Press Release

Wisconsin Court Reverses Family’s Freedom to Fund Solar

Circuit Court Remands Matter to Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW), Fails to Clarify Third-Party Solar Financing Laws


Madison, WI — On April 26, 2024, the Dane County Circuit Court overturned the PSCW’s decision allowing a Stevens Point family to use a financing method called third-party ownership (TPO) to install rooftop solar panels, sending the matter back to the Commission. The ruling marks a setback for the family and Wisconsin homeowners seeking access to affordable clean energy solutions. 


The case involved a Stevens Point family who installed a small solar panel system on their home via a third-party ownership arrangement. Third-party financing typically refers to solar leases and power-purchase agreements (PPAs), which allow families a more affordable and hassle-free way to go solar. They are particularly beneficial for low- and moderate-income families looking to lower upfront cost barriers to installing solar. 


However, the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPS), the family’s gas and power utility, disputed the arrangement, arguing that the solar developer’s ownership of the system could classify them as a public utility under Wisconsin law, warranting regulation and potential penalties. 

In May of 2022, Vote Solar (represented by attorneys from ELPC and Keyes & Fox LLC) filed a petition on behalf of the Stevens Point family. The PSCW later determined that the family’s third-party solar agreement with its solar installer – NorthWind Solar – did not constitute sales “to or for the public” and thus did not require regulation as a public utility service – a victory for the family. An association of Wisconsin electric utility and utility-affiliated interest groups (WUA) appealed the PSCW’s decision, sending the case to the Dane County Circuit Court. 


Friday’s decision reverses the ruling and remands the matter to the PSCW, agreeing with the WUA that the PSCW incorrectly interpreted “public utility” by focusing on the Stevens Point family’s project versus North Wind’s other projects and activities as a whole. This is a setback for the Stevens Point family and other Wisconsin families interested in lowering the upfront cost of rooftop solar using a third-party agreement.  


The court’s decision fails to provide clarity on the laws surrounding third-party solar financing. It could result in fewer financing options for Wisconsin customers than those in neighboring states like Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan. This will hurt nonprofits, solar developers, and lower-income residents even more. 


Brad Klein, ELPC Senior Attorney, said: 


“This decision is a setback for equitable solar financing in Wisconsin. We are surprised and disappointed by the Court’s decision, which further muddles the law regarding a common rooftop solar financing method available in many other states. If left uncorrected, the decision could limit much-needed options for low- and moderate-income families looking to participate in the clean energy transition. We are closely reviewing the ruling and considering next steps to ensure Wisconsin families have the freedom to fund solar.” 


Will Kenworthy, Vote Solar Regulatory Director, said:  


“This ruling unjustly limits customers’ rights to manage their own energy use, in favor of utility companies’ profits, impacting countless families and businesses across the state of Wisconsin. This is a violation of basic consumer rights and will deepen the existing inequalities within our energy system, where financial barriers can prevent individuals from accessing clean energy solutions. We will continue to fight for a future where all Wisconsin families and businesses can harness solar power and take control of their energy bills, regardless of their financial circumstances.” 

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