Mayor Paine addressing SWL&P proposed rate increases

It’s been just over a month since Superior Water, Light and Power (SWL&P) announced their proposal for increases to electric, natural gas, and water rates for their customers. Now, Superior Mayor Jim Paine is looking to intervene.

SWL&P says the rate adjustment proposal supports their continued investments in infrastructure improvements, an environmental remediation and reflects the higher costs of operations because of inflation.

“We’re continuing to invest, making sure our services are clean, safe, reliable. And it takes maintenance on our systems,” explained Rob Sandstrom, President of SWL&P. “We feel really good about the investments we’re making, and that they’re right investments on behalf of our customers.”

The company is requesting an overall increase of 5.9%, which is approximately $7.3 million. Electric rates are proposed to go up by 2.2%, a 17.1% hike for natural gas, and another 18% in water rates.

“One of the drivers for the increase on the water side of our increase happens to be with the Hammond Avenue reconstruction project,” shared Sandstrom. “So, the City has got a significant project and we are leveraging the synergies. We have the City- they’re ripping up the roadway and water mains underneath. And it makes sense to replace our ageing infrastructure at the same time.”

Superior Water, Light and Power says the rate adjustment proposal also includes expenses related to the first phase of their environmental remediation at the site of an old manufactured gas plant that was previously operated by SWL&P. The plant operated from 1889 to 1904, and was used to store gas until the late 1950s.

In the State of Wisconsin, private utility rates are regulated by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) after public hearings. The PSC allows anyone to “intervene” in those hearings by presenting evidence and offering argument.

That’s what Mayor Paine planned to do at Tuesday’s Superior City Council meeting.

“Nobody is representing citizens of Superior in this decision,” says Paine. “The Public Service Commission in Madison will decide how much we pay for utilities. Citizens have never had representation at the table and they deserve to have somebody that works for them fighting for them. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

Mayor Paine believes the proposed rate increases far exceed the rate of inflation in Northern Wisconsin, and he believes at least part of this increase is to cover the cost for that environmental remediation. Paine is concerned that SWL&P is now attempting to avoid responsibility for this site by passing costs on to customers.

“The City of Superior operates several public utilities but has not raised rates in more than a decade. In fact, we recently lowered these fees for our citizens,” explained the Mayor. “That changes now. We intend to aggressively defend our citizens and businesses, most of whom have not had income or revenue increases that would allow them to easily bear these significant new costs.”

Tuesday’s City Council meeting was hosted in the Superior/Douglas County Government Center. It was there where Mayor Paine received approval to go to Madison, Wisconsin to discuss intervening with the Public Service Commission. He says the next steps are to prepare for the hearing. Paine also hopes to speak with the utility company prior to the hearing in Madison, which is slated to happen in a few weeks.