Shaping Utility Regulation in Wisconsin
1874: Railroad oversight established
Railroads were the first modern enterprise to have their rates regulated.
Wisconsin became one of the first states to pass oversight laws. In 1874, a
railroad rate structure was established and provided for three appointed railroad
commissioners to supervise rail freight operations. Two years later, much of
the 1874 law was repealed and a single appointed commissioner of railroads was
August 20, 1882: Nation’s first commercial power plant begins operation
Wisconsin boasts the first commercial light and power plant in the United States.
The plant began its operation in Appleton in September of 1882. The first
plant was small and served few customers. The entire plant was an experiment
to a large extent- the lights were made with bamboo filaments, most of the meters
were homemade, and the wires were of the large kind that are used only for high
1905: Three-member Commission appointed
In 1905, the current system of a three-member Commission was established.
The governor appoints three full-time commissioners, with senate approval, to serve
staggered six year terms. The governor designates a chairperson who may appoint
July 9, 1907: Wisconsin becomes first state in nation to regulate
The Commission began vigorous regulation of the service, rates, and accounting
practices of all utilities and street railways under Wisconsin’s Public
Utility Act of 1907, an Act which served as a model for many other states.
According to Wisconsin Statutes, it is the duty of the Public Service Commission to
“supervise and regulate every public utility in this state” to the end
that “reasonably adequate service and facilities” be available at “rates
that are reasonable and just.” The basic goal of the Commission is to
carry out this mandate.
June 8, 1931: Public utility law revised, Railroad Commission renamed
Public Service Commission
The 1931 session of the State Legislature expanded the jurisdiction and added to the
duties of the Railroad Commission, renaming it the Public Service Commission.
Among the changes in the transition were the additions of the Rate and Research
Division and Transportation Division. Previously, the Engineering Division had
been a branch of the State Department of Engineering. After the change of name,
the Engineering Division became an integral part of the Public Service Commission.
1935: Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA)
The Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 (PUHCA) was a law that was passed to
facilitate the regulation of electric utilities by either limiting their operations
to a single state or forcing utilities to become a single integrated system serving
a limited geographic area. PUHCA also kept utilities that were engaged in regulated
businesses from engaging in unregulated businesses.
The utility industry lobbied Congress heavily to repeal PUHCA, claiming that it was
outdated. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 was signed into law, repealing PUHCA,
and became effective on February 8, 2006.
May 7, 1937: Wisconsin’s first energy cooperative begins service
Energy cooperatives officially came to Wisconsin on May 7, 1937, when Richland Electric
Cooperative went into service. Electric co-ops in Wisconsin have become vital parts
of the communities they serve, offering services beyond provision of reliable electricity.
Electric co-ops serve 11 percent of the U.S. population, but their service territories
spread across 70 percent of the nation's land mass.
February 1, 1938: PSC rules and procedures overhauled for work efficiency
and public protection
In 1938, the Commission modified office routing to provide faster handling of approximately
200 formal cases and hundreds of informal matters that are disposed of each month.
January 24, 1967: Commission approves first nuclear power plant in
The Wisconsin Michigan Power Company filed an application with the PSC on January 24th, 1967
for the authority to construct a nuclear power plant to meet energy needs.
After the Commission was convinced the plant would not present any undue risk to the
health and safety of the public, determined the structure of the plant, and found an
urgent need for more energy generation, Wisconsin Michigan Power Company was granted
a permit to build the Point Beach Power Plant.
1968: Overhaul of telecommunications service rules
Rules for telephone service in Wisconsin were established in 1914. Over time, various
rules have been added or modified. In 1968, the Commission examined and recreated
the rules to impose more stringent standards for the design and operation of all telephone
operating plants, including operating practices such as those related to safety.
1970: First Wisconsin nuclear power plant in operation
The Point Beach Power Plant was Wisconsin’s first nuclear power plant to go into
operation. The plant occupies more than 825 acres of land on the shore of Lake
Michigan near Two Rivers, Wisconsin. The total net generating capacity of Point
Beach Nuclear Plant is 1,026 megawatts.
1974: Cost of service methods for water utilities provide quality rate
The Commission began using the American Water Works Association’s Base Extra
Capacity Cost of Service model in 1974. It is still the premier water cost
allocation model used today. It has provided the basis for hundreds of quality
water rate designs throughout Wisconsin.
1975: Power plant siting and advanced plans laws enacted
Power plant siting laws involved the PSC in the process of planning power plants at an
early stage so the needs of utilities, their consumers, and the environment can be
recognized before the need for new facilities becomes critical. As part of this
process, utilities became required to estimate the expected demand for energy.
The laws also protect landowners whose property may be affected due to the construction
of new energy facilities.
1977: Railroad and trucking oversight transferred out of PSC
In the laws of 1977, the Commission’s railroad and motor carrier regulatory
functions were transferred to the Transportation Commission (now known as the Office
of the Commissioner of Transportation).
1978: Commission makes first efforts to promote renewable energy
On August 17th, 1978, the Commission released an order that required utilities to
promote use of “alternative energy sources” and to investigate the use of
alternative generation strategies by the utilities themselves.
1978: Commission takes step to prevent new nuclear power plant
The PSC issued an order in 1978 that stated that no nuclear generation should be planned
or applied for until reasonable progress, satisfactory to the Commission, had been
made in resolving waste disposal, fuel supply, and decommissioning issues.
1982: Water staff gets first PSC computer which allows for automated rate
As more water systems came into being, there was a need for quicker processing of rate
cases with existing staff resources. In 1982, the Water Bureau, within the
Commission’s Utility Rates Division, became the recipient of the first personal
computer. Rate calculations that used to take hours were reduced to mere minutes.
Today, these same calculations occur in mille-seconds.
1984: State’s nuclear moratorium law enacted
The nuclear moratorium law prevents the PSC from permitting construction of a nuclear
plant unless it determines that a federally licensed facility, or a facility outside
of the U.S., will be available to dispose of high level nuclear waste from all nuclear
plants operating in Wisconsin. It also ensures that the nuclear plant, in
comparison to feasible alternatives, is economically advantageous to ratepayers.
1984: Break up of Bell system
The Bell System was a trademark and service mark used by the American Telephone &
Telegraph Company (AT&T) and its affiliated companies to co-brand their telephone
network and their affiliations with each other. The telephone system had a near-monopoly
on the U.S. telephone market until its divestiture in 1984 that was the result of a
lawsuit alleging illegal practices by the Bell System companies to stifle competition
in the telecommunications industry.
1985-1991: Mary Lou Munts joins PSC as first female Commissioner
Mary Lou Munts was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1924, elected to the Wisconsin Assembly
in 1984 and was appointed as the PSC’s first female Commissioner in 1985.
Munts’ accomplishments include being at the forefront of advancing women’s
rights, becoming appointed to the Midwestern Task Force on Energy of the Council of
State Governments, receiving a certificate of appreciation from the Wisconsin Wetlands
Association for work in the area of wetlands protection legislation, and protecting the
public in a bill the Legislature passed prohibiting Wisconsin electric utilities from
using ratepayer’s money to help pay clean-up costs at the Three Mile Island
nuclear generating plant in Pennsylvania.
1985: Deregulation of holding companies
The Wisconsin Utility Holding Company Act was structured to address utility regulatory
gaps. The statute gives the Commission more direct involvement in holding companies
by exercising control over the formation and control of the holding company.
The act also gives the Commission control over the makeup of the holding company system
and provides the ultimate tool to protect the public interest-the ability to require
divestiture of the public utility.
1993: Wisconsin law requires utilities to consider renewable energy
Act 414, the Energy Priorities Law, established a hierarchy for pursuing energy resource
options. It placed top priority on conservation and renewables and the lowest
priority on fossil fuels. The Energy Priorities Law remains an important part of
the state’s energy policy.
1993: PSC introduces extended community calling to improve local telephone
Extended Community Calling (ECC) is a service authorized by the Public Service Commission
in 1993 to promote equality of local calling areas. ECC only affects calling that was
previously considered toll calling to exchanges that are either adjacent to or within
15 miles of the caller's exchange. Mileage is based on the location of the rate
center for each exchange; for most exchanges this is the location of the switching center.
ECC calls are considered part of local service. As such, the rates are subject to change
the same way other local rates may be changed.
1994: Legislation allows for water utilities to file simplified water
The Commission supported legislation in 1994 to allow simple inflationary rate increases
without the need for public hearings or complex processes. Utility applicants qualify
for inflationary rate increases through satisfying some basic requirements that safeguard
the customer from unfair rate impacts.
1994: Wisconsin Act 496 transforms telecommunications regulation to
Wisconsin Act 496 ensures that all state residents receive essential telecommunication
services and have access to advanced telecommunication capabilities. The Universal
Service Fund (USF) was developed under this act and allows the PSC to collect fees from
telecommunication providers to award up to $500,000 annually to non-profit organizations.
2000: Wisconsin law authorizes creation of the American Transmission
American Transmission Company (ATC) started business on January 1, 2001, as the first
multi-state, transmission-only utility in the United States. Unlike most other utilities,
ATC has a single focus: transmission. ATC’s transmission system allows energy producers
to transport electric power from where it's generated to where it's needed. ATC operates
their transmission system as a single entity, providing comparable service to all our
customers. ATC’s customers include electricity producers and electric distribution
companies who rely on ATC to deliver power from where it is produced to where it is
needed in the homes and businesses they serve.
2004: PSC’s Electronic Regulatory Filing System provides easier
case filing and document viewing
The Electronic Regulatory Filing system (ERF) was a major step in providing public
transparency to the PSC regulatory process. All information filed in connection with
cases before the Commission can be easily accessed through this system on the PSC’s website.
ERF not only provides more information to the public, but it also reduces the time
necessary to make decisions on proposed actions. The system allows the PSC to receive,
circulate, process and publish documents electronically. The system has proven to
work so well that the Center for Digital Government awarded the PSC the 2005 Digital
Government Achievement Award in the Government-to-Business category.
2005: Energy Policy Act of 2005 signed into law
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 is a statute that was passed by the United States Congress on July 29, 2005 and signed into law by President George W. Bush on August 8, 2005. The Act, as an attempt to combat growing energy problems, provides tax incentives and loan guarantees for energy production of various types. The Energy Policy Act replaced Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA).
2006: Major energy and water conservation efforts unleashed
In 2006, several water dynamics merged to bring in a new era of water utility supply and distribution. These forces included Governor Jim Doyle’s Conserve Wisconsin Initiative, the Wisconsin 2003 Groundwater Quantity Law, Act 310, and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement. The PSC in tandem with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and various water industry stakeholders began developing principles that will guide the development of water conservation in the state.
April 1, 2006: Governor Jim Doyle signs Wisconsin Act 141, the state’s Energy Efficiency and Renewables rules, into law
Act 141 requires that state utilities generate 10% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2015, the state purchase 20% of its electricity from renewable resources by 2010, the state’s energy efficiency fund, known as Focus on Energy, be protected by diversion of funds to balance the budget, utilities collect and contribute 1.2% of their annual gross revenues to the Focus on Energy program, and all equipment purchased for state buildings meet ENERGY STAR or equivalent high efficiency standards.
2007: PSC acquires management of the state’s energy efficiency and renewable programs
In 2007, the PSC began managing the states Focus on Energy program. Focus on Energy works with eligible Wisconsin residents and businesses to install cost effective energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Focus information, resources and financial incentives help to implement projects that otherwise would not get completed, or to complete projects sooner than scheduled. Its efforts help Wisconsin residents and businesses manage rising energy costs, promote in-state economic development, protect our environment and control the state's growing demand for electricity and natural gas.
2007: PSC celebrates 100th anniversary
On Tuesday, July 24th 2007, Governor Jim Doyle, past and present Commissioners, PSC staff and the public held a ceremony celebrating 100 years of progressive public regulatory service for the citizens of Wisconsin.