The Public Service Commission (PSC) has given verbal approval to Northeastern Wisconsin Utility’s request to raise fixed charges on customer electricity bills, and is also considering 2 other similar proposals across the state including We Energies in southeastern Wisconsin and Madison Gas & Electric Company in south central Wisconsin.

Customers of a northeastern Wisconsin utility will pay more for electricity beginning in January, after the state’s Public Service Commission voted to allow Wisconsin Public Service Corp. to hike its fixed charge.

The PSC has given verbal approval to WPS to increase the fixed electricity charge by about $9 a month, after it voted 2 to 1 in favor of the increase on Thursday.

Critics of the move, like the nonprofit group Citizens’ Utility Board, say higher fixed costs mean that someone who lives in a small apartment will pay the same monthly fee as someone who lives in a mansion.

Kira Loehr, CUB’s director and general counsel, said that in WPS’s case, the PSC also mandated that the per-kilowatt fee will go down by about $.02 per hour. Loehr believes the decision gives people no reason to cut back on useage.

“And that’s what actually incents more energy use, because as the fixed portion that you can’t do anything about increases, the variable portion does decrease a little bit, sending less of a signal to customers that the less they use the more they can save.”

WPS said the structure change was needed because of increased costs for coal, natural gas and transportation.

“I won’t say there’s no incentive to conserve energy,” said David Kyto, the company’s director of rate case process. “The fixed charge is going up and the per-kilowatt hour will go down. So there will be less of an incentive. But I still think there’ll be incentive for customers to pursue energy efficiency and conservation.”

Madison Gas and Electric, along with Milwaukee-based We Energies, are also asking the PSC for similar fixed rate hikes.

MGE is looking to raise the fixed charges on customer bills and reduce charges for the amount of electricity used — a move critics say will discourage energy conservation while hitting low-income and elderly residents the hardest.

For the typical residential customer, the fixed charge would increase from the current $10.50 to $19 if the plan is approved by the state Public Service Commission. Future increases could take the fixed charge higher, although MGE has backed off from an earlier plan to charge $69 per customer by 2017.

MGE and electric utilities nationwide are feeling cost pressures with the growth of renewable energy coupled with increased efficiencies. At the same time, MGE says it must maintain the electric system and is looking for a way to fairly spread those costs among all customers — not just those who use large amounts of power.

A variety of groups have already filed comments on the case, including the city of Madison which has hired an outside expert to argue against the MGE rate changes.

“This MGE proposal will move the city of Madison in exactly the opposite direction that the city wishes to go,” writes city consultant William Marcus, an economist for JBS Energy of West Sacramento, Calif.

Renewable energy groups have also gotten into the fray, arguing that MGE’s rate plan will stifle investment in clean energy and leave Wisconsin farther behind in that key economic sector.

“MGE’s proposed approach would push the market down a path that discourages innovation and competition at a time when other states are encouraging this type of development,” says Susan Crawford, an attorney for Wind on the Wires.

Rally organizer Don Ferber of RePower Madison says 88 percent of MGE’s electricity supply is generated by fossil fuel burning — either coal or natural gas.

“We want the company to be forward looking but they have no plans for the future and that is not a good place to be,” he said, noting rising fuel costs and potential carbon emission charges going forward.

MGE’s Kraus counters that the company is committed to its customers and plans to unveil a series of community meetings next year to focus on the key issues that have come out of the rate case.

“It will be modeled after the Community Energy Conversations we did across Dane County in the early 2000’s,” he says. [Which I personally attended and recommended my “Concern, NOW! plan but nothing became of it.]

On Thursday, October 8, 2014 the PSC had a hearing on the MGE proposal. Upward of 200 people protested the proposal and gave public testimony, the vast majority demanding the PSC reject MGE’s proposed rate restructure. [Including me.] A decision by PSC is expected before the end of the year.

About Mike Neuman

Identical twin; Long-time advocate of protection of our environment; Married; Father to three sons; Grandfather to one granddaughter; Born and raised in Wisconsin; Graduate of University of Wisconsin; post graduate degrees in agricultural economics and Water Resources Management fro UWMadison; Former School Crossing Guard for City of Madison; Bike to Work for 31 years with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; Retired from DNR in 2007; Biked to school crossing guard site 2 X daily for 7 years retiring in 2019; in addition to being an advocate of safeguarding our environment, I am also an advocate for humane treatment of animal, children, and people in need of financial resource for humane living. I am presently a Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, Madison, Wisconsin. I oppose all long (>500 miles) distance travel (via fossil fuel burning) for nonessential purposes and all ownership of more than one home. I am opposed to militarism in any form particularly for the purpose of monetary gain. I am a Strong believer in people everywhere having the right to speak their minds openly, without any fear of reprisal, regarding any concerns; especially against those in authority who are not acting for the public good?in a timely fashion and in all countries of the world not just the U S.. My identical twin, Pat, died in June 2009. He was fired from his job with the National Weather Service despite having a long and successful career as a flood forecaster with the Kansas City National Weather Service. He took a new position in the Midwest Regional Office in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, Pat’s work for the NWS went sour after he began to see the evidence for concern about rising global temperatures shortly after relocating to Minneapolis, and how they appeared to effect of flooding on the Red River that flows out of Canada before entering the U.S. in North Dakota. . Pat and I conversed on a regular basis with other scientists on the Yahoo Group named “Climate Concern “ and by personal email. The NWS denied his recommendation to give his public presentation o n his research at the “Minneapolis Mall of America” in February 2000, which deeply affected h,im. I will h He strongly believed the information ought be shared with the public to which I concurred. That was the beginning of the vendetta against my brother, Patrick J. Neuman, for speaking strongly of the obligations the federal government was responsible for accurately informing the citizenry. A way great similar response to my raising the issue of too many greenhouse gases being emitted by drivers of vehicles on Wisconsin highway system, my immediate supervisors directed: “that neither global warming, climate change nor the long term impacts upon the natural resources of Wisconsin from expansion of the state highway system were to be any part of my job requirements, and that I must not communicate, nor in a memorandum to all the bureau, shall any person who works in the same bureau I do communicate with me, neither verbally on the phone, by email.

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