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Jets aside, maybe it’s the tab for Xcel’s lobbying that really should worry us

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March 22, 2012

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Jets aside, maybe it’s the tab for Xcel’s lobbying that really should worry us

Just last week we pointed out how it’ll probably be a long time before Xcel Energy is able to live down its latest, self-inflicted black eye: the revelation that its $142 million proposed rate hike, now pending before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, includes a $1.1 million charge to reimburse the utility giant for its execs’ use of two corporate jets. As we noted:

While the jets’ cost comprises only a sliver of some $135 million that PUC staff deems unwarranted in Xcel’s rate proposal, the high-flying expense—$4,642 an hour—seems to illustrate the two dramatically different levels on which Xcel and its many hard-pressed Colorado ratepayers seem to dwell these days.

Indeed, it’s bad enough Xcel’s execs seem to be living it up at high altitude while its 1.4 million Colorado ratepayers, many still struggling to recover from a devastating recession, face the prospect of yet another increase in their power bills. It only could come as salt in their wounds to learn they could be stuck with the tab for Xcel’s high life, to boot.

Now, news has emerged from Xcel’s hometown of Minneapolis that the utility has racked up another dubious distinction—one perhaps less outrageous than the company’s jet-set travel tastes, yet more insidious. It turns out that of all the major business interests headquartered in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis-based Xcel was the top spender on lobbying at the Minneapolis state legislature.

The tab for that activity, $2.36 million, is more than double what Xcel wants to charge its Colorado ratepayers for its execs’ Learjet jaunts. It even outspent broad-based Minnesota business lobbies like the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership Inc.

By this point, Xcel’s ratepayers in Minnesota as well as in Colorado must be wondering which is more galling: that they might wind up subsidizing Xcel’s exclusive travel habits—or that they are, in effect, being forced to lobby for legislation that, all too often, results in even higher energy bills. We’ve seen this happen here in Colorado, where Xcel lobbied at the State Capitol for costlier clean-air standards in 2010 and then lobbied against legislation that would have reined in some of those costs.

And whether we pay for any of it is ultimately up to the PUC, which has final say over the rates of regulated monopolies like Xcel. As we’ve also noted before, the PUC, under new leadership since last year, seems to be showing some renewed will to take on Xcel, having rejected two recent bids by the utility for an interim rate hike while its permanent increase is under consideration. Moreover, the PUC’s technical staff is recommending a vastly scaled-down permanent rate hike from that which Xcel is seeking. Will the PUC continue to hang tough?

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Colorado Consumer Coalition

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