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The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin was asked Wednesday to reject or scale back a proposed electric rate increase for Xcel Energy.

The company said Friday that recent lower fuel and generation costs will significantly reduce its electric rate request. It filed June 1 with the PSC for a 5.7 percent electric rate increase, with no change in natural gas rates. The PSC staff recently suggested a 2.7 percent electric rate increase.

Xcel officials did not have a new percentage figure at public hearings Wednesday.

Six people spoke at Wednesday afternoon's teleconference from sites in La Crosse, Eau Claire and Madison. A hearing also was slated for Wednesday evening.

At the hourlong afternoon hearing, Park Falls Mayor Thomas Ratzlaff and two people affiliated with a paper mill in that community warned about the effect electric rate increases would have on that business and on the region's residents. The paper mill closed in 2006 and reopened later that year under new ownership.

Ratzlaff said he is troubled by Xcel repeatedly coming to the commission for rate increases.

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At the La Crosse site - the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Wing Technology Center - Paul Weber of La Crosse said the commission should approve no more than a 1.5 percent rate increase. He also suggested developing a long-term rate-capping program. Xcel is very profitable, Weber said.

Jeremy Gragert, a UW-L student, said as someone who lives in a rental property, he notices any increase in utility rates.

He added he realizes Xcel "works very hard" with renewable resources such as wind and hydroelectric. "I think those could be expanded tremendously in the next five or 10 years," he said, adding that rate increases are appropriate if utilities are moving toward more renewable energy.

"I would put our renewable portfolio up against almost any utility in the country," Mike Herro, Xcel manager of community service for the La Crosse area, later said in an interview. The utility is working long term to reduce its carbon footprint and burn less coal, he said.

As for customers such as the Park Falls paper mill, Herro said, "A lot of our industries are having tough economic times. So any time we ask for a rate increase, we're very careful about what we ask for."

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