Submitted by Bill Bailey of Cheq Bay Renewables
Two Ashland, Wisconsin nonprofits are installing solar photovoltaic systems on their facilities. The nonprofits are household names in the Chequamegon Bay area of western Lake Superior – the New Day Advocacy Center and The BRICK Ministries.
New Day Advocacy Center provides free and confidential domestic violence and sexual assault victim services, including shelter and other crisis intervention services. They also provide community prevention education to culture respect and lasting change in community behavior – No More Abuse!
The BRICK’s mission is to compassionately help people in need. They are best known for their Food Shelf Program, but also provide emergency financial resources and referrals with a focus to keep people in their homes through their Benevolence Program
Both organizations have considered solar installations in the past to reduce utility expenses and to generate clean energy. But as each nonprofit had roofs which needed repair, and had purchased or recently moved into newly renovated facilities, they were both financially strained. The solar would have to wait. That was until Eric Udelhofen called from OneEnergy Renewables, a community and utility scale solar project developer based in Seattle, Washington with a satellite office in Madison.
OneEnergy had 35 high-quality, modern solar modules they wanted to donate to a worthy Ashland nonprofit. OneEnergy was the solar developer on the recently constructed 1-megawatt Xcel Energy community solar garden in Ashland. The modules were “bones,” extra parts, left over from purchasing or shipping in bulk quantities, and OneEnergy wanted something good to come from their surplus.
Solar modules represent roughly 15% of the cost of a small solar project. The other 85% is comprised of inverters, racking, miscellaneous additional materials and labor. Jolma Electric of Ashland, who was also involved in the installation of Ashland’s community solar project, joined the project agreeing to perform its installation services “at cost,” and the total project cost was reduced by 22%. Then C&S Design & Engineering, also from Ashland, reduced their engineering cost by 50%, further lowering the total installation price.
Additional funding was needed to cover the remaining balance of the installation. The New Day Board was the first of the two projects to vote to move forward with raising the remaining funds. A GoFundMe site was set up and $6,500 was raised in two weeks. In addition, $3,400 of private checks were received designated for the solar installation. Of the nearly $10,000 of cash donated to the New Day rooftop solar project, OneEnergy employees donated $6,000.
There is another story here. At the core of OneEnergy’s business model is a commitment to serve the communities in which they operate, along with a strident belief that the transition to clean energy will help create a more sustainable and equitable global economy. Not only did the corporation donate the solar modules, but employees stood behind this commitment and donated their personal cash. The status quo of corporate America as an entity has become isolated from their communities. OneEnergy, as well as Jolma Electric and C&S Design and Engineering, are demonstrating an alternative approach, modeling a more enlightened view about the role of companies in society and a commitment to be the change that they wish to see in the world.
So New Day’s project is off and running and now The BRICK has begun its fundraising campaign. An awning style installation was designed by Jolma Electric and C&S Design & Engineering. The donated modules will fill half the south façade of the facility with opportunity to fill the remainder if or when funds allow. The full project would cost $31,990 of which $20,490 has already been raised. A GoFundMe site has been set up for The BRICK to fund the remaining $11,500. If you can help go to: https://bit.ly/3k0IeLm to donate.
During this time of COVID-19, it is encouraging to see that community-building defeats fear, love overcomes hatred, and clean energy offsets fossil fuels. With the support of this community, these two nonprofits, New Day Advocacy Center and The BRICK, are choosing the alternative path, the “culture of service.”
Last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) dismissed a challenge to state control of net metering. The unanimous decision made on Thursday, July 16, 2020 was great news for RENEW Wisconsin and our members. Homeowners, business and manufacturers that generate their own solar energy can now breathe easy, knowing that the oversight for net metering policy remains in the hands of Wisconsin’s own Public Service Commission.
The New England Ratepayers Association (“NERA”) had petitioned the FERC to take control over net metering policy for the entire country. If the petition were granted, states would have lost the ability to set policy on solar electricity generated by utility customers. The challenge to state control of net metering, the policy that enables energy producers to get bill credit for the extra energy they push back on to the grid, threatened the solar investments of thousands of families and businesses in Wisconsin.
RENEW joined dozens of other clean energy advocacy organizations in a petition to dismiss the issue and encouraged Wisconsin’s political leadership to get involved. Many elected officials from around the country joined in the fight to protect net metering including Wisconsin’s own, Attorney General Josh Kaul.
Check out the background on this story and how RENEW fought to protect Wisconsinites generating clean energy on their homes and businesses.
This morning, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that three of Governor Evers’ budget vetoes are unconstitutional. Included in the three budget vetoes was the allocation of $10 million of Volkswagen Settlement Funding for electric vehicle charging infrastructure. RENEW has been working with partners and the Department of Administration to determine the most effective use of this $10 million since the state budget passed last July.
We are extremely disappointed with this setback. We had hoped to see this money spent over the next year to build a comprehensive network of charging infrastructure that would allow Wisconsinites to easily and confidently drive anywhere in the state with an electric vehicle.
There is a silver lining: Volkswagen Settlement Funds are strictly allocated based on a federal settlement that stipulates this funding must be spent to reduce diesel and gasoline emissions. RENEW will continue to fight to ensure this money is reallocated to electric vehicle charging infrastructure, as we believe this is the best way to support the transition to a clean, homegrown transportation system.
For more information, see RENEW Wisconsin’s previous blogs about Volkswagen Settlement Funding:
July 3, 2019 • Governor Evers Signs Budget Designating VW Money to Electric Vehicle Charging Stations
May 31, 2019 • Electric Charging Station Funding Takes Another Ste
March 6, 2019 • Volkswagen Settlement Update
October 22, 2018 • The “Volkswagen Settlement” – A Big Opportunity for Electric Vehicles
An upcoming decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has the solar industry, legislators, clean energy advocates, and state regulators extremely worried over the viability of solar power for homeowners and businesses.
The New England Ratepayers Association (“NERA”) has petitioned the FERC to take control over net metering policy for the entire country. If the petition is granted, states would lose the ability to set policy on solar electricity generated by utility customers. NERA’s petition has sparked widespread opposition from states, legislators, individuals and renewable energy businesses. Attorney Generals from 15 states, including Wisconsin’s own Attorney General Josh Kaul, submitted a protest in opposition to the petition.
What inspired 15 attorney generals, three governors, and state officials from across the political spectrum to engage in a federal energy policy debate?
For almost 40 years, states have had the authority to design and implement net metering policies. The NERA petition aims to reverse this long-standing precedent and eliminate Wisconsin’s ability to tailor utility net metering services to best fit local conditions.
What is net metering?
As defined by the Solar Energy Industries Association, net metering is a billing mechanism that credits PV system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. For example, if a residential customer has a rooftop PV system, it may generate more electricity than the home uses during daylight hours. If the home is net-metered, the electricity meter will run backwards to provide a credit against what electricity is consumed at night or other periods when the home’s electricity use exceeds the system’s output. The credit is set at the customer’s retail energy rate. Under this arrangement, customers are only billed for their “net” energy use. This practice enables utility customers who are producing their own electricity to decrease their electricity bills, and it is a powerful tool for driving investment in solar power.
What is at stake here?
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Wisconsin has 3,879 residential net metering households, 874 commercial net metering customers, and 74 industrial net metering customers. These customers are at risk of increased electric bills with the potential loss of net metering.
In addition, the 2019 jobs data from Clean Energy Trust found that before the pandemic hit, Wisconsin employed over 3,798 solar installers as part of the statewide clean energy workforce. With less financial incentive for installing solar, these jobs and other clean energy jobs would be at risk if this petition is granted.
Net metering is good for everyone
RENEW Wisconsin joined other organizations in protesting this petition to wrest control of net metering away from states and put it in the hands of a federal agency. Our protest, authored by attorneys Dave Bender and Carter Hall of Earthjustice with clients Sierra Club and Vote Solar, includes explanations of the value of net metering policies for the electric grid. Here are some essential excerpts from the protest:
- Net metered facilities (such as solar) provide capacity value by avoiding otherwise required generation, transmission and distribution capacity.
- With net metering, solar has become an affordable option for almost everyone, not just high-wealth families. Net metering supports the increased use of distributed solar (such as solar arrays on the rooftop of a house or business), stimulating investment across communities while reducing the environmental and health impacts on low income communities and communities of color, who are disproportionately burdened by current forms of energy production.
- Solar installers operate in a competitive marketplace, driving down prices and passing savings onto consumers.
- Distributed solar has predictable energy production.
- Allegations of cross-subsidies are unfounded and overstated. Net metered customers often reduce their own loads and system loads during the cost-causing peak hours used to allocate costs of retail service, meaning they consume less of the fixed and demand services as measured by cost of service analysis.
Strong bipartisan support for state control of net metering
Millions of individual citizens and businesses across the country have made significant investments to generate their own electricity and have entered long-term contracts premised on the continuation of policies and programs regulated at the state level. Granting the petition would create enormous uncertainty and financial harm for our citizens and businesses at a time when they are already struggling with the economic impacts of the coronavirus.
More than 240 comments in opposition have been submitted to the FERC, and just five comments in support of taking away state control of net metering. Here are a few highlights:
Josh Kaul, Attorney General of Wisconsin said,
“Suddenly changing the rules on Wisconsinites who invested in clean energy for their homes is wrong and bad for the future of clean energy,” said AG Kaul. “The federal government shouldn’t be disrupting state programs that are good for the environment and help consumers save money.” 6/15/20
Frank Knapp Jr. CEO and President of South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce said,
“…Net metering regulation properly resides with the states… We ask that the Commission reject the NERA petition. Moving it forward only serves the purpose of big special interests that find it easier to influence one group of federal commissioners rather than legislators, regulators and consumers in 50 individual states.” 6/11/20
Terry Kilgore, Virginia State Delegate (R-VA-1) wrote,
“This case would set two bad precedents. It would move us closer to nationalized electricity regulation and give more power to unaccountable federal bureaucrats. We, as Virginians, must oppose this and fight to make sure the authority to set energy policy stays vested with Virginia’s General Assembly.” 6/20/20
Net metering is in jeopardy. The petition, if approved, would take the state out of the picture in designing and preserving net metering as we know it. You can count on RENEW to keep working to ensure that net metering policies remain in the hands of our state regulators and are designed to fairly compensate residents and business that have installed renewable energy.
Make a donation today to support this work and all of the ways RENEW Wisconsin is protecting and advancing renewable energy in Wisconsin.
On Thursday, June 18th the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) unanimously approved Xcel Energy’s three pioneering electric vehicle (EV) programs. Xcel, whose western Wisconsin service territory includes Eau Claire, La Crosse and Ashland, proposed two residential programs in addition to a commercial pilot program, all intended to reduce the upfront cost of installing electric vehicle charging infrastructure. These programs will make it easier and more affordable for individuals and businesses to install electric vehicle chargers and commit to driving electric.
In 2014, Madison Gas & Electric’s Charge@Home electric vehicle pilot program was approved by the PSC. Charge@Home launched in 2016, and like Xcel’s programs, it aims to help with the obstacles of EV adoption. Xcel’s two residential programs mark the first time a full-fledged electric vehicle program has been approved in Wisconsin.
Under both of the residential programs, Xcel will install and maintain ownership of a level 2 charger on the customer’s property, provided the customer owns an electric vehicle. Customers will have the option of paying more upfront coupled with a lower monthly fee through their “pre-pay” option, or taking a “bundled” approach and paying more per month while foregoing the upfront charge. While customers will end up paying back the cost of the system over time, Xcel’s ownership of the charger means the expense of upkeep and replacement (if necessary) will be paid for by Xcel.
Under one of the programs, the electric vehicle charger will meter the electricity used to charge the car, which will be billed on its own EV-only time-of-use rate.* This means that customers can take advantage of the cost savings of charging their EV using inexpensive electricity overnight without having to switch their whole house to a time-of-use rate or install a second meter.
The second residential program is for customers who have on-site solar generation or who already use a time-of-use rate. This program is patterned after the first, except that the electric vehicle charging will not be put on its own rate. The whole home, including the EV charging, will be billed at Xcel’s existing residential time-of-use rate.
Commercial Pilot Program
Xcel will also run a commercial electric vehicle pilot program. In this pilot, Xcel will be studying an alternative to current line extension* rules. The utility will help customers finance the cost of make-ready infrastructure* needed for EV charging stations, which includes all necessary electrical equipment to operate the stations. Customers will pay the utility back over time as they use more electricity to charge their cars. The commercial customer would also have the option of letting Xcel own the charging stations, not just the make-ready, in which case the customer would pay an additional monthly fixed fee. These options will help commercial customers bring down what can sometimes be a very high upfront cost to install make-ready and charging infrastructure.
It can be expensive to install the equipment needed to recharge electric vehicle batteries, especially in commercial settings. We commend Xcel for finding creative solutions to some of the upfront cost barriers to electric vehicle ownership and deployment. These programs give Wisconsin customers more options for affordable electric vehicle charging and we’re excited to see the PSC approve them.
LINE EXTENSION • When the utility needs to add new electrical infrastructure to get electricity to a customer meter, it’s called a line extension. There are costs associated with adding this infrastructure, and approved formulas that help the utility calculate which costs the customer will pay.
MAKE-READY INFRASTRUCTURE • All of the electrical equipment up to (but not including) the EV charger. This includes wiring, conduit, electrical panel upgrades, and any other equipment or upgrades that are needed to place a functioning EV charger in the location.
TIME-OF-USE RATE • A time of use rate means that the amount you pay for electricity changes depending on the hour of the day and the day of the week. Typically, that means you pay more during daytime hours on weekdays, when it’s more expensive for the utility to generate and deliver that power, and less at night and on weekends, when the cost of supplying electricity to customers is significantly lower.
In October of 2019, Governor Tony Evers announced the formation of the Wisconsin Climate Change Task Force. Led by Lt. Governor Barnes, this bi-partisan group represents lawmakers, utilities, agriculture, environmental groups, health officials, and tribes with a goal of developing strategies to help Wisconsin reduce the effects of climate change and reach 100% carbon free electricity generation by 2050.
The Climate Change Task Force has been collecting ideas from various organizations and has worked hard to identify dozens of items that could be implemented. The next step is to hear from Wisconsin residents. The Governor, Lt. Governor, and Climate Change Task Force need your input and support to find the best path forward.
RENEW has identified three key issues that we feel would have the greatest impact and best chances for success. Join this important effort by signing your name in support of these initiatives!
Third Party Financing
Wisconsin should affirm the legality of third party financed distributed energy resources in order to provide equitable access to renewable energy benefits.
Electric Vehicle Infrastructure
Wisconsin should develop a comprehensive plan for transportation electrification.
Expand Focus on Energy
Wisconsin should facilitate the installation of more renewable energy and energy efficiency measures by expanding the Focus on Energy program.
If you have other ideas and would like to contribute more to the Climate Change Task Force, consider taking the following actions:
Provide written comments to the Task Force. Comments must be submitted by July 15th.
Provide live comments at the end of one of the remaining Task Force Subcommittee meetings.
Provide live comments during the Virtual Public Listening Sessions, which will be held on June 23, June 27, July 7, July 9 and July 15.
In August, the Task Force will review all of the comments they receive, and make their recommendations for the final report in September. The report is scheduled to be released on October 31, 2020.
If you have any questions, need more information, or would like help preparing for live comments, please contact Jim Boullion, RENEW’s Director of Government Affairs at email@example.com or call at (608) 695-7004.
RENEW Wisconsin is a proud partner of Rise Up Midwest, a coalition effort led by MREA promoting renewable energy investment and grid modernization. Rise Up Midwest supports this petition and has highlighted their own policy priorities and programs to advance their mission.
RENEW Wisconsin’s Solar for Good program will issue over $150,000 worth of solar panels to Wisconsin nonprofits as part of their spring 2020 funding cycle. These grants will go to 10 organizations across the state that together will install 789 kilowatts of clean, renewable electricity. When completed, these solar projects will lead to nearly $1.8 million in renewable energy investments in Wisconsin.
The following organizations have been offered Spring 2020 Solar for Good grants to install new solar electric systems:
Aptiv Inc., provides support services for youth and adults with disabilities, La Crosse
Assumption Catholic Schools, pre-K to grade 12 private school, Wisconsin Rapids
Covenant Lutheran Church, house of worship, Stoughton
Dodge County Housing Authority, affordable housing provider, Juneau
Grace Congregational United Church of Christ, house of worship, Two Rivers
Green Bay Area Public School District, education, Green Bay
Four organizations have asked to remain anonymous at this time.
This round of Solar for Good grants features a diverse collection of awardees from across Wisconsin. The Green Bay Area Public School District will install a 14-kilowatt array on the Aldo Leopold Community School to educate their students and community about the benefits of solar electricity. A 55-kilowatt solar system will be installed in La Crosse at Aptiv Inc, which will allow them to fund more programs for adults with disabilities. And the Dodge County Housing Authority plans to install nearly 300 solar panels across 10 newly-constructed duplexes at the Oak Grove community in Horicon.
“Dodge County Housing Authority is thrilled to be installing solar panels on every unit at its new Oak Grove, Phase 2 affordable housing community,” said Donna Braun, Executive Director of Dodge County Housing Authority. “We decided to pursue solar panels at this new development because solar will allow our residents to see a significant reduction in their monthly electric bills. As all of the residents of Oak Grove, Phase 2 will be under 60% of the county median income, the electricity savings will make a big difference to these families.”
The 10 nonprofit organizations represent Solar for Good’s 6th funding cycle. This brings the collective impact of this program to 81 Wisconsin nonprofits installing 107 new solar arrays throughout the state. When the installations supported through this funding cycle are energized, Solar for Good will have added 4,030 kilowatts of clean, renewable power to Wisconsin’s electric mix, enough to power over 800 average-sized homes. In total, these solar projects represent more than $9 million of private investment in renewable energy capacity in Wisconsin.
About Solar for Good RENEW Wisconsin’s Solar for Good initiative fosters the expansion of solar power among mission-based nonprofits and houses of worship in Wisconsin. Through a generous partnership with Couillard Solar Foundation, RENEW Wisconsin awards solar panels to nonprofit organizations, helping them switch to clean, renewable, solar energy.
About RENEW Wisconsin RENEW Wisconsin is a nonprofit organization which promotes renewable energy in Wisconsin. We work on policies and programs that support solar power, wind power, biogas, local hydropower, geothermal energy, and electric vehicles. More information on RENEW’s website: www.renewwisconsin.org.
In the first-ever test of the appeal process set forth in Wisconsin’s Wind Siting Rule (PSC 128), the Public Service Commission (PSC) reviewed and upheld Green County’s approval last fall of a 24-turbine, 65-megawatt (MW) wind project slated for development there. Following the county’s original decision, local wind farm opponents petitioned the PSC to invalidate the project’s permit, contending that the developer’s application was incomplete.
On June 11, the PSC denied the petition on a 3-0 vote, and in so doing removed the last remaining legal obstacle from the project’s path. As it stands today, the Sugar River wind farm is fully compliant with the standards set forth in the statewide rule relating to public health and safety, and may now proceed to construction.
Advanced by EDF Renewables, a nationally prominent renewable energy producer, Sugar River is capable of generating enough electricity to equal the consumption of 20,000 Wisconsin households. When operational, Sugar River will also yield about $260,000 in annual revenues, with nearly $152,000 going to Green County and more than $108,000 to the Town of Jefferson. Before ground can be broken, however, EDF will need to either sign a power purchase agreement with an off-taker or agree to sell the wind farm to an electric provider when construction is complete.
Sugar River was one of the first two wind energy proposals in 2019 to go through the local government review process specified in PSC 128. The other proposed wind farm, the 99 MW Red Barn project in Grant County, secured a conditional use permit in July 2019. No appeal of Grant County’s decision was filed. Like Sugar River, Red Barn is expecting to begin operation in the second half of 2021, assuming a partnership has been forged with an electric provider.
Sugar River provided the first significant test of PSC 128 after the rule narrowly survived a repeal vote during the 2011-2012 legislative session. The rule establishes a mechanism whereby a citizen group or a development company may challenge a local government decision on a proposed wind farm. Under this appeal process, the PSC’s role is to ascertain whether the local government adhered to all the standards and procedures in rendering a decision on a wind farm proposal.
In the case of Sugar River, the PSC agreed to take up the appeal filed by No Green County Wind in October 2019. Before rendering its decision, the PSC invited interested parties to submit comments on the matter. In its comments, RENEW expressed its support for the Sugar River project, as well as the regulatory framework that allowed the project to be given a fair hearing at every step of its permitting journey. The PSC plans to issue a written decision in July.
The approvals of Sugar River and Red Barn signal the end of a protracted lull in wind development activity lasting from 2011 to 2017. Between an adverse political environment and a glut of generating capacity, wind energy development stalled in Wisconsin. During the dry spell here, developers flocked to greener pastures in neighboring states. The door reopened slightly when Dairyland Power Cooperative agreed to purchase electricity generated from Quilt Block Wind Farm, which started operating in November 2017.
Though local opposition to wind development remains very much alive today, the experience with Sugar River attests to the strength and durability of Wisconsin’s Wind Siting Rule, which foretokens brighter days for the wind power industry here.
To learn more about the Sugar River Wind Farm, visit these previous blog posts.
PSC affirms local approval of Sugar River Wind Farm
Local Residents Discuss Wind Energy in Wisconsin
A Scientific Look into Wind Power and Human Health
In April, I wrote about how the pandemic has changed our energy use, resulting in cleaner air. With increased adoption of renewable energy and electric vehicles, we can achieve clean air, a prospering economy, and improved public health.
The latest “State of the Air” report, analyzing air quality between 2016 and 2018, shows that air quality isn’t improving. Now, faced with a public health crisis, we must focus our efforts on protecting our communities from the impacts of poor air quality.
Evidence our air quality is getting worse
According to the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report, almost 50% of Americans lived in communities that had unhealthy air pollution levels in 2016-2018. Particle pollution and days of high ozone are also on the rise. This is the fourth consecutive annual report that shows air quality is getting worse, threatening the health of our communities.
On a brighter note, the Appleton–Oshkosh–Neenah area was ranked as one of the cleanest cities in the Nation for its year-round air quality and for having zero days of unhealthy particle pollution. La Crosse also got a shout-out for having zero days of unhealthy ozone or particulate levels.
But we still have work to do. Sheboygan and the Milwaukee–Racine–Waukesha region tied for #24 on the ‘highest levels of ozone pollution’ list. These residents should not be subject to unsafe air quality.
Air quality impacts public health
Wisconsin doctors attest to the linkage between air pollution and poor health outcomes. Luckily, clean energy technologies exist today that can help improve air quality.
“When you replace coal with solar it cleans the air and makes people healthier, today. When you replace a gas car with an electric it makes people healthier, today” noted Joel Charles MD, MPH at Vernon Memorial Healthcare.
More than ever, the world is keenly focused on health, and doctors and scientists around the world are learning more every day about the novel coronavirus.
“One of the most important learnings coming from the COVID-19 pandemic is that rapid changes in air quality can have immediate and substantive benefits in terms of reduced cardiorespiratory morbidity and mortality,” said Bruce Barrett MD Ph.D., Professor & Vice Chair for Research, Family Medicine and Community Health at University of Wisconsin – Madison. “In more than two decades of work as a family physician, I have been continually impressed with the importance of environmental quality, especially the protective attributes of clean air.”
“Air pollution is a silent killer. It never makes it onto the death certificate, but, among other things, it worsens heart disease, asthma, COPD, kidney disease, immune function, and harms childhood brain development,” confirmed Andrew Lewandowski, DO, Pediatrician at GHC-SCW.
And, these impacts are not shared evenly. Lower-income and nonwhite communities often face higher exposure to pollution and unsafe air quality. Dr. Lewandoski added that “Improving air quality disproportionately benefits children, elderly, people with chronic medical conditions, people of color, and economically disadvantaged populations.”
We can learn from public health experts and take action to reduce harmful emissions by adopting renewable energy and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. People from both sides of the political aisle agree on many clean energy issues, such as maintaining current fuel efficiency standards and prioritizing renewable energy.
“Air pollution harms all people, independent of political affiliation. Regardless of how you vote, let your legislator know that you support cleaning our air because you value your health” Dr. Lewandowski said.
We have an opportunity right now to lock in the benefits of clean, healthy air. Cleaner air benefits all of Wisconsin and makes our state a better place to live, work, and play.
The volume of solar generation slated to supply power to Wisconsin electricity customers would nearly double if state regulators approve Madison-based Alliant Energy’s ambitious plan to acquire six Wisconsin solar farms for its generation portfolio. Alliant’s application will be filed shortly.
Spanning the state from Grant County in the west to Sheboygan County in the east, the six farms will provide 675 megawatts (MW) of capacity, nearly matching the combined solar commitments made by other Wisconsin utilities thus far.
ALLIANT ENERGY’S PLANNED SOLAR ACQUISITIONS
The projected output from this massive investment in solar generation equates to the average usage of 175,000 Wisconsin households. If approved, Alliant would become the largest provider of solar power in Wisconsin by a large margin (see Table 1).
TABLE 1: RATE-BASING WISCONSIN SOLAR FARMS
This is an astonishing jump from the two megawatts of solar power supplying electricity to Alliant’s Wisconsin customers today. Though Wisconsin has about 150 MW of operating solar capacity right now, by year’s end that number should surpass 300 MW, when the 150 MW Two Creeks plant in Manitowoc County is placed in service. And by the end of 2021, solar capacity in Wisconsin should be within striking distance of a gigawatt (1,000 MW).
This fleet of solar farms will fill the capacity hole that will materialize in late 2022 when Alliant shuts down its 35-year-old Edgewater 5 power station in Sheboygan for good. Earlier this month, Alliant announced plans to retire the 385 MW coal-fired plant in the next two years. Like many other coal plants in Wisconsin and elsewhere, Edgewater 5 has become an increasingly marginal power source, displaced by lower-cost gas-fired and renewable generating capacity.
Though the shutdown of Edgewater 5 can proceed without approval from Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission, the addition of the six solar farms to Alliant’s rate base automatically triggers a PSCW review process. To obtain regulatory approval, Alliant must demonstrate that these six solar farms will reduce its operating costs and provide other tangible benefits to customers without sacrificing reliability.
Alliant’s investment in this tranche of solar capacity should amount to about $900 million and will take the utility two-thirds of the way towards its goal of adding a gigawatt of solar generation by the end of 2024.
As with the first crop of solar farms approved in 2019 and earlier this year, the development work is being undertaken by independent power producers (see Table 2). Two of the projects–Savion Energy’s 49.9 MW Richland County solar farm and Geronimo Energy’s 50 MW North Rock solar farm–have already been approved for construction, but the remaining four require siting permits. The PSCW has jurisdiction over the three largest solar farms, and will issue decisions in late 2020 and early 2021. Jefferson County will review the 75 MW Ranger Power project later this year. Assuming the PSCW green-light’s Alliant’s application to acquire the projects, all six solar farms should be operating before the close of 2023.
TABLE 2: ALLIANT ENERGY’S PLANNED SOLAR ACQUISITIONS
In each year of operation, these projects will pump a combined $2.7 million into the coffers of host counties and townships. Over 30 years, revenues to local governments will top $80 million. Participating landowners will also reap economic dividends in the form of rental income.
One can access Alliant’s application and supporting documents from the PSCW under Docket No. 6680-CE-182. In all likelihood, the PSCW will make its decision on Alliant’s application in early 2021. To learn more about solar farms in Wisconsin visit RENEW’s frequently asked questions page.
Alliant’s application represents a major milestone in the development and provision of renewable energy in Wisconsin. Whether undertaken by utilities, local governments, businesses or residents, each new investment in solar and wind power generation strengthens Wisconsin’s economy and builds cleaner, healthier, and more resilient communities.