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Despite community objection, PSC commissioners allow We Energies to raise customer rates

Commissioners deliberated We Energies rate case Thursday.
Commissioners deliberated We Energies rate case Thursday.

Wisconsin's Public Service Commission, PSC, met Thursday to decide on We Energies proposed rate increase.

As their lengthy discussion began, Commissioner Ellen Nowak said it’s imperative the PSC strike a balance in all of its decisions.

“We determine whether utilities are run in a reasonable way, we allow them to make a reasonable return and ensure that customers are charged for the energy that they use in a non-discriminatory way,” Nowak said.

Nowak believes We Energies request, that the utility tweaked through a settlement process, strikes that balance.

Nowak criticized one intervenor in the rate case that refused to sign on to the settlement.

Walnut Way Conservation Corp, a Milwaukee neighborhood group, said its residents can’t afford higher fees. It also called on We Energies to create a work group that would include stakeholders, such as Walnut Way, to look at long-term equitable energy solutions.

READ: Public Service Commission considers We Energies' proposal to raise rates in 2023, community advocates speak out

Nowak said Walnut Way, in stressing the burden of energy bills on low income families, is asking the PSC to choose winners and losers. “Basically, what they tried to do is lead an effort to erode what we’ve known as our basis for rate-making here in Wisconsin,” she said.

Fellow commissioner Tyler Huebner said the PSC faces a challenge to ensure essential public services while addressing customers who are hurting.

“I sat in the public hearings in Milwaukee. By my count we received over 1,770 public comments. By my read and listening to the vast majority of those are coming from customers who are struggling to pay their bills today at a utility with one of the most expensive rates in the Midwest.” Huebner added, “Especially as those customers are hit with economy-wide inflation in every area of their lives.”

READ: Milwaukee residents turn out to object to We Energies proposed rate increase

After several hours of debate, the commission settled on an 11% increase for residential customers, 6% for large businesses and 8.5% for small ones.

Commissioners agreed to consider modifying and extending a forgiveness plan for residents unable to pay their utility bills that otherwise would have expired at the end of 2022. They also opened the door to considering a low income discount proposal.

A We Energies’ spokesperson said the utility will be reviewing the PSC’s decisions to determine the full impact and added, “This is only the second time in eight years we have requested a base rate increase.”

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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