Foxconn Project Prompts We Energies to Move up Plans for Natural Gas Upgrades

WE Energies plans to accelerate its plans for natural gas upgrades to accommodate the Foxconn development in Racine County. A $140 million natural gas project is planned for the area around Foxconn, WEC Energy Group chairman and chief executive officer Gale Klappa announced on May 1.

“Our natural gas project is another source of reliability to existing customers in southeast Wisconsin,” said Amy Jahns, spokeswoman for We Energies. “This project was planned prior to the Foxconn announcement. We recently accelerated our timetable for this project to coordinate with the Wisconsin DOT road work being planned for the area near Foxconn.”

Wisconsin Electric Power Co., a subsidiary of WEC doing business as We Energies, submitted plans this week to the state Public Service Commission for a nearly $32 million project to install 8.8 miles of distribution main primarily along Highway KR from Meachem Road to a little more than three-quarters of a mile west of Interstate 94.

We Energies Rate-Freeze Plan Wins Regulatory Approval

We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service Corp. won final state regulatory approval for a proposal to freeze business and residential rates for two years in what the company calls its response to complaints from industrial customers that electric rates in Wisconsin are too high.

The public utility companies owned by WEC Energy Group Inc. filed a proposed settlement in April to avoid the cost and effort of a full review by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.  At the time, the companies said 21 industrial customers signed statements backing the rate proposal.

The rate freeze adds two years to an existing two-year flatrate period that runs through 2017. The settlement also makes permanent cheaper wholesale rates that large industrial customers pay for expanded use of power from We Energies. The Public Service Commission has approved a draft order approving the company proposal for 2018 and 2019. The commission in August had voted to support the plan from the WEC Energy companies.

The PSC draft order determined that freezing We Energies base rates through 2019 was reasonable and in the public interest. The order also states that it’s reasonable to authorize We Energies to
extend and expand the market-based pricing for electric service at large commercial and industrial customers.

A WEC Energy spokeswoman said company executives are pleased with the commission’s action.

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.

ROBERTS APPOINTED PSC COMMISSIONER

Gov. Scott Walker recently announced that Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) Secretary Lon Roberts will replace current Public Service Commissioner Phil Montgomery whose term on PSC ends next month. Montgomery had served 12 years in the Wisconsin Assembly before his six-year term on PSC.  Roberts, Montgomery’s replacement, was a partner and president at a law firm in Wausau and served as chair of the State of Wisconsin Investment Board before becoming DFI secretary in February 2016.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY STUDY

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission recently commissioned a study of Wisconsin’s  energy efficiency efforts to date and the potential for additional consumption reductions that could be achieved in the future by implementing additional efficiency measures. The study will provide estimates of energy efficiency potential through 2030. They intend to collect data in an effort to evaluate the success of current efforts, estimate the impact of building energy codes, and estimate the energy savings potential for a comprehensive list of potential programs and measures. The results will be used to determine the appropriate level of state investment in energy efficiency programs in the future as well as provide guidance on program design.

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