Solar Electricity Boom Bypassing Wisconsin

RENEW Policy Summit Aims to Plug Badger State into Surging Market Sector

In a release issued earlier this week, the U.S. solar electric industry reported its second largest quarter ever, adding 930 megawatts (MW) of generating capacity between July and October 2013. Of that total, only an estimated 260 kilowatts, or a mere .02%, were installed in Wisconsin.

Graphic:  Comparing trends for new solar electric
system installations in Wisconsin versus the U.S. as a whole, Wisconsin kept
pace through 2010 but has fallen sharply off pace since.

Nationally, solar’s surge continued through October. Of the 699 MW of electric generation added that month, solar accounted for 504 MW, or 72%, of the total. All told, more than 99% of the generation capacity added in October is fueled by renewable energy resources.

Taking note of declining system prices, the Solar Energies Industry Association (SEIA) projects that a total of 4,300 MW of new solar generating capacity will come online in 2013, an increase of 27% over the previous year. RENEW Wisconsin estimates that Wisconsin’s contribution to that total will be less than 2 MW, continuing a downward trend that began in 2012 (see graph on page 2).

The question of how to reinvigorate Wisconsin’s coal-heavy electricity sector with renewable power such as solar will take center stage at RENEW’s third annual energy policy summit, set for January 10, 2014, at UW-Madison’s Pyle Center. The theme of the summit is “We Mean Business.”

“Renewable energy is driving economic development throughout the Midwest and the nation. States like Minnesota and Georgia have warmed up to solar energy’s tremendous potential, and our Midwest neighbors are investing heavily in windpower too,” said RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director Tyler Huebner. “We hope to apply the lessons they’ve learned through their policy initiatives to Wisconsin’s renewable energy sectors, which once set a shining example to neighboring states but are now languishing in an inhospitable policy environment.”

“Solar energy is taking flight in most parts of the country,” Huebner said. “A 10 MW installation was just commissioned at Indianapolis International Airport, the largest of its kind serving a commercial U.S. airport. Last week, New York City committed to host the largest solar facility within city limits on what was once the largest landfill in the world. And Farmers Electric Cooperative, in neighboring Iowa, just announced plans to build the Hawkeye State’s largest solar generating plant for its owner-members.

“The key difference between the leaders and the laggards is state energy policy,” Huebner said. “Expansive policies like net metering, Clean Energy Choice, and streamlined interconnection can unlock market barriers and unleash the entrepreneurs who will deliver the clean energy that customers all across Wisconsin desire. Our summit will show policymakers and the public that we mean it when we say that clean energy is good for business.”

Visit the RENEW Policy Summit website for more information and to register for the January 10th event. Early registration discount ends December 20th.

View this entire press release, including supplemental reference material.

Wisconsin Libertarian Party surprises observers with endorsement of solar proposal

The state’s Libertarians have endorsed a proposal led by RENEW Wisconsin — a local clean energy group — to allow Wisconsin electricity customers to lease solar panels for their energy needs.

”Most of us don’t trust the environmental movement because they’ve cried wolf forever and ever,” Wisconsin Libertarian Party chair Paul Ehlers told a surprised local media over the weekend. ”There are all kinds of philosophical disagreements, but at the end of the day this was pretty much a no-brainer.”

Read more

Libertarian Party of Wisconsin Endorses Clean Energy Choice

State Renewable Energy Initiative Picking Up Momentum

Statement by RENEW Wisconsin Program and Policy Director Michael Vickerman

RENEW Wisconsin is pleased to announce that our Clean Energy Choice initiative has earned the endorsement of the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin.  By its action, the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin joins more than 90 other organizations, businesses and local governments across the state that believe that customers should have the legal right to purchase renewable energy produced on their premises, regardless of who owns the energy system.

Most energy customers cannot afford the installed cost of a brand-new renewable energy generator to supply them with electricity. But most could afford to have a renewable electricity service if the equipment were owned by someone else. We thank the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin for standing up for the right of customers to enter into long-term contracts to access clean energy produced on-site. 

In the 22 states that have affirmed this policy, you’ll find many citizens, businesses and nonprofit entities working with local contractors to supply their buildings with renewable electricity produced on-site.  Clean Energy Choice provides the financing flexibility that enables these citizens to supply themselves with the technologies they prefer.  Because of that flexibility, those 22 states have some of the healthiest renewable energy markets in the country, and they are happily reaping the economic and environmental benefits associated with that policy.

Wisconsin’s energy policy should aim to make it easier for customers to host clean energy systems on their premises.  It should also aim to create jobs and expand business and investment opportunities for local firms. By adopting Clean Energy Choice, Wisconsin policymakers would in a single stroke affirm their commitment to freedom of choice, economic development, environmental protection and property rights.  We call upon the Legislature to seize this opportunity when it reconvenes next month and start working to adopt this policy.

A full list of organizations, companies and local governments supporting Clean Energy Choice can be accessed at the link below.

Monona Rolls Out Welcome Mat for Solar Energy: Four City Buildings to be Powered by Rooftop Arrays

–Immediate Release

In what will become the largest solar electric project serving a Wisconsin municipality, the City of Monona approved a contract this week that will result in the construction of rooftop arrays supplying renewable energy directly to four city-owned buildings. All four solar systems, totaling 156 kilowatts, should be online by year’s end.

The four Monona buildings selected to host the solar electric arrays are: City Hall, Public Library, Public Works Garage, and Public Works Dept. Well No. 3. All told, the solar arrays will produce more than 210,000 kilowatt-hours of clean energy per year, equating to 30% of the buildings’ combined electricity usage.

The City will receive a stream of renewable energy credits along with the electrical output under a solar service partnership agreement with Falcon Energy Systems, a Colorado based investment group. Bloomington, MN-based tenKsolar will manufacture the solar generating arrays, and Madison-based Full Spectrum Solar will install and service the equipment on the city-owned sites. Earlier this month, tenKsolar and Full Spectrum Solar teamed up to install a 48 kilowatt system on the Arbor Crossing apartments in Shorewood Hills.

The project team was assembled by Solar Connections, LLC, a Madison consulting group that has also developed residential solar installations that were financed primarily by friends and neighbors of the host customer.

Consultants Kurt Reinhold and James Yockey first introduced this municipal solar model to the  Sustainability Committee of the City of Monona in September of 2012, and has since been joined by Janine Glaeser, City Project Manager, to shepherd this project through numerous committees and hearings before Monday’s unanimous vote to adopt the resolution to enter into this solar services contract.

“Five years ago, Monona passed a resolution committing itself to greatly expand its own use of renewable energy by 2025,” said Kurt Reinhold, a principal with Solar Connections. “Not only will this partnership help Monona achieve its sustainable energy goals, it will also help the City save on its energy bills.”

“With this action, Monona joins the growing circle of Wisconsin businesses, communities and individuals committed to serving themselves with renewable energy produced on-site,” said Michael Vickerman, program and policy director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide renewable energy advocacy organization.

“Through their actions, forward-thinking entities like Monona will reduce Wisconsin’s dependence on imported fossil fuels in a way that creates jobs and invigorates the local economy,” Vickerman said.

Read Gina Covelli’s article in the Herald Independent to learn more

Monona’s Solar Project Underlines the Importance of the Ongoing Debate Over Third Party Renewable Energy Installations

In what could be the first third-party-owned solar electric system installed this decade in Wisconsin. Monona’s proposed four-array 156 kilowatt project could test the legality of third-party renewable energy installations in the state. Wisconsin’s murky policy regarding third party ownership combined with the economic growth experienced by states that expressly support it, emphasizes the need for clarification. Dan Haugen’s informative article with comments from RENEW’s Michael Vickerman provides a snapshot of the current debate in the context of the Monona project and what RENEW’s Clean Energy Choice proposal could do for projects like it.

By Dan Haugen

Can a Wisconsin city buy solar power from someone other than its electric utility? A Madison suburb may soon find out the answer. 

The Monona City Council discussed Monday what could be a first-of-its-kind solar project in Wisconsin. 

A private company would install solar arrays on four municipal buildings at no upfront cost to the city. The installer would then own and maintain the systems over the life of a contract and sell the renewable energy credits they earn to the city of Monona. 

“The city has committed to being an energy-independent community and increasing our use of renewables,” Monona project manager Janine Glaeser said, “and this looks like a good way to do that without the upfront capital costs.” 

One possible hitch: Wisconsin law is unclear about whether so called “third-party-owned” solar systems, in which neither the customer nor their utility owns the panels, are legal in the state.