608.251.3322 staff@cubwi.org 6401 Odana Rd., Suite 24, Madison, WI 53719

Newsletter Updates 2020 Work, CUB Wishes Wisconsin Restful Holiday Season

CUB’s Fall Newsletter and Holiday Card is arriving in mailboxes across the state, so we’re happy to share it.

We want you to have a happy and restful holiday season. It’s been a cataclysmic year. Our normal routines and lives have been turned upside down, and after all we’ve been through we hope you and your get a chance to exhale and relax.

The newsletter provides updates on what we’ve been working on, while working at our homes, during the pandemic.

The pandemic has been a critical focus for us. We advocated to keep utility customers connected and joined our consumers advocate partners across the country in urging Congress to step up and provide additional relief to those hardest hit by the economic fallout from COVID-19. Check out our COVID-19 resources here.

A new funding model for CUB, our Funding Modernization Plan, was approved unanimously in the state Assembly early this year just prior to the Governor’s Safer at Home order. We await Senate passage of the bill, though it’s unclear whether the Senate will reconvene again before year-end. With the prospect of all five big utilities having rate cases next year, this would be a good time to finalize a plan that has widespread and bipartisan support.

This year we’ve been working on cases involving several of the big utilities, negotiating a settlement to keep electricity rates unchanged and below 2018 levels for customers of  Madison  Gas & Electric Co., and supporting a refinancing plan that will trim costs for We Energies customers linked to the shuttered Pleasant Prairie coal-fired power plant.

The newsletter also highlights another recent win: Two Waukesha County teachers, Danielle Chaussée and Kelly Holtzman of Oconomowoc High School, were named Wisconsin’s Energy Educators of the Year for 2020. The teachers lead a combined Global Sustainability and A.P. Spanish class. On behalf of CUB, the nonprofit partner of their class, the students translated CUB consumer information materials into Spanish and created CUB’s first Spanish-language webpage, cubwi.org/espanol.

Finally, the newsletter highlights CUB’s savings for customers, which tallied $159 million last year, and shows how Wisconsin’s electricity rates stack up among Midwest states. Though rates have stabilized somewhat in recent years, the longer-term trend shows that rate hikes have outpaced inflation. Being among the most expensive in the Midwest underscores there’s more work for CUB to do, with the help of supporters across the state.

Our thanks go out to members who’ve supported the nation’s first CUB through the years. If you want to support Your Independent Consumer Voice, please consider a pledge this week as part of our #GivingTuesday campaign. Pledge your support at cubwi.org. Thank you!

Savings Extended for Another Year for MG&E Customers

Customers of Madison Gas & Electric Co. will continue paying less next year for electricity than they were paying in 2018 under a rate settlement approved Tuesday.

The state Public Service Commission voted unanimously to endorse a rate settlement that will keep electricity rates at the same level in 2021 as it has been for the past two years.

The settlement incorporates savings on fuel costs and taxes to help offset the additional cost customers would otherwise be paying with MG&E’s utility-scale solar expansion.

“Keeping rates stable was one element of this settlement that we like,” said Tom Content, CUB executive director. “But it also served as an opportunity to push out innovative new offerings, like a Bring Your Own Device pilot program that helps customers save money by adjusting their smart thermostat on hot summer days.”

CUB appreciated that the settlement includes a commitment to analyze in detail the energy burden borne by low-income customers of MG&E. This analysis could serve as a jumping-off point for innovative rate options for customers hard hit by this year’s recession.

“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,” said Content.

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.

This marks the second straight settlement CUB has negotiated with MG&E under the settlements law passed by the Legislature in 2018. Other stakeholders agreeing to the settlement included Renew Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group.

More details on the settlement can be found here: www.cubwi.org/blog. Information about the case is available at the PSC under docket 3270-UR-123.

Waukesha Co. Teachers Who Partnered with CUB Honored as Wisconsin Energy Educators of the Year

Two Waukesha County teachers whose class partnered with CUB during its 40th Anniversary year have been awarded the 2020 Energy Educator of the Year award from the Wisconsin K-12 Energy Education Program (KEEP).

CUB was thrilled to partner with teachers Danielle Chaussee and Kelly Holtzman and their Global Sustainability / Spanish class in the 2019-20 school year.

The OHS class worked with CUB in a number of ways, translating energy education materials into Spanish and helping launch CUB’s Spanish language page, cubwi.org/espanol.

The OHS students also served as ambassadors for CUB at the CUB 40th Anniversary Celebration in Madison in November 2019, and helped staff booths for CUB and marketing partner Evolution Marketing at the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council conference in December.

“The teachers strive to create learning experiences that immerse students in real-world issues and teach students ethical issues behind energy and conservation,” said Melissa Anders, Oconomowoc High School associate principal.

“They not only teach about energy in the scientific sense; they radiate an internal energy that comes from a selfless passion to serve others,” said Anders. “The Global Sustainability course is the first of its kind that I know of, and it is an innovative way of combining cultural responsiveness, service learning, science, business, and world language instruction.”

The Energy Educator of the Year Award was awarded Nov.  6 by KEEP during a special virtual ceremony with the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education, held via Zoom. The energy education program, based at UW-Stevens Point, is supported by Alliant Energy, Madison Gas & Electric, We Energies, Wisconsin Public Service Corp., WPPI Energy and Xcel Energy.

CUB is proud of our partnership with OHS along with small business member Evolution Marketing. The partnership is continuing, virtually, with a new group of OHS students in the 2020-21 school year.

 

 

 

 

 

Consumer Groups Applaud PSC Vote to Refinance $100 Million from Retired Power Plant

  • $40 million in savings projected from securitization for Pleasant Prairie Plant
  • PSC vote advances key element of 2019 rate case settlement with consumer groups, We Energies

The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) and the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, Inc. (WIEG) applauded the Public Service Commission for this morning’s vote to approve an application from We Energies to securitize $100 million of costs for environmental controls at the retired Pleasant Prairie Power Plant.

On a 3-0 vote, the PSC granted the request of We Energies for a financing order to authorize environmental trust financing (Docket 6630-ET-101). We Energies estimates the issuance of environmental trust bonds to securitize $100 million of the remaining investment in environmental controls at Pleasant Prairie will deliver $40 million in customer savings over time.

Securitization is in some ways similar to refinancing a mortgage. It’s a process by which a utility replaces relatively high-cost debt and equity, which is charged to electricity customers, with lower-cost debt in the form of securitization bonds. This gives the utility a more favorable bond issue and saves ratepayers money.

Securitization of undepreciated costs of Pleasant Prairie was a key part of 2019 rate case settlement involving We Energies and consumer groups. That settlement in PSC Docket 5-UR-109 was negotiated by CUB and WIEG with We Energies. Clean Wisconsin signed on to that settlement, which was approved by the PSC late last year.

WIEG and CUB supported this provision as a strong tool to help keep rising electric rates in check, especially at a time when more utilities are looking to retire coal-fired power plants in the next several years. All of Wisconsin’s investor-owned utilities have committed to carbon dioxide emissions reduction targets, coal retirements and significant new investment in capital projects.

“As Wisconsin utilities look to spend billions over the next decade swapping fossil fuel power plants for cleaner technology, we strongly support securitization and other innovative financing tools as a way to soften the impact to customers that comes from retiring these facilities years or even decades earlier than intended,” said Tom Content, CUB’s Executive Director.

Current state law (Ch. 196.027) allows the creation of a trust from which low-cost bonds can be issued for the financing of emission reducing technologies and retired assets. The law was originally passed as 2003 Act 152.

“We think this makes good common sense and excellent economic sense,” said Todd Stuart, WIEG Executive Director.  “It could save Wisconsin ratepayers $40 million in this instance. Now that we have this example for Pleasant Prairie, securitization or other creative financing should be considered by Wisconsin utilities in the future. Avoiding rate increases helps our economy and we strongly believe it will help keep our struggling manufacturing industry competitive.”

The customer groups said they appreciated the effort of We Energies to negotiate and implement both the rate settlement and securitization plan, and the work of the PSC and its staff to review and authorize the plan today.

We Energies shut down the Pleasant Prairie coal-fired power plant in 2018, and customer groups raised concerns about utility customers having to continue paying for a power plant no longer needed to keep the lights on in Wisconsin.

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.

Home

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.