We Energies seeks rate hike, and that's not sitting well with some customers

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- We Energies is asking the Public Service Commission (PSC) for a rate change. The proposed rate change would affect every single We Energies customer, but it's causing a lot of controversy among customers who utilize solar power.

The PSC on Wednesday, October 8th held two public hearings on the proposed rate change. Those hearings drew big crowds to the Wilson Park Senior Center in Milwaukee.

"We're trying to protect homeowners who want to save money by going solar," an individual who was protesting outside the hearing said.

Many who gathered Wednesday are upset about the proposal that would increase the "facilities charge" on customers' bills and tack on a fee to customers generating their own energy with solar and wind power.

What it means is every We Energies customer would be affected by the proposed rate hike -- but those who utilize solar and wind power may be affected more.

We Energies is proposing raising their facilities fee, the flat charge that helps pay for wires and poles, from $9 to $16 per month for customers. At the same time, We Energies says it will drop how much it will charge for its electricity by about three percent.

"What we're saying is we are going to move some of the costs of the poles, the wires, the people working on the maintenance costs -- we're going to move some of those costs to our facilities charge. The average customer would see a bill increase of about $4 per month," We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said.

We Energies says the request is a far and equitable one. Some audience members agreed.

"You have that building sitting using solar power during the day. If the sun goes away or it's a cloudy day or it's night time, the energy company has to keep that energy on standby, so they're making that energy either way and we're all paying for that. All they want to do is equalize the subsidies everybody pays," a person who supports the proposed rate hike said.

Amy Kinosian has solar panels. She says nobody should think she gets a free ride.

"I have solar panels and as I told you, We Energies requires us to have a second meter measure solar output, so we pay twice as much regular customers to use the grid. $9 for our regular meter and $9 dollars a month for solar meter. That's $216 a year. Twice as much as regular customers," Kinosian said.

Those opposed to the rate hike call it unfair.

"This increase, that they don't think is a lot of money, is a lot of money for someone who has to decide between food, medicine and paying their bill," a person who is opposed to the proposed rate hike said.

We Energies says the proposal would charge solar customers $3.75 kilowatt, whereas there is no charge now. People with solar power now would not have to pay it for ten years.

Milwaukee County Supervisor David Bowen is critical of the proposed rate hike. He issued this statement to FOX6 News:

“Hard-working families in Milwaukee County cannot afford the large utility rate increases proposed by WE Energies, and I encourage the state Public Service Commission to table this proposal so families can keep current rates. Poverty continues to grow and both Milwaukee’s and Wisconsin’s economies lag behind national rates of growth. This is the wrong time to give additional increases to WE Energies, which has already been given increases above the level of inflation at 51 percent on residential bills since 2005, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In addition, as an advocate of green energy, this proposal threatens to reduce future numbers of residents that want to use solar energy. We should be doing more to give our residents more bang for their buck, not preventing progress of a greener community."

Groups like the AARP and others are asking the Public Service Commission to say "no" to an increase. The three-person commission will now make a final decision as to whether the proposed rate hike will be approved.

A decision could come as early as November.

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