Distributed Generation in Wisconsin: The Policy Changes We Need to Grow the Market

Distributed Generation in Wisconsin: The Policy Changes We Need to Grow the Market

COAUTHORS: Michael Vickerman and Lauren Reeg

Wisconsin’s distributed generation (DG) renewable energy market lags behind comparable states.[1]  As seen in other states, DG helps diverse groups of individuals and organizations, including businesses, residents, renewable energy customers, and future renewable energy customers, gain access to renewable energy and create a more fair and navigable market.

Whether it takes the form of behind-the-meter generators powering individual customers or larger projects feeding power directly into the distribution grid, DG is a vitally important segment of the renewable energy landscape. Customer investments drive these installations with benefits extending to Wisconsin businesses, residences, governments, nonprofits, and their communities.  DG clean energy investments help spur local economic investment, support clean energy jobs, and save Wisconsin money that otherwise would have been spent on importing fossil fuels.

It has long been RENEW’s view that a more fair, clear, and consistent regulatory environment could strengthen the DG market and accelerate the transition to renewable energy in Wisconsin.

In June 2020 the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) convened an investigative docket” (5-EI-157) to identify regulatory barriers that effectively put a tight lid on Wisconsin’s DG market, especially customer-sited DG.

This investigation is structured to encourage input and recommendations from organizations and entities that support small-scale DG. RENEW has assembled an expert legal and technical team for this docket—Tim Lindl and Melissa Birchard of Keyes and Fox, and Justin Barnes of EQ Research.  We invite you to review the legal and policy analysis we provided to the PSC in August 2020 and in January 2021.[2]  A coalition of organizations (Clean Energy Advocates) joined our comments to the PSC, demonstrating broad support for an improved DG market. This ongoing investigation is the best opportunity we’ve had in more than 10 years to advance renewably powered DG before the PSC.

The success of this campaign will strengthen and expand the renewable DG market in Wisconsin. If you support this work, please consider a donation to RENEW today. Together we can champion renewable energy growth in Wisconsin and we are poised to make significant progress in 2021. Join us today!

Wisconsin has fewer net metering customers than comparable states

Net metering customers represent an important segment of the renewable energy market, however, Wisconsin is falling behind. In the last four years, net metered customers in Wisconsin have grown by only 0.11%, well below the increases seen elsewhere in other states since 2015.

Fair and clear distributed generation policies would grow the renewable energy market in Wisconsin

RENEW Wisconsin aims to enlarge the market share for non-utility-owned renewable DG, including both self-supply and grid-supply projects. In furtherance of that goal, we’ve developed a number of principles that should inform decisions rendered in the DG docket. These include:

  • Ensuring developer access to standard offer contracts that have terms for reasonable compensation.
  • Giving developers insight into system and utility resource needs to help them target their planned investments.
  • Provide larger energy users with better and less restrictive opportunities for larger self-supply resources.
  • Standardize and improve net metering rates for all customers across Investor-owned Utilities (IOUs).

In addition to behind-the-meter systems, RENEW has also set forth a path for front-of-meter renewable generation projects up to 20MW. These types of projects should be eligible for 20-year standard offer contracts that are pegged to the same methodologies that utilities use when assigning value to their own generation projects. Leveling the playing field for compensating solar is essential to increasing customer investment opportunities, and expanding the solar workforce.

RENEW is optimistic that by the end of the docket the PSC will land on several beneficial policy changes for promoting renewable DG. These policy changes could be taken up later this year through the anticipated utility rate case filings. Should events unfold along these lines, solar developers and customers stand ready to benefit from a more fair, clear, and consistent renewable energy market.

Join RENEW’s campaign to advance renewable distributed generation in Wisconsin

Since 1991, RENEW has been the state’s preeminent advocate for renewable energy. At the macro scale, solar and wind can outcompete fossil fuels on cost and environmental performance. For the first time in more than a decade, we have an opportunity in Wisconsin to broaden the clean energy transition underway to benefit all customers who place a value in a healthy energy economy. A clear, fair and forward-looking regulatory environment will be crucial to spreading renewable energy across all sectors of society. RENEW is bringing together the leadership and expertise necessary to undo the regulatory barriers that have held renewable DG back, and to replace them with policies to make renewable DG more accessible, affordable, and plentiful across Wisconsin. We hope you will join us in this work by donating today. 2021 promises to be an exciting year!

[1] RENEW evaluated eight states closest to Wisconsin in terms of cumulative Net Energy Metering (NEM) capacity at the end of 2015, i.e., the four states immediately above and below Wisconsin in EIA data listing NEM capacity by state.   The eight states closest to WI in NEM capacity in 2015 included NH, RI, ME, NC, VA, IL, MN, and MI. The 2020 data is based on NEM capacity through April 2020. The percentage of total customers uses 2018 total state customer counts for both calculations. Note that Wisconsin has fallen behind states it had previously led.  See bar graph for more information.

[2] In the most recent comments filed by Clean Energy Advocates, we looked at this year’s PSC calendar to assess how our recommended actions can make their way into regulatory policy. The DG docket now underway is well-timed in that we expect every Class A investor-owned utility in Wisconsin to file for new rates in 2021.

RENEW Wisconsin 2021 Summit Honors Renewable Energy Leaders

RENEW Wisconsin 2021 Summit Honors Renewable Energy Leaders

As part of its tenth annual Renewable Energy Summit, RENEW Wisconsin will recognize individuals and organizations who have made significant and lasting advances in renewable energy development here in Wisconsin.

Titled “Building the Clean Energy Mosaic,” this year’s Summit will be hosted virtually over three days from Tuesday, January 12th through Thursday, January 14th, 2021. The theme of this year’s event, “Building the Clean Energy Mosaic,” will highlight the diversity of technologies, people, and scale needed to shape our clean energy future.

 

Roster of 2020 awardees

  • Renewable Energy Business of the Year
    • Northwind Solar Cooperative, Amherst
  • Renewable Energy Catalysts of the Year:
    • Sid Sczygelski & Ali Wolf, Aspirus Health, Wausau
    • Charles Hua, Madison
  • Renewable Energy Champion of the Year
    • Oregon School District
  • Renewable Energy Pioneer of the Year
    • Dane County
  • Renewable Energy Project of the Year
    • Two Creeks Solar Park, Manitowoc County
    • NextEra Energy Resources (developer)
    • Wisconsin Public Service Corp. (joint owner)
    • Madison Gas and Electric (joint owner)

Renewable Energy Business of the Year

Northwind Solar Cooperative has been a fixture in Central Wisconsin’s renewable energy marketplace since 2007, operating principally in the residential and small commercial segments. Throughout its history, Northwind has been acutely conscious of the value of community ties. Northwind’s PV systems are a common sight in Amherst. The company has operated the Grow Solar – Central Wisconsin group purchase program for four straight years, designing and installing more than a megawatt of solar capacity for 168 residential customers. After the company reorganized itself as a worker-owned cooperative structure, Northwind committed to building a new headquarters building in Amherst Business Park that showcases its talents and services. With 44 kW of PV capacity and multiple battery configurations, Northwind’s new headquarters building invites prospective customers to pursue solar + storage as the energy package of the future.

 

Renewable Energy Catalysts of the Year

Aspirus Health is a health care organization serving much of central and northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, with 10 hospitals, 50+ clinics, labs and other service-providing facilities within its system. In 2018 Aspirus launched a systemwide initiative to identify and implement strategies for slashing its energy overhead and scaling back its carbon footprint. Sid Sczygelski, chief financial officer of Aspirus, chairs this initiative, while Sustainability Director Ali Wolf directs and coordinates this ambitious undertaking. Their goal is to reduce carbon emissions systemwide 80% by 2030. Going into 2021, Sczygelski, Wolf and the Aspirus sustainability team have made great progress to date. Aspirus has integrated into its buildings more than 900 kilowatts of solar PV on its rooftops, saving more than $600,000/year in energy expenses. In 2021, Aspirus plans to double its use of solar energy systemwide and complete construction on its most energy-efficient facility yet, a clinic in Wausau.


In 2017, students and staff at Madison West High School started work on a campaign to power their school with a rooftop solar PV system. That year, Charles Hua, then a junior, took the helm of West Green Club and launched a fundraising and outreach campaign that blossomed into one of the largest youth-led sustainability efforts in Wisconsin. From June 2017 through 2019, the West Green Club raised nearly $90,000 from staff, students, parents and local foundations, accounting for nearly 50% of the cost of their 128 kW solar PV system. Installed last summer by Westphal Electric, Madison West’s solar system is now the largest array supplying electricity to a Madison Metropolitan School District building. The example set by Hua and West Green Club helped inspire the school district to adopt a 100% renewable goal for all of its facilities. Hua is now a junior at Harvard University.

 

Renewable Energy Champion of the Year


Long a leader in pursuing solar power for its operations, Oregon School District took advantage of an opportunity in 2018 to push the envelope on sustainability at its new Forest Edge Elementary School in Fitchburg. Collaborating with HGA’s Madison office, an architectural and engineering design firm, the school district financed and saw to completion the first net zero energy public school in Wisconsin. Equipped with a 646 kW rooftop solar array, a ground-source heat pump system and onsite battery storage, Forest Edge is an all-electric building. There is no gas connection to the school. Completed in the fall of 2020, Forest Edge represents a quantum leap in capturing, controlling and maximizing the economic value of sunshine and ground temperatures to heat, cool and power a building where many people congregate.

 

Renewable Energy Pioneer of the Year


Impatient with federal and state government inaction on climate change, Dane County decided to roll up it sleeves and get to work, starting in 2017 with the creation of the Office of Climate Change and Energy. The County’s approach to reducing fossil fuel use has been aggressive and remarkably systematic for a local government. A number of these actions bore fruit in 2020. These include:

  1. Throwing the switch on a biogas processing plant in April that converts gas from landfill waste and cow manure into a pipeline-grade renewable fuel;
  2. Releasing a Climate Action Plan, also in April, containing recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions countywide 45% by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050;
  3. Partnering with Madison Gas and Electric to host a 9-megawatt solar array on airport property and purchase the output from that project, under a long-term contract; and
  4. Purchasing property in the Town of Cottage Grove to host a larger solar array that will enable the County to offset all of its electricity usage with zero-emission power.

Renewable Energy Project of the Year


Developed by Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources in Manitowoc County, the 150-megawatt Two Creeks Solar Park was energized last November. It is now the largest power plant in the state of Wisconsin that is fueled by the sun. Jointly owned by Wisconsin Public Service and Madison Gas and Electric, Two Creeks effectively doubled solar generation capacity in Wisconsin, and its output will equal the electrical consumption of 33,000 residential households. Two Creeks was the first solar power plant to receive approval from the Public Service Commission, and the first to be approved as a utility-owned asset. Seeing Two Creeks to completion opens the door to a new chapter in electric power, one highlighted by the emergence of solar power as the cleanest, more affordable and least risky supply option available to Wisconsin electric providers.


This year’s summit program will also draw attention to other milestones and notable achievements in 2020, including the following:

  • The Public Service Commission approved two large solar farms—Badger State Solar and Paris Solar—that will add 349 MW of solar power to Wisconsin’s electric generation portfolio;
  • Madison Gas and Electric completed two smaller solar farms in its service territory, with a combined capacity of 14 MW, to supply several customers under contract and expand its shared solar program;
  • Grants from RENEW’s Solar for Good program resulted in 27 new solar installations across the state totaling 1,265 kW of operating capacity.
  • Two Eau Claire high schools—Memorial and North—celebrated the completion of their 126 kW solar arrays supported by Solar on Schools, a joint venture between the Couillard Solar Foundation and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association.
  • Eagle Point Solar installed 400 kW(AC) of PV capacity, serving four City of La Crosse-owned buildings.

 

17 More Wisconsin Nonprofits to be Powered by Renewable Energy through RENEW Wisconsin Solar for Good Program

17 More Wisconsin Nonprofits to be Powered by Renewable Energy through RENEW Wisconsin Solar for Good Program

RENEW Wisconsin’s Solar for Good program has awarded over $190,000 in cash grants and materials to Wisconsin nonprofits for installing on-site solar energy systems. Seventeen organizations will install 719 kilowatts of clean, renewable electricity leading to nearly $1.4 million in renewable energy investments in Wisconsin.

The following organizations have been offered Fall 2020 Solar for Good grants to install new solar electric systems: 

All Saints Lutheran Church, house of worship, Fitchburg.

Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, after-school youth programming, Madison.

Community Clothes Closet, free clothing provider, Menasha. 

Couleecap Inc, poverty alleviation, Westby.

Ezekiel Lutheran Church, house of worship, River Falls.

Friends of Sauk County Fairgrounds, historic preservation, Baraboo.

Grace Evangelical Free Church, house of worship, Viroqua.

Habitat for Humanity of Dane County, affordable housing provider, Madison.

Habitat for Humanity Restore, affordable housing support, Beaver Dam.

Just One More Ministry, food pantry, Glendale.

Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity Restore, affordable housing support, Greenfield.

Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, house of worship, Madison.

The BRICK Ministries, poverty alleviation and food pantry, Ashland.

Walnut Way Conservation Corps, community conservation organization, Milwaukee.

Yerkes Future Foundation, education and historic preservation, Williams Bay.

Two organizations have asked to remain anonymous at this time. 

This round of Solar for Good grants features a diverse group of organizations from across Wisconsin. The Boys and Girls Club of Dane County will install over 250 panels at their Madison-based facility and plan to demonstrate the benefits of solar energy to the young people they serve. An 11-kilowatt array will be installed at the BRICK Ministries in Ashland with the help of donated solar panels from One Energy Renewables, a large-scale solar developer. And a 60-kilowatt array is planned at the famous Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, home of the world’s largest refracting telescope used for astronomical research.

“The grant and the installation of solar panels underscores the ongoing value of Yerkes Observatory as a place for scientific discovery and education,” stated Dianna Colman of Yerkes Future Foundation. “Students and visitors will experience firsthand the impact of solar power…even on a building dating back to 1897.”

In addition to the Couillard Solar Foundation, Solar for Good’s founding funder, this cycle of grants also received backing from the Array it Forward initiative at First Unitarian Society in Madison. The First Unitarian Society won a Solar for Good grant in 2018 and wanted to share the benefits they received from their solar array with other nonprofits across Wisconsin. Array it Forward is made possible through donations solicited from their congregation and the community.

Solar for Good shares our values and priorities for stabilizing our climate and speeding our transition to renewable energy,” said Carol Phelps, a contributing donor to Array it Forward. “This will make life better for the children of the world…when people unite to tackle climate change, there is great hope for the future.”

The 17 nonprofit organizations are a part of Solar for Good’s 7th round of funding. Since its inception in 2017, Solar for Good has offered solar grants to 96 Wisconsin-based nonprofits. 

When each of the solar projects are energized, these nonprofits will have added over 4 megawatts of clean, renewable energy to Wisconsin’s electric mix, enough to power approximately 900 homes. Solar for Good projects will represent a total of $9.2 million of private investments in Wisconsin renewable energy over the past three years.

 

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 and Array it Forward, RENEW Wisconsin awards grants and 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.

New Day Advocacy Center and The BRICK Ministries Are Going Solar

New Day Advocacy Center and The BRICK Ministries Are Going Solar

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.”

Governor Evers Climate Change Task Force – Now is Your Chance for Input!

Governor Evers Climate Change Task Force – Now is Your Chance for Input!

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 jim@renewwisconsin.org 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. 

Public health depends on good air quality

Public health depends on good air quality

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.