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Purple Haze

While the State Capitol glows, state residents glower over their Xcel bills.

The State Capitol was looking like a giant bruise at the start of this month -- and the legislature hadn't even gone into session yet. No, in the spirit of the holidays, Governor Bill Owens had ordered the place lit up for the first time in his seven-year tenure. But what was with the purple and green lights?

It wasn't some secret plot against Christmas, according to the governor's office. Nor was it an attempt to out-gaudy the Denver City & County Building, which lights up like a radioactive, rancid birthday cake every December and stays that way through the Stock Show. The explanation for the unseasonal color scheme was simple, according to Owens's deputy press secretary, Mark Salley. "No red bulbs in the size needed were available," he says. "Instead, we ended up with a bluish-magenta and green. For next year, we'll be looking into trying to find red lights that would fit with the existing lighting."

The Capitol went dark -- or at least back to its normal white lighting -- just after the start of the new year. Which cleans up one black eye from 2005.

Hot times in the old town: Bill Owens is far from the only energy-conscious Coloradan. John Reidy, publisher of the late, lamented Hooligan, has taken his hilarity to the blogosphere, where Off Limits found ourselves getting so hot over his "Xcel Energy: Burning the ad budget to keep my ass warm" posting that we asked him to update it for us. And here, for your reading pleasure:

When opponents of Xcel Energy's proposed gas-rate hike packed a meeting of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission a while back, many questions were asked as to why Xcel was raising its rates yet again. But no one asked the obvious question: If there is a product that everyone uses and typically can't live without, why does the company need to advertise?

For those who don't know or those who live in unheated hovels, Xcel Energy is the huge energy company that provides heat and electricity to Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin. That's only ten states and 3.3 million customers. The poor guys, they must not make any money at all! You can see why they need to advertise.

Listen to any Avalanche game on AM 950 the Fan, and you'll hear an Xcel Energy ad during every break. Does oxygen (the element, not the fine women's cable channel) need to advertise? Everyone uses it. We can't live without it, yet there are no expensive TV and radio spots telling you all about the benefits of that particular product.

Xcel sponsored an elaborate light show at Avalanche games as well. Can the company justify a rate hike when it's burning its logo into the retina of everyone in attendance? When you've just spent $50 on a ticket and another $50 buying a couple of beers, do you really want to be reminded in a blinding flash that you've got an outrageous heating bill waiting for you at home? The only thing worse would be if the IRS sponsored an overwrought and ear-splitting halftime show at a Colorado Crush game.

When asked why Xcel needed to advertise, Mark Stutz, the company's spokesman here, said that the aforementioned advertising was simply a shareholder expense -- that the expense of advertising on the radio and television was not passed on to the cold, check-writing fingers of the consumer, but paid for by the warm and toasty shareholders. Which sounds great, if the shareholders are actually passing the hat. But you don't need a blinding light show to illuminate where the shareholders get their money.

And when Xcel customers (already $150 lighter after a night at the Pepsi Center) see advertising for a service they already use, surely most react negatively. "That's a simplistic way of looking at it," Stutz said. "When someone spends a lot of money at the game and thinks about their bill, there's a disconnect. What they don't think about are all the things we do to support the community."

If that support includes home defibrillators to have on hand when you open your bill -- and electricity to keep them running -- it's money well spent.

Still, why does Xcel have to advertise? Everyone uses its products, and right now, it might just be impossible to not use its service without freezing your nipples off. No one cares how or why the highwaymen of the natural-gas game are making your life better; just don't charge us anymore for telling the world about it in the commercials. Eliminating the ad budget of Xcel Energy could help reduce the cost of warming your butt cheeks. And it will help me to afford those $10 beers at the hockey game, as well.

 
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