers.

The fees were set to begin in January 2016, but will not go into effect.

The Judge asked the parties (TASC, RENEW, We Energies, and the PSC) to draft an order consistent with his verbal statement.

The Judge’s decision is the third time in two years that PSC decisions governing customer-owned renewable generation have been overruled by the Dane County Circuit Court.

“Renewable energy is good for Wisconsin. When customers produce their own power, it increases our energy independence. When customers produce their own power, it increases energy security. A growing renewable energy industry will create jobs and bring investment to the state. Renewable energy is growing in states all over the country, and states right next door to us like Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota, and hopefully this decision will enable more of We Energies customers to take advantage of all the benefits of clean energy,” concluded RENEW’s Huebner.

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 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

“Robin Hood in Reverse” Is Back: WPS Customers Oppose Hike in Mandatory Fixed Charges

For immediate release                                 
October 20, 2015
More information

Tyler Huebner, Executive Director

Nearly 370 people made public comments. None support this policy change.

Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPS), a utility based in Green Bay, proposed in May to further increase the mandatory fixed charge for electricity that each residential customer has to pay each month.  In 2014, WPS was approved by state regulators to raise this fee from $10.40 to $19, and they are now proposing to further hike the fee to $25 per month.

In total, this represents a 140% increase in the monthly mandatory “fixed charge” that each customer would have to pay.

Nearly 370 individuals spoke out against this proposal. Of significant note, not a single individual or organization who took the time to make a public comment is in support of these higher mandatory fees. Public comments were accepted online electronically, in paper format, and taken at a public hearing on September 9th in De Pere.

“It is clear that Wisconsinites overwhelmingly oppose WPS’ continued attempts to raise these mandatory fixed charges.  These high fixed charges are a Robin Hood in reverse scheme:  the lowest users of electricity end up paying substantially more, while high users of electricity get a windfall,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director.

In the public comments, a wide variety of concerns were aired, from seniors, low-income, fixed-income, energy conservation, and renewable energy perspectives. These perspectives can be seen from sample comments included below:

- “The senior community often live on the edge. With expenses for food, rent, medications & utilities constantly rising, saving money to pay these bills is extremely difficult. It is impossible to save on utilities when the base rate keeps rising. Careful usage does not work in this case. Please be aware of this as you decide what to do with the current rates. We could sit in the dark & our rates would still increase.” – Laura Frost, Wausau

- “Even if I turn down my heat, turn off my lights, and convert to solar or wind power I will be charged the same amount as someone who doesn't make any of those efforts.” – Janis Schmitz, Brussels, WI

- “Every year St. Vincent de Paul runs out of money in their budget that they have set aside for energy assistance… If we continue to raise the mandatory rates like this, these organizations that try to help the poor and the elderly are just going to run out of money, and they're going to be left behind without heat.”  – Jackie Thiry, Green Bay

- “What about all the people on fixed incomes? They often have to forego medications to pay utility bills.  – Geri Deprey, Green Bay

- “The increase in the mandatory customer charge and the modest reduction in energy rates hit low electricity users harder than high electricity users….  It is contrary to state energy policy. Wisconsin`s energy priority law states that to the extent feasible and cost-effective, electricity needs should be met first with energy efficiency and second with non-combustible renewable energy like solar. By reducing one`s savings from pursuing conservation and clean energy alternatives, this billing design encourages increased consumption of fossil fuels.” – Christine Morrissey, Appleton

- “I am living on a fixed income. I am 73 years old. I am already struggling to keep up with my rent, day to day needs and my electricity as it now stands. You will create a very uncomfortable and no win situation for me if I have to keep coming up with more money. I am required to keep my electric current to continue living in my apartment. I have no where else to go if I get evicted.” – Judith Specht, Green Bay

- “My family lives on my disability payment alone, as my wife must spend the majority of her time tending to me. Anything that impacts our budget has an extraordinary effect on our lives, literally taking food from our table. Please consider all of the families like ours that will be effected by this proposed rate hike, if it is granted. Thank You.” –Scott Horton, Oshkosh

"I believe that we are paying enough. Period. I live and work in a rural area. Many of my students struggle for basic needs. How can you justify another raise in our rates? When is enough--enough?
We are talking basic necessities -- we need light, we need heat. Our incomes are not keeping pace with the increases that are forced upon us. Please, stop."- Jann Sharpe, Oconto

Analysis by RENEW Wisconsin shows Wisconsin is an outlier on this issue.  “Although 35 utilities across 19 different states have proposed increases in mandatory fixed fees in the past two years, only in Wisconsin have large hikes been granted.  Fourteen utilities have been denied entirely, while eighteen have been granted small increases, from $0.10 to $4.30 a month for customers,” concluded RENEW’s Tyler Huebner.

The graphic above depicts 35 investor-owned utilities which have requested increases to the monthly fixed charge each customer must pay in 2014 or 2015.  The 14 utilities on the left-hand side were completely denied their request to increase the charge.  The middle 18 utilities were granted increases from $0.10 to $4.30 per month.  To the right, the three largest blue bars, all for Wisconsin utilities, show higher fixed charge increases of $6/month and more.  The two red bars depict 2015 proposals from Wisconsin utilities.  


Monday, October 5, 2015

Xcel’s proposed fixed-rate shift hits frugality

Photo by Pamela Powers of the Eau Claire Leader Telegram
The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram featured an excellent editorial on Xcel Energy's proposal to increase mandatory monthly customer charges, claiming that the proposal harms "frugality" by giving customers less control over their monthly bill, and also quotes RENEW's Michael Vickerman.

See the full article here.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

MG&E Proposes Community Solar Pilot Program

Vernon Electric Cooperative Community Solar
Madison Gas & Electric filed an application this week to launch a pilot program, which, if approved, would result in the construction of a 500-kilowatt array atop the Middleton Municipal Operations Center under construction. Under the proposal, MG&E will market the output from this array in 250 watt increments to residential customers, up to a maximum of 3 kW per household. Participating customers would pay a one-time up-front payment to MG&E and then receive, at a partially fixed price over a 25-year period, output up to one-half of their annual electric usage.  Under current rates, the price of electricity received through the Community Solar array would be close to the levels that Green Power Tomorrow customers pay for their renewable electricity.

As was done with other utility community solar initiatives,
RENEW plans to submit comments on
Eau Claire Electric Cooperative Community Solar Array
this pilot program to the Public Service Commission. The agency’s decision should occur before the end of October—check back with us to find out if the PSC approved MGE’s Community Solar tariff. For more information on this proposal, you can review the application here.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote a short article on MG&E’s proposal, which can be accessed here.