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A special committee of Colorado lawmakers will investigate high utility bills

The Joint Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates will have six state lawmakers and meet at least three times over the next few months.

DENVER — State lawmakers will convene a special committee to investigate high utility bills in Colorado.

The Joint Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates will have six state lawmakers and meet at least three times over the next few months, potentially leading to legislative changes before the end of the lawmakers' session in early May.

“The purpose of this is really to investigate, learn what is causing these sudden increases in utility bills,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg(D-Boulder).

Over the last three weeks, 9NEWS has helped ratepayers understand each line item on their Xcel bill, why those charges exist, where Xcel makes its profit and how ratepayers can complain to regulators.

"It seems to be all profit,” said Tom, an Xcel customer in Timnath. “I don’t begrudge a company making profits because that’s what they’re in business for, but they shouldn’t make exorbitant profits from what seems to be more than what other companies do.”

The stories have also educated viewers on how much they would spend or save by raising or lowering the thermostat one degree, how to determine if they would be better off on Time of Use electric billing versus Flat Rate, why Xcel spends money on advertising when it has no competition, and why Xcel’s announcement of a $500,000 contribution to help needy families pay their utility bill did not exactly add up.

“The stories that have been coming from the news about this, and doing the deeper dive on utility bills, has been very helpful and has helped people understand what is and what is not causing these increased rates. And now as policymakers, I think it’s appropriate for us to look at that from a policy perspective,” Fenberg said.

The chief economist for the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates energy companies, provided a presentation to the commission last month explaining that the cost of natural gas increased 40% compared to last year and the gas usage increased 30%, leading to higher utility bills. Xcel and other gas companies pass on the cost of natural gas to customers dollar-for-dollar.

“This [month’s bill] was 33% higher than it was last year. And look at how much we're paying for eggs and stuff now, so every penny counts when you're trying to keep your budget on your household,” said Mike Chadwick, an Xcel customer in Arvada.

“I think we’re going to take a hard look at what has gone into the increases. Why are certain types of expenses allowed to be passed on to consumers? Whether it’s fuel costs or operating costs or fees, we need to get to the bottom of exactly what has led us to where we are,” Fenberg said.

The committee will consist of four Democrats and two Republicans in total from the House and Senate. It will meet between three and six times before the legislative session ends.

“We’re not creating a committee just to move things around and pat ourselves on the back. This committee really is to investigate, to learn and to chart a path forward on policy changes that can happen either this year or in the near future,” Fenberg said.

When the committee meets, it will hear from utility companies, energy experts and the public.

“The membership are legislators, but the folks that would be coming in and presenting to us to have these discussions and help us learn what the policy options may be are going to be utilities, regulators, advocates, folks who work for think tanks, economists, things like that that can really help us wrap our head around what led us here, how are we going to move forward,” Fenberg said.


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