Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Green of MG&E's Proposed Billing Policy Change is Money

Madison Gas and Electric is the local energy supplier. Like every business, they are in it to make money, and yet there are times when businesses cross certain lines and their customers line up, link arms, and say, "No, you are not going to do that." Sometimes that takes the form of a boycott, but since it is pretty doggone hard to boycott your gas and electric company, other measures are called for. Here in Madison we know a thing or two about making our concerns public. And thus, today at noon there was a short, effective rally to make some noise in front of MG&E and in front of passers-by.

©Nataraj Hauser, 2014

First there were the usual informative speeches by informed parties. The rally was organized by RePower Madison, and I will let this bit of text from their webpage fill you in:

Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) proposed a radically new billing system to the Public Service Commission (PSC) that encourages consumption of electricity, increased use of coal resulting in higher greenhouse gases. The proposal will increase the fixed charge that everyone pays per month regardless of your electricity usage by about 80% (~$10.5 to $19) while lowering the energy charge (cents per kilowatt hour) by about 8%.

The net effect is to increase electric bills for customers who use relatively little electricity and decrease bills for larger users. The proposal will stifle customer investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy due to the uncertain direction of future rates. The misguided approach will shackle community initiatives to build environmental sustainability into their own operations and create an unwelcoming environment for businesses and residents pursuing clean energy.
©Nataraj Hauser, 2014

In a nutshell, the proposed policy is a disincentive to reduce energy usage and embrace renewable sources like solar and wind. Those who use less energy will pay a higher rate and increase the grid fee. The original proposal increased the base cost of being a customer of the grid from the current fee of $10.40 to $69.00 per month! Public outcry forced MG&E to repropose a grid fee of $19/mo, still an increase of roughly 80% and is a move that fools no one into believing that they will not simply come back every two or three years and inch the fee up to where they intended. The real problem with the rate structure they propose is that it is regressive, hitting both low-income and energy-efficient customers the hardest. It is a Robin Hood scenario in reverse. Again from RePower Madison:
Across the country, low income customers use less energy than higher income. With MGE’s billing plan, low and middle income customers are more likely to see an increase in their utility bills than high income users whose bills are likely to decrease.
©Nataraj Hauser, 2014

MG&E would like its customers to believe they support green energy policy and will reward us for being better consumers of power, yet their proposed policy creates incentive for exactly the opposite behavior. By further proposing to reduce the energy buy-back rate produced by home (or business) solar production it substantially reduces the payback time for the initial investment. Switching to energy efficient appliances, light bulbs, and practices around the home would actually cause the customer's rate to increase!

©Nataraj Hauser, 2014

The "green" coming from MG&E's claimed Green Energy program is whitewash to conceal maximal profit motives. Their concern is that as we become more efficient and embrace alternative energy, they make less and less money. There is truth to their dilemma. Maintaining the energy grid takes money and employees. They must make money to continue to support that infrastructure. Even if everyone, every single customer, were producing energy, the grid will still be needed for the foreseeable future in places like Wisconsin where we have winter. That time is not now, and MG&E is greatly outreaching its actual problem. Today approximately 200 customers have viable solar production as part of their household energy supply. That works out to about 0.7% of their customer base.

©Nataraj Hauser, 2014

We are witnessing the first stages of an industry giant that thinks it is about to face extinction. They cannot envision their role in a world without centralized power production, and this proposed plan says they intend to keep their profit by disproportionately charging the most efficient consumers of energy and rewarding those who consume more. It especially rewards industrial scale consumption. Under our current Governor's agenda, that plan makes perfect sense. It shows a distinct lack of vision about the future, and the role they could be playing. Why not shift their corporate energy to inventing, creating, and installing solar, wind, and geothermal technology? Instead they cling fearfully to the past. With a bit of an eye roll, I will point you to a business book on exactly this topic: "Who Moved My Cheese". Note this link is to the South Central Wisconsin Library System, and the title is also available in ebook format. (Click on Title Notes" to get the synopsis.)

I am hopeful that they have underestimated the resolve of their customers. To become more informed and take action, you can visit RePower Madison's webpage, attend the next meeting at 7:00 PM on Monday, Sept 29th, 2014, at the Goodman Community Center, 149 Waubesa St, in Madison. Next there will be a Public Service Commission meeting on Thursday, Oct 9th, a 610 N. Whitney Way. Time for that meeting has not yet been set, but likely morning, and you can watch the RePower Madison website for details as the date draws closer.

According to Slate, our fight in Wisconsin could decide America’s energy future. Tell MG&E (, copy to withdraw their proposal and share your concerns with the WI Public Service Commission -

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