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You could install solar panels for environmental reasons — you want your home or business to be less reliant on electricity generated from fossil fuels. Or you could install them for pocketbook reasons, as the energy your solar panels capture could reduce your monthly utility bill.

Either way, it’s you putting your money down to defray your energy costs.

We Energies seems to think you shouldn’t be able to do that.

Solar power system owners see the panels as protection against future rate increases. But such owners’ potential savings could be reduced by 20% or more under a plan that We Energies has before the Public Service Commission, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported June 3.

The utility wants customers with solar panels to pay $3.53 a month for each kilowatt of solar generating capacity. The fee would average $15.88 a month, or $190.56 a year, for the 434 residential and small business customers with solar power at the end of 2018.

But new customers tend to install larger systems, and a customer with a 7-kilowatt system would be charged $24.71 a month, or $296.52 a year.

By the way, that’s in addition to a current fixed charge of $16 a month, or $192 a year, that all customers pay. We Energies is proposing to increase that charge to $17.65 a month, or $211.80 a year. Even if you don’t have to solar panels, We Energies is looking to raise your fixed charge.

We Energies argues that homeowners with solar panels don’t pay their full share of the fixed costs of its transmission and distribution system, thereby shifting costs to customers who don’t have solar panels.

That argument doesn’t pass the smell test for a number of reasons.

  • We Energies is a regulated monopoly; it is guaranteed a profit on its investments by the state. We don’t see the 434 residential and small business customers with solar power making a substantial dent in the utility’s bottom line.
  • The utility wants to jack up fees on 434 customers. Seems a bit petty, doesn’t it?
  • If reduced usage is the issue, why doesn’t We Energies charge snowbirds for their reduced usage during the months they head to Florida or to the Southwest?
  • Supporters of solar power say We Energies hasn’t taken into account that solar panels generate electricity at times of peak demand, reducing the need for the utility to add costly new generating capacity, and that this benefits all customers.

WEC Energy Group, the parent of We Energies, has announced as its goal a reduction of carbon emissions by 80% of 2005 levels by 2050 by moving to solar and wind generation.

That’s a good goal.

But some of us, sitting as close to the coal-fired Oak Creek Power Plant as we do, want cleaner air today. The people installing solar panels have taken positive steps toward that objective.

Public policy should support those willing to put their own money down to reduce their consumption of coal-fired electricity. And We Energies should leave the solar-panel people alone.

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