Executive jets a lavish utility

Xcel Energy’s wasteful travel expenses may shock rate payers.

Editorial board

MinneapolisâÄô Xcel Energy recently put in requests with regulators to increase base electric rates by $136 million in Colorado and natural-gas rates by $16.2 million in Minnesota. The company is trying to recoup more than $1.7 billion it invested in new generating plants, transmission lines and distribution-system improvements. Xcel has recently come under fire, however, charged with passing questionable executive travel expenses on to its customers. Xcel leases two eight-seat Learjets that cost about $1,200 an hour to fly, and according to investigators, some of the daily back-and-forth flights from St. Paul to Denver only carry one passenger. Judy Poferl, president and CEO of XcelâÄôs subsidiary Northern States Power Co., defended the corporate jets, which she said âÄúmake the most effective use of our managerial talentâÄôs timeâÄù and fit the companyâÄôs green focus because they improve productivity, enabling it to tackle environmental goals. Xcel Energy, as a basic utility provider for more than 5 million Americans, has a responsibility to keep its costs down, but its track record is already sub par. When Xcel filed rate-increase requests in September, its request was reduced after testimony from MinnesotaâÄôs attorney generalâÄôs office cited lavish executive entertainment costs. Regulators and journalists, for their part, have a responsibility to watch XcelâÄôs spending more closely in the future and to hold them accountable for excesses. Large public utility companies like Xcel Energy already enjoy a virtual monopoly in their markets; they neednâÄôt be indulged further on the rate payerâÄôs dime.