- CUB Victories: 2010
CUB Saves Ratepayers $82 Million
In 2010, CUB intervened in several cases at the Public Service Commission (PSC) in which utilities were seeking rate hikes or permission to build new power plants. We were successful in rolling back these requests, saving you $82 million on your electricity bills.
These cases are described below; the numbers in parentheses are the "docket" numbers that identify the case at the PSC. You can view all the documents, including CUB's expert testimony and legal briefs, submitted in each case by clicking on the docket number which will take you to search area of the PSC's website. Enter the docket number in the boxes at "Utility/Docket" to see the documents in the case
Xcel Energy, Gasifier at Bayfront Power Plant (Docket 4220-CE-169)
On February 23, 2009, Xcel filed an application to add a biomass gasifier to one of the units at the Bayfront facility near Ashland so that it could burn biogas instead of coal.
CUB intervened to make sure the cost of the project was reasonable. During the proceeding, CUB discovered a study written by a consultant hired by Xcel concluding that the proposed project may not work at the size and scope envisioned. CUB also unearthed information indicating that Xcel had underestimated the cost for the project.
The PSC approved the project on December 22, 2009. Although the PSC determined that the project was technically feasible, the PSC agreed with CUB to limit the cost-overrun collar to 10 percent, rather than 20 percent sought by Xcel. In addition, the PSC agreed with CUB and did not provide Xcel with a guarantee of cost recovery should the project cost more than the approved amount or should it not function properly. These actions protected ratepayers from paying millions of dollars for cost overruns for a project that may not work.
In May 2010, Xcel informed the PSC that the cost of the proposed project had increased from $58 million to $79.5 million. The utility canceled the project in November 2010 due to these higher than expected costs. CUB saved ratepayers more than $58 million on this too-expensive project.
Wisconsin Power & Light, Rates for 2011 (Docket 6680-UR-117)
On April 30, 2010, WPL requested to re-open the rate case proceeding held in 2009. WPL requested increasing electric rates by $35.4 million (3.6%), with the new rates to take effect in January 2011.
CUB intervened in the case and challenged the intent by WPL to charge ratepayers for its Bent Tree wind farm, a 200 megawatt facility in Minnesota. CUB and the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group (WIEG) discovered that WPL had been hiding the fact Bent Tree would not be able to deliver power to Wisconsin customers because of congested transmission lines. WPL then used inappropriate legal tactics to try to keep CUB and WIEG from bringing this information forward. CUB and WIEG fought to have their case heard and urged the PSC to prevent WPL from raising its rates to recover all of the costs for its Bent Tree wind farm.
The PSC approved an electric rate increase of $8.2 million, or 0.8 percent. The PSC agreed with CUB and WIEG that WPL should be penalized for hiding the information about transmission congestion and refused to allow WPL to collect $3.2 million for Bent Tree costs from ratepayers. The PSC also noted that the utility inappropriately withheld information regarding the Bent Tree project, as CUB and WIEG had argued.
Wisconsin Public Service Corp., Rates for 2011 (Docket 6690-UR-120)
On April 1, 2010, WPS requested to increase electric rates by $64.2 million (6.9%) and natural gas rates by $5 million (1.2%). The new rates would take effect on January 1, 2011.
CUB intervened in the case and urged the PSC to reduce WPS's profits. CUB also reviewed the changes WPS wanted to make to the "decoupling mechanism," which would allow the utility to charge higher rates.
CUB also explored why WPS was trying to charge customers for costs associated with unexpected shut downs of the new Weston 4 coal-fired power plant. The boiler tubes of the plant have been clogging up due to "exfoliation" of material inside the tubes. The clogged tubes have forced periodic shut downs of the plant, and WPS was trying to charge customers for make-up electricity WPS had to purchase on the spot market.
The PSC issued its decision in this case on December 16, 2010. The PSC accepted many of CUB's recommendations and reduced WPS's increase in electric rates to $8 million, or about 1 percent. The PSC agreed with CUB and lowered WPS' return on equity (profit) to 10.3 percent, which means that ratepayers will pay $13.3 million less than requested by WPS.
Unfortunately, the PSC did not find WPS "imprudent" for the clogging problems at the Weston 4 power plant, as CUB had recommended. Had the PSC followed our advice, ratepayers would have saved another $4.5 million.
Madison Gas & Electric, Rates for 2011 (3270-UR-117)
On April 22, 2010, MGE requested to increase electric rates by $32.8 million (9.4%), with the new rates to take effect in January 2011.
MGE proposed to increase the customer charge for residential service from the current rate of $8.70 per month to $9.50, an increase of 9.2%. The PSC agreed with CUB and kept the customer charge at the current rate of $8.70 per month. Keeping the customer charge at the current level will provide more appropriate price signals to customers, and mitigate rate impacts for customers that use modest amounts of electricity.
MGE tried to have its customers pay for producing electricity at the West Campus Cogeneration Facility when it was not economical to do so. This occurs when MGE is required to provide steam to the University of Wisconsin, but the electricity that is also produced has to be sold at a loss. The PSC agreed with CUB and reduced rates by $1.8 million.
At CUB's urging, the PSC reduced MGE's return on equity (profits) to 10.3 percent, a savings of $500,000.
The PSC issued its decision in this case on December 22, 2011: electricity rates for MGE's customers were increased by about $8 million, or 2.3 percent.Altogether, CUB's intervention reduced rates by about $2.3 million.
Public Service Commission, Quadrennial Planning Process for Energy Efficiency (05-GF-191)
On October 23, 2009, the PSC opened this investigation in order to establish goals and funding levels for Focus on Energy, Wisconsin's statewide energy efficiency program. CUB participated in this docket to make sure appropriate goals and funding were established to support Focus on Energy and its energy efficiency programs.
CUB, Clean Wisconsin and RENEW Wisconsin submitted joint comments to the PSC in November 2009, June 2010, and September 2010, providing our recommendations for funding levels and policies that would allow Focus on Energy to make additional investments in energy efficiency.
Since 2001, Focus on Energy has helped more than 2 million Wisconsin residents and businesses save nearly $2 billion on their energy bills, above and beyond the cost of the Focus on Energy program itself. Focus on Energy also created the equivalent of over 2,400 full-time jobs since 2001.
In November 2010, the PSC sent a proposal to the Legislature's Joint Committee on Finance to greatly increase the funding levels for Focus on Energy. The PSC's proposal, strongly supported by CUB, Clean Wisconsin, and RENEW, would nearly double the funding for Focus on Energy for 2011 through 2014. The Joint Committee on Finance, approved the new funding levels for Focus on Energy in mid-December 2010.