Ratepayers fear state bill would standardize controversial Xcel EV charging network proposal

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Standing next to his 22-year-old Buick sedan, Michael Kane fears his electric bill may soon rise to cover the cost of his electric company’s proposal to build up a charging network across the state.

“I would never drive an electric car unless I won one in a contest,” the Fridley resident and retiree said.

“Not because I’m against them; I think it’s a good idea to have electric cars, but I can’t afford one.”

Kane is among at least dozens of Xcel Energy customers who have sent comments to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in the last couple of months in opposition to Xcel Energy’s proposal to build a network of more than 700 electric vehicle chargers across the state on the ratepayer’s dime.

Asked how much electric bills will rise for its customers, Xcel Energy Minnesota president Chris Clark said, “I think part of it depends on the speed with which they want us to implement it.”

“But you know, we’re looking really here at a, you know, $1 or two, a few dollars a month on the average customer’s bill,” Clark estimated.

Charging infrastructure, including “make ready infrastructure” like scaling up the electric grid to handle hundreds of new chargers, will have to expand soon to meet the state’s electrification goals.

Whether Xcel is able to do so on the largest scale a public utilities company in the country has proposed is up to the state’s watchdog, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

As the PUC mulls that proposal over, lawmakers are considering legislation now tucked into a larger energy omnibus bill that would make utility-owned, ratepayer-funded charging networks a standard going forward.

“The utilities are going to play a huge role in the electrification. There’s no way around that,” said Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids), author of the bill.

Critics fear if Stephenson’s legislation passes, the commission will lose its ability to say no to an Xcel proposal, even to protect consumers from rising rates.

“It would essentially mean that they’ve won the war,” said Ryan McKinnon, a representative with the Charge Ahead Partnership, a coalition of small businesses that fear being squeezed out of the transportation electrification market.

McKinnon pointed to the impact of similar legislation passed recently in New Mexico.

“Ultimately, the regulatory commission in New Mexico sided with Xcel because of the language in the bill,” McKinnon explained.

Stephenson said he does not believe the language in his bill would take away from the PUC’s autonomy.

“We have this great watchdog for consumers in the Public Utilities Commission, and I expect that they will continue to play that role in the transportation space,” Stephenson said.

The PUC declined to comment on the bill specifically, citing the commission’s ongoing consideration of Xcel’s proposal.

In an email, a representative wrote, “On a high-level, we would like to see the policy that ultimately passes the legislature preserve the Commission’s authority to balance important ratepayer protections and reliability standards with the goals of advancing transportation electrification.”

As for the proposal, a judge from the Office of Administrative Hearings just postponed a decision until around November at Xcel’s request.

Clark said the request was made to allow time to reach a settlement with Minnesota businesses “that would create more of a sharing of the infrastructure.”

For those like Kane who travel lightly and live on a fixed income, the conclusion was that a few dollars extra a month hurts, and an EV will likely remain out of reach.