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Janell Cole, Published January 01 2009

Xcel ends up with 7.4% rate increase

BISMARCK – Xcel Energy’s North Dakota electric customers will be getting an average refund of between $35 to $45 in March, now that the company’s yearlong rate case is finished at the Public Service Commission.

Commissioners OK’d a settlement with the company Wednesday in which customers’ rate increases will be lower than what the company wanted and also lower than an interim increase being charged for most of the past year.

Xcel had sought a 14 percent increase when it first filed its request in December 2007. The PSC approved an 11.5 percent interim increase last Feb. 5 while it spent the past year considering the rate case. Customers will continue to pay the interim rate through February.

While the case was pending, Xcel amended its requested increase to 12.15 percent.

The new rate approved Wednesday will take effect March 1. It is listed as an 8.9 percent increase, but when customers share in the company’s profits from selling excess power, the effective increase will actually be 7.4 percent, commissioners and Xcel officials said.

Xcel’s North Dakota principal manager, Mark Nisbet, said today that when the new rate takes effect, customers’ bills will likely be between $4 to $6 less per month than they are currently paying under the interim rate.

The refunds due customers will show up as credits on customers bills by May, Nisbet said.

PSC commissioners said they’re pleased the final order has Xcel agreeing to create a North Dakota-specific “resource plan.” A central issue in the case has been whether North Dakota Xcel customers are unfairly being charged by Xcel to recover the company’s costs of complying with Minnesota laws.

During hearings on the rate case, commissioners made clear their concern that Xcel is the biggest energy provider in North Dakota but the company has invested in no power generation plants in the state. They believe their pressing the company on the issue resulted in Xcel’s recent announcement that it will build a wind farm near Merricourt, N.D.

In the agreement, the company also agrees that it will not get another rate increase before 2011 and that Xcel employees’ and executives’ bonuses, if they’re more than 15 percent, will not be charged to the electric customers.
Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net