With the activation of Middleton’s Morey Field airport solar farm, community solar perks have expanded to 783 new customers. Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) turned on the 5-megawatt solar farm last week to allow customers that can’t afford private solar panels to enjoy the benefits of solar energy. When it was activated, upwards of 80% of the farm’s total capacity had already been reserved thanks to the Shared Solar program.
MGE is providing residential and commercial consumers an opportunity that’s not widespread throughout Wisconsin. In fact, even with the recent 5-megawatt farm, the state’s total community solar generation will top out at about 8 megawatts. This is adverse to the demand that’s been seen, specifically from customers like the Middleton Outreach Ministry, who sought the Shared Solar program to reduce the food bank’s electricity costs.
Demand for community solar programs was seen first-hand in 2014. Vernon Electric’s 305-kilowatt community solar array was Wiscon’s first. When the Westby installation was opened to customer subscriptions, it sold out within three weeks. Unfortunately, consumer demand hasn’t resulted in an expansion of the program. Instead, customers were given the option to pay an extra $1 per month for clean energy from Dairyland Power Cooperative.
According to policy director for Renew Wisconsin, Michael Vickerman, Wisconsin residents aren’t able to benefit from community solar perks because the state made the program completely voluntary. That is, if energy providers don’t want to offer community solar, they don’t have to.
Nick Hylla, Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s executive director, states that Wisconson won’t soon see an increase in community solar offerings unless policymakers implement mandates against utility companies. Possible policies include those seen in Minnesota, where legislation states Xcel Energy must purchase power from solar projects that meet outlined requirements.
Though the Madison array is a good step in bringing more community solar perks to Wisconsin, larger projects will be needed to increase the effects of such programs. In 2019, Alliant Energy was authorized to build up to 6-megawatts of community solar gardens on rooftops. Customers could purchase the rooftop panels at $1,200 per kilowatt and, in turn, would receive 6.3 cents per kilowatt-hour generated. Alliant has yet to launch enrollment for the program, though it reported interest from 24 customers.