Savings from Wisconsin Community Solar Farms Compared

 A summary of our on-going assessment can be found  here.  The community solar offering with the highest return remains the first system installed at Vernon Electric Coop developed by Clean Energy Collective . The facility offered option to buy at $1.97 per watt, a 25 year term and solar credit at 90% of retail and a return on investment closely matching that of a home net-metered installation under the same utility.    

These four factors tend to underlie higher return based on the community solar opportunities we studied: 

  • solar credit rate at or near retail rate;;

  • term of contract of at least 25 years;

  • price per watt of under $2.75;

  • the ability to off-set use above 100% 

There appears to be increasing trend for term of contract to be limited to 20 years with no option to buy. This can significantly lower the return even when price per watt and the solar credit rate are favorable.   The atypical performance of the MGE offering is due to a unique arrangement with a low downpayment and commitment  to purchase solar power at a fixed rate over 25 years. Terms for Xcel's new community offerings are based on March 1 presentation by Xcel Energy   The community solar offering in Cedar Falls, IA  is included because of reported popularity and  useful comparison with other municipal utility community offerings at River Falls and New Richmond.  Email SOUL if there is a community solar facility you would like to have included in our comparisons. SOUL as has a free, calculating spreadsheet for estimating savings from on-grid, off-grid, efficiency and community solar investment options.  Specify your utility. monthly use in kWh and corresponding month if you would like us to enter initial settings.


SOUL of Wisconsin Mtg Thurs., Mar. 17, 6:30 pm 

Physical meeting at Organic Valley Headquarters in La Farge to discuss  on-going community solar and efficiency projects; Cardinal Hickory Creek and Mark Twain  transmission  expansion proposals.  Directions and location

Court Will Hear Appeal of Badger-Coulee Transmission Project

Ratepayers, landowners and municipal governments dissatisfied with the PSC Commissioners refusal to require American Transmission Company and Xcel Energy to provide ratepayer level and other impacts before approving the costly and highly controversial Badger-Coulee transmission line will get their day in court, The appeal brought by the Town of Holland near La Crosse, WI will address lack of demonstrated, "potential savings" as required by state law as well as failure to use  relevant load forecasts and evaluate  "no wire" alternatives to address potential reliability projects.  If necessary, the town will also argue that commissioners failed to accommodate local planning criteria and combine circuits on the CapX2020 transmission facility crossing their community.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has posted notice they are accepting suggestions about lessening negative impacts on more than 100 acres of impacted wetlands,117 acres of cleared forest and accidental takings of mammal, amphibian, reptile and plant species considered threatened. Rebecca Graser, staff person assigned to receive comments and answer questions can be reached  at 651- 290-5728.

Dairyland Power Coop Solar Initiative Poised To Set Community Solar Precedent  

Dairyland Power Coop, the parent cooperative to 25 rural distribution electric coops in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota recently finalized agreements with two solar development companies to build 12 solar installations in western Wisconsin totaling 15.5 megawatts.  Many coop members are expressing hope that the additions will provide opportunity for members to invest in solar panels at the .5 MW to 1.5MW farms expanding the innovative approach taken by Vernon Electric Coop. As reported, the solar companies will use tax credits and build the solar facilities close to or at substations owned by Dairyland. The solar power will be bought by Dairyland, or a distribution cooperative. 

Situated next to substations the solar facilities stand to prolong the life of the transmission assets resulting in less utility spending, less high interest debt and considerable savings for all DPC customers.  Further, if the solar power from the arrays is used directly by customers rather than DPC's grid, carbon emission reduction will be maximized.

To date, only the site near Viola has been described as having community solar offerings.  Locations for cost-effective, large solar installation are at a premium.  The opportunity for coop members to invest in solar savings at all of these locations is a ground-breaking advancement too good for Dairyland to pass up.


Why Did WI Utilities Bother to Cut Energy Efficiency 7% ?

Assembly Bill 804 recently signed into law allows utilities to deduct $580 million in operating revenue when calculating the amount utilities collect from electric customers to pass onto WI's Focus on Energy program.  The change will cut $7 million or about 7% of the funds previously collected each year devaluing rebates and making cuts in home and business programs.  At $100 million, our combination efficiency and renewable energy pool in WI is among the least funded in the midwest. Efficiency spending in the U.S. increased 300% from 2007 to 2012.

Focus on Energy works like this: $1 per month per household goes into a rebate pool which WI electric customers ca use when making appliance and building investments. The $50 - $400 rebates help repay the cost of more efficient, often more expensive appliances and equipment that use less energy over time.  Audits of Focus on Energy consistently show that every dollar put into the pool saves three dollars and, overall, is responsible for significant CO2 emissions.  These "negawatts" of never used energy are very inexpensive-- much less costly than adding  solar which many families simply can't afford.  In some states, electric customers put $2-$4 per month into "accelerated" efficiency programs with load management and other modern incentives.  These programs produce higher returns of 4-6 times the original investment.

Why would WI utilities bother to create legislation to cut our energy efficiency pool a mere 7%?  

Without the $7 million, many electric customers will buy less efficient appliances and make fewer improvements to their homes and businesses. THis will result in utilities selling about $20 million more in power. But given the $7.3 billion we pay to utilities for electricity each year, the greater concern are calls to accelerate Energy Efficiency in WI. 

Our  present $100 million efficiency pool cuts energy use .5% per year.  At this threshold operating level, small reductions and increases have profound impacts. From 2011 to 2013 when only 18 million dollars of incentives were added to the program, energy savings jumped a whopping 40% to .7% / year.
Studies over the past decade estimate the energy efficiency potential in WI from 1.5% to 2.5% reduction in use per year.  Reducing use 2.5% per year would render CO2 emissions in Wisconsin within Clean Power Plan goals in 18-20 years. And it would avoid the use of the equivalent of 2 years of electricity. 

Once WI electric customers become aware of this value, utilities probably know customers will instruct their legislators to accelerate energy efficiency. The $2-4 per month is less than 1/12 of what their electric customers spend on utility infrastructure today and unlike this debt burden,  efficiency pay us back 3-6 times.  To this add the local jobs created with home. farm and business improvements and an informed legislator can only say,"You bet!"   Call your state legislators and talk with them about Energy Efficiency. 


CLEAN WISCONSIN'S Inclination to support Cardinal Hickory Creek and Transmission Expansion  - Commentary

In a surprising move that would undercut prospects for long-term CO2 emission reduction, CLEAN WISCONSIN announced in its Winter 2016 newsletter that the organization will cease inquiry and work closely with transmission line builders, American Transmission Company (ATC) and ITC Holdings Corporation (ITC), by helping them site a large transmission project, Cardinal Hickory Creek, across Southwest Wisconsin.
Should CLEAN WISCONSIN choose to not work beside WI electric customers, local governments, landowners and organizations in demanding examination of all energy alternatives in the public review of the transmission proposal, its actions will be countering these goals:

(1) Prioritizing local energy improvements through accelerated energy efficiency, modern load management and on-site/community solar-- These improvements not only cost a fraction of transmission expansion, and lower electric bills, they attack the core problem which is unnecessary dependence on CO2-laden "wholesale" power.  Utilities expect CO2 emissions to continue to rise even if distant renewable increase 5 fold and all midwest state governments adopted 20% renewable energy goals.  Reducing energy use is the key accelerator to retiring carbon generation and it sends energy dollars into local economies instead of the finance industry.

(2) Reversing the meteoric rise in WI electricity costs driven chiefly by record spending on transmission expansion, and the billions of ratepayer dollars already committed to high interest utility debt over the next 30-40 years-- Cardinal Hickory Creek would be the seventh major transmission expansion project in WI since 2006. If approved, the regularity of utility requests for large fee hikes will increase to pay off debt, even as energy use continues to drop. 

(3) Coordinating utilities, communities, and cities to develop community-owned solar facilities across Wisconsin. These benefits was demonstrated in 2014 by Vernon Electric  Coop, when the utility allowed electric customers to invest in solar panels that lowered demand on a transmission facility and generated energy savings equal to a 3.5% Certificate of Deposit. These customers quickly recognized the combined environmental and economic advantages, and the 305 kW community solar farm sold out in two weeks.  By furthering this approach  the power reaching all electric customers in Wisconsin can contain a high percentage of locally produced solar power. 

 (4) Providing Cardinal Hickory Creek landowners, local governments and electric customers with information including cost/benefit analysis of non-transmission alternatives, factually supported evidence of need and detailed maps of all possible routes at public meetings  allowing input on all matters before the utilities submit their final application to the WI PSC. Despite a record number of WI electric customers roundly criticizing  the lack of information and demonstration of need, during public review of the Badger-Coulee proposal, information is even more scarce for Cardinal Hickory Creek. 
CLEAN WISCONSIN was awarded $150,000 by the WI PSC to help utilities site the controversial Badger-Coulee line but took no formal position regarding need.  CLEAN WISCONSIN’S announced interest to compile input from selected conservation groups regarding Cardinal Hickory Creek and submit it in secrecy to utilities is not a democratic solution to the information vacuum. 
To date, outreach has been limited to a scant form letter to select property owners announcing an open house "to learn more about the project" concluding, "There will be no formal presentation.". The high profile, high capacity, 345k kV transmission project would head west from Middleton through an area dense with trout streams, parks, historical sites, wetlands, retirement homes and farms before establishing a large transmission interconnection facility at Montfort, WI.  From Montfort, the project could proceed west, cross the Mississippi river and connect to a substation northwest of Dubuque.  The City of Dubuque council voted unanimous opposition to the line in July 2015.
 In addition to stunting housing and business development in its wake, high voltage transmission can invite additional transmission into the area.  This concern can be substantiated in other utility planning for larger lines crisscrossing southwest Wisconsin with interconnection points consistent with Montfort.
For information about constructive steps you and your local government and community can take, contact Sustain Iowa County. ,Petitions to support the above objectives are available at  SOUL of Wisconsin. and  municipal resolutions the Energy Planning and Information Committee of the Town of Stark. 

Winona La Duke to Join Walk for Awareness and Opposition Along Enbridge Oil Line   

The Sacred Water Sacred Land walk will begin in at the state line near Walworth and follow the pipeline route northwest to Superior bringing attention to both the existing LINE 61 and the proposed Twin LINE 66.  The walk will consist of 10-15 mile daily legs with community engagement talks along the way. La Duke, who has been opposing the Sandpiper expansion in Minnesota will join the walk for two segments and speak about the adverse effects of Canadian tar sands extraction and transport. Starting date and  stops schedule will be available at the Sacred Water Sacred Land Facebook. Contact organizers to find out ways you can help. 608-632-2216.   


Upper Michigan Transmission Expenditures Called into Question,  Lower Cost Alternatives Stressed

In planning released to stakeholders on February 24th, American Transmission Company announced interests in developing, upgrading or renewing six transmission projects with un-financed project costs totaling as much as $600 million. The Keweenaw Renewable Energy Collection (KREC) replied that much of this expense which ratepayers assume could avoided with energy planning the group began reporting last year.  KREC planning outlines renewable and efficiency resources ready to be locally developed with power consumed locally using an increasingly self-reliant micro-grid.  One of the key benefits of locally-produced and locally-consumed power is avoiding the escalating transmission costs that are plaguing electric customers in states where transmission expansion has been stressed in the last decade. The group also points out that by rejecting use of carbon-fuel electricity from the grid, local renewables maximize environmental benefits. Under study are the combined transmission, energy efficiency, load management and distributed generation options for addressing the sustainable energy needs of Upper Michigan following the eventual closure of Presque Isle Power Plant.  The group observes that the economic potential of strategically-placed distributed generation is growing rapidly. They observe that a medium sized bio-mass power plant burning waste wood products has been suggested to free-up existing transmission lines to supply the power needed in the area. In contrast, American Transmission Company is eyeing millions in new lines with high interest financing over 30-40 years-- the kid of expenses that are driving the regions extremely high rates. On the other hand, KREC says, if power is produced and consumed locally and efficiency and load management are pursued, it would it cost less over time and lead to about $50 million jobs supplying bio-fuel and other specialities. Contact KREC to learn more about their planning and public education efforts.


Missouri, Illinois and Iowa Communities Contest Unneeded Transmission.

Slowing energy use across the U.S. has markedly reduced the number of new transmission projects in proposals created by Regional Transmission Organizations. Unfortunately, many thousands of citizens in Missouri, New Hampshire, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin are still facing extremely well-funded campaigns for large tranmission projects utilities hope to squeak through. Families not only find themselves having to raise many thousands of dollars to protect their homes, communities and local economies, they must study and help elected representatives wade through misleading publicity and rampant rumors.

In Northeast Missouri, Neighbors United's experts are challenging out of step conclusions in utility studies dating to 2008 for the "Mark Twain" proposal. Utilities claim potential savings but refuse to substantiate them. They attribute remote wind power with savings, yet local solar is cheaper in municipal utility comparisons.  Carloads of county commissioners attended the lengthy technical hearings in January and to date none of the counties intend to sign off the siting approvals. Hundreds of hours of expert witness and legal time have been donated but there are many bills left to pay.

In Iowa and Illinois, the Rock Island "Clean" Line (RICL) is being held up in court and may soon go on the shelf indefinitely. Due in part to extensive outreach efforts to lawmakers by the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, the Iowa Utilities Board has refused to recognize the ability of private developers to condemn land or the line serving any public need, for the third time.  In Illinois, BLOCK RICL joined by ComED, the Illinois Landowners Alliance, the IL Farm Bureau/ and the Illinois Ag Association are arguing in appellate court that the Illinois Commerce Commission erred when issuing the applicants utility status and that RICL has not secured financing for the $2 billion dollar project 









SOUL of Wisconsin's free Excel spreadsheet allows one to enter household energy use data and see savings generated from three types of solar and efficiency invest-ment for use with most Wisconsin utilities.   Request Calculator via email.

Discover clever, low-cost ways to become a Load Defector to promote better energy policies while saving your household or business lots of money. If your household electric bill is greater than 700 kilowatt hours, per month, its likely you can make significant improvements. Learn more about the energy and emis-sion savings tips and email SOUL for your personalized, online ledger to record your month to month and year to year progress.


Thursday, April 21, 2016   6 pm Eau Claire, WI
Sifting the Future: The Ecological, Agricultural, and Health Effects of Frac Sand Mining in Wisconsin

Sponsored by Save the Hills Alliance, Inc.; FracTracker Alliance; Wisconsin Farmers Union and Society for Conservation Biology (Wi Chapter) Contact Pat 
Popple  at 715-723-6398 or


Petition  - Stop Utility Abuse of Property in Wisconsin

PETITION.  Support stronger environmental protections for thousands of miles of electrical power line right of ways in Wisconsin by signing this petition to the WI PSC asking the agency to adopt widely accepted vegetation management practices for creating diverse plant communities with small trees and shrubs that reduce maintenance and enhance wildlife habitat, forest ecology and aesthetic values..


LIFETIME MEMBERSHIP to support ratepayer energy investment priorities is only $5!  Membership numbers are especially important when SOUL intervenes in utility cases and seeks funding for engineers and other experts.  Consider two or more memberships for your family. Donations above the $5 fee are tax deductible. Join online here or mail a check to SOUL of Wisconsin, PO Box 413, La Farge, WI 54639 



List of Locations. Held in all 72 WI counties. Individuals interested in natural resources management will have opportunity to provide input by non-binding vote and testimony to the Department of Natural Resources, Natural Resources Board and the Conservation Congress on proposed rule changes and advisory questions relating to fish and wildlife management and land and water use issues in Wisconsin. Individuals can also bring forth new conservation issues of a statewide nature to the attention of the Conservation Congress through the citizen resolution process.




Understanding Wisconsin Utilities Excessive Spending

Wisconsin utilities were legally enabled to begin their current spending binge in 1998 when WI state legislators adopted laws that ceased competitive bidding between supply side and demand side energy investments.  No longer were proposals for new power plants and transmission lines required to economically compete with alternative solutions that can dramatically shrink all underlying need for these very expensive additions.  By 2006, as most states were investing more and more dollars on energy efficiency placing no debt on consumers while lowering utility bills, Wisconsin utilities had added numerous power plants and were expanding the transmission system with a trajectory of spending increases. Read More



Draft Master Plan & Environmental Analysis Available For Reading & Comment

A plan for the ecology of many native communities and birds with special attention to forest interior species and pressures from non-metallic mining to logging.   Two open sessions will be held about the plan at the following locations: Tuesday, March 29, 5-7 p.m. - Tuffley Community Center, 104 Oak St., Boscobel; and Thursday, March 31, 5-7 p.m. - The River Arts Center, 105 9th St., Prairie du Sac. Each session will include a short presentation by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources staff at 5:45 p.m. Public comments can be submitted at an open house, posted online or by email


20th Century Utility Assumptions Failing Ratepayers in 21st Century

Article by  David Roberts explaining causes for skyrocketing cost increases and unwitting liabilities utilities are bringing upon electric customers as they refuse to embrace cost-effective solutions. Companion article  by Roberts' provides an overview of New York State's Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) program in which the NY PSC ordered utilities to apply $200,000 towards energy efficiency, local power and load management instead of spending $1 billion upgrading an older substation.  



The Natural Gas Gamble: A Risky Bet on America's Clean Energy Future

Assessment by the Union of Concerned Scientists concluding that dramatically expanding the use of natural gas to generate electricity creates numerous costly and complex risks for our economy, our health, and our climate.