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CenterPoint to Pay $13.5M to Settle Dispute over Minnesota Service Disconnections

CenterPoint Energy has agreed to pay $13.5 million to resolve a legal action and investigation into the shutoff of service to low-income natural gas customers in Minnesota during the 2004-2005 winter heating season.

The settlement was signed last Tuesday by CenterPoint Energy, the largest gas utility in Minnesota, and state Attorney General Mike Hatch and lawyers in a class-action lawsuit. The suit alleged that CenterPoint violated the state's Cold Weather Rule (CWR) by shutting off service to 2,500 gas customers during the winter season. Minnesota's CWR is designed to protect low-income energy customers from having their service disconnected between Oct. 15 and April 15.

Minnesota U.S. District Judge Richard H. Kyle last Wednesday gave preliminary approval to the agreement, which resolved issues related to the CWR and a joint investigation by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) and Hatch's office into CenterPoint Energy practices. The judge must give final approval before the MPUC can sign off on a related settlement with the attorney general's office, according to CenterPoint Energy.

"CenterPoint Energy acknowledges that some errors were made and that it has corrected them. The company has already made improvements in managing the reconnection of customers during the cold weather months, and will continue working with the office of attorney general and MPUC on further improvements," said Houston-based CenterPoint Energy.

"Given the complexities of the CWR...settling this matter now is the prudent course of action," the utility said. CenterPoint Energy provides gas service to more than 750,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in the state.

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