Wisc. regulators approve 75% increase in We Energies fixed charges

Dive Brief:

  • The Wisconsin Public Service Commission has approved a proposal from We Energies to increase its fixed charges for customers 75%, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. 
  • The 2-1 decision means the current $9 per month charges will increase to $16 per month for 1.1 million customers in Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. 
  • The utility, however, will not be able to bar homeowners from leasing their own solar panels, as it had requested.

Dive Insight:

The PSC's decision to approve the increase in We Energies' fixed rate charges comes on the heels of a similar decision last week, when regulators approved an 83% increase in fixed charges for Wisconsin Public Service Corp. 

The rate decision is a blow for solar supporters and consumer advocates who vehemently opposed We Energies' proposal. Last month, Michael Vickerman, the program and policy director at RENEW Wisconsin, told Utility Dive that We Energies' proposed rate plan would "effectively demolish" rooftop solar in Wisconsin.

But here, as in the last week's decision, the regulators sided with the utility, which claims an increase in fixed charges is necessary to ensure customers who use distributed generation pay their fair share of grid upkeep costs.

The current rate structure, "sends ratepayers a signal that the cost to be on the grid is a lot less than it really is, and that the cost of energy is a lot more than it really is," PSC Chair Phil Montgomery said​, according to the Journal-Sentinel.

The entire PSC was not in agreement, however. Commissioner Eric Callisto—the only PSC member not appointed by Gov. Scott Walker (R)—questioned the logic of the commission's decision. 

"We're guaranteeing that the folks who use the least amount of energy are going to pay more," he said. "And why are we doing that? Because of fairness?," the Journal-Sentinel reported. Callisto was appointed by former Gov. Jim Doyle (D).

But even as the PSC approved the entirety of We Energies' fixed rate proposal, it turned away its bid to ban its customers from leasing their own solar panels, a plan solar advocates identified as an overt attack on their industry.

"No other utility is trying as hard as We Energies is to deprive small customers of the option to self-generate with solar,” Vickerman said of the proposal last month.

In addition to decisions on We Energies' solar proposals, the PSC rejected calls from consumer advocates to require the utility to refund customers for the operation of the Presque Isle power plant in northern Michigan. It also declined to approve a separate proposal from We Energies to collect $3.5 million from customers to build a utility-scale solar project.

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Filed Under: Generation Solar & Renewables Regulation & Policy