For the second time in three years, state of Wisconsin incentives for customer-sited solar and small wind systems has been suspended, a result of recent Public Service Commission (PSC) decisions affecting Focus on Energy’s renewable energy budget. Incentives for biogas and biomass installations are not affected by the PSC’s decisions.

The cut-off of solar and wind incentives follows an across-the-board suspension of renewable energy incentives that lasted one year before being lifted in July 2012. RENEW Wisconsin has issued a press release concerning the PSC’s decision below.

UPDATE: Check out Tom Content’s article on JSOnline for more information.

For Immediate Release

August 1, 2013 

PSC Pulls Plug on Solar and Wind Incentives Again 

PSC Vote a “Dark Day for Solar Energy in Wisconsin” 

Focus on Energy has suspended incentives for solar and small wind energy systems for the remainder of 2013, as a result of a Public Service Commission (PSC) order approved last week. The funding suspension takes effect even though Focus on Energy has spent only $1.2 million of the $10 million budgeted this year for all renewable energy technologies. 

The PSC split 2-1 on the vote stopping the flow of incentives for solar and small wind energy systems. Commissioners Phil Montgomery and Ellen Nowak approved the suspension order, while Commissioner Eric Callisto voted against the motion.   

“In approving this funding stoppage, the PSC ignored the public comments of over 630 citizens and businesses who urged the agency to provide a consistent, stable program to promote solar and wind energy,” said Executive Director Tyler Huebner.  “This will go down as a dark day for solar energy in Wisconsin.” 

The funding suspension was triggered by a slowdown in demand for incentives for biogas and biomass energy systems. Though up to $7,500,000 in incentives is set aside for bioenergy projects, only $384,448 in incentives have been paid out to date in that category.  Under an order adopted by the PSC in 2012, Focus on Energy must maintain a 75/25 percent funding split between the bioenergy category and the solar/small wind category.  

“Prices for solar projects have dropped steeply in recent years and these projects are as cost-effective for residential and business customers as biogas is for farmers and food processors,” said Huebner. “In addition, the timelines for biogas projects are unrelated to those of wind and solar projects. Add these together, and there is no reason financial incentives for solar and wind should be contingent on the health of bioenergy market.” 

“This decision further ‘boxes in’ the Focus on Energy administrator regarding these incentives. The stipulations added by the Commission appear to make the calculations mathematically unworkable. We can envision the program’s administrator resorting to a Ouija Board to figure out how much funding is available for solar and wind projects going forward.”   

Burke O’Neal, co-owner of Full Spectrum Solar in Madison, discussed the impact on businesses.  He said, “It’s really bad for business in Wisconsin to have a program that appears and then with very little notice disappears. It’s really hard to build a business and a stable industry when programs aren’t consistent.” 

In his dissent, Commissioner Eric Callisto stated that Commission’s goal in its 2012 ruling “was to create market certainty, foster fiscal sustainability and program cost-effectiveness, and ultimately allow the funding of more biogas and biomass projects. The Commission’s decision today helps to advance none of those goals, but rather reintroduces substantial uncertainty into the renewables marketplace.” Callisto added, “If the Commission’s 75/25 split was meant to emphasize biomass and biogas resources, it isn’t working, and today’s decision won’t help.” 

RENEW Wisconsin’s Tyler Huebner added, “In Wisconsin we send $12.5 billion out of the state each year to buy coal, oil, and natural gas. We don’t have any of those energy resources within our state.  The Focus on Energy incentives for solar and wind should be available to help residents, businesses, and farmers take control of their energy bills and produce electricity in a self-sustaining manner.  For a decade, the success of this program helped Wisconsin build a thriving small business market to deliver these alternative energy solutions to customers.  With this latest suspension, that once-thriving market of businesses will take yet another hit, and sadly, the credibility of the entire Focus program certainly takes a hit too.”