A rally against high energy prices attracted scores of people to Colorado's state Capitol on Wednesday, where protesters called for action to lower down rates that have been hammering consumers in the last several months.
“We're here today because we know that the legislature is paying attention,” said Danny Katz, Executive Director of CoPIRG, which organized the rally.
Consumer advocates, faith leaders, business owners and legislators also attended the protest on the west steps of the Capitol. CoPIRG, part of a network that has chapters in other states, engages in public policy discussions on consumer issues.
The Colorado General Assembly convened the Special Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates in early March to take testimony from ratepayers, utilities, and energy experts to examine the causes behind skyrocketing energy bills. The committee brought in top experts from Colorado and around the country to talk about why utility bills have gone up so much in the last two years.
“And the answer was pretty clear: gas,” said Katz. “Gas is really fueling the high cost that we are all experiencing at our kitchen table, in our small businesses, in our churches. If you're an Xcel customer, between November and January, they estimate that 80% of the price spike was because of gas.”
Katz said moving away from natural gas should be a high priority for the state both for economic and environmental reasons.
Pastor Topazz McBride, who represents the Aurora NAACP and the Restoration Christian Fellowship, said their energy bills for their safe parking initiative and 60 pallet tiny homes they manage jumped from $2,500 last year to $10,000 last month.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission authorizes utilities to pass fuel costs on to consumers, and the utilities do not add any profit margins to the pass-through.
Regulated power and gas utilities submit energy resource plans and cost adjustment riders to the PUC regularly for approval. Since December, Xcel and Black Hills have been reducing natural gas costs due to falling commodity prices.
With these adjustments over the last six months, Xcel said the fourth decrease in energy prices will have reduced its natural gas costs by a cumulative 58%, bringing a measure of relief to stressed customers hammered by high energy prices this winter.
Natural gas prices spiked to record levels in February 2021 during Winter Storm Uri, when prices leapt from $2.00-$3.00 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf) to as much as $600 per Mcf.
Colorado's utility regulators approved Xcel's request to pass down the cost of that extraordinary event to customers, who will be paying what ended up being a $500 million bill over the next two years.
Another cold snap at the end of December ended up doubling and, in some case, tripling ratepayer’s bills in January and February.
“They had no incentive whatsoever to look for more affordable or greener alternatives to just passing through that natural gas cost,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy, vice chair of the committee, who spoke at the rally. “We're going to make sure that the shareholders have some skin in the game in those commodity market fluctuations. So, it's not all borne by the ratepayers.”