PSC Clears Path for Large Customer-Supported Solar Project in Middleton

PSC Clears Path for Large Customer-Supported Solar Project in Middleton

Today the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin approved two long-term supply contracts between Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) and two of its customers who wish to receive more electricity from renewable energy.

With these approvals in hand, the City of Middleton and the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District become the first customers in Wisconsin to contract with their local utility to receive emission-free electricity from an offsite solar plant.

Together, these customers have committed to receive the output from 1.5 megawatts (MW) of solar power that MGE will build on property owned by the City of Middleton near its municipal airport. The school district’s commitment amounts to 1 MW, while the city’s commitment is for 500 kilowatts.  The solar project itself will total 5 MW, with the other 3.5 MW approved earlier this summer as an expansion of MGE’s Shared Solar program.

Under MGE’s Renewable Energy Rider service, larger customers with multiple facilities, such as local governments, school districts, and companies, can source some of the electricity they use from a nearby dedicated solar plant. This voluntary service enables customers to drive the expansion of renewable power and directly benefit from the additional solar capacity beyond the amount of solar power that their own buildings could hold.

After MGE became the first Wisconsin utility to gain approval in 2017 to create their 25 MW program, We Energies and Alliant Energy sought and received approval for 150 MW each in similar programs for customers they serve.

“Today’s approval of these innovative contracts between MGE, City of Middleton, and Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District moves Wisconsin forward to more homegrown, healthy, and smart renewable energy.  This approval blazes a path that state government, local governments, and companies all across Wisconsin can follow to voluntarily increase their renewable energy usage in a cost-effective manner,” said RENEW Executive Director Tyler Huebner.

“These 1.5 megawatts of solar power should be just the beginning as MGE, We Energies, and Alliant Energy have a combined authority to subscribe up to approximately 325 megawatts of renewable energy under their programs.”

 

Early Support from RENEW

RENEW supported the creation of MGE’s program in our 2017 Public Comments, which included this statement: “There is significant and growing corporate interest in increasing consumption of renewable energy.  In addition, there is growing interest among institutional customers such as municipalities, school districts, and technical colleges to access renewable energy, and along with corporate customers, these entities tend to view their utility as their trusted long-term partner on energy. As these customers weigh their options for accessing renewable energy, we believe it is important that our regulated utilities are granted flexibility to pursue tariffs and contracts to meet those needs.”

MGE serves four municipalities–Middleton, Madison, Monona and Fitchburg–that have recently adopted 100% renewable energy goals. The approved contracts clear a path for these communities and other entities with ambitious clean energy goals to access more solar power under this model.

 

Shared Solar Expansion Underway

The solar facility to be built will be a total of 5 megawatts, of which 3.5 megawatts will be dedicated to MGE’s Shared Solar program.  Earlier this summer, MGE received approval from the PSC to revise and expand its shared solar service. MGE now offers shared solar subscriptions to smaller commercial customers (including nonprofits) as well as to residential customers.

The larger array provides solar power at a lower cost, which allows MGE to substantially narrow the cost differential between MGE’s shared solar service and its standard rates.  The array should produce 9.2 million kilowatt-hours in its first full year of operation, enough electricity to cover the needs of about 1,182 average Wisconsin homes.

OneEnergy Renewables, a Seattle-based company whose Midwest office operates out of Madison, originally developed the 16-acre site at Morey Field (Middleton’s airport) where MGE’s solar array will be constructed. OneEnergy also recently developed a portfolio of solar arrays in western Wisconsin that supply electricity to seven different municipalities while providing renewable energy credits under long-term contracts to Organic Valley and the City of Madison.

We Energies and RENEW Wisconsin reach settlement on solar energy issue

We Energies and RENEW Wisconsin reach settlement on solar energy issue

We Energies and RENEW Wisconsin are pleased to announce a settlement agreement with two important provisions regarding solar energy and customer-owned generation.

With the agreement, We Energies will no longer pursue a solar fixed-cost recovery charge as part of its rate review with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, and RENEW Wisconsin agrees to support an upcoming We Energies utility-scale solar project.

The two parties also agree to collaborate in a series of good-faith discussions for at least the next two years with the goal of finding potential areas of agreement on renewable energy and distributed generation as We Energies continues the transition to a clean energy future.

 

We Energies Revives Proposal to Tax Solar Customers

We Energies Revives Proposal to Tax Solar Customers

On May 3rd, We Energies filed an unfortunate proposal that would effectively tax their customers who make power for their own use with solar panels or other renewable energy systems.

We Energies’ proposal, filed as part of their rate case at the Public Service Commission, revives a nearly-identical approach which was rejected by a Circuit Court Judge in 2015.

This time around, they’ve named their tax the “Fixed Cost Recovery Charge.”  It would assess a charge of $3.53 per kilowatt of solar production, or about $180 per year for the average residential solar installation by We Energies’ estimation. This would mean a reduction of 20-25% of the expected dollar savings from a typical solar installation.

The charge would be $3.67 per kilowatt for small commercial customers, and We Energies stated they are planning to propose a similar charge for larger commercial and industrial customers which has not yet been formally filed.

This Proposal is Out of Step and Bad for Wisconsin

Just last month, very similar charges were rejected by the Michigan Public Service Commission and failed to pass in the Iowa House of Representatives. The Michigan PSC said the proposed charge was not based on the cost of serving customers and was thus unreasonable.  In Iowa, a wide coalition, including the Iowa Pork Producers, opposed the “sunshine tax” and it failed to pass before the Legislature adjourned for the year.

At a time when citizens and businesses across the country are looking to dramatically increase their reliance on solar power and renewable energy, allowing a utility to discourage solar is the wrong direction for Wisconsin.

 

Let’s Support Investments in Solar and Renewable Energy, Not Penalize Them

There are so many reasons to support solar power and oppose this solar tax!

  • Solar is a growing industry in Wisconsin. The industry already employs over 3,000 Wisconsinites, and it’s just getting started.
  • Homegrown energy keeps our money in Wisconsin. According to the U.S. Energy Administration, Wisconsin ratepayers spent $700 million on natural gas and $893 million on coal to generate electricity in 2017. This is money sent out of state, since we have no coal or natural gas reserves. We should be encouraging private investments in homegrown energy generation like solar that keep our money in Wisconsin.
  • Clean energy brings economic development. Leading businesses across Wisconsin and the country increasingly want access to renewable energy. It’s going to be harder to attract these job creating businesses if our utilities are allowed to discourage them from investing in renewable energy solutions.
  • We should encourage private sector investment. Individuals and businesses putting their own money into solar power and renewable energy systems is a good thing, and should not be penalized or discouraged.
  • Solar helps keep energy costs down. With solar power, customers are providing peak power on those hot sunny days when we need it most. Every dollar invested by a person or business to generate their own energy lowers the demand on the entire system, and reduces the need for everyone to pay for more power plants and transmission lines to meet higher peak energy demands.
  • ALL solar is good. We Energies itself is starting to offer solar power programs for some of its larger customers, and telling investors they plan to reshape their power generation to include more solar. We completely agree that We Energies should be maximizing the benefit of solar. But they can’t discourage solar while simultaneously talking about how great it is. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
  • Solar helps families and businesses cut costs and manage expenses. Solar power has become an affordable way to save money for many families and businesses. We need to make sure farmers, residents, businesses, and even our local governments have the opportunity to take advantage of the cost savings from solar and renewable energy.
  • Solar promotes cleaner air and water, now and into the future. Right now, Wisconsin is still using coal for 50% of our power! We all know that leads to air pollution and that coal emits carbon dioxide. Solar power systems located on homes and businesses, and owned by Wisconsin citizens and businesses, can help clean up our air and water now and for generations to come.

More information can be found at wisolarcoalition.com.  The Wisconsin Solar Coalition is a growing alliance of nonprofits, businesses, and individuals.

Please join us by taking action today! Sign our petition opposing We Energies’ proposal to tax solar panel owners.

Wisconsin Corporations Commit to Renewable Energy

Wisconsin Corporations Commit to Renewable Energy

Across America, businesses are increasingly investing in clean, renewable energy.  They know that the costs for wind and solar have plummeted, allowing the companies to take advantage of the low-cost electricity from renewables.  In addition, customers, employees, and investors are increasingly looking to these businesses to make bigger commitments to improving their impacts on the world around us.

Over the past year, Chris Deisinger has acted as a consultant to RENEW Wisconsin to gather up all these corporate commitments to renewable energy, and do a deep dive into which of these national and multi-national firms have Wisconsin operations.

Today, we’re very excited to show you which of these national leaders have Wisconsin operations – and it’s a great list!  These are companies who, over the coming years, will be searching for options to access renewable energy to cover the needs of their Wisconsin operations.



Corporations with Renewable Commitments & Wisconsin Operations

A timely example of renewable energy commitments in Wisconsin is Ashley Furniture, headquartered in Arcadia, Wisconsin. On Wednesday, Ashley announced a $29 million investment in renewable energy. The investment will be used to offset 35% of their energy use by installing solar panels at 10 of their largest facilities. Ashley expects to save at least $5 million in the first year.

Dozens of other companies in Wisconsin have also made commitments to renewable energy, including:

Utility Programs to Connect Commercial Customers with Renewable Energy



Wisconsin power companies are starting to put together programs to help companies like these, and other large customers, meet their renewable energy goals.

Two years ago, Madison Gas & Electric debuted a “Renewable Energy Rider” special service for its commercial customers, and just last month they announced they had the first two customers express interest.

Last fall, We Energies followed suit by proposing and gaining approval for a similar program that would enable their larger customers to sign up for access to dedicated renewable energy resources.  We Energies was granted approval for their program in December 2018.

And, just a few weeks ago, Alliant Energy joined in, proposing a similar program again. Alliant’s program still requires approval from the Public Service Commission which oversees and regulates the utilities in Wisconsin.

A Brighter Future

Hopefully you caught Budweiser’s Super Bowl Commercial featuring their commitment to making every Budweiser with 100% wind energy.  These are the types of success stories that can happen in Wisconsin too.

With dozens of corporations committing to renewable energy, and the utility programs to provide it, the future of renewables for Wisconsin is looking bright.

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: Now is the time for electric buses

RENEW Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Blog: Now is the time for electric buses

Electric buses offer quiet, peaceful, and fresh-smelling commutes for riders. Sounds pleasant, right?

In a previous blog, I highlighted the benefits of electric buses. They’re less polluting no matter where they operate, are more comfortable to ride in, cheaper to run, and can be powered by renewable energy. No wonder Wisconsin cities like Madison, Milwaukee, and Racine will see electric buses on their streets soon. These cities will be the first in Wisconsin to benefit from electric transit buses, but hopefully not the last.

Cities across the world are investing in electric buses

Cities all over the world are overhauling their bus fleets to replace dirty diesel with electric:

  • Medellín, Columbia will get 64 electric buses in August.
  • Moscow, Russia recently purchased 200 electric buses, some of which have been operating since last fall.
  • Santiago, Chile purchased 100 electric buses which should be deployed soon
  • Shenzhen, China has only electric buses. 16,000 of them.

Medellín and Moscow, Santiago and Shenzhen. While these cities are very different than Eau Claire or Green Bay, they show that electric buses make sense in locations around the world. And if they can do it, why can’t we?

Why aren’t all buses electric?

In short, the price tag. An electric bus costs almost twice as much as a diesel bus upfront, although they do save money in the long run on fuel and maintenance costs. But, since transit authorities operate with tight budgets, it’s often not feasible to prioritize electric buses unless we use creative financing methods to get electric buses for the same price as diesel buses.

The electric bus solution: PAYS®

We have solutions that can reduce the upfront cost barrier, save the bus owner money, and maximize the benefits that electric buses afford cities. It’s called Pay As You Save®, or PAYS®. PAYS allows the transit operator to purchase an electric bus with an investment from their utility, which the utility recovers over time through a fixed charge on the transit operator’s utility bill.

PAYS is a win, win, win solution that puts more electric buses on the road. The transit operator saves money each month thanks to those reduced fuel and maintenance expenses, even with the additional monthly charge. The utility makes money by selling more electricity, and we all benefit from less exposure to air pollution.

For more information about how PAYS works in practice, visit Clean Energy Works and watch their video above.

Proterra’s Solution: Leasing the Bus Battery

Electric bus manufacturer Proterra announced this week that they are scaling up their battery leasing program. Proterra’s program leases the bus battery to the customer, which brings the upfront cost of the bus down. Much like PAYS, the Proterra program aims to accelerate electric bus adoption by allowing transit operators to buy an electric bus for about the same price as a diesel bus. Operating funds that would have been spent on diesel fuel instead go toward the lease payment, leaving a little extra for savings.

Now is the time to move on electric buses

Buses last a long time. It’s important to start the transition now because any bus that hits the road now will likely last into the 2030s.

Ryan Popple, CEO of Proterra, summarized it well: “What worries me is that every time a new diesel bus deploys… You’re looking at 900,000 pounds of pollution on a 12-year deployment on a diesel bus.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Electric buses benefit the transit operator, riders, utilities, and citizens. Wisconsin has already started the transition to electric. Now is the time to speed it up by using these creative, proven financing models that are a win, win, win for Wisconsin.

PSC Approves 5-fold Solar Expansion in Wisconsin

PSC Approves 5-fold Solar Expansion in Wisconsin

Today at its Open Meeting, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission approved five interrelated cases that will lead to a five-fold expansion of solar energy in Wisconsin.

The PSC approved:

  • The Badger Hollow Solar Farm project in Iowa County, totaling 300 megawatts. Badger Hollow could become the largest solar electric plant in the Midwest when completed. In addition, the PSC approved a “tie line” that will deliver Badger Hollow’s output to a nearby substation, where it will be injected into the existing southwest Wisconsin grid.
  • The Two Creeks Solar Project in Manitowoc County, totaling 150 megawatts. As with Badger Hollow, the PSC also approved a “tie line” that will deliver Two Creeks’ output to a nearby substation.
  • Finally, the PSC approved an application from two Wisconsin utilities, Wisconsin Public Service based in Green Bay and Madison Gas & Electric, to acquire a total of 300 megawatts of this new solar capacity. The utilities will acquire the entire Two Creeks Solar Farm and a 150 MW share of the Badger Hollow Solar Farm. Wisconsin Public Service will acquire a total of 200 MW and Madison Gas & Electric will acquire 100 MW.

By RENEW Wisconsin’s estimates, the state of Wisconsin closed 2018 with about 103 megawatts of solar power, about 80% of that residing on homes and buildings, directly serving the customers who bought the solar arrays.

When completed, the 450 megawatts of solar would produce about 1.3% of Wisconsin’s annual electricity consumption, and supply electricity equivalent to the usage of about 116,500 Wisconsin homes. Both projects should be operational by mid-2021.

RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director, Tyler Huebner, said, “We are very happy to see the Public Service Commission approve these solar projects and find that it is cost-effective for two of our major utilities to own and operate these plants.  It is a landmark day for solar energy in Wisconsin. Solar energy is a smart choice to meet the electricity needs of our citizens, businesses, and organizations, and without a state mandate to do so.  With solar energy, we will produce homegrown, healthy energy right here in Wisconsin for years to come, and provide substantial economic benefits to the landowners and local governments who will host these projects.”
Today’s approvals build momentum for large-scale solar as a resource for power suppliers and utilities in Wisconsin.

  • Three weeks ago, Dairyland Power Cooperative announced a commitment to purchase electricity from a 149 megawatt solar facility called Badger State Solar that would be located in Jefferson County. That project is subject to PSC approval as well.
  • Just yesterday, April 10, the Richland County Board of Zoning gave final, and unanimous, approval to the 49.9 megawatt Richland County Solar Project developed by Savion Energy to be located in the Town of Buena Vista.
  • In 2017, WPPI Energy announced it would purchase power from a 100 megawatt solar project near the Point Beach Nuclear Station. That project also will seek PSC approval in 2019.

Taken together, these five new solar projects account for approximately 749 megawatts of new solar power.  If all are approved and built, they would supply 2.1% of Wisconsin’s annual electricity needs, and produce enough power to equal the annual usage of about 185,000 homes in Wisconsin. Beyond these projects, at least 4,000 megawatts of additional large-scale solar projects are being explored and developed in Wisconsin.  We encourage you to learn more about large-scale solar energy, including our long list of questions and answers, at www.renewwisconsin.org/solarfarms.


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 in Wisconsin.  More information is available on RENEW’s website: www.renewwisconsin.org.