Climate advocates sue to protect low-income Wisconsin families and solar choice

Lawsuit seeks to overturn regressive electricity rates that discourage conservation and clean power

Madison, WI — Today, Sierra Club and Vote Solar filed a lawsuit appealing Madison Gas & Electric’s (MGE) regressive utility rates that impose high costs on low-income customers and discourage investments in energy efficiency and rooftop solar.  The decision approving the rates in late December violated several laws, including Wisconsin’s landmark Energy Priorities Law, which requires maximizing energy conservation, efficiency and solar generation.

The lawsuit challenges the “fixed charge” portion of utility bills that customers cannot control and that does not depend on how much or how little energy they use.  High fixed charges undermine the savings customers can achieve through efficiency or by installing solar panels.  It also disproportionately harms low-use customers  and those on fixed incomes.  MGE’s regressive rates especially harm retirees and customers living in smaller homes and apartments.

“In the fight against climate change and the inequities in our existing utility system, we need to be moving forward,” said Sierra Club Wisconsin Chapter Director Elizabeth Ward. “We’ve all seen that the climate crisis and undeniable economic disparities require us to reevaluate our systems and how we operate our society. MGE’s inequitable rates undermine the progress we need.”

Wisconsin already has a national reputation for having some of the worst utility pricing after the Walker Administration’s Public Service Commission doubled most utility customers’ fixed charges.  The PSC missed an opportunity to correct those past mistakes and set a new course when it approved MGE’s rates in December.

“Wisconsinites want more, not less, control over their utility bills and more, not less, savings when they choose efficient appliances and solar. Wisconsin’s highest-in-the-Midwest fixed charges discourage conservation and local, clean energy investment,” said Vote Solar’s Midwest Regulatory Director Will Kenworthy. “The PSC had options. Penalizing energy conservation to fight climate change is like kicking a field goal when you need a touchdown to win. Wisconsin might be out of the Superbowl, but the courts can still correct MGE’s losing strategy.”

The lawsuit also targets the PSC’s decision not to hold a hearing before allowing the utility to pocket more than $20 million dollars it over-collected and owed to customers, effectively increasing customers’ electric bills by $20 million.

“State and national leaders are calling for bold and equitable action in the fight against the climate crisis and economic inequities.  Sierra Club is fighting on behalf of customers for energy rates that do not burden those most vulnerable, and for the rapid transition to renewable energy which is more cost effective than fossil fuels, is better for our health and the climate,” continued Ward. “Unfortunately, MGE continues outdated thinking of what’s best for its shareholders rather than what’s best for its community.  We’re asking the PSC to course-correct and, when it doesn’t, we’ll stand up for customers in court.”

Sierra Club and Vote Solar are represented by Earthjustice.

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