MILWAUKEE — Utility companies across Wisconsin and power customers have been dealing with a one two punch of storms. The race has been on for utilities like WE Energies to get everyone’s power back on.
“We were able to get people restored in under 24 hours from Monday or just around 24 hours. And we are throwing everything at it right now here in southeastern Wisconsin. We think we are in pretty good shape from those storms last night. The Fox Valley and Green Bay, that is going to be a little bit longer clean up and the people up there could have a few multi-day restorations,” said Brendan Conway, spokesperson for WE Energies.
WE Energies says their average response time to an outage is two hours. The average response time for all utilities in Wisconsin is more than five hours with a major event like a storm, according to the Electric Utility Performance report. That makes Wisconsin 43rd slowest in the country in terms of response times. The Wisconsin Citizen Utility Board executive director Tom Content says that is a concern.
“I think what the the whole utility system nationally and in Wisconsin has a need to respond to some of these more extreme weather events that we're seeing. On the whole, utility systems need to reevaluate what what their approach is,” said Content.
WE Energies is currently asking for a rate hike that includes spending $700 million dollar over the next 10 years for improvement. Conway says it is to strengthen and harden the grid against future storms. According to WE Energies, it would improve response times, put 800 miles of power lines underground, and install 1,500 reclosers.
“It used to be a long line that would serve 2000 people. If there was a power outage on that line, all 2,000 people were out. Now, there is equipment where you can segment that. So, what is does, it basically shuts down the part that is damaged and keep power for the other part,” said Conway.
Content say the rate increase will likely be 6 percent for residential customers. That could mean an extra $6 a month on a bill, but that could be higher because of rising energy prices. CUB has yet to take a position on the proposal, but they say they are concerned about the high energy prices overall in Wisconsin.
“It is something that needs to be evaluated, because when we're paying as a state, the second highest rates in the Midwest,” said Content. “When you buy a premium product, you expect premium service.”
This rate hike is still under review by Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission. There will be a public comment hearing on the hike likely in the fall, but nothing has been scheduled yet.