Xcel Energy approved for $64.2 million gas hike, may seek electric rate increase

Fresh off winning approval for a gas rate increase, Xcel Energy-Colorado plans to file a request for an electric rate increase, likely before the end of the year.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission released a decision Tuesday that approves a $64.2 million increase in the utility’s natural gas rates. Residential monthly bills will rise 2.9%, or $2.09, and small business rates will rise 3.1%, or $12.95 a month.

The higher rates will kick in Nov. 1.

A new filing by Xcel Energy shows the company also proposes to raise electric rates — again. An $182.2 million increase in Xcel’s electric rates took effect April 1, raising monthly residential bills by 6.44% and small business bills by 6.24%.

Xcel Energy said in a recent filing in a follow-up to the electric-rate case that the company “finds itself needing to seek an increase in base rate revenues in the fourth quarter of 2022.”

Xcel is Colorado’s largest electric utility. Critics have referred to its rising rates as a “pancaking” of increases.

“This will be another layer on the stack of pancakes,” said Joe Pereira, deputy director of the Colorado Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate.

If submitted, the rate request will be Xcel Energy’s fifth rate case in four years, Pereira said.

Xcel Energy didn’t respond to a request for comment. During hearings on the new natural gas rate, the utility said its recent rate requests were based on the costs of current projects and investments to meet the future needs of its growing customer base.

AARP Colorado praised the PUC for cutting Xcel Energy’s original proposed gas increase by $138 million to $64.2 million.

“While AARP Colorado fought for a complete rejection of Xcel Energy’s proposed increase, we consider the lower rate a big win for all Colorado customers,” AARP spokeswoman Angela Cortez said in a statement.

However, Cortez said in an email that if Xcel is seeking an electric rate increase on the heels of the gas rate hike, “we think that is ridiculous.”

“It’s obvious ‘pancaking,’ filing one rate increase after another, and Coloradans are sick of it,” Cortez said.

Rising natural gas prices are driving most utilities to boost their prices. Xcel Energy said in September that prices had hit a 15-year high. Regulators approved a fuel-price adjustment that took effect Oct. 1. The company passes its fuel-price increases through to its customers and doesn’t make money from them.

But the recently approved rate increases become part of the company’s base revenue going forward. Pereira said the utility consumer advocate’s office doesn’t know the size of the additional revenue increase Xcel Energy plans to seek, but expects it to be significant.

“We have had a parade of rate cases layered on top of as challenging a time as most consumers can remember,” Pereira said. “We hear from customers every day that the challenges of paying gas and electric bills are increasing with no relief in sight.”

On the other hand, Xcel Energy has had “several banner years,” Pereira said. Federal records show that Xcel Energy made $660 million in profits in Colorado in 2021, up from $588 million in 2020 and $578 million in 2019.

Energy Outreach Colorado, which helps low-income energy customers, is bracing for another busy winter, said Denise Stepto, spokeswoman for the nonprofit.

People are getting hit in the pocketbook by inflation and are still recovering from the pandemic-related economic downturn, Stepto said.

“Last winter was an expensive energy winter and we are looking at that same forecast for this winter coming up,” Stepto said.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects households using natural gas for heating to see costs jump by 28% this winter. Propane and electricity costs will also rise due to higher fuel costs and colder temperatures, according to the agency.

Calls to a state heat helpline are up about 26% this October compared to October 2021, Stepto said. “People are just now starting to turn their furnaces on.”

Energy Outreach has served 23,293 households so far this year. The organization was started by the Colorado General Assembly in 1989. In 2021, lawmakers approved adding surcharges of 75 cents each on investor-owned utilities’ gas and electric bills to help low-income customers.

People can contact the heat helpline, 1-866-HEAT-HELP or 1-866-432-8435, for assistance. Help from the Colorado Low Income Energy Assistance Program — LEAP — is also available.

Energy Outreach offers information about the best times to use certain appliances and monitoring energy use to reduce bills.

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