Clean Energy Choice

If you pay an electricity bill in Wisconsin, you’ve probably noticed that the price of that electricity keeps going up, and we hope this inspires you to install as many energy-efficiency measures as possible to save both your pocketbook and the environment. But we all know there is going to be an eventual limit to how much you can cut back, especially if you’re looking to enjoy a frosty beverage while watching Aaron Rodgers connect with Jordy Nelson in full HD glory next fall.

But there is an alternative to shelling out your hard-earned cash to a coal-burning utility. While the price you pay per kilowatt hour of electricity keeps going up, the price for solar panels to make your own power keeps coming down. Unfortunately though, the price tag for a solar system is still a lot more cash than most families have on hand. That’s where renewable energy financing comes in. Instead of paying the whole cost of a renewable energy system up front, financing allows you to pay it off over time, often with immediate savings on your total energy bill.

One particular type of financing that is taking off across the country is called “solar leasing.” In a solar lease, a company installs a solar system on your roof to offset some or all of your electrical usage, and you simply pay them a monthly fee. Like leasing a car, the installation company still owns it, which means they often maintain and repair it, too. As a result, in states like California that are ahead of the curve on solar power, more people choose to lease than own solar systems: in 2012, third-party (not utility or customer) ownership accounted for 72% of new systems in the California Solar Initiative.

So why isn’t this catching on in Wisconsin? It’s not for lack of sun — Wisconsin has a much better solar resource than Germany, the world leader in solar power. Instead, the law is unclear. Our electricity market is highly regulated, and companies that want to lease solar panels in the state can’t just sign up to sell electricity (which they would technically be doing, since they own the systems and you’re just paying for the output). The lack of clarity in the law makes it difficult to make any headway on this important issue.

That’s where “Clean Energy Choice” comes in. Clean Energy Choice is a policy option that exists in some form or another in 22 states and allows non-utility companies to sell electricity to customers when that electricity is generated on the customer’s property. This year, Clean Wisconsin is working to advance Clean Energy Choice in Wisconsin. One day you may actually be able to get electricity from your own roof by having one of those companies take care of the system while watching the Packers with a fatter wallet and a clearer conscience.