Alliance for Solar Choice Criticizes Madison Gas & Electric, Wisconsin Public Service, and We Energies Rate Proposals

Based on a July 18, 2014 article by Chuck Quirmbach on Wisconsin Public Radio

The Alliance for Solar Choice, a solar industry trade group, has scorned three Wisconsin utility’s attempts to harm solar companies through their respective proposed rate restructuring. All three rate proposals include a planned increase in customer’s fixed charges, while offering a small decrease in the price of energy use per kWh.

The Alliance for Solar Choice represents many members of the rooftop solar industry and believes that We Energies’ (along with WPS and MGE) plan would stop customers from having installers lease them solar panels. Alliance president Bryan Miller believes that utilities are adopting the philosophy of “if you can’t stop it, monopolize it” by assuring that rooftop solar is more economical through the utility. We Energies has also unveiled a solar panel leasing ban, further adding to the calamity felt by solar contractors. The utility waited to propose this ban after the deadline for groups to formally intervene in the rate case before the Public Service Commission, the entity that would review the proposal. According to Miller, “the way they did this shows you really what the character of this company is about.”

We Energies spokesperson Cathy Schultze said her company followed standard procedures for rate cases, stating that “the same amount of time that usually transpires went down in this case.” Further, Schultze stated that the increase in fixed charges is fairer to customers who can’t afford or don’t want solar panels, a surprising statement considering that the 1,450 MW of residential solar installations across the country since 2000 have been overwhelmingly occurring in middle-class neighborhoods that have medium incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000 (read the Center of American Progress report here).

Read the entire article here

FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff: Solar ‘Is Going to Overtake Everything’

The FERC, GTM and SEIA predict that solar installations will double every year as prices continue to decline. Herman Trabish’s article for the GTM  Newsletter below notes that solar’s continuing growth will require a reformulation of distributed generation rate structures.
By Herman Trabish

If anybody doubts that federal energy regulators are aware of the rapidly changing electricity landscape, they should talk to Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  

“Solar is growing so fast it is going to overtake everything,” Wellinghoff told GTM last week in a sideline conversation at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas.  

If a single drop of water on the pitcher’s mound at Dodger Stadium is doubled every minute, Wellinghoff said, a person chained to the highest seat would be in danger of drowning in an hour.  

“That’s what is happening in solar. It could double every two years,” he said. 

Indeed, as GTM Research’s MJ Shiao recently pointed out, in the next 2 1/2 years the U.S. will double its entire cumulative capacity of distributed solar — repeating in the span of a few short years what it originally took four decades to deploy.  

Geothermal, wind, and other resources will supplement solar, Wellinghoff said. “But at its present growth rate, solar will overtake wind in about ten years. It is going to be the dominant player. Everybody’s roof is out there.” 

And those other resources have not seen declining prices like solar has. “Solar PV is $0.70 or $0.80 per watt to manufacture. Residential rooftop is $4 to $5 per watt. But they are going to drive that down to $2 and then to $1 per watt.” 

Advanced storage technologies also promise lower costs, he said. “Once it is more cost-effective to build solar with storage than to build a combustion turbine or wind for power at night, that is ‘game over.’ At that point, it will be all about consumer-driven markets.”  

Wellinghoff was a consumer advocate early in his career and has not changed sides. “Even though the FERC oversees wholesale markets, utilities, and other jurisdictional entities at the wholesale level, the consumer needs to be our major concern,” he said.   

If FERC does not ensure the grid is ready to integrate the growing marketplace demand for distributed solar and other distributed resources, Wellinghoff said, “We are going to have problems with grid reliability and overall grid costs.”  

Transmission infrastructure will be able to keep up with solar growth. The big changes will be at the distribution level where FERC has less influence, he explained. But the commission has been examining the costs and benefits of distributed generation (DG) in wholesale markets.


ATC proposes line for Wauwatosa, Milwaukee

From a blog post by Tom Content on JSonline:

American Transmission Co. plans to propose a new power line in Wauwatosa and a portion of the city of Milwaukee to help meet growing demand for electricity in the U.S. Highway 45 development corridor, the Pewaukee company said Wednesday.

The power line company has planned an informational open house on Thursday, Oct. 21, to provide area property owners and the public an opportunity to hear more about the proposal and offer input on the 138,000-volt power line.

The preliminary cost of the project is $21 million to $37 million. A final cost estimate will depend on the route that is selected for the line, said ATC spokeswoman Luella Dooley-Menet.

The roughly 2-mile transmission line would be needed to connect a new substation that We Energies plans to build next to its Milwaukee County substation and Milwaukee County power plant at 93rd Street and Watertown Plank Road.

We Energies’ planning studies indicate electric demand in the U.S Highway 45 corridor in western Milwaukee County is projected to double as soon as 2016-2018.

“Studies also indicate that existing distribution substations and feeders that serve the area will not be adequate to meet anticipated future electric demand,” said Andrew Gumm, We Energies manager of project siting.

During the next year, ATC will narrow the potential routes before filing an application to build the line with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin in early 2012. If approved by the state Public Service Commission, construction of the new line would begin in 2014 and the line would be completed in 2015.

Open house shows need of new 150-mile transmission line

From an article by Jessica Larsen in the Tomah Journal:

Area residents got their chance on Tuesday to learn about a possible new 150-mile electric transmission line running from La Crosse to Madison.

American Transmission Company announced in July its plans for the 345-kilovolt line after a two-year study. Now the company is making its way to eight cities to host open houses for people to voice their opinions and learn more about the project, which it is calling the Badger Coulee Transmission Line Project. In Tomah, 143 people attended.

According to ATC, the line will improve system reliability, economic savings for utilites and energy consumers and access to additional renewable energy. It will improve electric system reliabilty in western Wisconsin by providing increased regional electric transfer capability into the state and alleviating stabilty issues in the upper Midwest, according to ATC reports. The company’s studies show that building a more efficient high-voltage line offsets the need for about $140 million in lower-voltage ugprades in western Wisconsin.

The route for the line is not set. Per state law, ATC will first look at existing transmission and other electric lines and pipelines. Next, it will turn to state and federal highways and railroads. After that, it will turn to receational trails and lastly will establish new corridors using section lines or property boundries when feasable.

At the open house, residents watched a seven-minute video about the project and then walked around to different stations to talk with ATC staff. People got a chance to leave comments and to give input on where they do not want the lines. Most popular was farm land and near schools.

“We are seeing a lot of curiosity,” said ATC local relations manager Sarah Justus. “We want input, and people appreciate the opportunity to have a stake in it. … We don’t know everything there is to know.”

ATC starts public meetings on proposed $425 million line in southwestern Wisconsin

From an article by Gregg Hoffman on

American Transmission Co. has started a series of public informational meetings on the Badger Coulee Project, a 150-mile, 345 kilowatt transmission line that would run through western Wisconsin.

ATC held sessions in Onalaska in La Crosse County on Monday and in Westby in Vernon County on Tuesday. A list of upcoming sessions can be found at the end of this story.

“We are very early in the process at this point,” said Sarah Justus, who is handling the public outreach for the project. “We are encouraging the public to become involved in the process. We want to get input from the people who live in the area.”

A group of business, labor and renewable energy organizations this week released a letter in support of the evaluation process.

“The multiple benefits of ATC’s proposed transmission line in western Wisconsin – reliability, economics and renewables – make good business sense,” said Phil Prange, president and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Business Council. “Any time you are presented with a solution that addresses multiple issues, you’ve got to pay attention. I encourage the business community to pay attention and get involved in the development of this project over the next several years.”

ATC bills the project as having multiple benefits. “It will improve reliability of service and upgrade access to electricity,” Justus said. ATC says western Wisconsin needs about $140 million in lower voltage updates, and this new line, with an estimated cost of $425 million, could offset much of that need in addition to providing other benefits.