By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — State regulators on Friday approved changes to We Energies’ monthly rates that mean hundreds of thousands of customers will pay a dollar more per month on their electric bill.
The three-person Public Service Commission granted the Milwaukee-based utility permission to raise its monthly rate on residential customers and small businesses from $9 to $16. But that increase will be offset by a drop in the hourly usage rate by less than a cent per kilowatt hour. The bottom line for average residential consumers, defined as customers who use about 600 kilowatt hours per month, should be about $1 more per month, PSC spokesman Nathan Conrad said.
At the same time the panel gave the utility the go-ahead to reduce industrial customers’ fixed rates by $2.25 to $16.
We Energies officials argued they had to raise the monthly rate to ensure that customers who use less electricity pay their fair share of maintaining crucial infrastructure such as power plants.
“What we’re proposing is fair rates for all our customers who use the grid,” We Energies spokeswoman Jessica Williamson said.
Consumer advocates counter the proposal is designed to recoup revenue lost through conservation and punishes low-use customers such as the elderly and the poor for turning out the lights.
PSC Chairman Phil Montgomery and Commissioner Ellen Nowak, both appointed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, supported the proposal, calling the plan reasonable and fair. The third commissioner, Eric Callisto, who was appointed by former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, said the utility’s arguments are silly and the commission should work to protect consumers.
The commission also approved a We Energies plan Friday to charge solar customers a $3 monthly fee and nearly $4 for every kilowatt hour their systems can generate. For example, if a customer had a system that can generate six kilowatt hours per month he or she would face a $22 monthly generation fee.
Tyler Huebner, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a group that advocates for renewable energy, lamented the commission’s moves in a statement Friday.
“The commission … has decided whether you embrace energy efficiency, or want to generate some of your own electricity with solar panels, you should pay more,” he said.
We Energies serves about 1.1 million customers across southeastern Wisconsin and the Fox Valley.
Two other utilities, Wisconsin Public Service Corporation and Madison Gas and Electric, have asked the PSC to approve upping their fixed monthly charges and drop their hourly rates. Both utilities say they, too, need their low-use customers to contribute more to cover infrastructure costs. The commission approved WPSC’s request last week but reduced the monthly increase to $9 rather than the $15 the utility wanted. MG&E’s proposal is still pending.