Advocates protest proposed utility rate increases

Photo by Omar Waheed.

 Protestors from 350 Wisconsin, a grassroots organization that advocates for environmental justice and fighting climate change, took to the capitol square on Saturday to protest new proposals to increase rates for utilities and a change in how solar energy users can sell back energy to the grid, or net metering. 

The proposals from Madison Gas & Electric and Wisconsin Power & Light, a subsidiary owned by Alliant Energy, have the chance to cripple renewable energy and increase the cost burden for utilities, 350 Wisconsin said.

“We are here today to let folks know that there are some proposals right now from our utilities, Madison Gas & Electric and Wisconsin Power & Light, that we are not in favor of,” 350 Wisconsin co-executive director Stephanie Robinson said. “They are proposing to raise everyone’s rates, climate justice and energy burden issues.”

The increase in rates could raise the energy burden, the percentage of gross household income spent on energy costs, over six percent on customers of Madison Gas & Electric and Wisconsin Power & Light. 

The issue is even more pressing for low-income households that have an energy burden of 8.6% — which is already above the consideration of energy burden, according to the Department of Energy. Moderate and higher income households typically sit at three percent. The difference in rates is attributed, often, to older appliances that are not energy efficient. 

Madison Gas & Electric aims to increase electric rates by 3.8%, for a total increase of $18.5 million, with a 4.84% increase for residential properties and 4.48% for small businesses. The rates for natural gas will be at an overall 2.56% at a net $6 million increase, with a 3.24% increase for residential properties and 0.84% for small businesses.

Madison Gas & Electric is trying to keep its profit rate of 9.8% with the increases. Last year, Madison Gas & Electric reported $111 million in profits.

Wisconsin Power & Light will increase residential rates by 8.4% in 2024.

“We have people in our community [who are] very low-income people who are already experiencing a severe energy burden. Raising rates is going to make that even worse for people already experiencing an energy burden,” Robinson said. “And that means that those folks have to make difficult choices about whether or not they’re going to keep their lights on or whether they’re going to put food on their table, whether they’re going to be able to afford health care.”

Net metering with Madison Gas & Electric and Wisconsin Power & Light, the other issue that 350 Wisconsin protested on, is set to change in mid-2024. Solar energy users would be provided an up-front, one-time credit for electricity delivered to Madison Gas & Electric and Wisconsin Power & Light.

350 Wisconsin is worried that the change in net metering could push people away from investing in solar energy and continue the use of nonrenewable energies furthering issues with climate change.

The Public Service Commission is currently taking comments for its upcoming meeting on Sept. 27.