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38 years ago: Leave utility companies alone

4:51 PM, Apr. 26, 2013  |  Comments
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Each Monday, we turn to a day in the newspaper's history for a look at what the Editorial Board found worthy of comment. We will preserve the punctuation and capitalization of the original editorial column. Here is what we wrote on April 29, 1975:

Quit harassing utilities

A group of Wisconsin legislators continues to harass electric utilities in the state at a time when the people of Wisconsin desperately need strong utilities which can provide the new electrical power which will be needed in the years ahead.

One example of this harassment is Assembly Bill 401, relating to utility advertising practices. The bill would limit the use of advertising expenses in calculation of service rates to those expenses which the utility "proves will produce a substantial public benefit," in the words of the Legislative Reference Bureau.

Apparently this would mean that advertising which produces a simple public benefit could not be charged to the rate - paying customers, even if it was helpful in holding down rates a small amount. It would have to hold them down a "substantial" amount. How can anyone "prove" in advance that advertising will pay a substantial benefit?

The bill starts out in stating its purpose: "The legislature finds that advertising expenses of many public utilities have contributed to recent increases in utility rates ..."

The legislator sponsors lose a lot of credibility right there. Wisconsin Public Service Corp., our utility in the Wausau-Merrill area, had 1974 total sales advertising amounting to less than one percent per customer per month!

The remaining advertising is called "institutional advertising," such things as publishing corporate financial statements and notices of rate hearings, as required by law. Then there are ads about safety, about the need for rate increases to meet the need for more electricity, and for ads in high school annuals, plat books, city directories, etc. This type of advertising amounted to only four cents per month.

With total advertising amounting to only five or six cents of a monthly bill of $30 or $40, one has to wonder if the real motive of these legislators is to save the consumer money.

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