Public Service Commission asks for options regarding 2015-2018 program

Today, the Public Service Commission decided to explore how rebates for renewable energy projects can be continued while establishing a new revolving loan program.  This is a welcome decision compared with the previous Commission meeting on July 10, where it appeared the rebate component would be discontinued.

Wisconsin’s “Focus on Energy” program makes rebates and technical assistance available to utility customers who wish to upgrade their homes, businesses, and facilities with energy efficient technologies or renewable energy systems. Over the past six months, the Public Service Commission, which oversees the program, has been planning the program’s offerings and metrics for 2015 to 2018.  RENEW Wisconsin has been integral to ensuring renewable energy systems, such as solar panels, small wind, geothermal heat pumps, and bioenergy systems utilizing biomass and biogas, have been included in Focus on Energy since 1999.  RENEW Wisconsin has participated fully in this most recent planning process.

On July 10, the Commission began their discussion on the 2015 to 2018 program offering, and it appeared the renewable energy rebates would be eliminated and replaced with a small loan program.

Today, Commission Chairman Phil Montgomery requested a review of options to run a renewable energy program that would feature both rebates and the new loan offering.  As part of that review, Chairman Montgomery asked to revisit decisions that governed the renewables program from 2011-2014, including the grouping of certain technologies and the accounting of the dollars expended.  Commissioner Eric Callisto agreed that rebates should continue to be a part of the renewables program. The review will be conducted by Commission staff and CB&I, the Focus on Energy program administrator, with results delivered to the Commission by September 30th.

“Today’s decision to explore options for combining the existing rebate program with a new revolving loan program is good news for Wisconsin’s ‘small renewables’ industry, at least for now,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director. “Throughout this planning period for 2015-2018’s programs, RENEW Wisconsin has consistently advocated that continuing rebates are critical to this market, just like they are for the energy efficiency markets, and that adding a revolving loan program could further stimulate the market.  The marketplace has been on a rollercoaster the past four years based on Commission decisions, and we look forward to seeing a program from 2015 to 2018 that is consistent, predictable, and gives people and businesses options to install renewable energy systems on their own property.  Although the rebate program is back on the table, our work isn’t done until a new program is formally approved by the Commission.”

Renewable energy is a growing field nationally, with over 143,000 jobs in solar energy alone, according to the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census in 2013.  That’s more than the U.S. auto industry and almost 50,000 more than the U.S. coal mining industry.

In addition to the rebate program’s uncertainty, Wisconsin’s renewable energy industry faces another threat. Some of Wisconsin’s utility companies have proposed changes to the way they treat customers that have renewable energy systems. We Energies has proposed charging fees to customers that have solar, small wind, or biogas electricity generating equipment.  We Energies, Madison Gas & Electric, and Wisconsin Public Service have all proposed to increase customers’ monthly fixed charges.  Alliant Energy is proposing changes for customers with small renewable energy systems that would dramatically reduce the financial payback of those systems.  These decisions will be also discussed this fall by the Commission.  Combined, the fate of Wisconsin’s small renewables industry hangs in the balance.