ARVADA, Colo. — When they opened last month's Xcel bill, Howard and Pam Manresa started swearing.
"I thought there had to be some kind of mistake," Howard Manresa said. "I used a few curse words," said Pam Manresa. "Like what the hell is happening?"
Their monthly bill tripled from $73 to $223 — and they're not alone.
Xcel said there are two main reasons why their bill — and yours — went up last month. The first is the price of natural gas, which is more expensive around the world right now because of inflation, cold temperatures and because Russia cut off its supply of natural gas to Europe as part of the war in Ukraine.
Xcel said it passes on those charges to consumers at face value without any markup.
The other reason for the increase is a hike in the base rate — that's the money Xcel collects.
"Base rates have tripled since 2020 for Xcel Energy gas customers," said Cindy Schonhaut, the director of the Office of Utility Consumer Advocate. "It's astounding."
Schonhaut represents consumers when the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decides whether to let Xcel and other utilities raise their rates. It approved an increase in the natural gas price earlier this year, which went into effect on Nov. 1 – hitting consumers' most recent bills.
"I think that Xcel Energy is unreasonably, outrageously greedy. They are in this for the profit," Schonhaut said.
Xcel counters that the rate increase is necessary to make investments in its system that ensure safe and reliable service.
"We always strive to be good stewards of our customers' money," said Xcel Energy Colorado President Robert Kenney. "We ask for the dollars that we need to make the investments that our customers expect and deserve in terms of resilience and safety and reliability."
Schonhaut said she believes the rate increases serve the public company's profit more than consumers. "We believe [Xcel] can do those functions and keep maintaining safe and reliable systems without spending these huge amounts of money on capital investment on which they make big profits," she said.
Kenney said the company knows that rate increases can be challenging for customers and that Xcel offers help for people who are struggling to pay their bills.
He also said Xcel has a responsibility to ensure its own financial success and return on investment to its shareholders. "I will safe that affordability is a priority for us and the financial health of the company is important as well."
On Wednesday, Xcel formally asked the PUC for permission to increase rates again – this time on customers' electric bills. It claimed the rate change would result in a $7.33 monthly increase in customers' bills, but many are still expressing disapproval to state regulators.
"Right now, you're seeing an intensity of anger that is far beyond what I've seen in my nine years on the job," Schonhaut said. "Since December 1, we have received more comments by phone and by email than we received the entire previous part of 2022."
She encouraged consumers upset with the rate hikes to "keep up the pressure" by contacting her office and the PUC.
In the meantime, Howard and Pam Manresa said they have turned down their thermostat and put on warm clothes. "What are your options?" Howard Manresa asked.
"We all have to have heat," Pam added.
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