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Wednesday hearing on Xcel Energy rate increase request open to public

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Eric Galatas

(Colorado News Connection) Wednesday, Xcel Energy customers will have a chance to tell the Colorado Public Utilities Commission what they think about the company's request - to raise base electricity rates 8.2 percent, and bring in $312 million more in revenue. 

Bill Levis is a former director of the Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel and AARP Colorado volunteer. 

He said this is the fifth request to raise rates in as many years - and low and fixed-income Coloradans who are already spending up to 30 percent of their budget on utility bills, can't afford another hike.

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The PUC is also considering alternative rate proposals.

"The Utility Consumer Advocate has determined that Xcel should actually reduce its proposed net increase by $26.6 million," said Levis. "So instead of an increase, there would be a decrease."

To join the virtual hearing at 4:00 p.m. Wednesday, visit 'PUC.colorado.gov,' or call 303-869-3490 to leave a comment in English or Spanish. 

Xcel is also asking the commission to bump up their authorized profits to just over 10 percent. The company has argued that increased revenue is needed to transition to clean energy, and that base electricity rates in Colorado are lower than the national average.

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Levis said 10 percent is a big payout, considering anyone who has money in a savings account earns 0.5 percent to maybe 1 percent. 

He added that the company's rate claims are largely based on the fact that Colorado uses less energy on average than states like Arizona, where air conditioners run many more months of the year.

"Well if you look at what's happened in the last five years, those rates have creeped up," said Levis. "AARP is very concerned that the rate creep is something that consumers on fixed incomes just can't absorb."

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Levis said he believes public engagement can make a difference, pointing to the uproar over last winter's high utility bills. 

Colorado lawmakers recently passed Senate Bill 291, which prohibits Xcel from passing certain costs on to its customers, including advertising and lobbying. 

Levis said that's significant because Xcel currently boasts the largest lobbying force in the state.

"I think that's a big win," said Levis, "because in the last couple of legislative sessions, the General Assembly passed bills that actually benefited the company to the detriment of consumers."