Better watchdogs: Laws would check utilities on travel, rates

Attorney General Lori Swanson, state Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, and state Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, deserve thanks from Minnesota's utility customers. On Wednesday, the three joined forces to seek laws better scrutinizing how much companies charge consumers for electricity and natural gas.

The much-needed push comes after a Lakeville dad alerted news media last fall to Xcel Energy's near daily weekday use of two Learjets to ferry employees around the country at $1,200 an hour. The controversy over that put the spotlight on an earlier report from Swanson's office documenting posh travel perks by executives with Xcel, which sought two rate hikes in 2009.

A previous Star Tribune editorial took both Xcel and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to task. Xcel shouldn't have asked consumers to pick up the tab for luxury travel. The PUC's vague answers about whether it scrutinized travel expenses during rate hike requests also did not inspire confidence.

The proposed laws would address these key concerns. One bill would require utilities to itemize travel expenses and other costs and submit them during rate hike requests. Another deals with interim rate hikes, which often take effect immediately when a permanent hike is sought. These interim hikes would become the exception rather than the rule.

Both proposals deserve support from the Legislature.

Star Tribune
Article Publish Date: 
January 16, 2010