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Alleviating Energy Burden: An Update on WEPCO 2022 Rate Case Involving Walnut Way

Updated: May 5, 2023

The WEPCO (We Energies) 2022 Rate Case involving Walnut Way has been a topic of discussion for some time now. While the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSCW) approved the rate hike in December 2022, PSC Docket 5-UR-110 70 required We Energies to work cooperatively with Commission staff along with Walnut Way and other interested parties in developing alternative low-income assistance programs, including a potential Percentage of Income Payment Pilot (PIPP) prior to the next rate case in 2024.



In an effort to comply with the PSCW's mandate, the PIPP working group at Walnut Way has been meeting weekly to prepare for the PSCW process, and the Enviornmental Justice and Infrastructure Initiative (EJII) steering committee has been directly engaging with PSCW staff.


The importance of this collaborative effort cannot be overstated, as it aims to alleviate the effects of high energy bills that are disproportionately felt by low-income households through Milwaukee. More than 200,000 We Energies customers in Milwaukee could be eligible for this program.


Thus far the Walnut Way, PIPP working group has outlined three key questions that the PIPP must address.

  1. First, what will the percentage be for the PIPP.

  2. Second what is the amount of contribution from each customer class (residential and business) to fund the PIPP pilot and will there be a cap on the residential class contribution?

  3. Third, how will participants be qualified (approved for participation), and is there a need for a state benefits clearinghouse for participation?

One of the main concerns during the rate case was how the energy burden threshold would be determined for eligibility. The PSCW has stated that it should fall at or under 6% of net monthly household income. This is a crucial aspect of the PIPP, as it ensures that those who are most vulnerable to the effects of high energy bills receive the necessary support.


Another concern that has been raised is whether We Energies will have to commit to a no-shutoff policy. This would ensure that no household is left without power due to an inability to pay their bills. While this has not been confirmed, it is something that the PSCW is considering as part of the PIPP.


It is important to note that the PIPP should work in two ways: as a ceiling to prevent erosion of a sustainable household income, and also as a means to shift behavior to stay within usage amounts to maintain the benefits of the program. This is particularly important when families have a smaller income but more dependence on energy usage in the home. In each case, a thorough assessment of the pros and cons, as well as the benefits of low-income programs, should be determined on a one-to-one individual household basis.


WE Energies may have gotten their double-digit increase in the 2022 rate case, but efforts are being made to address the impact it will have on low-income households. The PIPP working groups at Walnut Way and the EJII steering committee's engagement with the PSCW staff are advancing the work towards implementation in a transparent process to alleviate some of the energy burden felt by thousands in the Milwaukee.


2023 Moratorium Update

As the annual winter moratorium on utility disconnections recently ended, many families in Milwaukee are facing the possibility of losing their electricity due to nonpayment. We Energies has the legal authority to disconnect power for residential homes whose bills have not been paid. However, this has led to concerns among several community groups who are urging We Energies not to shut off utilities for nonpayment, citing the rising prices of basic necessities such as food and rent.

Last week, groups including North Side Rising, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Green Muslims, and Faith in Place, organized a protest outside the We Energies location at 3100 W. North Avenue. Their aim was to raise awareness of the ongoing issue and urge residents to "fight for our lights." The protest received support from passing cars whose drivers honked to show solidarity.


In addition to protesting, earlier in the day, the groups circulated an open letter addressed to the We Energies Board of Directors. The letter called for a commitment to decrease the number of electric shutoffs dramatically and for measures to reduce rates, weatherize old homes, and provide energy-efficient alternatives, such as solar power to Milwaukee homes.


With energy bills continuing to rise, the voices of these community groups need to be heard. With a concerted effort, perhaps the utility companies will consider initiatives to make access to power affordable and accessible for all.


Sources:

  1. Community group pushes back on We Energy's proposed - https://www.jsonline.com/story/money/business/energy/2022/10/19/walnut-way-community-group-pushes-back-we-energy-proposed-rate-increases-milwaukee-wisconsin/10449878002/

  2. Despite community objection, PSC commissioners allow - https://www.wuwm.com/2022-12-02/despite-community-objection-psc-commissioners-allow-we-energies-to-raise-customer-rates

  3. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=newssearch&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjKobv9lcf-AhUtmokEHZL_CxcQxfQBKAB6BAg2EAE&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.jsonline.com%2Fstory%2Fmoney%2Fbusiness%2Fenergy%2F2022%2F10%2F20%2Fwe-energies-doubles-requested-electric-bill-hike-for-residential-customers%2F69574486007%2F&usg=AOvVaw13pPYFU6CyG9rQXkdtX-lS

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