June 15, 2022
Have you noticed that your CenterPoint gas bill is up this year? You’re not alone. In addition to CenterPoint’s rate hike, some of those higher costs are from a five-day period in February 2021 when wholesale fuel prices spiked 4,000%. If the utility prevails, customers will be paying for those five days of fuel costs for the next five years.
As a follow-up to the Star Tribune article from last year (“Xcel, CenterPoint make millions while customers get stuck with bills after February storm”) I want to provide more background about why the city of Minneapolis is demanding that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) make CenterPoint Energy share the burden of excess wholesale gas costs from Winter Storm Uri that hit Minnesota and crippled Texas in February last year. After rejecting some costs early on and spreading any remaining costs over 63 months to ease the impact on customers, the PUC plans to decide this summer how much of the $466 million still in question customers will have to pay. Last month the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings recommended that customers pay the full amount. Minneapolis disagrees.
Minnesota law requires utilities to charge “just and reasonable” rates and puts the burden on utilities to show that they acted prudently when incurring costs that they want to pass on to customers. Any doubts to the reasonableness of a rate increase must be resolved in favor of the customer. Fossil gas utilities are expected to act prudently and reasonably to protect ratepayers from risk. In this case, CenterPoint did not protect customers, and therefore the increased rates are neither just nor reasonable.