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Thursday, July 9, 2015

State Budget Locks in Higher Electric Bills, Less Oversight

For immediate release                                       
July 9, 2015

Buried in the recently passed State of Wisconsin budget are funding cuts that will hobble citizen watchdog groups in their fight against utility proposals to increase charges and rates as well as impose hefty taxes on customers who generate electricity from clean energy sources.
The 2015-2017 budget eliminates a competitive Public Service Commission (PSC) annual grant of up to $300,000 in utility ratepayer funds. Over the last five years that grant has gone to the Citizens Utility Board, a citizen group that advocates on behalf of small customers. The budget also cuts in half a fund for groups like RENEW Wisconsin that intervene in rate cases and power plant proceedings, and forces them to pay half the cost of their expert witnesses and legal counsel.

The funding cut for citizen groups comes at a time when Wisconsin utilities are seeking approval from state regulators for another round of increases in their base monthly charges.  

“Wisconsin utility customers now pay the highest electric bills in the Midwest,” said Tyler Huebner, executive director for RENEW Wisconsin. “By weakening citizen and small business representation before the PSC, Wisconsin’s legislature is effectively flashing a green light to utilities to come in with higher charges and new taxes to collect more money from customers and take away their ability to control their electricity usage.”

“Thanks to the sharply higher customer charges and new clean energy tax approved for We Energies last year, Wisconsin is now an outlier relative to our neighboring states,” Huebner said. “Unless these provisions are changed by Governor Walker, the Legislature’s ill-considered action will surely likely take us further down an economically unproductive path.”

Huebner added: “To put this funding reduction in perspective, the five investor-owned utilities collect $6 billion from their customers a year. But not one dime of the annual $671,000 cut from this program will be returned to customers. Utilities can continue spending hefty amounts on their own attorneys and experts, all at customers’ expense. Meanwhile, the cost of electricity service in Wisconsin keeps going up, which puts us at a competitive disadvantage and is becoming a serious liability to the state’s economy.”

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