Power by the people

    Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

    The Bright Public Power Initiative, a citizens group dedicated to creating a publicly owned power utility in the Racine area, recently started raising funds for a project feasibility study. The coalition to create a municipal utility was formed because electric rates have kept climbing over the past five to seven years, according to Racine Ald. Pete Karas, a spokesman for the group.
    Karas said his group believes electric rates charged by Wisconsin Energy Corp.’s We Energies subsidiary will continue to climb.
    "If you look at public power utilities, they pay substantially lower rates, it spurs economic development in those communities and it gives local control, so they can make decisions on capital and power generation," Karas said. "Everything is operated in the sunshine."
    Karas said his group needs to raise about $100,000 for a feasibility study, associated legal fees and campaign expenses. The feasibility study will ask a consulting firm, which has yet to be selected, to examine the Racine area’s options and the potential costs to build and operate a new public utility.
    The utility’s options could include leasing line access from We Energies or creating a new utility infrastructure, Karas said. The new utility could buy electricity at wholesale prices or could construct its own natural gas-burning plant, he said.
    Karas said several residents say that if a publicly-owned power utility is created, it should focus on alternative power generating methods, such as wind generation.
    "We could do things as large as wind mills on Lake Michigan to a boutique hydro-electric plant on the Root River," Karas said.
    The coalition kicked off its fundraising in January. Karas expects the feasibility study to take about one year.
    "People are getting excited about this," Karas said.
    The Racine area’s business community is watching the grassroots initiative with curiosity.
    Julie Venn, one of the owners of First Call Heating and Cooling, a Racine-based heating and cooling contractor, said it is too early to tell whether or not a potential competitor for We Energies in the Racine area would benefit the area. In theory, however, competition is almost always good for consumers, Venn said.
    Jim Meyer, president and owner of Main Marine and Ski in Racine, agreed.
    "Right now, We Energies has a monopoly," Meyer said. "Look at what happened with the phone company – rates are lower today because of competition. A little competition keeps everyone on their toes. It sharpens the pencil for everyone."
    Jim Rogan, vice president of Racine-based Rogan Shoes, said there are not enough details available for him to form a concrete opinion of a public utility’s potential. However, he said an increase in available electricity would likely bring costs down.
    "The truth is in the details. When it comes to energy, it’s in the details," Rogan said. "It’s a regulated industry and very complicated."
    Roger Caren, president of Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce, said his group hasn’t formed an official stance on the issue, but they are monitoring the coalition’s progress.
    "We try to do a lot of research and get both sides of an issue before we speak our feelings regarding something," Caren said. "The idea is interesting. There are so many aspects to it and so much research we have to do yet. It needs a lot of research and due diligence. I saw the information, and I give credit to Pete (Karas) for taking on such a huge undertaking. There’s a lot of work ahead."
    February 4, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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