Nov. 4, 2015 – A growing portion of Wisconsin’s energy needs are being met with renewable resources such as wind, solar, biomass, and other sources. Alternative energy issues have the potential to intersect with many areas of law including energy and utilities, municipal law, environmental law, and zoning and planning.
Fortunately for those who are interested in learning about alternative energy, there are countless publications – most available online – with useful information on green energy.
This primer will provide a brief introduction to resources on wind and solar energy.
Which Way the Wind Blows: Wind Power Resources
Unlike a fan that uses electricity to make wind, wind turbines harness the power of the wind to generate electricity. Energy.gov provides a helpful illustration showing how a wind turbine and its components work.
Online wind power resources specifically include:
Here Comes the Sun: Solar Energy Resources
Let’s be honest – Wisconsin is not a state that has bragging rights to “the most sunny days” in any given month or year. But even with this state’s often considerable cloud cover, there is growing interest in solar energy. The following resources provide helpful solar energy information:
For residential solar systems, one should consult municipal ordinances to determine local rules and procedures.
Wisconsin Public Service Commission
To discern Wisconsin’s energy law landscape, a visit to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) website is a must.
Christopher Hughes, Indiana 1993, is the managing partner at Stafford Rosenbaum LLP, Madison where his practice focuses on utility law, general municipal law, real estate, and contracting matters.
Kara Higdon Getter, Marquette 2004, is the marketing and library manager at Stafford Rosenbaum LLP, Milwaukee where she is responsible for marketing and business development initiatives and overseeing the firm’s library.
The PSC is an independent regulatory agency responsible for regulating public utilities in the energy, telecommunications, gas, and water companies located in Wisconsin. PSC decisions dating back to 1953 are available through Westlaw and decisions from 1979 onwards can be found on LexisNexis.
Visiting utility companies’ websites can also provide useful information on renewable energy and energy efficiency programs.
On each of their websites, utility companies such as Alliant, Madison Gas and Electric (MGE), We Energies, and Wisconsin Public Service Corp. provide solar energy program information. Information on wind power can also be found on utilities’ websites.
The PSC provides a helpful resource: a state map showing electric service territories throughout Wisconsin. Additionally, Focus on Energy is a statewide energy efficiency and renewable resource program that works with qualified residents and businesses to install cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
Statutory and Regulatory Resources
For research into statute and regulatory areas, try these resources:
Wis. Stat. section 196.374(1)(j) defines renewable resource and gives examples of these resources.
Chapter 128 within the Wisconsin Administrative Code addresses the PSC and Wind Energy Systems. The chapter provides definitions for wind power terms of art such as “wind energy system easement.” Owner requirements including siting criteria, political subdivision procedure, and commission procedure.
Wis. Stat. section 66.0403 is a good starting point when researching solar energy. This statute provides definitions of “solar energy,” “solar collector,” and “permit.” The statute also addresses permit procedure, permit applications, hearings, permit grants, record of permit, remedies for impermissible interference, appeals, termination of solar or wind access rights, waiver, preservation of rights, and construction.
Alternative Energy: Additional Resources
This primer is a basic overview in the area of alternative energy. To take a deeper dive into the world of alternative energy issues, consult a host of additional resources, including the following subscription-based publications and free websites:
Public Utilities Section
For additional help, members of the State Bar’s Public Utilities Section include attorneys who work in the fields of governmental utility regulation of energy, telecommunications, and water resources. The section presents statewide programs on energy, telecommunications, and water law and regulation; monitors developments in the field; and sponsors continuing legal education programs for practitioners.