Wisconsin Utility Cancels Controversial Solar Tax Plan

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Solar groups are applauding a decision by Milwaukee-based utility We Energies, a subsidiary of WEC Energy Group, to cancel plans to tax customers who own their own solar panels.

According to a settlement agreement between We Energies and RENEW Wisconsin, the utility will not pursue a solar fixed-cost recovery charge as part of its rate review with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. In addition, RENEW Wisconsin agrees to support an upcoming We Energies utility-scale solar project.

The two also agree to work together on a “series of good-faith discussions for at least the next two years with the goal of finding potential areas of agreement on renewable energy and distributed generation as We Energies continues the transition to a clean energy future,” they say in joint statement.

In May, explaining its decision to tax solar customers, We Energies said, “As the cost of solar has come down in recent years, the popularity of these small solar projects has gone up. Customers put solar panels on their roofs and use the energy produced in their homes and businesses. However, when the sun is not shining or their system is not working, we’re still there to provide power. Customers with solar panels rely on our power lines, our poles and the entire infrastructure that goes into our reliable network. But, because of the way those costs are billed, solar customers do not pay their fair share of the costs.

“This means that other customers – customers who can’t afford a solar system, don’t have a suitable place to put one, or simply don’t want one – are paying costs people with solar panels are not.”

“We are simply looking to make the system fairer for everyone,” the utility said, adding that the “modest and reasonable changes” proposed to the state regulators would allow the utility to “maintain a system that provides reliable service in an environmentally responsible way, while keeping [its] rates fair and affordable for all customers.”

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the proposal was widely seen as an attempt to monopolize the solar industry.

In turn, the proposal was met with strong, swift opposition from businesses and elected officials, as well as thousands from across Wisconsin. The announcement to drop the proposal comes less than a week after the Milwaukee Common Council unanimously passed a resolution committing the city to going carbon-free and creating a City-County Task Force on Climate and Economic Equity.

“SEIA is proud of its role in this result,” says Nakhia Morrissette, regulatory counsel and Midwest regional director at SEIA, who adds that the proposed charge was “discriminatory, unjustified and harmful to customers.”

“With the charge withdrawn,” she continues, “our members can get back to the business of growing Wisconsin’s budding solar industry, strengthening the investment in the state’s economy that comes with it and creating jobs in Wisconsin.”

Elizabeth Ward, program coordinator for the Wisconsin branch of the Sierra Club, says, “Wisconsinites continue to demand that our utilities move off of coal to 100 percent clean energy. We’re happy to see We Energies listening to the community and dropping their plans to add new barriers to solar in Wisconsin. We hope this is just the first step, and we urge We Energies to move forward by retiring its coal plants, investing in more clean energy, and increasing incentives for customers to reduce their energy use and install solar panels.”

“I’m very proud of all of the people who organized this movement to defeat the solar tax, and I’m grateful that We Energies has seen the light on this important issue,” states Fabi Maldonado, Racine County, Wis., board supervisor. “Our future is in clean energy and the new green jobs that come with it.”

Huda Alkaff, founder and director of Wisconsin Green Muslims and coordinator for Wisconsin Faith Communities for Equitable Solar, adds, “Solar energy for all is a moral, ethical and environmental justice issue. Wisconsin Faith Communities for Equitable Solar demand the right to access solar power based on guiding principles rooted in our collective values of justice, equity and inclusion.”

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