We Energies seeking rate increase driven by clean energy investments

Solar panels at the Badger Hollow Solar Park, a 300 MW facility in Iowa County jointly owned by WEC utilities and Madison Gas & Electric.
Solar panels at the Badger Hollow Solar Park, a 300 MW facility in Iowa County jointly owned by WEC utilities and Madison Gas & Electric.

Last updated on May 2nd, 2022 at 01:05 pm

We Energies utilities are seeking approval from regulators for rate increases that would increase the typical residential electric bill by $5 to $6 per month, a 5% to 6% increase starting in January.

The proposed increase comes as the utilities – Wisconsin Electric and Wisconsin Gas – face a combined revenue deficiency of $371 million, including $260 million at Wisconsin Electric, an 8.4% increase.

Around 60% of the growth in the We Energies rate base comes from investments in new power generation. Regulators at the Public Service Commission have approved or are considering $835 million in projects for Wisconsin Electric, including the Badger Hollow II solar project in southwestern Wisconsin, and solar-battery project in Paris and Dairen.

We Energies, and its parent company Milwaukee-based WEC Energy Group, are in the midst of a dramatic shift in power generation, relying more on solar, battery and wind while retiring older coal plants, including some units in Oak Creek.

“Right now, we’re doing a lot of investments as we continue to retire some of the older, less efficient coal plants,” said Scott Lauber, president and chief executive officer of WEC Energy Group. “We’re at a point now where we’d have to invest a lot of dollars in some of these plants in order to maintain them and there’s a lot of operations and maintenance expense that will help us as we retire those and even become more efficient.”

Utility officials highlighted that the shift in generation will save customers an estimated $1 billion over 20 years.

Lauber also noted this is just the second rate increase the utility has sought in eight years. We Energies was due to file a rate case last year but reached an agreement with stakeholders to delay for a year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a blog post, the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin, a consumer advocacy organization, expressed concern about reliance on natural gas “at a time when the low prices seen for natural gas appear to be a thing of the past.”

“CUB will be focused on bringing down high utility profits, reducing high customer fixed charges and finding savings by reining in utility profits on coal plants shutting down next year,” the post from CUB executive director Tom Content said.

In addition to the clean energy investments, We Energies is planning $700 million in storm hardening investments for its system over 10 years.

Those investments would include burying 800 miles of power lines and installing technology to quickly pinpoint outages and reroute delivery to limit the number of impacted customers.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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