By Todd Richmond
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A northeastern Wisconsin utility can scale back a credit program for customers who generate their own electricity through solar panels, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.
Wisconsin Public Service Corp.’s program offers self-generators credits, requiring customers to pay for any electricity they draw from the utility but then essentially allowing them to sell to the utility any excess they generated on their own.
Three years ago, the state Public Service Commission approved the utility’s request to reduce the maximum amount of generation that credits could apply to. Before that, the maximum amount was 100 kilowatt hours of generation. The change lowers the limit to 20 kilowatts for new participants.
RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization that court documents show represents 115 companies specializing in solar-panel installations, as well as about 300 individual ratepayers, filed a lawsuit in Dane County alleging the PSC’s decision was arbitrary because it lacked a sufficient explanation and a factual basis.
Judge Rhonda Lanford kicked the issue back to the commission, ordering the panel to gather more facts and establish a sufficient record.
The District 4 Court of Appeals reversed Lanford, ruling the commission provided a rational explanation.The panel argued that lowering the capacity threshold will curtail cross-subsidization, a term the industry uses to describe the possibility that self-generators are not paying their fare share for the upkeep of the electrical system and are thus receiving subsidies from other utility ratepayers.
The new 20 kilowatt threshold doesn’t apply to customers already in the program, so no current participants will be dropped if they exceed the limit. RENEW Wisconsin Executive Director Tyler Huebner said the organization was still disappointed with the appellate decision and was weighing whether to file an appeal to the state Supreme Court. He said the PSC failed to consider the benefits of self-generation.
A spokesman for Wisconsin Public Service Corp. had no immediate comment on the decision. A spokeswoman for the commission didn’t immediately return a voicemail left at her office Thursday morning.