MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Xcel Energy says it will ask state regulators to spread a large rate increase in 2014 over several years - a strategy it calls "rate smoothing."

The Minneapolis-based utility company says it needs to cover $1 billion a year of investments in its power system. Despite rate hikes in each of the last three years, executives say they will forgo a "significant" increase in 2014 in favor of smaller rate hikes over several years.

In its most recent Minnesota rate case, Xcel requested a 10.7 percent increase, but regulators cut it to 3.8 percent. That came after two smaller rate increases were approved in 2011 and 2012. Reports say the Xcel will now ask the state Public Utilities Commission to spread out its 2014-2015 rate hike through 2017.