Wisconsin's monopoly utility, We Energies, on Friday filed a rate case with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) that would add a fee for solar customers to in part offset transmission costs and revenue deficiency.
The utility tried to set a similar fee in 2014, but a County Circuit Court judge overturned the PSC's approval in 2015, ruling the commission did not have enough evidence to justify the charge.
- Solar advocates in the state say the fee would unfairly disadvantage solar customers, charging them an extra $3.53/kW-month starting January 2021, but the utility maintains those customers should not "avoid their fair share of costs associated with maintaining the grid," Brendan Conway, media relations manager for We Energies told Utility Dive in an email.
Fees on solar customers have hit roadblocks as of late: Michigan regulators rejected DTE's proposed fee last week, and a similar charge passed by the Iowa state Senate died in the state's House at the end of the general assembly session.
"There is a recognition that solar is a benefit to the grid, but more importantly, distributed solar is absolutely a benefit to the grid," Amy Heart, spokesperson for The Alliance for Solar Choice, told Utility Dive.
"[Y]ou have utilities who are actively working to find ways to integrate rooftop solar, to use solar-plus-storage to really make their grid more reliable and more resilient. And then you have a utility like We Energies … that is saying 'No, individuals shouldn't be able to invest in rooftop solar.'"
But the utility says that such rate changes are more fair to all customers.
"Customers unable to afford power generating systems, don't have a suitable place to put them, or simply don't want them currently have costs shifted to them from those customer who do have the means to install their own power generation," said Conway.
The fees are among other policies opposed by solar developers and environmental groups, but pushed by some utilities.
Wisconsin has struggled with solar development and advocates blame poor policy around procurement, including restrictive net metering and ill-defined third party finance laws, which caused controversy last fall when We Energies denied the city of Milwaukee's solar interconnection request.
The state has historically high electricity rates, in part because of its reliance on imported fossil fuel generation, and this rate case would increase the overall residential fixed charge from $16 to $17.65 per month.
The proposal does not include a change to current net metering laws which are some "of the least friendly" in the country, said Heart, part of a larger pattern by the utility of disincentivizing solar deployment in the state.
"What we're seeing on the small scale on the distributed generation side [in Wisconsin] is no expansion in net metering," she said. "Slowly chipping away at those rules, making things a little more expensive through meter fees and things like that."