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Proposed Colorado natural gas rule change could mean savings for your pocketbook and climate crisis, advocates argue

Proposed Colorado natural gas rule change could mean savings for your pocketbook and climate crisis,
Proposed Colorado natural gas rule change could mean savings for your pocketbook and climate crisis, 02:28

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission is considering a rule change that some environmentalists say is fairer to utility customers. The rule change would impact who pays for new natural gas utility lines when new homes are built. 

Currently, the cost is shared 50/50 between the utility company and the developer. The change would put the cost 100% on the developer. 

Some argue the change, which is still open to public comment, would help customers save money on utility bills, because utility companies often pass off those costs through customer fees. 

"This current system makes everybody pay more instead of less," said Jacob Smith, Executive Director of Colorado Communities for Climate Action. "So, we support it, because it's fair for one thing, and it's important that we don't ask low-income families to pick up the cost for subsidizing developers to build new developments."

It will also incentivize more electric homes to be built, thus reducing carbon emissions. He says the PUC is currently examining this rule change as a result of a 2021 bill that requires utility companies to develop cleaner heating plans. 

"This is all part of figuring out how to reduce Colorado's carbon pollution, carbon emissions, but it also just happens to be the case that doing this for carbon pollution, climate change reasons, also means people are going to spend less money heating their homes, and it also means we're not asking middle-income families and lower-income families across Colorado to pick up the tab to make it easier for a developer to build expensive new homes," Smith said.

But some industry representatives aren't so sure it will cut costs for consumers.

"So if it's entirely on the investor, they're just not going to do it anymore, and then that option is out," said Sara Blackhurst, President of Action 22. "When you take an option out, when you limit options, it never drives down costs. That's basic economics."

Blackhurst says policy changes like this could also put natural gas jobs in jeopardy and drive up the cost of housing. She argues many lower-income families don't have the luxury of choosing all-electric homes. 

She believes more focus should be on investing in cleaner natural gas strategies to keep options open for consumers and create more climate-friendly avenues. 

"Drive the technologies that are actually making it cleaner," Blackhurst said. 

Xcel Energy is also opposed to the proposal. A spokesperson issued this statement to CBS Colorado:

"We were the first energy provider to announce a comprehensive carbon reduction plan that includes electric, natural gas and transportation goals. Clean heat is a part of the discussion and we continue to work with our communities and the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on a plan.

As we have shared with the Commission, we maintain the natural gas line extension and believe the policy should remain as it is. Given the potential impact to customers, such a significant change in policy is more appropriately addressed in a separate proceeding.

We support electrification where it makes sense, such as in new development, and anticipate beneficial electrification will evolve as the technology that supports it evolves.

We are committed to our net-zero natural gas goals and leading the clean energy transition reliably and affordably while providing our customers with choices that work best for them. We look forward to continuing the conversation on clean heat and on natural gas line extensions with the Commission."

Colorado Oil and Gas President Dan Haley sent CBS Colorado this statement:

"Colorado is fortunate to have access to clean, abundant, and affordable natural gas. Our state sits atop the nation's second largest natural gas reserves and we produce these molecules cleaner, safer and better than the rest of the world. As Coloradans struggle with rising energy costs and the increased cost of living, this proposal will penalize working families by pushing homeownership further out of reach. Our residents deserve the most affordable and reliable energy choices available to support their families and their households."

The PUC is still taking comments from the public about the measure. If you'd like to submit your comment, click here.

For more information pertaining to the measure, click here.

Another public meeting on the matter will be held September 19 by Zoom. For information on how to attend, click here.

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