County supports city in rate-hike fight

Published 9:25 am Friday, November 19, 2010

Freeborn County stands behind Albert Lea in its fight against a proposed Alliant Energy rate hike.

Freeborn County commissioners passed a resolution at their regular meeting on Tuesday to support the city’s efforts.

“We’re standing up for citizens countywide,” said 2nd District Commissioner Dan Belshan. “It’s affecting almost all of the small cities in Freeborn County.”

Dan Belshan

In May, Alliant Energy filed its request with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to increase electric rates with customers in its Minnesota service area.

Then in July, Alliant Energy implemented interim rates that were approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for a total of $14.1 million. It was reported that the request was initially for $15 million; however, because the company only has about 40,000 members in this area, this has made the proposed percentage rate increase higher.

The average rate increase was about 22 percent.

County officials estimate that the rate increase will cost the county about $53,000 a year.

City officials have estimated that the impact of the proposed rate increase would cost Albert Lea about $236,000 per year. A large hit would come because of the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

“It’s a severe economic hardship to the city,” said Wendy Flugum, community development assistant for the city. “What will this do to people on fixed incomes? A 22 percent increase is just way too much.”

Ryan Stensland, spokesperson for Alliant Energy, could not be reached for comment.

Stensland previously told the Tribune that this is the first rate case the company has filed in Minnesota in five years. He said the request will recover the investments the company has made in its Minnesota system during the last five years, including investments in power plants to reduce emissions, new wind farms to produce renewable power for customers and cost of service.

In reaction to the proposed rate increase, the city of Albert Lea has obtained legal representation and is intervening with the goal of seeking a review and reduction of the proposed increase.

Three public comment hearings have been scheduled for customers to voice their opinions on the case, including the Albert Lea hearing at Riverland Community College at 7 p.m. Dec. 9.

“It’s really important that public attend that hearing,” said Flugum. “The information will show why this is not a necessity that rates are raised that much.”

Flugum also encourages customers affected by this rate increase proposal to write letters to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

Flugum said in addition to the county resolution, 25 other cities and towns in the Alliant Energy service territory have signed similar agreements supporting Albert Lea. Those agreements will be forwarded to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for review during the upcoming public hearings.

“I think it’s good that the Minnesota Public Utilities commission hears some voices out there,” Belshan added.

In early 2011, in February or March, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will hold an official evidentiary hearing, at which time all the parties who have intervened in the case can ask questions.

In the spring, the administrative law judge is expected to make a recommendation to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The commission will be required to make a decision by July 2011.