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Update: PSC Approves We Energies' Requested Rate Hike

S Bence

After months of contention, the Public Service Commission voted Friday to allow We Energies to raise fixed monthly charges from $9 to $16.

The increase will affect hundreds of thousands of electric customers - both residential and small business.

We Energies contends the fixed rate hike will ensure that customers who use less energy pay their fair share toward maintaining the utility's infrastructure.

The PSC vote was 2-1, with Chairman Phil Montgomery and Commissioner Ellen Nowak agreeing the increase is justified. Commissioner Eric Callisto disagreed, saying the agency is supposed to protect rate payers, including those who reduce their usage.

On Thursday, a small group staged a last-ditch effort in opposition to We Energies proposal on the steps of the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

Jackie Ivy was layered against the cold, yet still shivering – while waiting for the crowd that didn’t appear. Never mind, she says. Ivy still states her opinion.

She says many people she knows can’t afford the fixed rate change.

“The city of Milwaukee is mostly made up of low-income people of color, mostly on fixed income and every year there are long lines before day light asking for federal assistance to help pay this outrageous energy bills, we need to re-look at that based on people’s income,” Ivy says.

Elizabeth Ward also seemed undaunted by the small turnout at 9th and Wells. She represents the recently-formed Alliance for Fair Utilities.

Ward says it’s comprised of more than a dozen diverse groups – ranging from health to environment, to oppose We Energies increases, "we’re really hoping today this puts a voice to some of those people who will be impacted."

The demonstrators also oppose the utility’s plan to hike costs on people investing in their own energy systems, such as solar.

Joyce Ellwanger spoke on behalf of Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope.

“People who conserve energy should be rewarded not punished; if businesses that use large amounts of energy are to be rewarded, it should not be on the backs of poor households and those who practice responsible renewable energy practices,” Ellwanger says.

We Energies spokesperson Jessica Williamson says the utiility has heard and responded to the arguments for months, “Well, first I would say low income customers are not necessarily low energy users as well – so that’s just an important point to make. But really what we’re requesting is about fairness for all customers.”

Williamson says the utility listened to its customers during the rate change process, including those who create their own power, “and you know we’ve made the decision after speaking with these customers – they’ve made investments in wind and solar systems and so we are proposing basically those customers would see no change for some time. And again, it’s about fairness moving forward.”

Both the city and county of Milwaukee passed resolutions opposing We Energies proposals – saying the increases will burden both constituents and local governments.

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