Many speak out against proposed WPS electricity rate hike

The utility's latest financial reports raise questions about the need to double its proposed increase
Published: Nov. 1, 2022 at 4:16 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 1, 2022 at 5:34 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Wisconsin Public Service got an earful after announcing a proposed 14-percent electricity rate hike for the upcoming year, with customers and two politicians calling for the proposal to be rejected. The biggest question coming from all of them to WPS was, “Why now?”

It may be a legitimate question.

Tuesday morning, WEC Energy Group, the parent company of WPS and We Energies, announced its quarterly and year-to-date earnings. We Energies says the company made $1.16 billion in profits for the year, including $302 million in the third quarter.

That prompted state Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) and state Rep. Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay) to ask why this rate hike has to take place now during a public input session with the state Public Service Commission (PSC).

WPS says the rate hike brings it to where it should be after an audit found the inflation of natural gas and coal prices forced the utility to pass some of those costs along to its customers (see related story). Utility spokesman Matt Cullen says WPS has done a lot to save customers money over the last 7 years.

”Our average electric rate, our electric rate has increased an annual average of less than half of one percent since 2015,” Cullen said. “So, we are continuing to work efficiently, working to manage our costs effectively, because we do understand that those ultimately are costs that our customers do get passed on, you know, that our customers are going to end up having to pay.”

Sen. Cowles called that thinking “incredibly naive” to the reality throughout WPS’s service territory.

”This is going to be very difficult for people to survive. They have got to bring this thing down, and that is what I tried to hammer with my testimony in person today, in front of the PSC, which is the regulatory body that has the ability to force this thing back to square one and reduce it,” said Cowles.

Rep. Shelton also argued the rate increase for large, commercial customers is 7% while the increase for homeowners, tenants, and small businesses is twice that. She told the commission that isn’t right.

“The largest corporations in our area will see a softened blow, while our working-class families will have to decide between eating, keeping a roof over their head and the lights on. That’s the choice that we have today. So, I’m asking you … for the sake of my constituents, for the sake of Wisconsinites and residents in Green Bay, small businesses and our community, I encourage you to make the right choice,” Shelton told the PSC.

This is a proposal and is not the final ruling. The PSC will make its decision by the end of the year. If it approves any rate change, it would take effect on January 1.

Lawmakers say the increase is badly timed with higher living costs and the utility's recent profits