The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) today is deliberating a rate hike sought by Xcel Energy Inc. and could deliver a decision as soon as this afternoon that affects the finances of 1.2 million electric customers in the state.

The commission, which sets rates for investor-owned utilities, earlier this week heard arguments from Xcel and other related parties to the requested increase. The utility last November asked for a 10.7 percent rate increase but has twice pared it back and now seeks a 7.8 percent hike, which would add about $209 million in annual revenue.

Last month, an administrative judge recommended that Xcel get a 4.7 percent increase. Xcel said Tuesday that it accepts most of the judge's findings, but asked for a higher return on equity and other changes, including permission to charge ratepayers for nuclear power plant investments.

Analysts have noted that regulators tend to split the difference between what courts recommend and what utilities seek in rate cases.

Xcel said on Monday that its refurbished Monticello nuclear reactor has gone back on line. Xcel disclosed in the rate case that the cost of the five-year reactor upgrade had doubled. Originally budgeted at $320 million, the cost of the project grew to $655 million. The utility has said a portion of the rate hike in Minnesota would be used to cover the costs of that upgrade.

The Minneapolis-based utility is also a major provider of energy services in Wisconsin, Colorado and portions of the Dakotas, Michigan, New Mexico and Texas.