Broad coalition opposes We Energies rate plan

Historically, most utility rate hikes are approved by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission with little fanfare or public outcry.

However, We Energies’ most recent rate plan is drawing the ire of thousands of Wisconsin residents and bringing together a diverse coalition of advocates for several constituencies.

The PSC’s public hearings, held at the Wilson Park Senior Center in Milwaukee, drew hundreds of people who waited hours to speak out against the We Energies plan, and hundreds more at a rally to protest the rate increase request.

The plan would increase the “fixed charge” on monthly residential electric bills by 75 percent, to $16 per month.

That proposal drew howls of opposition from advocates of the elderly, disabled and others who are on fixed incomes. Opponents include AARP, the Wisconsin Community Action Program, the Coalition for Wisconsin Aging Groups, the Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope, the NAACP and several other organizations.

“CWAG is shocked and disappointed; Wisconsin’s public utilities are nearly doubling their fixed fee rate, which will financially harm the 1.3 million elderly and people with disabilities in Wisconsin. All too often, our elderly have to cut their medication in half or skip a meal in order to pay their monthly utility bills,” said CWAG president Nino Amato.

The We Energies plan also is proposing to cut the subsidies it pays to customers who generate their own energy and charge them a new fee while barring them from leasing their own solar systems.

Those proposals drew opposition from a coalition of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter, Renew Wisconsin, The Alliance for Solar Choice, the Wisconsin Solar Energy Industry Association and more, including businesses that manufacture, install and maintain solar panels and wind turbines.

“If approved, We Energies’ proposals would make Wisconsin the most anti-solar state in the nation,” said Bryan Miller, co-chairman of TASC.

We Energies is calling its plan a “Path to Renewable Energy Fairness” and the “largest and most efficient solar project in the history of the state.”

The company added, “As solar and other customer-owned generating resources continue to grow, an increasing share of fixed costs shift to fewer customers, which results in higher costs for those without their own generating systems. The proposal in front of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin would ensure that everyone pays an equitable share for energy delivery.”

We Energies attempted to defend its plan on its Facebook page, which was overrun with a litany of comments critical of the proposals, with references ranging from “greedy bums” and “evil empire” to “monopoly.”

The City of Milwaukee, which operates its own Milwaukee Shines solar program, filed as an “intervenor” in We Energies’ PSC case. The city asked the commission to reject significant parts of the plan.

“The Commission should reject this attempt to eliminate promising renewable energy options for municipalities, nonprofits, homeowners, and businesses in We Energies’ service area,” the city’s filing stated.

The three-member PSC will review the public comments and is expected to rule on the rate increase by the end of the year. Similar rate increases and solar restrictions are being proposed by Madison Gas & Electric Co. in Madison and the Wisconsin Public Service Corp. in Green Bay. All three companies are members of the Wisconsin Utilities Association.

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