WI PSC Sides with Power Company Against Innovation While a German Town Takes Matters into Its Own Hands

The contrast between this week’s decision by the Wisconsin PSC to support Wisconsin Energy’s assault on its solar generating customers and the remarkable progress being made in Wildpoldsried, Bavaria couldn’t be clearer.

Here’s a link to Greentech Media’s report on the WI PSC decision.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission recently voted 2-1 to allow We Energies to increase fixed charges on all residential bills, decreasing the financial benefit for customers who use less energy. The PSC also granted the utility permission to pay less for the power generated by customers with rooftop solar.

But the story doesn’t end there. Cleantech advocates are now preparing to bring suit against the two commissioners who voted in favor of the changes, and they are confident the decision will be overturned.

Last week’s vote increases monthly fixed charges for We Energies customers from roughly $9 to $16, making them among the highest in the country. The variable rate will be reduced from $0.139 per kilowatt-hour to $0.1349 per kilowatt-hour.

The approved change in net metering will switch the program from annual netting to monthly netting, and reduce the price credited for excess generation from the current 14 cents per kilowatt-hour to 3 cents per kilowatt-hour.

All customers with solar systems on their property will also have to pay We Energies $3.80 per kilowatt per month. The average solar system size in Wisconsin is 4 kilowatts, bringing average annual fees to $182 per year.

Meanwhile, in Bavaria:

The story began in 1997, when Wildpoldsried mayor Arno Zengerle and the city council decided they wanted to revitalize the community and encourage growth without incurring debt. The town adopted the Innovative Leadership Plan, WIR-2020, to reinvent Wildpoldsried based on renewable energy, green building, and water resource protection. As part of the plan the town set a goal of producing 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2020.

Things happened much faster than planned — 17 years later, the town now has five biogas plants, almost 5 MW of solar PV, 11 wind turbines with a total capacity of more than 12 MW, a biomass district heating network, three small hydro power plants, and 2,100 square meters of solar thermal systems. While the first two wind turbines were partly financed by a small grant from the state of Bavaria, local residents — many of them dairy farmers — have financed all following turbines. Those turbines, which generated over 17,000 MWh of electricity in 2013, have a payback of 10 years, and then generate 80 percent of the earnings of the dairy farms.

All public buildings, 120 private residences, and 4 companies are connected to the district heating system. The biomass for the system is all sourced from waste wood from local forests and generates 8.2 MMBtu of heat each year. The majority of the PV systems in the town are on private residences — about 200 homes now have rooftop solar. Nine municipal buildings including the primary school, recycling facility, and sports center also have PV systems. The electricity generated from the solar, wind, and biomass is sold to AÜW under a fixed-price 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA).

Wildpoldsried invested in microgrid control technologies that allowed small scale renewable producers to capture the full value of their product, instead of feeding it into the grid where power companies and speculators skimmed off the real value.

The key to the smart grid is a self-organizing automation system called SOEASY, which balances supply and demand to keep the grid stable. It is IRENE’s brain, so to speak. SOEASY considers weather, electricity prices, power quality, and other factors when deciding whether to send electricity into the grid or to storage. It’s actually more complex than the name makes it sound. SOEASY contains five different software modules — the personal energy agent, balance master, area administrator, network transport agent, and energy police.

  • Personal energy agent: Every “prosumer” in the town has a personal energy agent. This small device allows the energy producer to dictate how much power he or she wants to sell, at what time, and at what minimum price, in 15-minute intervals. It is, in some sense, a distributed energy resource marketplace on the scale of one town embedded in a far larger grid.
  • Balance master: The balance master is installed at AÜW and decides which personal energy agent offers it will accept to cover demand in the grid. It can plan adjustments up to a day in advance, and takes into account different parameters such as weather changes.
  • Area administrator: The area administrator helps AÜW maintain network stability if too much energy is being fed into the grid. The area administrator can modify the input from different sources via commands to their personal energy agents, can send energy to storage, or can adjust the voltage through the variable transformer.
  • Network transport agent: The network transport agent (NTA) collects data from the energy producers, consumers, and the grid, and supplies it to the area administrator, which intervenes if maximum voltage is exceeded, and to the balance master, which decides what power can be accepted without overloading the grid.
  • Energy Police: The energy police makes sure that all energy producers supply the power promised by their personal energy agents, and that no power is illegally siphoned off.

This is real investment in the future, and it increases the reliability of the increasingly unstable centralized grid with which the local microgrids must still interact.  Keep in mind that this is a town of 2600 people.  They generate $7 million dollars a year selling their electricity.

WV politicians looking to revitalize the economies of WV’s small towns need to wake up and take a good look at what the people of Wildpoldsried have done for themselves.

One thought on “WI PSC Sides with Power Company Against Innovation While a German Town Takes Matters into Its Own Hands

  1. Bill: Thanks for report on the WI PSC and the comparison with Wildpoldsried, Germany’s implementation of local power. The WI PSC appears to be attempting to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. By attempting to stifle solar PV implementation into the grid, they are actually encouraging their own demise. Were I a solar PV producer in Wisconsin, I would be working to channel my own production into removing grid dependency one building at a time until it was no longer necessary to be connected at all. As the WI power plants age out, it will become tougher to sell the notion of replacing them in the face of rapidly declining grid demand. WI should be careful. Today’s consumers know how to obtain the information they need to take control of their own energy needs and how to work with their neighbors to escape the control of the power monopolies.

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