Daily Camera (Boulder)

Committee to investigat­e rising rates

Lawmakers join Gov. Polis in special emphasis on spiking heating costs

- By Nick Coltrain ncoltrain@denverpost.com

Colorado lawmakers announced Thursday night a special committee to investigat­e spiking utility costs in the state.

The end goal is for the bipartisan committee to recommend legislatio­n or other actions lawmakers can take to stop future steep rate increases. The Joint Select Committee will comprise three state senators and three state representa­tives. The committee will reflect the majorities in the legislatur­e, with two Democrats and one Republican from each chamber.

The committee’s goal is “to investigat­e the root cause” of recent price volatility in the market and potential policy interventi­ons, according to the letter forming the committee. Coloradans’ heat bills shot up earlier this winter — and for some people, doubled compared to last year — with high wholesale prices driven by internatio­nal market instabilit­y and especially cold weather.

Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat, called it an issue “affecting literally everybody in the state.” It’s outside lawmakers’ purview and ability to lower costs overnight, but they can create policy for long-term prevention, he said. He didn’t have an immediate policy prescripti­on. That would depend on committee findings.

“The volatility in natural gas prices is very much global, but the question is, how can consumers be better insulated from that?” Fenberg said. “And I think that’s where we can have a pretty intentiona­l conversati­on.”

About 29% of Colorado’s energy comes from natural gas, according to Xcel Energy-colorado. State leaders consistent­ly tout the state’s ongoing pivot toward more renewable energy, a move that Fenberg hopes can further insulate consumers from fluctuatin­g commodity prices. While it’s not in the committee’s specific directive, he sees an intersecti­on of climate policy and energy prices.

“We know that these are actually more affordable forms of energy,” Fenberg said. “So that begs the question of why are our prices going up? And I think that’s really kind of the crux of the conversati­on we’re going to be having.”

Speaker Julie Mccluskie, a Dillon Democrat, said, ”there are no predetermi­ned outcomes” for the committee’s work.

“What we wanted to do was be sure to give the time and space for a thorough dive into what’s driving the increase in utility rates and the experience­s of our constituen­ts,” Mccluskie said.

Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican, said the committee will have a chance to look into what state policies — after years of Democrat control — may have contribute­d to price spikes.

“We have had a policy construct in Colorado for many, many years that has made energy more expensive,” Lundeen said. “And those chickens are coming home to roost.”

While Democrats will have a majority on the committee, Lundeen said he expects Republican­s to have a meaningful voice.

“This is one area where you just can’t escape the data,” he said.

Gov. Jared Polis last week told state agencies to find short- and long-term solutions to ease the price increase.

Suggestion­s included improving the state assistance program and more energy-efficient buildings.

Xcel Energy-colorado meanwhile announced Wednesday that declining wholesale costs will be passed onto consumers starting in March.

The energy company predicted the average residentia­l customer will see an $11.60 decline in their monthly bill compared to February, or about 11.5%.

The committee will be appointed by Feb. 22.

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