The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday upheld the state's approval of three pioneering electric vehicle charging programs run by Xcel Energy, quashing a challenge from two oil refineries and another large industrial customer of Xcel.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in 2019 OK'd three Xcel pilot programs aimed at boosting electric vehicle (EV) use in Minnesota, specifically through residential and public charging systems.

Xcel Large Industrials (XLI), an ad hoc consortium of big power buyers, appealed the PUC's decision, claiming that Xcel's charging programs extend the utility's electric service beyond the point allowed by state law.

Typically, a utility's own equipment transmits electricity up to the meter of a house or business. XLI has argued that Xcel's EV programs put the company "behind the meter" — in other words, the equipment owned or managed by Xcel is inside a home, business or public agency.

The PUC rejected that argument and the appeals court agreed.

"We accordingly hold that [state law] is unambiguous in that it does not impose a limitation on the [PUC's] regulatory authority based on the location of the customer meter."

XLI, which for this particular suit included USG Interiors, Marathon Petroleum and Flint Hills Resources, said it's reviewing the appellate court's decision for any further appeal. (USG is a gypsum products manufacturer with a plant in Red Wing; Marathon has a refinery in St. Paul Park; and Koch Industries-owned Flint Hills runs a refinery in Rosemount.)

"XLI remains concerned about the potential rate impacts and business operational impacts of Xcel's increasing investments behind utility meters and into customers' homes and businesses," the group's attorney, Andrew Moratzka, said in an e-mail.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, which filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the PUC and Xcel, praised the appellate court's decision.

"Xcel's pilot projects — which can move forward thanks to the court's decision today — will provide a crucial link to a future in which electric vehicles are widely adopted throughout Minnesota," the group's staff attorney Joy Anderson said in a statement.

Xcel's residential charging pilot offers EV owners a flat monthly fee for off-peak electricity usage. The company installs and maintains the in-home charging equipment, for which customers pay up front or in monthly installments.

The PUC in May approved a permanent expansion of the pilot, which Xcel plans to launch in January.

Another Xcel venture, its public "fleet-charging" program, includes equipment for electric vehicles operated by the state of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis, along with Metro Transit's electric buses.

The bus-charging venture is up and running. But negotiations for the EV fleet program have gone slower than expected, Xcel said in a June filing with the PUC.

The same goes for Xcel's public charging pilot program. It would consist of a network of charging stations in a partnership with the nonprofit Hourcar and the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003