Changes To CenterPoint Energy Bills Not Welcomed By All

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
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