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Sunday, November 29, 2009

PSC should approve the settlement with We Energies

From an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The state Public Service Commission [PSC] appears to have taken a reasonable approach to We Energies' request for an increase in rates for electricity customers, granting some but not all of what the utility was asking. While any increase hurts consumers during a time of recession, the reality is that We Energies needs to cover costs related to building power plants, transmission lines costs and employee pensions.

Wisconsin needs reasonable power costs to attract and retain businesses, but it also needs reliable power. The PSC is striving to make sure the state has both.

But commissioners delayed making a decision on one aspect of the rate request. That delay could hurt Wisconsin consumers and the environment. Commissioners should reconsider, and grant the request without any delay.

At stake is a settlement We Energies reached in 2008 with environmental groups involving cooling methods for its new coal plants in Oak Creek. The settlement was a victory for all sides, allowing the utility and its partners to complete the plants in a timely manner, providing help for Lake Michigan in the form of funds for restoration initiatives and expanding renewable energy in Wisconsin.

The $105 million settlement will be paid for mostly by electric customers, but that price tag will be far less than it could have been under a protracted legal battle over the plant's cooling system. The utilities involved and the environmental groups who fought the plant worked hard to reach a compromise that serves everyone.

But that compromise could be put in jeopardy if the PSC rejects the portion of the rate hike request designed to cover the cost of the settlement. The environmental groups could decide that their work was wasted if there is a significant delay in getting the restoration money for Lake Michigan. And re-opening the lawsuit could mean more costs to ratepayers if the groups prevail.

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