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Labor unions urge PSC to reject petition for third-party financing for renewables

Two prominent Wisconsin construction labor unions submitted comments opposed to third-party financing and ownership of renewable energy resources in the state ahead of a Public Service Commission meeting.

The commission held a public hearing Tuesday for petitions from the Midwest Renewable Energy Association and Vote Solar. The two renewable energy advocacy groups are petitioning against regulating third-party financed energy resources as public utilities in the state, WisBusiness reported.

The MREA petitioned for a declaratory ruling “that third-party financed distributed energy resources are not “public utilities” defined by state law, and aren’t subject to the PSC’s jurisdiction under state law or rule regulating public utilities, the petition showed. MREA Executive Director Nick Hylla said the commission’s previous guidance was “outside the law,” WisBusiness reported.

Third-party financing is one of the most popular methods of solar financing and comes in the form of solar leases and power purchase agreements, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

A customer signs a contract with an installer or developer and pays for the use of a solar system over a period under a lease instead of paying for power generated, the agency said. In a PPA model, the developer sells the power generated to the customer at a fixed rate, usually lower than the local utility, and the solar energy system offset the customer’s electric utility bill.

Members of the Wisconsin Building Trades Council and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139 both spoke out against third-party financing and asked commissioners to reject the petitions. Both groups said deregulation would hurt both consumers and workers, and hundreds of members submitted comments online ahead of the meeting.

“Third-party ownership will open Wisconsin to out-of-state companies that prioritize their profit margins over the safety and reliability of our power grid,” executive director of the Wisconsin Building Trades Council Emily Pritzkow said in a statement. “We know that the business model for these types of developers primarily relies on lower-paid, lower-skilled labor. The result is a transient workforce, which has a negative impact on the construction industry, our local communities, and — when a project is not completed correctly — utility ratepayers.”

Local 139 President and Business Manager Terry McGowan said the shift to renewable energy resources was hard on union members because out-of-state companies were building generation facilities without training and paying for resident workers.

“Unskilled, low-paid, non-resident and transient workers are now building much of Wisconsin’s electric generation infrastructure, which has substantial, negative economic impact on Wisconsin ratepayers and the membership of the Wisconsin Operating Engineers,” McGowan said in a letter to commissioners.

The PSC has grouped together both MREA and Vote Solar’s petition for the public hearing, which will be hosted on the commission’s YouTube channel.

About Ethan Duran

Ethan Duran is the construction and development reporter at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (414) 551-7505 or [email protected]

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