Colorado Public Radio | Sam Brasch
For most Coloradans, springtime has brought much-needed relief from high energy bills.
That’s after households watched their gas and power costs spike over the winter due to frigid temperatures and high natural gas prices. In some cases, monthly bills doubled or tripled compared to a year earlier. Warmer weather and lower fuel prices are now bringing bills back down to earth.
But the crisis isn’t over for Colorado residents like Krissiel Abeyta.
The single mother of three from Lakewood has always struggled to pay off her outstanding debt to Xcel Energy, the state’s largest gas and electricity company. She stayed afloat thanks to bill assistance programs and a near obsession with energy efficiency.
Abeyta offset the costs of running power-hungry oxygen and CPAP machine that assist her breathing at night by unplugging the dishwasher and relying on LED nightlights. The strategies worked well enough — until her monthly bill started to climb in the fall of 2022 from around $300 to a peak of around $450 in January. Unable to pay, she now owes Xcel Energy about $1,400.
“What am I gonna do in the winter?” she said. “When I can’t catch up, are they going to shut my electricity off and make us freeze?”
Recent data submitted to state utility regulators show Abeyta is far from alone. For the last few years, the number of Colorado households owing money to Xcel Energy has hovered around 250,000. Meanwhile, the average debt across those households almost doubled, from about $225 in January 2019 to about $550 in March. The most severe rise occurred over the last six months.