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"Crossing the Rubicon: We Energies' Controversial Plan and Its Impact on Milwaukee Customers"

Updated: Feb 22

We Energies, Wisconsin's largest utility company, is making a move that feels eerily like history repeating itself. Their latest plan involves converting all their coal plants to natural gas, a strategy strikingly similar to the ill-fated "Power the Future Plan" from two decades ago. That venture resulted in an over-reliance on coal and left ratepayers in Milwaukee footing the bill for retired plants, all to ensure We Energies' shareholders got their return.

Now, with a proposed investment of over $1.5 billion, the company's plan to repower all their coal plants with natural gas once again raises significant concerns. Adding fuel to the fire, We Energies has requested approval from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to start earning returns on an initial investment of $200 million, even before establishing the need for these projects.

If approved by the WPSC, this could mean Milwaukee ratepayers bearing the burden of another costly project without independent analysis or proven need. In the past two years, We Energies has increased gas and electric rates by over 14.4% for residential customers, sparking significant backlash across Milwaukee neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee customers are also shouldering the cost of transitioning to renewable energy sources like solar power, necessary to meet environmental goals and cater to large customers like Microsoft. While this transition is crucial for reducing carbon emissions and moving towards a sustainable future, it also comes at a steep cost.

Critics argue that We Energies seems more interested in constructing new plants, which generate guaranteed profits, rather than focusing on reasonable solutions like energy efficiency, community solar, and income-based rates. We Energies is spending large amounts of cash lobbying the Wisconsin legislature for: SB 481. The Bill would allow We Energies "First right of Refusal" to build natural-gas plants without seeking a competitive bid and or external oversight.

"In plain terms it's a move by Wisconsin utilities (led by ATC (which is majority owned by WEC/We Energies) and Xcel) to prevent competitive bidding on who will build and own billions of dollars' worth of new power lines that are to be built as part of the clean energy transition."

"They are also giving big in terms of campaign contributions to legislators, according to a report last week from Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. ATC, Xcel and WEC Energy Group were the biggest corporate donors in the state."

This heavy investment in natural gas doesn't solve the underlying issues and could lead to an irreversible situation, a point of no return, or in other words, crossing the Rubicon.

In essence, Milwaukee customers find themselves facing three different cost impacts: the stranded assets from old coal closures, the transition to renewable energy to meet environmental goals and serve large customers, and a proposed overinvestment in natural gas that doesn't solve the problem but creates a Rubicon event from which we cannot turn back. It's crucial to consider whether these decisions truly serve the best interests of Wisconsin and its residents or merely protect shareholder returns.

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