Posh perks spur call to scrutinize utilities

  • Article by: JILL BURCUM
  • Updated: January 13, 2010 - 3:33 PM

Attorney General Lori Swanson, State Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, and State Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St.Paul, deserve a hearty round of thanks from Minnesota’s hardworking utility customers. On Wednesday, the three joined forces to seek new laws better scrutinizing how much companies charge consumers for electricity and natural gas.

The much-needed push comes after a Lakeville dad alerted news media this fall to Xcel’s Energy’s near daily weekday use of two Learjets to ferry employees around the country at $1,200 an hour. The controversy over that put the spotlight on an earlier report from Swanson’s office documenting posh travel perks by Xcel executives. The utility sought two rate hikes in 2009.

A previous Star Tribune editorial took both Xcel and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC)  to task. Xcel shouldn’t have asked recession-plagued consumers to pick up the tab for luxury travel; instead, it should have passed these costs solely onto shareholders. The PUC’s weak and vague answers about whether it scrutinized travel expenses during rate hike requests also did not inspire confidence.

The laws called for by Swanson and the legislators would address these key concerns. One bill would require utilities to itemize travel expenses and other costs and submit them during rate hike requests. Another bill deals with interim rate hikes, which often take effect immediately when a permanent hike is sought. These interim hikes would be come the exception rather than the rule.

Minnesota consumers deserve regulators who aggressively question utilities' expenses. These bills will help ensure that happens. Both proposals deserve widespread support in the legislature during the coming session.

 

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