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Xcel expecting PUC fines of $13.4 million

The Associated Press

DENVER — Xcel Energy estimates it owes a record $13.4 million penalty for excessive power outages and other substandard service in 2002 and 2003.
The fines would result in credits of $9 to $10 on customers’ utility bills next month, if approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
The proposed fines include $8.7 million for excessive power outages in 2003 and $3.14 million for inadvertently underreporting the duration of outages in 2002, the company said.
Xcel said it also would pay $1.6 million for exceeding state thresholds for customer complaints, which reached 1.1 complaints per 1,000 customers. The state mandates no more than 0.8 complaints per 1,000 customers.
Xcel had been on track to pay only $5 million in penalties for missing service standards last year, but it voluntarily reviewed its outage numbers to provide more accurate data to regulators, Xcel spokesmen said. That resulted in a higher penalty amount.
Eight percent of the penalty total, or $1.08 million, would go toward helping low-income residents pay utility bills.
Xcel’s previous record was $3 million in fines in 1999.
“We know that our performance in 2003 was not acceptable,” said Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz. “We have committed significant resources to the goal of improving our service reliability.”
The company has committed at least $23 million this year for tree trimming, replacing faulty equipment, adding workers, and for better communications with customers.
The Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel and PUC staff are recommending that Xcel pay for an independent audit of the company’s capital spending.