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Partnership and collaboration are key to getting things done. Community and stakeholder engagement have always been central to the Public Service Commission’s (PSC) mission of ensuring safe, reliable, affordable, and environmentally responsible utility services and equitable access to telecommunications and broadband services.

In 2022 especially, the PSC’s work to connect with federal, state and tribal government leaders, community advocates, and industry professionals helped us achieve major milestones. Moreover, the work we accomplished in the last twelve months has set us up for success in 2023 and the years to come.

On the heels of 2021, the “Year of Broadband Access” as declared by Gov. Evers, the PSC remained focused on strategies to bridge Wisconsin’s digital divide. In 2022, the PSC awarded $125 million in state Broadband Expansion grants for 71 projects—impacting 45 counties in the state. I had the opportunity to visit one of the grantees in Sawyer County and hear directly how this award will help them reach 165 businesses and 1,353 residential locations.

In October, the PSC and our federal partners hosted the “Internet for All” event in Wausau, bringing together stakeholders to discuss ways to improve Internet access, adoption, and affordability as we prepare to implement programs under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s ‘Internet for All’ initiative. Following this event, Gov. Evers and the PSC announced the state will receive nearly $6 million to begin program planning with our partners.

Since 2019, Gov. Evers and the PSC have disbursed or committed more than $340 million in funding to projects to bring expanded or improved service to over 387,000 Wisconsin homes and businesses. With additional historic federal and state investments, we look forward to connecting even more Wisconsinites to high-speed Internet in 2023 and beyond.

The PSC values community input in every step of the process to expand broadband statewide—just as we do in our work to identify a Roadmap to Zero Carbon. During 2022, the PSC held a series of in-person public workshops on performance-based regulation, which stakeholders have helped us identify as a key priority to help transition to zero carbon while maintaining affordability for customers. Public attendance from statewide advocates and utility customers at the workshops grew throughout the year, which led to robust, forward-thinking dialogue.

In addition to these workshops, the PSC shined a light on utility resource planning processes through the Strategic Energy Assessment to better understand how decisions to retire existing power plants and construct new ones can effectively balance the goals of adequacy, reliability, affordability, and environmental responsibility.

The PSC also completed a multi-phase Focus on Energy planning process that will enhance the program’s emphasis on equitable participation opportunities and improve program design and delivery. These achievements will inform Commission decision-making as Wisconsin transitions to zero-carbon electricity consumption by 2050.

In 2022, the PSC proudly awarded $10 million for 46 projects under the Energy Innovation Grant Program (EIGP) to support Wisconsinites’ efforts to implement a wide variety of projects related to energy efficiency, renewable energy, energy storage, and energy planning. Commissioner Tyler Huebner observed the benefits of this program while on a tour of completed project sites in Green Bay and Milwaukee. The PSC recently opened a new round of the EIGP for entities, including schools, hospitals, and manufacturers, to compete for $10 million in additional funding to pursue more new and innovative projects.

We accomplished a lot for Wisconsinites last year. In fact, the Commission made decisions that are saving Wisconsin utility customers over $28 million per year; and will help low-income residential customers get out and stay out of debt through progressive payment plans. My primary goals for 2023 build off this progress: bridge the digital divide; create a roadmap to zero carbon and ensure it is done reliably, affordably, and responsibly; and center agency actions and decisions through a lens of equity.

From returning to in-person public hearings to hosting workshops and webinars to streaming open meetings on YouTube, the PSC prioritized transparency and inclusivity in last year’s work and will continue to do so this year.

The regulatory responsibilities of the PSC impact every Wisconsin resident every single day. The provision of safe, clean drinking water and reliable sources of heat and electricity; the expansion of high-speed Internet and equitable access to telecommunications services do not happen easily. No doubt there are challenges and issues all along the way, but we will continue to meet those challenges with innovation, collaboration, and pragmatism.

The public interest is always at the forefront of what we do, and it’s exactly why we encourage Wisconsinites–whether they are state, local or tribal leaders, community activists, interested residents or industry stakeholders–to get involved. We hope to hear from you in 2023.

–Rebecca Cameron Valcq is chairperson of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the PSC or any other individual Commissioner.

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