WI’s WE Energies Institutes Power Industry’s Attack on Homeowner/Business Solar Power

I recently came across this interesting discussion of Wisconsin power company WE Energies and its application to the WI PSC to heavily penalize WI solar power producers with the elimination of net metering and extra charges, based on the Edison Electric Institute’s “free rider” propaganda.

The author of the Daily Kos post makes some excellent points about WE’s factless propaganda campaign to stir up resentment against solar power producers.

So what is “fair?” Said brochure: [solar customers] “still need to use the electric grid, yet pay less than their share for their use of the grid. This leaves more of the cost of the grid to be paid by customers who do not have or cannot afford their own systems.”

Please note that there are no actual dollars and cents numbers given to support any of these statements. I think that paying $108 a year more than regular customers, in spite of the fact that we’ll be supplying the grid with energy during peak use, is actually way more than fair, verging on unfair! I therefore went on a personal quest to find out exactly what solar customers are costing WE Energies when they send those little electrical particles zooming through the existing wires.

First, I called the guy at WE Energies I’d been dealing with about our application to connect to the grid (very nice guy, by the way; tough position to be in). Him: Well, we just have to be fair. Me: I want to be fair. How much will it cost you guys to run my solar energy through your system? Him: Well, that’s hard to say: Me: Is it more than the $9/month that everyone else pays? Him: Well, that $9/month doesn’t cover all of our costs. You have to also buy energy in the form of kilowatt hours…

…INTERLUDE: Doesn’t cover ALL of their costs? Their own brochure says it “covers the fixed costs to provide services.” It doesn’t say “almost covers.”…back to our regularly scheduled diary…

Me: How much energy does a customer have to buy to make up the difference? Him: That’s hard to say.

Let me summarize: WE Energies couldn’t tell me how much it will cost them to run my solar energy through their system.

Then, I called and spoke with the Distributive Energy staffer at the PSC. I shall paraphrase our conversation. I said that certainly WE Energies must have included in its proposal the actual amount that solar customers cost them. His response: No, they didn’t. Me: You’re kidding. Him: No. Me: Well, I do want to be fair. Do you know what it costs them to run solar energy back into their system? Him: It depends on who you talk to. There’s no fixed number. Me: What do you mean “there’s no fixed number? Him: Again, it depends on who you talk to.

Let me summarize: WE Energies did not include in their rate increase proposal a dollar amount for what solar customers cost them, and the Distributive Energy expert at the PSC doesn’t know either.

So, WE Energies has issued an official publication, essentially blasting renewables customers for not paying their “fair” share to use the grid, but they have no actual real numbers to back up their claim. Why go so far as to demonize solar customers?

The answer is on the back of the brochure. Now that they have their regular customers believing that they are victims of a massive photovoltaic plot, they provide information about how to contact the PSC with comments. They encourage customers to visit their website at Wisconsin Public Service Commission to learn about the hearing schedule for, or leave comments about, docket #5-UR-107.

Having been to the PSC Public Comments section, I can tell you I haven’t seen a single comment in favor of the rate hikes. My guess is that WE Energies is trying to change that. Oh, and the brochure says that you can also contact WE Energies for more information at WE Energies email.

Windtalker, the author of the Daily Kos piece, also does a good job of running the numbers on the cost of WE Enegies’  proposed new fees.  Windtalker does not do such a good job of explaining why WE Energies is pursuing this changes that will hurt Wisconsin’s electrical reliability and overall cost to customers.

Readers of The Power Line know exactly what is behind WE Energies’ tactics – fear.  Back in January 2013, the Edison Electric Institute warned the US electrical industry that the whole system of massive investment in centralized generation and big transmission was about to be swallowed by the new wave of decentralized generation, mainly solar and wind power.  That fear is what is driving WE Energies and most other US power companies now.

For 100 years, US power companies have been able to built power plants and transmission lines with the assurance from regulators and politicians that they will be able to recover all of those costs, plus profit, from rate payers.  Now many rate payers are rebelling against this regime.  They are investing in new technologies that either allow them  to reduce electricity use, or produce their own.

WE Energies depends on selling kwh to pay for their investments that they thought would be subsidized by rate payers for decades.  That world may be gone forever.

As Scott Sklar points out in his recent article, customer based electricity investments improve the overall efficiency of our electrical system by increasing systems’ load factors.   The problem, according to Sklar, is that our current way of rewarding investment by power companies in obsolete technologies is causing high rates and stagnation in the industry.  WE Energies, following the EEI playbook, is using that destructive old subsidy system to crush new ways of doing things in the world of electricity.

This nihilistic lashing out by scared power companies is something none of can afford any longer.  And we should not stand for it.

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