MILWAUKEE – Residents and business representatives expressed both concern and support for a proposed We Energies rate hike at two public meetings held by the Public Service Commission on Monday, Oct. 9 at the Clinton Rose Senior Center in Milwaukee. We Energies is asking for a 3.1% increase on residential customers’ bills, which would bring the total increase in the last two years to 14.4%.
One resident, Karen Peterson, testified about living as a retiree on a fixed income and trying to pay increasing utility bills.
“They’re not a luxury, they’re a necessity,” Peterson said. “And here in Wisconsin unlike other places I’ve lived, electricity means not only lights but heat. So it’s a matter of life and death to be able to pay these electric bills.”
These concerns were echoed by other residents who spoke, and forcefully stated by state senator Chris Larson, who testified on behalf of his district.
“They say they’re raising costs because of clean energy investments but all I see is them dragging their feet on the transition to clean, renewable energy yet again,” Larson said.
But it wasn’t all negative. A number of local businesses had representatives testifying in support of the We Energies rate increase and lauding their investments in the community, including minority businesses. That’s something We Energies spokesperson Brendan Conway told WTMJ the company takes pride in.
“There’s minority, veteran-owned, women-owned businesses, and that’s putting real people to work,” Conway said.
Conway said that this year’s rate hike is intended to fund capital projects primarily in the solar field, including the Paris solar project and the Darien solar project, which he said would also have a positive impact on Wisconsin’s economy even before they’re completed.
“Some of these large projects, not only are they going to end up being affordable, reliable, and clean energy, these solar projects,” he said. “We’re creating green jobs. We’re helping drive the Wisconsin economy.”
Conway emphasized that these would in large part be union jobs, praising members of the trades who turned out to the meetings in support.
However, there’s some skepticism from advocacy groups about these projects. Citizens Utility Board Executive Director Tom Content tells WTMJ he wants to make sure customers feel the savings of clean energy projects.
“When they shut down the coal plant [in Oak Creek], We Energies is going to continue to profiting on that plant for years and years to come even though it’s not going to be needed to keep the lights on,” Content said.
Content is also concerned about cost overruns bleeding into bills, wanting a full evaluation of We Energies’ proposed projects from the Public Service Commission. The main goal, he said, is to make sure residential customers get a fair shake after what he perceives as an unfair increase last year compared to businesses.
“We’re worried that that’s going to be the trend this time around too, that residential customers will end up subsidizing big business,” he said.
There might be some good news for your wallet this winter. Despite the usual increase in heating and energy costs when the cold sets in, Conway said lower prices for natural gas should mean that heating bills are actually lower this winter even if the rate hike is approved.
“We estimate that this winter our customers’ monthly bills will go down about five to ten dollars a month,” Conway said.
The Public Service Commission will meet to decide whether or not to approve the increase, which is expected to happen before the end of the year.
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