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GOP lawmakers in Madison want review of We Energies contracts

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MADISON — Republican lawmakers want to give regulators a chance to review contracts put in place by Wisconsin’s largest utility company more than 15 years ago.

State Sen. Duey Stroebel, a Republican from Saukville, and others introduced a bill Thursday that would give the Public Service Commission, the state utilities regulator, the authority to review contracts in which public utilities lease electricity generating facilities from related companies. It would primarily affect We Energies. In 2003, a We Energies affiliate got permission from the commission to guarantee a higher rate of return for itself in exchange for building power plants in southeastern Wisconsin during an energy shortage.

Stroebel, Rep. Adam Neylon, Rep. Jim Ott and Sen. Robert Cowles now say the return on We Energies’ so-called “Power the Future” project are too high and should be subject to review. They say the agreement is partly to blame for Wisconsin’s electricity costs being some of the highest in the Midwest.

“Our state’s high electric rates make us less competitive when manufacturing companies located here look to expand operations, or when manufacturers in other states look to build their next plant and hire more workers,” Stroebel said. “The PSC plays a vital role in balancing the needs of investors with the needs of ratepayers.”

Ott said the agreement made years ago has “outlived its usefulness” and should at least be revisited.

We Energies spokeswoman Amy Jahns said the company wouldn’t have invested billions of dollars into the two plants without the agreements.

“The Power the Future plan was introduced years ago, during a time of a power reliability crisis that threatened the ability to conduct business in the state,” she said. “Those upgrades came with a cost.”

We Energies’ 2003 agreement with the PSC was set in motion by bipartisan legislation in 2001. It guaranteed We Energies a 12.7 percent rate of return on its investment for 30 years for building power plants in Oak Creek and Port Washington. Outside of the project, We Energies’ authorized rate of return is 10.2 percent.

The PSC declined to comment.

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