ANGI opposes utility's proposal
MADISON Despite the objections of a Janesville manufacturer, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission is poised to allow a gas utility to enter the promising natural gas vehicle refueling market through it's parent company.
Although they withheld a final vote, two commissioners indicated Friday they have no objections to the request from Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service Corp. to affiliate with a company that constructs and operates natural gas vehicle refueling stations nationwide. A third commissioner said he wanted another week to study it.
PSC Chairman Phil Montgomery disapproved of Wisconsin Public Service Corp. owning compressed natural gas refilling stations as a regulated utility because it wouldn't be a level playing field for non-utility competitors. That echoed comments offered by ANGI Energy Systems of Janesville against Wisconsin Public Service Corp. directly entering the market.
Despite his reservations, Montgomery voiced approval of Wisconsin Public Service Corp. affiliating with its parent company, Integrys Energy Group, which also owns Trillium CNG, an ANGI competitor.
"I think the protections and others in the agreement go a long ways to address the concerns raised by a number of the filed comments about the potential for anti-competitive behavior, " he said.
Commissioner Ellen Nowak said the agreement creates a wall between Wisconsin Public Service Corp. and Integrys Transportation Fuels, which does business as Trillium CNG.
Commissioner Eric Castillo balked at approving the agreement saying, "I don't know enough to pull the trigger on this."
Minutes earlier the PSC denied a request from Madison Gas & Electric to directly enter the retail natural gas vehicle refueling market. Acknowledging the significant change it would make to the emerging industry, Montgomery suggested holding a public meeting next year.
Instead of voting on the Wisconsin Public Service Corp. request, the commissioners decided to hold it over until their Nov. 16 meeting.
A spokesperson for Integrys declined comment on the PSC's actions until the PSC votes on the Wisconsin Public Service Corp. request.
Utilities have looked at the natural gas vehicle refueling market to increase demand for natural gas. Increasing supplies recently have driven the fuel's price to an 18-year low. To date, most business has come from refueling vehicle fleets, and Trillium has opened refueling stations in Wausau and De Pere for carrier fleets based there.
Wisconsin Public Service Corp. supplies natural gas through an extensive distribution network based in northeastern Wisconsin. Trillium CNG supplies the equipment and "co-locates" its natural gas refueling stations at existing gasoline retailers or vehicle fleet facilities, said Mark Radtke, an Integrys vice present.
That combination could be formidable competition to ANGI, which makes and markets natural gas vehicle refueling equipment.
Trillium doesn't buy the equipment ANGI makes, and ANGI President Andy Grimmer said businesses might be hesitant to invest in anyone else but Trillium if they believe Trillium "has leverage" with a gas supplier such as Wisconsin Public Service Corp.
While Wisconsin Public Service Corp.'s agreement with parent Integrys supposedly creates a regulatory wall, ANGI's potential customers might have a different perception, Grimmer said.
Wisconsin Public Service Corp.'s request is opposed by Kwik Trip, which has invested $4 million in natural gas vehicle refueling stations and plans to add 30 more locations in the Midwest next year.
The Citizens Utility Board had expressed similar concerns for utility customers before the PSC took up WPS's affiliate interest agreement.
"The PSC has always viewed utilities getting into non-regulated businesses, like servicing and selling appliances with skepticism, and we feel that should apply to this request, too," said Charlie Higley, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board.
After MG&E's request was denied, Higley said he was encouraged by the PSC's stance on the issue.
"We think they did the right thing denying MG&E entry into the market, and we think they'll do right by WPS's request, as well," he said.