In a surprising move to anyone who has watched the cozy relationship develop between Xcel Energy and the Public Utilities Commission, yesterday the PUC denied Xcel’s $142 million interim rate request.
Colorado News Agency columnist Peter Blake (then with Face the State) initially exposed how the PUC, Xcel, and Governor Ritter’s administration colluded on the cost recovery language of HB 1365, the infamous fuel switching bill, which allows for Xcel to ask for an interim rate increase without a public hearing. Emails from then PUC Chairman Ron Binz shows just how deeply involved the PUC was with Xcel, the very company the PUC is suppose to regulate:
- March 8, 2010: “We will agree to using the extraordinary cost recovery in proportion to pressure that the approved plan puts on the company’s financial health.”
- March 9, 2010: “The Commission and Xcel have agreed on language for cost recovery.”
- March 11, 2010: “I was working with Karen Hyde up until 9:00 last evening to hammer out the final language in a couple of areas.”
Karen Hyde is Xcel’s vice president for rates and regulatory affairs for Colorado. After yesterday’s decision, she told the Denver Post, “we are very disappointed. We outlined what the negative impact would be as of Jan. 1. We are sorry the commission didn’t recognize the adverse impact of the delay.”
Based on the emails above, Xcel is probably more than “disappointed.” It’s a little like being kicked in the stomach by your new best friend. But since the heady days of the HB 1365 love fest, Ron Binz has left the commission under the cloud of an ethics investigation, which found him guilty of violating the constitution for accepting a privately paid trip without legitimate state purpose from an industry that he was charged with regulating and actually benefitted from HB 1365.
Yesterday’s decision doesn’t mean ratepayers are off the hook. It just means a reprieve until full public hearings are conducted. If the PUC eventually grants the full rate increase, more than a third of which is due to Xcel’s poor management, then we’ll know the PUC and Xcel still are best friends.