PSC Approves Xcel Energy’s Electric Vehicle Programs

PSC Approves Xcel Energy’s Electric Vehicle Programs

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.


Residential Programs

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.

DEFINITION OF TERMS

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.

PSC affirms local approval of Sugar River Wind Farm

PSC affirms local approval of Sugar River Wind Farm

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 

 

 

Alliant Hitches its Future to Solar Power

Alliant Hitches its Future to Solar Power

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.

 

Solar energy at Dane County airport cleared for takeoff

Solar energy at Dane County airport cleared for takeoff

The Public Service Commission this week signed off on the newest solar farm slated for construction this year in Dane County. This solar power plant will cover 58 acres at the northern end of Dane County Regional Airport, and will involve more than 31,000 panels mounted on single-axis tracking systems. Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) will own and operate the solar plant, and expects to complete construction in the fourth quarter of 2020.

MGE’s solar field is noteworthy in that it will produce clean electricity for only one customer: Dane County. This will be the first example in Wisconsin of an offsite solar project dedicated to a single customer, albeit one with multiple facilities in MGE territory.

Through a long-term contract with MGE, Dane County will purchase the project’s output to offset its own purchases of grid-supplied electricity over the course of the facility’s 30-year-plus life. At nine megawatts (MW), the facility should produce on average 18 million kilowatt-hours a year. All told, the solar farm’s output should equate to about 40% of the electricity consumed at county-owned facilities served by MGE.

The PSC decision contained two separate approvals. First, the agency approved the power purchase agreement between MGE and Dane County, which is provided through the utility’s Renewable Energy Rider service. Under the contract, Dane County will pay 5.8 cents/kWh for electricity generated in the first year of operation, which will result in immediate savings. That price will escalate 2% per year over the contract’s term, which should track closely with anticipated increases in utility energy costs. After 30 years, Dane County will have paid off MGE’s entire investment.

The PSC also authorized the expenditure of $16 million to permit, build, and operate the solar field at the airport. The installed cost of the project equates to $1.78/watt, in line with other, smaller utility-owned projects such as MGE’s 5 MW facility now under construction at Middleton’s Morey Field.

Dane County is the third MGE customer to take service from an offsite solar array built under the Renewable Energy Rider service, following in the footsteps of the City of Middleton and the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School district. Those two customers have committed to purchase the output from a combined 1.5 MW share of the Morey Field solar array, which should commence operations in June 2020.

Notwithstanding its voluntary nature, MGE’s Renewable Energy Rider program has proven to be an attractive option for local governments that have adopted aggressive clean energy goals but are limited in their capacity to host solar systems on all their facilities. Later this year, MGE will file an application to build a 7 MW solar farm to serve the City of Madison and the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). As with Dane County, MGE is the electric provider for many facilities owned by the City and MMSD. The solar array will be located near the Dane County Landfill in southeast Madison.

 

Voice your support for the Paris Solar Energy Center

Voice your support for the Paris Solar Energy Center

Amid our current health and economic challenges, the solar industry is committed to investing in local communities, creating jobs, and increasing tax revenues with clean, homegrown energy. Large scale solar projects are currently being built in Wisconsin and new projects are on the horizon, ready to contribute to Wisconsin’s energy mix! In order to ensure success, we need you to help a critical project win approval at the Public Service Commission.

The Paris Solar Energy Center is a 200 megawatt project proposed in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. The project will supply homegrown, affordable, emission-free electricity to 55,000 homes. If approved, the Paris Solar Energy Center would more than double the solar generating capacity we have operating in Wisconsin today. Paris Solar would begin producing clean power by 2022. Want to learn more? Check out the application here.

Help us demonstrate Wisconsin’s enthusiastic support for this project and renewable energy.

RENEW Wisconsin will share the list of supporters with the Public Service Commission during the official comment period for this project.

Please add your name to our petition!

A Farewell Letter from Tyler Huebner

A Farewell Letter from Tyler Huebner

Dear RENEW Wisconsin Members and Supporters,

First and foremost, I wish you, your families, and everyone well during this unprecedented time regarding the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.  I urge you to continue following the ever-changing guidelines coming from the Center for Disease Control and your elected officials at all levels to help keep each other safe.

With that said, last week Governor Tony Evers appointed me to be the next Commissioner at the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

With this change, I will be leaving RENEW Wisconsin, and my last day is today.  I started with RENEW in June of 2013, and I want to thank you all for your support of the organization, and of me, since then.

It has been extremely rewarding to be the Executive Director of this organization, and I feel very proud of the organization’s growth and successes during my period here.

Heather Allen will be the organization’s Interim Executive Director starting immediately. Heather has been with the organization for nearly two years, and she will do an excellent job advancing its mission and priorities going forward. You can reach her at heather@renewwisconsin.org or 608-255-4044 extension 1.

In addition to Heather, the rest of the RENEW staff is here to support you however they can.

Thank you, again, for the opportunity to serve this organization and all of you in this role.  It has been a distinct pleasure!

Sincerely,
Tyler Huebner