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2017 – 2018 Legislative Update

The Wisconsin Legislature concluded its last floor period of the year in mid-November and is not expected to be back in session until late January 2018. The Legislature usually concludes it’s work during the second year of the biennium in early spring – March or April, and adjourns so that members can begin campaigning for the fall elections. So far this session, the Legislature has not taken action on any truly high-profile energy or utility issues. While some significant bills have been introduced, they have seen little activity to date. Other less significant matters, that address various minor utility issues, have been addressed by the legislature and signed into law by the Governor.

These circumstances reflect a continuation of the positive political climate that utilities have enjoyed in Wisconsin in recent years – no major legislative threats or challenging new regulations to address.
Outlined below are some of the key issues on which WUI is engaged or is monitoring

The Wisconsin Solar Energy Industries Association petitioned the PSC for a declaratory ruling allowing its members to install electric generating equipment at the residences or facilities of customers, and sell the member generated energy to those customers, outside of the existing utility regulatory framework. The utilities oppose this petition, because of consumer protection and potential subsidy issues. The Commission is currently considering whether to take up the petition and open a docket on the matter.

AB 42/
Makes various changes to the process of adopting and enforcing administrative rules. One provision would require the Legislature to vote to approve any rule that has compliance costs that exceed $10 million. Utilities were concerned that this provision could potentially interfere with implementation of required EPA regulations. The bill was amended to exempt federal air rules from this requirement.
It subsequently passed both houses and was signed into law by the Governor as WI Act 57

AB198 / SB115

Allows the Public Service Commission (PSC) to unilaterally modify or terminate existing leased generation contracts entered into by public utilities and their affiliates. Leased generation is used as a means of helping finance major generation infrastructure improvements. Modifying or terminating exiting leased generation contracts could be financially detrimental to both utilities and utility shareholders. Utilities and WUI strongly oppose these bills. They were the main subject of lobbying at the WUI Legislative Day in 2017.
So far, the legislature has taken no action on either bill.

AB 357/SB 285

Authorizes the board of directors of a corporation to allow shareholders of the corporation to participate in shareholder meetings by remote communication, without being physically present. Utilities supported these bills.
SB 285 passed both houses and was signed into law as WI Act 79.

AB 532/SB 475

Transfers various duties and powers from the Department of Administration (DOA) to the Public Service Commission (PSC). Makes changes to Wisconsin energy policy and laws governing public utilities. The utilities support these bills. AB 532 passed the Assembly and has been referred to the Senate Utilities Committee.

  • Stray Voltage – As introduced, the Budget Bill would have eliminated the stray voltage program administered jointly by the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). Utilities were concerned that elimination of this program would leave farmers with stray voltage issues, few productive options when seeking relief. As a result, the legislature restored one position at the PSC and one veterinarian at DATCP along with appropriate support, to continue the program. These changes remained in the bill as signed by the Governor.
  • Intervenor Compensation Funding – As introduced, the Budget Bill increased funding for the intervenor compensation program that helps support consumer groups that participate in rate cases before the Public Service Commission (PSC). Utilities believe that robust intervenor participation in rate cases, helps develop a more complete and balanced record at the Commission, which mitigates against judicial review of Commission decisions. The Legislature approved the Governor’s request for an increase of $742,600 in intervenor compensation over the biennium, which remained in the bill as signed by the Governor.

Budget Restores Funding for Citizens Utility Board Advocacy

The Wisconsin state budget, recently signed into law, restores in part a funding cut enacted by the
Legislature in the 2015-17 budget. That cut led to cutbacks at the Citizens Utility Board, a residential
customer advocacy group in existence since 1979.

The Legislature endorsed Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to boost funding for intervenors to $742,500 a year after the Legislature cut the funding from more than $1 million a year to $371,000 per year in 2015. The funding increase was supported by state utilities.

CUB said it was appreciative of the support it received from a variety of energy industry stakeholders and for the testimony of PSC Chair Ellen Nowak before the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

Legislative Update

The 2017-18 Legislature convened its first regular session in January of this year.
In February, Governor Walker introduced his Biennial Budget proposal (AB 64/SB 30)
which governs the state’s taxing and spending for the next two years beginning in July
2017. The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has begun its review of the proposal
and the Budget is expected to occupy most of the Legislature’s time and attention until
the bill finally passes in late June.

Of significant interest to utility shareholders, legislation has been introduced by Senator
Stroebel and Representative Ott (SB 115) that will allow the Wisconsin Public Service
Commission (PSC) to retroactively modify or terminate, existing and previously approved,
leased generation contracts. Currently, under such contracts, public utilities are able to
lease electrical generating facilities from their affiliates. This type of financing arrangement
has been used in Wisconsin to facilitate the investment of billions of dollars in new generation
facilities in recent years.

Under current law, the PSC may modify or terminate such contracts only as specified in the
contract itself, or the original order approving the original contract. Under the provisions of
SB115, the Public Service Commission could unilaterally invalidate or modify these contracts
which could significantly impact a utilities rate of return and dividend payout.

The sponsors of the bill believe that modifying these existing contracts will force a
reduction in electric rates. However, the current rates are necessary to generate a fair rate
of return for utility shareholders based on the recent investments Wisconsin utilities have
made in new electric generation.

If this proposal makes investment in Wisconsin utility stock less attractive for many small
investors, it will become more difficult for Wisconsin utilities to raise the necessary capital
to maintain and upgrade our electrical system. In the long run, this hurts consumers
who will have to pay even higher rates to finance the additional borrowing and internally
generated capital needed to replace their equity investment.

Investors seeking stability and reliability have the choice of investing in a wide range
of electric utilities across the country. To the extent that Wisconsin utilities become a
less attractive investment option, shareholders can go elsewhere, while consumers in
Wisconsin are simply left with higher electric rates.

Wisconsin utilities, WUI and many key legislative leaders have already expressed concern
over this bill. You can add your voice of opposition by attending WUI’s Legislative Day in
Madison on May 24, 2017.

Announcing the WUI 2017 Day at the Capitol! Registration Now Open.




Click Here to Register

You’re Invited to
Get Plugged In!

This is your opportunity to let your representatives know what is important to you as a Utility Investor! You will hear from legislative leaders about the current issues affecting your investments, have opportunities to meet with your representatives at the Capitol, and share lunch with your fellow WUI members at the newly renovated Park Inn Hotel (formerly Inn on the Park).

9:30 am Registration
10:00 am Meeting  & Guest Speaker
11:15  am Scheduled Legislative Meetings
12:30 pm Lunch
12:45 pm Luncheon Speaker
1:20 pm Wrap up & Home

Governor Scott Walker
Commissioner Mike Huebsch

You can drive to Madison or ride one of the comfortable coach buses provided by WUI.  (Click on registration link to learn more.)
Valet parking is available
at the Inn on the Park.



The Wisconsin Legislature adjourned the regular 2015-16
Session in mid-March skipping the scheduled April floor
period. The closing days of the session saw a flurry of
activity with literally hundreds of bills passing in the closing
days of the floor period. This included action on a number
of bills of interest to utilities and the energy industry.

Outlined below is a summary of the legislation WUI actively
supported during the session which passed both houses
and were signed into law by the Governor.

Weight Limits, AB 122 – This bill exempts utility vehicles
from seasonal weight limits on Class B highways when they
are being utilized to restore utility power after an outage.
The bill was amended to include utility contractors operating
under the same circumstances.
Natural Gas Easements, AB 319 – This bill will require
local governments to grant easements to property under
their jurisdiction to a natural gas utility if the Public Service
Commission finds it’s in the public interest and issues a
“certificate of authority.” The bill incorporates the same
timelines and arbitration procedures that exist under current
law for electric transmission lines.
Nuclear Moratorium, AB 384 – This bill eliminates the
requirements in current law that,
a) there is an operational nuclear waste disposal facility in
the United States and
b) the PSC finds it to be “economically advantageous” in
order to approve the construction of a proposed nuclear
power plant in Wisconsin. These provisions served as a
virtual moratorium on new nuclear power. Passage of this
bill will allow nuclear power to be considered as an option
in the future.
Environmental Liability, SB 545 – This bill allows the
DNR to grant exemptions from ongoing environmental
liability under the Voluntary Party Liability Exemption
program to site remediation projects where the
contaminants are found in lake or river sediment. Site
remediation of old manufactured gas plants often involve
the clean-up of river sediment.
PSC Reform Bill, AB 804 – This bill will make a number
of technical changes to update obsolete statutes, eliminate
duplicative requirements and generally streamline
Specific items of interest to electric utilities include:

Eliminate Double Collections: The bill clarifies that the 1.2
percent of utility revenues collected from customers to fund
Focus on Energy applies to retail electric sales only.

Eliminate Unnecessary Filings: The bill eliminates the
requirement to file an annual SO2 emission compliance plan
with the Public Service Commission and the DNR.

Permit Streamlining: The bill allows the DNR to issue
permits with respect to transmission siting prior to final
approval of the project by PSC; prohibits the DNR from
requiring the relocation of facilities as a permit condition
when granting permits for the purposes of maintaining or
repairing utility facilities; and exempts projects involving
the rebuild of existing transmission lines from the
requirement to obtain a “certification or approval” from
the PSC under certain circumstances.

Digger’s Hotline: The bill shifts enforcement of the
Digger’s Hotline law from local district attorneys to the
Public Service Commission.


The Wisconsin Assembly concluded what is expected to be
its final floor session on February 18, 2016. The State
Senate plans to return in mid-March for its last floor session
before adjourning for the year. The frenzy of legislative
activity in February included action on a number of energy

The Senate approved AB 384 that will lift the so-called
nuclear moratorium in Wisconsin. It had passed the
Assembly earlier this year. This legislation eliminates
significant legal hurdles that would have all but prohibited
the siting of a new nuclear plant in Wisconsin should one
be proposed in the future. The bill is awaiting the
Governor’s signature.

The State Assembly also passed a utility regulatory reform
measure, AB 804, which includes provisions streamlining
transmission siting and certain environmental regulatory
processes. This bill is expected to receive Senate approval
when it reconvenes in mid-March.

On the legal front, the U.S. Supreme Court recently stayed
the implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan,
pending resolution of the underlying legal challenge brought
by 27 states including Wisconsin. This federal regulation
would require utilities to significantly reduce carbon dioxide
emission by 2030.  The State’s challenge is currently
pending before the District of Columbia Circuit Court of
Appeals which is set to hear oral arguments June 2 of this
year. The case is likely to be ultimately decided by the
Supreme Court in 2017 at the earliest.

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