How Wisconsin can embrace renewable energy without big upfront costs – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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There’s more than one way to go solar in Wisconsin.

Rooftop solar may get most of the attention and marketing push, but there’s an alternative for homeowners and renters who can’t afford to install solar power or don’t live in a place where that’s possible.

The answer could be “green pricing” subscription programs that allow residential customers and small businesses to participate in the renewable energy transition to buy some or all of their power from their utilities’ renewable energy resources.

Utilities across the state have offered the programs for years, most dating to the earliest days of wind and solar energy. They offer the programs under different names, but each allows customers to tailor their renewable energy mix to their interests and budgets.

“It’s really for some business and residential customers who want to support renewables, but don’t want to be locked in or make a big investment,” said Tony Palese, spokesman for Alliant Energy.

Nationwide, about 1.2 million utility customers have signed up for green pricing programs.

No contractors, no special equipment needed

These are bill-based subscriptions, so there’s nothing that needs to be done other than to sign up.

You simply choose what share of your monthly consumption you want to come from solar and wind power. Some utilities offer percentages, others offer blocks in fixed amounts.

Be aware that this is not a promise that your home will be directly powered by renewables. All electricity is comingled on the grid – there’s no separation of power from wind or solar farms. Instead, you’re laying claim to a share of the electricity from renewable sources that your utility produces or buys.

More:Massive solar farms are popping up all around Wisconsin. Here’s how they power your home, school or workplace.

What does it cost?

Customers do pay a small premium to participate, one that’s set by state regulators but varies from utility to utility.

Here’s a sampling of the monthly charges for the average customer of some of Wisconsin’s investor-owned utilities:

  • We Energies Energy for Tomorrow: $1.91 for 25% of the average monthly bill, or $7. 94 for 100%.
  • Wisconsin Public Service Corp. NatureWise: Sold in 100 kilowatt-hour “blocks” for $1.28 a block. A block represents about 15–20% of a typical customer’s electric use.
  • Alliant Energy Second Nature: $1.50 for 25% of the average monthly bill, or $6 for 100%.
The Red Barn Wind Park in Grant County began operation in April 2023. Owned by WPS and Madison Gas& Electric, it is the first wind farm to begin operation in Wisconsin in nearly six years.

If renewable energy is cheaper to produce, why do I have to pay more?

Utilities tout billions of dollars in customer savings over time as coal-generation is retired, but that’s in the future as new power sources are developed and costs, particularly for solar panels, continue to fall.

The additional charge for the subscription programs represents the added cost of buying power to fulfill the subscriptions, said Brendan Conway, spokesman for WEC Energy Group, the parent company of We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service Corp.

“This would be beyond our normal generation,” Conway said. “It’s a voluntary program and this would be purchased on top of what we’re projecting.”

How is this different from community solar?

Several utilities offer community solar programs, in which customers buy a share of a solar farm’s output and receive a credit on their electric bills. Those are ownership programs, typically for a period of 20 or more years.

By contrast, renewable energy subscriptions can be added, changed or canceled on a monthly basis.

Isn’t some of my energy already coming from renewable sources?

Yes, it is, and that means paying for a 100% subscription may be partially redundant.

About 9% of WEC Energy Group’s generating portfolio is comprised of wind, solar and hydro power. That will grow to about one-third by 2030, Conway said.

At Alliant Energy, renewables made up 23.6% of the utility’s power generation in 2022, the most recent year for which numbers are available. It does not include more than 600 megawatts of new solar generation that came online in 2023.

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