Tuesday, October 7, 2014
The state's Public Service Commission has scheduled public hearings on the changes by We Energies at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 8 at the Wilson Senior Center, 2601 W. Howard Ave., Milwaukee.
We Energies, which supplies power for much of southeastern Wisconsin, including Walworth County, is proposing a 75 percent increase in fixed charges—from $9 to $16--on monthly bills for all residential customers.
The utility is also asking for changes in charges related to renewable energy, including a new fee for customers who generate their own solar power, a ban on leasing solar panels, and a reduction in the rate it pays those customers for the excess energy they produce and sell back to the utility.
Brian Manthey, We Energies media spokesman, said many customers who don't own solar panels are currently shouldering the costs of maintenance and equipment of the utility's entire electric system. The new fee is a way for solar customers to pay their fair share for the cost of the system, he said.
“We're looking to try to make it as fair as we can,” Manthey said
But the proposal is bad news for Convergence Energy, a solar energy developer based in Lake Geneva. The company built a solar farm on a 14-acre property in the town of Sugar Creek in 2009. Convergence obtained both federal and state funds for the project, as well as money from 47 individual investors.
Convergence founder John Kivlin said the farm, located on Hazel Ridge Road in the town of Sugar Creek, consists of some 2,500 panels on rotating tracks designed to follow the sun.
The panels generate enough solar energy to offset the equivalent of 120 typical households, he said.
“What We Energies is claiming is that anybody who (generates) solar power is a freeloader, isn't paying their fair share for the grid,” Kivlin said. “But when it's sunny out, most of the power is consumed by industry and businesses, and solar generators are supplying it. The reality is solar energy is helping utilities.
“(We Energies) wants to charge a monthly rate that basically equates to about 30 percent of the cost of the energy. That's a pretty hefty tax. We have to pay rent for the land, insurance for the equipment, accounting fees. The expenses would exceed the total revenue for the farm. My guess is that we'd be forced to disconnect the farm and take a pretty large chunk of renewables out of Wisconsin.”
Kivlin said Convergence originally employed between 14 and 20 people in the installation side of the business. Now, with tightened regulations, not counting subcontractors for installation projects, they have three or four full-time employees.
“I've talked to others in the industry, and they're saying the same thing: these kinds of increases would be job killers,” he said. ”We don't have any fuel of our own in the state, but solar, wind, bio-mass, they're all locally sourced fuels and create locally sourced jobs.”
Elkhorn farmer Rodney Wuttke, who installed a solar system through Convergence four years ago in his 1,600-square-foot house, worries that most people aren't aware of the proposed change and the effects it would have on them.
“People have got to contact their representative and put pressure on (the PSC),” Wuttke said.