Join The Conversation About Potential Net Metering Policy Changes

Join The Conversation About Potential Net Metering Policy Changes

Net metering is a billing policy that enables customers who generate electricity from solar energy to receive a bill credit for the excess energy they add to the grid. This arrangement allows residential and business customers to generate their own electricity, reduce carbon emissions, and provide substantial economic benefits to their communities.

In Wisconsin, net metering varies widely by utility. For example, some utilities use a monthly billing period for netting, while others use an annual period. Some utilities cap systems to 20 kilowatts (kW) for net metering purposes, while others have a 100 kW or 300 kW cap. Due to statewide inconsistencies across utilities, there are opportunities for policy improvements to provide clarity and better reflect the value of solar. 

Solar customers and clean energy supporters have an opportunity to submit comments to the Public Service Commission in favor of protecting and improving net metering in Wisconsin. The Commission has asked for remarks on four key questions and shared a 60-page memo from the Regulatory Assistance Project describing net metering policy issues, changes to net metering in other states, and several other aspects for consideration. Comments must be received by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

 

 

The PSC’s net metering questions (paraphrased):

  1. Do current net metering tariffs appropriately balance the ratemaking principles?
  2. Do current net metering tariffs align with the Commission’s mission and state energy policy goals?
  3. How could net metering tariffs better align with ratemaking principles and policy goals?
  4. What, if any, further action should the Commission take to review and reform net metering tariffs?

While RENEW is enthusiastic that the Commission is exploring ways to improve net metering, nuances in the memo could undercut rather than accelerate solar growth in Wisconsin. It is critical that any effort to rework net metering in Wisconsin protects the positive features of the current system and carefully evaluates the risks and benefits of any changes. As evidenced by the PSC’s 2021 PV potential study, Wisconsin can expand customer-owned solar, especially with the correct net metering policies. However, opening up the door to changes too quickly may put the current benefits of net metering at risk.

We encourage you to submit comments and share what’s working, what’s not, and why supporting a robust net metering policy is critical for Wisconsin’s clean energy future. 

Thank you for your support!

Rooftop Potential Solar PV Study – Boundless potential…how do we unlock it?

Rooftop Potential Solar PV Study – Boundless potential…how do we unlock it?

Wisconsin’s rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) marketplace is still in its infancy. In 2020, rooftop solar generating capacity was approximately 104 megawatts (MW), representing about 1/3rd of one percent (or 0.333%) of all the electricity produced in our state.

However, Wisconsin’s rooftop solar market is growing, with over 10 MW of solar installed on residential homes last year, compared with approximately 5 megawatts in 2019. The combination of Wisconsin’s current rooftop solar capacity and adoption rate in the solar marketplace prompted Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission (PSC) to request a Rooftop Solar PV Potential study. The study provides both technical potential and simulated market adoption analyses.

Technical Potential Study

Nearly 37 gigawatts (GW) of technically feasible rooftop solar capacity would be possible in Wisconsin by 2026. By 2034, another 2 GW[1] of solar would be possible on Wisconsin rooftops, for a total of 39 GW, enough to provide around 70% of our total statewide electricity needs. Unfortunately, only 1.6% of this is projected to be adopted by 2034, given our current set of economic and regulatory factors.

The technical potential study considers all rooftop square footage in the state with less than 20% shade. It does not view houses and facilities that need structural upgrades, electrical upgrades, or new rooftop materials. Nor does it factor in the host utility’s net-metering capacity maximum. Essentially, the study represents the theoretical maximum amount of Wisconsin rooftop solar capacity.

Market Potential Study

The PSC market potential study focused on a business-as-usual scenario and four new economic scenarios that would help drive solar adoption. The new scenarios are as follows:

  • A statewide, net-metering policy
  • Increased Focus on Energy incentives
  • “Attractive” financing (reducing interest rates to 2.5% and requiring no down payment)
  • Extending the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) at 26% until 2026.

The statewide net-metering policy demonstrated the best hypothetical outcome for rooftop solar adoption of the four potential scenarios. This net-metering policy would include a 500 kW net-metering cap and an annual “true-up,” meaning excess solar energy could be passed on or “banked” from month to month instead of only day-to-day.

Each of the potential scenarios resulted in increased solar adoption from baseline scenarios, but the standardized net-metering policy resulted in the highest adoption levels. While the other three scenarios represented a 5 – 15% increase in solar capacity, the net-metering approach resulted in a nearly 30% increase in adoption.

The majority of solar potential is concentrated in the residential sector, primarily among single-family homes. Approximately 62% of the technical solar potential comes from single-family homes, with the market-simulated study showing residential solar making up 50% to 70% of the total rooftop solar capacity.

Analysis/Evaluation

Technical and Residential Potential – Under an ideal technical scenario, Wisconsin could reach 265% of its electric capacity and approximately 70% of our total annual electricity production from rooftop solar alone. The technical study doesn’t consider battery storage and other demand-side measures, which could make rooftop solar an even more efficient source of energy than it currently is today.

The potential for rooftop solar in the residential sector is substantial. Utility bills make up a large percentage of many household incomes, especially with more people working from home. Demand-side measures and other energy-efficient upgrades can reduce household utility bills further, speeding our energy transition even more quickly.

Jobs and Equity – Solar installer is already slated to be one of the fastest-growing jobs in the country, and this rooftop solar potential could place additional strains on worker demand. Wisconsin solar contractors are already challenged to find enough qualified employees, especially electricians, and the possibility of adding so much renewable energy to the grid means we’ll need to find people to fill these roles.

Wisconsin will need all hands on deck to build our clean energy future, which will mean making sure underrepresented communities are recruited into this robust workforce. It will be necessary to engage and train rural residents, people from impoverished areas, and people of color. Job programs like Madison’s GreenPower Program are essential to training tomorrow’s workforce, but we will likely need more programs like this moving forward.

Incorporating gigawatts of rooftop solar will also improve the health and futures of Wisconsin residents. In particular, studies have shown that fossil fuel generation sources, like coal and gas plants, are much more likely to be sited in lower-income communities, resulting in many poor health outcomes for members of those communities. Adding widespread, distributed rooftop solar to our energy mix will allow many fossil fuel plants to be decommissioned and taken offline. Plus, marginalized communities will share in the economic benefits that rooftop solar can have on utility bills.

Net-metering potential – From an economics perspective, net-metering is a highly beneficial tool for behind-the-meter solar installations, especially in the residential sector. Net-metering has positive impacts for both the consumer and the utility; rooftop solar provides additional capacity value for utilities when the grid needs it most (typically afternoons). It allows customers to receive credit for the excess electrons they produce and provide to the grid. This is why RENEW Wisconsin has advocated for a standardized, statewide net-metering policy for customer-owned solar arrays.

The findings in this report related to net-metering show the true value net-metering has on rooftop solar systems, especially those installed on residential dwellings. The net-metering scenario creates around 650 MW of new solar production, nearly 40% more than a business-as-usual scenario which only yields about 450 MW of rooftop solar capacity. This study shows a standardized net-metering policy would also have more dramatic and long-term effects on household utility bills than other scenarios considered, including increased tax credits or higher Focus on Energy incentives. This is especially true among income-qualified households, where a significant portion of monthly income goes towards utility payments.

RENEW hopes that the technical and market potential study findings will help bolster much of our regulatory work on the Parallel Generation docket at the Public Service Commission. RENEW advocates for an all-of-the-above approach to transitioning away from fossil fuel. Both utility- and customer-owned renewable energy sources will be needed to decarbonize our energy sector. This study shows that rooftop solar has a much more significant potential than previously thought and demonstrates how vital these installations will be over the next few decades.


[1] These increases in projections were primarily due to load growth and efficiency improvements in solar panels.

The PSC’s Zero-Carbon Roadmap: First Steps on a Path to a Clean Grid

The PSC’s Zero-Carbon Roadmap: First Steps on a Path to a Clean Grid

In 2019, Governor Evers issued Executive Order #38 to establish a goal for carbon-free electricity in Wisconsin by 2050. As the state regulator of utilities, the Public Service Commission (PSC) is tasked with regulating the number one sector source for greenhouse gas emissions in Wisconsin[1]. As a result, PSC decisions play a key role in determining whether Wisconsin will be able to achieve a zero-carbon grid by 2050.

The PSC reviews utility proposals for construction projects, rate increases, and new utility programs for their customers. However, the PSC reviews these proposals separately from one another, and historically without the integration of other utility plans, carbon reduction goals, and cross-sector emission-reduction strategies. The good news is that the PSC has begun to explore how to incorporate these factors within its decision-making processes going forward.

In keeping with a recent trend of investigating policy issues (such as Electric Vehicles and Parallel Generation), this past spring the PSC opened a docket (5-EI-158)  to pursue a “Roadmap to Zero Carbon.” As described in the Notice of Investigation, the PSC intends to evaluate government and utility goals to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050, recommendations from recent Wisconsin reports on clean energy and climate change, and the development of partnerships to achieve carbon-free electricity by 2050.

The Zero Carbon Roadmap docket garnered much interest from active PSC intervenors (such as RENEW), with participation from environmental, health, and business advocates as well. Members of the general public also participated with input and suggestions. PSC staff issued a memo for public comment on scoping of priorities. After gathering public input, PSC staff issued a follow-up memo to the Commissioners in August that summarized stakeholder input and provided the Commissioners with options on the next steps. The Commissioners then discussed the memo and issued an order in September to take some initial actions.

In short, the PSC decided to leverage ongoing planning processes and to investigate a potentially new approach to utility ratemaking. Below is a summary of these initial steps:

  • The PSC will gather more robust carbon-reduction planning information from utilities during the current biennial Strategic Energy Assessment (SEA). Utilities will soon respond to the PSC staff’s initial data request, and PSC staff will issue a draft report by next spring for public comment;
  • Additionally, the PSC will seek public input on ways in which the state’s Focus on Energy program (Focus) can better incorporate beneficial electrification, programs for low-income customers, demand response, and other utility voluntary programs into its program design over the next four years. This is called the Quadrennial Planning Process, and a PSC staff recently issued a memo for comment on scope; and
  • Finally, the PSC will organize a workshop on Performance-based Regulation (PBR). This workshop will gather information and perspectives on how rethinking utility goals and investment incentives can lead to a more equitable clean-energy future. The PSC will also consider customer affordability issues in relation to the transition to a zero-carbon grid.

Even with these planning processes already underway, the book is not closed on the Roadmap to Zero Carbon docket. RENEW recently reached out to Joe Fontaine, PSC Policy Advisor, to get a better sense of next steps for the investigation docket itself. Fontaine said:

“Commission staff is excited to kick off the Roadmap by addressing four of the highest priorities identified by commenters and approved by the Commission. Each of these four areas — more transparent resource planning, development of performance-based regulation concepts, and further analysis of affordability and energy efficiency issues — can help us develop a strong general foundation to address a wider range of issues related to the clean energy transition, in this investigation as well as in other Commission dockets. Future decisions in the Roadmap will be well-informed by the analysis and stakeholder input we’re receiving at each step in the investigation. Potential next steps will be determined as we make progress on these initial priorities over the next few months.”

The PSC’s Roadmap to Zero Carbon activities is running in parallel with the Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy’s (OSCE) Clean Energy Plan drafting process. Beyond the electricity sector, the Clean Energy Plan will assess, and make recommendations on, strategies cutting across all economic sectors statewide. The OSCE recently gathered public input during several public listening sessions, focusing on 1) economic and environmental justice, 2) infrastructure and industry, 3) transit and transportation, and 4) clean energy and energy efficiency. The OSCE continues to gather written comments through its website.

RENEW is also proactively partnering with Clean Wisconsin and GridLab to conduct a zero-carbon grid study for the PSC’s consideration. While the scope is still being finalized, the study will use modeling designed to answer important policy questions, such as:

  • What is the right mix of renewable resources in-state and out-of-state?
  • What is a good balance between utility-scale and distributed solar resources?
  • How much transmission is needed in a zero-carbon future?
  • What will be the health, jobs, and economic impacts as we make this clean grid transition?

Stay tuned on these zero-carbon planning activities and upcoming study developments. RENEW plans to organize presentations and panel discussions on these topics at our Renewable Energy Summit on January 27, 2022.


[1] See the Department of Natural Resources’ Wisconsin Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Report of August 2020. Figure 1, on page 3, presents emissions by sector. Electricity generation is the highest emitting sector and represents 33 percent of all Wisconsin emissions.

MGE Rate Settlement a Big Victory for Residential Customers and Clean Energy

MGE Rate Settlement a Big Victory for Residential Customers and Clean Energy

In a stunning policy reversal, Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) submitted a proposal to lower monthly charges and raise energy rates for its residential electric customers. Filed on September 3rd, MGE’s rate application is strongly backed by customer groups and clean energy organizations, including RENEW Wisconsin.

MGE’s filing is the product of negotiations over the summer with RENEW and other parties intervening in the case. If approved as is by the Public Service Commission (PSC), the agreement will pare the fixed charge for residential electric service from $19 per month today to $17 per month in 2022 and $15 per month in 2023. At the same time, energy rates will rise to offset the proposed reduction in the fixed charge.

The monthly fixed charge is the minimum amount assessed on residential customers for electric service. These charges do not vary with energy consumption levels. Hiking fixed charges invariably depresses the volumetric rate assessed to energy consumption, penalizing customers who use relatively little electricity and those who supply themselves with solar power produced onsite. Alternatively, lowering fixed charges and raising energy rates should achieve the opposite result by sending a stronger price signal to incentivize customer investments in energy efficiency and onsite solar.

“Low-income customers, solar customers, and customers who have invested in energy efficiency to reduce energy bills will benefit from this shift,” said Heather Allen, Executive Director for RENEW Wisconsin. “Overall, MGE customers will benefit because reduced energy demand helps limit the need for additional generation capacity. This is a win-win.”

The settlement avoids a contested case hearing in which Citizens Utility Board (CUB) and RENEW had been planning to submit testimony demonstrating that the $19 per month charge was excessive, especially in an urban service territory where the majority of electric customers are renters living in multifamily dwellings.

The MGE settlement follows a similar one struck with Xcel’s Wisconsin utility several months ago. Under the terms of that settlement agreement, which RENEW, CUB and other organizations signed onto, Xcel agreed to lower its fixed charge for residential electric service from $17 per month to $16 per month in 2022 and $15 per month in 2023. As with MGE, Xcel’s energy rates will also increase.

Other positive outcomes of the settlement include MGE’s support for a low-income thermostat pilot program, exploration of further innovative ways to help low-income customers achieve lower energy bills, and MGE’s increased support for smart thermostats and technologies, such as controlled water heaters, heat pumps, and battery electric storage in future filings.

The PSC is now accepting public comments on the MGE rate case. If you’d like to support the settlement agreement, please communicate your thoughts to the PSC via this public comment webpage specific to this case. For more information on the MGE rate case, see the Wisconsin State Journal article here.

Growing Focus on Energy Means Growing Wisconsin’s Economy

Growing Focus on Energy Means Growing Wisconsin’s Economy

On June 29, 2021, RENEW Wisconsin hosted a webinar titled “Focus on Energy: Economic Impact in Wisconsin.” Dan York from American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Scott Blankman from Clean Wisconsin, and Maddie Wazowicz from Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA) provided an overview of the Focus on Energy program. In particular, Wazowicz provided pre-publication results of an upcoming Synapse Energy Economics report analyzing utility bill savings and associated efficiency of business and utility operations that would result from an increase in Focus on Energy’s annual funding.

In his introductory remarks, ACEEE’s York noted that “An analysis conducted a few years ago by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab found that Focus on Energy was the most cost-effective program serving utility customers in the U.S.” Dan went on to say that according to ACEEE’s own state efficiency scorecard analysis, “while other states have increased their investments and associated spending for customer energy efficiency programs, such funding in Wisconsin has been largely static, locked in by the legislation that created Focus on Energy.” MEEA’s Wazowicz compared Midwestern states’ energy efficiency investments and discussed what an increase of the Focus on Energy budget could mean for Wisconsin.

To understand what additional benefits could be realized from expanding the Focus on Energy program, we can look at results from the upcoming Synapse report. The figure below uses information from a slide presented by Maddie Wazowicz at the webinar and represents pre-publication results from the Synapse study.  It shows that doubling the Focus on Energy budget would translate to $20.7 million in annual utility bill savings for Wisconsin utility customers. Of that, $16.95 million in yearly utility bill savings would be realized by Wisconsin businesses if the Focus on Energy budget were doubled! This is what Wisconsin customers would save on top of savings occurring at current Focus on Energy investment levels.

The August Synapse report details avoided utility costs, job creation, economic investment, and reduced air emissions associated with an increase in the Focus on Energy budget. Overall, the report finds that if Wisconsin doubled the Focus on Energy budget the state would receive $340 million dollars in net benefits over one year or $3.4 billion over ten years. Investing in Focus on Energy means a more clean and efficient Wisconsin economy for everyone!

The webinar then transitioned to a discussion of direct economic impacts for Wisconsin business. York moderated a panel of Wisconsin business representatives, who described their experience with the program’s energy efficiency and renewable energy incentives. The panel included Sean Hyland from American Family Insurance, Charles McGinnis from Johnson Controls, Benjamin Reynolds from Reynolds Transfer and Storage, and Tim Ulrich from Cree Lighting.

One of the hot topics of the business panel’s discussion related to data management combined with energy efficiency measures and occupancy sensors. Johnson Control’s McGinnis said that the objective of these combined technologies is to “reduce the amount of energy consumption, for the appropriate amount of occupancy, so that you can optimize the size of renewable energy application to produce green electricity.” Panelists discussed their experience with sustainability programs and performance-based metrics. In combination with his experience with the Focus on Energy program, Benjamin Reynolds described his experience with the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council and its Green Masters Program. According to Reynolds, the Green Masters Program “is aimed at helping small-to-medium-sized businesses implement sustainability, and figure out ways to improve in energy efficiency, but also improve in waste and other performance metrics.”

Focus on Energy Impact in Wisconsin

This webinar was prompted by calls by supporters to increase funding for Focus on Energy. A RENEW blog post, penned by Michael Vickerman in October of 2020, detailed success stories and energy savings benefits realized by several Wisconsin breweries, such as Capital Brewery in Middleton, WI. That blog post referenced findings of numerous third-party evaluator annual reports on the program. These reports have found that for every dollar invested in Focus on Energy, Wisconsin receives $4 to $5 in economic and environmental benefits. That cost-to-benefit ratio represents a considerable success, as well as a huge opportunity for expansion!

The RENEW blog post also highlighted a recent review of the program by Chair Rebecca Valcq of the Public Service Commission and her request that Governor Evers propose doubling the Focus on Energy budget. Chair Valcq also recently published an op-ed in WISPOLITICS, an online journal, highlighting the economic benefits of Focus on Energy and why an increased investment is needed.

Focus on Energy is currently funded by utilities at about $95 million per year, and funding level changes can only be done through legislation. The Governor followed up on calls to increase Focus on Energy funding by doing just that with his proposed 2021-2023 budget, which RENEW highlighted in a blog post about public listening sessions earlier this year.

This past spring, legislators decided to omit all Governor Evers’ clean energy provisions from its own proposed budget, which unfortunately meant leaving an important economic growth opportunity on the cutting room floor after Governor Evers signed the state budget earlier this July.

Since its inception in 1999, Focus on Energy has fueled a more energy-efficient economy in Wisconsin. The program was created with bipartisan support and can help grow the economy once again with increased funding. Since doubling the Focus on Energy funding was not part of the state budget this year, legislators on both sides of the aisle can prioritize supporting a stand-alone piece of legislation. A clean, growing economy should be something we can all get behind!

For more information, contact Andrew Kell, RENEW Wisconsin’s Policy Analyst, andrew@renewwisconsin.org.

Koshkonong Solar Energy Center needs your support!

Koshkonong Solar Energy Center needs your support!

The proposed Koshkonong Solar Energy Center would be located in southeast Dane County upstream of the Rock River. The centerpiece would be a 300-megawatt solar power generation facility anticipated to begin producing energy in 2024.  Koshkonong Solar will also include a 165-megawatt battery storage component to help bolster grid reliability.

As Wisconsin continues to retire coal-fired power plants it is vital to replace those fossil fuel electricity generators with emission-free renewable energy. For example, the Columbia Energy Center, located just south of Portage, is now slated for a 2024 retirement.

Koshkonong Solar Energy Center needs vocal public support to get approved and help shift Wisconsin to clean energy.  Voice your support for local solar energy by submitting a short comment today to the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin.

Project to be located in southeast Wisconsin.

Project to be located in southeast Dane County

 

Koshkonong Solar would advance the clean energy goals of Dane County, its local municipalities, and residents, and the State of Wisconsin.  Koshkonong Solar will generate enough emissions-free electricity to power 60,000 average American homes or just about ¼ of the 240,000 households in Dane County.  The project also represents exactly ¼ of the amount of solar capacity Dane County called for in its Climate Action Plan.  This single project would also bring an estimated $200 million of investment including lease payments to local landowners and new revenue streams to local governments.  Local governments in the project area will receive $1.2 million per year for the life of the project based on Wisconsin’s utility aid fund formula.

The developer for this project is Invenergy, which has successfully permitted other large solar farms in Wisconsin (Badger Hollow, Paris).  Koshkonong, like Invenergy’s other projects, is slated to be acquired by Wisconsin utilities, including Madison Gas and Electric.

Air Quality and Carbon Emission Reduction Benefits

Koshkonong Solar will reduce CO2 emissions by between 15 and 20 million tons over its 30-year life, along with reductions in other forms of air pollution such as 12,000 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx), 12,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2), and 804 tons of particulate matter (PM2.5).

Click here for the Koshkonong Emissions Analysis.

The emissions reductions from the estimated 600,000 megawatt-hours of energy production for the project are equivalent to the carbon sequestered by 7 million tree seedlings grown for 10 years, or the avoided CO2 emissions from 2,345 railcars worth of coal burned.  See other comparisons at the EPA greenhouse gas equivalency calculator.

Soil Retention and Water Quality Benefits

Koshkonong Solar will establish deep-rooted prairie vegetation amidst the arrays.  This type of vegetation will increase infiltration of the site compared with current agricultural usage by (+2.2%), reduce stormwater runoff (-60% for a 1-year 24-hour rainfall event), nitrogen outflow (-48%), phosphorus outflow (-53%), and Total Suspended Solids outflow (-87%).

These upstream water quality improvements would have a positive impact on downstream environments, and yield material benefits for watershed ecosystems, human health, and recreation. Furthermore, the prairie vegetation will help turn atmospheric carbon into organic carbon, which will be deposited and build up the soil for future agriculture. Koshkonong Solar, like other solar farms, can be returned to agricultural use after the project is completed and equipment is removed, see our solar farm FAQ to learn more.

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin is currently reviewing the project. We are asking supporters of clean energy, conservation, and climate action to submit comments sharing their support for the project. Your support would be greatly appreciated. Your voice is crucial to move the project forward and advance the clean energy transition in Wisconsin.

Submitting a message of support is easy, simply click on the link below, fill out the form, and click ‘file’. The last day to submit letters of support is July 3rd.

Click here to submit a comment in support of Koshkonong Solar!

Weighing in today will have a tremendous impact on Wisconsin’s ability to transition to clean emission-free renewable energy! Your voice matters!

Interested in learning more?

Find answers to frequently asked questions about solar farms here.

How much agricultural land would it take to power our state with solar energy?  RENEW has calculated that it would take less than half a percent of Wisconsin’s total land to supply half our state’s electricity from solar.  This is approximately the same amount that is currently in Wisconsin’s Conservation Reserve Program.

RENEW’s factsheet solar and agricultural land use.