Rebecca Valcq, the new chairwoman of the state Public Service Commission, says Gov. Tony Evers’ goal of carbon-free electricity by 2050 is “achievable and reasonable.”
“In order to get to zero carbon by 2050, it’s going to require retirement of some facilities that use traditional forms of generation — like coal,” Valcq told WisBusiness.com.
In many cases, she says these plants have valuable assets that could be used for other purposes. Still, she said “we’re looking at some stranded costs.”
“Recovery is something the commission is going to have to take a really hard look at,” she said.
She acknowledged Evers’ goal might be “a little accelerated” but noted utilities in the state are leading the charge on this issue. In fact, the state’s two largest utility companies have already made promises to sharply reduce carbon emissions in the same timeframe.
Madison-based Alliant Energy, which has about 1.5 million customers in Wisconsin and Iowa, has pledged to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent and cut out all coal from its energy mix by 2050.
And Milwaukee-based WE Energies has also pledged to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.
“I think utilities are out ahead on this one,” she said. “I’ve talked to a number of utilities on that path.”
She stressed the PSC’s role isn’t to push for new regulations. But she said the agency will seriously consider proposals to move toward zero carbon emissions, “to the extent that the transition to zero carbon doesn’t put unreasonable upward pressure on rates.”
Given the falling cost of renewable energy generation, and willingness on the part of utilities to explore new options, Valcq says now is “the perfect time, and the perfect storm” for the state to move toward zero carbon emissions.
She was an attorney with Quarles & Brady and spent 15 years as regulatory counsel for WE Energies before taking over as PSC chair on Saturday. Some have leveled concerns about her appointment, raising the question of potential bias toward big utilities.
But she says her experience in the energy industry is “exactly what makes me the most qualified person in this chair.”
“This issue has come up a number of times, and my response is always the same,” she said. “I firmly believe that my experience is an asset, and I have never viewed it as anything other than that.”
Valcq says she understands better than most the impact of PSC decisions, “not just on utilities, but ultimately on customers.”
She has agreed to recuse herself from any cases coming before the PSC that she has confidential info on, or that she was involved with in any way.
“Similar to any lawyer representing clients, I have an ethical obligation to seperate myself and the knowledge I’ve gained from any decisions I make in the future,” she said.
In her role as PSC chair, Valcq wants to open a study into broadband in the state, pushing not just for broader access, but also for greater affordability. She’s also interested in exploring grid modernization and associated questions that might arise.
“How do we make the transition from traditional generation to zero carbon, and what does that do to distributed generation? To rooftop solar?” she said. “Let’s be proactive; let’s delve into these complex topics.”
–By Alex Moe