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Did Commissioner Ellen Nowak advise Wisconsin Energy Corp's CEO? Some of her remarks in panel discussions suggest that the Wisconsin regulator might be a captured regulator.

Clean Power

Did Commissioner Ellen Nowak Advise WEC’s CEO?

Did Commissioner Ellen Nowak advise Wisconsin Energy Corp’s CEO? Some of her remarks in panel discussions suggest that the Wisconsin regulator might be a captured regulator.

It was going to be a busy Fall. With five impending rate cases, Wisconsin Public Service Commissioner Ellen Nowak said she was going to have to get her Christmas shopping done very early. She told the other panelists, “I’ve been telling our utilities please come in with ideas.” Nowak  chuckled, “One of our utilities is actually here, so I hope he’s listening again. Please come in, looking for some innovative rate design ideas that assess true the cost to the cost causer.” That was at a Edison Foundation’s panel discussion on March 6, 2014. Three weeks later the state’s largest utility, Wisconsin Energy Corp (WEC), submitted a proposed 75% rate increase. Two other utilities would follow with proposed hikes of +50% and about 81%. On November 14 the Wisconsin Public Service Commission decided that WEC could impose new fees of between $30 and $40 a month, depending on the size of the system, on new rooftop solar owners. The measure passed 2-1, with Nowak casting the deciding vote. Now some are asking if Ellen Nowak advised WEC’s CEO?


Screenshot 2014-11-28 08.36.58

“She’s behind the most expensive anti-solar ruling in the U.S. and we’re appealing it on both the substance and the process,” said Bryan Miller, Co-Chairman of the Alliance for Solar Choice.

Ellen Nowak is not a rookie. She has been with the commission since 2011. Nowak provides “commissioner-oversight of Focus on Energy and the state’s energy efficiency program.” Some of her prior positions include: chief of staff to Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas; legal counsel and subsequent chief of staff to the Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly; business litigator at Mallery & Zimmerman, SC in Milwaukee.

She was very candid in the video from last March:

I came into this industry two and a half years ago, I am continually amazed by the continual learning that you do whether you’ve been in this industry for two years or ten years … I’m excited that we’re talking about it. Not to be as buzzkill, but I’m a little worried too because if we don’t get some of the rules right now and look at some of the details right now, before some of these opportunities we are talking about come to fruition, I think we’re going to regret some of that later.

Ellen Nowak and WEC’s CEO Gale Klappa were panelists at the Edison Electric Institute’s Annual Convention in Las Vegas last June. That was when Bloomberg News quotes Nowak as saying

The traditional rate design will no longer work with the growth in the D.G. environment. We need to make more of the fixed costs more in line with fixed charges, particularly so those customers who don’t participate in DG are not paying for those who do.

Bryan Miller claims the decision Nowak and her fellow Commissioners made on November 14 will “tax solar out of existence in Wisconsin.”

According to SEIA, there were about 1,8oo people employed in Wisconsin’s solar industry during 2013.

Kira Loehr, executive director of the Citizen’s Utility Board (CUB) of Wisconsin wrote the Commission made a lot of “giveaways” on November 14.

The Commission could have held all customers’ rates stable.  Instead, the Commission increased residential customers’ rates in order to give big business customers a rate decrease.  It also allowed We Energies to keep more than $40 million in Wisconsin customers’ money that the company lost due to competition in Michigan.

The Commission’s decision to increase the fixed part of customers’ bills by 75% means that We Energies’ residential and small business customers will see the fixed portion of their electric bill jump from $9.13 per month to $16 per month effective January 1, 2015.  As a consequence those customers who use the least amount of energy will see the largest increases on their electric bills.

Screenshot 2014-11-28 08.31.04The CUB site mentions two previous Commission decisions when Nowak cast the deciding vote in favour of WEC.

This does not prove that Ellen Nowak is a “captured regulator?”

Bloomberg added that, “through a spokesperson, Nowak said she didn’t discuss the rate case at the conference with Klappa.”

TASC has issued a Wisconsin Public Records request to the Commission regarding ALL meetings or communication between Commissioner Nowak and Gale Klappa.

Images above:

Solar Agrestic Verona, Wisconsin – Courtesy Carl Black, CC BY SA, 2.0

Part of a 7.2 kW system in Bayview, WI. This is the detached garage behind the house. – Courtesy Mat Montagne, CC BY SA, 2.0

Ellen Nowak – Courtesy Public Service Commission of Wisconsin

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