Report Recommends MGE join a Community Energy Partnership and Transition to Sustainable Energy

Report Recommends MGE join a Community Energy Partnership and Transition to Sustainable Energy

For Immediate Release

Contact: Mitch Brey, RePower Madison

920-323-9585, mitch@repowermadison.org

MADISON, WI — The “formation of a long-term collaborative, Community Energy Partnership” is one of the top recommendations for Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) from Justice & Sustainability Associates (JSA), the DC-based firm hired by MGE to perform “Community Energy Conversations” (CECs).

JSA released their report on “Phase II” of the conversations on Friday after conducting nearly 100 small group meetings with MGE customers this summer and fall. The community uproar and opposition to MGE’s fixed fee increases in Oct 2014 spurred the company to announce that it would hold community conversations.

Participants ranked “Transition MGE to a more environmentally sustainable energy supply” as their top priority in a survey that accompanied the conversations. Sustainable energy includes clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Customers “do not believe the current rate structure is equitable,” and want MGE to address climate change by “reducing or eliminating its reliance on coal,” JSA noted in their key findings. Additional key findings and quotes from customers are included below and at http://www.repowermadison.org/clean-energy-future/ online.

JSA also recommends “that the input from Phase II of the CECs be utilized as the building blocks for the next two phases of the process.” JSA laid out a 4 phase process for the conversations.

  • Phase I – Meeting stakeholders
  • Phase II – Gathering input from the public during small group meetings
  • Phase III – Community workshop planned for spring of 2016
  • Phase IV – Community partnership proposed for summer or fall of 2016

The comments included in the report show that many participants want MGE to reverse their mandatory fee increases. Besides urging MGE to embrace clean energy and phase out coal, many customers felt their trust had been broken, urged transparency, pointed to bias in the materials, and asked MGE to include customers in decision making. It is not clear if MGE plans to provide answers to the hundreds of questions recorded in the report.

RePower Madison urges MGE to follow the recommendation in the report to utilize customer input as the basis for developing a plan collaboratively with the community to secure a clean energy future. The Energy 2030 framework that MGE wrote before this report was released must be reevaluated, updated, and improved based on the customer input that is now available. RPM also joins JSA in calling for an ongoing, collaborative community partnership, one which we hope will include city and county governments and include binding commitments from each. We support the community’s call for MGE to transition to renewable energy and hope MGE will listen to the suggestions it sought from its customers.

A selection of Customer Comments:

  • “Need to rebuild trust. Be honest about coal, eliminate fixed change.”
  • “The justification for rising fixed charges is a lie. Everyone knows it. It is outrageous. Reverse it.”
  • “Develop a plan to get off coal and move to clean energy quickly.”
  • “Trust has been violated. Only transparency can bring it back. Show us the numbers, tell us who pays and who profits”
  • “[The MGE discussion guide] framed several issues clear bias toward MGE current frame of reference. It was loaded.”
  • “The discussion guide was skillfully written and very interesting. However, it has a large and interesting omission…There was not a word about [the fixed fee increase] in the 31 page Guide. MG&E needs to acknowledge it made a wildly unpopular proposal and explain why”
  • “Change governance structure to include community, stakeholders, elected officials, and board of directors”
  • “Be fair to those who use less energy which includes poorer and older customers. Do not raise fixed rates.”
  • “I would like to see MG&E become a benefit corporation. I would like to see MG&E support the EPA’s Clean Power Plan- that would demonstrate their commitment to clean energy better than anything.”
  • “Progressive billing that doesn’t penalize customers that reduce energy use”
  • “Questions [in the JSA Worksheet] are leading towards what MG&E wants customers to feel, not what customers want to say. There should be a community board to help create the surveys.”
  • “Sell coal assets.”
  • “I want MG&E to have a community partnership that is legally binding. I want a serious consideration of converting to a B corporation.”

Excerpts from JSA’s Key Findings:

It was clear in the CECs that many participants were unhappy with MGE’s handling of its 2014 rate case, particularly as it affected conservation efforts. Participants were concerned that the rate changes not only hurt low-income and fixed-income residents, but also that fixed rates discouraged those who are trying to reduce usage since they must pay the same fixed charge as those who are not trying to be efficient. Many participants stated that the current pricing plans should include plans that encourage conservation and help low-income residents afford their energy bills.

Participants voiced concerns about the impact of the fixed rate increase on low income families and senior ratepayers. Participants do not believe the current rate structure is equitable, and they would like to see a more equitable billing system, more compassionate treatment, and greater assistance for low-income families.

Sparked by their dissatisfaction with the way in which the company designed and managed its 2014 rate case, a number of CEC participants called on MGE to pay more attention to the community, educate and speak to them honestly and transparently and make decisions with them. Attendees wanted MGE to provide ongoing balanced, accurate, and fair education on energy issues. Participants wanted to ensure that MGE creates an ongoing dialogue and uses the feedback from the CECs for future planning and decision-making.

Some of the Questions for MGE from Customers:

  • “How can I save energy and lower my bills?”
  • “What would it take for MGE to completely get out of coal?”
  • “Who will be a part of the final process? How will they be selected?”
  • “When will we hear what MGE is planning after all of these sessions are over?”
  • “How can the community become a bigger part in not only conservation of energy but in helping to develop a more efficient company that works for us?”
  • “When funding into the Green Power Tomorrow program increases, does this correspond to an increase in use of green power and reduction in fossil fuel power?”
  • “How does the use of gas fit into the overall energy equation?”
  • “What if all this is all talk and there’s no action?”
  • “How did you decide which customers you would email to be invited to this conversation?”
  •  “How do I get an energy audit at an affordable cost or for free?”
  • “How resilient is the grid to severe weather and attacks?”
  • “Is it possible to expand use of digesters (bio and manure)?”
  • “How do MGE’s interests in coal and in green energy compare to Alliant’s?”
  • “Questions, ideas, and concerns were generated at today’s session. We are hoping for feedback.”

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RePower Madison seeks fair and affordable energy bills while transforming Madison into a recognized leader in clean energy.

www.repowermadison.org