Sep 30, 2013

State ruling keeps solar incentives suspended for rest of year

From  Thomas Content of the Journal Sentinel

Solar electric and solar hot water incentives for Wisconsin homes have been suspended for the remainder of the year by the Focus on Energy program.

Focus kept in place a temporary suspension announced in August, after the state Public Service Commission voted 2-1 not to change its stance on making funding for solar contingent on funds being allocated to more cost-effective bioenergy projects.

Renewable energy advocates and businesses had weighed in since then, with hundreds of letters asking the PSC to change its stance to allow more funding for solar energy projects.

In a notice posted on the Focus website, the statewide energy efficiency and renewable energy program said the PSC's decision "forces Focus on Energy to suspend incentives for Solar Thermal and Solar Photovoltaic technologies under the Residential Renewables and New Homes Programs for the remainder of 2013."

Funding remains for residential geothermal energy projects, Focus on Energy said.

Funding for solar projects has been criticized by the Republican majority on the state Public Service Commission is not cost-effective enough, in essence not a wise use of utility ratepayers' money that funds Focus.

The commission capped renewable energy projects at $10 million a year, and decided that funding for solar and wind projects be capped at 25% of funding. Because these projects are contingent on slower-to-develop bioenergy projects, and no more bioenergy funds have been spent, solar is now capped.

This marks the second time in three years that Focus has suspended solar energy funding. In 2011 the commission decided to halt renewables incentives because too much money was being spent on that and not enough on more cost-effective energy efficiency projects.

"No similar situation exists today," said PSC commissioner Eric Callisto, a Democrat, in a critique of the decision. "The commission's decision creates uncertainty in the renewables marketplace and penalizes entire classes of technologies without any compelling justification."

Businesses looking to add renewable energy systems will be able to submit applications under a request for proposals that will be posted on Tuesday on the Focus website, said Sarah Platt, Focus spokeswoman.

That request for proposals will be open to all kinds of renewable energy technologies, though Focus has in the past budgeted smaller incentives for solar and wind, a maximum incentive of $100,000, compared with a maximum of $200,000 for geothermal and $500,000 for biogas and biomass projects.