We Energies weighs rate hike
Homeowners who use solar panels could also be hit


Sept. 13, 2014

Meter service technician Steve Webber of We Energies works on a meter at a home Thursday in West Bend. We Energies is proposing an electric rate increase for its customers.
 John Ehlke/Daily News

The state’s largest utility, We Energies, is seeking rate increases in 2015-16 for electric and natural gas customers. The utility is also proposing a 75 percent increase to the fixed charge on monthly bills to $16 a month from $9.

It also wants provisions for those using solar panels, which is not sitting well with at least one nonprofit organization.

We Energies is proposing a 1.8 percent overall electric rate increase, but is informing the public through a bill insert that the increase for residential customers would be more than double that. Those customers, who would also pay an increased “estimated fuel adjustment,” would see their electric bill increase by 4.7 percent.

If the proposed request is granted, residential customers would see rate increases far above next year’s projected inflation rate, expected by the Federal Reserve to be about 2 percent.

According to information from the state Public Service Commission, We Energies’ residential customers’ bills have risen by 51 percent since 2005 while the rate of inflation rose 22 percent.

Rates for Wisconsin Electric Gas customers in 2015 are proposed to increase by 3.2 percent for those who use 781 therms per year, but fall by 2.4 percent for customers who use 769 therms per year. In 2016, those using 769 therms per year would see no change in their rate, but customers using 781 therms or more per year would be see a 2.9 percent increase.

The utility is also seeking changes in 2016 for customers who generate renewable energy. The utility wants to ban leasing solar panels rather than owning them. They also want a new fee for customers generating their own electricity.

“All customers benefit from access to our electricity network, even if only they use it intermittently,” We spokeswoman Jessica Williamson said.

Under the current rate structure, customers with rooftop solar and other energy-generation systems essentially use the system for free, she said.

Some customers generate more power than they need. They use the grid to sell the excess power to We Energies without paying to use the grid. The change is about keeping costs for access and use of the grid fair for all.

“We support green energy, but we think other customers shouldn’t be paying more than their fair share of the cost,” Williamson said.

RENEW Wisconsin is a nonprofit group working to advance renewable energy policies for Wisconsin through advocacy, education and other initiatives.

RENEW’s Program and Policy Director Michael Vickerson said with the proposal We Energies has made it clear “they don’t want customers to self-generate electricity.”

“They are profoundly discouraging solar-power generation,” Vickerson said. “It’s breathtaking.”

Vickerson said other utilities that have made similar proposals regarding solar-energy producers at least have included provisions to shelter current producers and have the changes affect only new producers.

“It’s like buying a savings bond and being told after the first year that the interest rate you’d expected is going down,” Vickerson said. “It’s not fair to those who’ve invested in producing solar energy and expected a certain rate of return. We Energies is trying to recapture about one-third to half of the savings being received by the solar producers.”

Vickerson said a rough estimate indicates someone who now produces solar energy and receives about $1,000 a year in savings will see that drop to about $507 in 2016.

“The only way to prevent this is for the public to make their opinions known to the PSC,” Vickerson said. “I doubt comments to We Energies will do any good.”

On Oct. 8, the PSC will host public hearings at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at Milwaukee’s Wilson Senior Center. Under PSC rules, comments can either be written on the PSC website through Oct. 7 or presented at the public hearing. An administrative law judge will preside over a hearing involving the proposal Sept. 24 in Madison.