This is a very sad story of how a farmer tries to do all the right things, gets off the grid, and in the end takes a financial beating from the utility company.
By Tim Meulemans, Steve Chamraz. PLYMOUTH, WI
On his farm in Sheboygan County, Dan Kraemer knows two constants--The wind and his fight with Plymouth Utilities. On this day, a truck from the utility is pulling up to cut off his power. It's the last step of a battle that ended with Dan refusing to pay his bill.
The Kraemer's have been living on that land for generations. To save money, Dan works every piece of equipment, and every angle. He explains, "On a farm you're a jack of all trades, master of none they tell me but we do everything we can to save a dollar."
With that in mind, he built a windmill-- his plan to go 'off the grid.'
"I'm running 100% wind right now," Dan says.
The windmill's blades almost never stop--spinning out electricity and money.
"I'm producing considerably more power than I use. Enough to power 8 to 10 additional homes besides what I'm using today," Dan says.
Whatever Dan does not need, Plymouth utilities resells, at the full retail rate, but it pays Dan only about a 1/4 of that.
For example, in May of 2012, Dan's farm produced over 9,000 units of electricity. When there's no wind, Dan needs to buy power. He bought about 3,000 units from the utility that same month. Even though he produced far more power than he bought, the way Plymouth Utilities pays him resulted in a balance due.
Plymouth Utilities responded in a statement, saying, "As a regulated utility, we cannot offer special subsidies to one customer at the expense of other customers."
Tyler Huebner sides with Dan. He is the Director of Renew Wisconsin -- a non-profit promoting green energy. Huebner says historically, Wisconsin was a leader in renewable energy, but Dan's case is an example of the changing landscape. "Three times as much as he uses and still has an electric bill. That doesn't seem right."
Kraemer tried to make that case to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, twice. Commission spokesperson Nathan Conrad explains, "We are here to help serve the needs of the rate payers. Customers have a complaint, they have the ability to come to the public service commission and mediate that complaint with that utility."
Dan did just that and lost. Twice. The commission's ruling? Dan did not have a prior, written contract with Plymouth before building his turbine, so the 'buy-back rate for the excess electricity generated is..... reasonable."
"He has definitely had his day, and his voice has been heard here at the PSC," Conrad adds.
Dan's not willing to lose his way of life though. So faced with disconnection, he paid his bill.
"It's a fight that has to be won," Dan says.
Losing this round with his utility... but maybe changing things for the next guy looking to go off the grid.
There is one more option for Dam He could still take his case to a federal court to determine if the rate charge is fair.