Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group: Leading Business Consumer Group Unveils First ‘Energy Ratepayers’ Bill of Rights’ for all Wisconsin Utility Ratepayers

CONTACT: Nino Amato, President, Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group
(608) 441-5740 or at: [email protected]

A Blueprint for Meaningful Energy Policy Reform

MADISON, April 27, 2005 – Powering the state’s economic vitality and returning Wisconsin to its low-cost competitive energy position is the driving force behind the first-ever Energy Ratepayers’ Bill of Rights, unveiled by the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group (WIEG) at its annual energy conference in Madison today (Olbrich Botanical Gardens – 3330 Atwood Avenue, Madison, WI).

WIEG is a nonprofit consumer advocacy and public policy coalition representing businesses with more than 60,000 tax-paying and energy rate-paying employees throughout all of Wisconsin.

“The news today is not good for Wisconsin’s residential, commercial and industrial customers,” said WIEG President A.J. (Nino) Amato. “Recent data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that Wisconsin has lost its low-cost competitive energy position among the eight regional Midwestern states. Wisconsin residential, commercial and industrial customers are now paying energy costs that are among the highest in the region, even before most of the utility capital costs from the new building cycle for generation and transmission infrastructure have begun to hit energy bills in our state.

“It is critical to take action now to help Wisconsin regain its low-cost energy position in the Midwest,” Amato said. “Failure to act decisively threatens our state’s economic vitality, job growth, and economic security for all Wisconsin residents. The Energy Ratepayers’ Bill of Rights is designed to get Wisconsin back on track and guide meaningful, results-oriented energy policy reform.”

The Ratepayers Bill of Rights’ (RPBOR) was developed by energy policy advocates, business and legal experts, and energy consumers in Wisconsin. It is designed to strengthen ethical and regulatory safeguards at the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW); increase PSCW staffing levels in order to make sound and cost effective decisions; enhance public participation in hearings on utility rate increases and rate design; and improve the economic retention and expansion of Wisconsin’s industry.

Highlights of the Energy Ratepayers Bill of Rights’ (RPBOR) include:

  • Impose a one-year “waiting period” before PSCW commissioners and senior staff of the PSCW can take jobs at investor-owned utilities or their subsidiaries or represent utilities at the law firms or agents retained by them. This would end the “revolving corporate door” that has been used by PSCW commissioners in recent years.
  • Strictly prohibit closed-door, “off-line” discussions between PSCW commissioners, executive assistants and senior staff and the utility applicants/interveners during regulatory proceedings before the PSCW. This is designed to prevent conflicts of interest and possible secret deal-makings that could unfairly drive up energy costs for consumers.
  • Prohibit investor-owned utility executives and their law firms from making campaign contributions to state-wide offices in the same way lobbyists are restricted under State law.

  • Avoid “radical” California-style deregulation of the utility industry where generation power plants were sold to out-of-state buyers, which resulted in skyrocketing utility rates.
  • Restore to the Public Benefit Fund the $53 million earmarked for state-wide energy conservation programs that Wisconsin ratepayers have already paid for.
  • Strengthen the Wisconsin Utility Holding Company Act to prevent investor-owned utilities from investing in high-risk international business ventures at the expense of Wisconsin ratepayers and energy reliability.
  • In appointing PSCW Commissioners, encourage the Governor to solicit ratepayer input through a bipartisan screening committee established to identify, interview, and recommend technically qualified candidates, to ensure that the PSCW fully represents ratepayer interests.
  • Encourage investor-owned utilities to develop more purchasing options and pricing schedules for consumers, including additional “green power” packages and options to sell excess power back to utilities.

Amato hopes that RPBOR will find several champions in the State Legislature who will use its provisions in guiding, developing and implementing meaningful reforms in state energy policy.

“A number of state legislative leaders have taken a strong interest in listening to the recommendations of consumer advocate groups like WIEG, and have already shown a willingness to advance several of our specific proposals at the Capitol,” Amato said. “We sincerely hope and expect that the Energy Ratepayers’ Bill of Rights will provide a blueprint for the future, as more State legislators answer the call to regain Wisconsin’s low-cost competitive position as they pursue meaningful energy policy reforms for Wisconsin.”