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RENEWABLE DEREGULATION

by James Buchen, WUI Executive Director

Legislation has been introduced (SB 490, AB 527, SB 702) that will exempt entities that own or operate renewable generating facilities from traditional utility regulation. The effect of these bills will be to shift significant costs to nonparticipating electric customers and give access to Wisconsin’s energy grid to developers of such projects at no cost to them.

Under current law, persons that provide energy to the public, directly or indirectly, are considered utilities subject to regulation by the PSC. This regulatory scheme is designed to protect consumer interests while providing reliable energy at a reasonable cost. The system also serves to minimize the potential for one group of residential rate payers to be forced to subsidize the price of energy for another group of residential rate payers. In addition, the system ensures that utilities have the necessary capital to finance the construction and maintenance of a large scale, reliable, low cost energy system by providing investors with a fair rate of return on their investments.

Wisconsin utilities are committed to prudently expanding renewable energy generation including substantial investment in solar and wind energy. 



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ALLIANT ENERGY ANNOUNCES COMMUNITY MICROGRID

Alliant Energy has announced plans for a community microgrid in Richland County, which will help improve reliability for some customers. The community-based microgrid is set to be built in the Village of Boaz as part of the company’s efforts to advance its Clean Energy Blueprint,  said the director of Engineering and Customer Solutions.

Alliant Energy noted the project is the first of its kind for them, involving the construction of a small-scale power grid. It will be able to be disconnected from a traditional grid to operate independently in the event of an outage or service disruption. When it is disconnected, Alliant Energy stated that it will serve customers with power from other sources such as a battery, wind, solar or a combination. The site will be built along County Road E in the Dayton Township and will provide for about 120 customers. It is expected to be completed by the spring of 2022.

REGULATORS APPROVE $370M NATURAL GAS STORAGE PROJECT

Wisconsin utility regulators have approved plans for a $370 million natural gas storage project in southeastern Wisconsin designed to provide fuel when demand spikes. We Energies and Wisconsin Gas say the dual facilities in Jefferson and Walworth counties are needed to improve reliability and resilience in the future.

WEC ENDING COAL USE, WILL SHIFT NEWER UNITS TO NATURAL GAS BY 2035

Three months after WEC Energy Group executives said they were exploring the feasibility of adding natural gas capabilities at the company’s newer Oak Creek coal-fired plants, the company has announced a plan to eliminate coal as an energy source by 2035. The announcement came during a call with the investment community in November of 2021.

WEC Energy Group has reduced carbon dioxide emissions more than 50 percent below 2005 levels. By making operating refinements, retiring less efficient generating units, and executing an aggressive capital plan, WEC committed to a 60 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2025, 80 percent reduction by the end of 2030 and phasing out coal by 2035. WEC Energy Group’s Chairman, Gale Klappa, told analysts the newer Oak Creek units running on natural gas “will remain a key part of  our fleet for many, many years to come.”

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ONION RIVER SOLAR PROJECT TRANSITIONS TO ALLIANT ENERGY

Alliant Energy has reached a major milestone as it acquired ownership of the 150-megawatt Onion River Solar Project, located in the town of Holland in Sheboygan County. The Onion River Solar Project is the sixth and final project Alliant Energy acquired as part of an approved filing with the Public Service Commission to add 675 MW of solar energy generation in Wisconsin. Alliant Energy acquired the project from Ranger Power and D. E. Shaw Renewable Investments (DESRI) and is contracting with a subsidiary of DESRI to construct the project.

This 1,000-acre, 150-MW solar project will create approximately 250 jobs. Construction will begin in the spring with a targeted completion date in the fall of 2023. Once operational, the project will generate enough electricity to power nearly 40,000 Wisconsin homes. Combined, the town and county will receive an estimated $600,000 in annual shared revenues for the next 30 years to be used as determined by local communities and their elected officials.

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Happy New Year! Coming in 2022

WE WISH YOU A HEALTHY, HAPPY, AND PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR!
- WUI BOARD OF DIRECTORS - 
♦COMING IN 2022 ♦

  • Watch for your invitation to attend a Regional Meeting near you.
  • 6 WUI Newsletters (one every other month) will be mailed to those who prefer a printed copy.
  • WUI will send 12 monthly email newsletters (an increase of 2 per year).
  • Receive more up-to-date information about the companies you are invested in.

DON’T MISS OUT!
If you do not currently receive WUI emails, please send your name and email to [email protected]  to be added to the monthly email list. Or Click here to add yourself! 

EARNINGS | DIVIDENDS

XCEL ENERGY THIRD-QUARTER 2021 EARNINGS REPORTED
Xcel Energy has reported 2021 third-quarter GAAP and ongoing earnings of $609 million, or $1.13 per share, compared with $603 million, or $1.14 per share, in the same period in 2020. Earnings reflect higher electric and natural gas margins and lower operating and maintenance (O&M) expenses, which were offset by additional depreciation and lower allowance for funds used during construction.

Xcel Energy posted strong year-to-date results, and is narrowing its 2021 earnings guidance to $2.94 to $2.98 per share. It is also issuing an updated capital forecast of $26 billion for 2022 to 2026, which will provide significant benefits to customers, help the company achieve its system goals by 2050, and drive rate base growth of 6.5 percent. In addition, the company is initiating 2022 earnings guidance of $3.10 to $3.20 per share, which is consistent with long-term growth objectives.

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RATE HIKES

REGULATORS APPROVE RATE HIKES FOR ALLIANT, XCEL CUSTOMERS
Wisconsin regulators have approved rate increases for two utilities serving about a quarter of the state’s customers. Alliant Energy’s electricity rates will rise 6.2 percent in 2022 and stay flat the next year under the plan approved by the Public Service Commission. Gas rates will rise 8.6 percent next year.

Xcel Energy electricity rates will rise more than ten percent next year and at least another 2.5 percent in 2023 depending on fuel prices. Gas rates will go up 8.4 percent in 2022 and another 2.3 percent the next year.

For Alliant customers, that will add about $10 a month to the typical residential electricity bill and about $4 a month to the average gas bill in 2022, according to PSC estimates. Xcel customers can expect to pay about $5.63 more per month for electricity and $4.63 more for gas next year. The utility also agreed to reduce the current $17 flat monthly fee by $1 each year, something WEC Energy Group has proposed to keep rates flat next year for customers of We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service Corp.


REGULATORS APPROVE MGE RATE HIKE
Madison Gas and Electric customers will pay slightly more for the electricity they use next year under a plan approved by regulators. But in a win for consumer advocates, the utility will lower the flat monthly fees that disproportionately affect those who use the least energy.

In split votes, the Public Service Commission agreed to approve a deal negotiated between MGE, consumer and environmental organizations and UW-Madison. The average residential customer will pay about $7.50 more per month for electricity and gas service next year, according to PSC estimates.

The new rates represent an increase of about 5.2% to electricity base revenues and 2.2% for gas, driven by the utility’s investments in an Iowa County solar farm, new billing software and improvements to the gas distribution system. Fuel costs are expected to increase by about $15 million. Savings from the 2017 federal tax cuts, which had been used to offset spending increases in recent years, have been exhausted, though the utility agreed to trim operating expenses by about $1.1 million.

HEATING BILLS COULD JUMP AS MUCH AS 54 PERCENT THIS WINTER

With prices surging worldwide for heating oil, natural gas and other fuels, the U.S. government said it expects households to see their heating bills jump as much as fifty-four percent compared to last winter. Nearly half the homes in the U.S. use natural gas for heat, and they could pay an average $746 this winter, thirty percent more than a year ago. Those in the Midwest could get particularly pinched, with bills up an estimated forty-nine percent and this could be the most expensive winter for natural-gas heated homes since 2008-09, according to the forecast by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The federal estimate follows a forecast issued by the state’s largest utility, We Energies. That analysis assumes “average” winter weather compared with the federal forecast which says the winter will be slightly colder than normal. That analysis done by We Energies predicts the typical residential customer will pay $25 more a month this winter compared to last year, assuming an average winter weather. That would increase the typical residential customer’s monthly bill about thirty percent from $80 last winter to around $105.

JUDGE PAUSES CONSTRUCTION OF CARDINAL-HICKORY CREEK POWER LINE

A county judge has agreed to temporarily halt construction of a power line through southwest Wisconsin, provided opponents of the project can come up with millions of dollars to cover potential costs of a delay. Utilities had planned to begin building the $492 million Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line between Middleton and Dubuque, Iowa, on October 25, according to court documents.

Judge Jacob Frost granted a request Monday for an injunction to put the project on hold while the courts consider challenges to its permit, agreeing that clearing land would result in damage that could not be easily repaired if the line is ultimately stopped.

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DNR SAYS WISCONSIN’S AIR QUALITY CONTINUES TO IMPROVE

Wisconsin residents are breathing cleaner air than they were 20 years ago according to a new DNR report. The report covered the state’s air quality over the last two decades. According to the annual report, concentrations of most pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act have been decreasing in all regions of the state.

Experts said Wisconsin continues to meet federal standards for particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and lead, meaning it’s either at or below the level of air pollutants that should not be exceeded during a specified time. Some may wonder how air quality can continue to improve when there have been multiple wildfires around the country and in neighboring Minnesota. Experts said it’s because the report has data trends through 2020, and this year’s wildfires are not factored in.

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XCEL ENERGY TO INCREASE WATER LEVEL IN CHIPPEWA FLOWAGE

A habitat-based drawdown conducted six of the last eight years, aimed at managing aquatic vegetation and improving fishery habitat will not occur this fall on the Chippewa Flowage. Local residents, property owners and users of the flowage will notice a more historical operation, where the reservoir level increases throughout the fall until freeze-up and then the water level will drop gradually throughout the winter.

ROOFTOP SOLAR COULD MEET 2/3 OF WISCONSIN’S ELECTRICITY NEEDS

A new study done for the Wisconsin Public Service Commission predicts that although solar could meet two-third of the state’s electric needs, fewer than two percent of those panels are likely to be installed under current market conditions. That’s because many people can’t afford the upfront costs of solar panels and lack financing options or don’t control their roofs — either because they rent or live in multifamily housing, according to the report. The study by the consulting firm Cadmus is designed to inform how regulators determine what utilities allow their customers to do and how they compensate them for excess electricity as well as how to allocate resources within the state’s $100 million energy-saving program.

PARIS SOLAR FARM CONSTRUCTION UNDERWAY

Construction of one of the largest solar farms in the state of Wisconsin has begun in Paris Township, Wisconsin, with the utility-grade project expected to begin generating power by early spring or summer of 2023. Paris Solar Energy Center LLC, a subsidiary of Chicago-based power generation company Invenergy, has begun groundwork to prepare 1,400 acres of farmland for solar arrays. The 200 megawatt system will generate enough electricity to power 60,000 homes annually.

WE ENERGIES JOINS EFFORT TO EXPAND ELECTRIC VEHICLE CHARGING

We Energies is joining utility companies across the Midwest to expand electric vehicle (EV) charging options for drivers. The company has signed on to a multi-state effort to build and grow EV infrastructure. As part of the collaboration, We Energies parent company WEC Energy Group has pledged to expand the EV charging network within the service territories of its electric utilities — We Energies, Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) and Upper Michigan Energy Resources. WEC Energy Group joins 12 other utilities in a unified effort to make EV charging convenient and widely available throughout the Midwest.

LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, CHILDREN OF ALL AGES

It was such a delight to see so many of you in person at our 2021 Annual Meeting of Members in Baraboo, WI! Held at the Baraboo Arts, Banquet, and Convention Center, a historic Circus World building located across the street from the Circus World Museums, this year’s attendees traveled in time from the history which surrounded them to the future which is being aggressively pursued by Wisconsin utilities.

WUI Executive Director, James Buchen, and Chairman of the Board, Roger Cole, opened the Annual meeting with a look back at this past year and a look forward to the work and issues in the coming year. The Treasurer’s report, presented by director Charles Clarke, confirmed that though the past year was a challenge as the pandemic pushed our outreach to membership through virtual meetings and mailed literature, financially we stayed within our budget and, in some areas, cut costs.

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SB490: CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATOR!

At the 2021 Annual Membership meeting members heard from Kristin Gilkes, Executive Director of the Customers First Coalition. Kristin spoke to the members about Senate Bill 490

Gilkes explained that the bill would authorize community solar programs that could be developed outside of the normal scheme of utility regulation. This would disadvantage the non-participating utility customers who would see their utility bills increase to subsidize those who participate in this unregulated program. She noted that “our neighbors in Minnesota are currently experiencing this preventable disparity.”

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REGULATORS APPROVE DODGE COUNTY SOLAR FARM

Wisconsin regulators have approved a Dodge County solar energy project over the objections of some area residents and two neighboring municipalities.
The Public Service Commission has voted unanimously to authorize construction of the 100-megawatt Springfield Solar Farm, a decision that highlights the growing tensions around land use as Wisconsin phases out fossil fuels. The state’s major utilities are pursuing plans to invest billions of dollars in clean energy generation. Since 2019, the PSC has approved 10 utility-scale solar projects with a cumulative footprint of more than 13,000 acres, which amounts to a little less than 0.1% of the state’s farmland.

XCEL ENERGY NAMES BOB FRENZEL NEW CEO

Xcel Energy has named Bob Frenzel President and CEO of the company. Ben Fowke, the current Chairman will remain at Xcel Energy as Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors. Tim O’Connor was also named Executive Vice-President and Chief Operations Officer.

“I am humbled and honored today to take over as CEO of Xcel Energy. It’s been a privilege to work alongside Ben for the last five years. I am grateful for his leadership, vision and careful stewardship of this great company. This is an exciting time to be in the energy industry, and I look forward to leading us into the future with a focus on our strategic priorities, including being an agile and innovative company and our commitment to elevating the customer experience,” according to Frenzel.

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COMPETITOR ALLOWED TO JOIN CASE IN SALE OF KEWAUNEE NUKE PLANT

A demolition contractor who says it could save Wisconsin utility customers hundreds of millions of dollars will be allowed to participate in a review of plans to sell one of the state’s two nuclear power plants.

Dominion Energy is seeking regulatory approval to sell the Kewaunee Power Station to EnergySolutions, a Utah company that specializes in nuclear waste disposal and decommissioning. The sale price has not been publicly disclosed, but according to applications filed with regulators, EnergySolutions would assume ownership of the plant and about $780 million set aside to cover the cost of decommissioning, estimated at nearly $724 million. But NorthStar Group Services of New York says it could do the job for no more than $550 million, returning any remaining money to ratepayers.