The Final Legislative Report by James Buchen, WUI Executive Director

The Wisconsin Legislature adjourned the final floor period of the 2019-20 session in March, having addressed a relative handful of energy issues during the 2-year session. Governor Evers did call a Special Session of the Legislature to focus on a series of bills he had drafted to attend to Covid 19 Issues, but the Legislature adjourned the session without addressing any of them.

Legislation 2020
The following issues were considered by the legislature in 2020. WUI lobbied on each of these bills, however the session ended before any of them received a vote in both houses of the Legislature.

  • Wind and Solar Training Programs (SB 218/AB 237) These bills would have provided up to $1 million in matching grants to companies to cover the cost of training programs leading to a certification in solar and wind energy installation. The bills were intended to address an impending skill shortage of individuals trained to install and maintain renewable energy systems. WUI lobbied in support of these bills. Unfortunately, they died when the session ended.
  • Riparian Rights (AB 551/SB 501) These bills would have created riparian rights for landowners adjacent to flowages which would have had a significant impact on the ability of utilities to safely manage their dams and flowages. Currently the utility that built the dam and created the flowage controls the bed of the impoundment. These bills would have created public safety issues and conflicted with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requirements. WUI provided expert testimony at the public hearing on the bills and lobbied against their passage. AB 551 passed the Assembly but died when the Senate adjourned before taking it up.
  • PSC Reform Bills (AB 712/SB 689) PSC Reform Bills constitute the biennial PSC reform legislation that is developed collaboratively with the Public Service Commission (PSC), the utilities and the legislature. These bills would have eliminated various unnecessary filings, updated obsolete thresholds, adjusted procedures to improve the regulatory process and increased funding for the Citizens Utility Board. WUI lobbied in support of these bills. Unfortunately, they died when the session expired. These concepts are likely to be included in reform legislation that will be introduced in the 2021-22 Legislative Session.

Public Service Commission Issues
The Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) acted on several issues of interest to utility investors in 2020 including the following:

  • NSP (Xcel Energy) Electric Vehicle Service Program NSP developed an electric vehicle service program, designed to facilitate the use of both personal and commercial electric vehicles, for consideration by the Commission. The program allows for the installation of high-speed charging equipment with a variety of payment and ownership options. There is no cross subsidization with other customers under the plan. The equipment can be installed by the utility or an approved contractor at the customer’s option. The program also gives the customers special lower time of day rates if charging at night. WUI supported the NSP proposal with the Commission. The Commission approved the program as a pilot with some modifications.
  • Covid 19 Issues Earlier in the year, Governor Evers Issued Emergency Order #11 that temporarily suspended various Service Rules of the PSC. Based on the Governor’s order the PSC, in turn, ordered utilities to temporarily suspend disconnects and service refusals. The PSC order was extended until the normal disconnect moratorium took effect in November. As a result, a significant number of utility customers have chosen to delay paying their bills. Under a separate order the PSC is allowing the utilities to defer expenses associated with the disconnect moratorium. The deferral does not include declining sales revenue that may result from a slowing economy due to Covid. The PSC is expected to allow recovery of the deferred expenses, due to the moratorium, in rates after the crisis has passed.

2021-22 Legislative Session
The next session of the Legislature is likely to begin shortly after the first of the Year. Their usual pattern would see Budget deliberation in the spring with passage of a State Budget by June 30, 2021. Typically, the state legislature will hold a couple of weeks of floor sessions in the fall followed by a month of floor sessions in the spring of 2022. They usually adjourn the two-year biennium in late April or March of the second year.

The fall elections brought some changes to the makeup of the State Legislature. The Republicans increased their majority in the State Senate to 21 members with the Democrats holding 12 seats. In the Assembly, Republicans lost two seats but still hold a substantial majority with 61 seats to 38 seats for the Democrats. With Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald’s election to Congress, the State Senate elected new leaders. Senator Devin LeMahieu was elected Majority Leader to replace Fitzgerald and Senator Chris Kapenga was elected Senate President replacing Senator Roger Roth. Senator LeMahieu also appointed a new Finance Committee co-chair, Senator Howard Marklein, to replace Senator Alberta Darling. In the Assembly existing leaders were reelected, including Rep. Robin Vos as Speaker and Rep. Jim Steineke as Majority Leader. The Speaker appointed Rep. Mark Born to serve as Finance Committee Co-chair replacing Rep. John Nygren who resigned from the Assembly.

With continued conservative majorities in both houses it is not likely that there will be much controversial energy legislation advanced during the next legislative session. However, at the Public Service Commission, Evers appointees are now in the majority with the appointment of Tyler Huebner in March to replace Mike Huebsch, who was an appointee of Governor Walker’s. The new majority is likely to result in a new set of policy priorities for the Commission. WUI will continue to closely monitor the Commission and engage on issues of importance to investors.