Colorado utilities mount defense after energy bills spike
Two of Colorado's major utilities defended their profits and rates for electricity and natural gas, even as they acknowledged inflated energy bills are hurting their customers.
What they're saying: "We hear you — we hear your concerns," Xcel Energy's Colorado president Robert Kenney told lawmakers at a Tuesday hearing at the Capitol, adding that the company "empathizes with our customers."
State of play: The split-screen message didn't sit well with the Democratic leaders, who convened a special committee to investigate rising rates, and pressed utility leaders about expenses they pass along to customers.
- Senate President Steve Fenberg, who is leading the inquiry, and other top lawmakers questioned why Xcel Energy is reporting record profits at the same time more people are seeking assistance paying their utility bills.
Context: In the select committee's prior meeting, the state's utility consumer advocate reported receiving 600 complaints about energy rates since December.
- The frustration from customers is what's putting the utilities on the defense.
The other side: Xcel Energy and Black Hills representatives pointed to colder winters and high commodity prices as the drivers of inflated utility bills, not the increase of base rates and fees charged to customers.
- Kenney said Colorado enjoys some of the lowest rates in the nation, but later acknowledged the numbers are skewed by the state's climate.
- At the same time, the companies also defended their rate hikes, saying they were needed to provide reliable power.
Of note: Republican lawmakers suggested the inquiry is more politics than policy and contend new Democratic-authored regulations also are driving up energy costs.
- Nick Wagner, a Black Hills vice president, estimated the new laws amounted to about 5-10% of the increased costs.
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