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St. Paul, MN (AP)  -  Two administrative law judges say Minnesota natural gas utilities should be allowed to pass on an extra $660 million in costs related to storm damage to their customers.

The state Department of Commerce and Attorney General’s Office allege the utilities made critical mistakes in their gas procurement procedures during the February 2021 storm and because of the mismanagement, customers should not pay for the extra costs.

In a decision released Tuesday, the judges rejected the state agencies' contentions.

The judges’ decisions are not binding, but they can influence the state Public Utilities Commission which has the final say. The commission is expected to decide the matter this summer. It will also consider the positions of the Commerce Department, the Attorney General’s Office and other parties, the Star Tribune reported.

The PUC last year ordered an investigation into the extra costs — 62% of which were run up by the state’s largest gas utility, CenterPoint Energy. The other utilities involved are Xcel Energy, Minnesota Energy Resources Corp. and Great Plains Natural Gas.

Wholesale gas prices in Minnesota and many other states soared in February 2021 when the storm hit Texas and other natural gas-producing states. Temperatures plunged, gas field equipment froze up and supplies dwindled just as demand soared.

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