Solar groups appeal to block We Energies fees

The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) and RENEW Wisconsin took the next steps in appealing the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s December decision to allow a fee on homes and businesses that invest in solar energy in We Energies’ territory.

The groups filed the first set of briefs in Dane County Circuit Court Thursday, outlining their arguments in the case. TASC and RENEW Wisconsin claimed in the briefs that the record does not contain the necessary evidence to support the PSC’s approval of the additional charges on customer energy generation such as solar energy.

“The court must reverse when the commission’s action depends on any finding of fact that is not supported by substantial evidence in the record,” said Amy Heart, spokeswoman for TASC. “Here, the commission’s own expert witness testified that there was not enough evidence on the record to approve the discriminatory solar charges.”

Heart said We Energies’ own study of the costs and benefits of solar energy in its service territory found that the solar customers provide a net benefit to all ratepayers.

“Unfortunately, the commission, knowing the benefits, still approved fees for these self-generating customer, which was legally improper,” Heart said.

TASC said this is the third case in the past three years seeking judicial review of a decision of the PSC that discriminates against owners of small distributed renewable energy generating systems.  In the previous two cases, the Dane County Circuit Court remanded all or part of the new rates as lacking a factual basis in the administrative record.

“It is important that we promote and defend Wisconsin renewable energy in all decision-making venues, and in this case that means the courts,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s executive director. “A customer’s own investment in solar and other clean energy technologies benefit everyone, and impartial analysis in multiple states proves that. Beyond that, from a public policy perspective, there is significant job creation and economic gains for Wisconsin on the horizon if we can get these policies right.”

Huebner told BizTimes that the fees proposed fees proposed by We Energies would add 30 to 40 percent to the costs for customers investing in solar energy, thereby creating a disincentive for businesses and homeowners to invest in renewable energy that would benefit the environment.

Because solar energy cannot yet be feasibly stored for use at night or on cloudy days, Milwaukee-based We Energies claims other customers must still pay for making electricity available on the grid to solar users, even when it is not being used.

“We firmly believe the commission decision in this case is correct and supported by sound principles. The fact remains that out-of-state solar developers – with their court appeal – are demanding subsidies that would raise electric bills for our 1.1 million customers who do not have solar panels. This is a fundamental matter of fairness,” said We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey.

The We Energies rate case last fall sparked public opposition and national attention for the three-member commission, with more than 500 Wisconsin residents in attendance at a public hearing in October.

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