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Colorado regulators consider Xcel Energy’s request for $182 million rate hike

Speakers urged the Colorado Public Utilities Commission at a Wednesday hearing to reject a $182 million rate increase sought by Xcel Energy, saying it will put a burden low-income customers even as the utility continues to make big profits in the state.

Xcel Energy-Colorado, the state’s largest electric utility, originally asked for a $343 million increase last summer. A proposed settlement with a number of interest groups and state agencies in December nearly halved the total.

Under the proposed settlement, an average residential customer’s monthly electric bill would rise by about $5.24, or 6.44%. Small businesses would see their monthly bills increase by about $6.64, or 6.24%, on average.

If approved, the new rates would take effect April 1.

Xcel Energy officials have said the money will pay for improvements and updates previously approved by the PUC. In a 2021 interview, Xcel Energy-Colorado, President Alice Jackson said the utility’s rates in Colorado are 35% below the national average.

But the increase would be one of the largest for Xcel Energy, said Leslie Glustrom with Clean Energy Action and a longtime participant in PUC issues. She said during a public hearing that federal filings show the Minneapolis-based utility reported $588 million in after-tax net income in the state in 2020.

Regulators approved a $41.5 million rate increase for Xcel Energy at the end of 2019.

Glustrom said the PUC’s own records and public testimony provide everything it needs to send a strong message “that it’s not OK to keep using Colorado as a cash cow” and to keep charging more while the price of renewable energy keeps dropping.

Although Xcel Energy is moving toward using more renewable energy, it still gets more than 50% of its electricity from fossil fuels.

Xcel Energy spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said that in 2020, 26% of the utility’s power came from coal; 37% from natural gas; 31% from wind; 5% from solar; and 1% from other carbon-free sources.

The company was the first electric utility in the country to set a goal of eventually being carbon-free. It has pledged to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions 85% by 2030.

Bill Levis, a consultant for AARP Colorado, noted that Xcel Energy has testified that use by its commercial and industrial customers is decreasing compared to its residential customers. A rate increase, along with surcharges approved by the legislature to finance the state’s transition to renewable energy, will disproportionately burden low-income residential customers and retirees on fixed incomes, Levis said in written testimony on the proposed rate increase.

Parties in the negotiations over the rate increase that agreed to the settlement or didn’t object include the PUC staff; the Colorado Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate; Energy Outreach Colorado; the Sierra Club; and Colorado Energy Consumers.

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