Alliant request likely cut in half

Published 1:35 pm Friday, June 17, 2011

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission appears to have approved about half of the revenue increase requested by Alliant Energy, according to a secretary to the commission on Friday.

Dan Wolf, assistant executive secretary to the Public Utilities Commission, said specifics about how the decision will impact ratepayers are not yet available.

In the next two to three weeks, fiscal analysts and lawyers working for the commission will consolidate the motions and decisions made by the commission into a final written order, which will more clearly describe the decision.

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Though the final outcomes of the decision are yet to be seen, the lawyer who has represented the city of Albert Lea in the case said he is pleased with the results in the order.

“I felt the city of Albert Lea’s involvement in the case really breathed life into the case that this was rate shock, that this rate increase was too much,” said Joe Sullivan, of Flaherty & Hood. “It definitely is a bad day for the utility.”

Alliant Energy’s subsidiary Interstate Power & Light initially requested an annual increase of $15.1 million, but preliminary numbers show the commission only approved $8 or $9 million of that, Wolf said.

In full, the proposal would have given most ratepayers a 22 percent rate increase in their electricity bills.

Alliant Energy spokesman Ryan Stensland said the company is anticipating a refund to customers — though when or how much has not been finalized. Alliant Energy customers have been paying an interim rate increase of about 20 percent since July of 2010.

Whatever the gap is between what the commission approved and what has already been paid will be refunded.

“We appreciate the MPUC’s efforts, along with all the parties of the case, to better understand this case,” Stensland said. “At the end of the day, we believe a balanced decision has been made in terms of developing the long-term viability of our company and the impact on customers.”

Stensland said Alliant Energy remains committed to keeping costs of investments as low as possible for customers.

Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen said he was happy to see the results.

“It shows the process does work, that the community stepped up and clearly spoke its mind,” Rasmussen said. “I think the commission took those thoughts seriously. It shows that as a community, we did a good service.”

He said the decision will save the city roughly $100,000 or maybe more.

“I think this is about the best outcome we could expect,” added Albert Lea Economic Development Agency Executive Director Dan Dorman. “Alliant is a good company, but we just want to make sure we are as competitive as we could be.”

Dorman said if the full rate increase was approved, Albert Lea industrial users under Alliant Energy would have had the highest industrial electricity rates in the state. For a large utility user, the increase alone would have probably been more than the company’s total property tax for the year.

Potential state shutdown’s effect on the case

if the Public Utilities Commission’s final written order has not come out before July 1, the finality of the rate case could get caught up in the state government shutdown projected for the same day.

Stensland said Alliant Energy will continue to collect the interim rates until it receives the order. This does not mean the company would make additional profits, however, he pointed out. This would just mean more money that would have to come back to customers via refund.