Colorado utility customers could see bills rise due to higher gas costs

Utilities are paying more for natural gas, which means many Colorado customers will see higher bills starting Oct. 1.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved fuel rate adjustments Wednesday for Xcel Energy-Colorado and Atmos Energy Corp. Regulations allow the utilities to pass through higher fuel costs to customers.

Although Xcel Energy customers will see monthly increases in the single digits, they could end up paying nearly 54% more in December than they did in December 2021, according to a notice sent by the company.

The PUC’s action on the companies’ fuel-cost adjustment is separate from pending decisions on proposed increases in the two companies’ base rates. The commissioners expressed concern about the impacts on customers, but said their options were limited.

“I’m just concerned that consumers don’t know about the tsunami that may be coming and aren’t prepared for it,” said Bill Levis, a former director of what is now the Colorado Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate.

Xcel Energy said in a statement that wholesale natural gas prices continue to rise and have hit a 15-year high. The current price of natural gas is $8.81 per thermal unit, compared to $4.07 in August 2021, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Higher gas prices will affect both gas and electric service because natural gas is used to generate electricity, Xcel Energy said.

The average Xcel Energy residential electric customer is expected to see the monthly bill of $84.93 rise to $88.09, a 3.72% increase. The average small business will see a 3.84% increase, from $128.93 to $133.80.

The average Xcel Energy residential gas bill of $130 per month will rise 4.62% to $136.02. The average monthly bill for small businesses will go up 4.87%, from $530.32 to $556.17.

Xcel has 1.5 million electric customers and 1.4 million natural gas customers in Colorado, with substantial overlap between the two.

Dallas-based Atmos Energy, which has about 126,000 natural gas customers in Colorado, won the approval of an overall increase of $16.9 million to pay for higher fuel costs. Average monthly residential increases will range from 9% to 10%, the company said.

The PUC recently approved a temporary rider on Xcel Energy bills to cover the costs of a February 2021 storm that unleashed record cold temperatures and soaring natural gas prices from Texas through the Rocky Mountains to the Midwest.

Xcel Energy spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said in an email that residential electric customers will see an average monthly increase of $1.42 while natural gas customers will see an increase of $4.85 for the storm-related expenses. Small business electric monthly bills will rise on average by $4.21 and small business natural gas bills will increase an average of $21.98.

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