Regulators approve $9 electric rate hike for northeastern, north-central Wisconsin customers

Hundreds of thousands of electric customers' bills will increase by $9 a month, as Wisconsin regulators on Thursday sided with utilities that say they need low-use customers to pay their fair share of maintaining infrastructure.

Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, which serves about 443,700 customers in northeastern and north-central Wisconsin, had asked regulators for permission to raise its monthly fixed rate from $10.44 to $25 and reduce variable usage fees by a couple cents per kilowatt hour.

The utility said the increase was needed to ensure consumers who use less energy pay their fair share for maintaining infrastructure, such as transmission poles and power plants. Consumer advocates have countered the increase is designed to recoup revenue lost through conservation and punish low-usage customers.

The state Public Service Commission voted 2-1 to approve the request but limited the monthly increase to $9 rather than the $15 jump the utility wanted. Commission chairman Phil Montgomery and Commissioner Ellen Nowak voted to approve the package. Commissioner Eric Callisto voted against it, PSC spokesman Nathan Conrad said.

Together, the fixed rate increase and the hourly usage fee dip will translate to roughly a 3 percent increase in the average residential consumer's annual electric bill, Conrad said.

WPSC spokesman Kerry Spees said in an email to The Associated Press that the utility felt the initial request was justified but called the PSC's ultimate decision "a big step in the right direction of getting our fixed costs better aligned with the fixed charge.

Kira Loehr, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, called the PSC's decision a mistake.

"Increasing fixed charges hurts our most vulnerable low and fixed income households and frustrates residential and small business customers' ability to lower their bills by using less energy," she said.

Madison Gas & Electric and We Energies also have asked the PSC to let them dramatically increase their monthly rates as well, saying they, too, need to make sure customers pay their share for maintaining infrastructure. The commission is expected to make a decision on those requests later this month.