Xcel Energy will extend temporary discounts to small businesses that have been hit hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) last week approved a 25% discount or credit to Xcel small commercial customers that lost business due to COVID-19 economic lockdowns or turmoil following George Floyd's death in police custody.

"Small businesses are still reeling from extraordinary challenges during an unprecedented year due to the COVID-19 pandemic; this program will reduce economic impacts," PUC Commissioner Valerie Means said in a statement.

The PUC this summer approved similar discounts for midsize Xcel business customers.

The measure approved last week will cover businesses that have peak demands of below 100 kilowatts — for example, restaurants and small retailers. (The average residential peak load for Minnesota customers is about 5 kilowatts).

The credits would be available in January and would run eight months. Xcel said it expects the program to cost $2.5 million.

Just short of 2,000 Xcel small-business customers are expected to participate in the discount program approved last week. To qualify, a business must demonstrate a 25% reduction in peak electric demand compared with the same month a year prior.

Effectively, falling electricity demand is a gauge of lost business.

The Minnesota Attorney General's Office and the Minnesota Department of Commerce both generally supported the Xcel discount program before the PUC.

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., Xcel and other Minnesota utilities have been prohibited by the PUC from cutting off residential electric service.

Also, Xcel has proposed $2.5 billion in accelerated investments in response to the PUC's call for utilities to help stimulate Minnesota's economy because of losses linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003