Xcel Customers Oppose Second Proposed Rate Increase by Colorado PUC | Westword

Xcel Rate Increase Dropping From $312 Million to $45 Million Still Not Enough, Public Blasts

Though Xcel Energy lowered its $312 million requested rate increase to $45 million, people still want the Public Utilities Commission to say no to the ask.
Customers say their Xcel bills are already too high as the company asks for a rate increase.
Customers say their Xcel bills are already too high as the company asks for a rate increase. Getty Images
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After a winter that saw soaring energy bills lead to legislative reform, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission is now weighing a rate increase for Xcel Energy, the utility company for much of metro Denver, of approximately $45 million — down from a whopping $312 million boost that the gas and electricity giant originally proposed.

But residents believe the increase is still too much, regardless of Xcel's hefty adjustment.

“They don't need a rate increase of any size,” said Chris Hoffman, a Coloradan who spoke at a July 11 public hearing on the new rate held by the PUC.

“It seems that these rate increase requests may simply be a tactic to secure more return for investors rather than a justifiable request to ensure the safe and reliable delivery of service," he told the three commissioners.

Every person who commented at the Tuesday night hearing on the rate case told the PUC, which regulates Xcel, that it should either reject or minimize the increase. According to PUC chair Eric Blank, there were 150 people signed up for the meeting.

“As you know, a key part of your job is to correct abuses, and there are abuses to correct,” Marie Venner told the commission. “Xcel does not need a rate increase of any size, and certainly not the 96 million in increased revenue allowed by the settlement agreement.”

Last November, Xcel had initially asked for a $312 million rate increase to invest more in its distribution and transmission systems as well as pay for higher labor and operation costs. It also asked to earn more on its investments to meet shareholder demands.

After a settlement process, the company adjusted its ask to an approximately $45 million rate increase once the parties resolve two remaining issues: how to pay off the remaining costs of coal plants that are closing earlier than planned, and how Xcel will recover money it spends on transmission projects.

“Both issues impact the amount the company could charge customers, even with the settlement,” explained Gail Conners, section chief of media relations, outreach and engagement for the Colorado Department of Regulatory Affairs — which houses the PUC.

A hearing on the settlement is scheduled to begin on July 17.

Blank said Conners’s explanation was one of the measures the commission would take to improve public engagement along with a new method for determining the order of speakers.

While many speakers expressed appreciation to the PUC for its work, they were steadfast that the settlement still isn’t good enough.

Hoffman pointed out that Xcel made $727 million in after-tax net income in Colorado in 2022.

Even the settlement being much lower isn’t a good result, Venner added — taking issue with the proposal giving Xcel a 9.3 percent return on equity when the company takes on very little risk because it can recover costs from ratepayers.

Additionally, one of the ways the settlement lowers the rate increase now is by postponing payments on the depreciation of stranded coal assets to the future.

“The idea that somehow it would be easier for future generations to pay these bills is unlikely, as Xcel is planning on making 11.3 billion with a ‘B’ in capital expenditures in Colorado just these next four years, which means future rates will go even higher,” Venner said. “We're depending on you. Please, please, please, please rise to the occasion and protect us from these abuses.”

Resident Nathan Tigges said it’s important to consider the fact that increases will impact those with fixed or low incomes — and renters — the most. Tenant Heather Olsen shared her personal story of having to pay her Xcel bill instead of getting health care or paying for food.

Renters, she pointed out, don’t have the option to make their homes more energy-efficient to help save money.

“I have to keep bubble wrap on my windows to increase insulation to help lower my heating and cooling bills,” Olsen said. “That's right, bubble wrap. ... Every day we have to make careful choices about our budgets to simply stay afloat. We are having to cut out basics in order to afford a bloated energy bill so that Xcel can cater to shareholders.”

She and many others who spoke on Tuesday night pointed out that because Xcel is the only energy option for so many people, the PUC is supposed to ensure that the company still operates fairly.

“I really wish I wasn't a consumer of Xcel,” Renee Zelenoy said. “I think they stink. But I have no choice because they are a monopoly and they do whatever they want. And it seems that the PUC is mainly on their side and not looking at consumers. It seems every time that they ask for an increase, they get it.”

Resident Nicholas Winn said that in a perfect world, utilities wouldn’t be operated by for-profit investor-owned companies.

“That said, I don't think you can fix this situation,” he told the commissioners. “But you, the PUC, can directly limit the negative side effects of having only a single public service utility company available. I ask that the commission deny these proposed requested rate increases.”
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