City to intervene in Alliant Energy rate increase

Published 10:09 am Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The city of Albert Lea joined efforts Monday to intervene in an Alliant Energy interim rate increase of 22 percent that was filed in May with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

During the regularly-scheduled Albert Lea City Council meeting, council members motioned for the city to be one of 14 parties represented by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce to intercede on the issue, ultimately seeking a review and reduction of the proposed rate increase.

The city is the largest electrical user Alliant Energy has in Minnesota.

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“I think it’s critical we intervene,” 3rd Ward Councilor Ellen Kehr said. “We are the No. 1 customer of Interstate Power & Light in Minnesota. For the city of Albert Lea, this is a tremendous amount of money.”

For example, for the wastewater treatment plant alone, the city’s bill has already seen an increase by $9,000 during the month of May since the interim rates went into place, said treatment operator Rick Ashling.

Then there are businesses and other large power users affected, right on down to the average residential user who will also see an effect, many councilors pointed out.

Council members motioned that because of the unique place Albert Lea is in on this case, they would like to consider supplemental individual representation from lawyers at Flaherty & Hood to bring more attention to the other impacts the rate increase could have on various parts in the community.

Doing so would allow the most people to be represented, hopefully bringing the most impact, 5th Ward Councilor Larry Anderson said.

Representation between the Minnesota Chamber and the law firm would not be duplicated if both representation are approved.

City Manager Jim Norman said he would bring back additional information about the representation Flaherty & Hood could provide to the council at its next work session.

Tentatively, the representation by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce will cost about $8,600, while additional representation by Flaherty & Hood could add another $12,000 to $15,000, according to Norman.

“We would be focusing on speaking with a strong voice, getting your public participation. …” said Tim Flaherty of Flaherty & Hood. “We would focus on the things that are particular to Albert Lea.”

Lawyer Joe Sullivan with Flaherty & Hood said the city has a unique chance to put a public face on the impacts of the rate increase.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will also have a public hearing in Albert Lea, among other places, in the near future that will give people an opportunity for people to speak up about unique city issues.

Alliant Energy has stated the need for the rate increase is driven by its responsibility under Minnesota law to meet renewable energy mandates, as well as reducing emissions from its Lansing power units, among other factors.

The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and the Office of Energy Security will also be stepping in to intervene, Sullivan said, noting that representatives from both of these two offices said they are impressed with the city’s potential involvement.

Flaherty said it’s fairly unusual for a city to speak up in this type of situation

Look to Wednesday’s Tribune for more about the council meeting.