Xcel Energy's proposed rate increase draws criticism from customers

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MENOMONIE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Xcel Energy says it needs to increase its rates but customers are opposing the change saying their rates are already too high.

At a public hearing held in Menomonie, Wednesday, consumers raised questions and concerns about Xcel Energy's plan that would mean a customer's base charge would increase.

The plan would increase consumers' fixed rate by $10 month but it would drop the average rate of energy usage per hour.

In other words, the base charge would go from $8 to $18 per month while average rates would drop by around 0.7 cents per kilowatt hour.

For an average Wisconsin household it works out to be about an extra $4.70 per month.

It’s a change members of social justice organization JONAH oppose.

“It needs to be challenged, it needs to be stopped,” said organization president, Michael Wollman.

However Don Reck, Regional V.P. of Rates and Regulatory Affairs with Xcel, says the increase is to cover necessary costs.

“The overall rate increase is to pay for investments in infrastructure including transmission lines and windfarms which will help meet the needs of our customers,” explained Reck.

Wollman believes the change is unnecessary and harmful to low-income families.

“The increase of a base rate of 125 percent is disproportionate and impacts those in poverty the hardest,” said Wollman.

Reck, on the other hand, says the rate design proposal will more accurately reflect costs of providing services.

“The data we have shows that low-income customers use just about the same amount of electricity per household as the rest of our residential customers. So, we're not doing anything to treat them any differently,” said Reck.

During a public hearing held at Menomonie Public Library, Xcel customers including AARP representatives spoke out against the increase.

“We oppose this increase as it makes consumers pay more before they even turn on the lights,” said Sandy Drew with AARP. “This has a disproportionate effect on seniors and other's living on limited and fixed incomes.”

The Public Service Commission is considering the increase. Communication director Elise Nelson says all comments will be collected into the docket for review

“Commissioners will consider those comments as they look over the entire record for the rate request and hopefully commissioners will take that up before the end of the year,” said Nelson “So, a potential rate change would take effect January 1, 2016.”

For those who couldn't make the public hearing and want to give their input the Public Service Commission says it will be accepting feedback both by mail and online.

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