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Journal Times editorial: High electric bills? We told you so

Journal Times editorial: High electric bills? We told you so

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Wisconsinites enjoy an opportunity to yell “We’re No. 1!” as much as anybody else, but we’re at the top of a list we’d rather not be: The cost of our electricity.

Wisconsin’s average electric rates are highest among eight Midwest states for the first time since 2006, according to the Strategic Energy Assessment 2022, a 70-page report projecting Wisconsin’s energy needs and expectations over the next six years, approved by the Public Service Commission in late July. We’re at 10.97 cents per kilowatt-hour. The other states’ average rates range from 8.65 cents in Iowa to 10.87 cents in Michigan. The U.S. average is 11.02 cents per kilowatt-hour, the report says.

For industrial customers, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Sunday, rates are also highest in Wisconsin at 7.81 cents per kilowatt-hour compared with those in other Midwest states, ranging from 6.06 cents to 7.25 cents per kilowatt-hour.

The Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, representing more than 30 of the state’s largest companies, and the Wisconsin Paper Council submitted a joint, 18-page statement contending that electricity is not available to industries “at reasonable prices” in Wisconsin compared to other states.

“It is particularly troubling to note in a state whose economy is built on manufacturing that in 2015, not only did Wisconsin have the highest average industrial rate when compared to surrounding states, the Midwest and U.S. averages respectively, but the growth rate from 2001 to 2015 was the highest as well,” the groups said.

In its comments to the PSC, Charter Steel of Saukville said most of the blame for We Energies’ high rates was its “massive level of excess electric generating capacity” created when it added two units to the coal-fired Oak Creek power plant in 2010 and 2011, adding 1,230 megawatts of power, as the main element of its Power the Future plan.

It’s at this point that we’d like to interject:

We told you so.

In the spring of 2003, when the late SC Johnson patriarch Sam Johnson was leading the opposition to the proposed expansion of the coal-fired Oak Creek plant — leading a protest march in Downtown Racine — we joined that opposition.

We wrote that, with our air quality already giving us the designation of a non-attainment area — that’s a spin doctor’s way of saying “polluted” — what we did not need was a massive increase in the burning of coal just across the county line.

Here’s the segment of our May 5, 2003 editorial which is especially galling today: “the state Department of Natural Resources and Public Service Commission issued a draft environmental impact statement that concluded the proposed three coal plants could hurt the region’s air quality, wouldn’t protect consumers against construction cost over-runs and would be more expensive than a 523-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant that is proposed for construction near Fond du Lac ... We Energies officials have stuck with their preference for coal-fired plants at Oak Creek, insisting it is a more abundant fuel that is less prone to price fluctuations than natural gas. But cynics have also suggested the company favors coal plants because their construction is more capital intensive and that results in a larger profit potential for the utility.”

You didn’t hear much about the natural-gas production process known as hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, in 2003. You’ve certainly heard about since then, because of a fracking boom in this country.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the Producer Price Index for natural gas, measured on an annual average basis, fell 56.8 percent between 2007 and 2012, in response to strong growth in domestic energy production.

We Energies could’ve gone with natural gas in Fond du Lac and watched its production costs drop by more than half, which would have benefitted both Wisconsin consumers and We Energies’ bottom line. Instead, it went with coal in Oak Creek, further polluting our air, driving up everyone’s electric bills and making it a challenge for manufacturers to stay in Wisconsin.

We’d much rather it had turned out differently. But we told you so.

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