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Energy Efficiency Day: Ways You Can Save

Happy Energy Efficiency Day, Wisconsin!

On Energy Efficiency Day 2020, CUB wants to make you aware of some freebies and ways to save on energy costs, whether you’re a Small Business, Homeowner or Renter.

Tools for Small Businesses

Focus on Energy’s new online assessment tool is here to help small businesses, and we’re excited to let you know about it.

Focus on Energy wants to help put energy efficiency at the top of your priority list. With just a few minutes of your time, this simple online energy assessment can deliver a customized report detailing energy savings opportunities for your small business.

As an added benefit, you can order a FREE energy-saving pack and have energy-saving measures delivered right to your door. Saving energy doesn’t get much easier!

How do I get started?

Step 1: Visit the Focus on Energy Small Business portal

Step 2: Complete your online assessment.

Step 3: Order your free pack and start saving!

Tools for Residential Customers

Single-family homeowners, renters, and property owners can also make energy related improvements to their homes.

Find which incentives are available for you, and see if your utility participates in Focus on Energy’s Residential Program.

Residential customers can also benefit from a FREE energy-saving pack from Focus on Energy. Energy saving light bulbs, power strips, and shower heads are available.

Stability Amid Pandemic: MG&E Settlement Would Leave Electric Rates Unchanged in 2021

CUB reached a settlement with Madison Gas & Electric in its 2021 rate case to keep electricity costs from going up in a time of pandemic and economic pain.

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The draft settlement was filed with the Public Service Commission on Friday and will be reviewed by the PSC in the coming weeks and months.

Under the proposal, electric rates and bills will be unchanged in 2021, remaining at levels lower than 2018.

This marks the second straight settlement CUB has negotiated with MG&E under the settlements law passed by the Legislature in 2018.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a critical factor driving negotiations this year. COVID-19 has affected all areas of the economy, including both utilities and their customers. Finding a way to keep electricity costs from going up in a pandemic was a goal for CUB and MG&E in this settlement.

Here at CUB we’re glad that we were able to arrive at a settlement that provides a way to keep electricity rates flat while also limiting rate impacts to natural gas customers. It also gives the utility flexibility to manage costs driven by COVID-19 and limit costs for fuel to help provide savings down the road.

The proposed settlement agreement also carries forward many of the terms CUB negotiated with MG&E two years ago, such as holding the line against increases in the customer charge and maintaining the lowest profit level of the large utilities in Wisconsin.

MG&E has also committed to collaborate with CUB to assess the energy burden of those who struggle the most to pay their energy bills, especially during this year of pandemic, recession and uncertainty. CUB and MGE will use that information to try to develop effective programs to assist the most vulnerable utility customers as we go forward.

“We all need to keep focused on the needs of those who are struggling the most, and we hope this can be a step toward doing just that.”

The electric rate settlement takes advantage of credit balances from fuel and federal tax costs MG&E has over-collected to help offset increases linked to new solar projects and projected lower sales due to COVID-19.

In addition, employee pension costs were driven up by downswings in the stock market earlier this year. This increase wouldn’t be collected from customers in 2021. It’s hoped that these pension costs could be much lower if the market continues to improve.

The agreement also calls for a change that could benefit customers if MG&E collects too much from customers in fuel costs. Currently, utilities retain 2%  more than they budgeted for fuel burned in utility power plants. Under the proposed settlement, MG&E would only retain 1% more than the budgeted fuel cost sum in 2021. As Wisconsin utilities have regularly over-collected for fuel costs in recent years, it’s hoped that this will help to offset future  possible rate increases. 

The agreement also includes new rate programs, including a Bring Your Own Device program that rewards customers who save energy on hot summer days if they have a smart thermostat linked to their air conditioning system. MG&E also plans to introduce a flat bill rate pilot for customers who choose to pay a flat monthly rate for electricity from renewable energy resources, and an electric vehicle charging program for companies or organizations with a fleet of EVs. 

Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Renew Wisconsin joined MG&E and CUB in this settlement agreement.

More information: MGE Settlement Agreement August 2020

Read more case documents on the PSC website.

CUB Weekly Update 8.20.2020

Applications

Utility Name Case Type Utility Type ERF Link
City of Oshkosh Water Utility Construction Water PSC REF# 395269
Darien Solar Energy Center Construction Electric PSC REF# 395321
Marshfield Utilities Construction Combined Utility PSC REF# 395325
Alliant Energy Construction Electric PSC REF# 395172
Muscoda Light And Water Utility Rates Tariffs – Electric PSC REF# 395372

 

Notices

Utility Name Case Type Utility Type ERF Link
Alliant Energy Depreciation Electric PSC REF# 395279
Xcel Energy Other Case Types Gas Supply Plan PSC REF# 395278
We Energies Other Case Types Gas Supply Plan PSC REF# 395294
Wisconsin Gas LLC Other Case Types Gas Supply Plan PSC REF# 395292
Wisconsin Public Service Corporation Other Case Types Risk Management PSC REF# 395293
Florence Utility Commission Rates Electric PSC REF# 395299
Madison Gas & Electric Company Rates Combined Utility PSC REF# 395456
Alliant Energy Rates Combined Utility PSC REF# 395452

 

Orders

Utility Name Case Type Utility Type ERF Link
Town of Scott Water Utility Other Case Types Purchased Water Adjustment PSC REF# 395093
Blanchardville Municipal Water Utility Rates Water PSC REF# 395130
City of Montello Water Utility Rates Water PSC REF# 395097
Belgium Municipal Water Utility Simplified Rate Case Water PSC REF# 395144
Cassville Water and Sewer Utility Simplified Rate Case Water PSC REF# 395219
Darien Water Works and Sewer System Simplified Rate Case Water PSC REF# 395143
Footville Water Utility Simplified Rate Case Water PSC REF# 395096
Pardeeville Municipal Water Utility Simplified Rate Case Water PSC REF# 395099
Viola Municipal Water And Electric Utility Simplified Rate Case Water PSC REF# 395220
West Salem Municipal Joint Water and Sewer Utility Simplified Rate Case Water PSC REF# 395094

 

CUB Weekly Update 8.11.2020

Applications

Utility

Case Type

PSC Link

Sun Prairie Utilities

Construction

PSC REF# 394853

Two Rivers Water and Light Utility

Rates

PSC REF# 394954

City of Fort Atkinson Water Utility

Rates

PSC REF# 394862

Algoma Utility Commission

Simplified Rate Case

PSC REF# 394704

Hearings

Utility

Case Type

PSC Link

Paris Solar Farm, LLC

Construction

PSC REF# 395043

Wood County Solar Project, LLC

Construction

PSC REF# 395046

Construction

PSC REF# 395045

Notice of Proceeding/Investigation (New Cases)

Utility

Case Type

PSC Link

Madison Gas & Electric

Construction

PSC REF# 394917

Alliant Energy

Construction

PSC REF# 394921

Stocks & Bonds

PSC REF# 394918

Onion River Solar, LLC

Construction

PSC REF# 394973

We Energies

Construction

PSC REF# 394919

Wausaukee Water and Sewer Utility

Construction

PSC REF# 394915

Wisconsin Gas LLC

Other Case Types

PSC REF# 394916

Onalaska Municipal Water Utility

Rates

PSC REF# 394922

Spring Green Municipal Water Utility

Rates

PSC REF# 394920

Orders

Utility

Case Type

PSC Link

Wisconsin Public Service Corp.

Construction

PSC REF# 394706

Fuel Reconciliation

PSC REF# 394950

Madison Gas & Electric

Fuel Reconciliation

PSC REF# 394952

Xcel Energy

Fuel Reconciliation

PSC REF# 394948

We Energies

Fuel Reconciliation

PSC REF# 394947

Alliant Energy

Fuel Reconciliation

PSC REF# 394951

Documents filed on the Public Service Commission Electronic Regulatory Filing System (ERF) can be accessed directly by entering in the “PSC REF#” on the ERF home page.

CUB Annual Report 2019

Annual Report Highlights 2019 Savings and Work to Modernize CUB Funding Model

CUB’s work on rate case settlements, our 40th Anniversary celebration, resources for customers impacted by COVID-19, and efforts to secure a more stable funding model are highlighted in our 2019 Annual Report , just published on cubwi.org.

CUB secured $159 million in savings in three utility rate cases last year for customers. That brings the total savings since 2006 to $3.5 billion.

The Annual Report also focuses on the challenges that Wisconsinites are facing this year with COVID-19 and the economy.

The back page of the report highlights key contact numbers for Wisconsin utilities and resources for customers hard-hit by the recession this year.

As I mentioned in my note to members:

We need to be vocal, to all who will listen, that this is the time to ease the path toward economic recovery for low-income residents and struggling small businesses trying to make ends meet.

We need to be vigilant in making sure that monopoly utilities and utility regulators recognize the tough spot that utility customers are in this year — and may be in for a while.

The Annual Report also highlights CUB’s 40th Anniversary events celebrating the formation of the nation’s first Citizens Utility Board in 1979.

In addition, the report focuses on our work toward a Funding Modernization Plan that would give CUB additional resources to advocate for customers as it negotiates rate settlements with utilities in the years ahead. This plan is included in the PSC Omnibus Bill, AB 712, which is pending in the state Senate after passing unanimously in two legislative committees and in the state Assembly. 

CUB needs more in-house experts on staff to advocate effectively for customers in an era of negotiation, rather than litigation, in rate cases. This new funding model, described in the Annual Report, costs less than two cents a month for a typical residential or small business customer of an electric utility.

CUB’s Annual Report also profiles nominees for the CUB Board of Directors and discusses our outreach and work with small businesses. As COVID-19 has canceled in-person outreach events for the time being, CUB is interested in hearing from businesses and community groups who are looking for guest speakers for virtual (Zoom) meetings. Reach out to Tom Content at content@cubwi.org.

Tom Content, Executive Director

July 23, 2020: Wisconsin regulators cite surge in COVID-19 cases, delay shutoffs of utility customers

Disconnections of utility customers in Wisconsin won’t start this weekend after the Public Service Commission voted to delay shutoffs until Sept. 1, citing worsening COVID-19 statistics in Wisconsin. 

The PSC voted 2-1 Thursday to require utilities to hold off on disconnecting residential customers who are behind on their bills, citing changed circumstances since the Commission’s last meeting on this more than a month ago. 

The Commission is clearly trying to strike a balance here, and clearly there will be costs that come due at some point, but record case numbers in Wisconsin compelled the Commission to act for public health and safety reasons, said Tom Content, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board. 

“The commissioners made the right call, given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic. “They clearly didn’t want to take a risk of allowing shutoffs to commence — which could lead to lives lost due to utility disconnections,” Content said. 

CUB last week urged utilities to be flexible with customers who are behind on their bills and asked utilities to hold off on disconnecting any customers until October. 

The Commission at its weekly meeting Thursday received information from PSC staff indicating that 71,000 households were at risk of shutoff. The Commission agreed to revisit the issue at a meeting planned for Aug. 20. 

“Clearly there a lot of folks who are hurting, and this is the time to be connecting them with available resources,” Content said.

Wisconsin has $8 million of energy assistance for low income customers available through the federal Cares Act. The state along with Dane and Milwaukee counties have $45 million in rental assistance funding designed to stave off evictions. 

Congress is expected to vote in the coming weeks on a pandemic response bill, and utilities and consumer advocates alike have called for billions more nationwide for energy assistance. A version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives included expanded funding for energy assistance, rental assistance and also created a fund to support water utility customers hard hit by the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Information about resources for utility customers is available at cubwi.org/covid19.

July 16, 2020: Utility disconnections: CUB seeks delay in shutoffs, urges those in need to seek energy, rental aid

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The Citizens Utility Board, Wisconsin’s utility consumer advocate, is calling for utilities to be flexible with customers, waive penalties for nonpayment and delay disconnecting customers who are behind on their bills until the fall.

Wisconsin citizens were spared disconnection of their utility services because of the executive orders issued by Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and decisions by the Public Service Commission.

Those orders were vacated by the state Supreme Court, and the PSC recently decided to allow disconnections to proceed. As of July 15, utilities can now send disconnection notices to customers and may begin disconnecting customers on July 25.

“What’s most important at this time is flexibility and an appreciation that the economic conditions in Wisconsin have changed drastically as a result of the pandemic,” said Tom Content, CUB Executive Director. “Moreover, the recent uptick in the incidence of the COVID-19 pandemic means this is the wrong time to be shutting off folks’ power and water.”

 

 

In light of a recent surge in cases both in Wisconsin and in many states across the country, CUB is urging utilities to delay disconnections of customers hard hit by the pandemic until the fall. Wisconsin experienced a record 964 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, and four out of five counties in the state are experiencing “high” coronavirus activity, according to the state Department of Health Services.

A key challenge is that the disconnection notices issued by utilities are what prompt people to apply for energy assistance and crisis assistance funding made available through the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program. WHEAP has $8 million in supplemental energy assistance funding through the federal CARES Act.

CUB is urging utilities to consider the economic and health circumstances of customers who may be at risk of shutoff and asks that utilities:

      • Waive late payment penalties and reduce down payments for customers who are looking to set up payment plans.
      • If the utility decides to pursue disconnections for nonpayment, increase financial thresholds that decide which customers get shut off, in light of the unique circumstances facing Wisconsin citizens with high unemployment and the looming expiration of supplemental unemployment benefits.
      • Delay shutting off customers, for now, and do so only after the hot summer months have passed, beginning Oct. 1, at which point the need for continued relief could be re-evaluated.

 

“We really want folks to be aware that there is aid available to help utility customers who are having a tough time,” said Content. “Folks in need should take advantage of energy assistance and rental assistance funding that’s now accessible across the state.”

Wisconsin has launched a $25 million rental assistance program, and local rental assistance programs have been announced in Dane and Milwaukee counties, and are being implemented in Racine, Waukesha and other communities across the state. Find out more about these programs at cubwi.org/covid19.

CUB has been actively looking for opportunities to address the impact of the pandemic and the economic fallout that’s resulted. That’s why CUB supported a move by the PSC to limit the amount of interest that utilities can collect on costs linked to the pandemic that may be added to customers’ bills in future years.

“We’d also really like to see more energy assistance funding in Wisconsin, something that’s under consideration now by Congress as it considers a new round of legislation to respond to the pandemic,” Content said. “One version of the legislation pending would, for the first time, make emergency aid available to water utility customers.”

CUB is a member of two groups, the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates in Washington, D.C., and the Customers First Coalition based in Madison, that have joined utilities in asking Congress to allocate more than $4 billion in increased funding for energy assistance.

The more funds that go to energy assistance, the lower the ultimate cost on customers’ bills later, Content said.

Mid-Year Update on Coal and Nuclear Costs, and Rate Cases

 We’re almost halfway through a strange and tumultuous year, and that makes now a good time to update you on a number of our cases at the Public Service Commission.  Here’s a look at some of the cases we’re tracking: 
 
Coal plant retirement costs: CUB will be filing comments this summer on the Strategic Energy Assessment, a report that comes out every other year that serves as a snapshot for where Wisconsin stands on a number of issues, from energy supply and demand to rates and affordability. New wrinkles this year include special attention given to decarbonization of Wisconsin’s electric sector. 
 https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a2/Edgewater_Power_Plant_Sheboygan_Wisconsin.jpg/512px-Edgewater_Power_Plant_Sheboygan_Wisconsin.jpg
As utilities look to shut down coal plants to cut carbon emissions, CUB is emphasizing the “elephant in the room” when it comes the clean energy transition. What we mean by that is addressing extra costs customers are saddled with when utilities continue to earn full profit from old plants no longer needed to keep the lights on.
 
After all, when we move from one house to another we stop paying the mortgage on the first one. However, the utilities still want customers to keep paying for their old house they’re moving from. We tackled this issue last year in the We Energies rate case, and reached a settlement to reduce ratepayers costs tied to the Pleasant Prairie coal plant. The Milwaukee utility pledged to file an application to refinance the Pleasant Prairie pollution control expenditures to a lower rate. We want that filed soon. Meanwhile, Alliant Energy just announced that its Edgewater coal plant in Sheboygan will shut down by 2023. That’s another case where you can expect CUB to weigh on this issue to help reduce costs for customers. 
 
$900 million in solar: Alliant Energy’s Wisconsin Power and Light utility has filed an application to expand its supply of solar energy through six projects across the state, at a cost of $900 million. CUB and the PSC will have to evaluate the need for the new generation capacity, and whether the proposal is cost-effective and economic for customers.  
 
Alliant last month opened its new natural gas-fired power plant in Beloit, so it has enough energy to meet customer demand today. But Alliant has also announced plans to shutter the Edgewater coal plant in Sheboygan. 
 
Rate case updates: Alliant Energy and Madison Gas & Electric this year were expected to file rate cases covering the years 2021 and 2022, but things are shaping up differently. 
 
Citing the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Alliant is opting not to file to increase rates at this time. Instead, the utility has proposed a one-year extension of the rate freeze that CUB and others negotiated with the utility two years ago. CUB is evaluating the proposal. The freeze would be for 2021 only, and Alliant is expected  to come back for another rate case next year. 
 
MG&E has informed the PSC that it intends to negotiate a settlement with CUB and other groups instead of a full rate case application for 2021-22. We will keep you updated on this case. 
 
Nuclear costs rising precipitously: You may recall that CUB negotiated a rate settlement last year with We Energies that helped limit the size of the rate hike that hit customers’ bills in January. One of the reasons bills did rise was an unsustainable escalation built into the Point Beach power purchase agreement (PPA). We Energies in 2007 sold the nuclear plant on Lake Michigan to NextEra Energy Resources and buys back the power from the plant.  
 
Significant increases in the price of Point Beach power are now hitting customers every year, and We Energies this month filed a proposal to raise prices in 2021 – citing Point Beach as a primary driver of increasing costs.  
 
Point Beach increases each year through the early 2030s are a significant cost driver for We Energies rates, and We Energies pledged last year to work with CUB, the PSC staff and Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group on alternatives to the rising tab facing Point Beach customers. 
 
 

COVID-19: How CUB is Responding

We all face challenges from the COVID-19 crisis. Here at CUB we think worrying about your utility service should not be one of them. And, thanks to quick work and cooperation from Governor Tony Evers and our utilities, Wisconsin customers don’t fear being shut off or incurring penalties or big charges to re-connect their service.

At CUB, the work our staff has performed for the last 40 years goes on.

We’re operating a bit differently now, all working remotely from our homes, but we’re still at work to protect the interests of Wisconsin’s residential and small business customers. And we’ve worked to provide resources specific to COVID19 on a new page on our website. Check it out at www.cubwi.org/covid19.

Gov. Evers has issued two executive orders essentially barring utility disconnections for residential and business customers and directing utilities to reconnect customers who are shut off.  These actions apply to electric, natural gas and water utilities across the state. The second order enables waivers of late fees and allows for reconnections without paying the utility a deposit.

These are all important steps to help keep a roof over Wisconsinites’ heads and enable them to focus on their livelihoods and taking the proper social distancing steps so Wisconsin can “flatten the curve” under Evers’ #SaferAtHome designation.

CUB is pleased that all the state’s major utilities – We Energies, Wisconsin Public Service, Xcel Energy (Northern States Power), Alliant Energy (Wisconsin Power & Light) and Madison Gas & Electric  – have joined utilities across the country in making commitments not to shut off customers during this critical time.

The PSC has opened two cases related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and CUB is involved in both. One involves accounting issues linked to costs utilities are spending during the crisis. The other deals with a variety of related issues.

The challenges with the COVID-19 novel coronavirus are complex, dangerous and thorny.

Some key points:

  • Stay safe. Follow the recommendations outlined by the Department of Health Services to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19.
  • Call your utility to arrange a payment plan if you need one. Consider budget billing, which evens out the wide swings in energy costs over a year’s time.
  • Try to save energy where you can. It’s expected that residential energy usage will go up now that all non-essential businesses are shuttered temporarily and folks work from home. Consider steps to save on your energy bill. Check out CUB’s Simple Steps to Save Energy as well as this COVID-19-related message from the state Focus on Energy program.
  • Beware of scams. Scam activity by imposters trying to mask themselves as utility employees may increase during the crisis. But it’s important to be vigilant.  Check out CUB’s Stopping Scams Guide here.

 

 

CUB is continuing to monitor this crisis and the actions of utilities across the state and the nation.

Through the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, CUB is also monitoring how utility regulators and advocates across the country are responding. It’s gratifying that utilities are taking steps to re-connect customers who are shut off, given the severity of the public health emergency.

Our work on this issue will extend far beyond this year, and CUB will be there, vigilant for those who can least afford to withstand the economic emergency that has hit along with the pandemic.

 

On behalf of the CUB Board of Directors and Corey and Rich on the CUB team, I hope you are staying safe, managing your way through the crisis and reaching out to those in need.

Be well,

Tom Content

CUB Fall Newsletter: Turning 40, negotiating for customer wins, holding the line on fixed fees

We’ve got some important updates to share in our fall newsletter and holiday card, which has just been published. Check it out here.

You’ll find updates on our 40th Anniversary Celebration in Madison, as we celebrated nearly 40 years to the day from when Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus signed into law the bill creating the nation’s first Citizens Utility Board.

And you’ll find an overview of some big wins – and a big miss by the PSC – in the rate cases involving We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service Corp.

Among the wins: cutting back on the tab customers will have to bear for the power plant We Energies shut down in Pleasant Prairie last year.

The big miss: The PSC whiffed in its decision to allow Wisconsin Public Service to bill customers for all of the cost overruns it incurred on a pollution control project near Wausau.

And we’ve got a special article that shows how CUB has worked via rate settlements to hold the line on rising fixed customer charges.

Our concerns about high fixed charges are many: They discourage energy efficiency, penalize customers who live in small dwellings and low-income folks who don’t use much energy. And they shift the risk from utilities that already have profits above the national average onto the shoulders of utility customers.

The good news is that after a series of big jumps four years ago and even two years ago, CUB has held the line on further increases in fixed fees.

Be sure to check out our fall newsletter and holiday card here.