Xcel Energy customers reap unexpected windfall


class=img_thumbleft>Close readers of their Xcel Energy bill will have noticed a peculiar item on this month's statement. The payment summary portion of the bill contains a mysterious 22 cent credit. This act of unexpected corporate benevolence is rather vaguely explained later in the statement. "The bill includes a credit as we did not meet one of our 2005 Service Quality Plan measurements," it reads.

According to Xcel Energy spokeswoman Mary Sandok, the specific requirement that it failed to comply with was the speed with which calls for service were answered. Under the company's regulatory agreement with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, Xcel is required to answer 80 percent of these calls within 20 seconds. In 2005 the company met this standard on 79.3 percent of calls. Because of this failing, Xcel was required to dole out $250,000 to its roughly 1.2 million customers.

The power company was actually fined a total of $1.7 million for non-compliance issues in 2005, however, according to the PUC. The bulk of that penalty, $1.2 million, was for failing to meet the state-mandated standard for length of power outages. Under the terms of Xcel's regulatory agreement, the average outage is required to be less than 98 minutes. Xcel's average in 2005? 110 minutes.

Xcel was required to use half of the fine money for maintenance and improvements to its distribution system. An additional $600,000 was allocated to consumers who had experienced substantial power outage problems during 2005. Roughly 7,000 businesses or households that lost power for more than 24 hours or experienced at least a half-dozen outages received an $88 credit.

Which left $250,000 for the rest of us--or 22 cents per customer. Don't spend it all in one place.

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