Senate Committee Grills PSC Chair on Costs of Governor’s Carbon-Free Electricity Goal

Wisconsin’s top utility regulator wouldn’t say what it might cost consumers to meet Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal to make the state’s electricity carbon-free but vowed Tuesday to seek creative ways to manage the transition to a clean energy economy.

During a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Utilities and Housing Tuesday, Public Service Commission chairwoman Rebecca Valcq said the agency should strive “at a minimum” to maintain rates competitive with neighboring states.

Across all consumer sectors, Wisconsin electricity rates are now the second-highest in the Midwest.

In response to questions from committee chairman Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, Valcq said she would scrutinize every rate case that comes before the commission to find a reasonable balance between the financial health of utilities and the interests of ratepayers. But she would not speculate on what would constitute “reasonable” rates.

LeMahieu asked whether the Democratic governor consulted utilities before including in his budget proposal a statutory goal of generating all electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050.

Valcq said she did not know but noted that four of the state’s largest investor-owned utilities have committed to slashing 80 percent of carbon emissions by 2050 and one — Xcel Energy — has pledged to be carbon-free.

The transition will require a combination of efforts, Valcq said, including improvements to energy efficiency, technological advances in battery storage and financing mechanisms to ensure consumers aren’t stuck paying for obsolete fossil fuel plants if they are retired early.

“There’s no silver bullet,” she said. “If any state can get out in front of it and come up with good solutions, it’s Wisconsin.”