Mercury Marine would benefit from energy-discount bill

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A bill that provides special discounts for manufacturers on their power rates is raising questions in Wisconsin about whether small businesses and homeowners would have to pay more so certain factories can pay less.

Republican lawmakers are considering the discounts as a tool to help Wisconsin's economy grow, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The bill would expand a pilot program to offer a discount of as much as $5 million over five years to Mercury Marine, the final piece of a $120 million-plus state-and-local financing package that helped the engine builder decide not to move to Oklahoma.

“Everybody in the legislature and the utility industry world does support economic development. That's hands down. But when it comes down to who pays for it, that's the question,” Dave Benforado, who runs Municipal Electric Utilities of Wisconsin, told the newspaper.

“If you believe that small business is the engine of growth in the economy, they will be paying for the economic development rate tool that will be used for large industrial customers,” he said.

Some lawmakers wonder whether the proposal could have the unintended consequence of making it tougher for Wisconsin businesses to compete if an out-of-state company is wooed to Wisconsin with a cheaper rate than a competitor already doing business in the state pays.

The bill is a priority for Madison-based Alliant, which serves parts of the state that the recession pummeled. Among the top Alliant customers that have closed their doors or scaled back are General Motors, Lear and other automotive suppliers in Janesville; Domtar in Port Edwards; Alcoa in Beloit; Thomas Products and Kohler Co. in Sheboygan; and Mercury Marine in Fond du Lac.

In 2009, Alliant was among several state utilities that raised power rates to help make up for lost electricity sales to large customers.

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