By Miguel Otárola, Climate / Environment Reporter, CPR News
Cutting down on home energy costs is no longer as easy as just switching off the light when you leave a room or insulating the attic, said Denise Stepto, chief communications officer for Energy Outreach Colorado, a nonprofit that provides bill assistance to qualifying residents.
Natural gas prices on March 18 were nearly 85 percent higher than the same week last year, according to spot prices provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Cooler temperatures in the Gulf Coast and uncertainty in the European natural gas market caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine have all contributed to the increase, according to the EIA. And for most homeowners and some renters in Colorado, the cost to generate gas and electricity is constantly changing — as are the additional charges on their energy bills.
For customers of Xcel Energy, the largest for-profit utility company in the state, those charges are listed under their electricity and natural gas costs on their monthly energy bills.
The information in the bill is vague: a few cents here and there labeled as things like “energy assistance charge” and acronyms like “GRSA” (that stands for General Rate Schedule Adjustment). Those items, which are regulated and approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, are charged to millions of people who live in areas covered by Xcel, including the Denver metro, Boulder and Grand Junction.
Some charges are driven by recent legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector, producing more energy from renewable sources instead of fossil fuels, said Energy Outreach Colorado Executive Director Jennifer Gremmert. Xcel and other utilities are looking to add new riders to recover money spent on inflated natural gas costs during a 2021 winter storm. Xcel is also starting to roll out “time-of-use” rates for customers using smart meters, charging different prices for electricity depending on the time of day.