One consumer's view: Losing a pricey safety netby Michael Caputo, Minnesota Public Radio
One consumer laments the possible loss of the fixed-price energy payment plan for natural gas.
St. Paul, Minn. — Wolfe Molitor of St. Paul was a homeowner after Xcel Energy instituted its fixed-price plan in 2005. Molitor, who said he was living paycheck to paycheck, quickly found that the fixed-payment option for energy was a necessity.
"We had just enough money to cover the expenses we had. We planned for $100 a month. We got hit with winter bills over $200," said Molitor.
Molitor signed up for the Xcel's fixed-rate plan, which gives a steady monthly charge for natural gas, based on previous usage.
Now that option may go by the boards. Xcel Energy will end the fixed-payment plan after the state's Public Utilities Commission ordered an investigation into the fixed-price offerings of both Xcel and CenterPoint Energy.
The commission wants to know why customers enrolled in fixed-price programs ended up paying an estimated $26 million more than customers using standard billing. And the commission could decide in July to suspend CenterPoint's program during the investigation.
Molitor said he liked fixed-price plan, despite knowing he was paying more on average with that option than he would have otherwise. Molitor has since moved out of his house and into an apartment, where he is no longer using the fixed-price energy payment option.
But he's ready to hunt for a house soon, and he would be disappointed if the fixed-price plan goes away.
"On the whole I'd rather pay a little more and have the fixed bill," he said. "It's almost like a safety net charge."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)