Energies weighs rate hike
Homeowners who use solar panels could also be hit
By JOE VANDELAARSCHOT
- Daily News
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.
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
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
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.