October 23, 2009

Michael Vickerman
RENEW Wisconsin

Utilities’ voluntary incentives hit limits

(Madison, WI – October 23, 2009) In contrast to the rapid growth experienced in the last three years, a leading state renewable energy advocacy group expects a sharp decline in installed solar electric capacity in 2010.

In statements directed to the Public Service Commission (PSC), three utilities – Wisconsin Electric Power (WE), Wisconsin Power and Light (WPL), and Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) – acknowledged yesterday that their voluntary solar incentive programs will be discontinued for new customers. All three had offered, on a limited basis, a special buyback rate for the generated electricity, which effectively cut in half the payback period for the systems.

“These three incentive programs spurred homeowners and businesses to install nearly 2.5 megawatts of solar electric capacity,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin. “But for those incentives, we wouldn’t not have reached the milestone that PSC Chair Eric Callisto recently celebrated at the installation of a system serving the Town of Menasha.”

“Though voluntary initiatives are certainly welcome, they cannot by themselves sustain a vibrant solar marketplace. By far the most effective way to maintain solar’s momentum is for the Legislature to require utilities to purchase a set amount of renewable energy from their own customers at a reasonable price,” said Vickerman.

Going into 2010, the only investor-owned utility that has a special buyback rate is Madison Gas and Electric (MG&E), which pays its customers 25 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity generated from their solar systems. MG&E’s voluntary program still has room for another 600 kilowatts of customer-owned solar.

Until their voluntary initiatives had reached capacity, both WPS and WPL had been paying the same rate as MG&E, while WE had offered a 22.5 cents for each kilowatt-hour generated.

“If renewable energy is to drive job growth in Wisconsin, lawmakers must create favorable marketplace conditions to support new installations going forward. No policy will accomplish that goal more effectively than a state initiative to establish higher buyback rates,” Vickerman said.