The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved a $12 million refund to Minnesota Power customers Thursday.

In April, the PUC lowered Minnesota Power's Jan. 1, 2020 rate increase from 5.8% to 4.1%, and Thursday's decision refunds that difference to customers of the Duluth-based utility company. Minnesota Power proposed lowering its rate hike as the COVID-19 pandemic hit to offer relief to customers, it said when announcing its plans in April.

In a news release, Minnesota Power said the average residential customer will receive a refund of about $20 and businesses will receive a refund of about $70. The company noted amounts will vary depending on energy usage and will be returned to customers "as soon as is practicable" once the PUC's written order is complete, Minnesota Power said.

Minnesota Power spokesperson Amy Rutledge said the written order is expected later this summer, and the refund, issued as a one-time credit on customers' bills, will follow.

“We hope the lower rates and refunds we proposed and the (PUC) approved today will help our customers weather the financial strain caused by COVID-19," said Bethany Owen, president and CEO of Allete, Minnesota Power's parent company, in the release. "These are difficult times for everyone, and we appreciate the support of many stakeholders and the (PUC's) prompt action to approve our proposal.”

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The remaining 4.1% rate increase makes up for revenue lost from a 10-year wholesale market contract that expired at the end of April.

Last year, Minnesota Power sought to increase residential rates by 15% and business rates by 10%. In December, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved a temporary 5.8% increase across all customers that went in effect Jan. 1 as it considered the company's full rate increase amount. In April, the PUC lowered that to 4.1%, where it remains today.

The PUC on Thursday also approved Minnesota Power's plan to bar any rate increases until at least March 1.

This story originally listed an incorrect percentage for the remaining rate increase. The remaining rate increase is 4.1%. It was updated at 10:13 a.m. June 5. The News Tribune regrets the error.