Small businesses, consumers need not apply for WE Energies’ power discount

Carl Fredrik Hill [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Untitled. Coal on paper by Carl Fredrik Hill [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So one of the largest printers of magazines (Quad/Graphics of Sussex) wants an energy discount for its expansion plan, a plan the corporation says will “create up to 500 jobs” [italics my own] in Wisconsin (while cutting jobs elsewhere).

And WE Energies, now part of one of the largest for-profit power/gas utilities in the Midwest and the nation, has a lot of excess, mostly coal-powered electricity it spent a fortune to create and now wants to sell more of.

So the two giant corporations make a sweet deal– wholesale power rates for the Quad/Graphics expansion, courtesy of WE Energies.

WE Energies claims that all utility customers will benefit from its deal with Q/G because more power and money will be generated by the utility. Um, okay. But from an environmental perspective, at least, this is a dubious benefit, especially since so much of WE Energies’ power is coal-generated.

Claire Ho, Quad/Graphics spokeswoman, reportedly said, “We appreciate We Energies partnering with us to help make Wisconsin competitive and bring jobs here.” Charity, as they say, begins at home.

So Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission, whose job it is to regulate (dare we say prevent?) this sort of corporate club, approves this partnership/welfare/cronyism because the deal supposedly won’t directly raise rates for other, smaller ratepayers (whose rates have already been raised a lot lately) and because of the promised job creation. What’s more, if you own a business of at least 5,000 employees and are seeking $15 million in tax credits from our generous state government, you, too, can apply to get the same deal from our generous investor-owned mega-utility, if you act by June. What could be more egalitarian than that?

As for the promised jobs, PSC chairwoman Ellen Nowak says that the deal between Quad/Graphics and WE Energies should be judged on the amount of extra power sold, not on the number of employees that Q/G ultimately hires, reports the Journal Sentinel’s Thomas Content.  So, technically, if Q/G “hires” a few hundred robots or just twenty people to operate the expansion, it’s still, in the eyes of the PSC, a good deal for everyone.

So if you own a really large factory farm, and if you can make the case to our very accommodating PSC that your 5,000 or so cows are in fact employees (they work for you, don’t they?), you could expand (with the blessing of our quite accommodating Department of Natural Resources) and get some cheap electricity and possibly hire another human employee or two.

But if you own a small, family farm or any small business of under 5,000 employees, or if you are a typical residential consumer, you are too puny and insignificant in the eyes of WE Energies and the state to qualify for wholesale electric rates should you want to put on a little addition.

Bottom line, citizens: in Wisconsin, it pays to be big.

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