Local residents can weigh in Wednesday on Xcel Energy’s proposal to raise energy prices for some 257,000 Wisconsin ratepayers.
The Minnesota-based utility has asked Wisconsin regulators to approve a 3.6 percent increase in electricity revenues for 2018 and a 10 percent hike for natural gas. If approved, that would translate into about $6 more per month on the average residential electric bill and $5.31 more for gas.
The Public Service Commission, which sets rates for investor-owned utilities, will hold a public hearing at 3 p.m. at the La Crosse Public Library. Public comments can also be submitted online.
PSC staff have recommended more modest increases of 1.6 percent for electricity and 8.2 percent for gas, but it will be up to the three-member commission to determine the rates, which are structured to give the company a return on its investments.
Xcel has requested to maintain its current 10 percent profit margin.
The Citizens Utility Board, a nonprofit organization representing the interests of residential customers and small businesses, has argued that 9 percent is more in line with national trends.
Included in the electric request is a 21 percent increase to the $14 fixed monthly fee charged to all residential customers, which the CUB opposes on the grounds that it’s unfair to customers who use the least energy and that it discourages energy savings.
The PSC allowed Xcel to raise the monthly charge from $8 to $14 in 2016.
Xcel said the electric rate increase is necessary to support its infrastructure investments as well as slumping demand: sales were about 6 percent below forecast, a trend Xcel expects to continue through next year.
Among the primary cost drivers are a new natural gas plant in the Twin Cities, as well as upgrades to the Prairie Island nuclear plant and two aging hydroelectric plants.
The natural gas rate increase is driven by investments in the distribution system and cleanup costs of the company’s former gas plant in Ashland, Wis.
Since 2006, Xcel has sought to increase electricity revenues by an average of 6.4 percent each year. The PSC granted all but one, allowing an average hike of about 3.7 percent.
The company has sought to increase natural gas revenue seven times by an average of 4.5 percent. The PSC approved six, granting the company on average about 60 percent of what it asked for.
The average Xcel residential electric bill in 2017 was just over $100, according to data from the PSC. That’s lower than all but one of the state’s largest investor-owned utilities.