CenterPoint Energy customers will have an opportunity to voice their opinions about proposed rate increases at public hearings this month.
The utility company wants to raise rates for natural gas by about 4 percent annually. The increase would raise the average monthly residential bill from $94 to $99, and would generate about $60 million in revenue.
CenterPoint Energy cited increased costs related to capital expenses and conservation improvement programs, decreased average customer use, and $47 million in unpaid bills as the key reasons for the proposed rate hike.
"When you're a business, you have to make your earnings." said Becca Virdin, a CenterPoint Energy spokesperson. "We're not making our earnings."
The company reported about $80 million in debt from unpaid customer bills in March. The amount decreased due to a boost in energy assistance funding, Virdin said.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission needs to approve any rate increase, and expects to reach a decision in January 2010. If approved, the increase would go into effect about two months later.
CenterPoint Energy already implemented an interim rate increase in January, increasing the average monthly residential bill by about three dollars. If MPUC rejects the proposal, the company would need to return the money to consumers.
The last rate increase took effect in early 2007. At the time, the utility company cited the increased cost of natural gas, according to Jerry Dasinger, financial analyst for MPUC. Since then, the price of natural gas has declined.
Six public hearings to discuss the proposed rate increase and any other concerns related to CenterPoint Energy will be held over the next two weeks.
July 14, 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Coon Rapids Coon Rapids Civic Center Council Chambers 11155 Robinson Dr. N
July 15, 6 p.m. Minneapolis Sabathani Community Center Conference Room D-2 310 E. 38th St.
July 21, 6 p.m. Bloomington Bloomington Center for the Arts, Rehearsal Hall Bloomington Civic Plaza, North Entrance 1800 W. Old Shakopee Rd.
July 22, 6 p.m. Mankato/North Mankato South Central Technical College Room E-125 1920 Lee Blvd N.
July 23, 6 p.m. Alexandria Alexandria Technical College 1601 Jefferson St., Auditorium 205, Main Building