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Customers, advocates speak out against Xcel's proposal to raise natural gas rates

Xcel Energy
Posted at 3:36 PM, Aug 19, 2022

DENVER — The Colorado Public Utilities Commission is listening to testimony over the course of two weeks as it considers a request from Xcel Energy to raise rates on natural gas customers.

The utility is asking to raise rates by $188.6 million for ongoing and future expenses for its natural gas infrastructure.

This is the fourth proposed rate increase in as many years. The proposal would raise rates by $4.16 per month this year, another $1.83 per month next year and an additional $2.15 per month in 2024.

Customers, advocates speak out against Xcel's proposal to raise natural gas rates

On Thursday, the commission listened to testimony from dozens of members of the public, all of whom spoke out against the rate increase.

Some told the commission the rate increase is not in the best interest of the customers, while others said it would be too expensive for them. Many others expressed concerns about the state’s plan to transition away from natural gas.

“Most people were very concerned about the fact that the company is proposing to expand its gas lines at a time that we're moving to electrification,” said Bill Levis, a volunteer advocate for AARP. “If they're put in, they are going to be abandoned in the next five to ten years and that's a real concern. So why should we have to pay for these?”

Levis has seen his own natural gas bill jump 44% just between last January and this January with natural gas prices on the rise. He’s also heard from many AARP members on fixed incomes who worry that they will not be able to afford yet another increase.

“They're all saying the same thing, that this is becoming a greater portion of their fixed income. So, it's really a big concern,” he said.

He also worries about the effect a rate increase will have on lower-income families who cannot afford to transition to electrification as an option. With more customers installing solar panels on their homes or converting to clean energy, more of the financial burden will fall on the customers who are left to pay for the infrastructure.

Already this year, the PUC has settled with Xcel on a plan to raise electricity rates by $182.2 million. It was also approved by the commission to recoup $500 million in expenses after a severe cold snap in February 2021.

“This is really a compounding impact for customers across the board, and especially for customers that are already challenged economically,” said Joseph Periera, the deputy director of the Colorado Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate.

Because Xcel is a monopoly in so many locations around the state, Periera says customers have no choice but to pay more each time their rates increase.

However, because the state is moving forward with robust decarbonization goals, he worries the new lines will be obsolete before the end of their lifespan.

“There's a large concern that investments made by the company today that will stay in the ground in 50 or 70 years, will be obsolete in the coming decades and yet customers will still have to pay for those assets,” Periera said.

Both Periera and Levis also want Xcel to have more skin in the game when it comes to paying for these investments, saying it shouldn’t only fall on the backs of customers.

“Xcel has done great over the last two years. They've provided record stock dividends to their shareholders, they've cut operating and maintenance expenses that also ended up in the pocket of the company,” Periera said.

Historically, the PUC has not rejected many, if any, of the utility’s rate increase requests. It has, however, cut down on the request and given Xcel less than it asked for. Periera and Levis are hoping this time will be different, however.

The hearings continue next week where more stakeholders will have a chance to weigh in. The commission will then take time to debate the merits of the proposal before coming to a decision. If a rate increase is approved, customers will begin to see the additional charge on their bills in November.