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Wisconsin regulators seek workforce diversity, energy burden data from utilities

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The Wisconsin Public Service Commission is requiring utilities to report how much of their customers' household income goes to energy, as well as the diversity of their workforces.

For the first time, Wisconsin regulators are requiring utilities to report on the diversity of their workforces and suppliers, as well as the portion of household income their customers spend on energy.

The Public Service Commission announced Monday that all 609 regulated electric, gas and water utilities must include demographic information on their employees and boards of directors in their annual reports to the agency.

The PSC is asking for data on race, ethnicity, gender, disabilities and veteran status for workers at all investor-owned and municipal utilities.

In addition, investor-owned utilities with at least 15,000 customers must provide information on their suppliers, including procurement goals and actual spending with businesses owned by minorities, veterans, women, LGBT individuals or people with disabilities.

In a statement, PSC Chair Rebecca Valcq said the workforce data requirement will further Gov. Tony Evers’ commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Diversity and inclusion within the utility industry are not just important because of the tremendous impact they have on both employees and the financial health of the utility. Ultimately, diversity and inclusion efforts impact the manner in which utility customers are served,” Valcq said. “Collecting this data also will provide an opportunity for our partners to encourage diversity and inclusion throughout the industry.”

The seven largest investor-owned utilities will also be required to complete a detailed customer energy burden analysis to evaluate what portion of household income their customers spend on utility services. In some neighborhoods of Milwaukee, it approaches a fifth, according to a report in March by a city-county task force on climate and economic equity.

Homes in need

More than 70,700 Wisconsin households applied for state energy assistance between March 15 and the end of the year, up 42% from the previous year, according to data from the Department of Administration. A shutoff moratorium is set to expire April 15, which could put tens of thousands of families who’ve fallen behind on their bills at risk of losing power and water.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the need to understand energy and water affordability and the effect Commission decisions have on all customers,” Valcq said.

The state’s consumer advocate praised the decision to require energy burden analysis, something the Citizens Utility Board had already gotten We Energies, Wisconsin Public Service Corp. and Madison Gas and Electric to agree to as part of past rate cases.

“This is a tangible step forward, but it’s really the first step on a long path that Wisconsin utilities and the PSC will need to traverse to help identify who’s struggling the most and to develop policies and pilot programs to assist them,” said Tom Content, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board.

New benchmark

Tim Heinrich, executive director of the Wisconsin Municipal Electric Utilities, said the reporting requirement will provide a benchmark for all utilities to measure their performance.

“Efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion require intentional leadership,” Heinrich said. “By design, municipal utilities are able to focus exclusively on their home community and understand customers’ demographic makeup.”

Regulated utilities are required to submit detailed annual reports to the PSC by April 1, though the deadline for this year has been extended to June 1.


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