Guide to the Rate Case Process
Before a public utility can raise its rates, it must file an application with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC). The utility provides detailed information and proposals on its rate increase request. PSC staff analyzes the utility’s information, and develops additional information and alternative proposals for the Commission to consider. The rate case process also involves many opportunities for public input. These include the opportunity to participate in a formal trial-type hearing, and the opportunity to simply offer a comment. Commissioners review the all the information collected in this process to determine if a rate increase is appropriate.
A rate case begins with a utility application. The utility provides forecasts of how much money its estimates will be needed to cover its expenses for in the next year. This includes a proposed return on its investment in assets used to provide service to its customers (such as power plants, electric lines or gas mains), which the utility uses to pay interest on money it borrows and to compensate investors. The utility also proposes customer rates, set at levels that the utility expects would generate enough revenue to cover its expenses and provide a return.
PSC staff audits the utility’s financial records, examines the utility’s forecasts and proposals, and develops additional information. PSC staff also makes proposals about how much revenue the utility needs to operate and how customer rates should be set.
The rate case process includes a proceeding in order to create a record of evidence the Commissioners will use to evaluate the application. A proceeding involves a formal trial-type hearing, called a "party hearing session", where parties and PSC staff present expert testimony on the issues in the case. A proceeding also includes ways in which a member of the public may track, observe and comment on the case.
For more information about proceedings and how the public may participate in a proceeding, see
Guide to Public Participation
At the completion of the hearings and comment period in any given proceeding, the Commissioners receive the record which consists of all the party testimony and exhibits, and the party hearing session transcript. The record also contains all the public comments received, by mail, online, or at any public hearing session. A briefing period for the parties may follow the hearing. Briefs are written arguments about issues the Commissioners need to decide. They are usually written by lawyers for the utilities and other parties. After the Commissioners have reviewed the record, the PSC schedules an Open Meeting for the Commissioners to talk about the issues presented and ultimately state their position on a case. These meetings are held in Madison, are open for the public to observe, and are broadcast over the Internet via the PSC’s website. At this Open Meeting the Commissioners vote either to approve or deny the proposal, or approve the proposal with modifications or conditions. After the Commissioners reach a preliminary decision in an Open Meeting, the PSC issues a final, written order for Commissioners to review. Once approved, the order is sent by email to the parties, and posted on the Electronic Records Filing System (ERF) on the PSC’s website.