Wisconsin residents urged state regulators Wednesday to hold the line on electricity rates and keep utility profits in check.
About 15 people turned out for an afternoon hearing at the La Crosse Public Library on Xcel Energy’s request for a 3.6 percent increase in electricity revenues and a 10 percent hike in natural gas.
If approved, that would translate to about $6 more per month on the average residential electric bill and $5.31 more for gas.
Xcel said the electric rate increase is necessary to support investments needed to maintain safe, reliable service when sales are flat or declining.
But residents told the Public Service Commission that many, especially retirees, can’t afford to pay any more when Social Security’s cost-of-living increase is just 2 percent.
“Maybe America needs to start living on a 2 percent increase,” Thomas Strange said. “We need some kind of regulation to keep those prices down so people can afford to live in homes and pay their energy costs.”
Others complained that it’s unreasonable for Xcel to expect the 10 percent return it is seeking on its investments.
“I only wish I could get 10 percent on my investment,” Irv Balto said. “I don’t think I could get that anywhere. My investment would at least be ethical.”
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This is the 12th straight year Xcel has sought to increase electricity rates. The PSC has granted all but one request, giving the utility a little more than half of what it asked for.
The average Xcel residential electric bill in 2017 was just over $100, according to PSC data. That’s lower than all but one of the state’s largest investor-owned utilities.
Comments also took issue with the company’s request to charge all residential customers a flat monthly fee of $17, regardless of how much energy they use. Xcel and other investor-owned utilities began pushing for higher flat fees a couple of years ago, saying they are necessary to pay for the power lines and poles that deliver electricity to homes.
Last year, the PSC authorized an increase from $8 to $14 for Xcel customers.
Consumer advocates argue this discourages conservation and unfairly burdens those who use the least energy.
Ellen Verwibe suggested a sliding scale service fee so that the burden wouldn’t fall disproportionately on the smallest users.
James Pake said he’s twice upgraded the insulation in his home but hasn’t seen a financial benefit.
“By golly I didn’t use as much energy,” he said. “By golly I paid the same amount.”