Customers across Colorado could see higher electric and natural gas bills if regulators approve proposals by utilities to recover costs from a winter storm that had them scrambling along with many other companies to buy enough fuel to make it through the freezing weather.
During its meeting Wednesday, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission will consider the next steps after receiving applications from Xcel Energy-Colorado and Black Hills Energy, which have proposed spreading out the expense for customers over at least a year.
The PUC is reviewing how utilities prepared for the weather in February. The frigid weather that gripped the central part of the country from Texas north sent customer demand and natural gas prices soaring.
Xcel Energy has said its fuel costs shot up by about $965 million during the deep freeze Feb. 13-16. The company is proposing to spread customers’ costs over 24 months.
The average residential bills would rise by $6.20 per month for natural gas from Xcel Energy and $2.86 for electricity. Typical small commercial customers would pay $4.36 a month more on electric bills and $27.67 more a month over two years.
Black Hills Energy’s costs during the cold weather because of the exorbitant natural gas prices totaled nearly $96 million for its gas and electric operations. Under the utility’s proposal, the average residential customer would pay $3.83 more per month on electric bills for two years. The average small commercial customer would see a $14.67 monthly increase.
Black Hills Energy’s natural gas customers would see different charges in different areas, ranging from $8.05 per month to $15.48 on residential bills and from $18 to $31.86 for small commercial customers over three years.
On the West Slope, the average residential customer would pay $12.46 more a month and the average small commercial customer would pay $25.65 over a year under Black Hills Energy’s proposal.
Colorado Natural Gas Inc. and Atmos Energy Corp. are also seeking to recover costs from the February storm.
Regulated utilities can ask to recover costs from customers. Both Black Hills and Xcel Energy said they don’t make a profit on the pass-through expenses. Xcel Energy said it will set up a payment plan for customers and help them find assistance.
Vance Crocker, Black Hills Energy vice president of Colorado operations, said the company recognizes there will be financial impacts and will work with the PUC to balance consideration of customers while keeping the system running efficiently and effectively.
The PUC will hear from the public and people intervening in the case before deciding on the proposed rate increases, which could take several months.
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