Company at fault, but it's Xcel customers who will pay for nuclear overspend

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It's not their fault, but Xcel Energy customers are likely to end up paying more because management failures at the utility caused the cost of a nuclear plant upgrade to balloon.

A state investigation into a project to extend the life of Xcel's Monticello nuclear plant found poor management and planning meant it finished in 2013 costing $748 million – some $402 million over budget, the St. Cloud Times reports.

Despite this, Judge Steve Mihalchick agreed with a state Commerce Department recommendation that Xcel should have to cover $71 million of the overrun, with the rest tacked onto customers' energy bills.

"Xcel has failed to demonstrate that the cost overruns it seeks to recover were prudently incurred and are reasonable," Mihalchick wrote in a 38-page report, according to the St. Cloud Times.

Xcel said the upgrade of the 40-year-old power plant was more complicated than it had predicted and workers suffered issues fitting large equipment into small spaces, the Star Tribune reports, but Mihalchick said "nothing related to the characteristics of the plant, including its size, should have surprised Xcel or led to cost overruns."

The decision on how much of the cost will be paid for by customers lies with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, the newspaper notes, which is scheduled to vote on a proposed rate hike for Xcel's 1.2 million Minnesota customers in March.

Xcel had previously indicated it was pushing for a hike that would see the entire cost of the project paid for by customers.

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