- Associated Press - Saturday, October 31, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A judge has ruled that customers of We Energies who want to add solar panels will not have to pay extra fees the utility was set to start assessing next year.

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Peter Anderson decided on Friday the Wisconsin Public Service Commission did not have enough evidence to back up its decision in December to impose the fees, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (https://bit.ly/1NgnDyf ) reported.

Solar companies and renewable energy advocates praised the ruling for stopping what they call a “discriminatory tax on solar.” We Energies and the PSC said they were reviewing their legal options.

The fees were imposed as part of a campaign by Wisconsin utilities for what they call rate fairness. As part of that effort, Milwaukee-based We Energies wanted to assess an additional fee on customers who generate their own power.

The proposal prompted radio ads, online videos for and against, and more than 1,500 public comments.

“This is huge,” said Amy Heart of the solar company Sunrun and the Alliance for Solar Choice, which filed the lawsuit and is challenging utilities in proceedings across the country. “We hadn’t seen any public service commission approve such a high discriminatory charge on solar customers, and the court clearly stated that there needed to be evidence to justify that sort of charge.”

Several other aspects of the We Energies rate case decision, which were not challenged by renewable energy advocates, were allowed to proceed, the utility said Friday.

“We believe sufficient information was provided for the commission to include a demand charge on customer generation,” We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said.

Remaining in place is a change that will reduce the rate that We Energies pays customers to buy the electricity they generate, Manthey said. Also unchanged is the higher fixed charge all customers have been paying on monthly electric bills since January.

But for now, a $3.79 per kilowatt monthly charge for solar customers will not go forward. For a typical 5-kilowatt solar installation on a home, that would have amounted to about $19 a month and would have reduced by about one-fourth the savings solar panels were providing for such a customer, according to Renew Wisconsin estimates.

Customers using biogas or hydropower would have faced a higher monthly fee, $8.60 per kilowatt of power capacity,

“It’s great news for renewable energy and for the We Energies customers who are interested in creating some of their own power,” said Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin.

At issue is whether solar customers create extra challenges for utilities because they rely on the power grid and utility for power when the sun isn’t shining. Utilities say that’s not fair and needs to be addressed.

Solar advocates contend the utilities are acting to safeguard monopolies from competition and don’t recognize the benefits that having more renewable energy create.

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Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, https://www.jsonline.com

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