MG&E plans fixed cost rate increase

Joe Ballard, News Editor

Madison resident’s electric bills might be going up at the beginning of the year. Some project that those who will be hit the hardest are low energy users and those who live in apartments.

Madison Gas & Electric (MG&E) has proposed significant fixed cost increases for its customers in 2015. The company argues that it needs to make improvements to the electric grid in order to handle the increase of renewable energy to reliably serve all of its customers.

MG&E is proposing to raise its fixed costs from $10.50 a month to $19 a month while at the same time reducing the cost of energy from 14.4 cents per kWh to 13.1 cents per kW. MG&E argues that the price for customers will remain the same and the fixed costs will go in to upgrading the grid.

As someone who believes we need to be generating more of our energy from renewable and environmentally friendly sources I decided to delve a little deeper. I wanted figure out what exactly MG&E needed to do in order to upgrade the electric grid and what challenges were being presented by homes powered by renewable power.

MG&E is arguing that they need to upgrade their grid but when asked what upgrades they needed to make, spokesman Steve Schultz was unable to provide any concrete examples.

“It’s not specific A, B, and C. It’s overall, it’s maintaining (the grid) and the upkeep of it,” said Schultz, “It’s maintaining the stability of it and allowing for it to reliably serve all customers. And to also effectively incorporate and include renewable energy.”

In a letter sent out to shareholders this fall, MG&E claimed its grid was ranked No. 1 in a national survey for reliability. The grid does not appear to have any problems handling the two-way flow of energy that is created when homes power themselves with renewable energy.
MG&E maintains that the discussion to raise rates is a national discussion. Utilities all across the country are decided how best to incorporate renewable energy on to their electric grids.

“This is a conversation that is happening all over the country,” said Schultz, “It’s not specific to Madison or Wisconsin. It’s a national conversation.”

This is indeed a national conversation. Last week the Public Service Commission(PSC), the group in charge of ruling on the proposed rate increases, threw out a questionable petition from a Houston based nonprofit called Consumer Energy Advocate(CEA). The CEA petition listed customers who, “believe changing the current rule will ensure that all ratepayers are treated fairly and electricity bills remain affordable.”

The petition didn’t have any actual signatures attached to it and many of the people included said they would never have agreed to be on it. The CEA receives funding from coal, oil, and gas companies.

“It seems to me that they’re trying to slow down the growth in solar energy to maintain their monopoly,” said Mitchel Brey of RePower Madison, “These proposals will reduce the incentives to conserve energy. They’re trying to lock in revenue by increasing the fixed fee that people pay.”
RePower Madison is a local citizen led group wants to rouse citizens to action and educate them on the impacts of this rate increase. According to their website, Repower Madison wants MG&E to “implement a nation-leading plan that will reduce Madison’s dependence on carbon polluting fuels, while fostering economic development and equity.”

Brey and RePower Madison are working towards getting the PSC to reject or at least postpone the rate increases until further study is done to determine its long term effects.

“I think that we should be supporting a movement towards renewable energies and not putting in place policies that will negatively impact the future of renewable energies like this proposal would do,” said Brey, “I think what MG&E is trying to do here is trying to protect their own investments they’ve made in to coal…But by reducing the variable fee and increasing the fixed fee they are reducing the incentives to conserve electricity.”

MG&E originally included plans that would increase fixed costs to $49 a month in 2016 but after public outcry backed off that proposal. The utility provider said they plan to hold public hearings and hear citizen concerns before proposing any further increases.

After speaking with both sides on the issue it seems clear that the proposed rate increases are not in our cities best interests. MG&E cannot provide sufficient evidence that they need additional funding in order to upgrade a grid that is one of the best in the nation. It appears that shareholder interests are being put ahead of customer and environmental interests.

The date for the next public meeting regarding price increases has not yet been set, but MG&E expects to begin having those meetings sometime in January. The PSC is expected to rule on the rate increases sometime between now and the end of the year.

I encourage everyone let MG&E and the PSC know how they feel about this issue. The rate increase is not in your best interest unless you have money invested in fossil fuels. Low energy users will be negatively affected by this change and it’s up to you to let your voice be heard. Call them. Email them. Stand outside the offices and hold up a sign. Big oil shouldn’t decide what happens here in our own city, you should.