Minn. agency wants CenterPoint rate hike slashed

Minnesota Commerce Department officials said Tuesday that CenterPoint Energy doesn't need to increase customers' natural gas rates as much as it has requested.

CenterPoint filed a request in August to increase residential gas rates by 5 percent to pay for pipeline improvements. Company officials have said the rate hike would increase the average residential customer's bill by about $4 a month.

But Commerce Department officials say the rate hike can be slashed nearly in half and still ensure CenterPoint can provide safe, reliable service as well as improve infrastructure.

Commerce officials predicted CenterPoint's revenues will be higher than anticipated, making a larger rate increase unnecessary.

Five public hearings will take place starting next week to give customers a chance to weigh in on the rate hike proposal.

An administrative law judge will then evaluate the case and make recommendations to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which has the final say in the matter. The commission's decision is expected in June.

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Five public hearings will be held in December:

• 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 2, at Central Lakes Community College, 501 W. College Dr., Room E203 in Brainerd.

• 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3 at Normandale Community College, Classroom P0808, 9700 France Ave. S., in Bloomington.

• 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4, Mankato Place Mall, Mankato Room, 12 Civic Center Plaza in Mankato.

• 1 p.m. Monday, Dec. 9, CEAP - Community Room, 7051 Brooklyn Blvd. in Brooklyn Center.

• 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10, Sabathani Community Center auditorium, 310 E. 38th St., Minneapolis.