Commission backs ANGI, for now
MADISON The Wisconsin Public Service Commission has at least temporarily sided with a Janesville manufacturer and others who oppose a utility's entry into the refueling market for vehicles that run on compressed natural gas.
The unanimous vote represents a change for two commissioners who voiced no opposition earlier this month to allowing Wisconsin Public Service Corp. to work with other affiliates of its parent company, Integrys Energy Group, to market CNG as a transportation fuel.
Integrys affiliate Trillium CNG constructs and operates natural gas vehicle refueling stations nationwide, putting it in competition with ANGI Energy of Janesville, a CNG refueling equipment maker.
The agreement would have allowed WPS to supply natural gas and exchange other services with Integrys and Trillium.
On Nov. 9, Commissioners Phil Montgomery and Ellen Nowak stated they favored the agreement that WPS sought as it created sufficient barriers to its directly operating CNG filling stations. However, Commissioner Eric Castillo asked to delay the decision, saying he wanted more time to study it.
On Nov. 21, the two other commissioners agreed that more study time is needed.
"In order to allow further consideration of the proper role of regulated utilities and their affiliates in the developing CNG transportation fuels market, the application is denied, without prejudice," according to a PSC order released Friday.
Denying the agreement without prejudice allows the commission to consider a subsequent application by WPS or another utility, PSC spokesperson Kristin Ruesch said.
"The commissioners wanted to make it clear that they are still open to the idea down the road if it makes sense," Ruesch wrote.
The commission is considering holding a public hearing early next year to gain a broader context of the impact of allowing a regulated utility, such as Green Bay-based WPS, to enter the CNG transport fuels market, Ruesch wrote.
ANGI, which moved to Janesville from Milton earlier this year, has opposed WPS' entry into the CNG vehicle refueling market as anti-competitive. Buying equipment from Trillium, which is affiliated with the natural gas supplier in the area, can create an uneven playing field, ANGI claimed.
Businesses might hesitate to buy from ANGI if they are going to be CNG customers of WPS, ANGI President Andy Grimmer said earlier this month.
Also, a large regulated utility such as WPS, whose rates are set to earn it an authorized rate of return, may have profits that could subsidize ANGI's competition.
While surprised to learn that the PSC voted against WPS' requested agreement, Grimmer had no comment other than that ANGI would continue to follow the issue and add its input if requested by the PSC.
In opposing WPS, ANGI was joined by Kwik Trip, which plans on adding CNG to many of its gas stations in Wisconsin, Allstate Peterbilt Trucks and the Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association.
A WPS spokesperson wasn't available for immediate comment Monday.
Industry sources have said the future looks bright for CNG as a transportation fuel. Diesel and gas prices remain volatile, while natural gas is produced domestically, and the supply is increasing. CNG is priced lower than other fuels, and vehicle makers are showing more interest in producing models that will operate on CNG.