Xcel Energy’s fight over a proposed natural gas tariff increase is not just a dispute over the utility asking $188.6 million from its Colorado customers, but also over the future of natural gas in the state.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission heard from the public Thursday about the proposed hike and several rate hikes customers are facing to meet climate change goals for stranded property risk, which customers will also have to pay for. .
“We need to put all of our resources into building renewable infrastructure,” said Heidi Lathwood, a climate analyst at environmental group 350 Colorado. “New methane infrastructure should not be built at all.”
In addition to this request for natural gas prices, in June Xcel negotiated $182.2 million in electricity tariff increases and $500 million in tariffs to cover the $500 million in natural gas prices resulting from a severe winter storm result in February 2021.
Overall, the rate hike will increase the average household electric bill by about $16.50 by the end of this year and to $18.32 by 2023.
Conservation Colorado climate advocate Lorena Gonzalez told the commission that the rate hike puts low-income families in a “painful position” between putting food on the table and paying their utility bills.
“A very clear message needs to be sent to Excel that rate after rate after rate is not acceptable,” said Leslie Glastrom of the Clean Energy Action Group.
Xcel Energy, which supplies natural gas to 1.4 million customers, is seeking price hikes to fund projects including upgrading supply lines, adding miles of new pipeline connections in suburban residential areas and replacing 35,000 natural gas meters. Is.
The proposed rate hike would add up over three years, resulting in a total increase in the average home bill of $8.14.
The first increase, which will take effect in November, is $4.16, an increase of about 6.7% from the average residential gas bill of $62.42, Xcel said.
Previous fee requests have been judged primarily on whether the utility’s desired investment was necessary and reasonable, but this fee increase leads to several new state laws aimed at reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Including the burning of natural gas in households. and buildings.
In 2019, Senate Bill 1261 was passed, setting a goal to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050 from 2005 levels.
According to the company, Xcel is on track to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2030.
Jonathan Rogers, an analyst at the Denver Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency, urged the commission to consider Denver’s policies aimed at rapidly reducing the city’s natural gas consumption when evaluating Xcel Energy’s infrastructure proposals. asked to hold
In 2021, Senate Bill 264 established the Clean Heating Plan for gas distributors.
Xcel Energy is scheduled to deliver a plan by 2023 that will reduce emissions by 4% by 2025 and 22% by 2030 compared to 2015 levels.
Several speakers called on the Commission not to authorize investments in natural gas infrastructure to this extent, but to include their assessment in the Clean Heat Plan.
Law professor KK Duvivier told the commission: “It doesn’t look like registering with Excel will change things.”
However, Xcel Energy argues that the investment is necessary.
“Currently, there are no viable, large-scale alternatives to using natural gas that reduce emissions and still provide customers with the energy they need to stay safe and comfortable in their homes and to run their businesses. necessary to operate from there,” Brooke Trammell, an executive at Xcel, said in formal testimony that the rate was part of the case file.
“Especially home and space heating in our cold climates is an important service of our gas supply,” said Trammel.
But Mira Fickling, a senior climate policy analyst at environmental group Western Resources Advocates, said in formal testimony, “We should avoid locking up infrastructure that could impede long-term decarbonization on the scale possible.”
Glustrom said Xcel Energy and its customers are already facing $1 billion in decommissioning costs for three coal-fired power plants. “We have $1 billion coal plants that are stuck and now they want to do the same with natural gas,” she said.