Community Solar for Everyone

Community Solar for Everyone

Over the past few months, RENEW Wisconsin and our partners have been developing statewide policies that would expand customer access to community solar projects.  The National Renewable Energy Laboratory defines community solar, also known as shared solar or solar gardens, as a distributed solar energy deployment model that allows customers to buy or lease part of a larger, offsite shared solar photovoltaic (PV) system.  Community members subscribing to a solar facility receive credits for their share of the power produced, either in electricity bill savings or energy (kWh) credits.

New community solar projects are being rapidly developed around the country; 21 states, including Minnesota and Illinois, have already enacted policies that expand the community solar market between subscribing organizations and participating customers. Community solar deployment in the United States has achieved a five-year annual growth rate of 53%[1]. But, lacking statewide policies to promote community solar options, Wisconsin is quickly falling behind.

Since 2010, the number of solar energy systems purchased by US homeowners and businesses has grown tenfold. By the end of 2019, nearly two million homeowners and businesses were reaping the rewards from producing solar-generated electricity. Solar power is popular with many US consumers, and it has become an affordable option for many households and businesses. Yet access to solar power is limited. More than 50% of Wisconsin households cannot access solar energy onsite because they rent, live in multi-tenant buildings, have roofs that cannot host a solar system, or experience some other constraining factor.

In Wisconsin right now, only regulated utilities and cooperatives can provide energy from solar gardens to customers. A few utilities, like Madison Gas and Electric, offer a shared solar service that customers can enroll in today. However, most Wisconsin utilities do not currently have a comparable program available for their customers.  That lack of access will persist unless state lawmakers adopt a modernized policy to promote a robust community solar marketplace.

Senator Duey Stroebel (R – Saukville) and Representative Timothy Ramthun (R – Campbellsport) have introduced legislation that would expand access to community solar in Wisconsin. This legislation enables the development of more community solar and supports energy freedom, expands customer choice, saves money on your utility bill, all while creating healthier and more resilient communities.

With a stronger statewide community solar policy, we would open the door for homeowners, businesses, schools, churches, and nonprofits to supply themselves with clean, affordable electricity from a local solar array.

Community solar legislation would benefit all utility customers by adding locally generated electricity to our energy grid while strengthening the rural economy at the same time. Community solar brings guaranteed savings for every subscriber as well as predictable and stable long-term energy costs. It gives customers a choice to support local clean energy projects while expanding access to affordable renewable energy for low-to middle-income residents.

Community solar expansion would allow more Wisconsin farmers to lease their land to host solar arrays and receive a guaranteed secure income for 25 years or longer.  This drought-resistant cash crop is especially valuable for Wisconsin’s agricultural communities facing economic stress.

The soil underneath the panels can be planted with a variety of native plants and perennials.  In addition to minimizing agricultural runoff and fixing nutrients in the soil, these perennials create a high-quality habitat for bees, butterflies, and other insects that move pollen in and around the fields and improve farm productivity.

When solar panels have reached the end of their useful lives, the equipment can be removed, and crop production can resume on the land that has become more fertile as a result of the native plantings.

A robust community solar market in Wisconsin will create thousands of jobs, spur hundreds of millions of dollars in economic growth, and save customers millions in utility bills. Community solar is proven to support economic development, expand consumer choice and bring clean energy to urban and rural communities across Wisconsin.

Learn more about the proposed community solar legislation at www.wisolarcoalition.com.

 

[1] The Vision of US Community Solar: A Roadmap to 2030

 

 

You have the opportunity to create your clean energy legacy

You have the opportunity to create your clean energy legacy

In 1991, Don Wichert saw a need for an organization to advocate for Wisconsin’s renewable energy future. As founder and first executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, Don set forth on his mission to promote the development and use of renewable energy resources in the state of Wisconsin. Thirty years later, RENEW is a thriving and growing nonprofit organization working towards clean energy powering a strong, healthy, and vibrant Wisconsin.

RENEW Wisconsin’s accomplishments over the past 30 years are part of Don’s legacy. But there is more work to be done, and Don knows RENEW needs a stable financial foundation to continue its work for another 30 years. He worked with Madison Community Foundation to create a RENEW Wisconsin Charitable Gift Annuity and the RENEW Endowment Fund to ensure a financial pipeline for our clean energy future.

CHARITABLE GIFT ANNUITY
For donors interested in taking a charitable deduction on their taxes in the current year while still receiving income from those assets, a charitable gift annuity (CGA) offers the opportunity to achieve both goals. CGAs allow you to make a current tax-deductible gift to benefit RENEW Wisconsin while still receiving a lifetime annual income.

The idea of a charitable gift annuity was very appealing. The guaranteed interest rate was high enough to make it a reasonable investment during my lifetime. And the CGA provides tax benefits too…RENEW, and the work that it does is my legacy.

Don Wichert, RENEW Wisconsin Founder

RENEW ENDOWMENT FUND
The RENEW Endowment Fund supports paid internships from the Energy Analysis and Policy Program at UW-Madison. This endowment allows RENEW to offer a hands-on, real-life job experience to future leaders in renewable energy.

The RENEW staff gave me the trust and mentorship I needed to become a strong clean energy policy advocate. I was able to grow my utility regulation knowledge, energy education skills, and Midwest clean energy network. Thank you, RENEW WI, for being my strong stepping stone into the clean energy industry.

Lauren Reeg – Energy Analysis and Policy Intern

You have the opportunity to help create a cleaner, stronger, more vibrant Wisconsin by setting up a Charitable Gift Annuity listing RENEW Wisconsin as the beneficiary and/or giving to the RENEW Endowment Fund. Madison Community Foundation makes giving incredibly easy.

I can help facilitate communications with Madison Community Foundation to start planning your legacy now. Contact me at: Elizabeth@renewwisconsin.org or call 608-255-4044 ext. 7

Did You Miss the Earth Day Electric Vehicle Parade?

Last Thursday (April 22), RENEW Wisconsin partnered with the Dane County Office of Energy and Climate Change and Slipstream on the 2nd Annual Earth Day Electric Vehicle (EV) Parade. 

Several dozen EV owners and car dealers gathered in Madison with an assortment of all-electric vehicles, hybrids, and electric motorcycles, including the new Ford Mustang Mach-E, BMW Roadster, and the Harley LiveWire Motorcycle, amongst other makes and models. 

Parade participants started at Brittingham Park in Madison, drove through the city and Capitol Square, and then returned to Brittingham Park. You can watch the parade on Channel 3000.com.

The parade was inspired by EV drivers who see the transition to electric vehicles as another tool in the fight against climate change. Other EV owners mentioned that EVs are fun to drive and even stand up to the challenges of Wisconsin’s cold winters!

For more information about the parade or upcoming electric vehicle events, please contact Jeremy Orr at (608) 210-1428 or jeremy@renewwisconsin.org.

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.