With politics out of the way, major solar business comes to Wisconsin

Louis Weisberg, Staff writer

Overcoming utility company roadblocks helped bring SunRun, a national dedicated residential solar company, to Wisconsin. SunRun recently announced it’s opening an office in Waukesha.

The company plans to create more than 50 jobs in Wisconsin within its first year here, according to spokeswoman Amy Heart. She’s been advocating for the advancement of solar energy in the state for 15 years.

“Historically, solar jobs provide family wages above the regional and national averages,” Heart says. Positions include everything from sales to project management to electricians to on-the-roof installation.

There are several reasons why the company chose Wisconsin, according to Heart. One is that the “siting laws,” policies that dictate where solar panels can be installed, have been consistent for many years — dating back to Gov. Tommy Thompson. The company won’t enter states where politics might suddenly change the rules and limit the industry’s growth.

Another is that Wisconsin is now one of 40 states that have a net metering policy. That means consumers who generate electricity through solar can use it anytime — not just during the time it’s being generated. And customers who produce excess solar energy can receive credit for it.

“That’s a net benefit to all rate payers, even non-solar households,” Heart says.

Near miss

We Energies and Madison Gas & Electric nearly halted the solar push in the state when in 2014 the companies tried to assess additional fees on customers who generated their own power. They asked the GOP-dominated Public Service Commission for permission to charge about $273 per year for the average rooftop-size solar panel installation.

PSC said yes, but clean energy advocates cried foul. “If approved, these punishing changes will potentially shut down the clean energy marketplace in We Energies’ territory,” said the Sierra Club’s John Muir chapter in Wisconsin in a statement released at the time.

Solar advocates also filed a lawsuit and won, clearing the way for the state’s current solar boom.

“We have a fair playing field,” Heart says. “We’re excited to be a part of this solar future in Wisconsin.”