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The Royal “WE”

In the battle for our energy future, we’ve seen some pretty devious attacks on rooftop solar, and the latest salvos from Wisconsin’s We Energies are in the running for top honors. If you followed recent attacks on net metering in Arizona, you have an inkling of what’s going down in the Midwest.

wisconsin solar

Here’s the skinny: We Energies is in the midst of asking regulators to approve a $9.1 billion acquisition of Chicago-based Integrys. The deal purportedly includes a promised rate freeze for WE’s new Illinois customers and a potential shift of corporate headquarters to Chicago.

Meanwhile, back in Wisconsin, WE is attacking their own ratepayers by proposing exorbitant charges for solar customers, an increased fixed charge for all customers, and a ban on third-party ownership (i.e. financing) of rooftop solar installations — a business model that has the rooftop market booming in lower- and medium-income neighborhoods.

But don’t worry, it gets worse…

WE has rooftop solar in its crosshairs, but the only evidence it has to support its attack is a study it commissioned and paid for in 2009 that actually found solar was a net benefit to all ratepayers. So, WE’s proposals are not only insidious but also contradicted by its very own research!

In other words, the Wisconsin Public Services Commission is on the verge of endorsing its state’s fall to the bottom of the solar policy barrel in order to benefit a corporate utility with zero credibility.

This is a big decision that could have national impacts on ratepayers and the future of solar energy. The fact that WE is trying to force it through without providing any qualitative evidence is another example of WE’s monopolistic hypocrisy. Which is probably why its proposal is drawing opposition from solar advocates, businesses, and groups representing senior citizens and low-income customers.

If WE was granted regulatory permission to implement all of these changes, Wisconsin would instantly become the worst state in the country for solar policy. (And the initials “WE” would take on a pretty disgusting layer of irony.) This is just another in a long line of monopoly utilities attempting to expand their monopolies while putting their customers through a gauntlet of fees — all in the name of protecting corporate profit margins.

It’s up to the Wisconsin PSC to do the right thing and stop WE’s money grab. We’ll be watching.

Image: Wisconsin solar rooftop by mjmonty | CC BY 2.0 license

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is an independent media strategist based in San José, CA. You can read his many musings on Twitter @pjallen2.


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