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Public Utilities Commission responds to high utility bill complaints

Colorado Public Utilities Commission discusses natural gas prices
Colorado Public Utilities Commission discusses natural gas prices 02:38

If your combined electric and gas bill looked high this month, gas is the real culprit. The Public Utilities Commission says heating your home in a cold winter, after an increase in the cost of natural gas, is the main reason for those high bills. 

Xcel customers say they're being pushed to the breaking point by the increasingly high bills. 

"I've just given up, I have just given up," said Barbara Drennan. We first met her in December when she was speaking out about the high bills. But after another even higher bill this month, she's decided to install solar panels. 

"I decided I'm just tired of fighting this and I went with solar," Drennan said. She says she was told that process will take a year, so until then she'll still have to pay Xcel.

It's not just metro area customers feeling like they're out of options. 

"You have to have the heat and the electric and they've got you right there," said Monte Vista resident Cindy Napolitan says her Xcel bill is usually in the $200s but jumped to $735 in December. 

"For it to jump in one month more than double was a lot," said Napolitan. "We bundle up a lot, wear sweaters, blankets when you're watching TV. We try to keep it minimized but it's not easy."

Xcel issued a statement on the volume of comments and complaints regarding energy bills.

"We share the Commission's concerns and appreciate their efforts to provide greater insight into the causes of higher costs," the company said in a statement. "That is why we are doing all we can to keep bills low for our customers while delivering the safe, reliable energy they depend on. We look forward to continuing our work with the Commission and other stakeholders to continue this important conversation."

The statement went on to say it does what it can to keep prices low while keeping energy safe and reliable, and urged customers to reach out to them with questions or concerns.

Wednesday, public utility commissioners acknowledged that utility bills have been extremely high. 

"Our volume of comments and complaints has also risen to levels we haven't seen in recent history," said Eric Blank, chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. 

According to the commission's analysis, the biggest factor is the increasing cost of natural gas fuel. 

"Gas prices are about 40% higher this year than they were last year," said Erin O'Neill, chief economist for the PUC. 

Another big reason: the weather was colder this winter. 

"It is a very substantial portion of the gas utility bill, particularly for the winter season," said O'Neill. 

Base rates have nearly doubled in the last decade, but the commission says this past year's base rate increases were only 5% of the problem on the gas side and 11% on the electric side.

It's small comfort to customers, who are now calling for more oversight. 

"Nobody's listening," said Drennan. "Nobody's going after the source; the commissioners that allowed it to happen."

The good news is natural gas prices are going down again, so the commission is predicting some relief in your February bill, but the market is still volatile. They recommend customers apply for low-income assistance programs and submit comments on the PUC website.

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