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Gov. Polis calls on state utility, energy agencies to help curb costs

Lucas Brady Woods
Gov. Jared Polis speaks about efforts to curb energy bill spikes in Colorado at a press conference Monday. He emphasized steps to help reduce costs for energy consumers and strategies to bolster the state’s renewable energy resources.

Gov. Jared Polis says his administration is taking steps to cut Colorado’s utility bills following months of rising energy costs. Polis instructed the Public Utilities Commission and the Colorado Energy Office Monday to come up with strategies to reduce utility costs before cold weather arrives again next winter.

The governor emphasized the implementation of cost-saving measures for energy consumers and strategies to bolster the state’s renewable energy resources. Among his asks, Polis requested the agencies enhance low-income energy assistance programs and aid for renewable energy improvements. He also wants to see more incentives for utility companies to protect customers from rate hikes.

The governor’s announcement comes after some Coloradans saw their utility bills go up by hundreds of dollars over the last few months.

Reyna Zarate testified in Spanish about the impact of heightened utility costs on her family during a press conference Monday. Over the past couple months, Zarate said she has watched her family’s utility bill nearly double.

“I know we're not the exception. Many of my friends and family members are having the same issue. Everywhere I go, people are talking about the high cost of their utility bills,” Zarate said. “It’s impacting my life and my family’s life in many ways.”

Zarate said both she and her husband work to support their family. Despite that, the energy cost increases have made it more difficult for them to support their son, who is in college, and daughter, who is 18 and applying to schools.

Meanwhile, Xcel Energy, the state’s largest energy provider, recently announced record profits. At a public meeting held by the Public Utilities Commission last week, over 40 community members voiced their concerns and frustrations about the contrast between their high energy bills and Xcel’s large profits.

The company has announced a plan to lower gas bills by 15% over the next couple months through a new cost adjustment plan.

Addressing a question about Xcel Energy’s utility charges at the press conference, Polis said he is “skeptical” of rate increases that increase people’s reliance on natural gas.

“Our vulnerability and exposure to natural gas is what has caused these price spikes, so the last thing we should do is force ratepayers to pay more to make us more beholden to potential future swings in the cost of natural gas,” Polis said.

Polis said the bill spikes are in large part due to the heightened cost of natural gas, which has made energy prices climb too fast for most Coloradans to keep up with.

“Your utility and your energy bills are basically fixed costs. Can you impact them a little bit by setting your thermostat down? You can, but not a lot,” Polis said.

Polis also said wages in Colorado aren’t increasing fast enough to keep pace with higher utility costs.

“We’re all impacted, and incomes have not gone up as much as the cost of heating and the cost of electricity has,” he said.

Polis said he hopes Coloradans will begin to see lower energy bills in the next month or two if natural gas prices deflate.

Regardless, the governor said investing in renewable energy is the best way for Colorado to avoid global or national energy price swings in the long-term.

“We need to be ready for whatever comes our way, whether it's a storm in Texas, whether it's additional global conflict,” Polis said. “We need that energy security that low cost, reliable renewable energy can bring, and we're really aligning all of the resources we can to make that happen.”

Polis has professed a goal of achieving 100% renewable energy in the state by 2040.

Originally from Southern California, Lucas spent the last decade living in New York City, which is where he started his journalism career. He's been an NPR junkie for as long as he can remember, but really fell in love with reporting radio news at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where he received his master's degree. He's reported on a variety of issues, including covering healthcare at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City.
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