"We've had some of those same discussions," said Mark Nisbet, the principal manager for Xcel in North Dakota.
Xcel said it mistakenly did not include the minimum service charge for some billing cycles in November which is either $5.50 or $7.50, depending on the service. The utility is seeking to cancel the current bills for the affected customers and issue new ones. It had considered notifying the customers using prerecorded calls.
Commissioners asked the company to wait while they check administrative rules.
The PSC said it is the third time in recent memory that Xcel has had billing problems.
"My patience is growing weary... and I just think there has to be a limit to how much of this sloppiness we're expected to tolerate and certainly how much the ratepayers are expected to tolerate," Cramer said.
"This is a really big company and, quite honestly, I think the bigness of the company is part of the problem," he said.
Nisbet said the company will work with the PSC staff.
"We're disappointed too, and we're pledging to work with the commission to make sure we find a suitable answer," Nisbet said.
In September, Xcel Energy said it was replacing about 23,500 natural gas meter readers in Fargo, West Fargo and Grand Forks because many of them have malfunctioned. The PSC said the faulty equipment caused billing mistakes for about 4,400 Xcel natural gas customers in North Dakota last winter.
Nisbet said the latest problem happened when the company was analyzing changes in its billing system and it slipped into the actual production mode, affecting about 5,000 customers.
"It was caught fairly quickly," he said. "We have about 85,000 customers."