The Public Utilities Commission has blocked utility companies from passing on an additional $60 million of costs relating to the winter 2021 gas crisis onto Minnesota consumers, saying they were at fault for their response to the cold snap that hampered supplies in central and southern U.S.A.
The PUC made a decision Thursday that reversed part of a court ruling that stated utility companies can pass on $660 million of wholesale gas costs to their customers in Minnesota, reducing that amount by $58.4 million.
In reducing the costs, the PUC also said utilities could have done more to protect their customers from extremely high prices and should bear some of the total costs.
The PUC disallowed about $35.7 million with CenterPoint Energy – Minnesota's biggest gas utility; about $19 million with Xcel Energy; and $845,000 with Great Plains Energy, according to the Office Attorney General Keith Ellison.
In February 2021, a historic cold snap hit the center of the country, sending temperatures plunging as far south as Texas, with some gas equipment freezing as a result, limiting supplies and sending prices skyrocket.
Per the Star Tribune, Minnesotans will end up paying around 50% more than their annual heating bills this year as utilities recover their costs. While respite from the additional $60 million was welcomed by Ellison, he's not happy that Minnesotans are paying for the mistakes of energy generators in the south who were ill-prepared for cold weather.
“While this decision is a win for consumers, still too much of the utilities’ gas costs will get passed onto Minnesotans to pay," Attorney General Keith Ellison said.
The Attorney's General Office, Minnesota Department of Commerce and the Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota represented ratepayers in the hearing and signed the settlement. They claimed the companies miscalculated gas supply future costs, and didn't use backup gas reserves in an appropriate manner.
“Our job is to act in the best interest of the consumer and that is why we ordered a thorough investigation - to ensure we had all the information before making a decision that significantly impacts Minnesota ratepayers”, Katie Sieben, PUC chair, said in a statement.
“In the end, utilities could’ve done better to protect customers from the risks of these price increases. And, going forward they need to be more diligent as these extreme weather events are becoming more frequent.”
Xcel Energy provided the following statement to Bring Me The News:
"Xcel Energy is proud of the job our employees did during historic Winter Storm Uri to maintain safe and reliable service for our customers, and we believe we acted prudently leading up to and throughout the event. We are evaluating the Commission’s decision and will determine next steps after the Commission issues its written order."
CenterPoint Energy also provided a statement on the outcome:
"We appreciate the time spent by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and other stakeholders to review the costs of natural gas delivered to our Minnesota customers during Winter Storm Uri. And we appreciate that the Commission acknowledged that we maintained reliable service that kept our Minnesota customers safe and warm under very challenging, unprecedented market conditions. We look forward to continuing to work with the Commission and stakeholders as the proceeding continues. We understand the concerns of our customers about the Winter Storm Uri costs and, in fact, we already worked with the Commission to limit the monthly bill impact of these costs. We will also be submitting a plan with proposals for the Commission’s consideration that we believe could help protect customers from future market price spikes."