Solar industry asks Wisconsin regulators to decide on financing rule for rooftop solar panels
Updated 12:00 p.m. CDT
The solar energy industry is asking state of Wisconsin regulators for a decision on an alternative way for homeowners, organizations and cities to get more solar panels on the roof.
The alternative is called third-party ownership, or financing, and it allows roof owners who can't afford the whole cost of solar panels upfront to sign a lease or cut another type of deal with finance companies, solar manufacturers or installers who would own the panels.
Will Kenworthy is with the Midwest office of Vote Solar, a national group that has about 500 members in Wisconsin. He says the third parties are not trying to become utilities.
"We think it's sort of comical that the view is having a five kilowatt solar array on the customers home is creating a public utility," Kenworthy tells WUWM.
But the Milwaukee-based utility We Energies says it remains opposed to third-party ownership. Company spokesperson Brendan Conway says, "Allowing unregulated renewable companies to sell power directly to certain customers at the expense of others is not in the public interest." He says cost-shifting occurs to those who can't afford or choose not to have solar panels, yet still have to pay for the electrical grid.
But Kenworthy of Vote Solar says the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, or PSC, has been studying the issue long enough. So, his group and others have petitioned the agency to declare whether third-party financing is legal.
"The fact that customers cannot use the third-party ownership model is holding back Wisconsin residents from taking advantage of this thing. And so, we thought the time was right to bring this forward and ask the commission to settle it once and for all," Kenworthy says.
We Energies calls the petitioning of the PSC "the latest attempt to circumvent the law and state Legislature."
PSC spokesperson Matt Sweeney told WUWM, "The Commission is reviewing the requests and will respond to the petitions within 60 days from the date of receipt as required by state administrative code."