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California, Here We Come: Independence Institute Energized to Fight Xcel

Jon Caldara wants to do something about Xcel.
Jon Caldara wants to do something about Xcel. Independence Institute
For the past several years, the Independence Institute has named a Californian of the Year, a satirical “honor” for the person it believes is most responsible for trying to make Colorado more like California.

In 2022, the Institute couldn’t pick a single winner, so it chose co-winners: Robert Kenney, president of Xcel Energy-Colorado, and Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office. According to the Institute, Kenney has Colorado’s government in his pocket despite only having started his job in June, and Toor leads the pack of government officials who help Kenney make money off the backs of Coloradans by creating environmental regulations that cost people money.

Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, says that voting members of the Californian of the Year Academy split the vote for the two. “They feed off one another,” he says. “That's the whole point of it: Xcel’s truly perverse relationship with the green for green environmental movement. There are a lot of environmentalists out there who truly believe in what they're doing, and they don't realize that they're being useful, useful tools to this crony monopoly.”

As Xcel builds new, green infrastructure, Caldara notes that it's asking the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates Xcel's activities in the state, to let the company recuperate those costs through customers' bills — and state regulators like Toor are the ones pushing a clean-energy transition.

“Xcel is not in the energy business,” he says. “They are in the building shit business and charging their captive ratepayer customers four times over for it.”

Caldara insists that it's “not just evil people like me” who don’t approve of Xcel’s tactics, saying that people in the environmental community are beginning to question Xcel as well.

For example, environmental groups took issue when the PUC approved Xcel’s gas expansion plan for the west metro Denver area; the company wants to add pipelines in Denver, Edgewater and Lakewood to expand the capacity of the gas system to meet increased power demand from new construction. Environmental advocates questioned why the company wanted to invest in infrastructure that it knows won’t be necessary in the future, given the state’s goals of reducing carbon emissions over the next few decades.

Caldara had an idea for helping to stop Xcel’s spending spree: a citizens' initiative that he hoped to get on Colorado's November ballot, which would have required gas and electric utility companies to pay a percentage of energy rates themselves.

“Investor-owned utilities that supply electric or gas service or both in Colorado shall pay a percentage of all rates from their profits as determined by the Public Utilities Commission; such percentage shall be at least five percent of the total rates approved,” the measure read.
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Robert Kenney has led Xcel's efforts in Colorado since June.
Xcel Energy
Caldara sees Xcel as a monopoly with a guaranteed rate of return. Theoretically, in exchange for that monopoly, the company should keep rates as low as possible for customers, he says, and that's not happening.

The initiative did not make it on the ballot this year, which Caldara attributes to getting a late start on collecting the required 124,632 verified signatures to qualify.

“Unlike the rich motherfuckers at Xcel, we’re not made of other people's money,” Caldara says, referencing the cost of hiring canvassers. And he knows just how costly that can be; the Independence Institute also pushed the successful ballot issue that will reduce the state income tax rate in Colorado.

Caldara is already putting energy into a new campaign against Xcel, and plans to get something on the 2024 ballot to demand accountability from Xcel. “It is evil,” he says. “It is wrong. It is corporatism at its worst, with captive customers from a government-sanctioned monopoly.”

California, here we come!

Through the Colorado Energy Office, Toor declined to comment. Xcel did not respond to requests for comment.
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire

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