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We Energies Revises Rate Change Proposal, Gives Solar Producers More Time to Adjust

S Bence

If the proposal is approved, all customers will still see a jump in the fixed charge on their electric bills,  from $9 a month to $16.

Jessica Williamson is a spokeswoman for We Energies. She says the higher fee inches closer to reflecting the real cost of maintaining the power grid.

“And really what this change is all about is to provide a more accurate bill – customers want accuracy in their billing, they want transparency in their bills," Williamson says. "We want to know what we’re paying for when we buy a product.” 

Williamson says many customers would end up paying only about $4 more per month.

Robert Kelter isn’t buying the utility’s story. He’s an attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“They’re not being honest that in fact your rates are going to double before you turn on a light. Customers are unfairly penalized by this shift in rates,” Kelter says.

Kelter says the higher fee could be crippling for residents with fixed or low-incomes.

He says the issue has not gotten a lot of attention, because of all the hubbub surrounding the utility’s plan to boost costs for solar customers.

We Energies now wants to put that second plan on hold. Spokeswoman Jessica Williamson says the utility listens to its customers, “many have said ‘can we have more time.’”

We Energies’ initial plan was to impose a surcharge on residents who generate their own power, and cut back what the utility pays those customers for the extra power they pump into the grid. The repayment rate would drop from 14 cents to roughly 3 cents per kilowatt hour.

Williamson says the utility is now proposing to allow existing solar customers to remain under their current rate for ten years.

“And so they would see no change, they’d have time to be able to get used to the change, they would have time to get use to this change and again, it’s about fairness,” Williamson says.

Credit S Bence
Amy Kinosian took her first solar step installing a small panel with a friend to power the lights outside her barn in rural Waukesha county. She shifted from energy-thirsty halogen to 23-watt LEDs

New installations would still be subject to We Energy's new renewable charges.

Amy Kinosian couldn’t wait to put solar panels on her rooftop.

The retired 5th grade teacher has lined the top of her barn in rural Waukesha County with 36 panels. She says her decision was driven by wanting to be part of the future.

“Ask any parent, do you want your kids to have the same energy system we have today, or do you want a cleaner energy future for your kids," Kinosian says. "I don’t think it matters what your politics are, you want that, and that’s becoming more of a possibility.” 

For Matt Neumann solar is strictly business. He runs a land development and home construction business in Waukesha County.

Neumann describes himself as a conservative who got into solar because it makes sense. He says utility rates have steadily increased, while solar costs are sliding down.

“And I’m talking about first hand in our business what we’ve experienced. The costs of materials, the cost of labor, the overall costs of installing solar on people’s building has gone down by 65 percent," Neumann says. "So you have utility costs going up by 2.5 times that of inflation. And you have our story about going down 65 percent and frankly we can compete with the utilities and that’s why you see that happening in Wisconsin right now; they don’t want competition.” 

Neumann has solar projects humming in Colorado and New York.

He says a couple of his engineers have come up with a promising new product to streamline panel installation.

“We’re working on the filing for the patent on that; if that happens of course, we have to decide are we going to have to decide if we’re going to do that here. Or do we want to go put it where all the solar is happening on the east coast or the west coast? Give me one good reason why we would do it here,” Neumann says.

Right now, the only reason Neumann can dredge up is that he loves his home state.

Neumann says holding solar customers’ utility rates at bay for even a decade will not sweeten the climate for movers and shakers of tomorrow’s energy.

The Public Service Commission will decide whether We Energies has another 10 years to position itself, relative to the solar industry.

Then the more immediate decision is whether to let the utility boost all customers’ fixed rates.

The Public Service Commission's online comment period ends Tuesday. On Wednesday,  public hearings will take place at 2 pm and 6 pm at the Wilson Senior Center in Milwaukee.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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