Lawsuit Targets Policies Affecting Third-Party Financing Of Projects.
A renewable energy group is suing state regulators about policies they argue stifle Wisconsin’s clean energy economy and interfere with residents’ and businesses’ ability to access alternative energy.
The Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) filed a complaint Thursday in Portage County Circuit Court against the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC). The group argues regulators are going beyond their authority by preventing third-party financing — when a third party pays the upfront cost of a solar installation, allowing the customer to lease solar power and pay it off over time.
Another form of third-party financing involves power purchase agreements where solar installers sell the power generated to a customer at a fixed rate that’s often lower than those provided by an electric utility, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We have to put an end to the ‘can’t-do’ attitude of the past that produced Wisconsin’s outdated and overpriced fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Nick Hylla, MREA’s executive director, in a statement. “We have better options. Families, businesses, schools, and churches want to innovate and invest in advanced clean energy, but Wisconsin’s electric utilities are using faulty (PSC) guidance to strengthen their monopoly control and reduce options for electricity ratepayers.”
The renewable energy association contends PSC guidance documents have generally found third-party financing would qualify such projects as a public utility in Wisconsin. That means solar projects would have to get approval from regulators to sell power to customers.
A PSC spokesperson said the agency is aware of the lawsuit, but declined to comment on pending litigation.
Tom Content, executive director with the Citizens Utility Board, said the option to lease solar in Wisconsin is mostly available through utilities. He thinks customers should have more options for accessing renewable energy.
“But, there are no other places to shop around,” said Content. “Because of the way it’s worked out in Wisconsin, there’s a lack of clarity on what the rules are in Wisconsin. There’s a gray area.”
The reason for that uncertainty is that regulators haven’t yet clarified whether the law allows third-party financing. Content noted some projects that have utilized third-party financing have been approved in Wisconsin while others have not.