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Coalition of civil rights groups challenging energy rate increases and their disproportionate impact on low-income communities of color

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Madison Gas and Electric (Wikimedia Commons)

“It’s just important for people to be able to go online and have their voices be heard on this issue, which really affects the most vulnerable populations who are often those without a voice,” says Kirbie Mack, the vice president of Blacks for Political and Social Action of Dane County, Inc. “That’s what we are really looking to do.”

A coalition of civil rights and community groups, led by Blacks for Political and Social Action of Dane County, Inc., is challenging rate increases proposed by Alliant Energy (Wisconsin Power and Light) and Madison Gas & Electric and is looking for the energy companies to do more to help low-income communities of color who are struggling the most to pay bills.

“Alliant Energy wants to increase their rates by as much as 19 percent for electric and 8 percent for natural gas [in 2024 and 2025]. MG&E wants to increase theirs by 9 percent for gas and electric,” Mack says. “Both of those are very bad for our communities. People are going to be devastated by this.”

Kirbie Mack

People who pay more than 6 percent of their income on energy bills live in homes with what they call a “high-energy burden,” Mack says. Thermal Imaging Analysis can help homeowners identify specific areas that need to be addressed in order to improve their home’s energy efficiency.

“Our low-income families would pay 20 percent to 30 percent of their income on gas and electricity [under the upcoming rate increase],” Mack continues. “We want the Public Service Commission to say no to these increases. This increase represents a significant financial burden for these families who are already struggling to make ends meet.”

Madison Gas and Electric said in a statement that their increased rates for 2024 and 2025 are for “growing our use of renewable energy, launching innovative programs and new technologies for a smarter, more dynamic and resilient grid that delivers greater efficiency and value for the benefit of all customers. We continue to invest in this shared resource to ensure all customers benefit from new technologies and from cost-effective, carbon-free energy sources

In an email to Madison365 on Wednesday morning, Steve Schultz, corporate communications manager for MGE, says that “as part of this regulatory process, our proposal was adjusted to reflect lower anticipated fuel costs.”

“Under our proposal, which has been adjusted since the original filing to reflect lower anticipated fuel costs, MGE is requesting a 1.5% electric rate increase in 2024. If approved, a typical residential customer using 500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) a month will see a bill increase of about $3 a month,” Schultz says.

Schultz adds that MGE is requesting a 2.27% natural gas rate increase in 2024 and a 0.88% increase in 2025. That’s a monthly increase of about $1.50 in 2024 and a monthly increase of about $0.57 in 2025, Schultz says.

Mack responded to this new information from MGE on Wednesday afternoon telling Madison365 that “BPSA is pleased that MG&E has responded to BPSA’s public pressure and PSC scrutiny by lowering their requested rate increase, [but] BPSA is continuing to evaluate the impact on Black and Brown communities in Dane County.”

“To be clear: asking for less money from consumers is not enough. Black and Brown communities continue to disproportionately bear unjust energy burdens. MG&E must do more to help families decide between groceries and heating their homes,” Mack continues. “MG&E should adopt the proposals put forth by BPSA in the rate case, including creating a percentage of income payment plan, implementing an arrearage management program, and geo-targeting energy efficiency investments in working-class communities.”

The coalition of civil rights and community groups fighting against the price hikes also includes 350 Wisconsin, City of Madison, Dane County, Renew Wisconsin, Elevate, and CUB Citizens Utility Board.

An in-person hearing will take place Wednesday, Sept. 13, 1-6 p.m., at the PSC Hearing Room (5105) in the Hill Farm State Office Building, 4822 Madison Yards Way.

“Madison Gass & Electric and Alliant, they go before the PSC three-person body appointed by the governor to increase their rates,” Mack says. “The PSC allows for public comment and they also allow for a period by which the public can voice their opinions about this rate case. There are a lot of individuals in the community who are who have been opposing this. It’s the first time the community has come together around this to raise concerns.”

The PSC is currently accepting public comments on MGE’s proposal from now until Sept. 26, and for Alliant Energy’s proposal until Oct. 4. People can submit their comments here.

“Just think of all of the other economic things that low- and moderate-income people have to deal with like [paying for] medicine, transportation, food, and you know rent is going higher,” Mack says. “They’re just going to be devastated by this increase. And on the flip side, MGE’s shareholders are going to get almost 10 percent on their return. So they’re getting more money while people are being charged at an astronomical rate based on their income for basic utilities.”

Combined, the utilities are asking to collect an additional $500 million from customers over the next two years, said Rev. David Hart, president of BPSADC.  “Many families are struggling right now,” he says. “They do not need utility bills to go higher in this economy. Enough is enough.”

 

[This story has been updated on Wednesday with MGE’s newest proposal featuring much lower rate increases and BPSADC’s response to that news.]