Tea party leader visits Wisconsin to challenge We Energies rate changes

By Matt Masterson - Freeman Staff

Sept 18, 2014

  Matt Neumann, right, shows Debbie Dooley the power inverters that turn the direct current from the solar panels on the roof of Sunvest Solar, Inc. in the City of Pewaukee. Dooley, a tea party leader from Georgia, was visiting Wisconsin to fight WE Energies’ plan to raise facilities charges and reduce the financial viability of home solar power systems.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

CITY OF PEWAUKEE — Matt Neumann had a simple answer when asked what We Energies newly proposed rate changes would do to solar energy companies in Wisconsin: “Kill it.”

The owner of the City of Pewaukee-based Sunvest Solar Inc. said he has grave concerns over the policies proposed in the case — specifically a tax on solar panels as well as a shift from annual metering to monthly metering — which remains before the state’s Public Service Commission.

“The more they restrict people’s ability to compete and people’s ability to look at other options to stabilize their energy costs, in the long run, it is just killing our economy,” he said.

That is why he met Wednesday with Debbie Dooley, a tea party leader from Georgia who has made it her mission to take on big energy companies across the country.

Dooley visited Wisconsin this week for a “Solar Social” hosted by the Wisconsin Solar Energy Industry Association. The self-proclaimed “right-wing radical grandmother,” who was also a founding member of the tea party movement in 2009, said the situation faced by solar companies in Wisconsin is happening on a national scale.

“When I found out We Energies was so desperate to protect their profit margin they were willing to tax manure and tax the sun, I said yeah, I would like to come up there,” she said. “This is a battle. I think you are going to see this going on a lot more.”

Dooley was referencing the utility provider’s proposed increase to fixed costs on all energy customers from $9 to $16, as well as a new charge on customers who have invested in renewable energy systems on their property of $3.80 per kilowatt per month.

‘We would much rather do business with our neighbors’

Sunvest employs around a half dozen workers locally, but Neumann said as much as 95 percent of his work has to be done out of state. He said the tax on renewable energy sources makes no sense as companies like his reduce demand on the power grid, but then in turn are being hit with extra fees.

His company would also no longer be able to lease out solar panels to customers, who would instead have to purchase the equipment themselves, he said.

“The reason we are fighting this is that we would much rather do business with our neighbors than do business with people we do not know from different states,” he said.

Dooley said she hopes to educate conservatives on these issues during her trip through the Badger State before the rate case proceeds any further.

Earlier this week, Americans for Prosperity in Wisconsin Director David Fladeboe issued a statement, saying all power customers need to pay their fair share for what they use.

“Solar customers also rely on the grid to sell electricity they don’t need back to their local utility,” he said. “Again, they need access to the energy grid to do that — and they should have to pay their fair share for the grid that they use as much, if not more, than the rest of us.”

Dooley questioned how fair it is for We Energies to post record profits while customers see their bills continue to rise.

“What is so fair about high profits for the stockholders, while at the same time, grandma has seen her electric rates almost double?” she said. “That is not fair.”

Public comments can be submitted with the Public Service Commission through Oct. 7 before a pair of public hearings, which will also be held next month. A decision from the commission is expected sometime in December.