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PSC approves new plan for paying off high natural gas prices from February

Dave Thompson, Prairie Public
North Dakota Public Service Commissioners Randy Christmann (l), chairman Julie Fedorchak and Brian Kroshus

North Dakota’s Public Service Commission has approved a plan to spread out the costs for Xcel Energy natural gas customers incurred because of price spikes due to a February cold spell in Texas.

Xcel doesn’t make money off the gas. It's a pass-through. But the utility has filed for a rate increase on the cost of bringing the gas to the customer. And the PSC granted an interim rate increase for that, allowed by state law.

To try and lessen the impact on customers, Xcel proposed spreading the pass through costs from the original 15 month plan – approved by the PSC in June -- to 24 months.

North Dakota customers’ share of those natural gas costs is $32 million.

PSC chairman Julie Fedorchak said that cost, plus continued higher prices for natural gas, and the Xcel rate increase, justify this action to smooth out what the customers are paying. She called it the "third strike."

"It's too much, "said Fedorchak. "It's too much for ratepayers to have all that at one time. And we have a tool here to help flatten that shock."

Commissioner Brian Kroshus made the motion for the 24 month period.

"The reasons include mitigating the impact to all ratepayers, and especially households and small businesses that are still recovering from the impact of the pandemic," Kroshus said. "They've had a rough go of it."

Kroshus said he's heard from some businesses that have curtailed hiring because of anticipated higher energy costs this winter.

The Commission vote was 2 to 1. Commissioner Randy Christmann said with the volatility of natural gas prices, it’s too risky.

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