The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 3, 2013

CenterPoint Energy seeks major Minn. rate hike

The Mankato Free Press

---- — MINNEAPOLIS — One of Minnesota's largest energy companies is asking the state to approve what would be its largest-ever rate hike in the state.

CenterPoint Energy's plan aims to reduce large spikes in residential energy bills during winter months by offsetting it with higher payments in the summer. The Star Tribune reported Saturday the Houston-based energy company says it needs a $44 million increase in revenue mainly because it has doubled investment in pipelines to enhance safety and reliability.

CenterPoint serves 806,000 customers in 260 communities in the state, including Minneapolis.

The Public Utilities Commission's review of the request could take months. The PUC has a history of authorizing smaller hikes than what CenterPoint asked for.

Traditionally, heating needs in winter have propelled average monthly bills well over $100, according to company data submitted to the state. Under its proposal, CenterPoint said residential customers would see little or no winter bill spikes.

But the average customer's summertime bills would jump from $18 to $19 a month up to $24 to $25 a month. Spring and fall would bring more moderate increases.

The overall increase for a customer using 879 therms, a natural gas measurement unite used on bills, would be 6.8 percent a year.

Some clean-energy advocates are worried that the new billing system would not reduce bills as much for customers who conserve energy, creating a disincentive for energy efficiency.

The company also asked the PUC to approve an interim rate hike to take effect Oct. 1. It would be slightly less than the full proposed rate hike, and if regulators don't approve the full hike, CenterPoint would funnel excess payments back to customers.