Demand charge on PV system owners struck down in Wisconsin

Only two days after New Mexico regulators threw out a plan by utilities to increase charges on PV system owners under a separate rate structure, solar advocates have won another victory in Wisconsin.

Today the Dane County Circuit Court in Wisconsin struck down a portion of a ruling by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission that modified the economics of owning PV systems under net metering in multiple ways. This included a US$3.79 per kW per month charge on PV system owners, an increase in fixed fees on all customers, and a move from wholesale to retail rate for excess electricity generated by customer PV systems.

These charges together represented perhaps the most regressive discriminatory changes to PV compensation to date, in a state that had only a very small residential solar market.

Judge Peter Anderson struck down the per-kW demand charge. The other changes will remain, however advocacy group Renew Wisconsin says that this charge was the largest obstacle for distributed solar.

The November 2014 decision was pushed by two commissioners appointed by right-wing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and had always been controversial. At the time Environmental Law and Policy Center Senior Attorney Brad Klein noted that the decisions were made on the basis of an empty record, with no evidence considered.

Additionally, Bloomberg reported that Commissioner Ellen Nowak had told an audience at an Edison Electric Institute conference in June 2014 that utilities should impose fixed charges on customers who deploy PV. Less than three weeks later We Energies introduced a plan that included the fee.

The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) and Renew Wisconsin filed a legal challenge later in November. Unsurprisingly Judge Peter Anderson reversed the demand charge on the basis of a lack of evidence, stating that the agency should have commissioned an independent study of the value of solar.

Renew Wisconsin notes that Judge Anderson’s decision is the third time in two years that Public Service Commission decisions regarding customer-owned renewable energy have been overruled by the Dane County Circuit Court.

TASC also cites citizen activism as a factor in their victory. “Thousands of Wisconsinites made today’s reversal possible by contacting their elected officials,” said TASC Spokesperson Amy Heart. “TASC thanks each of these citizens for making their voices heard. We will need each of their voices once again to fight utility attacks on solar choice."

Correction: This article was modified on October 30 at 4:55 PM Eastern Time (U.S.). The original article stated that the entire ruling was overturned, due to a misinterpretation of a press release. Only the demand charge was overturned.