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News brief with The Colorado Sun: Lawmakers address utility costs and fire officials call for change

 Wind turbines near Matheson, Colorado
John Leyba
The Colorado Sun
Wind turbines near Matheson, Colo., are part of Xcel Energy's new 600 megawatt Rush Creek Wind Project. Rush Creek, which became operational in October 2018, uses 300 turbines to generate enough electricity to power 325,000 homes. Xcel estimates the project will cut 1 million tons of carbon emissions each year from its system.

Each week, we check in with our colleagues at the Colorado Sun about the stories they’re following.

Colorado Sun Editor Lance Benzel joined us to discuss lawmakers’ efforts to rein in utility bills and a new plea from five wildfire experts in Colorado.

Senate Democrats have rolled out what they're calling a major effort to provide relief for utilities customers.Senate Bill 291seeks to prevent big spikes in electric and gas bills that result from gas market volatility.

“The measure would put a monthly cap on new charges,” Benzel told KUNC. “It would also require every utility to file a gas risk management plan each winter that says how they would deal with cost increases.”

The legislation comes on the heels of disruptions last winter that had some customers’ bills tripling in December and January.

Senate Bill 291 would limit what costs utilities like Xcel can pass on to the consumer. If the bill passes, utility companies would still be able to recapture costs above the cap through small monthly charges spread out over long periods of time.

According to Benzel, leadership at Xcel's Colorado subsidiary called the legislation “fatally flawed” and said lawmakers should focus on increasing gas storage and promoting more long term gas contracts.

In another story, firefighting officials are calling for additional training and new solutions to what they call the “public safety crisis” of wildfire.

“Risk of wildfire has increased a great deal in the past decade,” Benzel said. "There's more homes being built right up against undeveloped forest areas, and that brings the risk of some pretty intense fires to Colorado.”

Officials say without some major changes, disasters like the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire could happen more frequently. More than 36-thousand Colorado homes share land with fire-prone wildland vegetation.

As a reporter and host for KUNC, I follow the local stories of the day while also guiding KUNC listeners through NPR's wider-scope coverage. It's an honor and a privilege to help our audience start their day informed and entertained.
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