Solar sellers and supporters say MGE proposal targets clean energy

MGE says new rates would make billing fairer for customers

Solar sellers and supporters say MGE proposal targets clean energy

Rik Rosenlund has spent the last five years building a business on soaking up sun, but selling solar power units is an investment for both him and the customer.

"Nobody's getting rich in the solar business in Wisconsin," Rosenlund said.

Rosenlund said Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) has been a good partner and a company he has watched promote clean energy in the past.  However, he said the change in rates MGE is pitching for the coming year is like a telephone company ignoring the advent of cellphones.

"We're trying to go out there and scrape up business and trying to convince and work with people who are personally committed to investing in solar, and then you get something like this from the utility sector which is supposed to look out for the best interest of electricity consumers," said Rosenlund, the co-owner of Midwest Solar Power, LLC.

MGE bills its customers a fixed rate for electricity infrastructure and other operational costs and another "per kilowatt hour" cost for the actual electricity used.

While MGE wants to reduce the rate for electricity used from 14 cents to about 13 cents per unit, the utility company is looking to almost double the fixed rate from around $10 to $19.

"We need to be fair to customers who use a little bit of electricity and a lot of electricity depending on what their needs are," MGE spokesperson Stephen Kraus said.

Kraus said someone who has a solar unit will still have a significant savings under the new system, even though customers won't get as much of a financial break for using less electricity.  He said the difference in savings each year should only be about $50.

"As we move these rates around a little bit, efficiency and alternative energy projects and that sort of thing will still be an important part of our energy mix," Kraus said.

Kraus added MGE already took consumer concerns under consideration.  The company's initial proposal was a multi-year plan with a greater increase for the fixed cost.  Now, after collaborating with the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), MGE is only pitching for a rate change for next year

"It's good to have local generation right here," Kraus said.  "MGE has been a longtime supporter of solar energy and of wind, and we have well over 200 projects on our system right now that help feed our grid and all of our customers benefit from it."

Others argue because the base cost of electricity will be greater, those who don't use as much will be the ones punished for their energy-saving tactics.

Renew Wisconsin Executive Director Tyler Hueber said if the rate structure changes the way MGE wants it to, people will be discouraged from installing solar panels and other clean energy options since it will take longer to pay back the investment.

"Anyone that's trying to save energy, anybody who has a low-energy bill - whether you're an elderly couple on fixed income, a family trying to save energy and save money, or a person who has solar on your roof - you probably have a low bill," Hueber explained.  "You're going to have to pay more under this proposal and any proposal that increases the fixed cost."

Hueber, who has been fighting the rate change proposed by MGE, said solar panels are just becoming more affordable.  He said once certain utility companies realized they could lose money on people generating their own power, they made it less lucrative to install or use that technology.

"Now that that financial reality is in place, it's not just about the green part, it's about the green part, the money part," Huebner said.

Kraus argued it's about making things fair for all MGE customers.

WE Energies out of Milwaukee has pitched a similar proposal to the state Public Service Commission.  Public meetings are scheduled for this fall.

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