If your electricity bill went up, you'd like to assume it is because it costs more to create the same amount of power than it did the year before. Not so. You could have been paying for fancy board retreats in Colorado, trips to London and Paris, or tickets to Beyonce and Rod Stewart concerts. We wish we were kidding.
When Xcel requested a $156 million electricity rate hike for Minnesota customers, that total included those expenses and more. State Attorney General Lori Swanson called them out on the unnecessary expenses, claiming that customers shouldn't be forced to pay a higher price for service just because your top execs want to go wild.
Xcel stands by their argument that these were "legitimate" business expenses, but finally agreed to take $3.9 million from the rate increase. That case will go to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission Sept. 24. Xcel says they took those expenses out of the rate increase to avoid distractions from more important issues that need to be addressed.
While these perks have been included in past rate hike requests, the attorney general's office said this was the first in-depth look at Xcel's spending since the early '90s.
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"It's been a brutal economy, and a lot of folks in the middle class are being squeezed," Wogsland said. "(Swanson) was determined to do a full-blown, detailed inventory of all their spending."Xcel came under similar scrutiny in Colorado when they tried to pass costs for bagels and coffee along to customers.
The attorney general's staff flagged a number of expenses because it did not believe they were related to providing electricity service to customers.
In testimony before an administrative judge, the Minnesota attorney general's staff said some regulatory commissions allow utilities to charge ratepayers for some types of employee expenses... including holiday or retirement parties, flowers for employees in the hospital or for funerals, team-building activities or safety awards.