DENVER — On the same day that the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) gave energy companies a March 5 deadline to explain their high-price purchases of natural gas this month, Xcel Energy sent an email warning customers about an increase in natural gas rates.
The two are not related.
The PUC, which regulates utility companies, is investigating the efforts energy companies in Colorado made to have customers conserve before buying natural gas at sky-high prices, as a result of the winter storm in Texas and elsewhere in the country.
Xcel recently told investors that electricity and natural gas costs increased $650 million in February. Xcel plans to work with the PUC on to have customers pay back that cost over time.
The email about an increase in natural gas rates had nothing to do with that.
It is about an increase to the fee Xcel charges, the "Pipeline System Integrity Adjustment rider" (PSIA).
"The notice customers received this week is to let them know that we have requested an extension of that existing Rider that was set to expire at the end of this year," said Xcel spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo.
Xcel provided a link for more information in the email, except it doesn't direct the customer to content about the PSIA rider. It takes customers to a general site about regulatory filings. You have to know what you're looking for on the page to learn more about the natural gas rate increase request.
"If you follow the link that is in the notice, it's kind of difficult to pull the pleadings up, you have to look for the case number," said Bresee Carlson, an oil and gas attorney with Kuiper Law Firm.
Carlson is also an adjunct oil and gas professor at Western Colorado University in Gunnison.
"This particular notice relates to a 2002 federal statute that mandated certain upgrades and infrastructure investments for pipeline safety improvements," said Carlson.
Customers have actually been paying this fee since 2012.
The current fee for residential customers is $3.10 per month.
The requested increase is to move to $3.85 per month for 2022, $4.27/month for 2023 and $4.67/month for 2024.
The breakdown is listed in the documents provided to the PUC, but not included in the body of the email.
The 2022 increase would be $9 more per year for residential customers. If the PUC approves the extension, the 2024 amount is $18.84 more per year than customers pay currently.
"To your point about wanting to put or summarize utility-related costs and operations into layman's terms, they absolutely could have done that for their customers and chose not to," said Carlson.
Xcel is also waiting for a PUC decision on a "Wildfire Protection Rider."
It's a fee that would be added to customer bills for upgrades to Xcel's infrastructure in wildland-urban interface areas, to reduce risk of ignition from poles, wires and pipelines.
PG&E in California pleaded guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter after its equipment caused the Camp Fire in Paradise, CA, killing at least 84 people and destroying 14,000 homes.
Former 9NEWS reporter Brandon Rittiman has investigated that fire for our sister station in Sacramento.
Xcel's "Wildfire Protection Rider" would be a fee to upgrade infrastructure to prevent a catastrophe like the Camp Fire.
According to Xcel, in 2021, a residential customer's bill would increase 49 cents per month, for a total of almost $6 a year.
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