- The Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) on Thursday approved several renewable energy programs for Madison Gas & Electric and Alliant Energy, including community solar, customer-hosted renewables and shared solar.
- Alliant's customer-hosted renewables pilot project has been scrutinized by renewable energy advocates, who claim that the program's structure is unfair to private developers. The program authorizes Alliant to install solar panels and/or battery storage systems on customer property for a hosting fee.
- Utilities have tried to block third-party providers from offering these so-called "rent-a-roof" programs, arguing that only regulated entities can supply electricity, the La Crosse Tribune reported.
Alliant is not the first utility in the state to receive regulatory approval for a customer-hosted renewables pilot. Last year, the Wisconsin PSC approved a similar program for We Energies. Opponents argue that limiting the program to utilities fails to create a competitive landscape.
Only one of the three PSC commissioners, Chairwoman Rebecca Valcq voted against the program, saying it was akin to "monopolies using their position to elbow out the competition," the La Crosse Tribune reported.
Under the program's current structure, Alliant will be able to enter into lease agreements with commercial or industrial customers to host a solar and/or battery storage project between 200 KW and 2.25 MW on their property.
Earthjustice said that the program will displace the competitive customer generation market for participating hosts. "The Commission should not allow monopoly utilities to use the privileges of a government-supported monopoly to unfairly compete in a competitive market," the organization said in written comments.
Others say the program takes advantage of a regulatory loophole that remains in many states across the country: Are third-party providers considered utilities or not?
"Wisconsin remains one of many states, probably about 20 states, where it's still a gray area in terms of public regulation," Renew Wisconsin Executive Director Tyler Huebner told Utility Dive.
While Wisconsin is not the first state to propose rent-a-roof programs, other pilot programs have focused on low-income and affordable housing.
Huebner said that going after a market that's difficult to reach for the private sector, such as low-income housing, might be a better fit for public utilities.
"Maybe there are some markets that really need to be helped, that private financing is not going to flow to. This is really a niche that the utility can better operate in," he said.
Alliant's pilot project has a capacity of 20 MW.
Despite the current reservations about the program's structure, Renew Wisconsin believes that customer-hosted programs could provide some interesting advantages.
"One of the things [Alliant] mentioned was the ability to find a spots on their grid where they know what they're going to need to make distribution grid upgrades. And perhaps solar or battery, or a combination, would be a non-wire alternative, that would be less expensive and more cost effective. Those can be really exciting opportunities," Huebner said.