MILWAUKEE — Several groups held a rally in Milwaukee to oppose a proposed We Energies rate hike of 8-11% for its customers.
It created the ME Energies: Affordable Energy Now movement, which includes Sierra Club, Clean Wisconsin, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Health Professionals for Climate Action and Walnut Way Conservation Group.
Their goal is to stop the increase of gas and electrical rates because they believe it will hurt Black, Hispanic and Latinx neighborhoods the most.
César Gumeta is an immigrant that has lived in Milwaukee for 20-plus years.
They said they don’t want to have their family or anyone else struggle because of a utility rate increase.
“Any kind of bill increase whether its energy, phone or gas, it really forces families like mine to choose between having a roof over our head or being able to stay warm during the winter,” said Gumeta.
Gumeta explained that low-income families carry the highest energy burden because the homes they have to live in have the lowest energy efficiency.
“The landlords are just trying to make a profit from the people that live inside those homes so they don’t make them energy efficient which then that cost is passed down to the people that have to live in those areas like my family and other families across the city,” said Gumeta.
Keviea Guiden is the Energy Burden Organizer for Citizen Action North Side Rising.
She led “Fight for our Lights” chants throughout the rally.
Guiden believes that WE Energies should be able to move toward clean energy without burdening black and brown families.
“I’ve been collecting petitions myself. I’ve been asking folks to stand with me in solidarity and knowing and understanding what WE Energies is doing is not right and with that being said. We are collecting petitions. We are asking folks to put their comments on the public service commission,” said Guiden.
We Energies spokesman Brendan Conway attended the rally against the rate hike.
He held discussions with those in opposition to the proposal.
Conway explains the rate increase request is a part of the company’s investment in clean energy projects such as solar, wind and battery storage.
“A lot of that money that is part of this rate request is to pay for projects that have already been approved by the Public Service Commission. I think it’s really important for people to understand the way that it works here in Wisconsin is that the projects get approved and then the funding becomes part of that,” said Conway.
Conway added We Energies is sending $4 million to the Keep Wisconsin Warm Fund in hopes of low-income families this winter.
“We’ve recently reached a settlement with significant customer and labor groups as a part of this. This settlement will lower fixed fees every month,” Conway said. “It will lock in some really popular low income programs and it will allow us to continue that clean energy transition.”
Gumeta signed the petition opposing the We Energies rate hike, but they hope a better way can be found in the future.
“Ideally I would like to see the city of Milwaukee control its own energies so that the people of Milwaukee have a lot more say in what goes on with our energy bills and how we invest,” said Gumeta.
Because the last thing Gumeta said they want to see is We Energies make record profits at their expense.
The Public Service Commission will be accepting comments on the WE Energies proposal until Oct. 31. If approved, the rate hike would go into effect in 2023.