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Alliant Energy asking for 22 percent electric rate hike

By Staff | Feb 7, 2011

Some area officials and residents are watching with interest Albert Lea’s legal challenge of Alliant Energy’s proposed 22 percent rate hike.

“We’re back up against the wall, to get zapped with this. We have no alternatives. They have a monopoly,” says Jeff Buege of Frost.

In July, Alliant was granted approval to implement interim residential and commercial rates.

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission begins evidentiary hearings that are expected to last one week in St. Paul.

The state PUC is taking testimony and is expected to decide in July whether to grant the company the full rate increase or a lower amount.

PUC spokesperson Dan Wolf says Alliant customers still have time to submit any comments they might have.

“We want members of the public to be heard. That way they can’t say they didn’t have a chance,” he says.

In addition to residential and commercial customers, the higher rates are impacting city budgets.

Winnebago City Administrator Austin Bleess says the city spends nearly $72,000 annually on electricity. That would go up about $16,000 if the full 22 percent increase is allowed.

“I figured that into the budget for 2011. In light of LGA cuts, this is just another thing we have to consider,” he says. “An increase in usage and cost means the city will have to find a way to pay for it. It’s a double-whammy for the taxpayer.”

The story is the same in Kiester.

While City Clerk Kari Jacobson has not calculated the cost to the city, one area surely to be impacted would be street lighting.

Currently, the city spends $700 to $800 a month.

“The state and others keep taking money from us and we just end up paying more,” she says.

Alliant serves some 3,300 customers in Bricelyn, Delavan, Easton, Frost, Kiester, Walters and Winnebago.

The company says electric rates have not been raised since 2005.

According to Alliant, the increase is needed to recover costs of more than $1 billion in company investments.

Among the expenditures are a $500 million wind farm located in Franklin County, Iowa, and $188 million at a Lansing power plant to reduce NOx (nitrogen oxide) and mercury emissions for cleaner air.

Last October, the Winnebago City Council approved a resolution supporting Albert Lea’s fight against the rate increase. Kiester city officials also did the same.

Alliant spokesman Justin Foss denies an appearance by Rebecca Gisel at Winnebago’s council meeting in November and a recent donation of $2,700 to a theater group are part of a public relations campaign.

At the council meeting, Gisel touted the company’s involvement and investments it has made in the community and county.

“The donation had nothing to do with the (rate) case. It was just a coincidence,” Foss says. “We’re in the first round of allotments from our foundation. We give to all organizations and cities in our service territory … to improve the quality of life.”

Foss defended the rate increase, saying power created by the wind farm goes to the company’s “electric grid” and could be used by customers in Albert Lea, Trimont or Winnebago.

“The power generated benefits everyone. There are no state or county boundaries. The electricity goes wherever it is needed,” Foss says.

Wolf says public comments may be submitted on the MPUC’s website at: www.puc.state.mn.us then clicking on “comment on an issue.”

Written remarks also may be mailed to:

Consumer Affairs

Office of PUC

121 7th Place East

Suite 350

St. Paul, MN