Saturday, January 28, 2012

GOP seeks to sack Anderson for protecting ratepayers

The first week of the Legislative session made one thing very clear; the Senate Republican caucus has chosen to double down on partisanship and division. The hope that the downfall of Amy Koch and the mysterious firing of Michael Brodkorb would bring a new tone to the Senate was squelched immediately. Republicans balanced the Senate's budget on the backs of pages, interns, and DFL staff while giving a raise to the new Senate Republican Caucus communications chief, Steve Sviggum. Republicans introduced a cavalcade of constitutional amendments that are solely for the purpose of bypassing the Governor's veto. Then on Friday, Republican leaders announced that they plan to deny former Senator Ellen Anderson confirmation as head of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on Monday, further signaling their intent to go to war with the Dayton administration on every front possible.

Ellen Anderson (Photo: PUC website)
New Senate Deputy Majority Leader Julianne Ortman's justification for failing to confirm Anderson is that she is "controversial."
"She's got a tough record for job providers, job creators, the ratepayers," Ortman said. "Her work has created some controversy. It makes it very difficult to confirm a commissioner who is as controversial as she has been."
But Anderson's record as PUC Chair has been remarkably free of controversy. Dayton spokesperson Katie Tinucci noted that of the 221 recorded votes taken while Anderson has chaired the PUC, 204 were unanimous. Six times, Anderson voted in the minority. This is notable because Republicans hold a 3-2 majority on the PUC, including former Senator Betsy Wergin.

Two of these six minority votes demonstrate how Anderson stands up for Minnesota energy consumers.

First, Xcel Energy received a $100 million settlement from a lawsuit that they filed against the U.S. Department of Energy for the cost of nuclear waste storage. The settlement is required to be refunded to ratepayers, and the PUC had to approve the amount of the refund and the means of distribution. As part of the PUC order, Xcel sought to deduct $1.9 million in litigation costs from the refunded money, while the Department of Commerce's position was that only $565,000 in litigation costs was warranted. On a 2-3 vote, Anderson and Republican Commissioner O'Brien voted to save ratepayers over $1.3 million. They were outvoted, and Xcel was allowed to deduct the full $1.9 million from their rebate to Minnesota ratepayers.

Second, Anderson was the lone vote against a PUC order involving an increase in electric rates by Minnesota Power. In 2008, Minnesota Power sought a rate increase of 24% for its residential customers and a 3.5% increase for its large industrial users. Minnesota Power and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce defended the targeting of residential customers, claiming their rates had been subsidized by large energy users. The Minnesota Attorney General's office and citizen groups fought to reduce the impact of the rate increase on residential customers, and eventually won a more equitable distribution for the rate increase. However, while the case was being decided, the PUC allowed Minnesota Power to implement an interim increase that was modified by the final order. The interim rate increase hit residential ratepayers harder than the final rate increase, but when the time came to adjust their bills, mines and the Chamber of Commerce sought to avoid paying their full share. The final vote on this matter was a 1-3 vote, with Anderson upholding the side of the Attorney General's position that residential ratepayers should be refunded their overpayments, while the rest of the PUC voted to protect mines and large power users.

Between these two cases, Anderson voted to save residential energy ratepayers $6.4 million. She was outvoted, and that money went to the energy companies and large industrial energy consumers. In the second vote, Anderson chose the side that would have resulted in a $45 to 50 rebate per household, and her GOP colleagues voted to charge them another $5, even though it was the residential customers who overpaid in the first place.

These matters are complex and difficult to understand at times, but the reason we need Ellen Anderson as the PUC Chair is because she'll stand up for residential energy consumers against big corporations. And that's exactly why Ortman thinks she's "controversial."

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