Power Plant Projects Need Rigorous Review

  • January 20, 2022

870 450 Tom Content

As 2022 starts we are gearing up for a big year with a high-profile rate case involving the two utilities owned by WEC Energy Group, We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service.

While we prepare for that, it hasn’t been a quiet time in the PSC case arena. 

Our regulatory team is focused on plans for building new power plants as part of the utilities’ ongoing clean energy transition.

And CUB is right there working on your behalf, assessing what’s needed, what’s cost effective and whether or not the utilities have justified these new plants — plants to be paid for by customers if approved.

We are currently tracking multiple cases at the PSC, including a We Energies-WPS proposal to add natural gas generation in Wausau and a proposal to add battery storage at a solar farm to be co-owned by We Energies, WPS and Madison Gas & Electric.

At CUB, we support a cost-effective transition to cleaner energy sources, but we want the utilities to make sure every dollar of spending on the transition is justified and is vetted by the PSC. To that end, we’re asking tough questions of the utilities to make sure they’ve considered a wide range of assumptions about where the energy world and markets are headed.

Recently, the PSC gave the go-ahead for WPS and MG&E to buy and operate the Red Barn Wind Park, at a cost of $162 million. This is one of the first wind projects approved by the PSC in years.

CUB urged the PSC to hold off on approving the Red Barn Wind Park to allow for a more rigorous review, in part because of the recent WEC announcements of plans to buy a natural gas plant in Whitewater and shift its new coal plant in Oak Creek from burning coal to burning natural gas. 

These recent announcements by WEC “have the potential to significantly change the economics of WEC’s portfolio,” CUB wrote in a comment filed with the PSC. 

CUB is asking tough questions to try to make sure every dollar of new spending is justified. 

Utilities need to perform a sufficient analysis so that it’s clear to everyone whether or not their proposed project should be approved. If we don’t believe there’s enough good information and analysis done by the utilities to conclude that the projects are in the best interest of customers, we will oppose them. 

It’s abundantly clear that we’re seeing a transformation of the utility system to cleaner sources, a shift sought by the public, by utilities, by utility investors and by us.

What’s not clear is how cost effective this transition will be for customers, which is why we’re still doing what CUB was created for 42 years ago —push, probe and prod monopoly utilities and the regulators to be the best stewards of customer dollars. 

A clean energy transition shouldn’t be done in a way that drives up utility rates, worsens household energy burdens and inequality related energy insecurity. In other words, we need to keep affordability for all customers as a focal point while ensuring that we have a safe and reliable energy system.