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Xcel: Higher Electric Rates, Fewer Outages

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — As part of a deal to raise its electric rates, Xcel Energy is promising to spend more to prevent widespread power outages that have plagued Fargo in recent months.

North Dakota’s Public Service Commission plans to vote on the settlement Wednesday. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the commission’s proposed order.

It says Xcel will install $250,000 worth of sophisticated electric switches in Fargo that will be able to isolate power outages and make sure they do not affect a broader service area.

The proposal says Xcel will hire a new tree-trimming crew to keep branches from damaging power lines, replace some aging underground cables and put an electrical engineer in Fargo to monitor the company’s North Dakota service network.

State regulators pressed the electric service issue in the rate case after outages in February and November of last year caused tens of thousands of Fargo customers to lose power. Company officials said equipment failures caused both outages.

Xcel provides electricity to more than 80,000 North Dakota customers. It serves the cities of Fargo, West Fargo, Grand Forks and Minot, and some smaller rural communities.

The proposed rate increase would boost electric bills for Xcel’s North Dakota customers by $15.7 million annually. Residential rates would increase by almost 9 percent.

The Minneapolis-based utility first asked for a larger rate rise in December 2010. It has been collecting $17.4 million in higher rates since February 2011. State law allows North Dakota utilities to implement rate increases while state regulators are reviewing them.

The proposed settlement orders Xcel to refund $7.2 million to customers. For a year, Xcel has been collecting more money than it will get under Wednesday’s rate deal. The utility now has to refund those overcharges with interest, which will equal about $37 for each residential customer.

The order says the refunds will be given by providing credits on customers’ electric bills.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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