DENVER — State regulators with the Public Utilities Commission questioned Xcel's proposal for an electric rate hike in Wednesday's meeting, following "unprecedented" comments objecting to the proposed increase.
Xcel has proposed a $312.2 million revenue increase, which would result in an 8.2% increase ($7.33/month) for the average residential customer.
The commission has suspended the effected date of the higher rates, while the case was scheduled to be taken up again to set procedures in early February.
Commissioner John Gavan called for the commission to "scrutinize this to a degree we've never done before," especially following a gas rate hike that recently went into effect and a separate request to recoup coal supply costs from consumers.
"I really think Xcel needs to step back and focus on customer satisfaction instead of nickel and diming us with all of these onerous rate increases that are just pancaking and adding up," Gavan said.
Regarding coal supply issues, the commission is requiring Xcel to separate the issue so customers would not have to pay the associated costs starting on Jan. 1.
Consumer advocates argue that these rate hikes have a disproportionate impact on communities that can least afford them.
"A lot of these people live in buildings where they're not the owner. So the owners buy the cheapest appliances. They don't weatherize their homes, and they're not actually dealing with the cost increases to heat and cool and energize their homes," said Ean Thomas Tafoya, with Green Latinos.
Colorado's Office of the Utility Consumer Advocated is protesting the electric rate increase, pointing to Xcel's increasing profits: $555 million in nine months this year.
"They are making extraordinarily high profits, and this company doesn't understand how they should be tightening their belts," said Cindy Schonhaut, the director of the Colorado Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate. "Consumers are outraged. And they should be."
But Robert Kenney, Xcel Energy's president, said there is help available for customers struggling to pay bills, and the proposed increases pay for investments in improvements such as clean energy and new technology.
"We ask for the money that we need to maintain the safety and reliability of our system as well, as driving the states in our common clean energy goals," Kenney said. "The financial health of the company is beneficial to our customers as well. A financially healthy company is able to borrow money and issue equity at a better rate for the projects that we're investing in."
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