MADISON — The Wisconsin Public Service Commission might have widened the opening Friday for a competitor to Kwik Trip’s expansion into the compressed natural gas vehicle-refueling market.
Two of three commissioners indicated they had no objections to an agreement to allow Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service Corp., a utility, to affiliate with a company that operates refueling stations nationwide.
Wisconsin ranks sixth in the nation with 12 natural gas refueling stations in seven cities. Next year, Kwik Trip plans to have nearly 30 compressed natural gas, or CNG, stations operating in the Midwest, most them in Wisconsin.
As a gas and electric customer of WPS, Kwik Trip doesn’t want WPS to use its utility revenue to subsidize a business that would be a direct competitor.
PSC Chairman Phil Montgomery disapproved of WPS owning retail compressed natural gas filling stations as a regulated utility because it would create an unlevel playing field for non-utility competitors like Kwik Trip. But he saw little trouble with the utility partnering with other companies that would compete with Kwik Trip, namely Integrys Energy Group, which also owns Trillum CNG.
Minutes before the Kwik Trip hearing, the PSC denied Madison Gas & Electric’s request to directly enter the retail CNG refueling market. Montgomery suggested holding a public meeting early next year on the issue of utility involvement in the emerging industry.
Instead of voting on the agreement, the commissioners agreed to hold it over until their Nov. 16 meeting to reach a consensus, PSC spokesman Matt Pagel said.
Spokesmen for Integrys and Kwik Trip both declined comment, saying they wanted to wait until the PSC made a final decision.
The Citizens Utility Board shares Kwik Trip’s opposition to utilities entering the CNG market
Charlie Higley, the group’s executive director, said he was encouraged by the PSC’s actions Friday.
“We think they did the right thing denying MG&E (direct) entry into the market,” he said, “and we think they’ll do right by WPS’s request as well.”