Steve Kihm – Regulatory Strategist, Economics & Finance

Steve comes to CUB with four decades of experience in analyzing economic and finance issues in utility regulation, including 21 years as a member of the staff of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. He also held positions at a for-profit consulting firm and a non-profit research organization. Steve has testified as an expert witness across the country and has published articles in the Journal of Applied Corporate Finance and the Energy Law Journal. He holds two masters’ degrees in business (quantitative analysis and finance) from UW-Madison and a doctoral degree in business (corporate finance and strategy) from UW-Whitewater. For his graduate work at UW-Madison he was inducted into the Beta Gamma Sigma honorary business society and named the Outstanding Graduate Business Student by the business school faculty.

Why are you excited to be part of CUB?

I can best explain my enthusiasm in having this opportunity by putting it in the context of the long arc of my career. In 1980 I entered the professional workforce, joining the Public Service Commission as a research analyst. In that same year, as a fledgling organization the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin began appearing before the PSC. Forty-one years later, CUB’s path and mine merged as I joined the organization’s regulatory team.

If we could return to that earlier time, we would find a world in stark contrast to the one we’re now familiar with. In 1980 the Consumer Price Index increased by 12%. The U.S. unemployment rate was headed toward 10%. Energy experts warned of extreme shortages of natural gas by 1990. Utility stocks were at the tail-end of a 70% inflation-adjusted decline in value from their peak levels.

Traveling forward through time from that earlier period, we would see the world evolving dramatically. Inflation and unemployment rates would recede to manageable levels. Utilities would regain their financial footing. New production technologies expanded U.S. natural gas supplies so much that we exported over five trillion cubic feet of it in 2020. New issues such as climate change and energy burden emerged, or at least became more noticeable.

But just as was the case over the four decades that preceded my arrival at CUB, I’m sure that in the coming years we are in for changes no one expects. Looking out into that hazy future, as part of the CUB team I am excited about helping to facilitate the transition to a better energy future for Wisconsin.

From a big picture perspective, why is cub important to the state of Wisconsin?

As the first citizens utility board in the country, the Wisconsin CUB was the manifestation of a need to correct the significant imbalance between utilities and consumers, especially residential and small business customers, in terms of representation in regulatory proceedings. Industrial customers have the resources to protect their interests. The Wisconsin Commission staff, though quite capable, must not advocate for any party. The absence of explicit representation would then mean that residential customers would get the short-end of the stick in regulatory outcomes.

The utility landscape would look fundamentally different if CUB were not a key player before the Wisconsin Commission. While CUB is clearly David in the classic struggle with the biblical giant, our team can act in strategic ways to alter the course of regulatory policies. Not only does CUB influence the final outcomes, but its presence affects utility proposals—they know that if they reach too far CUB will make it known that they have. Explicitly and implicitly CUB’s presence is real and palpable, contributing to public interest solutions that consider residential and small business customer interests.