The Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) filed a lawsuit in Wisconsin Circuit Court to remove barriers preventing Wisconsinites from accessing the benefits of local clean energy development. MREA’s filing asks the court to ensure that the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) sticks to regulating monopoly utility companies and does not illegally interfere with competitive clean energy alternatives for Wisconsin families and businesses.
MREA’s lawsuit specifically challenges two unlawful policies that stifle Wisconsin’s clean energy economy. First, MREA challenges guidance documents from the PSCW that preclude financing options available in most other states where solar energy is more affordable. MREA also challenges a PSCW order that unlawfully prohibits Wisconsin homes and businesses from utilizing market incentives to reduce their power consumption during peak hours and thereby reduce power costs for everyone.
“We have to put an end to the ‘can’t-do’ attitude of the past that produced Wisconsin’s outdated and overpriced fossil fuel infrastructure. We have better options. Families, businesses, schools, and churches want to innovate and invest in advanced clean energy, but Wisconsin’s electric utilities are using faulty PSCW guidance to strengthen their monopoly control and reduce options for electricity ratepayers,” said Nick Hylla, MREA’s Executive Director.
The first issue raised in MREA’s litigation is whether Wisconsinites can use a popular mechanism called “third party financing” for solar energy systems on their properties. The up-front cost of installing solar is often a barrier for customers, even though the value of the electricity produced from a solar electric system exceeds the installation costs after about seven years. Third party financing—like auto leasing and paying for a new cell phone through monthly bills—allows customers to pay for solar over time. Utility bill savings from solar usually exceed the cost of third party financed solar. This not only makes solar affordable for more customers but provides much needed bill savings from day one. Utilities in Wisconsin oppose practical tools like third party financing that makes solar and energy efficiency affordable.
MREA’s litigation challenges flawed PSCW guidance documents that discourage third party financing and thus limit utility bill savings from solar to only those who can afford to purchase solar panels outright–which discriminates against lower-income customers.
“We look at the progress being made in neighboring states like Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois, and say, enough is enough,” said Hylla. “We’re not asking for favorable treatment. We’re asking for fair treatment. Clean energy alternatives to the monopoly utility model can stand on their own. We’re asking the PSCW to stop holding them back.”
“The PSCW’s role—and what it does best—is to protect customers from the monopoly power of utilities, not to protect utilities when their customers want cleaner and more cost-effective options,” said Earthjustice attorney David Bender, who is representing MREA in the litigation.
Customers in the 28 US states without roadblocks to third party financing are using arrangements like power purchase agreements and leases to reduce the upfront cost of owning solar. The agreements also reduce the cost of solar ownership for municipalities, schools, hospitals, and other institutions that can’t take advantage of tax credits directly. Third party ownership allows the benefits of tax credits to be passed along to non-taxed entities in the form of lower monthly payments.
As recent studies confirm, rooftop solar saves utility customers money. It is more cost effective to the grid than utility generation because it avoids the high return on investment that utilities charge ratepayers, as well as providing power close to where it is used. This bypasses expensive transmission lines and generation capacity, saving all customers from having to pay more for utility upgrades. It also keeps investments in the community where solar customers live and produces more jobs per kilowatt of generation than monopoly owned power generation.