Colorado Lawmakers Take on High Utility Bills

Colorado State Capitol

Eric Galatas | Colorado News Connection

Colorado lawmakers have advanced legislation aimed at addressing a growing chorus of concerns about spikes in utility bills by reducing the state’s dependence on natural gas, a volatile globally traded commodity.

Sarah Snead – senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club – said she believes the proposal will address the root cause of rising energy prices, in part by removing financial incentives to continue building out natural gas infrastructure.

“To us, the solution is simple,” said Snead. “We need to take steps to transition from methane gas to proven technologies – cheaper, efficient, all-electric alternatives – especially for low-income customers who are facing the highest energy burden.”

Senate Bill 291 is the product of a committee formed this year after some Coloradans saw their heating bills triple due to spikes in wholesale natural gas prices.

Xcel Energy called the bill fatally flawed and told the Denver Post it could blunt investments by creating a hostile regulatory environment. Black Hills Energy said the measure would slow progress on the state’s clean energy goals.

SB 291 calls for utilities to shoulder part of the burden of high fuel prices as an incentive to secure the best prices possible.

Snead said rules are needed to push utilities away from methane, the primary component of natural gas, which is more than 85 times more powerful at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

“Xcel Energy says that it’s not responsible for these high gas prices,” said Snead, “when the company itself is deciding to keep customers hooked on a volatile and climate-wrecking fuel like methane gas.”

The measure would also limit the sorts of expenses utility companies can pass along to customers, including the cost of lobbying lawmakers and advertising.

Snead said SB 291 is not a silver bullet, but it’s a good step toward holding utilities accountable, and building long-term solutions.

“And this bill is really a first step,” said Snead, “to make sure we’re putting policies in place that transition us away from a volatile and expensive gas system that will only continue to cost ratepayers more money and prevent us from moving towards cheaper, cleaner solutions.”

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