TASC to appeal solar fees in Wisconsin

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The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) has emerged as the first organization to confirm that it will appeal a November 14th ruling by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission which changes how solar PV owners are compensated for the electricity they generate.

“We can’t file the appeal until the final written order comes out, but we will be appealing at that time,” TASC Co-Chair Bryan Miller told pv magazine.

The policy changes requested by utility We Energies and approved by the commission are easily the most regressive changes to a net metering policy in the United States in recent years, including an increase in fixed monthly charges and a new US$3.79 per kilowatt monthly charge for customers with rooftop PV.

This charge alone will increase electricity bills for most PV system owners by $10-30 per month. Additionally, starting in January new PV system owners will be compensated for excess electricity generated at a wholesale rate, not a retail rate.

It is notable that unlike in Arizona, this is happening in a state that has very little installed PV. “There is no Wisconsin solar market, there never has been,” notes TASC’s Miller. “What (We Energies’) actions will do is to prevent any future solar market from occurring until they are reversed.”

Lack of evidence and improper conduct

Miller has strong faith that the ruling will be overturned, in part due to the breaches of protocol by regulators. The two regulators appointed by right-wing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker that represented the majority decision did not look at evidence in making their decision.

“We have decisions that were made here really on the basis of an empty record,” notes Environmental Law and Policy Center Senior Attorney Brad Klein. “That’s the most disturbing part of what has happened here in Wisconsin.”

Klein notes that public service commissions in other states including Nevada, Mississippi and Utah have looked at this same issue and found benefits provided by net metered solar and/or rejected utility fees, whereas Wisconsin regulators declined to conduct a study.

“Those are red states with conservative commissions, but they are requiring decisions to be made based on evidence,” explained Klein.

Impropriety by the commission in its ruling does not stop at a lack of evidence. Bloomberg has reported that Walker-appointed Commissioner Ellen Nowak advised an audience of utility professionals at the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) conference in June to introduce fixed fees on solar customers.

Legal experts cited by Bloomberg note that this is highly improper behavior by a regulator. Less than three weeks later We Energies introduced a plan that included the fee, which Nowak then approved. Nowak also appeared on an EEI panel with the CEO of We Energies parent company Wisconsin Energy.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that new PV owners in Wisconsin would be credited at a wholesale rate instead of a retail rate. The article has been changed to reflect that wholesale rates will only apply to generation in excess of use.