March 12, 2015
Two utilities that want the state to approve a $9.1 billion merger, which consumer advocates have panned, have contributed about $171,000 to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign since the beginning of 2009.
The deal between Wisconsin Energy Corp., which owns We Energies, and Integrys Energy Group has been in the works since last summer and would create one of the largest natural gas utilities in the Midwest and the largest electric utility in Wisconsin.
The deal needs approval from the federal government, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC), which regulates the state’s natural gas, electric and water utilities, and energy regulators in Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota, where the two utilities now operate.
Although billed as an independent regulatory agency, the Wisconsin PSC has come under fire over the years because its members are appointed by partisan governors. Even though members are appointed to staggered, six-year terms, two of the three current PSC members are Walker appointees and the third member, outgoing Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, was recently nominated by Walker and awaits confirmation by the Republican-controlled state Senate.
Walker has praised the proposed merger, saying it will strengthen Wisconsin Energy and provide better service for ratepayers. Walker’s campaign accepted $171,205 in individual and political action committee contributions from the utilities between 2009 and Oct. 20, 2014, including $129,455 from Wisconsin Energy and Integrys executives and $41,750 from Wisconsin Energy’s PAC.
But consumer advocates, like the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), and large energy users are concerned the PSC will approve the deal without conditions that prevent the merger from costing ratepayers millions of dollars in the future, or proof that the merger will even benefit customers