By Bill Hudson, WCCO-TV

CHANHASSEN, Minn. (WCCO) — CenterPoint Energy customers may soon notice a significantly higher utility bill this winter. That’s because the company has changed to a new way of billing.

Customers may get hit hard with some higher rates, but the changes also allow for some customers to bring their price down.

The Westerhaus family is doing their best to save energy.

Their house in Chanhassen is well-insulated and they’ve cut back on unnecessary use. But with a family of 11, there’s still a lot of laundry to wash and dry, meals to cook and the house to heat.

“When you buy the house, you say, ‘We know what our utilities are going to be based on square footage and what we need for our family.’ But then the rules of the game change,” said Peter Westerhaus.

Westerhaus is talking about the rules of how the utility company charges. It used to be there was a flat rate for natural gas. Now the more you use, the more you pay.

“The primary purpose is to provide an incentive for our customers to use less gas, to save energy,” said Doug Peterson.

Peterson said the pilot project for CenterPoint Energy breaks residential customers into five block rates.

People using the least amount of natural gas will pay the lowest rate — in fact, it’s lower than the old rate.

And getting to down to that tier is the best way to save money in this program. But homes using more gas can go from paying one rate this month, to a higher rate the next.

“There’s going to be some customers that use more than the average amounts of a customer,” Peterson said. “I guess I would just really encourage those customers, if they have bigger families, they may have bigger houses, there may be things they can do to save more energy.”

For Westerhaus and his family, it seems there may be an underlying message being sent.

“Seems like CenterPoint, or maybe the Public Utilities Commission, is making a social statement as well, that larger families pay a penalty,” he said.

He even noticed something else about the new rates. As a father of nine and a partner in a small business, he was surprised to see commercial rates at his office lower than at home.

“You’re going to pay more if you’re going to have a larger family or unusual circumstances. That to me doesn’t feel like the American way,” he said.

Another issue in this new pricing program is that using less energy would obviously cut into CenterPoint’s bottom line.

So it has a deal with the group that oversees utilities that lets it charge customers a surcharge to recoup any losses.

This is all going to be discussed at a Public Utilities Commission hearing on Thursday.

WCCO-TV’s Bill Hudson Reports

Joan Gilbertson, Producer
Contact Joan

Comments (32)
  1. Nicholas Peros says:

    The flat rate is out ….the fat rate is in…..hmmmm, wrong, wrong, wrong adinfinatum……do the Democrates run Centerpoint to? This is like, well….hmmmm, a new tax? Arses!

  2. portage45 says:

    Sorry…I’m NOT buying it. A company that makes money based on what we use, is making changes in hopes that consumers will use LESS of what it sells???
    Come on….
    They’re just figuring out ways to charge us ALL more for what we already pay too much for!
    typical Minnesota utility rip-off…

  3. gman says:

    Flat rate! Come on people, wake up! I was under the impression that EVERYONE was paying what they used, not that flat rate CRAP! That’s unfair to the rest of us that have ALWAYS been paying for what we use. Those people in Chanhassen had it made all this time & I think it’s time for them to pay into what the rest of us have been paying into. I think it’s a GREAT plan for them to be buying into what the rest of us have been paying into for a change.

  4. Shan says:


    Ah yes, Dems are so well known for being at the reins of large corporations,,,

    Think a little beyond what Tony Sutton feeds you.

  5. Kyle says:

    Peros, Are you serious or just an idiot? Which is it? How could you possibly turn this on the Dems. You sound like you need to go watch fox news and bang your head against the wall. Guess what, I have always paid for the amount of energy and water I use on a monthly basis. Use less you morons and you will pay less. The guy interviewed in the article sure didn’t sound to bright. Maybe you shouldn’t have had 11 kids! They are expensive to raise. What did you expect, God was going to plant a money tree in your backyard.

    1. John says:

      Nice comment kyle, saying he didn’t sound “TO bright.” By the way did you ever consider how that guy is sending nine functional people into society and that maybe society should reward him? Yes, they are expensive to raise. But his expenses paid are our benefit and maybe he should be encouraged for the kids he and his wife bring into society.

  6. POP says:

    200,000 people a day join this earth STOP LARGE FAMILIES they should be pay more they can’t stop having kids why do they think we want all their kids in this world get real…. buy condoms stop having kids!!!!

    1. Fred says:

      Pop, I’m glad to hear you’ve decided not to have kids…

      I think if they are going to do this they also need to find out how many people are in each residence. Otherwise all large families will pay a penalty, whether that means kids, foster care, adoption, parents, etc. The new rates should really be about energy abuse, not need.

      1. Sue says:

        This makes no sense, why should I as a single person pay the same as a family of 11. You use more you pay more, have we lost all common sense…..

      2. Fred says:

        Sue, you don’t. The family of 11 willpay more but the rate ($ per therm) should remain flat. If the family of 11 must pay more per therm than the family of 1 then we have a problem. Am I missing something?

  7. Mike says:

    It”s good Republican policy- stick it to the commons and reduce costs for business. What the heck did you people think you were going to get from Republicans, policy for the people? Hahahahahahahahahahahahaa.a………………………..

    1. Janet says:

      I’m stupid…how is that Republican policy?

      1. Mike says:

        Janet – The rates are lower for business and higher consumers. That is Republican policy. Less for business more for the commons (folk).

        PS. This policy also will affect young families that have very young children at home and need to keep the heat at a higher level. Also hits people who can’t afford to insulate their homes……….This policy is beyond stupid!

  8. SVRSOLID says:

    @POP — how many are “leaving” this earth each day?

  9. haz3335 says:

    I have a large family (five kids). I don’t mind paying for energy I am using. I’m not nuts about a tiered system, tho. If they keep track of how many units of energy I’m using then why not charge me per unit? But I knew when I had my kids they would cost some money to support, that includes washing their clothes and heating their soup. Paying for what I use isn’t a problem. Paying for what I don’t use because I jumped to the next tier is.

  10. TJ says:

    Fred, did you think before you wrote your comment? Of course a large family is going to have higher energy costs than a small family – it’s simple math! The utility is trying to reward customers who conserve because that’s mandated by the state, so everyone spouting off about this being a utility rip off needs to check their facts. What ISN’T fair, is the fact that I live alone and pay the same amount for sewer in the city of Brooklyn Center as the 11-member family up the street because BC has a flat rate system. You should pay for what you use, period.

    1. Fred says:

      Tj, reread what I wrote and then look up the term rate. By saying “flat rate” you infer $/residence. This is only true because the city made it so. Rate as a generic term is amount per unit which in my statement above is $ per therm.

      I can see charging a single person with a 10k sq ft home a higher rate. I cannot see charging a family of 5 (or 11) living in a 2500 sq ft house a higher rate because they cook more, have more laundry, etc. Since we cannot differentiate at present the rate should remain the samefor all… Pay for what you use, no more and no less.

    2. John says:

      TJ did you think before you wrote? You do not pay as much as them. You pay the same amount per unit as them, not the same total–in regard to Centerpoint energy usage that is.

  11. POP says:

    that taking into account leaving

  12. Rhonda says:

    Just wondering…could this story be more slanted? Who picks a home with 11 family members? Boo hoo poor big family. Don’t have so darn many kids if you don’t want higher bills.

  13. Mel says:

    I think it has nothing to do with having a large family or not! I know plenty of people who waste energy/gas & they are single! There are many things you can do to lower your usage even with a large family. I “only” have 3 kids but hang dry most of my laundry even in the winter. There are just so many things you can do to be ecofriendly or thrifty that I don’t buy into bo hoo poop me with a large family. IT’s about usage & accountability.

  14. Carolyn says:

    Is this guy really complaining because he has to pay more for energy because he uses more? That sounds pretty self-entitled to me.

    **It is a valid observation though to note that residential customers pay more than businesses, though it should be specified which parts of the higher cost are due to a rate difference from Centerpoint and which comes from different taxes from the city.

    **I can see not liking having a huge increase in my bill because I barely met the threshold for the next tier’s useage – but what a great inspiration to cut costs and get efficient.

    Energy companies do benefit from improved customer efficiency. When everyone wastes, energy companies have to keep up, and right now they’re ability to grow and produce more is limited.

  15. Thermal PJs says:

    CenterPoint is simply adding a McMansion tax to their product – knowing that the average square footage of homes is growing.

    Liken this to gas for two cars. One is driven to work and back – the other a taxi. Currently, both pay the same per gallon price. The taxi owner uses more gas, so pays for more gallons. What’s happening here is as the number of gallons used goes up – you pay more and more for the same gallon of gas. The work and back car never breaks the volume marks and pays the lower per gallon rate. But as the taxi hit 50 gallons cost goes up. Now he hits 100 gallons and the cost increases again.

    So just swap this to a 1,000 sqft rambler and a 3,500 sqft 9-room McMansion. Just to keep both places at 68 degrees will result in the McMansion owner paying more per unit of natural gas.

    CenterPoint has just found another way to game the system while making it look like they’re giving someone a break.

  16. Marlene says:

    Seniors stay home during the day so they don’t turn down their thermostats like the people who go to work. Their bodies also require it to be warmer as they are not as active. Therefore they are using more gas and will be charged more

  17. Fascism says:

    Of course people who use more energy should pay for it. This has to be the dumbest News story I have ever seen on this station.

    Minnesota punishes single people and couples without children with higher energy costs and higher taxes.

    Involuntary Servitude is unconstitutional in the United States according to the 13th amendment.

  18. Kimberly says:

    People who decide to over-consume valuable, finite resources should pay more. We have a tiered tax system; energy costs should be as well. Either teach the kids to wear sweaters, or if you cannot afford sweaters for the first 8, don’t have the ninth. We all make choices. Seems like it is time for these folks to grow up and learn to deal with the consequences. Of course we all have to deal with the consequences of over consumers and families of 11.

  19. Kyle says:

    I agree, dumbest news story ever. I can’t believe I read this. I am now dumber having read all of your posts. Pay for what you use. Enough said.

  20. Michelle says:

    We pay for electricity and water based on how much we use. Why should it be any different for anything else? He chose to have a big family. I don’t feel very sorry for him. It seems to me charging everyone a flat rate is penalizing people who are using less. Is that the American way?

  21. Don says:

    No this is 2010 and this is AMERIKA comrade Michelle ( since 2008 )

  22. steve says:

    Larger families do pay more for gas each month because their total bill is higher. Maybe they should take less showers, or wear dirty clothes. To be completely fair, they should breakdown the total bill per the number of individuals in the household. The per person use rate may be less than the single person. That way they could raise the single person’s rate and lower the larger family rate.

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