Ahead of electric rate increase, Milwaukee organizations talk about municipally owned utilities

NOW: Ahead of electric rate increase, Milwaukee organizations talk about municipally owned utilities

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Electricity costs will be going up after Jan. 1 after the Public Service Commission approved a rate increase.

Over the weekend, people from various organizations in Milwaukee met to talk about the possibility of the city of Milwaukee being in control of utilities, instead of We Energies.

The rate increase will be nearly 11% for consumers, slightly down from what We Energies asked for, but not as low as some consumer advocacy groups were calling for.

The Milwaukee Democratic Socialists of America, North Side Rising, and the Greater Milwaukee Green Party are calling for an alternative to the back and forth.

"We are looking to cut the profit motive from our monthly bills," said Alex Brower, Milwaukee DSA co-chair.

He says over 100 people at their town hall meeting Saturday were interested in establishing a municipally owned replacement to the current investor-owned utilities that serve the area.

"Everyone resoundingly was in favor of this community deciding to get rid of We Energies so we can have a utility that's democratic," said Brower.

Tim Heinrich, president and CEO of Municipal Electric Utilities of Wisconsin, says while he's not taking sides, municipally owned utilities aren't new, they date back to the 1880s.

"It grew out of the fact that these larger, investor-owned utilities didn't want to extend lines to these more rural areas," said Heinrich.

He says right now, there are 81 municipally owned utilities across the state of Wisconsin.

They range in size from 500 to 18,000 customers, all served by local officials instead of investors.

"It's that the governing bodies of these public power utilities are made up of citizens," said Heinrich.

He says that way, these groups can often set lower rate prices than investor-owned utilities.

Heinrich said there are already examples of larger municipalities making it work as well.

"Including in some larger communities, Seattle comes to mind, Nashville, Los Angeles," said Heinrich.

Brower says now, they're looking to hold more meetings and talk with more people.

He says more local control is a message that many people understand, and there's precedent in Wisconsin law to make it happen.

"Our next step is to launch a campaign to call on City Hall to implement Chapter 197 of the Wisconsin state statutes," said Brower.

The Public Service Commission approved the rate increase with a 2-1 vote.

To learn more about their efforts, click here.

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