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Are customers willing to pay a higher electric bill for fewer outages?

Posted at 6:42 PM, Apr 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-30 02:14:46-04

MILWAUKEE - — We Energies is seeking approval for another rate hike and TMJ4's new Lighthouse team is shining a light on your money.

Andrea Albers is on the team, and is looking at how much your electric bill could go up over the next two years, and why.

She found the proposed rate increase is tied, partially, to an aggressive disease killing millions of trees across the Midwest. Andrea also met with a Glendale mother who says her electric bill already takes a big bite out of the family's budget.

Energy rates are a concern for Cherie Purdy. The mother of 4 says her bill keeps going up, "Seven years ago it was about $170, and now we're up to about $240," she explained.

Purdy is willing to pay more because her son relies on a medically necessary pump that requires an electric charge, but says more frequent power outages have put the whole family on edge.

"It got to the point where it was frequent enough that they (the kids) were having a hard time dealing with it," she said. "Even now, occasionally, they'll get nervous if there's a flicker of the lights."

Cheri Purdy
Cheri Purdy, WE Energies customer.

The family's anxiety is tied to this fact — We Energies says that in the last five years alone, there have been eight major outages triggered by severe weather. Compare that to just six in the previous 43 years. Each time more than 100,000 WE Energies customers were in the dark.

We Energies major outages GFX

A snowstorm in January of 2024 cut power to 233,000 customers. The company believes it was the largest outage in its history.

Now, the utility plans to spend $25 million this year to speed up the removal of dead and dying ash trees that can topple in severe weather and threaten power lines.

"We cannot control Mother Nature, heck, we can't even control the Emerald Ash Borer issue that has been ravaging Wisconsin," said Brendan Conway, spokesperson for WE Energies. "But what we can control is limiting the impact that disease and severe weather has on our power lines."

Brendan Conway
Brendan Conway, WE Energies.

It's why Conway says We Energies wants to bump its forestry budget to $44 million in 2025 and 2026. That's baked into a new rate adjustment application in front of the Public Service Commission.

View the rate adjustment application below:

The utility is asking for a total of $418 million from customers over two years. If approved, a typical residential customer could expect to pay about 15% more by 2026, adding an extra 17 to 19 dollars to their electric bill.

We Energies bill

While a majority of the potential rate increase is driven by renewable energy and natural gas projects, the utility says the overall goal is to strengthen the power grid and prevent outages in a world where we are almost constantly plugged in.

"Charging your smartphone, your kids may bring home Chromebooks to do homework on, you may be working from home a couple of days a week, right? You want that power," said Conway. "So we're taking these steps to make sure the lights are going to stay on as much as possible."

Consumer groups, including the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin, are asking the Public Service Commission to look for all possible savings to protect customers as the rate increase proposal moves forward.

The Public Service Commission is expected to hold hearings to get public input on the rate increases later this year before coming to a final decision.

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