DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis announced Monday new measures his office will be taking to help lower the cost of energy for Coloradans.
Some of the initiatives Polis said he is taking to help thousands of Coloradans dealing with skyrocketing utility bills is directing agencies like Colorado’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) to take immediate action to offset the cost of natural gas.
“We are going to be moving full speed ahead with regard to these measures. And we want to make sure that all utilities continue to be increasingly accountable to ratepayers, and that we want to work with all of our energy providers, and the state and the federal government to provide relief and reduce rates for both gas bills and electric bills as quickly as possible,” Polis said during Monday’s press conference.
Oil and natural gas prices surged globally after Russia invaded Ukraine. At the same time, several energy giants like Xcel Energy are seeing massive profits.
Polis prefaced Monday’s announcement by saying many of the more than 30 recommendations and directions of his plan are designed to stave off price spikes next winter as natural gas prices begin to stabilize. But no real specifics were released Monday.
The PUC approved last month a request from Xcel Energy for a reduction in the gas cost adjustment which it says will lower bills for gas customers by around 15 percent, according to a release.
More immediate measures include directing the PUC to promote programs like the Colorado Low-income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP), which Polis said more people are eligible for due to the rising costs of energy.
“For more immediate relief, I'm requesting the PUC elevate frontline resources that includes programs like the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, LEAP, Utility Percentage of Income Payment Plans, PIPP, many other forms of state-local assistance, and directing the Colorado Energy Office to work with utilities to identify those most vulnerable and prioritize additional outreach and resources to folks who are disproportionately affected by the increased prices,” Polis said.
The largest new program announced Monday is the Whole-Home Energy Retrofit program. It will help homeowners install upgrades like heat pumps, insulation, and LED lighting to help reduce energy costs.
The program will be funded through $140 million of federal funds from the inflation Reduction Act and won’t be available until the end of this year.
The governor also directed the PUC to:
- Incentivize utilities to reduce customer costs
- Identify potential utility actions related to gas contracting, financial hedging, and gas storage; educating consumers on energy conservation
- Analyze ways to limit bill spikes
- Identify ways to support consumers in the most dire circumstances, including outreach about payment options for those behind on their bills
- Implement new approaches to increase public engagement with utility issues at the PUC
Polis directed the Colorado Energy Office to:
- Expedite the creation of federally funded home energy rebate and other programs
- Identify new regulatory approaches and rate structures to align customer and utility conservation incentives
- Implement the state’s building performance standards, which apply to many large multifamily residences to reduce utility bills
- Consider establishing new statewide building energy codes and provide technical assistance to local governments adopting the codes, in collaboration with the Department of Local Affairs, to reduce utility bills
- Implement microgrid programs with state and federal funding.
Emily Stork, the owner of Worth The Fight Boxing, a fitness studio in Denver, said her costs of running a small business are somewhat stable, except for the 250% increase she has seen with her utility bill.
"When you have a business, you make a budget and you plan for [unexpected expenses]. And when you have something that just like triples out of nowhere, it's really hard to plan for that,” Stork said.
It’s unknown if any of these measures will make a big impact, as the governor hopes, come next winter in Colorado. The PUC is an independent agency and Polis said he has limited influence over its operations.
Shortly after the governor's press conference, officials from labor, utilities, natural gas and oil industry trade associations came together to explain how and why energy costs have been higher in recent months. They highlighted some of the actions organizations have taken to help lower energy bills for Coloradans most in need.
Some of the speakers included representatives from Xcel Energy, Energy Outreach Colorado, Black Hills Energy, Atmost Energy and Colorado Oil & Gas Association.
"Our companies have terrific energy assistance programs, comprehensive programs, that nearly 5% of our Colorado customers have accessed for over $80 million in relief this year alone. Over the longer term, we're set to partner with our state government, or local NGOs, and other companies to look at continuously improving how we deliver energy cost affordably reliably, to our customers," said Xcel Energy CEO Bob Franzel. "We're proud to stand here and provide assistance with Energy Outreach Colorado and with other other industry providers as we seek to offset the burden that everyday Coloradans are feeling from high energy prices."
"We were pretty disappointed today when, you know, among the actions that the governor listed to try to address high energy prices, you know, among those were not working with the natural gas and oil industry to incentivize production to increase supply at the end of the day," said Lynn Granger, executive director for the American Petroleum Institute Colorado. "This is a supply and demand issue, and supply is low. The Energy Information Administration predicts that we will need more oil and natural gas in the future, not less. That means the demand in the coming years will be higher than it is now. We have got to increase supply to meet the need."
"At the end of the day, we're trying to make sure that our product is affordable, reliable and safe for our customers and increasingly sustainable. I'm a believer in the integrated investor-owned utility model. I think it's the best way that we can deliver an effective and low-cost energy source, and to transition our country and our state to a lower cost, more sustainable energy provider over the next decade or two. We reinvest our profits back into our company every single year," said Franzel.