Wisconsin lawmakers have approved a bill to provide the state’s consumer advocate with funding to negotiate more favorable utility rates.
The bill, passed by the Senate Tuesday, would direct $900,000 a year from ratepayers of Wisconsin’s investor-owned utilities to the Customer Utility Board, an independent nonprofit organization established by the Legislature to represent utility customers.
CUB says the bill will help level the playing field between consumers and utilities.
“Wisconsin homeowners, renters and small businesses will now have an even more effective consumer advocate working on their behalf in the years ahead,” said CUB executive director Tom Content.
Funding would be administered by the Public Service Commission, which would have oversight of the organization’s budget.
Business and institutional customers who buy their gas from pipeline suppliers and marketers are being hit with huge bills for February, though it may be another month before the impact shows up on utility bills.
CUB currently receives a PSC grant of about $300,000 a year plus about $200,000 in additional funding — approved on a case-by-case basis — to hire outside experts.
Even with passage of the bill, Wisconsin provides less funding for consumer advocacy than any other state in the Midwest. And unlike Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois, Wisconsin does not have a governmental agency dedicated to consumer protection in utility cases.
Content said the additional revenue will allow CUB to expand its staff and better represent ratepayer interests under a 2018 law that encourages utilities to negotiate rates with consumer advocates and other interested parties.