Politics & Government
1:00 am
Thu April 3, 2014

WE Energies says It has been a Good Partner to City of Milwaukee

The Common Council has ordered two agencies to explore the city's options for becoming energy independent. WE Energies disputes reasons cited.

Could the City of Milwaukee build its own power plant?
Could the City of Milwaukee build its own power plant?

Some Milwaukee council members want to know whether the city should seek a cheaper energy supplier or perhaps build its own power plant. They estimate the city pays $16 million per year to WE Energies.

One of the utility's spokespeople, Cathy Schulze says it has been aware, for some time,  of the city's desire to explore alternate sources and has provided Milwaukee with $100,000 for the city's wind turbine at the Port of Milwaukee.

As for the city possibly developing its own power plant, Schulze says Milwaukee faces significant budget problems and seems unlikely to be able to generate its own electricity at a cost that would be competitive with WE Energies.

Alderman Robert Bauman has cited as another reason Milwaukee should severe ties with WE Energies, its resistance to underwriting the cost of moving power lines downtown, for a new streetcar. Schulze says state leaders passed a law last year, prohibiting the cost of utility relocations to be passed on to customers and stockholders, if related to streetcar development.

"When this project first came to light and we had talked about working with the city to find ways to lower utility relocation costs, which we have done and those costs have come down substantially, there's this question of moving facilities for an essential or non-essential project," Schulze says.

She adds that if the streetcar project moves forward and WE Energies needs to move its power equipment, "we'd be moving those facilities for a non-essential service and, under Wisconsin case law, the majority of utility relocation costs incurred due to a  non-essential project would be the responsibility of the project owner, which in this case, would be the City of Milwaukee."

In coming months, the Public Service Commission will decide who’s responsible for utility relocation costs related to the Milwaukee streetcar.

The plan the council advanced on Wednesday directs the city's Office of Environmental Sustainability and the Department of Public Works to create an energy independence blueprint.