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Minnesota Legislature

PUC may require excess fee refunds

Published (3/6/2009)
By Sue Hegarty
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The Public Utilities Commission could require repayment when utility and telephone companies overcharge ratepayers, according to a bill approved March 4 by the House Energy Finance and Policy Division.

HF1038, sponsored by Rep. Gail Kulick Jackson (DFL-Milaca), would give the PUC authority to require ratepayer reimbursement by the utilities and telecom companies if it’s determined funds were collected as a result of unlawful conduct. Currently there is no such authority. Refunds would have a statute of limitations up to six years prior to learning of the infraction.

Janet Gonzalez, PUC energy unit manager, said the bill was developed for policy reasons and that, although there may be pending cases, she does not have any anticipated refund estimates. Examples of misconduct include utilities that place surcharges on bills without pre-approval from the PUC or if lower rates are approved by the PUC, but the utility keeps charging the previous higher rate.

Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights) said ratepayers should be given refunds with interest. However that is not currently provided for in the bill, which was referred to the House Commerce and Labor Committee. Atkins said an amendment to require interest payments may be introduced there.

Any refunds issued would not preclude the PUC from also pursuing penalties for the misconduct.

A companion, SF574, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Dahle (DFL-Northfield), awaits action by the Senate Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Committee.

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