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Environmental groups sue PSC over change to Madison utility’s fixed charge

By: Michaela Paukner, [email protected]//January 28, 2021//

Environmental groups sue PSC over change to Madison utility’s fixed charge

By: Michaela Paukner, [email protected]//January 28, 2021//

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Two environmental groups are suing the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin over a settlement agreement that they say harms low-income customers and discourages energy-conservation efforts.

Sierra Club and Vote Solar filed a petition for judicial review of agency action on Wednesday in the Dane County Circuit Court. The petition accuses the Public Service Commission, the agency that regulates Wisconsin public utilities, of unlawfully approving a settlement agreement in December to set new utility rates for Madison Gas and Electric Company customers.

The groups are arguing that the PSC violated state statutes by failing to hold a public hearing on the company’s electric rates and approving rate schedules with high fixed charges. The fixed charges are set independent of how much energy a customer uses, a system the groups say imposes high costs on low-income customers and discourages investments in energy efficiency and solar panels.

The petition said the commission’s decision also allowed Madison Gas and Electric Company to appropriate more than $20 million owed to ratepayers as additional utility revenue.

Elizabeth Ward, director of the Sierra Club Wisconsin Chapter, said the Madison Gas and Electric’s “inequitable rates” are undermining progress in the fight against climate change and existing economic disparities.

The lawsuit asks the court to set aside or modify the PSC’s December decision and remand it with instructions. It also wants the court to enjoin the PSC from approving rate increases without a hearing, approving fixed charges without first undergoing rulemaking and approving utility pricing that fails to maximize energy conservation and efficiency.

Attorney David C. Bender of Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization with an office in Madison, is representing Sierra Club and Vote Solar.

The Public Service Commission declined to comment on the petition. Jerel Ballard, communications director of the PSC, said the organization does not comment on pending litigation.


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