DENVER (KDVR) — If you had sticker shock the last time you looked at your utility bill, you are not alone.
According to Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission, electricity bills are 25% higher than they were this time last year, and natural gas bills are up 75%.
“So putting that in perspective, about 80% of the total increase in the combined bill is being driven by that gas bill,” PUC’s chief economist Erin O’Neill said.
O’Neill presented information to the PUC board Wednesday morning to address complaints, misunderstandings and questions about the cost of utilities in Colorado.
“Over the past days and weeks, Coloradoans have been experiencing historically high utility bills that, for many customers, have more than doubled since last year,” Eric Blank, PUC chairman, said during the meeting.
Winter storms, warming, a factor in rising bills
According to O’Neill, one of the major factors leading to increased bills is the weather.
“In 2021, the average winter temperature was about 10 degrees warmer than it was in 2022. That may not sound like a lot on an individual-day basis, but across an entire month, an average 10-degree difference in weather is very large,” she said.
Customers are also paying increased fees to cover costs incurred during a major winter storm in February 2021. Additionally, Xcel imposed rate hikes recently for both electricity and natural gas prices.
Natural gas commodity prices up
However, O’Neill said the real issue is natural gas commodity prices. They are about 45% higher than this time last year.
“Do we have control over the commodity price of gas charged by gas suppliers? Very little. That is increasingly a national and international product,” she said.
Natural gas is an unregulated market, meaning its prices are set based on supply, demand and competition.
“We had been enjoying an extended period of time of relatively low and stable gas prices. That changed after Winter Storm Uri (in February 2021), and those gas prices have gone up for utilities statewide,” O’Neill said. “It feels unprecedented, but it has happened before. It’s been a long time — it’s been 18 years since this has happened — but prices in the natural gas markets have spiked in the past.”
PUC commissioners raised concerns about the natural gas market as well as increasing profits at utility companies.
“There are systemic issues here that make this a very volatile-priced energy source, which I think are very concerning,” commissioner Megan Gilman said.
The takeaway: Gas rates and gas prices behind bills
According to O’Neill, bills are not being significantly impacted by the installation of smart meters, new time-of-use pricing or investments in renewable energy.
“The story mostly is one of gas rates and gas prices,” she said.
In the meantime, help is available to Coloradans who are having trouble paying their utility bills.
The state predicts bills will be lower beginning in February because of a decrease in natural gas prices.
“In the last month or two, gas prices have really started to decline,” O’Neill said. “That’s the most immediate good news for customers is that we will be seeing lower gas cost because the commodity price of natural gas has declined a lot.”