MADISON — Wisconsin’s left-led Public Service Commission just approved a $155,000, ratepayer-funded study to find out how many Wisconsin rooftops could support solar panels.
If you think this is a giant waste of money, you’re not alone. Even some of the state’s renewable energy partners are scratching their heads over the need for the study. But make no mistake: it’s all part of Gov. Tony Evers’ extreme and expensive agenda to stomp out the state’s “carbon footprint.”
The PSC on Thursday approved (2-1) the $155,628 residential and nonresidential rooftop solar photovoltaic (Solar PV) potential study. Commissioner Ellen Nowak voted against the project, with Commissioner Tyler Huebner and Chairwoman Rebecca Cameron Valcq, despite her initial concerns, voting in favor.
Huebner, former executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide renewable energy nonprofit organization, led gushing discussions about the need for the study. Understandable. His old pals in the solar industry stand to benefit immensely from a study ostensibly designed to show the vast marketplace for solar energy in Wisconsin.
But you don’t need to be a PSC commissioner to know that there are some 2 million single-family homes in the Badger State and they all come with roofs. Many of them could, if the owner’s so choose, support Solar PV.
As of 2019, there were 6,646 customer-owned solar installations operating in Wisconsin with the majority of those installations owned by residential customers, according to a PSC memo. That suggests there’s lots of market opportunity, if the market will bear.
According to the commission’s 2020-26 Strategic Energy Assessment, solar installations in Wisconsin have been growing at an “average annual growth rate” of north of 20 percent per year.
Demand is so high, says the commission, the Focus on Energy program administrator was forced to reduce residential solar PV incentives twice in 2020 “in order to avoid exhausting” the available budget and to continue to provide some level of incentives to customers completing projects. Incentives last year had to be dropped from $1,500 to $1,000, and then to a flat rate of $500 per system.
The Focus Program administrator said, “virtually every installer in the state is working at full capacity with many having backlogs extending well into 2021.”
So why the need to spend $155,000 on a study to determine the “potential” available space for solar PV systems? That’s what Bill Skewes, executive director of the Wisconsin Utilities Association, wants to know.
“(G)iven the now-mature solar market, the logic underpinning the need to study the potential for renewable growth in the state no longer applies,” Skewes wrote in a comment on behalf of the WUA, which is a significant partner in Wisconsin’s renewable energy programs. WUA asked the commission to reject the study.
“(T)he study purports to calculate the technical potential for solar PV deployment in the state, which essentially asks the question: what is the total square footage of suitable rooftop space in Wisconsin is currently without installed solar panels? The answer, of course, is ‘a lot.’ There is no doubt the proposed study will show that the technical potential for solar PV is vast and many times greater than actual deployment during the quadrennial period could conceivably be,” Skewes wrote.
He said it’s worth questioning “what actionable knowledge such a study of the market potential would provide.”
Here’s what actionable knowledge the study will provide: Numbers used by climate change alarmists and renewable energy advocates to try to stop utilities from investing in anything reliable and cost-efficient forms of energy. “Look,” they’ll say. “We have hundreds of thousands of rooftops just waiting for a solar panel.”
More so, they’re hoping to justify their wacky ideas and give some proof — as scant as it may be — they are moving toward their unattainable carbon reduction goals.
Except, hundreds of thousands of homeowners aren’t interested in investing in solar energy. To date, the number is pushing toward 7,000. Demand may be growing, but it could be some time before a meaningful number of homeowners employ rooftop solar.
One of the big reasons remains cost. Solar panel costs for a 10kilowatt installation range from about $18,000 to $24,0000, according to EnergySage.com. As it stands, the price tag of the systems is leaving low-and-moderate income homeowners out in the cold. And the incentives are benefiting those who can afford rooftop solar.
The PSC did approve an approximately $12,000 grant to study “solar PV potential and to characterize adoption barriers for the low-income population.” Perhaps that money could have been put to better use in energy assistance and efficiency programs.
“Should more attention be placed on directing funds to low-income customers who could benefit from renewable energy?” Skewes asked. “Is it still appropriate to direct limited Focus on Energy dollars, which are contributed by all electric customers, to private solar owners who then reduce their usage and thereby increase costs for other customers? These are important questions, but the proposed study will address none of them.”
All very good questions that the PSC skipped over in pursuit of Gov. Tony Evers’ reality- and economy-shattering plan to make Wisconsin “carbon neutral” by 2050. Baked into the plan and the governor’s alarmist climate task force are more of the same unrealistic and Woke leftist policies, complete with an “office of environmental justice.”
Part of their climate “justice and equity” agenda now includes counting available rooftops for solar panels. What’s next, a study to know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall?