While predicting a prolonged period of stable natural gas prices, Xcel Energy's Colorado utility has filed with state regulators for a $27.5 million general rate increase for its gas utility operations, effective in August next year. The Minneapolis-based utility holding company said it is seeking to recover various investments and increased operations/maintenance costs.

Public Service Company of Colorado (PSCo), which hasn't had a general natural gas utility rate hike since 2006, is also seeking to establish increased charges that would appear later on retail customers' bills to support pipeline integrity programs.

"We are fortunate that we can make these critical investments at a time when natural gas commodity prices are stable and relatively low -- and when it appears that they will remain that way for many years to come," said Xcel's Colorado utility CEO David Eves.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission was asked to approve increased residential gas utility rates of 3.42%, or $1.83/month, an Xcel spokesperson said. For small businesses the proposed boost would be 3.23%, or $6.90/month, moving the typical monthly bill to $220. For the residential customers, a typical bill would go up to a little more than $55/month.

As an adjunct to the rate filing, the PSCo utility asked to establish what it called the Pipeline System Integrity Adjustment, a new charge to appear as a rider on retail bills to recover the costs of "certain federal safety regulations and reliability improvements on the company's natural gas and transmission distribution pipeline system in Colorado." The rider, if approved, is scheduled to become effective Jan. 1, 2012.

"Both current and future expenditures are pursuant to a number of pipeline integrity management and replacement programs," a Denver-based Xcel spokesperson said. "The company plans to invest about $300 million in these programs and related projects from 2011-2015."

To lessen the impact of the rate increase filing, Xcel reiterated its various customer programs related to energy saving measures, efficiency and low-income assistance. The utility offered information on its website (www.xcelenergy.com) under "Energy Savings."

Eves said the utility has worked hard to "manage our costs and address reliability, but we have reached a point where we need to look at additional improvements and related investments in the Colorado natural gas infrastructure."

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