In the fall of 2014, we organized a group of local MGE shareholders due to our concerns that MGE had a heavy reliance on coal generation and their mandatory fee hike was leading the company in the wrong direction. We believe MGE should be leading the country in clean energy, not blocking it. Their billing structure of high fixed fees and low usage fees discourages energy efficiency and customer investment in renewable energy. In addition, MGE had no concrete plans to increase renewable energy generation significantly beyond its current level of 13.7 percent.
Our group of about 50 shareholders, now known as MGE Shareholders for Clean Energy, met in November 2014 to discuss how to use shareholder advocacy to push MGE to become a utility leader in clean energy. Shareholder advocacy is one way to promote change from within a corporation. Shareholders can seek environmental, social, or governance reform through corporate dialogue, resolutions, and proxy voting.
Our first goal was to get MGE management to take notice of our concerns. Our group decided the best course of action was to submit resolutions to be included in the 2015 shareholder proxy statement for a vote by all shareholders.
We considered six resolutions, but ultimately filed two resolutions, with nine shareholders signing on. One resolution sought a study on how MGE could reach 25 percent renewable energy by 2025 and another sought to tie executive compensation to sustainability metrics. MGE management took notice, and in March 2015, we withdrew the resolutions from the proxy statement in exchange for a written agreement, signed by MGE’s CEO, Gary Wolter, to pursue the objectives of the resolutions.
The agreement included a commitment by MGE to work with an expert, in consultation with the shareholder group, to study adding substantial and measurable amounts of renewable energy to MGE’s supply mix.
Thus far, MGE has followed up on the agreement. MGE is in negotiations with a professional consulting firm to assess MGE’s renewable energy options. In addition, MGE’s Community Energy Conversations are in full swing and MGE has not increased its mandatory fees any higher.
Although we are happy with the progress being made on our agreement, we also feel it is important for shareholders to continue to put pressure on MGE to become a utility leader in clean energy. Therefore, our group is currently considering developing new proxy resolutions that need to be submitted by Nov. 28 to be eligible for a shareholder vote at MGE’s 2016 annual shareholder meeting. A number of resolutions under consideration include asking MGE to report stranded asset risk, to endorse clean energy initiatives, and to make governance changes.
We believe there are thousands of local shareholders in the Madison area who share our objective of pushing MGE to be a national leader in clean energy, which will benefit our environment but will also keep our investments secure well into the future. As part owners of the company, our mission is to advocate directly with MGE management to be a national leader in clean energy.
MGE Shareholders for Clean Energy meets every month or two to review MGE’s progress toward fulfilling its obligations and to discuss future tactics. If you are a current MGE shareholder or if you want to become one and get involved in local energy advocacy from within the area’s utility company, you are invited to join our meetings and activities. To get more information, view our Facebook page: MGE Shareholders for Clean Energy.
Don Wichert, of Madison, and Beth Esser, of Monona, are co-founders of MGE Shareholders for Clean Energy.
Editor's note: This column has been revised to correct an error.
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.