We Energies has filed two solar pilot proposals with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC), which were opened up for stakeholder comments last week.
The proposed Solar Now program would add 35 MW of solar to the utility’s generation portfolio, allowing commercial and industrial (C&I) customers to site solar arrays on their property. The utility's second proposed program, the Dedicated Renewable Energy Resource (DRER) pilot, would allow large C&I customers to purchase renewable resources that We Energies would operate, adding up to 150 MW of renewables to the utility's portfolio.
Solar interest groups say the projects highlight "a gray area" of Wisconsin's third-party financing law which doesn't allow other parties to fully participate in the increasingly competitive solar market. Groups have also raised concerns that the programs' limited scope only includes "rent-a-roof" solar installations for C&I customers rather than broader utility-scale solar that would benefit more ratepayers.
As the economics of renewables improve, states with previously limited renewable energy generation are beginning to invest in resources like solar and wind, and the way renewable energy programs develop will set important precedents for the growth of the resources in the state.
"As the cost of renewable energy generation installations continue to decline, more of our customers have expressed interest in working with us to develop renewable energy in Wisconsin," said We Energies in its proposal to the commission. The pilots are a "cost-effective opportunity for our customers to participate in renewable energy and it helps fill a capacity need with renewable energy," Brendan Conway, the utility's manager of media relations, told Utility Dive in an email.
One of the initial concerns with the proposed projects was that they didn't give ratepayers Renewable Energy Credir (REC) benefits, which means they would not have seen savings on their bill, according to Amy Heart, director of public policy at solar developer Sunrun.
We Energies, however, "will be proposing minor changes that will allow customers who participate in Solar Now to be able to keep the RECs generated by the facilities they host as part of their lease payments ... in response to the requests of our customers who desire RECs to meet their renewable energy goals/targets," said Conway.
An additional concern has to do with "a gray area" of state law, said Heart. Last year, the Wisconsin PSC refused to clarify third-party finance laws in the state, which has limited third parties to finance solar projects, according to Heart.
Earlier this fall, We Energies twice denied interconnection permit applications from the city of Milwaukee to finance alternative rooftop solar installations because of the state's finance laws, telling Utility Dive they are "in favor of customer generation that conforms to state law." The utility recommended the city look into We Energies' pilot program instead for rooftop solar financing.
As solar continues to grow in Wisconsin, regulators shouldn't just "write a blank check for utilities," which may limit the resource's potential growth in the state, said Heart.
Wisconsin's Democratic Governor-elect, Tony Evers, will have the opportunity to appoint a new chair to the state's PSC in January, which could mean clarity on third-party financing and will be important to the utility's upcoming 2019 rate case, according to Heart.
Final comments on the utility's proposal are due by Tuesday.